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Mudville: April 18, 2024 11:22 am PDT

Forever GM’s

BY KEVIN KERNAN

April comes to an end Sunday.

In baseball, one month doesn’t tell the story – but it sets a tone. The teams that have trouble in April had better make adjustments because it is a long season. A dismal April can lead to a dismal season.

As of Wednesday, three of the most disappointing April teams are the AL East fourth-place 14-11 Yankees, the AL Central fourth-place 7-18 White Sox, and the NL West third-place 13-13 Padres. It may be a bit unfair of Baseball or Bust to put the Yankees in this category with an over-.500 record, but it is a much different world in the AL East this season. The Yankees are in fourth place, the stampeding Rays are riding the wave to a 20-4 record, while the improved Orioles are 16-8 and the Blue Jays are 16-9.

The playoffs have never been easier to make with Rob Manfred’s watered-down postseason, but the Yankees are facing multiple challenges in their division for the first time in a long time; so that’s why I’ve included them in the Dismal Three.

If you look, the one thing all three of these teams have in common is that they have Forever GMs. There is Brian Cashman, who basically became GM when the Yankees started adding numbers to the backs of their uniforms, or at least it seems that way; the duo of Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn in Chicago; and A.J. Preller, a media darling since his arrival in America’s Finest City in 2014.

If these teams don’t turn it around, changes must be made at the top of the food chain.

The Yankees and White Sox are playing the familiar sad song of injuries hurting the team. But really, injuries always seem to hurt the Yankees; especially since they have players who are forever injured like Giancarlo Stanton, who wound up hurting his hamstring by making that always dangerous baseball maneuver of running to second base.

“The paper tiger is back on the IL for a while,’’ one MLB talent evaluator told BallNine of Stanton. “(Josh) Donaldson is done. (Carlos) Rodon is done for a while. (Luis) Severino isn’t coming right back. (Harrison) Bader is a paper tiger, too. So it is what it is.’’

It sure is and it’s interesting that this past week, Clint Frazier, an outfielder the Yankees once acquired and was said by Cashman to “have legendary bat speed,’’ was released from his minor league deal by the Texas Rangers. The 28-year-old was hitting .250 with one home run and four RBIs in 15 games for Triple-A Round Rock. Frazier, a really nice person and a former first-round pick of the Guardians in 2013, when they were known as the Indians, has gotten 852 major league plate appearances and hit .238; but batting average is not important, right? It’s exit velocity that matters.

Hitting is hard. Making adjustments at the major league level is a must and Frazier has not been able to make those adjustments, despite the bat speed. Cashman also has had tough luck with another outfielder he traded for, in Aaron Hicks. And here we are now with the Yankees still having a major hole in left field.

Perhaps the two first-round draft picks, Aaron Judge and Anthony Volpe, the Anthony and Aaron Show, will be able to spark the offense.

It is a GM’s world – and when their teams falter, they are the ones who are on the clock; even though for these three teams, the GM clock has been running forever.

“Volpe looks like he is starting to get a little more comfortable,’’ one scout said of the 21-year-old. “Forget about elevating the ball and just be a good hitter.’’

The scout then made what I think is a brilliant suggestion.

“Ask (Derek) Jeter to come in and talk to him,’’ the scout said.

That would be pretty cool.

I like Volpe at the top of the Yankee lineup because of his speed factor and the effortless way he can steal Rob Manfred’s bigger bases.

Clearly, the team in the most trouble of the Forever Three is the White Sox. They are boring to watch, don’t do the fundamentals well, and are a mishmash of an organization. They’ve lost seven straight, including six straight on the road, being outscored 36-13 in that six-pack of stale beer. They’re already seven games back of the Twins, who just won the season series against the Yankees for the first time since 2001, back in the early years of Brian Cashman’s reign.

I think it is safe to say that the mess that was the White Sox in 2022 was not entirely Tony La Russa’s fault, as it was made out to be by so many. This is an organization with deep issues; and maybe La Russa was trying to fix some of those issues and ran into roadblocks. Either way, it was an organizational disaster that appears to be even worse under new manager Pedro Grifol, who admitted on Wednesday, “I really didn’t anticipate it being this way.’’

Aaron Judge #99 (L) and Anthony Volpe #11 of the New York Yankees look on from the dugout on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium on March 30, 2023 in The Bronx, New York. The Yankees defeated the Giants 5-0. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

I’ve been told that Grifol is a nice guy who doesn’t want to get on his players; so instead of being a task master in his first year on the job, let the fans suffer with another bad season. Managers don’t get on players much anymore. Let the kids have fun, just like t-ball.

The White Sox scored all of two runs in the three games in Toronto. Being outscored, 20-2.

Speaking of managers who would not dare to hurt players’ feelings, Aaron Boone’s Yankees are 6 1-2 back of the Rays already, so there are mountains to climb. Just for fun (of course it would never happen), but if the Rays and Yankees continue at this pace, the Yankees would finish about 40 games back. We don’t have to even consider that – but it is a way of showing how far the Yankees have fallen back of the Rays in the first month of the season.

Aaron Judge, who on Wednesday celebrated his 31st birthday, said a most fascinating thing after the 12-6 win, noting the Yankee hitters were much more aggressive that day. “We’ve been a little passive,’’ Judge said.

