Last year at this time, The New York Yankees were not a good team. It looked like the Evil Empire had finally been conquered by Father Time and bad long-term contracts.
They were below .500. Even worse: they were boring, unlikable, and sad.
The gloom that had enveloped Yankee Universe was palpable. If the other team loaded the bases in the first inning, Yankees radio voice John Sterling would say, “We had better hope that Pineda doesn’t let two of those runs score. If he does, the Yankees will never be able to come back.”
And he was right. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez were washed up. Chase Headley and Aaron Hicks looked lost. And the whole team was lethargic and slow.
The organization needed a change, there was no denying that. So what did the front office do? They signed some big money free agents….NO!!! Not this time. This time, the New York Yankees did the right thing. They got younger.
A-Rod was forced into retirement. Teixeira retired on his own. Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann got traded. It’s a whole new team. Fewer big names, fewer bloated contracts, and a lot more fun.
The Evil Empire has fallen. The Baby Bombers Era has begun.
The Yankees front office took its first step on the road to franchise sanity back in 2013. That year, the Red Sox unwisely signed Dustin Pedroia to an eight-year contract extension. That contract looks okay now, but it won’t when the Sox have a broken down 37-year-old infielder in 2021.
New York did not make the same mistake; they said good-bye to their aging franchise second baseman – Robinson Cano.
To be fair, Cano is playing well for Seattle. But the Yankees’ second baseman – Starlin Castro – is playing just as well. And Castro is 7 years younger and is playing for a fraction of the money on a shorter contract.
Starlin Castro is actually the high-paid elder statesmen on the team’s core of young stars. Power-hitting catcher Gary Sanchez is making the league minimum at age 24. The face of the franchise – Aaron Judge – just turned 25.
In contemporary MLB, scoring a big free agent signing is a sure way to make headlines. But drafting and trading for young talent is the way to win a championship.
During that same fateful winter of 2013, the Yankees took a chance on Aaron Judge.
Judge was chosen late in the first round. More than 20 other teams passed him over, and it’s easy to see why. Judge is 6’7’’, 280 pounds, and position players aren’t supposed to be that large. Athletes that size become tight ends, not outfielders.
As all baseball fans know by now, the Yankees made the right decision. Barring injury, Aaron Judge is going to be Rookie of the Year. And he’s on his way to becoming the league’s premier power hitter.
His size gives him a unique skill set. Pitchers are used to being able to fire high fastballs at hitters, creating a swing and miss, a foul back, or a pop up. Aaron Judge hits high fastballs out of the park.
Pitchers are used to being able to jam hitters with inside fastballs. Generally, the best a batter can do with an inside fastball is pull his hands in and shoot the ball to the opposite field – Jeter style. Aaron Judge is able to shoot the same inside fastballs to the opposite field – and over the fence in right-center.
It’s not that Judge has discovered a new style of hitting; it’s that Judge is a giant playing in ballparks that were built for mortal men. That’s why he leads in the league in home runs.
Don’t worry, Red Sox fans: Judge will probably slow down. History dictates that he can’t continue hitting at this torrid pace.
You had better hope he slows down. And that Sanchez, Castro, Hicks, and Didi Gregorius aren’t as great as they appear to be. If they are, The Yankees are a dynasty in the making.
It’s almost Judge-ment Day for the AL East.