The reaction to MLB’s punishment of the Astros and the league’s additional findings from its own investigation has been strong, to say the least. Whether fans believe Houston’s consequences, which included year-long suspensions (leading to the firing of GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch), loss of key draft picks and a $5 million, were fair or unfair, it’s clear that MLB strongly believes that the Astros cheated, and an example needed to be made.
So, the punishments have been dealt (though another is likely coming to now-deposed Red Sox manager Alex Cora soon), but fans and even some players (Aaron Judge deleted a congratulatory comment to Jose Altuve from 2017) are still seething. How can we settle this and ease the minds of the Yankees?
The answer is simple. Rematch!
The only logical way to correct history is to have both the Yankees and Astros bring back together their respective postseason rosters from 2017 and settle this like civilized adults. Go ahead and grab Sonny Gray from Cincinnati, fetch Todd Frazier from Texas and pull Jacoby Ellsbury out of...wherever Jacoby Ellsbury is nowadays. It’s time to determine the real winner of the 2017 ALCS.
First, let’s look at the lineups from Game Seven of that series and see who would have the advantage today:
|Gary Sanchez||Brian McCann|
|Greg Bird||Yuli Gurriel|
|Starlin Castro||Jose Altuve|
|Todd Frazier||Alex Bregman|
|Didi Gregorius||Carlos Correa|
|Brett Gardner||Marwin Gonzalez|
|Aaron Hicks||George Springer|
|Aaron Judge||Josh Reddick|
Let’s start at catcher, where the Yankees have a clear advantage. Gary Sanchez is now in the prime of his career, while former Yankee Brian McCann, who announced his retirement after last season, is likely still in his recently-retired phase of vegging out on the couch and binge-watching Game of Thrones (stop at season seven Brian!). McCann, who posted an 86 OPS+ in 2019, wouldn’t be too much of a factor in this series.
First base, second base and third base, however, would be a problem for the Yanks. Greg Bird tore up Houston in 2017 to the tune of a .938 OPS in the ALCS, but he’s since been released after more injuries, while Yuli Gurriel just had a career year for Houston. Starlin Castro finished 2019 with a 96 OPS+, and paired against Altuve, that’s not great. Maybe the Yankees do a little cheating themselves here and put Gleyber Torres in a No. 14 uniform with a mouthful of sunflower seeds and hope nobody notices.
Didi Gregorius and Carlos Correa could be fairly similar now as in 2017, assuming Gregorius has shaken off any lingering rust from Tommy John surgery. At third base, Todd Frazier posted an identical 106 OPS+ last year compared to 2017, but Alex Bregman has turned into a star since 2017, so that’s advantage Houston as well. But hey, Frazier is from Toms River, so that’s gotta account for something.
The outfield feels like advantage Yankees. Brett Gardner just had a career year and seems to still have a lot left in the tank, while Judge has become a prolific postseason bat after struggling for a good amount of the 2017 postseason. Meanwhile, Josh Reddick and and Marwin Gonzalez both had below-average seasons in 2019, so even with George Springer still with the Astros, we’ll give the edge to the Yanks.
The Yankees’ DH situation would be awfully hectic. Ellsbury was a DH in the 2017 postseason (no, really) but we don’t know if he can even swing a bat right now, so it would have to be Chase Headley, who didn’t play in 2019 after being released by the Padres, and given the fact that he’s another three years older than he was in 2017, we’d have to think he would struggle to even get up this time if he were to have another whoopsie on the basepaths. But hey, Evan Gattis didn’t play in 2019 either and is kind-of-but-not-really retired, so who knows.
Now let’s look at the pitching staffs. The Yankees would still have Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino, but they’d have to bring back Gray and CC Sabathia. Gray would actually provide a big boost if he pitches like he did with Cincinnati last year, but Sabathia basically no longer has a left shoulder, which could pose an issue for the southpaw. He might have to pitch righty, but hey, the Astros no longer will know what pitch is coming, so those things could cancel each other out.
Houston would still have Justin Verlander, but would bring back Charlie Morton, Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. Morton, who was rocked in Game Three in 2017, is even better now, so that hurts the Yankees, but the Bombers have had much more success against Keuchel since Game Five of that series, and McCullers hasn’t pitched in a meaningful game since undergoing Tommy John surgery, so he could have a lot of rust. My suggestion? Sabathia and McCullers each pitch two games in this series, but both use their non-dominant arms.
In the bullpen, the Yankees would still be in excellent shape in the back end thanks to Chad Green, Aroldis Chapman and Tommy Kahnle, but David Robertson would still be shelved after undergoing Tommy John surgery this past summer. But the Astros would have to turn to arms like Chris Devenski and Brad Peacock in high-leverage spots, so the bullpen advantage goes to New York, as it so often does.
Another critical change: for one series only, Joe Girardi would be back in place of Aaron Boone. Would the return of the binder serve as a fitting metaphor for the book of baseball history being rewritten? Unfortunately, looking at both teams as constructed in the modern day, it still feels like the Astros have the edge in overall offense and starting pitching, so this redo might only bring the Yanks more pain.
Prediction: Astros in 7, but this time a road team actually wins a game.