Lun. Abr 15th, 2024


TAMPA, Fla. — All it takes is one glance to notice Giancarlo Stanton is much leaner this spring than he was when the New York Yankees’ 2023 season unceremoniously ended.

Stanton prefers not to discuss the change. Not that he was out of shape before. He’s been a mass of muscle ever since making his major league debut 14 years ago. He has always looked more like a tight end than a baseball player. He still does.

«He’s jacked, bro,» Aaron Judge said. «It’s crazy.»

Stanton pointed out that he alters his routine every offseason, adjusting and reacting to the failures or successes of the previous year. But 2023 was different — it was rock-bottom.

Last season bordered on embarrassment, prompting his latest reassessment. Now 34, Stanton concluded carrying less weight would help him get through the coming season healthy. After last year, when even running the bases seemed like a struggle for him at times, Stanton focused on improving his mobility, on adding explosiveness, on becoming more of a spark on the diamond.

Stanton has also made a small change in the batter’s box. He’s moved his hands slightly closer to his body to stay on inside pitches more.

«This is a game of millimeters,» Stanton said, «so slight is huge in some aspects.»

The question is: Will it all work?

«You gotta be willing to make the changes,» Stanton said, «and trust the direction you’re going when you do it.»

This is about finding a detour. Stanton, who arrived in the Bronx after his best and healthiest season, a National League MVP campaign with the Miami Marlins in 2017, has played more than 110 games in just two of his six years in New York. He has landed on the injured list each of the last five seasons, and eight times total. He’s missed time with biceps, knee, quadriceps, hamstring, and calf injuries. In 2022, Achilles tendinitis derailed his All-Star season after he clubbed 24 home runs with an .835 OPS in 76 games in the first half.

The 2023 season, though, was the worst of his career.

Stanton missed nearly two months with a strained hamstring. When he did play, it was ugly. He posted career lows in batting average (.191), on-base percentage (.275) and slugging percentage (.420). Not only did he look uncomfortable running the bases, he could barely play the outfield by September.

In November, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman offered a blunt assessment in a testy scrum with reporters, saying Stanton «is going to wind up getting injured again more likely than not because it seems to be part of his game.»

That sparked a public response from Stanton’s agent, Joel Wolfe. «I think it’s a good reminder for all free agents considering signing in New York both foreign and domestic,» Wolfe said in a statement to The Athletic while also making a thinly veiled reference to another one of his clients, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, «that to play for that team you’ve got to be made of Teflon, both mentally and physically because you can never let your guard down even in the offseason.»

Both Cashman and Stanton have said the episode is behind them. And Cashman’s harsh evaluation didn’t change this fact: Stanton isn’t going anywhere.

Stanton has four years and $128 million guaranteed remaining on his contract. The Yankees are on the hook for $98 million — the Marlins will pay the rest. Moving that money off the payroll by dealing Stanton is next to impossible at this juncture. Instead, the Yankees made offseason moves to deepen their lineup and lessen the impact should Stanton have another disastrous season.

Juan Soto was acquired to be the one-two punch partner with Judge that Stanton has lately failed to be. Alex Verdugo and Trent Grisham — along with Soto — were added to the outfield rotation. The Yankees hope Stanton can cycle through the outfield rotation twice a week, giving Soto and Judge a chance to take his usual DH spot. But the Yankees don’t have to rely on that happening to win games. A productive Stanton season is gravy.

«First and foremost, hopefully health,» Yankees manager Aaron Boone said when asked what he thinks Stanton’s slimmer build could produce. «But definitely moving around, being more athletic, being more of a presence on the bases. More of a realistic option in the field. All those things.»

Stanton got off to a slow start in Grapefruit League play, going 1-for-15 with one walk through six games. He has since posted three multihit games and hit his first spring training home run Saturday.

«He looks really good to me for what he’s trying to do up there,» hitting coach James Rowson said earlier this month. «He has a plan on what he wants to do. It’s not necessarily right now about the results. It’s more about the process. And his process is really good. It’s been really good down in the cage.

«His preparation to come out here every day has been incredible. Like something I haven’t seen before.»

Ultimately, it’s about where Stanton is at this summer and, the Yankees hope, when his team returns to October after missing the playoffs in 2023. Is he on the injured list? On the bench? In the lineup every day enjoying a bounce-back season?

Stanton looks different. It won’t matter if the results are the same.

«I want to help us win a championship,» Stanton said. «Obviously, if I produce the way I can, we’ll be in a good spot to do that, and that’s my job to do.»


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