BOSTON — “If that’s true, if you don’t know who I am, then maybe your best course would be to tread lightly.”
— Walter White (to Hank), “Breaking Bad”
Do the Yankees know who Giancarlo Stanton is, four years into their 10-year commitment? Do they have a firm enough grip on the slugger’s strengths and weaknesses? Do they know how to get the most out of their sizable investment in him?
They’re putting that knowledge to the test, and they had best not fail if they want to continue their recent climb to relevance.
Aaron Boone said Thursday, before his Yankees opened a critical series with the Red Sox at Fenway Park, that there’s “a good chance” Stanton will start in left field Saturday or Sunday, which would constitute his first time wearing a glove in a game since Game 1 of the 2019 American League Championship Series.
Look, if you’re going to play the oft-injured Stanton anywhere on defense, left field here is about as risk free as it gets. The proximity of the Green Monster to home plate (310 feet) will limit Stanton’s workload, and right field in Yankee Stadium (314) ranks as only slightly more challenging. Mickey Rivers, 72 and still full of energy, probably could handle these two terrains with relative ease.
Beyond that, especially with eight interleague games at National League parks remaining? They should tread lightly with one of their bigger bats, given Stanton’s injury history.
“Hopefully we get him out there maybe one day this weekend. One or two days in Miami [July 30-Aug. 1]. Obviously when we go play other National League series in a National League park, have that available to us,” Boone said. “And if that goes well, especially when we get Aaron [Judge] back, maybe pick some spots at home in right field where I can give Judgie a DH day and things like that. So hopefully this is something we can do at least sparingly to have in play.”
“Sparingly” ranks as such a critical term when it comes to Stanton’s time as a Yankee. He played sparingly in 2019, 18 out of 162 regular-season games and five of nine in October, and then sparingly last year, 23 out of 60 in the regular season before figuring things out sufficiently to start all seven games during the playoff run.
I expressed similar concerns earlier this season when the Yankees started playing Judge, also injury-prone, in center field, and to date those concerns have gone for naught; Judge is currently not active due to a positive COVID-19 test. If Stanton and Judge became attached the prior few years as much for their frequent visits to the injured list as their massive exit velocities, Judge distinguished himself from his fellow behemoth in that some of his ailments resulted from aberrational events (a hit-by-pitch, a diving attempt at a catch) rather than standard play going wrong.
Stanton memorably and frighteningly got beaned by the Brewers’ Mike Fiers in 2014, suffering serious injuries and missing extensive time with the Marlins. In his four years with the Yankees, however, all six of Stanton’s problems — four IL stays, missed playoff time in 2019 and missed spring training time in 2020 prior to the shutdown — resulted from standard work, be it running, swinging or fielding.
A changed protocol with Eric Cressey, the Yankees’ second-year director of player health and performance, appears to have paid some dividends. Thursday marked Stanton’s 75th game of the Yankees’ 95. If he’s still exceptionally streaky, the .260/.349/.469 slash line he brought to work made him a significant overpayment without qualifying him as a disaster in a vacuum. The bigger problem is that he’s too similar to too many other free-swinging, righty-hitting Yankees, but you already knew that.
It would be a bad development for Stanton to wind up hurting himself from a defensive shift, particularly at the Marlins’ ridiculously spelled loanDepot park or the Braves’ Truist Park or the Mets’ Citi Field. How confident are the Yankees that he has worked his way up to avoiding such a fate? We’ll find out, the stakes being quite high.