As the MLB playoffs begin on Tuesday, the New York Yankees will begin their unusually long offseason.
For the Yankees, starting the offseason immediately will be preferred, considering the disaster of a regular season they just experienced. They were eliminated from playoff contention a week ago. They finished fourth in the American League East.
This offseason that will be crucial to their success in the Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole era. Their two pillars are directly in their prime right now. Cole is the presumed CY Young winner and Judge who hit a record 62 HR a year ago would’ve done it again if the Dodgers had padding on their wall.
For a team with those two as a foundation pieces, and a payroll sitting 2nd in MLB, the rest of the roster leaves much to be desired.
This winter, it’s going to take a lot of thinking — and maybe even some heroics — to turn around the Yankees, whose season ended with a thud Sunday instead of continuing into the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
Boone said he planned to meet with general manager Brian Cashman and owner Hal Steinbrenner sometime this week in Tampa. It’ll take place as the Yankees prepare for an outside company to perform an evaluation of its baseball operations department, though the front office’s deep dive into the fourth-place team’s problems has already started.
Whether it is a change in philosophy, mechanics on the field or even a new voice whether that be in the locker room or in the front office, something has to give.
Their captain gave insight into the types of changes he wants to see this offseason.
Judge said he didn’t have much of a reaction when he learned the Yankees would hire a company to audit the organization because he believes data can ultimately be manipulated to have whatever desired outcome a party is looking for. To him, the audit is just another opinion to take into account from a group that will include his and those of Gerrit Cole, Hal Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman, Boone and other top-ranking executives.
“We get a lot of numbers, but I think we might be looking at the wrong ones and maybe should value some other ones that some people might see as having no value,” Judge said. “But when you’re playing 162 games, you’ve got to grind, and you’ve got to play through things. I think there are certain things you can’t put a number on.”
Judge wouldn’t expound on the numbers he believes are “the wrong ones,” but some of the younger players in particular have insinuated that there can be an information overload.
Oswaldo Cabrera spoke out about how there were numerous voices in his ear earlier in the season and it messed with his swing because of all the tinkering the numbers were suggesting. Anthony Volpe needed to lean on Austin Wells to fix his batting stance in June instead of relying on internal metrics and coaching.
There appears to be a disconnect with the application of analytics — not the raw numbers themselves — that needs to be fixed heading into 2024.
“As a player, I do a pretty good job filtering what I need to filter, but I think maybe some of the younger guys are just kind of getting into it,” Judge said. “Maybe we need to have a better process for that. So we’ll see. We’ll see.”
Michael Fishman, the Yankees’ head of analytics, will have to answer to Steinbrenner this offseason as to why the captain of the team thinks the organization is applying his department’s numbers incorrectly. But Judge was clear he believes the team is getting enough information; it’s just now about providing more guidance.
“I think the information and the resources the Yankees provide are great,” Judge said. “I think it’s just about how we use them and how we value them is an aspect we need to take a look at again. The Yankees are top-notch in the numbers we get. All of that is great. I think we’re the best in the game at that. I think it’s now about funneling those down to the players in the right format.”
Judge plans on meeting with Steinbrenner soon, perhaps as early as this week. “Why not get that started earlier?” Judge said. “There’s no sense in waiting. Let’s get it done and get it moving to kind of put ourselves in the best position going into next season.”
Clearly, he’s going to have a lot to say, even if he has been mostly tight-lipped about it to reporters. “I think there’s some things that happened this year that opened people’s eyes,” he said. “Hopefully the right people saw it and we’ll get the right people in the room to discuss those things and figure it out.” Make no mistake: Judge will make sure the right people hear it.
Beyond the approach, the Yankees have big questions heading into the offseason.
The biggest problem hovering over the Yankees’ roster is the $98 million Stanton is owed over the next four years. He showed zero signs of being a productive player this season, let alone the next four years. Stanton finished 2023 hitting .191/.275/.420 with 24 home runs. The home runs are certainly nice, but it’s a level of production that isn’t much different than what the Yankees received from Joey Gallo, whom the team acknowledged as a mistake when it traded him last year. The difference between Gallo and Stanton was that the former could at least run well and play good defense, whereas the latter didn’t do either of those at acceptable levels this season.
I am a huge Stanton supporter. He always takes accountability, is never overwhelmed by the NY market which has been cruel to him, and shows up in postseason play. But the version the Yankees got this season looked like a shot player.
Stanton has become an all-or-nothing player who’s dragging down the Yankees as a designated hitter-only option. He finished 2023 with a 89 wRC+, 11 percent worse than the average MLB hitter. For a bat-only player, that’s soul-sucking for the lineup. His availability is also always in question, as he’s been on the injured list in each of the past five years.
But what can actually be done about it other than get him back on track?
