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  • Cory Claus

Yankees “stars” are sinking the season

The Yankees came into the season thinking they had enough top-caliber talent to carry them to the postseason. They assumed their only problem would be with their role-players. Instead, it’s been their highest-paid players who have put the playoffs in peril.


A Yankees fan watching the season slip away

The Yankees (58-54) are getting further away from the playoffs.


Just a few days ago, on August 4th, they were 2.5 games out of the last Wild Card Spot, tied with Seattle and just behind Boston.


They wake up today, however, 4.5 games out.


It’s not a surprise that Boston (57-54) has gotten worse. They overperformed all season and then stayed pat at the trade deadline. Seattle (60-52), on the other hand, sold some of their best talent at the deadline, then went on a three-game winning streak. Whether or not they can sustain that success remains to be seen.


But one thing the Yankees and their fans are tired of seeing is the biggest names on this roster sinking the season.


That list doesn’t include Gerrit Cole. He is having his best post sticky-stuff season for the Yanks. His ERA (2.64), WHIP (1.040), and 157 strikeouts have him on the shortlist for the AL Cy Young Award.


No Blame in Their Game


It’s also hard to blame Aaron Judge. It’s one thing when a player gets injured because he’s not in good enough shape, but The Big Man got hurt crashing through a wall to make an inspirational play. He might not have made that play if he knew what it would lead to, but there’s no blame for making the decision he did.


Likewise for Anthony Rizzo. He went through all the right protocols after he collided with Fernando Tatis Jr. back on May 28th. And although his performance cratered after that incident, no one, not even him, thought it was related.


After passing the concussion test, Rizzo flew to Seattle with the Yankees but did not play in any of the three games against the Mariners. Rizzo said the Yankees wanted him to sit out that series in Seattle as a precautionary measure because his neck was sore from the collision, but he did not have any concussion-like symptoms, such as headaches, light-headedness or nausea. With an off day between the Seattle series and the next series at Dodger Stadium, Rizzo missed a total of four days before resuming play on June 2.
“Ultimately, we’re dealing with a player that didn’t have any complaints,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said.

The best way to look at the injuries to Judge and Rizzo is as part of the snakebit season the Yankees are going through. But even without assigning undeserved blame, the fact is that the same Judge who hit an all-world .311/.425/.686 with an MLB non-steroid best 62 homers is hitting a still great .277/.402/.624.


The real issue is that his heroic injury has limited him to just 58 games and just 20 home runs.


Similarly, while I would never blame a player for getting concussed, the fact is that Rizzo's SLG is down 100 points from last year at .378 compared to .480. And like Judge, his home runs are way down. Rizzo launched 32 last year but has knocked out but 12 so far.


But there are no such reasons for the other Yankees stars who have put the team in this position. Let’s start with Giancarlo Stanton.


The Big Comedown for Big G


When Cashman traded for Stanton, Big G was coming off an MVP season. He played 159 games while slashing .281/.376/.631. He also hit 59 home runs and 32 doubles, which propelled him to an amazing 1.007 OPS. Cashman has made some good moves and he’s made some bad moves, but it’s impossible to criticize the trade for Stanton.


Except that the man has been deteriorating ever since. Stanton’s only played in 62 games in which he’s hitting just .206/.281/.465. He has still managed to hit seventeen home runs but this time only eight doubles. His OPS of .746 is the lowest of his career, beating out his previous low set last year of .759.


And he’s just 33.


Teams expect players to start to break down physically in their thirties, but not this soon. When Reggie Jackson was 33 way back in 1979, he hit .297/.382/.544 to go along with 29 homers and 24 doubles. That led him to post a .926 OPS, almost two hundred points higher than Stanton’s.


I would have used the more recent example of A-Rod, who also had higher numbers than Stanton, but, you know.


Stanton is stiff at the plate, below average in the outfield, and sometimes jogs to home plate. That is not an All-Star who can lead the Yankees to the playoffs.


Severino is Not Pitching In


That, however, is miles above what Luis Severino has given the club. Stanton might have a minuscule WAR of 0.2, but at least it’s positive. Sevvy, meanwhile, sits at a -1.7 WAR. In case you don’t have your glasses on, that’s a NEGATIVE one point seven.


That’s just embarrassing.


That’s what happens when you throw to a 7.74 ERA and WHIP of 1.849. But Sevvy has been especially damaging to the Yankees' chances because he saved two of his worst performances of the season for his last two starts, as predicted.


He lasted just four innings against the Astros because he gave up five runs in that time. But that was a marked improvement over the start that preceded it. In that game against the division-leading Orioles (who look great), he surrendered nine runs in three and one-third innings.


It was his worst start of the season, at the worst time of the season.


The only good news for the Yankees is that at least Severino will be off the team next year, while Stanton has another four years with the club.


Carlos Rodon will also be on the club with Stanton, and beyond. But unlike Stanton, the Yankees have hopes Rodon still has some of his best years still in him.


And he better. He's signed for the next five years at roughly 28 million per season. The Yankees will need him to do vastly better than he has so far, as he's just ahead of Severino with a 7.33 ERA and a WHIP of 1.519. If not, he'll be headlining this same column next year.


The one out Rodon gets is that he missed half the season, so he hasn't been able to hurt the team as much as Sevvy. Plus, he's in his first year in the Bronx. That leaves hope he can improve in year two. Again, he better.


That doesn’t do anything to help them this year, though, unlike the blessed loss of Josh Donaldson.


Donaldson, like Stanton, is another former MVP. Yet his performance before being injured was much, much worse.


Donaldson’s decline came hard and fast. Two years ago with the Twinkies, he hit .247/.352/.475 with 26 home runs and the same number of doubles over the 135 games he played.


That’s a far cry from his 2023 season.


Before his injury, the now 37-year-old and already oft-injured player hit just .142/.225/.434 to go with his ten home runs and one double. He joins Sevvy in having a negative WAR, this time at -0.1, but the Yankees are paying more to get it. Severino is earning 15 million in an option the Yanks picked up, while Josh is collecting a cool 21 million.


Meanwhile, Yankees discard Gio Urshella is out in Anaheim hitting .299/.329/.374. And he’s doing it for just 8.4 million.


Yankees Lemahieu is the Best of the Worst


Finally, we come to DJ Lemaheiu. He’s not as bad as the three players above him, but he still needs to be on this list. At 34, he’s having either his worst or second-worst year of his career, depending on how you evaluate his age-24 season with Colorado.


Either way, the former batting champ has slashed just .239/.313/.373. But at least he has a positive WAR of 0.4. Plus, he’s a great infield utility player who still plays gold-glove-caliber defense no matter where the team puts him. And he’s been out there almost every day, playing in 95 of the Yankees’ 112 games.


That’s the same as Stanton and Donaldson combined.


Lemahieu may not be the player he once was, but he’s not to blame nearly as much as the others on this list.


That understanding, however, does nothing for the sad state of the Yankees season. Whether due to injury or ineffectiveness, the stars the team thought they could lean on have let them down. Instead, it’s been the role players who’ve kept the Yankees' hopes alive.


It’s been guys like IKF, Jake Bauers, and Clarke Schmidt. And it’s those guys who deserve to be spotlighted for it.


But for that, you have to read tomorrow’s column.


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