Yankees 2023: What Went Right & Wrong, & What’s Next. Pt 3: What’s NEXT

The Yankees are coming off a massively disappointing 2023 season — missing the playoffs for the first time in years and barely finishing above .500 with an 82-80 record.

Most fans predicted around 100 wins before the season began — NY won 99 last year and have won between 91 and 103 games since 2017 (sans the Covid-interrupted seasons).

They started off well, but injuries to Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo, Giancarlo Stanton, Nestor Cortes, and Carlos Rodon ultimately sank them — a bad July turned into a horrible August with a Titanic-like 9-game losing streak.

They finished in a flurry — the hottest MLB team in September with a 20-12 record after August 27th — but it was too little too late.

In this 3-part article, we cover:

and in this article, what’s NEXT:

What’s Next

A rumor circulated at end of the season that the Yankees would perform an audit of their entire organization after the season ended. This has now been reported to be false — misinterpreted. According to Andy Martino of SNY, “There is no plan, and there never has been a plan, for the Yankees to invite anyone in to audit their organization, according to four people with direct knowledge of the team’s inner workings.”

Martino reported the Yanks brain trust themselves will indeed  sit down and examine the organization.

In addition, ” the Yankees will be paying to view how an outside firm runs analytics, and then comparing it to the way they operate in that area. It is a self-evaluation, because they are looking at another company, rather than having a company look at them. The front office has been considering this opportunity for several years, and has now received clearance to spend the money.”

1. How Much Money Should Yanks Spend?

The Yankees had the 4th highest payroll in baseball in 2023, after the Mets dropped out of the top 5 by dumping their high-priced pitchers (Justin Verlander to Houston and Max Scherzer to Texas) at the trade deadline.

  1. Philadelphia $218 M
  2. Houston Astros $ 211 M
  3. Toronto Blue Jays $193 M
  4. NY Yankees $181 M
  5. San Diego Padres $164 M
  6. Los Angeles Dodgers $148 M
  7. Texas Rangers $148 M
  8. Atlanta Braves $145 M

Many Yankee fans on Twitter smash Hal Steinbrenner for not spending money. But the Yanks do spend money. The Yanks and all big market teams face 3 main hurdles with spending money:

1. Twelve (12) Teams Make the Playoffs — Twelve teams make the playoffs in a sport where anyone can win a short series. This was SHOUTED OUT to baseball fans in 2021 when the 88-win Atlanta Braves won the title while the LA Dodgers (106 wins) barely escaped a 1-game Wild Card playoff before being eliminated, and the San Fran Giants (107 wins) were eliminated too.

Laying down a $300 Million or $400 Million payroll is not going to significantly increase a team’s chances — as the Dodgers have seen you can win 106 (in 2021) and still be in a Wild Card game. The Dodgers won 111 in 2022 and were eliminated even earlier in the playoffs than 2021. The odds for big market teams with large payrolls that almost guarantee themselves a playoff spot is 12-1. That means a team could make the playoffs every year for 20 straight seasons and not win, then win 2 in 4 years and they’re right on target. By that time the fans will lynch the owners and/or consider the team a bunch of chokers.

In George Steinbrenner’s 70’s the odds were 4-1, so it behooved a team to outspend everyone else by a lot. Now it’s 12-1. Several orders of magnitude higher.

The goal — as GM Brian Cashman has said many times — is to get in the playoffs and roll the dice. Many fans don’t want to hear that — they literally make fun of him when he says it to the point it has become a running joke on Twitter. Every Yankee fan needs to take a course in probability theory.

2. The Luxury Tax — If a team does want to outspend everyone by a lot — they will get BLASTED in Luxury Tax. George Steinbrenner never had to deal with a Luxury Tax. The Luxury Tax threshold has been raised for 2024 to $233 Million, which will give the Yanks some new room.

3. The Top Players Are Getting 7-10 Year Contracts Paying thru Age 37-39 — Yankee fans have complained that the Yanks didn’t sign Manny Machado for 3rd base, or Freddie Freeman for 1st base, or Corey Seager for shortstop, or Bryce Harper for outfield. The thing is — all those guys got long term contracts at massive salaries — it’s not just a 5-year contract anymore. Machado is making $40M a year thru age 39! Freeman is making $27M a year thru age 37. Harper is getting $27M/yr thru age 37.

The Yankees already have taken on risk by signing Aaron Judge to $40M/yr thru age 39 and Giancarlo Stanton at $30M a year thru age 37 — how many guys like that can you have on your roster?  At some point you’ll have a lineup full of guys over age 35 making massive money and with steroids now illegal, 34 is 34 again.

2. How Good Are the Youngsters?

From July thru August in 2023 all we saw on Twitter were Yankee fans eschewing the Yanks for taking so long to call up the kids who were doing great in AAA. And then finally after the 9-game losing streak when the Yanks fell out of the Wild Card race, NY called up the kids and dedicated September to them.

Austin Wells looked GOOD and The Martian Jasson Dominguez excited — but for the most part all the kids batted under .200.

