Yankees Overhaul Training/Strength-and-Conditioning Team…
The Yankees have made their first significant acquisition of 2020. No, they have not landed Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians or Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers. In a story broken on Friday night by Lindsey Adler of The Athletic, the Yankees have hired Eric Cressey of Cressey Sports Performance to oversee their training and strength-and-conditioning departments.
Admittedly, I was probably most familiar with Cressey as a former employer of Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake, who served time as a pitching coordinator for the company. However, Cressey is nationally recognized for his work in kinesiology and biomechanics, and has worked with baseball stars such as Corey Kluber and Max Scherzer.
Per Corey Kluber’s quote on Cressey’s website, “CSP has been a crucial part of the success I have had in my career to this point. The programs have helped me gain velocity as well as put my body in position to remain healthy throughout a long season.”
For a team that set a MLB record last season for most players (thirty) on the Injured List in a single season, Cressey represents a major leap forward for the organization. We knew change was coming when word spread a few weeks ago that former strength-and-conditioning coach Matt Krause had been relieved of his duties with the Yankees. I expected an upgrade in the department but certainly not someone of Cressey’s caliber.
As part of the deal, Cressey will be allowed to continue to operate Cressey Sports Performance which has locations in Hudson, MA and Palm Beach Gardens, FL.
I am excited about Cressey’s hire and feel it is as critical to the training and strength-and-conditioning areas as last year’s addition of Driveline’s Sam Briend as the organization’s director of pitching and the offseason hire of Blake as the new Major League pitching coach, replacing Larry Rothschild. The hitting instruction group has also received major upgrades within the past year with the hiring of Dillon Lawson as hitting coordinator and Rachel Balkovec as a minor league hitting coach, among various other additions.
According to Lindsey Adler, longtime trainer Steve Donahue, who has been in the organization since 1979, will transition to a role she says is “akin to trainer emeritus” and he is expected to maintain an active role in the organization.
To replace Donahue as head trainer, the Yankees will promote assistant athletic trainer/physical therapist Michael Schuk, 37, who is entering his seventh season with the Yankees. His bio on the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society website indicates he holds a bachelor’s degree in Health Science-Athletic Training from the University of Central Florida and a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Nova Southeastern University. Prior to joining the Yankees, Schuk worked as an intern for the Cleveland Indians and the NFL’s Washington Redskins.
For those of you who continue to feel that Hal Steinbrenner is “cheap”, you may want to rethink your narrative. We know the Yankees spent $324 million to bring one of the best starting pitchers in Baseball to the Bronx, but these organizational hires like Cressey most certainly come at very high costs. Outside of the Cincinnati Reds, who hired Driveline founder Kyle Boddy as director of pitching initiatives/pitching coordinator last October, no team has been as aggressive as the Yankees in rebuilding their organizational infrastructure with premium talent in nearly every area of instruction and conditioning. None of this happens without Hal Steinbrenner’s authorization (and his money, of course).
As for the team on the playing field, the Yankees have been quiet since the highly successful press conference last month to introduce Gerrit Cole. The re-signing of Brett Gardner has yet to be officially announced but that seems to be a product of the holidays and the formal announcement could be coming any day now, along with the corresponding roster move to open a spot on the 40-man roster. Barring a trade of J.A. Happ, the most significant moves before pitchers and catchers report next month will probably be players coming in on minor league deals with MLB camp invites.
Some Yankee fans wanted a reunion with former Yankees second baseman Starlin Castro, however, All-Starlin signed a two-year deal with the World Champion Washington Nationals to be their second baseman next season, replacing Brian Dozier and Asdrubal Cabrera. After a few years living in obscurity in Miami, I am glad to see Castro get another chance with a contender. Credit to Starlin who could have been a malcontent with losing under the Marlins, he was nothing but a positive, inspirational force on Don Mattingly’s team and I am happy to see him land with a good club.
Probably a couple of the remaining free agent names I am watching with interest are second baseman Scooter Gennett and first baseman Eric Thames. Not that I feel it is absolutely critical the Yankees bring in another left-handed hitter, but it would be nice.
