In a post on Pinstripe Alley yesterday, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand talked to me about his new book, “The Franchise: New York Yankees.” Check out the interview if you haven’t already, and try to find the book in stores! We also took time to discuss the longtime reporter’s thoughts on the 2022 Yankees though, and I decided to split our talk into two parts. Below is our conversation, which took place on Tuesday, June 7th.
Sensational starting rotation has been one of the stories of the season. Heading into Opening Day, did you have any inkling that they could all be good?
Sure, we all knew that Nestor Cortes would be one of the league leaders in ERA! That was a given. No, I don’t think that anybody had any idea. Coming into the year, I picked the Yankees to finish second or third in the AL East with a Wild Card spot. My takeaway for them was that they’ll hit enough and the bullpen should be really good; little did I realize that it was going to be Clay Holmes and Michael King carrying the load.
The question was about the starting rotation. You figured Gerrit Cole would be good. There are some questions about the sticky stuff and how that’s still going to affect him, but you figured that he would figure it out. He’s a great pitcher. But will Jameson Taillon be able to put together a full season? Would Luis Severino be able to come back from his injury well? Is Cortes a guy they can rely on every five days? Was Jordan Montgomery going to be able to take that next step? These were all unanswered questions coming into the year. And obviously here, two-plus months in, they’ve all been fantastic.
Can they all do it for three and a half more months, and then another month in October? We have no idea. I think they certainly have reason to believe that these guys will be able to continue because it’s not like you’ve seen a lot of them go out there and pitch two really good games, then get lit up once. I think back to ‘09 with A.J. Burnett where he’d go out and throw a gem, and then go out and get drilled in his next start. They were like “Well, we’re gonna see Good A.J. or Bad A.J.” We haven’t seen “Good Montgomery/Bad Montgomery,” or anything like that; they just don’t score runs for him.
So if these guys continue doing what they’ve been doing, this is going to be a really dangerous team. And they might not be Max Scherzer & Jacob deGrom, which is obviously what the team across town is hoping that they’ll have in the second half and going into October, but these guys have been excellent. It’s a lot of confidence there. And, you know, this is a very well-rounded team.
Yeah, it feels like the rotation gives them a chance to win every single game with a quality performance. You’ll even get like a JP Sears coming up making a good spot start, and it feels like they really haven’t had a blow-up start since that one Cole start in Detroit, sort of the end of April. But since then, just very commendable performances.
That’s what you need. We know this team is gonna hit enough on most nights, though there are a couple where they don’t and they’ll run into a hot pitcher or whatever it may be. They’re going to score enough runs most nights to keep the team in the game. If you’re getting good starting pitching and your bullpen can lock it down, you’re gonna win a lot of baseball games. It’s all gonna come down, as always, to the fact that this offense is really good, but can they get that situational hitting come October? If they can, they’re going to be a really dangerous team come playoff time, but obviously, we’re still quite a ways away from that.
And we’re still a little under two months until the trade deadline. Brian Cashman always seems to have some tricks up his sleeve come deadline time. You know, last year with Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo, we’ve seen him make some really good trades, both big trades and small trades.
I think back to the Luke Voit trade. When they made that trade, I barely even acknowledged it on deadline day in terms of like, the most impactful trades and they got a couple of really good years out of Voit, including one where he led the league in home runs. Cashman, his front office, and his analytics department do a really good job of identifying talent from elsewhere. I mean, Clay Holmes was just some guy, and when they got him, did anybody blink? Did anybody think this was going to be any sort of a difference-making player? No, and there’s no reason that you would have, and yet he’s been the best reliever in baseball this year.
What’s something about the team’s hot start that you think doesn’t get discussed enough?
I think Gleyber Torres maybe. He’s bounced back really nicely this year. I think a lot of people had given up on him and thought that after the last year and a half that we saw from him, maybe pitchers around the league have figured him out and that we’ll never going to see that 38-homer, big-time, middle-of-the-order type guy again. And the fact that he’s bounced back and been productive this year I think has been important.
Obviously, Aaron Judge is incredible and a couple other guys are having really good years, but I think Gleyber coming back gives them another really dangerous bat. Teams want to pitch around some of these other guys? That’s fine. But then you have to pitch to somebody, and if Gleyber’s swinging the bat well and keeps doing what he’s doing, I think that certainly helps that lineup a whole lot.
Yeah, I mean, he’s young, but this almost seemed like it could be a borderline make-or-break year from him in terms of whether or not the Yankees would have to figure something else out for their future at second. After a couple shaky years from Gleyber, he’s really come back strong.
