How replaceable is Cameron Maybin?
It came down to that question on Thursday night. The verdict: not particularly replaceable.
The Yankees rightly recognized that sometimes, analytics principles must be sacrificed for the greater good.
After they outlasted the dangerous Astros 10-6 at a rainy Yankee Stadium — a dollop of revenge following Houston’s three-game sweep at Minute Maid Park back in April — the Yankees optioned winning pitcher Nestor Cortes Jr. to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, thereby creating room for Maybin even as Aaron Judge (oblique) returns from the injured list on Friday. The Yankees will go with 12 pitchers for now even as most analytically inclined clubs prefer to have 13.
Moments earlier, Maybin — who now owns a ridiculous .308/.386/.496 slash line after contributing a double, walk, stolen base and run scored as the starting left fielder — had left the ballpark without getting the dreaded summons to manager Aaron Boone’s office. A Yankees media relations official had given him a HOPE Week T-shirt to wear for an event Friday, which reporters interpreted as a good sign.
“I think it is,” he agreed, before cracking a joke: “Maybe they’re just trying to get me through HOPE Week.”
The 32-year-old has come a long way since he started the season with the Indians’ Triple-A affiliate in Columbus, unable to get major league work. The Yankees took a flier on him, acquiring him for cash, in late April when their team felt in peril from a mind-blowing series of injuries, culminating with Judge’s mishap. That he survives Judge’s return speaks highly of his contributions.
“He’s been great,” Boone acknowledged of Maybin before the game.
Though his defense has graded poorly according to the public metrics — he made a fine, sliding catch on Robinson Chirinos’ fifth-inning line drive and later misplayed Yordan Alvarez’s twisty fly ball into a double — it’s still far better than that of the demoted Clint Frazier.
With Judge back, Maybin becomes the team’s fifth outfielder, not an unreasonable tally. Because of Maybin’s extensive service time, he could have (and surely would have) blocked a Yankees attempt to store him in the minors a la Frazier. A goodbye to Maybin almost certainly would have turned into a farewell.
The Yankees couldn’t afford to do that, given that their top three outfielders (Aaron Hicks, Judge and Giancarlo Stanton) all have spent most of this season on the injured list. They couldn’t assume another capable outfielder would have been available on the scrap heap if they had let Maybin go, then someone got hurt again. Last year, they found no one like that — remember Shane Robinson? — and needed to trade for Andrew McCutchen.
Frazier, of course, sits at Triple-A, except he might turn into a trade chip to address the Yankees’ starting rotation shortcomings. And unlike Frazier, who has struggled with life in this fishbowl, the experienced Maybin has blended seamlessly into the organizational culture.
“These are my brothers right now,” Maybin said of his Yankees teammates after the game. “These guys in here, I love coming here and going to work with these guys each and every day.”
The youngster Cortes, who threw three innings in relief of opener Chad Green and gave up two runs, took his reassignment in stride.
“It’s OK,” he said.
As long as he stays healthy, he’ll get a call back up here soon enough.
As for Maybin, “[There’s] nothing I can do or really worry about except for playing baseball,” he said. “Things will shake out how they shake out, and I’m OK with it.”
He took a hard fall when he mistimed Alvarez’s hit in the ninth, trying and failing to make a leaping catch, and he smiled when asked if he was OK.
“They don’t make them like they used to,” Maybin said. He’s right. All the more reason for the Yankees to hang on to him.
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