We’re getting close, everyone. The Yankees expect to activate Giancarlo Stanton today, and Aaron Judge should come back within a week. This impressive Yankees squad is nearly back to full health. Despite adding two MVP-calibre hitters—arguably the two best power hitters in the game—there exists a lot of worrying and hand-wringing about the effect that Stanton and Judge’s return will have in the clubhouse.
Wait, there is?
I can entertain criticism about a possible change in approach, even if I don’t believe the change will be that dramatic. Stanton and Judge make for as good an example as one can find of three true outcome baseball, combining for a 49.35% TTO rate over their careers, while the 2019 Yankee squad is at a 42% TTO rate. I think that’s a fair trade given how much power Stanton and Judge add to the team, but one can at least argue stylistically for one form or another.
What I can’t entertain is the belief that amazing players returning to an already great team will cause some sort of personality-related decline in performance. Both guys are not new to the team – they played critical roles in the 100-win regular season a year ago, and have sat in the dugout for most of their time on the injured list. They stayed with the team all this time.
I can’t speak to the mentality of the “fill-ins”, the guys who have made the best of their opportunities while the Yankees got healthy. Gio Urshela and Cameron Maybin have been wonderful surprises; Clint Frazier has shown us that at least the bat plays in the majors; and even a castoff like Kendrys Morales has found playing time, even if he hasn’t made the most of it.
I’m sure it must be disappointing to know that your playing time is going to be cut, and certainly Frazier was let down when the team optioned him on Sunday. He isn’t alone, though. Thairo Estrada was also optioned back to Triple-A after a great performance with the team. Mike Tauchman will likely go down for Stanton, and Morales’ days are numbered once he returns from his IL stint. I’ve never been in that situation before, but it can’t be pleasant.
Still, that’s part of the job, especially when you’re on the fringes of the roster. Estrada, Frazier and Tauchman have to know their status; they have minor league options, thus making them the easiest choices for roster space. It sounds cold, but the Yankees are better with Judge and Stanton than they are with Estrada and Tauchman, and that drives decisions like this.
None of this is to say that chemistry and personality don’t matter. Sports psychology exists, and all things being equal, you’d like every move to help boost morale. I just don’t agree that, team-wide, the Yankees will be pouting because they get to play with two of the absolute best players in the game again. Judge is already the captain of the team in all but name, and perhaps the best thing about his emergence as a true superstar has been his demeanor and leadership.
As for Stanton, just look at how teammates greeted the news of his trade two winters ago:
Early Christmas present...— Tyler Wade (@_tylerwade) December 9, 2017
This isn’t the behavior of guys dreading a player joining their team, and there shouldn’t be any doubt that Stanton will be welcomed back with open arms.
There’s always a lot of risk in trying to assess clubhouse “fit” from a fan’s perspective, simply because there’s almost no information that we have about how players act when they’re not on the field. We feel like we know these guys because we watch them for three hours every night, but the 25 players on an MLB roster spend more time together in-season than they spend with their spouses. There are levels to the relationships between players that we don’t have any visibility on.
Two examples of this really stand out to me: Manny Machado and Aroldis Chapman. In the offseason there was a lot of pearl clutching about Machado being lazy, dirty, you name it. Fans and beat writers openly speculated that Manny would harm the development of young players in the Yankees’ organization. We know now that was silly to think, and if you listened to last week’s R2C2 podcast, you heard just how much professional ballplayers—and play-by-play guys – love Machado.
Chapman, of course, had his own off-field issues, and his acquisition, arbitrage, and subsequent re-acquisition still makes me personally feel a little gross. But he’s respected and well-liked within the clubhouse, one of the few players that’s a public target of good-natured roasting by teammates and openly admired for his fashion sense. As fans, we’re entitled to feel however we want about Machado or Chapman as individuals, but we should always remember that the relationships they develop with teammates and opponents are largely a mystery for us.
The Yankees are better for having Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge on the team. The fill-ins have been fantastic, but we always knew that players like Urshela were playing above their heads. And his performance, for example, is starting to flatline:
Fans have waited weeks to get the two best hitters on the team back in the lineup every day. We’re so close to that happening, and the conversation should be around how the current division leaders are just going to get better. Judge and Stanton aren’t going to be causing any clubhouse ruckus, but they will certainly be setting off fireworks on the field.