Fangraphs, via Steamer, projects Gennett to hit .261/.311/.421 with .310 wOBA and 90 wRC+ this coming season with 14 home runs and 58 RBIs (0.6 fWAR) in 112 games. 2019 was a lost season due to injuries. He missed three months of the season after severely straining his groin in March. When he came back he only hit .217 in 22 games and was traded at the July deadline to the San Francisco Giants. The Giants, who had cut former second baseman Joe Panik, another name recently linked to the Yankees, to make room for Gennett, released Scooter on August 27th. Gennett is infamous for the four home run game in 2017, but I think there’s potential for a rebound in a part-time role. Whether the Yankees bring in Gennett or Panik on a minor league deal, I’ll use the words of The Greedy Pinstripes’ Daniel Burch, “No such thing as a bad minor league deal.” I agree. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. If it doesn’t work, you sever ties and move on. I like to bring in as much competition at certain spots as possible and let the cream rise to the top. It’s not that I have anything against Tyler Wade or Thairo Estrada. I think one of them will serve a very valuable role as backup at shortstop for Gleyber Torres and there’s no question I love Wade’s speed. But there is room for a guy like Gennett who could provide some flexibility to use D.J. LeMahieu around the diamond like last year.
As for Thames, he may not hit for average but when he gets a hold of a mistake pitch, the balls go a very long way. That plays nicely with the short porch in right at Yankee Stadium. I am comfortable with Luke Voit and Mike Ford at first base, but would certainly not be opposed to bringing in Thames on a minors deal.
It was a little tough watching Dellin Betances wearing Mets gear at his press conference this week. Last off-season, I wanted the Yankees to re-sign David Robertson, perhaps over then free-agent Adam Ottavino. D-Rob signed with the Phillies and only pitched in seven games before missing the remainder of the season due to injury. He subsequently had Tommy John surgery and is not expected back anytime soon. Meanwhile, Ottavino was signed and became a very valuable part of the Yankees bullpen despite the late season slide. The Yankees called that one right and perhaps they’ve made the right call about Betances. I’ll miss Dellin and I hope the achilles injury does not resurface for him. We know how critical your legs are for power as a pitcher so if anything’s off, it could be very problematic for a pitcher who occasionally struggles with command. I’d love to see Dellin return to form in 2020 and then opt out after the season to re-sign with the Yankees. In my dreams, I know, but Dellin will remain a favorite for his time in the Bronx.
For those of you who may have forgotten, potential fifth starter Jordan Montgomery was 9-7 in 2017 with 3.88 ERA. His K/9 rate was 8.34 and he started 29 games. His fWAR was 2.6. I’d gladly take that production in the fifth spot again. I still expect the Yankees to trade J.A. Happ and his contract to lessen the team’s payroll for luxury tax purposes, but I think Montgomery represents a great replacement for Happ. Montgomery is a better starter, in my opinion, than 18-game winner Domingo German, who will miss the season’s first 63 games after his suspension for domestic violence was handed down this week by MLB.
Speaking of German, I’ve seen many Yankee fans call for his release. While I in no way, shape or form, condone German’s actions, I do feel that he deserves the opportunity to serve his sentence and get the help he needs to be a better man. It would be wrong to cut him for no return. As a player he has value, and I’d hate to see him land in Boston to help the Red Sox who seem to be crumbling at the moment. If the Yankees opt to trade him and control where he goes, I would not be opposed. I feel the Yankees owe German nothing, but for letting his teammates down, he owes the team everything (same with his family, actually more so, who suffered the domestic violence). I am willing to forgive although I doubt I’ll ever forget his actions which form my impressions of his character, but let’s give him a second chance to prove he is better than this.
This time next month we’ll be anxiously awaiting the start of Spring Training (as if we aren’t already). February 12th is not that far away and we’ll soon see Gerritt Cole walking up to Steinbrenner Field as a member of everybody’s favorite team. Good times.
As always, Go Yankees!