NEW YORK — One of the first things veteran New York Yankees reporters told me when I joined the beat was not to worry if I didn’t have a story planned when I arrived at the ballpark because “the Yankees always provide.” And, boy, did they provide this week.
MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, who has covered the Yankees since 2007, said this is the wildest week in Yankeeland he can recall since Alex Rodriguez’s Biogenesis scandal that lingered throughout the 2013 season and ultimately culminated with his suspension in 2014. When comparing Rodriguez and this week, the biggest difference is the former was just one player who was filled with endless drama that had new developments shooting off from his scandal, whereas this week involved multiple characters and the front office.
This week marked the first anniversary of my covering the Yankees, and it was by far the most chaotic week since I started. Let’s run through everything that happened.
We should have known this week was going to be bizarre when Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters during his pregame news conference that Domingo Germán would not start that night’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays with armpit discomfort. I’ve watched baseball religiously since I was 4 years old and cannot recall any other player who had any sort of armpit issue. Arm injuries are very common with pitchers, but armpit injuries? The only time we as a society ever talk about armpits is when someone has bad body odor. Can’t say I can recall any other time in my life when I was talking about armpits like it was normal. This job can be very strange.
The Athletic was told Germán had an ingrown hair in his armpit that caused serious pain, and that’s why the Yankees started Jhony Brito in his place.
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) August 1, 2023
But things got weirder when the game began. The Rays rocked Brito, chasing him after four innings and four home runs. Before Brito was pulled, Germán started warming up in the bullpen, leaving everyone in the press box incredibly confused. At the time, we were under the impression he was out for the game because he was scratched from the start. But Boone said after the game that Germán saw the team doctor around 5 p.m., threw off the mound around 6 p.m. and told the team he was able to pitch out of the bullpen if needed.
Germán ended up pitching five scoreless innings in what likely will be his final appearance in a Yankees uniform. The absurdity continued when Germán spoke after the game with a full scruffy beard more visible than anyone else I’ve seen this past year, which is a violation of the team’s facial hair policy.
That was the least of the team’s concerns with Germán this week.
With around 30 minutes to go until the trade deadline passed, the Yankees were the only team in the league not to have made one trade. That changed with roughly 10 minutes to go until 6 p.m. when the Yankees traded for Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Keynan Middleton and Triple-A reliever Spencer Howard.
Those were the only two moves Yankees general manager Brian Cashman made, even though the team desperately could have used another bat (or two, or three, or, hell, four). But as I had written before the deadline, no trade was saving this team.
The larger problem with the Yankees’ trade deadline disaster was it appeared they had no direction. They didn’t meaningfully improve their chances of winning it all in 2023, and they didn’t meaningfully improve their chances for 2024 and beyond. Instead of trading away some of their free agents this offseason to avoid the possibility of losing them for nothing, they held them for a team that doesn’t look like a title contender (and one that might miss the playoffs altogether).
The Yankees’ trade deadline was a disaster. What does it mean for the future?
The inaction was what was stunning.
“Obviously, we’re in it to win it,” Cashman said. “So we stayed the course because of that.”
The Seattle Mariners, a team that sold at the deadline, are two games ahead of the Yankees in the wild-card standings. It’s not entirely clear the Yankees are in it to win it.
The expectation when the media arrived at the ballpark Wednesday was not to speak with Cashman for a second straight day, but the Yankees unexpectedly announced shortly before that night’s game that Germán was getting placed on the restricted list for alcohol abuse. Cashman told us Germán would not pitch again for the team.
Details emerged from The Wall Street Journal that Germán had shown up to the ballpark Tuesday appearing to be intoxicated. He was reportedly upset with how the situation Monday night unfolded. It was reported that Germán had flipped a couch, broken a TV and confronted teammates and Boone before he was sent into the team’s sauna to try sweating out the alcohol. He was sent away from Yankee Stadium for what will likely be the final time as part of the organization. He does have another year of arbitration remaining, but it would be stunning if the team tendered a contract this offseason.
“It’s a very serious issue that affects way too many people, unfortunately,” Cashman said Wednesday. “Hopefully, the steps that are being taken today will really benefit him for the remaining part of his life because it’s a very serious problem that you need to address head-on. These treatment places are significant steps, hopefully, toward helping him get the tools to solve it.”
We learned Thursday that Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo unknowingly played through post-concussion syndrome for over two months as he turned from one of the best hitters in the sport to the worst-qualified hitter.
The Athletic spoke with Rizzo, Boone and Cashman to better understand how this process was handled because everyone, myself included, did not get how this went on for so long. Here’s a story on the process itself and Rizzo’s full interview in which you truly get inside his mind and see what he was thinking and why he never thought the collision he had with Fernando Tatis Jr. in May was the cause for his turning into a liability for the Yankees.