Right, and when you get guys who are in arbitration, you’ve got to make decisions annually on non-tenders and whether to pay them. It happened to Gary Sánchez a couple of times, where it was like “All right, we’ve seen what he can do, so for what we’re going to pay him in arbitration, it’s still worth seeing if he can come back.” Eventually, they decided to move on for the defensive problems that he presented behind the plate.
Gleyber was a guy who I think was much better suited for second than shortstop. I know I’m not breaking any news or setting any hot takes there. But the fact that he’s able to come back, play a solid second base and be an impactful hitter again ... if he continues this through the year, then at least that’s one less thing they have to worry about. Going into the offseason again, Gleyber seems reliable in that spot. He’ll be penciled in as their second baseman next year, and there wouldn’t need to be a second thought.
So even in good times, there are some question marks and Aaron Hicks and Joey Gallo have remained frustrating. Do you have any suspicions about the source of their problems?
Well, for Gallo, this is who he is. He’s an all-or-nothing, swing-and-miss kind of guy. And when he connects, usually the ball goes real far. He’s off to a very slow start this year. I don’t know. I’m always very hesitant to say, “Oh, this guy can’t handle New York” because we’ve seen that several times. I mean, since I’m been covering the Yankees, the first guy that I remember that was Jeff Weaver. They traded for Weaver with the expectation that he was going to be their future ace for the next decade, but he just just never quite clicked there. Javy Vázquez was a guy with an All-Star first half in his first year with the Yankees, and then just could never keep that going. I’m not ready to say that Joey Gallo can’t handle pressure. But certainly when a guy comes to New York and struggles, if he can’t replicate what he’s done elsewhere, that’s the natural question to ask.
Hicks just hasn’t been able to stay healthy for several years. I think the fact that he hasn’t played very much over the past couple years is showing, and he just looks rusty. He looks like maybe he’s aged a little bit. And you know, when they signed him to that deal, I really thought that it was gonna be a great deal for them. For seven years and $70 million, you’re not paying him a ton, and he’s a reliable switch-hitter who can pretty much hit anywhere in the orders. But he just hasn’t gotten it done.
It would not surprise me if one or both of those guys are still battling it in a month, Brian Cashman looks around to try and bolster that outfield and another acquisition comes in.
Last question: Which American League rival do you think the Yankees should be most concerned about as the season goes on?
Probably Toronto. I would never want to overlook the Rays because I’ve just learned better over the past 10 years to do that. I think their front office is genius and they figure out a way to win with very limited resources. But the Blue Jays are nine games over .500 with a team that, you know, has pitched OK with a bullpen that has been a little bit of a spot once in a while. The lineup hasn’t come close to reaching its potential this year. I think their run differential as of yesterday was like +10 or +11. And yet they’re nine games over .500, which tells you they’re not even playing that well and they didn’t get off to the start like the Red Sox, who have bounced back as well and would hold a Wild Card spot.
But I just think Toronto. Kevin Gausman has been a great fit for them, Alek Manoah has been fantastic, and a rotation led by those guys has been pretty solid overall. If they can add a reliever or two by the deadline, and that offense clicks to its capability, then that’s going to be a really, really scary team in the second half. We’ve seen Toronto sort of treading water and doing OK in the first half before going off on one of those second-half runs. That’s a team certainly capable of doing that. So I guess the Yankees are lucky that they’ve knocked half of their games against them out of the way. They only have nine more games and they’re 6-3 against them already. So if Toronto does hit its stride and really starts playing well, it’s not like the Yankees have to face them 12-15 times.
It’s obviously a credit to what the Yankees did in their first two months to play that well and keep that going against Toronto. I think they’re glad have those games in the bank already in terms of an advantage.
They should be! I think the most popular preseason pick was for the Jays to win the AL East. Everybody thought that they were going to come on and just start crushing it. They’ve gotten off to a good start, not a great start, but they’re right there in position. They’re in a Wild Card spot, certainly within shouting distance of the Yankees with more than three months to go. If the Yankees are going to win this division, then they’re going to have to really earn it because this division’s not going away.
It seems like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has made those expectations from last year where people are now like, “Oh, what’s wrong with him?” And he has a 139 OPS+. He’s fine.
Exactly. They have Vlad, Bo Bichette, George Springer, and Teoscar Hernández, who’s had a tough start, but we know how good he can be. Matt Chapman’s played terribly offensively, but you figure that this is a guy who has put up big offensive numbers before and there shouldn’t be a lot of pressure on him in the lineup. But when Bichette and Hernández get off to bad starts, then suddenly people start looking at everyone who’s playing poorly. That lineup’s so deep though that they can afford for one or two guys to be slumping and still put up six runs per game. If they can all start putting it together, then forget it. This is going to be a really tough team for the Yankees to try to hold off.
Once again, thanks to Mark for his time on both the book and the 2022 Yankees.