“I hope you find what you’re looking for in Dayton. (Pause) I hope you find Dayton. It gets a little tricky around the Wilson interchange.”
— Skippy’s father, “Family Ties”
TAMPA — You can wish all you want that Giancarlo Stanton clocks a healthy season and looks at least more like the helpful behemoth who grinded it out as a first-year Yankee in 2018, if not necessarily like the stud that won National League Most Valuable Player honors in 2017.
After the 2019 litany of injuries for Stanton, though, maybe, like Skippy’s father, start with baby steps? As the 2020 Yankees hold their first full-squad workout Tuesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field, shouldn’t you settle for a disaster-free spring training by the outfielder/designated hitter and go from there?
Despite his star power and considerable stature in the game, the 30-year-old Stanton opens the new decade with a considerable amount left to accomplish. If he wants to liberate himself from The Bronx boo birds that often target him, Stanton must stay healthy, remain productive and do his part in October to help the Yankees capture their first title since 2009.
“I said a lot last year, I felt like he was in a great spot, great frame of mind and the little sample that we saw, I thought he was in position to have a tremendous season,” Aaron Boone said Monday of Stanton, who reported to camp. “I expect that this year.”
In the little sample that we saw, Stanton indeed approached his past standards, slashing .288/.403/.492 in 18 games totaling 72 regular-season plate appearances. He put up a .455 on-base percentage in the Yankees’ American League Division Series sweep of the Twins, and he went deep against Zack Greinke in AL Championship Series Game 1.
Alas, fitting for his nightmare season, Stanton injured his right quadriceps in that game, adding it to his ’19 tasting menu of ailments that also included his left biceps, left shoulder, left calf and right knee. He played just once more, starting ALCS Game 5 and not looking very swift, and he turned into a symbol of the Yankees’ need for a systems overhaul, which they executed with their training and conditioning staffs.
Despite his considerably shortened season, Stanton reports to camp a “fully healthy” player, Boone said. The manager elaborated: “I go through his routine with him probably as much as I do with anyone. Matter of fact, I was just talking to him about it. [He] might not play those first couple of games, but I would expect him probably that second home game [Feb. 24 against the Pirates] and then we’ll just decide if we’ll let him go [to the] outfield right away or if it’s some kind of DH role to start.
“But no, he’s good to go. I fully expect him to hit it running.”
How much outfield versus DH Stanton plays will be determined not only by how healthy he feels, Boone said, but also by who else is available. If center fielder Aaron Hicks can make it back from the Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, for instance, that would alleviate the Yankees’ need to play Stanton in the outfield.
Even as Stanton turned largely irrelevant last year, the Yankees going 103-59 despite his minimal contributions, he looms large in the franchise’s future. The Yankees still owe him $214 million through 2027, with the Marlins chipping in another $30 million, and the idea of Stanton utilizing the opt-out he owns at the conclusion of this season — at which point he’ll have $218 million left — seems more farfetched than Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner chipping in to buy Rob Manfred a lovely birthday gift. The only person who has more pinstriped money coming to him is newly arrived $324 million man Gerrit Cole.
Hence the onus falls on Stanton to rediscover his good health. To not turn into a full financial albatross. From workouts to Grapefruit League to Opening Day to the playoffs, with each small advancement, the big guy can climb closer to Yankees nirvana. A fall at any step along the way really would smart.