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) August 3, 2023
My biggest takeaway after diving deep into the subject is MLB needs better concussion protocols. The neurological testing Rizzo spoke of seems to be a good idea for teams to implement. There are still lots of people who still don’t get why the Yankees didn’t step in and order testing over the last two-plus months. Here’s what Boone said when asked about that exact thing.
“I think any time when you talk about a head injury comes in or that potential, we do everything we can,” Boone said. “MLB has their protocols in place to try — and once you’re cleared, what do you want to do? Test guys every day? For what? We could asymptomatically test every player every week. Like when does it stop?”
Additional required testing for anyone who undergoes an initial concussion test should be something the league considers. There has to be something in place to protect players from themselves.
Nothing particularly odd happened Friday, unless you think Luis Severino’s starting another game falls in that category. The Yankees were in a tough spot for this game after Germán was ruled out for the rest of the season. If Germán had stayed on the team, Boone hinted that Severino likely would’ve been the pitcher to lose his spot in the rotation.
“Everything is on the table,” Boone said when asked whether he’d move Severino to the bullpen. “This time, obviously, we got jammed up a little bit. But yeah, everything’s on the table moving forward.”
In his last two outings, Severino has allowed 14 runs over 7 1/3 innings. At this point, the Yankees have very little hope of winning when he’s on the mound. It’s unfortunate considering how promising Severino once looked coming up through the system and then how dominant he was in 2017, but this can’t continue any longer. Brito and Randy Vásquez give the Yankees a better chance of winning than Severino.
Before Saturday, the last time Justin Verlander lost a regular season game against the Yankees was June 19, 2015, when he was with the Detroit Tigers. The Yankees also beat Verlander in Game 5 of the 2019 ALCS. But since that regular season game against Verlander, it’s mostly been futility for the Yankees when the future Hall of Famer has been on the mound.
The Yankees only scored two runs off Verlander in his seven innings but it was enough to beat Houston 3-1. The Yankees’ pitching staff held the Astros to just two hits. Nestor Cortes, who’s been out for two months with a shoulder injury, looked like the version of himself from last season. He pitched four innings, racked up a season-high eight strikeouts and threw a 95.6 mph fastball, the fastest pitch of his career. The bullpen then threw five scoreless innings and registered eight strikeouts.
But perhaps the most bizarre moment of the day came in the third inning. With Giancarlo Stanton on second, DJ LeMahieu lined a single to center field. Yankees third base coach Luis Rojas waved home Stanton, who was thrown out by several feet at the plate. Stanton, who is chiseled like a Greek God, did not appear to be running as fast as he could — or if that was full speed, the last four years of his contract may look quite rough.
“Wasn’t a great look,” Boone said prior to Sunday’s game, “But nothing other than him just making sure he doesn’t put himself in a dangerous position with the amount of things he’s had lower-body wise the last several years.”
Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner believed the team needed another frontline starter this past offseason to get past the Astros, so they signed Carlos Rodón to a six-year, $162 million contract.
Rodón’s time with the Yankees so far has been a dumpster fire, and it got much worse on Sunday against Houston. This was Rodón’s most important start so far and a moment where he could have won over the fanbase — but his outing went sideways quickly.
He gave up a three-run home run to Astros centerfielder Jake Meyers, who has an OPS below .700, and then a two-run home run to Yordan Alvarez before leaving two batters later because of left hamstring tightness. Rodón was booed on his way back to the dugout with the Yankees’ training staff and Boone. He’ll get an MRI on Monday but said he wasn’t worried about needing to miss time.
“In this moment I feel pretty confident that I should be able to pitch.”
Carlos Rodón after leaving today’s game with left hamstring tightness. pic.twitter.com/6v75QdBdEq
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) August 6, 2023
The Yankees ultimately lost 9-7, after tying the game at 5-5, to the Astros and split the series. A fine result if viewing it as one series in a 162-game season but less than ideal considering Toronto swept Boston and is now up 4 1/2 games over the Yankees for the third wild-card spot.
Harrison Bader, who was 3-for-5, said there’s no concern at all with where the Yankees are in the standings because “we did a great job with battling back, so I think it was actually a really big momentum boost for us moving forward,” and, “if we keep playing this brand of baseball, it’s gonna be just fine.”
The Astros did everything they could to lose the game. They allowed 12 walks and committed what could have been a costly error. But the Yankees were 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position and left 15 runners on base. They’re now 44-6 since 2000 when they’ve walked at least 10 times in a game.
That brand of baseball Bader speaks of is now 100-100 in the last 200 games.
(Top photo of Anthony Volpe: Sarah Stier / Getty Images)