It is the end of an era as Alex Rodriguez took his final bow, but that also means a new one begins. Both he and Mark Teixeira will be gone by the end of this season, marking the departure of some of the last remaining pieces of the 2009 group, sans CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner. Sabathia, as we know, will be gone after next season.
One immediate implication of the Rodriguez release is that a coveted spot on the 25-man roster opens. This opened the way for Tyler Austin, and none other than Aaron Judge. The corresponding move is for Ben Heller, who was optioned to Triple-A. Austin has been hitting .323/.415/.637 at Triple-A, and he can slot in both as a backup outfielder and backup first baseman. At the very least, it’ll be interesting to see what he can provide at the big league level. Who knows: he could be good Greg Bird insurance next season.
Then there’s Judge. He has been hitting a ridiculous .270/.366/.489 triple slash with 19 home runs in just 93 games at Triple-A, and he was able to shave a few percentage points off his strikeout rate, which is exactly what he needed. And even way back in June, when this rebound wasn’t as solid, a scout told the New York Post:
“I never thought he was as bad as he looked when he was having a hard time at the plate... And I doubt he’ll be able to sustain what he’s doing now, but it does show that he’s capable of some pretty good things at this level... I don’t think anyone would say [Judge] would be overwhelmed if they called him up.”
He definitely looked somewhat major league ready recently, when he hit an absolute bomb for Triple-A a few days ago:
Video of Aaron Judge's grand slam. My suggestion: Look in the direction of the bounce house in left center field. pic.twitter.com/838kB0PJ2I— Shane Hennigan (@RailRidersTT) August 7, 2016
Yeah, I think that power plays. There’s no doubt he has the power to make the big leagues, but there are clearly some questions about whether he can hit breaking balls with consistency. Nonetheless, he needs big league at-bats before we can answer that question, and him tweaking at Triple-A doesn’t necessarily give the organization any answers. Now that he’s here, we can finally see if his bat can stick at the highest level.
There was good reason for keeping him down for this month, though. Tyler Austin gives more flexibility because he can play both right field and first base, and without him the backup first baseman is Austin Romine. (I’ll take both, though). There is also the service time argument: by waiting, the Yankees could have saved some service time, however you value that. I’m glad they didn’t go that route, because when a team tries to game a player’s service time with little tweaks, most likely it doesn’t make a difference; most players don’t even last the full six years and change to make the manipulation worth while.
If the Yankees believe he is going to be a solid regular or star, though, saving the time could mean all the difference. They could still do this by delaying a call-up in the spring, possibly trying to manipulate whether he gets arbitration after just two seasons. I’m not always happy about that, but it’s what teams do.
Either way, Judge, and Austin, are both big league ready. These call-ups are part of a multi-stage process where the Yankees will see which holes can reasonably be filled internally; we will likely see the same with Clint Frazier, Greg Bird, and Gary Sanchez in 2017. If even one of these players pan out and becomes a solid everyday player, the Yankees can start checking off areas of need. With money coming off the books as well, the Yankees could see a remarkably quick turnaround. Very rarely does it happen that perfectly, but it’s still exciting to see a new chapter. Variety, in a good way, is something that has been lacking from 2013 to 2016. Here’s to hoping that Judge will be part of that new chapter for a while.