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The 2017 trade with the Miami Marlins that brought him to the Bronx seemed to go against everything Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner claimed they were trying to do just a year earlier, when they shed the bloated contracts and aging bodies of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann and replaced them with the youth and economy of Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres.
Even with $30 million of salary relief from the Marlins, adding Stanton to the Yankee payroll and roster (at around $30 million per) did not seem to fit with Steinbrenner’s dictum to make the Yankees younger and more athletic and to get their payroll below the luxury-tax threshold.
At the time of the trade, all I could come up with was, when offered the prospect of adding the reigning National League MVP at a discount, Steinbrenner, Cashman et. al., just couldn’t resist. They ignored the suspicion that he was injury-prone and the reality that he had never faced the kind of scrutiny he would in the Bronx, and pulled the trigger. He was the shiny toy in the department store window they simply had to have. You’d think they would have learned a lesson from the Jacoby Ellsbury fiasco.
To my mind, the Yankees had no discernible need for Stanton then.
And it appears they have no discernible use for him now.
After all, if Stanton didn’t get off the bench to pinch-hit in the late stages of Sunday’s Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, when the Yankees were struggling to manage more than a single off the Houston Astros bullpen, when exactly does he get off the bench this postseason?
The answer, of course, is probably never.
On a conference call after Game 4 was rained out and postponed until Thursday night, Yankees manager Aaron Boone was still unable to commit to Stanton in his lineup for this crucial game in the series.
“I’m not sure. I’ll have to see how his treatment goes today,’’ Boone said. “I’m not really close to making that decision yet. That’ll be something that we kind of work through today and possibly into tomorrow before we make that decision.’’
Asked how long the Yankees could afford to continue playing an ALCS with a 24-man roster, Boone said, “That’ll be another conversation. Even though G hasn’t been able to go yet, I do view him as a potential option off the bench in a hitting situation if we like something, so I don’t view it as we’re entirely 24 man right now. I do believe we have his bat off the bench right now. Whether a situation arises for that we’ll see.’’
And yet, Boone found no spot for Stanton in Game 2, even though the score remained stuck at 2 for 5-½ innings before Carlos Correa took J.A. Happ out of the park on the first pitch of the 11th inning, or in Game 3, when the entire Yankees lineup minus Torres struggled to get anything going against Gerritt Cole and a trio of Astros relievers.
If those aren’t the kind of games that out scream for Stanton’s bat, exactly what kind are?
And if you’re not going to use him, why continue to carry him on the roster?
These are questions as vexing as why the Yankees felt the need to acquire Stanton in the first place.
The biggest reason why the Yankees are reluctant to drop Stanton is the most obvious — under the rules, a player taken off a postseason roster due to injury is ineligible not only for the rest of that series, but the next series as well. That means Stanton would be ineligible for the Yankees’ World Series roster, should they manage to get that far.
But what has Stanton shown you so far, either last October or this one, that his presence will make an appreciable difference in the Yankees’ fortunes in this series or any other, or that his absence will even be noticed?
Stanton was booed during the pregame introductions before Game 3 at Yankee Stadium Tuesday, booed louder than any of the Astros not named Altuve or Verlander, and while the Bronx crowd is notorious for devouring its own, that reception told you something.
The Yankee fans have never really accepted Stanton, and they, too, seem to be wondering why he is even here.
The truth is that two years into his tenure, Stanton has made no real impact on the Yankees lineup or their fortunes. The team hit what would have been an MLB record (if not for those slugging Minnesota Twins) of 306 home runs. Out for most of the season with a variety of injuries, Stanton contributed three of them. Clearly, their offense did not need him to be fearsome this season.
Yes, he hit a solo home run off the soft-tossing Zack Greinke in Saturday’s 7-0 Game 1 Yankees victory, but that was a comparatively low-pressure situation. It might be more useful to recall his 2018 ALDS against the Boston Red Sox, in which he managed to scratch out just four singles in 18 at-bats, or his final appearance of that series, a non-competitive at-bat in which he struck out against Craig Kimbrel with two runners on and the tying run on second base.
Having played his first eight seasons in the anonymity of Miami, the case could be made that that was the first and so far only truly important at-bat of Stanton’s big-league career.
But with him being under contract to the Yankees until 2027 — don’t hold your breath waiting for him to opt-out after next season — there will be plenty of important at-bats in his future.
Do the Yankees really trust Stanton to take them?
They seemed not to on Sunday, nor in Tuesday’s 4-1 Game 3 loss at Yankee Stadium, when there admittedly were only a handful of prospective spots for him — leading off the eighth in place of the struggling Edwin Encarnacion, or later in the same inning for the totally-lost Sanchez.
The fact that Boone has not used him since Game 1 tells you one of two things: Either his injury is worse than the Yankees are letting on, a reality that Stanton hinted at in a brief pregame scrum on Tuesday, or that the manager doesn’t fully trust him in a tight spot.
Neither answer is good. And with the Yankees down two games to one, now having to win at least one game in Houston, where the Astros had the best home record in baseball in 2019, and facing the prospect of having to beat Justin Verlander and Gerritt Cole, who are 1 and 1A in the AL Cy Young race, the time has come for hard decisions to be made.
But really, it should be an easy call.
Time to replace Stanton on the roster with someone who can contribute, whether it’s Luke Voit, Tyler Wade or even Clint Frazier.
It didn’t make much sense to bring Stanton aboard two years ago. It makes even less to carry him along for the ride now.
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