The Yankees Lose Germán and Rizzo Amid a Miserable Week

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a rough week for the Yankees, full of bad luck and questionable decisions that highlighted a season that had already begun to spin out of control. With the team above .500 but stuck in the basement of a very competitive AL East, general manager Brian Cashman did very little to fortify the roster before the August 1 trade deadline despite its significant holes, including two left by position players who had landed on the 60-day injured list in the past two weeks. Then, in the span of 24 hours, the Yankees lost Domingo Germán and Anthony Rizzo, both for alarming and unsettling reasons.

Prior to Wednesday night’s game, the Yankees announced that Germán would be placed on the restricted list, a move that ended his season. On Thursday, the team placed Rizzo on the 10-day injured list due to post-concussion symptoms traceable to his May 28 collision with the Padres’ Fernando Tatis Jr., a situation that helps to account for the first baseman’s prolonged slump, the impact of which was magnified during Aaron Judge’s eight-week absence for a torn ligament in his right big toe.

Both matters have come to light in the wake of Cashman’s puzzling approach to the trade deadline. With catcher Jose Trevino out for the remainder of the season due to a torn ligament in his right wrist, third baseman Josh Donaldson possibly out for the remainder due to a Grade 2-plus right calf strain, and with the team’s production in left field and within the rotation both ongoing problems, the Yankees emerged having acquired only relievers Keynan Middleton (from the White Sox) and Spencer Howard (from the Rangers), with the latter assigned to Triple-A. While Aaron Boone’s management of the bullpen has sometimes been questionable, the unit owns the majors’ lowest ERA by nearly half a run (3.07) and the fifth-lowest FIP (3.91). Every contender could use more relief help, but for the Yankees an extra middle-innings arm could hardly have been the top priority.

As for the more serious matters, even before this week, Germán’s season had been a turbulent one, starting with an April 15 warning — but no ejection — for applying too much rosin to his pitching hand in a start against the Twins. On May 17, he was ejected from his start against the Blue Jays by the same umpiring crew for violating the prohibition of foreign substances, drawing a fine and an automatic 10-day suspension. On June 28, he threw a perfect game against the Oakland A’s, an achievement that generated mixed emotions given the celebration of a pitcher who had drawn an 81-game suspension in 2019 for violating the league’s joint domestic violence policy due to an incident in which he slapped his girlfriend while he was intoxicated at CC Sabathia’s LegaCCy Gala.

It was against that backdrop that this week’s events unfolded. On Monday afternoon, the 30-year-old righty was scratched from that night’s series-opening start against the Rays with what was described as “armpit discomfort.” Rookie Jhony Brito was summoned from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to start but was rocked for five runs in four innings before giving way to… Germán, who was suddenly available again and threw five scoreless innings of relief in a deflating 5-1 loss. Boone’s postgame explanation — that while Germán was cleared by team doctors at 5 p.m. for a 7 p.m. game, he still wasn’t available to start because he had thrown off the mound at 6 p.m. — didn’t make a whole lot of sense even to the YES Network analysts on the postgame show.

Cashman said on Wednesday that he stood behind Boone’s explanation “100 percent” and that Germán’s entry into a treatment program was “a completely separate issue,” but the details are murky as to what transpired between those two points. SNY’s Andy Martino reported on Thursday that Germán had become “belligerent while in the clubhouse at Yankee Stadium” on Tuesday and that witnesses determined that the pitcher “was under the influence of alcohol and did not appear in control of his emotions.” NJ.com’s Randy Miller quoted an unnamed teammate as describing Germán being in “such a bad state” that he didn’t get a chance to wish the troubled pitcher well before he entered his treatment program. Teammates expressed empathy for Germán, but none would go on record to describe what happened.

In the wake of his suspension, Germán had undergone counseling and taken steps to acknowledge what he called “an addiction.” Following his perfect game, he had bypassed an opportunity to go out and celebrate with teammates, telling an interpreter, “[F]or me, it’s important to make right choices and keep making right choices.” However, one reporter close to Germán told Miller that he was still prone to binge drinking.

Whether that had an impact on Germán’s performance is unknown, but even with his inconsistency on the mound, his absence will leave a void. Despite his 4.56 ERA and 4.67 FIP, he ranked second on the team in innings (108.2) behind only Gerrit Cole amid a rotation that’s been beset by injuries and underperformances. Indeed, Cole, the frontrunner for the AL Cy Young award, is the only Yankees starter with an ERA- or FIP- lower than 100. Carlos Rodón, their top free agent acquisition from this past offseason, didn’t debut until July 7 due to ongoing back troubles, and has a 6.29 ERA and 6.93 FIP in five starts. Nestor Cortes, who made the AL All-Star team last year, has been limited to 11 starts by a rotator cuff strain and is carrying a 5.16 ERA and 4.59 FIP; originally scheduled to make his final rehab start at Scranton this weekend, he compounded this week’s confusing sequence by showing up to replace Germán on the roster. Luis Severino’s season has been an unmitigated disaster; he’s allowed seven or more runs in three of his last four starts, ballooning his ERA to 7.49. Clarke Schmidt is second on the staff in ERA and FIP (4.39 and 4.40, respectively), both of which are a hair worse than league average, though he’s at least been healthy, ranking third in innings with 104.2.