  • Oswald Peraza 2-14-.191 (.267 OBP) in 173 at bats — Peraza can Pick It in the field and has a Great arm. He has power. But can he maintain a decent batting average?
  • Everson Pereira 0-10-.151 (.233 OBP) in 93 at bats — Periera was the #75 prospect in MLB last year. He slashed 18-64-.300 (.373 OBP) in AA and AAA last year combined but in the majors struck out a lot. He is very fast and is a terrific defensive outfielder.
  • Austin Wells 4-13-.229 (.257 OBP) — Wells looked GOOD in September — a double to the opposite field waiting to happen at the plate, with power to right and a lot of contact. The pitchers raved about working with him, saying he was very communicative.
  • Jasson Dominguez 4-7-.258 (.303 OBP) in 31 at bats — The Martian blew thru AA into AAA last year, and was the #74 prospect in MLB before being called up. He hit a homer in his first at bat and excited all of baseball with his compact power swing — he makes a lot of contact and hits with authority — before he went out with injury after 1 week in the bigs.
  • Estevan Florial 0-8-.230 (.324 OBP) — looked Good in September! — for the first time he looked patient at the plate, working counts.

Add Yankee ‘veterans’:

  • Oswaldo Cabrera 5-29-.211 (.275 OBP) — bombed the 1st half but came on late in year with a put-the-ball-in-play approach at the plate.
  • Anthony Volpe  21-60-.209 (.283 OBP) — slick fielding shortstop with quick wrists and power to all fields; led AL shortstops in dWAR; needs to raise the average.
Anthony Volpe wakes Yanks up and ties game with 2-run homer in 3rd.

HUGE Chasm Between AAA and Majors

The problem is that there is now a HUGE difference between AAA and the majors — AAA teams don’t have the stacked bullpens that MLB teams have, for one. So guys who bat .330 in the minors come up and bat .220 in the majors. See for example the cases of Jake Bauers (hit .359 (.485 OBP) in AAA last year and .202 (.279 OBP) with the Yanks) and Franchy Cordero (13-61-.288 (.403 OBP) in AAA last year and 6-13-.188 (.211 OBP) with the Yanks).

On top of it there are twitter accounts that constantly tweet highlight videos of a Yankee AAA or AA player hitting another homer or going 3 for 4 in AAA — whetting the appetite of Yank fans watching NY get shut out again.

Also remember the Yank prospects didn’t fall into Brian Cashman’s lap — the Yankees had of course drafted or signed these kids and nurtured them thru the minor league system — NY management knows exactly how good each of these kids are.

Yankee Slut did a terrific, in depth analysis of the Yankee youngsters at the end of the season.

Our Prediction:

It would be fool’s folly to think 3 of the players above will become Major League All Stars — yet we’d love to see Volpe, Austin Wells, and Jasson Dominguez eventually become exactly that.

If that happens what is the probability that some of the other guys become MLB starters? Baseball is 90 percent mental, as Yogi Berra said — so you can only hope but more likely Peraza, Pereira, Florial, and Oswaldo will become bench players and one or two of them will struggle to stay in the majors.

The Martian Jasson Dominguez RIPS a homer to right to put NY up 2-1 in the 3rd — the eventual game winner.

3. Hitting

With batting averages at historic lows, most major league teams had only 3 hitters with half decent batting averages. Only 4 guys hit .300 in the American League, and only 7 guys batted over .280. Gleyber Torres finished 14th in the league with a .273 average!

A .240 average is the new .270 (in terms of number of guys hitting that level). A .270 average is the new .300.

When the Yanks lost Aaron Judge to injury from May thru July, and then unknowingly also lost Anthony Rizzo — who played with post-concussion symptoms from end of May into July — the Yankee offense floundered — as they were 2 of the Yanks’ 3 good hitters (Gleyber Torres being the 3rd).

Going into 2024 the Yanks will have Gleyber, Judge, Rizzo and then Anthony Volpe (who has to raise his batting average) and Austin Wells (who looked GOOD in September) as hitters to count on.

Giancarlo Stanton? A big question mark. He’ll be 34 next year. Boone has said they want him to get on a training regimen that sees him reduce muscle — get leaner and less muscular — so he doesn’t keep pulling hamstrings and other muscles.

The Yanks Have to add hitting — and left field, 3rd base, and centerfield (until Jasson Dominguez reenters the picture sometime next August) are the places where they need to add it.

Shohei Ohtani is the #1 Free Agent this winter. He is a lefty bat. He is a DH — the Yanks have Giancarlo Stanton at that position already.

Juan Soto will be a free agent next year — he will go to arbitration this winter with San Diego. Many Yankee fans hope the Yanks will trade for him this winter. He’s a lefty coming off 35-109-.275 (.410 OBP) and will only be 25 yrs old next year.

