Giancarlo Stanton’s supposedly down first Yankees season wasn’t bad
During Giancarlo Stanton’s first summer as a New York Yankee, his general manager met with the team’s training staff to discuss the status of his left hamstring. The muscle had been tight for weeks, and general manager Brian Cashman believed the muscle merited an MRI. The trainers shot straight with Cashman: An MRI would show a strain, a strain would merit a stint on the disabled list, and a stint on the disabled list would rob the Yankees of one of baseball’s most dangerous hitters.
Stanton did not want time off. He felt his presence was vital in the lineup, especially after fellow slugger Aaron Judge suffered a fractured wrist in late July. Stanton begged the medical staff and manager Aaron Boone to keep him active. He would serve as designated hitter. He would limit his baserunning to 90 feet at a time. He would maintain dialogue with the team to prevent further damage to his hamstring.
“I wanted to make sure that if I could friggin’ walk, be productive, I’d be out there,” Stanton said.
No other Yankee appeared in more games in 2018 than Stanton, who played in 158. During a stretch from May 29 to Sept. 1, he played in 85 consecutive games. His offensive production regressed from his National League MVP campaign in 2017 with the Miami Marlins: He hit 38 home runs and drove in 100 runs, down from 59 homers and 132 RBIs the previous year.
The season ended on a sour note. In the fourth game of the American League Division Series, as Boston Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel capsized on the mound, Stanton waved at a series of sliders to hand the reliever a lifeline. The Yankee Stadium crowd jeered Stanton as he returned to his dugout. The Yankees lost the game by a run, and thus the series.
And yet . . .
“Led our team in home runs and RBI,” Cashman said. “Which I think people walk away going ‘Really?’ I thought he was great.”
The Yankees splashed significant sums of money this offseason, dropping $27 million on reliever Adam Ottavino and $24 million on infielder D.J. LeMahieu. They re-signed pitchers CC Sabathia, J.A. Happ and Zack Britton for another $81 million. A trade with Seattle netted starting pitcher James Paxton. They picked up former five-time All-Star Troy Tulowitzki to handle shortstop while Didi Gregorius recovers from elbow ligament reconstruction.
What the Yankees did not do was engage in significant discussions in the nine-figure sweepstakes for star free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. In part this reflected their internal evaluations of each player. It also demonstrated the financial commitments they had already made, including taking on at least $265 million of Stanton’s contract with the Marlins last winter.
Despite the dip in Stanton’s numbers, Cashman pronounced himself thrilled with the player’s first season as a Yankee. Cashman referred to Stanton as “selfless” for a variety of reasons. He commended Stanton for waiving his no-trade clause to leave Florida, a state without an income tax, and take the financial hit of taxation in New York.
Before he took an at-bat as a Yankee, Stanton informed team officials he would not stand in the way of Judge in right field. Judge had swatted 52 home runs in 2017 and finished second in the American League MVP voting. If Judge preferred to play right, Stanton said, he would learn to handle left field. Once the spring began, Stanton found himself in the glare of his new team’s bubble.
“Last spring at this time, he’s losing balls in the sun, in these hard Florida suns,” Cashman said. “Not looking athletic or capable. Wound up on the back page of The New York Post because of how it looked. But he was like ‘I’m going to do whatever I can to help this team win.’”
That ethos extended to later in the summer, as Judge managed the discomfort in his hamstring while staying in the lineup. After eight seasons in Miami, he relished the opportunity to appear in the playoffs. The taste in 2018 only whetted his appetite for more in 2019.
“Each game is huge,” Stanton said. “Having 162 huge games is fun. It’s important. It’s exciting to give yourself that challenge. And even then, after the 162, you’ve got a whole brand new set that’s just as important. So it’s good.”
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