Even before Germán’s problem came to light, it was clear the Yankees needed to trade for rotation help. Admittedly, high-quality starters weren’t easy to come by; the team was never going to get Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer from the Mets, but — to cite just one midrange example — a return engagement with Jordan Montgomery, whom they traded to the Cardinals for Harrison Bader at last year’s deadline, would have hit the spot. Now the Yankees, who are 56-52 and 4 1/2 games out of the third Wild Card spot, must make up ground by sending out the aforementioned wobbly quartet behind Cole, with Brito (5.17 ERA, 5.91 FIP in 55.2 innings) the top reinforcement unless Frankie Montas can rehab from his shoulder surgery well enough to pitch in September.

As for Rizzo, up until his collision with Tatis, which occurred during a pickoff play, he had hit .304/.376/.505, good for a 146 wRC+, second on the team behind Judge. He left that game with what the Yankees called a neck injury and passed the MLB-mandated concussion tests, but missed three games before returning. Since then, his season has gone down the tubes, as he’s hit .172/.271/.225 with one homer in 192 plate appearances, with his batting average, slugging percentage, and 43 wRC+ all ranking last in the majors among the 168 qualified hitters.

The Yankees maintained that Rizzo was physically healthy during that stretch, and did not perform any follow-up testing until Rizzo complained of “fogginess” during last weekend’s series against Baltimore, during which he went 2-for-12 with a hit-by-pitch and a walk. He apparently mentioned his symptoms at some point prior to Sunday’s game, yet remained in the lineup nonetheless, striking out a career-high five times. He then played on Monday and Tuesday as well before undergoing neurological testing on Wednesday, which Boone had scheduled as an off day for him. In that exam, a neurologist determined he had “cognitive impairment.” Via The Athletic’s Chris Kirschner:

“I remember talking to someone and they said, ‘Do you feel like you’re coming out of this soon?’” Rizzo told reporters on Thursday. “I answered honestly that no I don’t because I couldn’t feel what you’re trying to feel as a hitter. I guess now we can link two and two together. Over the last few weeks, you just start going to different checklists of mechanics, timing, consistently being late. Why am I being consistently late? I’ve made these adjustments plenty of times in my career. I just didn’t forget how to do this all of a sudden.”

…But even with Rizzo’s performance tanking for more than two months, he said it never crossed his mind to get testing, even though he described some days as “waking up feeling hungover and you didn’t drink at all.” Rizzo thought he was just extra fatigued from travel and the grind of a baseball season. He said the neurologist told him it’s not uncommon to not know of a previous concussion because it can have a cascading effect over time, which is what has been described to him as what he’s experienced.

For a team that was once well ahead of the curve when it came to concussions (recall their decision to end Jorge Posada’s career as a catcher after evaluating the effect of his multiple concussions in 2010), this is shocking. From the training and medical staff up to Boone and Cashman, the idea that it never occurred to anyone that Rizzo was going through something besides a slump — one that had turned him into a shell of the player he was — shows an incredible lack of awareness, not to mention holes in MLB’s concussion protocol regarding the need for follow-up testing. Granted, clearly Rizzo himself wasn’t able to articulate the struggles that had him, in his words, “swinging at and missing — really just blatantly missing, big time, not even coming close,” pitches he normally didn’t, but that only further illustrates the need for awareness among players. Once he came forward, the fact that the Yankees kept playing him for a few more days instead of addressing the matter with urgency is appalling.

Beyond the physical well-being of Rizzo — which, to be clear, is the foremost concern here — the effect of his slump looms large and was especially magnified during the absence of Judge, who injured himself colliding with a Dodger Stadium fence while making a spectacular, game-saving catch on June 3. The reigning AL MVP was hitting an ungodly .291/.404/.674 (187 wRC+) at the time, and the Yankees were 35-25. They went just 19-23 during his absence, as the offense hit just .220/.296/.374 for a major-league worst 85 wRC+ and an average of just 3.88 runs per game during that span.

