The 2021 New York Yankees are reeling and that might be the nice way to put it. As the team heads out west to Seattle, the organization must figure out which direction they want to go in for the rest of the way that can determine their future.
One of the criticisms of the Yankees roster from a major league perspective is that it lacks any kind of flexibility. Since players can’t necessarily be benched and the only position player on the 40-man roster that is available to call up is Estevan Florial (before Tyler Wade was sent down), it is hard for this team to make any more to jump start the team.
The frustration for fans at the major league level has to carry over to the minor league level. As of Monday morning, no affiliate in the system is worse than 14 games above .500 at the midway point in their respective seasons. They see players have fantastic stretches of play, but they might be blocked at any level, so moving up isn’t necessarily an option unless moves are made.
Last month, when the Yankees made numerous promotions such as right-hander Luis Gil to Triple-A, right-handers Luis Medina and Hayden Wesneski, left-hander Ken Waldichuk, and shortstop Oswald Peraza to Double-A Somerset among other moves, it was considered a seismic shift because fans hadn’t seen mass promotions like that in a long time.
Think about some of the notable performers in the Yankees system. Tampa shortstop Anthony Volpe has a slash line of .377/.548/.803 with 5 home runs, 19 RBIs, and 20 walks in his last 19 games. Let’s go up the ladder in the organization. Scranton Wilkes-Barre shortstop Hoy Park has a slash line of .320/.495/.507 with 11 RBis, 24 hits, and 25 walks in his last 20 games.
On the mound at Double-A Somerset, right-handed pitcher Glenn Otto has 60 strikeouts in his last six games and Janson Junk, who sometimes doesn’t get a chance to start games due to piggybacking JP Sears, has an ERA of 1.00. Yet, there is no room for them in the Triple-A rotation to allow themselves to be challenged.
There is no doubt that some of this is because there are only five affiliates in the Yankees system when you include the Florida Complex League. With that being said, if there isn’t a path for these players to move up, then it only causes the Yankees to lose more talent in the Rule V Draft (i.e Garrett Whitlock, Luis Torrens, etc).
You could make the case that the “Scranton shuttle” hurts this franchise more than helps it because they have to leave spots open for pitchers and the organization has to know the second they DFA a reliever, they will be claimed by another team and maybe even a rival.
Ideally, the Yankees would be buyers at the trade deadline and be able to trade some of their prospects to help the big league club. Instead, they are at the risk of losing more players to the Rule V Draft this winter because if they sold, they would look to find upper-level talent that could help them re-tool rather than rebuild like they did in 2016.
In fact, if you compare the record of the 2016 team to this one, it is nearly identical. In 2016, the team was 41-42 on July 5, this year they are 42-41. The only difference is that the 2016 team was clearly not ready to contend and fans accepted that. All you hear is the Yankees rebuilding or re-tooling is unacceptable. As long as the organization makes the goal clear to fans, you can re-build, so that is a myth.
The fact of the matter is there are so many spots in the Yankees organization to go around. This offseason, they dealt outfielder Antonio Cabello to the Rangers in the Roughned Odor deal because the FCL squad has too many talented outfielders. They dealt outfielder Canaan Smith-Njigba and right-hander Roansy Contreras to the Pirates to get Jameson Taillon because of the depth they had at High-A and Double-A at those positions and that has showed up this year.
They tried to make moves to help the big-league club and it hasn’t panned out. The Yankees may not have the obvious pieces to sell like they did in 2016, but this is where Brian Cashman and company need to be creative and find ways to create roster flexibility.
If they don’t, it not only will hurt the big-league club, but it can hurt development as well if a player is dominating one level and can’t challenge themselves, then it will hurt at the minor league level as well in due time. It only makes the rest of month that much more critical for this organization that has a top-15 farm system in baseball.
It can only get better, but the amount of inflexibility will still remain unless something happens. You can stockpile as much talent as you want, but eventually hard decision have to be made.