Major League Baseball’s biggest story of the first half and the All-Star break was Shohei Ohtani. And that story begins with a new Angels front office lifting restrictions on the righty-pitching, lefty-hitting sensation.
They wanted to see what they had. They wanted the question answered on exactly what they had. Pitcher? Hitter? Both? Neither? The only way to learn was to remove the handcuffs. Ohtani had incurred injuries in his first three major league seasons even with multiple tethers. Overprotecting him was not working.
So the Angels let a colt run and the results have been spectacular. For the Yankees, this should be informative.
To be the best team possible, as much in the future as in this dreadful season, that means putting Giancarlo Stanton in the outfield at least a few days a week. If he breaks down, then he breaks down. Stanton has broken down often even with bubble-wrap treatment, similarly to Ohtani before this season.
Maybe you could understand Stanton not playing the outfield when the Yankees were trying to find out if Jay Bruce had anything left. Or when just Aaron Hicks had been lost to injury. Or before Mike Tauchman was traded. Or when Brett Gardner was showing he no longer could offer much offensive impact. But now Clint Frazier and Miguel Andujar are out, and so is Aaron Judge. The Yankees have played infielders Andujar and Tyler Wade in the outfield and seemed more likely to pull Paul O’Neill from the broadcast booth than to deploy Stanton.
In desperate need of wins, the Yankees’ starting outfield Friday against the first-place Red Sox was Gardner, Tim Locastro and Trey Amburgey, with Stanton as the designated hitter — and that was the right lineup because there simply was no other bat to justify shoving in as DH to put Stanton in the outfield for the first time since he played left field against the Astros in ALCS Game 1 in 2019.
But prior to the break, the Yankees’ best lineup against righties would have been Rougned Odor at second, DJ LeMahieu at first, Luke Voit DHing, Stanton in left field and Gardner as a late-game defensive caddy. That Odor would so greatly improve the lineup speaks to the 2021 roster. Nevertheless, that was the reality, though it never happened.
Now, the Yankees are targeting three games in Miami (July 30-Aug. 1), in which there will be no DH, for Stanton’s outfield debut. That falls into the believe-it-when-you-see-it category, because the Yankees talk as if they are trying to build Stanton up for a daily triathlon rather than to play possibly nine innings in the outfield. Also, by then it could fall into the “why bother?” bin. The trade deadline is July 30 and the Yankees may be sellers, thus, why even risk Stanton’s body? What we know is that before then, they can’t even try to buy, for example, Minnesota’s Nelson Cruz to try to jump-start the offense because Stanton is clogging the DH role.
Also, Derek Jeter could get a good laugh watching Stanton play the outfield. After all, Stanton played a career-high 149 games in the outfield while winning the 2017 NL MVP. Jeter, then the nascent CEO of the Marlins, took grief for dealing his star that offseason for two lottery ticket prospects and Starlin Castro, while having to pay the Yankees $30 million. It is the best move of his administration to date — could you imagine Stanton on his expensive contract becoming a DH-only in a non-DH league?
It also is one of the worst trades of Brian Cashman’s tenure as Yankees GM. The Yankees failed to land Ohtani and pivoted quickly to the Stanton deal, which now feels like original sin in making the roster too righty, too unathletic and too inflexible. Stanton is a rollercoaster offensively, with flaming hot streaks and extended cold streaks in which he misses pitches by as much as any batter in the sport. On Friday, when a depleted lineup needed his might, Stanton jogged into a double play and then struck out three times.
Subtract what the Marlins are paying, and the Yankees owe Stanton seven years at $159 million after this season. If a universal DH is included in the next collective bargaining agreement, could the Yankees eat enough money to find a taker? Would Stanton waive his no-trade clause (he refused trades to San Francisco and St. Louis before being dealt to the Yankees)? Could the Yankees do a long-term deal with Judge, a free agent after next season, without knowing whether or not there would be plenty of DH at-bats for him should his big body slow down to the point at which he can’t handle right field daily?
That is why, at least partially, the Yankees need to find out if Stanton, who will turn 32 in November, could at least handle playing the outfield two or three times a week. They need a roster with more flexibility and, thus, a DH who is not fixed.
If Stanton breaks, he breaks. But it’s not as if the bubble-wrap treatment has led to good outcomes.