Do you remember 2017? Yeah, I wish I didn’t, either. But think back to April of two years ago. The San Francisco Giants were off to a bit of a rough start, punctuated by an Opening Day blown save courtesy of the team’s big free agent signing, Mark Melancon. But hey! No worries! There was time to right the ship!
And then, on April 20, Madison Bumgarner breathed in the clean, reefer-tinged Rocky Mountain air, took every Giants fan’s hopes and dreams, and smashed them into the ground along with his throwing shoulder.
There’s a lot to say about the infamous Dirt Bike Incident, but to me, the biggest takeaway was the team’s fragility. All it took was one superstar to fall (literally), and the Giants were doomed.
Now, imagine that soon after Bumgarner went down, Buster Posey got injured. And then Brandon Belt. And then Johnny Cueto. And then Brandon Crawford. And then Jeff Samardzija, and Joe Panik, and Hunter Strickland, and…
Sounds redonk-a-donk, right? Well, what you’re imagining right now is the New York Yankees (just, you know, with worse players).
If you created a roster from the players on the Yankees’ IL right now, you’d easily have a top 10 team. I mean, just look at this list:
- Aaron Judge: Left oblique strain, no return date
- James Paxton: Left knee inflammation, expected return date of late May
- CC Sabathia: Right knee inflammation, expected return date of early June
- Giancarlo Stanton: His entire body, expected return date of June
- Jonathan Loaisiga: Right rotator cuff strain, expected return date of July
- Luis Severino: Right latissimus muscle strain, expected return date of July
- Dellin Betances: Right shoulder impingement, expected return date of June
- Didi Gregorius: Tommy John surgery, expected return date of June or July
- Miguel Andújar: Partially torn right labrum, expected return date of 2020
- Greg Bird: Torn plantar fascia, no return date
- Ben Heller: Tommy John surgery, expected return date of June
- Jordan Montgomery: Tommy John surgery, expected return date of July
- Troy Tulowitzki: Left calf strain, expected return date of June
- Jacoby Ellsbury: Arthroscopic surgery on his left hip labrum, no return date
By my count, that’s a former MVP, a former Rookie of the Year, a future superstar third baseman, a good-to-great shortstop, an ace and co-ace, a future HoF pitcher, an All-Star relief pitcher, three promising young pitchers, a first baseman who, if he played for the Giants, would have KNBR callers absolutely frothing with rage that Belt is still starting, and nearly half of my required word count. That doesn’t include Aaron Hicks (lower back strain), Clint Frazier (sprained left ankle), and Gary Sanchez (strained left calf), all of whom had stints on the IL earlier this season.
The top five players on that list have cumulatively put up 3.1 bWAR in just 23 games (for position players), 18 starts (for pitchers), and one relief appearance. (To put those numbers in perspective, the Giants’ top five players have combined for 4.3 bWAR—in 111 games and 20 relief appearances.)
So, the Yankees are in last place, right?
Oh, you…you don’t know? Oh, my poor naïve child. If Star Wars has shown us anything, it’s that blowing up the Death Star I/Death Star II/Starkiller Base isn’t enough to destroy the Evil Empire/Emperor Palpatine/First Order.
No, the Yankees are fine. More than fine. Despite losing half their team to injuries, the Yankees sport the fourth-best record in the league and have won 18 of their last 27 games.
It isn’t fair, obviously. But as my mom always says…
Still, how have they done it? It helps to have one of the best shortstops in the league (Gleybar “I’m Only 22 Years Old” Torres), one of the best utility players in the league (DJ “Giants Bane” LeMahieu), one of the best catchers in the league (Gary “Better Than Buster I’m Sorry It’s True” Sanchez), two of the best relievers in the league (Aroldis “Still Gross” Chapman and Adam “I Can Strike Out Babe Ruth” Ottavino), and one of the biggest surprise star turns this season (Domingo “Wait, Who?” German).
Sure, some of their success this year can be credited to a favorable schedule—they’ve already played the Baltimore Orioles 12 times—and some to luck—seriously, who is Domingo German? But the fact is, the Yankees are outrageously talented, and that isn’t by accident. GM Brian Cashman has consistently sustained the team’s reserves during his tenure, complementing the Yankees’ in-system player development with savvy trades and free agent signings.
After all, just take Torres. Cashman picked up the next Derek Jeter and only gave up half a season of Chapman in return—and then immediately re-signed the latter without the fear of a qualifying offer. The same could be said for his other acquisitions: Sanchez and Andujar were fantastic international pickups, no one’s scratching their heads about LeMahieu now, and he’s never been afraid to bolster his bullpen with the best relievers—and to trade them when the time is right.
And if Bobby Evans deserves credit for picking up Dereck Rodriguez, then Cashman sure as heck deserves heaps of praise for recognizing untapped potential in German.
It’s not sustainable, of course. It can’t be. Oh god, please don’t let it be. But given the Yankees’ superb ability to build up talent, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they continue to succeed even when they’re getting injured like they’re playing parrises squares.
What can the Giants learn from the Yankees? Well, first, that it’s possible to build up talent for the present and the future, and second, oh who am I kidding TRADE WILL SMITH TRADE TONY WATSON TRADE EVERYONE WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR FARHAN ZAIDI GIVE US HOPE FOR THE FUTURE!
The Evil Empire is dead. Long live the Empire.