When the Yankees got Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins on December 7, 2017, for second baseman Starlin Castro and two minor leaguers, it was the Chicken Little story all over again in Boston. The sky was falling!! How could this happen?
The Red Sox had barely edged the Yankees for the American League East championship in 2017. The Yankees had gotten into the Playoffs as a Wild Card and knocked off the powerful Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series before taking the eventual World Series winning Houston Astros to seven games in the American League Championship Series before bowing out.
They had led all of baseball with 241 home runs, in the year of the homer, and were second in scoring with 858 runs. Rookie right fielder Aaron Judge had driven in 114 runs, led the league in home runs with 52, runs scored, 128, walks, with 127 and strikeouts, with 208, won the Rookie of the Year Award and finished second in the voting for Most Valuable Player.
Catcher Gary Sanchez, 25, had hit 33 homers and driven in 90 runs. Derek Jeter’s replacement, as he will always be known, Didi Gregorious, came into his own and hit 25 homers and drove in 87 runs. First Baseman Marlon Bird, who only played in 48 games after his injury, hit nine homers and drove in 28 runs. Veteran left fielder Brett Gardner had 21 homers and 63 RBI’s despite batting lead off most of the year and center fielder Aaron Hicks had 15 homers and 52 RBI’s in just 88 games.
Now you add Stanton, who, by the way, had hit 59 homers and driven in 132 runs, both league leading numbers while playing in all 162 of his team’s games and winning the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award. He has hit 267 homers in his first eight seasons and is just 28 years old.
Boston fans immediately assumed the worst, it was almost the Curse of the Babe all over again. Of course, the fact that Derek Jeter, the scourge of the Red Sox when he played with the Yankees, and now part owner and CEO of the Marlins, had been involved with the deal that sent Stanton to the Yankees, did not go unnoticed.
The Yankees, of course, are supremely confident. Just this past week, as Spring Training began, Gardner said, in an interview with Tom Hanslin of Bronx Pinstripes “Come out early and watch these guys take BP. I think it’s gonna be fun,” he said. “I think I’m gonna start taking batting practice inside so those big guys don’t make me look bad.”
So what does this all mean for the Red Sox? Will they have to play second fiddle to the Yankees again. The Yankees are a strong club, there is no argument there. But, and it’s a Big But, no pun intended, they have some weaknesses.
To get Stanton, they gave up the All Star second baseman, Starlin Castro, who hit .300 with 16 homers and 63 RBI’s last year. Todd Frazier, one of their third basemen, who hit 11 homers and drove in 32 runs in 66 games after coming over from the White Sox last year, signed a Free Agent contract with the Mets the week before last, and the other, Chase Headley, was traded to the San Diego Padres.
It looks like Greyber Torres, the number five prospect in all of baseball, who lost most of last year to Tommy John surgery, may have the inside track at second but Ronald Torreyes, who hit .292 in 108 games, 43 at second, with the Yankees will challenge him. Whichever of the two ends up at second, my money is on the other to at least start the season at third. Either way, they have really untested rookies at two key infield positions. Greg Bird, if he stays healthy, gives them a potent bat and good glove at first and Didi Gregorious appears to have come into his own at short.
The outfield, with Gardner in left, Hicks in center and Judge in right is among the better in baseball with plenty of power. Jacoby Ellsbury looks to be odd man out and Stanton gives them a potent designated hitter and extra outfielder.
Their starting pitching with Luis Severino, 14-6, with a 2.98 ERA, Masahiro Tanaka, sore elbow and all, 13-12, 4.74 ERA, C. C. Sabathia, at age 36 and injury prone, 14-5 with a 3.69 ERA, Jordan Montgomery, 9-7 and a 3.88 ERA, Sonny Gray, 4-7 and a 3.72 ERA, after coming over from the Athletics at the trading deadline, is far from strong and has the potential to be a disaster. Those five had a combined ERA of 3.80 last year. Of course, often injured , Michael Pineda, who won 8 and lost 4 with a 4.39 ERA in just 17 starts last year, was lost to the Twins over the winter.
Rumor had it last week that the Yankees might still have a shot at getting right handed starter Jake Odorizzi from the Tampa Bay Rays, where he was 10-8 with a 4.14 ERA last year. Should that happen, they would be a lot stronger but there would still be too many IF’S in the rotation.
Closer Aroldis Chapman, whose ERA ballooned to 3.22 last year from 1.55 the year before and who had only 22 saves and Dellin Betances, with perhaps the best stuff in baseball, if he could only control it consistently, had 10 saves while filling in for Chapman, will both have to improve on last year’s performance.
Their set up man, David Robertson, who has closing stuff, was 5-0 in 30 games with a 1.03 ERA, after coming back from the White Sox with Tommy Kahnle who had a 2.70 ERA in 32 games. With Chasen Shreve, 4-1 with a 3.77 ERA in 44 games and Adam Warren, with a 2.35 ERA in 46 games, they have a fairly strong bull pen.
Head to head, the Sox starting pitching, with left handers Sale, Price, Pomeranz and Rodriguez, in the starting rotation, they match up pretty well against the Yankee sluggers. Judge, for example, although a right handed hitter, hit only .230 against lefties as opposed to .298 against righties, Sanchez, another right hander, hit .266 against lefties and .282 against right handers, Gregorious, .264 against left handers and .295 right handers, Gardner, .209 against left handers and .283 against right handers. On the other hand, the new Yankee, Stanton, hit only .270 against right handers but bombed left handers for a .323 average.
Unfortunately, most of the other teams the Yankees will face have a majority of right handed starters and the Sox will only have 18 times, out of 162 games, to throw their left handers at the Yankees during the season. The Yankee lineup is as powerful as any in baseball but good pitching will almost always beat good hitting in the long run so don’t look for the Yankees to run away and hide from the Red Sox unless there are major personnel changes or injuries between now and Opening Day, which, by the way, is just 39 days from today.
Absent any major changes, it looks to me like the Sox and Yankees will be locked in a great pennant race while the rest of the American League East watches. At this point, Yankee and Red Sox fans just can’t wait for it to get started.