Yankees pin hopes on veterans for resurgence in 2024

Yankees captain Aaron Judge is hitting a home run at Yankee Stadium.

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As the Yankees prepare for spring training in less than two months, the lineup assembling at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa is poised to surpass the group that secured 82 victories in 2023.

The acquisition of Juan Soto alone elevates the team to new levels, complemented by left-handed outfielders Alex Verdugo and Trent Grisham, additional strategic player additions, the development of promising young talents, and beneficial roster adjustments. On a theoretical level, the team has undergone significant improvement.

The Yankees express confidence and positivity in the prospect of integrating Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto into the mix. They aim to secure his services in free agency, envisioning him as an ace-caliber arm to pair with Gerrit Cole at the forefront of the starting rotation.

This marks progress—an essential series of strides to rectify a flawed roster that fell short of making the playoffs this year. However, the stark reality persists: unless the veterans interspersed throughout their lineup cease to hinder their performance, the team is destined to be excluded once again. This narrative was a defining aspect entering the previous season, a glaring shortcoming for the Yankees, and regrettably, it remains equally prominent now.

Despite this challenge, the Yankees maintain an optimistic outlook regarding certain seasoned stars. They anticipate a resurgence in 2024 from those who either underperformed, faced injuries, or encountered both setbacks in the preceding year. Manager Aaron Boone provided a few recent updates on the players they are placing the most reliance upon.

Giancarlo Stanton: Yankees sleeping giant

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No player inflicted more harm on the Yankees in 2023 than Giancarlo Stanton. The once-dominant power hitter experienced the nadir of his career, registering all-time lows with a .191 batting average, a .695 OPS, and an 89 wRC+. Additionally, he grappled with another lower-body soft-tissue injury that forced him onto the injured list.

Stanton endured nearly two months of absence due to a hamstring strain incurred while decelerating into second base on a double. Upon his return from the IL, he frequently proved ineffective at the plate and posed a baserunning liability, hindered by an inability to sprint regularly while showing favoritism toward his ailing legs.

Given Stanton’s possession of a no-trade clause and the looming obligation of nearly $100 million over the next four seasons, this erstwhile Most Valuable Player is not departing, at least for the moment. During this interval, the Yankees are left with nothing but the anticipation that the 34-year-old can discern the factors contributing to his calamitous season and return to creating turmoil in the heart of the lineup.

Boone conveyed his optimism about G’s potential for a significant year, expressing excitement for G to arrive prepared and eager for spring training during the Winter Meetings earlier this month. While not delving into the particulars, Boone refrains from specifics but places confidence in Stanton’s potential to be both formidable and resilient in 2024. This optimism stems from Stanton’s efforts to attain a “leaner” and “lighter” physique during the offseason. The manager even envisions Stanton being fit to contribute defensively in the outfield, as opposed to consistently occupying the designated hitter spot.

Boone shared that the individual in question is fully committed and dedicated to his preparation. He emphasized the player’s inherent focus and determination, noting that it’s amplified as they strive to ensure they enter Spring Training in prime condition. Boone indicated that the individual is driven by the desire to replicate a Giancarlo-esque performance in the upcoming season.

Anthony Rizzo: Yankees want their leader back

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In 2023, first baseman Anthony Rizzo faced the nadir of his career, with the downturn initiated by a collision with Padres standout Fernando Tatis Jr. on May 28.

Subsequently diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome, Rizzo transformed from a dependable left-side contributor (boasting a batting average over .300) to one of the least formidable batters in the game. Over the subsequent 46 games, he managed a mere .172 batting average with one home run and a .496 OPS before being sidelined for the rest of the season in early August.

Boone reassured that Rizzo had successfully overcome the effects of his head injury by the conclusion of the regular season. The 34-year-old devoted the early offseason to training at Yankee Stadium, emerging in excellent physical condition, as per Boone’s observations.

Boone conveyed that he anticipates the individual to experience a regular winter, asserting that the person is cleared and prepared for action. He emphasized that the upcoming phase is centered on going out and substantiating this readiness to oneself.

Carlos Rodon: The arm of success for 2024

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The past few years have witnessed several disappointing debuts in Yankees pinstripes, with Donaldson, Frankie Montas, and Joey Gallo standing out. However, Carlos Rodon emerges as arguably the most prominent first-year disappointment among them.

Rodón’s introduction to the Yankees took place in the 89th game of the season, hampered by an arm injury that surfaced shortly after signing his substantial $162 million contract with the team. A persistent back problem kept him sidelined until the conclusion of the first half. Unfortunately, the version of Rodón that joined the starting staff for the remainder of the season bore little resemblance to the pitcher who had contended for a Cy Young Award in the preceding two years with Chicago and San Francisco.

Concluding the 2023 season, the left-hander registered an alarming 6.85 ERA. This figure soared by more than a full run following a disastrous final start against the Royals, where Rodón failed to record an out and surrendered eight earned runs on six hits.

Boone acknowledged that last year didn’t unfold as desired for the individual in question, expressing a collective disappointment. He noted that such outcomes are never preferable but can serve as stark reminders of the game’s inherent difficulties and the crucial role of maintaining good health. Boone expressed hope that such experiences serve as a catalyst to refocus and strive for an improved position moving forward.

Boone mentioned that Rodón has kicked off his offseason impressively, highlighting that the organization is closely monitoring his workout routine, throwing program, and preparation as spring training approaches.

Boone highlighted Carlos’ enduring talent, emphasizing that it remains intact. He stressed the importance of ensuring Carlos is positioned optimally to showcase his abilities, expressing a collective commitment to supporting him in achieving this goal.

Should Rodon manage to return to top-tier performance as a starter in the upcoming season, fans are likely to rekindle their admiration for the left-hander. On the flip side, the prospect is disconcerting, given Rodón’s injury track record and the noticeable decline in his fastball velocity. These issues pose significant worries for a pitcher entering his age-31 season while under a substantial contract of $27 million annually through 2028.

The Nasty Nestor

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Similar concerns apply to fellow left-hander Nestor Cortes, who faced comparable setbacks due to injuries in the 2023 season.

Cortes took the mound only once after sustaining a rotator cuff strain in late May, posting a 4.97 ERA across 12 starts. His underwhelming performance in the past year can also be attributed to a hamstring strain suffered during spring training, leading to his absence from the World Baseball Classic. When in good health, aside from occasional flashes, Cortes exhibited a significant decline from his standout showing that earned him a spot in the All-Star Game in 2022.

Similar to Rodon, Cortes has had a productive offseason, indicating a positive trajectory toward entering camp in good health. However, this does not eliminate the lingering uncertainty surrounding both southpaws at the forefront of the Yankees’ rotation, underscoring the heightened importance of pursuing Yamamoto.

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