The Yankees likely will count on him heading into next season because it’s too much money to eat. A change in mechanics or intense bat speed training has to be a priority this offseason. Stanton has not been able to hit a fastball for two straight seasons now. Even though he still has the fastest bat speed in MLB, according to Baseball America, it’s clearly not enough for him to catch up to high-velocity pitching anymore. If Stanton looks mostly the same next season, Steinbrenner will face a difficult decision as to whether or not to cut his losses.
Which rookies did enough to be apart of the 2024 opening day roster?
Anthony Volpe finished his first major-league season with offensive numbers that are objectively not particularly good. Touted as one of the best prospects in baseball whose bat was further along than his glove, it can be argued it turned out the opposite. In 159 games, Volpe hit just .209 with a .666 OPS. Yes, he became just the Yankees’ second rookie to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases.
And, yes, defensively, he passed the eye test — even if Boone’s pronouncements that he deserves to be in the Gold Glove conversation are a bit overstated. The truth is, for all the praise the Yankees have heaped on Volpe for handling his first year in the majors at 22 years old, that’s still grading him on a curve. He’s the shortstop of the New York Yankees for a reason. He’s expected to produce like it, not be given a pass because of his age and inexperience
Expect him slotted in a SS for years to come, but the bat needs to become more consistent.
On Friday, Boone said Austin Wells has earned the opportunity to be considered for the starting catcher’s job in spring training. The bet here is that the lefty-swinging Wells platoons with the righty-hitting, defensively superior Jose Trevino.
It’s difficult to imagine Oswald Peraza with a starting spot if Gleyber Torres is still around come spring. The Yankees need an upgrade in left field over Everson Pereira. Neither Randy Vásquez nor Jhony Brito should be considered parts of next year’s rotation.
The Yankees need external reinforcements this offseason. The problem is this isn’t a deep or high end free agency class. Outside of Ohtani, who presumably doesn’t fit in the Yankees plans with Stanton clogging up the DH spot, there isn’t much out there that can change the projection of this team.
Cody Bellinger will likely get a nine-figure deal, and I’m of the opinion the Yankees should not entertain another long deal with someone who has as much risk as he does.
The biggest free agent the Yankees should pursue is 25-year-old Japanese star pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto. He’s young enough to add to the team’s youth movement and has special stuff.
The Yankees may be tempted to find a stopgap in center field and wait for Domínguez to recover from Tommy John surgery. The 20-year-old top prospect isn’t expected to return until June or July, though he might be able to return sooner if the Yankees stash him at DH — an unlikely move, considering the presence of Stanton. Or would the Yankees find a long-term solution at the position and move Domínguez to a less physically demanding position such as left field? It likely depends on how the markets shape up this offseason for help in center and in left. The Yankees believed that pre-Tommy John surgery Domínguez could handle center field. There’s no guarantee that his arm strength will be the same when he returns, but he’s young and should recover. A homegrown center fielder would go a long way toward allowing the Yankees to spend bigger money elsewhere.
Is Gleyber Torres the present and future 2B, or has he played his final game in pinstripes?
The Yankees may be at a crossroads with Torres, the only still-successful Baby Bomber of the bunch. They need a lot of help throughout the roster, and trading Torres might net them the biggest return. But he’s also been their most consistent hitter this season outside of Judge. Torres hit .273 with 25 home runs and 68 RBIs, posting an .800 OPS. He’s a middling defensive second baseman and he’s prone to mental lapses on the field and on the bases. But he’s still just 26 years old and a five-year deal would bring him through his prime seasons.
The Yankees don’t seem sold yet on the bat of Peraza, and they don’t seem keen on moving Volpe to second base to make room for Peraza, the superior defender, at shortstop. At the 2022 trade deadline, the Yankees discussed with the Marlins the idea of trading Torres for starting pitcher Pablo López, and the sides were close. So close, in fact, that Torres forbade his family after that deadline from talking to him about trade rumors. With one year left until he becomes a free agent, and with an approximately $12 million payday coming via arbitration, now might be the time to flip Torres. Or lock him up.
I would lock him up.
Will Steinbrenner open the check book further?
Because a considerable portion of the team’s higher-salaried players have struggled in recent years, it’s understandable why Steinbrenner may be at least a little cautious of pouring more money into roster construction. But one of the ways the Yankees can get out of the mess they are currently in is by spending lavishly this offseason.
Potentially trading for San Diego Padres superstar Juan Soto if he becomes available and signing him to a long-term extension would of course make the Yankees better. Signing Yamamoto to a high-priced deal could help. Re-engaging the St. Louis Cardinals on potential deals for a few of their younger position players like Brendan Donovan, Nolan Gorman, Dylan Carlson or Alec Burleson could help Steinbrenner keep the payroll below the highest tax level.
The status quo isn’t going to work for the Yankees next year. They need help. If it somehow takes going over the fourth luxury tax, will Steinbrenner have the stomach for it?