The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Can Juan Soto finally get the Yankees back to the Fall Classic?

The New York Yankees haven’t been to the World Series since they beat the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009. The current 14-year absence has been the longest drought in Yankees history, tied with the miserable Yankee teams from 1982 to 1995.

Could the Yankees’ acquisition of superstar Juan Soto over the winter make a difference this year in getting the Yankees back to the Fall Classic? Yankee history in the past 14 years isn’t so convincing that he can be the difference-maker.

After the Core Four (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada) retired, the Yankees continued to be perennial postseason teams, but could never put it all together to win another American League pennant.

The Yankees front office allowed the roster to get old. In addition to the aging Core Fore, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixiera, and CC Sabathia were entering their golden years, too.

With respect to top prospects, the Yankee farm system had become bare. Instead, some of the bigger names in the game were brought in to shore up the team. The Yankees acquired players like Curtis Granderson, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Matt Holliday, Troy Tulowitzki, and Ichiro Suzuki. But they weren’t able to deliver a pennant, and they just became “pass-through” players.

The Yankees’ best player, Robinson Cano, was the last carryover position player from the 2009 team. He left the team for more dollars in Seattle, after becoming a free agent in 2013.

The Yankees farm system finally started to produce players in 2016 and 2017 who manned several of the starting lineup positions. Called the “Baby Bombers,” they included Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres, Greg Bird, and Tyler Wade.

After winning the AL MVP Award with Miami in 2017, Giancarlo Stanton was signed to a mega-contract with the Yankees in 2018, with expectations he would be “the guy” to bring them back to the World Series, along with Aaron Judge and the rest of the Baby Bomber. Yet after an initial productive season, Stanton had difficulty staying on the field after that, due to a number of injuries. Only Judge and Torres remain from the original Baby Bombers.

The team missed the postseason last year for the first time since 2016. With the exception of the lowly A’s, Tigers, and White Sox, they posted the worst slash line in the American League last year with .227/.304/.397. The Yankees’ pitching staff, led by Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole and an effective bullpen, was the only reason the team finished two games above .500.

The Yankees traded for Juan Soto, willing to pick up his expensive salary even though he has only one year left on his contract. But the team went “all in,” as the saying goes, thinking he could be one of the critical pieces needed, along with another front-line starting pitcher, to deliver an American League pennant. (The Yankees signed veteran pitcher Marcus Stroman, after failing to attract 2023 NL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell with a contract offer).

There were similar expectations by Soto with the San Diego Padres in 2023, where he was part of a star-laden team. He did his part as their best offensive player, but the Padres finished behind division-winner Los Angeles and Arizona, the eventual NL pennant-winner.

The Yankees had their share of injuries last year, which contributed to their poor showing. But there is optimism this season those problems are behind them. Giancarlo Stanton is reportedly in better physical shape that would allow him to play a full season. DJ LeMahieu and Anthony Rizzo are expected to overcome nagging injuries from last year. Judge, who missed over 40 games due to a torn ligament in his toe, appears to be well enough to play center field now that Soto will be in right field.

All the stars seem to be aligning this season. A healthy batting order that consists of LeMahieu, Soto, Judge, Rizzo, Stanton, Torres, newcomer Alex Verdugo, Jose Trevino (or rookie Austin Wells), and Anthony Volpe would pose a threat for most opposing pitching staffs.

Soto has World Series experience, the breakout star of the Washington Nationals in 2019. Now entering his seventh major-league season, he’s still only 25 years old. He brings youth and a much-needed left-handed bat to the Yankees’ lineup. Will he be the catalyst to propel them back into contention for the pennant? Or will he be just another superstar passing through? Stay tuned.

Footnote: As I write this, pitcher Gerrit Cole’s has a nerve problem in his right elbow, and he is expected to miss at least the first two months of the season. He is a critical part of the Yankees’ potential resurgence. Yankees fans would like to see the team renew its interest in acquiring Snell to offset Cole’s absence, but that isn’t likely to happen at this point. Furthermore, Aaron Judge has experienced abdominal soreness, causing him to miss several spring training games. His status will also be crucial to Yankee success.

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