Giancarlo Stanton drama is imperiling the Yankees

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No better sports drama ever existed than Alex Rodriguez’s 12 seasons (over 13 years) playing for the Yankees, which gave us thrills, spills, suspensions, lawsuits, breakups, makeups, brawls, feuds and enough Page Six mentions to satiate a small country’s yearly appetite for gossip.

Giancarlo Stanton, the man to whom the Yankees committed $265 million just a few months after they wrote A-Rod his final check of his $275 million contract (which got cut by about $22 million thanks to his 2014 ban), is incredibly boring compared to his nine-figured forefather. Yet the 31-year-old brings sufficient drama to his pinstriped existence, and it’s the kind that imperils his team’s chances of success in a way that A-Rod almost never did.

For Stanton, signed through 2027, the drama concerns his availability and his productivity, or lack thereof on both fronts. It is considerable.

The designated hitter didn’t start Sunday night’s series finale against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, as the Yankees strived to avoid a sweep, and his manager Aaron Boone made clear that Stanton still isn’t all the way back from the left quad strain that sidelined him for two weeks. Of course, we could have guessed as much, given that the behemoth had slashed .087/.222/.087, striking out 11 times in 23 at-bats, in the seven games since his return.

“I think there’s some residual stuff,” Boone said before the game, “and I think there’s more of building strength and building that endurance up to play at a level he obviously needs to play at.”

Yankees
Giancarlo Stanton
Bill Kostroun

We’ve seen that level, only in spurts. We witnessed it last fall when he went deep in each of the Yankees’ first five postseason games, a total of six homers, and we experienced it from April 23 to May 13 of this season, when he slashed an outstanding .378/.432/.689 with six homers over 18 games, crushing the ball consistently at an exit velocity (98.6 miles per hour) that no other ballplayer, literally, can match.

It’s no coincidence the Yankees pulled themselves back into relevance during that scalding streak, yet here’s what’s also telling: The team went 9-4 during Stanton’s time on the injured list. Hot Stanton, you very much want on your squad. Cold Stanton can perform so poorly — he slashed .158/.238/.333 in 15 games as the club stumbled out to that 6-11 start, to boot — that you might prefer Absent Stanton. He has never and likely never will be a Machine like his teammate DJ LeMahieu used to be. Trading him for any meaningful talent or relief seems like a fantasy.

Boone originally professed a hope that Stanton, after resting for Thursday’s series finale against the Rays, could play in all three games this weekend. On Sunday, the manager said, “We feel like he’s making steady progress to getting there, but don’t want to go the other way, too. With the off day tomorrow, [we’re] trying to get him there. We know how important he is to what we do and our offense.”

Asked whether the “get[ting] him there” referred to Stanton’s performance or his fitness, Boone replied, “I think they go hand in hand. I think getting to that place where he feels really good and strong and at his best physically translates probably into really good results as well.”

Sure. Nevertheless, after all of his work with Yankees second-year director of player health and performance Eric Cressey, Stanton couldn’t make it upright to mid-May, and after a short stint (for him) of inactivity, Hot Stanton looks farther away than Masahiro Tanaka in Japan.

The irony is that Stanton has proven himself a fine Yankee citizen, rolling up his sleeves and helping people significantly during the pandemic and serving as a strong, respected voice for social justice. No divorces, no slap plays, no controversies of any kind besides that of the low return on the Yankees’ investment.

A-Rod of course gave the Yankees two American League Most Valuable Player awards, a championship and countless milestones in return for his theatrics. Reality being what it is, the Yankees probably would accept that trade-off over the Stanton conundrum, which keeps trending in an undesired direction for both the player and his employer.

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