There are two ways to look at the Yankees spring training injury bug — both of which aren’t wrong but deserve a more in-depth look as to why.
First, let’s take the glass half full approach and repeat last year’s moniker of “Next Man Up!” I mean, despite 30 players being placed on the IL, it rang true as the Yankees won 103 games on their way to the ALCS.
Then there’s the pessimistic view — that it’s hard to believe James Paxton is out until at least May following lower back surgery, Luis Severino is gone for the year following Tommy John, and Giancarlo Stanton will likely miss Opening Day with a Grade 1 calf strain.
Perhaps we’ve reached the point where we must admit the Yankees simply employ a lot of injury-prone players.
Stanton being injured isn’t anything new. Sure, last season was truly awful as he only suited up for 23 total games, but he was often out of commission in Miami too. Across eight seasons, Stanton played in 986 games — which seems like a lot, until you consider that’s out of a possible 1,296.
Crunching the numbers, Stanton missed a total of 310 games — almost two full season’s worth of action. Yet that didn’t stop the Yankees from trading for Stanton’s enormous contract following his 2017 NL MVP performance. Why? Because when healthy, Stanton is unreal.
In 2018, Paxton threw a career-high 160.1 innings (28 starts). So the Yanks dealt their top overall prospect, Justus Sheffield, to Seattle for the Big Maple — a talented pitcher that had gone on the then DL seven times in six seasons. And yes, Paxton was excellent down the stretch in ’19, but he was still limited to only 150.2 frames.
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Pitching through the playoffs with discomfort in his back, all parties concerned were hopeful that injections and rest would cure Paxton’s ailment. Not so much.
As much as we love Aaron Judge — and he is vital to the Yanks’ success not only this season, but for years to come, he’s missed 110 games over the past two campaigns. Though Grapefruit League action has just gotten underway, Judge has yet to take the field due to a cranky right shoulder that has forced the team to list him as “probable to start the season.”
In a similar vein, even in Gary Sanchez’s breakout 2017 campaign, he only suited up 122 times.
Despite two out of three recent All-Star seasons, The Kraken has only been available for 317 games out of a possible 486. It doesn’t take a math wiz to figure out Sanchez has missed 169 contests — that’s more than one entire season!
Now obviously, Miguel Andujar diving into third base and partially tearing his labrum, or Clint Frazier crashing into the outfield wall and suffering a severe concussion are freak occurrences.
But there are also those guys — that are vital to the Yanks’ World Series hopes but can’t stay off the shelf. Aaron Hicks, for instance, was always hurt while with the Twins — it’s one of the reasons New York acquired him for a bag of peanuts (J.R. Murphy).
In his first three years in Minnesota, Hicks never played more than 97 games. For the Yankees, his career-high is 137 in 2018 (which earned him a seven-year, $70 million extension).
And while I give him massive props for playing in the ALCS with a torn UCL — following just 59 regular-season games, the Yanks should have known better than to sign Hicks to a lengthy contract extension before his original deal was up last spring.
As good as Hicks is when healthy — or many of the other players I’ve mentioned thus far, it’s safe to say, until proven otherwise — throughout two or more seasons, they are all injury-prone in their own way.
I’m not saying you give up on Judge or Sanchez, no way. Still, the organization needs to be smarter about offering contract extensions, trading prospects for guys with spotty medical histories, and holding onto a player in hopes of them shaking off the persistent injury bug (remember Greg Bird?).
While Mike Tauchman, Gio Urshela, and D.J. LeMahieu (to a lesser extent) were mega-finds in 2019, hoping to find a diamond in the rough year-in and year-out is a risky proposition.
Hiring Eric Cressey to be the club’s Director of Player Health and Performance is the first step in hopefully ridding the Yankees of any further injury plagues.
However, the front office still needs to do more when it comes to evaluating roster construction based on many factors such as the number of innings played over the course of a specific player’s career.