Rizzo was the least effective of the regulars, though Giancarlo Stanton (72 wRC+ in 154 PA during Judge’s absence), Donaldson (69 wRC+ in 95 PA), and DJ LeMahieu (76 wRC+ in 137 PA) were all dreadful as well. Note that those three players and Rizzo constitute the team’s four highest-paid position players besides Judge, all 33 years old or older and with a recent history of prolonged injury-related absences. Given that window into the roster’s flimsy construction, the failure to address the team’s major holes at the deadline is puzzling. That’s particularly true when it comes to third base and left field, two positions where the Yankees made my annual Replacement Level Killers roundup. After a disappointing 2022 season, Donaldson played in just five games this year before a right hamstring strain sidelined him for nearly two months. Over the next six weeks, he played 28 games (though just 18 at third base), and while he hit the ball hard, he had almost nothing to show for it. His .142/.225/.434 line included a .076 BABIP, the lowest of any player in AL/NL history with at least 100 PA in a season. Shortly after the All-Star break, he suffered a Grade 2-plus strain in his right calf and landed on the 60-day injured list. LeMahieu, who had done the bulk of the fill-in work at third base, has hit just .232/.305/.364 (86 wRC+).

Stanton, who was supposed to take on a larger role defensively but missed nearly seven weeks due to a hamstring strain, has hit just .203/.277/.448 (94 wRC+) while playing 21 games in the outfield, and even those numbers have been propped up by what passes for a recent hot streak from him, with two homers and five hits in a span of four starts.

In addition to those holes, the Yankees lost Trevino to a torn ligament in his right wrist in late July, leaving the primary catching duties to Kyle Higashioka, who’s currently hitting .225/.259/.376 (71 wRC+). No reinforcement is forthcoming, leaving Ben Rortvedt, a career .165/.229/.266 hitter, as the backup.

Going forward, Rizzo will be evaluated “week to week,” which suggests his absence may not be a short one. LeMahieu and lefty Jake Bauers, a productive Quad-A pickup who has hit .228/.307/.487 (116 wRC+) in 56 games, will platoon at first base, with Isiah Kiner-Falefa or Oswaldo Cabrera filling in at third when LeMahieu plays first.

The Yankees began the season with a payroll second only to the Mets’ $344 million, and for all of their areas of concern, they projected to win an AL-high 90 games, with our Playoff Odds estimating their chances of winning the division at 42.7%, and of making the playoffs at 81.2%. Yet they haven’t occupied first place in the AL East aside from winning on Opening Day and sitting idle on March 31. They finished April just 15-14, eight games behind the red-hot Rays, and aside from a 19-10 record May, they haven’t had a single month with a record above .500. Nor have they been closer to first place than five games out, which last happened on May 30, and haven’t occupied a Wild Card position since July 8, when they were 49-41, tied for the third AL spot with the Blue Jays. With their series losses to the Orioles and Rays this past week, they’re 0-5-1 in intradivision series dating back to a May 23-25 sweep by the Orioles in Yankee Stadium.

We don’t know exactly what trades Cashman tried to make, and unlike some executives, he’s generally not one to publicly lament the ones that got away. Ahead of the deadline, like every other team, the Yankees did check in on Shohei Ohtani, and they were reportedly connected to outfielders such as Dylan Carlson and Randal Grichuk to shore up the void in left field, but at best, trading for one of them would have amounted to applying one small patch while failing to address other substantial problems.

Maybe Cashman and owner Hal Steinbrenner surveyed the wreckage of this season and decided further investment wasn’t prudent, but even then that raises the question of why pending free agents such as Wandy Peralta, Tommy Kahnle and Bader weren’t dealt, enabling the team to get below the fourth luxury tax threshold of $293 million (they’re at $294.4 million). One thing is clear after this week: from top to bottom, from Cashman and Boone on down, this organization needs a serious overhaul, a reevaluation of the roster’s construction and spending, not to mention the handling of their players’ well-being via the training and medical staff. Their leadership’s slump is as dire as those of their offense and rotation.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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Marcus Zappiamember
9 months ago

Yes, yes, and yes. I hope their staff reads as many of these pieces as can be written. Alas, it will all come back to Hal Steinbrenner, and he runs a family business, not a baseball team.

Another Old Guymember
9 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Zappia

Yes, the article is spot on Jay. You beat me to the punch Marcus as indeed the buck stops with Hal. All Hal will understand is a large decrease in attendance and revenue, which I do not see happening.

The Original Drewmember
9 months ago

The yankees are like the Knicks in that regard. Doesn’t matter what they put out on the field people will go. The brand is too big.

Greens
9 months ago

I mean…they’ve put a mostly competitive product on the field for almost 30 years now.
The last time they had a prolonged period of not being good (late 80’s, early 90’s) they were bottom half of the league in attendance. Just for fun I went to check and in ‘92 they had less attendance than team like the Royals and Angels who actually had worse records.
Hard to say if that would still be the case, but it’s the last real run of mediocrity we have to go off.

Cool Lester Smoothmember
9 months ago
Reply to  Marcus Zappia

What do you mean by the word “business,” mate?

The Yankees are his piggy bank.