Yankees struggle to find answers to five key issues this offseason

Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo, and Giancarlo Stanton at Yankees dugout in the Bronx.

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As the Yankees slumped to a new low in August, Brian Cashman expressed his disappointment, characterizing the season as a “disaster” and an “embarrassment.” He made these remarks during a press conference held at Yankee Stadium, which lasted approximately 22 minutes and resembled a concession speech.

Considering the Yankees’ consistent championship ambitions, Cashman deemed the season as falling short of expectations, deeming it unacceptable. He anticipated that evaluations of all parties involved, including himself, would be necessary. These assessments are currently in progress, but so is the groundwork for the upcoming year. The organization is determined to reverse a declining trajectory that has persisted for at least three seasons.

As the Yankees set their sights on a different outcome in 2024, they confront five key questions.

Will the Yankees make a move for big names?

Undoubtedly, there should be a move in the works. The Yankees faced a dire shortage of offensive firepower in the past season, as indicated by their 25th rank in the Majors with only 673 runs scored. Additionally, their .701 OPS placed them at 24th in the league. The absence of left-handed power hitters is perplexing, especially when you consider that they play 81 games at the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium.

While pursuing Shohei Ohtani seems impractical, given Giancarlo Stanton‘s presence as the designated hitter and a significant number of high-value contracts already on the books, Cody Bellinger emerges as an enticing candidate. He could be the much-needed left-handed batter to fill the void in left field, a position the Yankees have been trying to address for years. The prospect of a trade for Juan Soto is tantalizing as well; apart from the hypothetical Ohtani signing, it might be the most significant blockbuster move they could make to reinvigorate fan confidence.

A substantial amount of money is set to be freed up from the payroll, and Steinbrenner has consistently expressed his commitment to reinvesting it in the team. When factoring in expiring contracts and buyouts for players as well as the expected non-tendering of Domingo German, over $50 million from last season’s payroll should become available for the 2024 season. Additionally, the likely trade of Gleyber Torres could further increase the available funds.

Can the Yankees address their injury woes?

In 2020, the Yankees implemented a comprehensive overhaul of their training system, with the addition of Eric Cressey as an off-site consultant. They emphasized that improvements would be a gradual process and wouldn’t yield immediate results. However, more than three years down the line, the team continues to grapple with injury concerns. According to Spotrac, the Yankees allocated over $82 million during the past season to cover 28 players on the injured list, amassing a total of 2,154 days lost to injuries. The $82 million expenditure topped the Major Leagues, and the 2,154 days lost to the injured list ranked third, following the Dodgers (2,470) and Angels (2,378).

While some injuries, such as Aaron Judge’s collision with a concrete barrier at Dodger Stadium, were largely unavoidable, others, like catcher Jose Trevino, were injured because of playing without full recovery or age factor. However, there are concerns that merit deeper scrutiny, such as the failure to find out Anthony Rizzo’s post-concussion syndrome in time, which had been impacting his performance for months.

High on the list of concerns is Giancarlo Stanton’s condition. It was evident that he limited his running speed in the past year to prevent further lower-half injuries. With $98 million remaining on his contract, the Yankees can accept Stanton as a stationary designated hitter, but not if he continues to struggle with a .191 batting average and high-velocity pitches. The pressing question is how to restore his performance to its previous levels.

Will the Yankees allow Judge or Cole a say in the decision-making?

Aaron Judge and Steinbrenner hammered out a substantial nine-year, $360 million extension just last December, and Judge’s close connection with the team’s leadership remains strong, especially after being named captain. It’s probable that Judge will assert his influence even more to steer the team’s trajectory; he has expressed his intention to have discussions with Steinbrenner and Cashman during the winter. Cole, coming off a season in which his likely Cy Young Award-worthy performance was squandered by the team’s 82-80 record, will also ensure that his viewpoints are heard.

One probable topic of discussion is the observation made by Judge regarding some of the young players neglecting additional pregame practice. Judge underscored the importance of continuous improvement, emphasizing that just reaching the big leagues and playing in New York doesn’t mean that players can stop striving to get better. Judge’s commitment to keep playing, even after the team’s faint playoff hopes had faded, was no coincidence.

Can the Yankees reinforce their rotation?

As previously mentioned, Cole is set to enter the season fresh off his first-ever Cy Young Award. However, the 2023 season revealed that he can’t carry the pitching load alone. One top target to bolster the rotation is Yoshinobu Yamamoto, especially after Cashman traveled to Japan and witnessed his impressive no-hitter on September 9. Yet, there will be stiff competition for the highly-regarded 25-year-old right-hander.

Carlos Rodon will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing debut in pinstripes during the 2023 season, a period marked by ongoing struggles following his spring injury issues.

Michael King made a successful transition from the bullpen, and Boone has already expressed his expectation for King to assume a starting role in 2024. Nestor Cortes is on the path to recovery from injuries, and Clarke Schmidt demonstrated his reliability as a starter by logging a career-high 159 innings. These pitchers are poised to make up the starting five, though there’s a possibility that Cortes or Schmidt could shift into swingman roles if the Yankees secure Yamamoto or another top-tier starter.

Is Steinbrenner eager to rescue the Yankees?

All signs point toward Cashman and manager Aaron Boone continuing their roles in 2024. Cashman’s contract extends through 2026, as he recently secured an extension in December. Boone has at least one guaranteed season left in his three-year deal, which includes a team option for 2025. Hitting coach Sean Casey has expressed his interest in returning as well.

Back in June, Steinbrenner mentioned that he would ask probing questions in the event of an unsuccessful season, including an examination of the baseball operations department. This review, often referred to as an “audit,” involves sharing information with an external firm to assess and refine their processes. The focus will likely center on the decisions that led to trades for players like Josh Donaldson and Frankie Montas.

Steinbrenner knows it well how infamous is the team’s analytics department, which has also faced scrutiny from within the clubhouse. Recently, Aaron Judge noted that while the club’s analytics are strong, they may need to explore different metrics that are often undervalued. He emphasized the importance of considering other data that could be meaningful. The team’s scouting division, both domestically and internationally, may also come under scrutiny as part of the evaluation.

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

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One thought on “Yankees struggle to find answers to five key issues this offseason

  1. No quick fixes here. Cashman and analytics department have done major damage and have hamstrung the next season or two.

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