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NEW YORK — Giancarlo Stanton couldn’t have asked for a better situation to come back to.
Just the other day, a scout was expressing concern about Stanton, wondering if the injured slugger’s eventual return would negatively impact the New York Yankees’ extremely cohesive lineup chemistry. “It’s going to be interesting,” the scout said.
It was a perfectly valid concern, one held by others in the industry.
But it doesn’t matter all that much right now.
Because suddenly, the Yankees need Giancarlo Stanton.
And his role — perhaps tenuous given all the productive outfielders the team once had at its disposal — seems very much secure.
On Monday, the team announced that super sub Mike Tauchman will miss six-to-eight weeks with a Grade 2 calf strain. And with Aaron Hicks set to receive a second opinion on his right elbow in California — his season also in jeopardy — the injury-plagued Yankees are suddenly down to Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner, Cameron Maybin and Clint Frazier (with Tyler Wade also in the mix) on the outfield depth chart.
Manager Aaron Boone told reporters in Boston that Stanton could return sometime on the team’s next homestand, which begins Sept. 17. It leaves the former National League MVP only a week and a half at most to find his swing before the October pressure cooker begins.
But it’s not like there are more intriguing options available.
Maybin, a revelation at the plate in 2019, just came back from a wrist injury himself, while Frazier hasn’t proven he can be trusted on defense in a regular-season game, much less a playoff game. So assuming Hicks is sidelined as expected, that presumably leaves Stanton in left, Gardner in center, Judge in right and Edwin Encarnacion at DH for Game 1 of the ALDS.
No debates — like, say for example, Stanton vs. Gardner — necessary. No power vs. speed, defense and experience.
No need for those questions.
The 29-year-old Stanton has been limited to just nine games and one homer (on June 24) this season due to various injuries. He has recently begun ramping up baseball activities and seeing live pitching in Tampa.
Even so, the Yankees have remained a potent offense. They entered Monday ranked second in the majors behind the Minnesota Twins in both runs (832) and homers (a franchise-record 268). And their outfielders have combined to rank fifth in FanGraphs WAR (Tauchman ranked 30th in that category among individual outfielders despite playing just 87 games before his devastating injury).
In mid-August, Stanton described his injury-plagued season as “brutal.”
The same could be said about his 2018 postseason.
During the ALDS, Stanton went 4-for-18 with six strikeouts and looked overmatched when facing Boston Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel in crunch-time. The book on getting him out was hard stuff in, then breaking stuff away. Don’t leave anything out over the plate, where he can extend his massive arms and beat you with prodigious power the other way.
“I don’t think it’s a huge addition because not all [Stanton’s] homers impact the game (five of his 38 homers in 2018 came in high-leverage situations), the strikeouts are a real issue (211 total) and he’s a below-average defender [in left],” another scout opined to Yahoo Sports earlier this season.
Stanton also has eight years left on his 13-year, $325 million deal if he doesn’t opt out following the 2020 campaign. And with the Yankees front office/scouting department’s ability to consistently find diamonds in the rough at bargain-basement prices — like Tauchman and Gio Urshela — it’s not what you want.
Nevertheless, the team has no choice but to rely on Stanton and hope he can turn things around, salvage his lost season and redeem himself in October.
An optimal situation to walk back into if you’re No. 27.
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