I recently noted here at BallNine that the Yankee hitters have been over-nerding; guess-hitting as opposed to “see the ball, hit the ball.” Sounds like Judge agrees with me.

Aggressive is the way to be in Manfred’s New World Order where he is allowing teams to steal bases practically at will; and the Yankees need to get completely on that bandwagon – not just rookie Anthony Volpe who already has eight stolen bases.

MLB is a game now of easier hits because of shift limitations, easier stolen bases because of disengagement limitations, and easier home runs because the ball is flying; just look at the number of opposite field home runs you see every day. That is the greatest indicator of a happy baseball. Going oppo-taco used to be somewhat rare; now it’s as common as Instagram Influencers.

Manager Pedro Grifol #5 of the Chicago White Sox gives catcher Yasmani Grandal #24 a look during a game against the San Francisco Giants on April 3, 2023 at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images)

I wonder why that is. But I think we know why. Also, break out the asterisks. There is no way these stolen base totals should be counted along with past stolen base totals in baseball. The distance between bases has been changed by Manfred and his Main Minion, Morgan Sword; and the ability of a pitcher to hold a runner has been stymied with only two disengagements.

Again, leave it to Aaron Judge for some baseball common sense. Judge was thrown out trying to steal third base Wednesday at Target Field when his body got stuck in the ground on a head-first slide into third. Judge rolled on his right wrist, so after the game he was asked if he had injured himself – because he immediately went up the tunnel after the play. “Getting thrown out is pretty embarrassing, even on your birthday,’’ was what he said.

Essentially, to get thrown out now, a base-runner has to really do something wrong.

Like practically everything else Manfred has done with Fake Runners and the lot, he has cheapened the game and cheapened the offense. Teams should be stealing bases at will, another point I have consistently made here since the Three Great New Rules were introduced. The Guardians and Pirates, two teams who have to rely on more than home runs to win, lead baseball with 31 bases for the team formerly known as the Indians and 28 for the Pirates.

The NL West is still a jumble, so the rotten start has not hurt the Padres too much; but they are marching toward mediocrity and that is not acceptable with the monster payroll they have amassed under Preller.

Cashman is the most intriguing of the three teams’ leadership simply because Hal Steinbrenner has made it clear the sun sets and rises on Cashman’s okay. We all know the Yankees have won only one World Series over the last 22 seasons under the spell of Cashman. So this year, yeah, I’d say the clock is ticking.

The White Sox haven’t won a World Series since 2005. The Padres have never won a World Series.

All three teams are currently in a wash/rinse/repeat cycle.

San Diego Padres General Manager A.J. Preller watches batting practice on Opening Day of the 2023 MLB season March 30, 2023 at Petco Park in San Diego, California. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

As I said earlier, I am well aware that batting average doesn’t mean squat anymore – at least that is what the Nerds have been telling us for years – but I need to point out the Yankees are batting .232 as a team, 22nd in the majors. The White Sox are worse at No. 25 with a .230 average and the confused Padres are the worst of the bunch, dead last in the majors with a .214 average. How can that be with that payroll?

If those teams don’t hit, they are not going to win anything.

The Rays are off the charts. They lead baseball in batting average with a .282 mark, on-base percentage at .355, and slugging at .523. The Yankees are 18th in slugging at .392, despite the small dimensions of Yankee Stadium right field, and are 21st in on-base percentage at .308. To top it off the Rays have the best ERA in the majors, at 2.84.

April has been a cruel month so far, but maybe a more aggressive and less passive May will have positive results for the Yankees.

The Yankees avoided being swept in Minnesota with that 12-6 win over the Twins on Wednesday. A big part of the win was due to Kenta Maeda being the starting pitcher. Maeda is 0-4 with a 9.00 ERA and Rocco Baldelli allowed him to stay in long enough on Wednesday to get roughed up for 10 hits and 10 earned runs into the fourth inning. It was really weird. But so was the Twins lineup; it was as if Rocco and those above him said, “Enjoy a day off fellas, our work here is done.’’

Kenta Maeda #18 of the Minnesota Twins is tended to by athletic trainer Nick Paparesta in the second inning against the New York Yankees at Target Field on April 26, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

Maeda then raised the white flag and removed himself from the game with muscle discomfort and soreness in his right arm. Yes, like so many other pitchers, he is coming back from Tommy John surgery.

But the Yankees have a major plus over both the White Sox and Padres when it comes to the bullpen. The Yankees lead baseball with a 2.53 bullpen ERA. The Padres are 24th at 4.71 and the White Sox, who are without Liam Hendriks, are 28th at 6.09. Considering that the White Sox are 26th with a starters’ ERA at 5.30, they are in a world of pitching hurt.

Some really big name hitters are struggling for the Padres, with Juan Soto batting .188 and Manny Machado, who was given an 11-year extension for $350 million, batting .213. Preller and Padres’ owner Peter Seidler have been handing out monster contracts like Halloween candy, trying to change the Padres’ postseason fortunes. Preller has traded away a lot of young talent through the years as well, going for the gold.

In the end in this era of baseball, it is the general managers who hold all the power. The managers have had their authority stripped, and it is their job to keep the players happy without holding them accountable like in the past.

It is a GM’s world – and when their teams falter, they are the ones who are on the clock; even though for these three teams, the GM clock has been running forever.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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