Aaron Boone talks about Yankees closing gap on Astros, their pressing needs

Aaron Boone is talking to the press at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Feb 15, 2023.

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Manager Aaron Boone talked to the press, as the New York Yankees’ pitchers and catchers reported to the 2023 spring training camp at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Wednesday. He talked about reports of the Yankees closing the gap on the Houston Astros, the shortstop competition, and other major issues the team is confronting.

The Yankees went to spring training after losing to the Astros in the ALCS for the third time in the last six years. When manager Aaron Boone was asked if the team had done enough over the offseason to close the gap and how confident he was that the Yankees would have a better team this year, he answered positively.

“How much we’ve closed the gap, I don’t know. We’ll see. We’re in February. We got a long way to go to even get that opportunity to find out if we get to play in the playoffs and have that crack again. I feel like that’s our expectation.”

“There’s been some teams, namely the Astros, that have been a nemesis that have knocked us off a couple of times. They’ve set the standard right now, certainly in the American League. But that said, we’ve got a bear of a division we’ve got to go through. In a lot of ways, a number of teams in the American League are better.”

The Yankees fans expect the team to improve on their 99 wins in the last season, even if they have mostly the same roster in 2023. They are upbeat after the team re-signed Aaron Judge to a nine-year, $360 million deal and acquired left-handed starting pitcher Carlos Rodon on a six-year, $162 million deal.

Aside from that, they signed Tommy Kahnle as a reliever but lost Andrew Benintendi.

LeMahieu boost for the Yankees

The Yankees think that DJ LeMahieu being healthy again will help. But it is still unclear how much the rest of their offseason changes will help them against the Astros.

“We ran up against a bit of a buzz saw and we were a little depleted,” Boone apoke about the ALCS loss. “That said, if we’re going to win it all, [if] we’re going to win the prize, we gotta find a way to get by these teams that in a given year really got it rolling on the mound.”

Losing Montas is a blow to the Yankees

Frankie Montas is to undergo surgery on his right shoulder and Nestor Cortes won’t be able to play in the World Baseball Classic because of a strained right hamstring. However, manager Aaron Boone is still optimistic about the Yankees rotation.

“There’s excitement,” Boone said. “Losing Frankie is clearly a blow, and unfortunately we haven’t gotten to see him pitch like the pitcher we know he is, but we also feel very confident. With the depth that we’ve built up, we feel very good about the rotation that we will potentially go north with.”

The Yankees shortstop battle excitement

At shortstop, Isiah Kiner-Falefa is facing prospects Oswald Peraza, Anthony Volpe, and Oswaldo Cabrera to win back his position. Boone said that he is “really excited about penciling in any of those names.” The manager felt that Kiner-Falefa had “a really good winter, and Year 2 here could be better for him.”

MLB Pipeline ranks Volpe as the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect and the No. 5 prospect in all of baseball. Boone said that the Yankees think Volpe “is going to be a great player in this league,” and praised Cabrera’s ability to play multiple positions. Boone said that he doesn’t have a favorite outcome, and he hopes:

“The guys will keep making it hard because they all bring something special to the table. We’ll see what happens.”

The Yankees’ starter No. 5

The Yankees manager sees Domingo Germán and Clarke Schmidt as the top two candidates to take Frankie Montas’ spot in the rotation. Boone said that he was happy with how German came into camp and “he’s in great shape.”

Four years have passed since Germán’s 2019 season, in which he went 18-4 and had an ERA of 4.03. Boone said that Germán “certainly knows where he is in his career and the chances that are in front of him right now.”

The King’s reign

Michael King‘s recovery has been going well, and the Yankees expect the right-handed pitcher to be ready to start the season in the bullpen. He was great as a long-relief pitcher who could give some of the high-leverage bullpen arms a day off, but the 27-year-old can also pitch for shorter amounts of time. Boone said that before King got hurt last July, “there wasn’t a more valuable guy in the sport” and the team was “really encouraged about where [King] is physical.”

The left field position

Since the Yankees didn’t make a move over the offseason, it looks like Aaron Hicks and Cabrera will be competing for the left-field spot. Boone expected that Hicks would have “that hunger to kind of show the world that, ‘hey, I’m still a guy who can make an impact.'” The Yankees don’t want to put Cabrera only in left field because they hope the switch-hitter can help them in other spots. He also admitted that the possibility of trade was open.

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