Juan Soto won’t come cheap of course. The Padres spent a ton on Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr. Manny Machado, and Xander Bogaerts but missed the playoffs in 2023, and GM A.J. Preller has said that the team will be attempting to re-sign Soto but “We’ve never been a group that says no to anything” when asked if trading him would be a possibility if he didn’t want to re-sign.

San Diego gave up a bunch of prospects including their star shortstop prospect CJ Abrams for Soto before the 2022 season. They would most likely like similar in return from NY — think a package starting with The Martian, for example.

4. Left Field

Some of the better outfielders under age 32 that are available include:

  • Teoscar Hernandez (age 31 next yr), righty bat — 26-93-.258 (.305 OBP) in 2023 for Seattle.
  • Jurickson Profar (age 31 next yr), switch hitter — 15-61-.238 lifetime avg per 162 games; 9-46-.242 last year in San Diego and Colorado.
  • Joc Pederson (will be 32), lefty bat — 15-51-.235 (.348 OBP) in 2023 for San Fran. Once hit 36 HR’s for Dodgers.
  • Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (will be 30), righty bat — 24-82-.261 (.309) in 2023 for Arizona (hitter friendly home park)
  • Jesse Winker (age 30 next yr), lefty bat — hit 1-23-.199 (.320 OBP) in 166 AB’s for Milwaukee in an injury year. Lifetime 22-71-.264 (.369 OBP) per 162 games.

If the Yanks can trade for Juan Soto — he would play left.

5. Third Base

Matt Chapman is ranked by MLB as the #3 best free agent overall entering 2024. Yikes! Chapman happened to whiff in Toronto’s 2nd to final at bat in their elimination Wild Card series — and he looked bad doing it. The multi-time Gold Glove 3rd baseman had a poor season for Toronto in 2023 — slashing 17-54-.240 (.330 OBP). He’s a righty swinger so one would think the Yanks at this point would look elsewhere.

The pickings are slim in terms of free agent 3rd baseman — with Gio Urshela and Isiah Kiner-Falefa ranked just behind Chapman as top free agents available!

Gio slashed 2-24-.299 (.329 OBP) for the Angels in 214 At Bats before going down with injury in 2023; in 2022 he slashed 13-64-.285 (.335 OBP) for Minnesota but was traded for low-grade prospect — single A pitcher Alejandro Hidalgo (0-5 5.28 in A ball in 2023).  Urshela seems to be on the bubble of a player teams protect in the Rule 5 draft, and instead trade for single A players exempt from Rule 5 status. Gio will be 32 in 2024 and can of course pick it at 3rd.

Gio Urshela back in the day with the Yanks.

6. Centerfield

Who’s going to play center until The Martian returns? Estevan Florial? Don’t think so. Isiah Kiner-Falefa is a free agent.

Cody Bellinger is the big free agent prize this winter — he slashed 26-97-.303 (.356 OBP) playing home games at Wrigley Field for the Cubs — a huge rejuvenation year after he was absolutely horrible from 2020 thru 2022 (batting .239, .165, and .210). He’ll be 28 yrs old next year. He’s a lefty batter. He’ll want a big contract.

If the Yanks opt to not go after Bellinger and wait for The Martian, the free agent pickings for centerfielders are just as light as 3rd base — with Harrison Bader one of the highest ranked available centerfielders after Bellinger. Also highly ranked is Kevin Kiermaier, who will be 34 years old. He’s a lefty swinger.

7. Starting Staff

As we mentioned in the What Went WRONG article, the Yankees didn’t have the starting staff they thought they’d have in 2023 — something that manager Aaron Boone said was the #1 thing that went wrong.

A quick side-by-side comparison of the starting staffs of NY vs Baltimore vs Tampa shows the other two front-running teams had more dependable, winning starters. Despite the Yankees coming into the year with more talent. (Nestor Cortes fell off the list below due to number of games started.)

Frankie Montas made an appearance late in the season for NY. It seemed that the Yanks went way out of their way to make sure he got that appearance, meaning they are looking to sign him to a 1-year “prove it” deal this winter.

Luis Severino will be a free agent. Will the Yanks sign him to a 1-year ‘prove it’ deal too?

Next year’s starting staff is currently slotted as:

  1. Gerrit Cole
  2. Carlos Rodon
  3. Nestor Cortes
  4. Michael King
  5. Clarke Schmidt

Cortes is a question mark at this point, coming off his injury. If Montas is signed that’s one insurance starter. The Yanks probably need another.

Top prospects on the way are:

  • Drew Thorpe looked real good in AA in 2023 (4-0 1.48) and is the top Yank pitching prospect.
  • Will Warren is the next starter on the way up — he did well in AA and AAA in 2023 (10-4 3.35 combined).
  • Clayton Beeter also did well in AA and AAA in 2023 (9-7 3.69 combined)
  • Richard Fitts (11-5 3.48 in AA) are others on the way up.

8. Catching

The Yanks have 3 (three) catchers slated for next year: Jose Trevino, Austin Wells, and Ben Rortvedt.

Kyle Higashioka is a free agent. At the end of 2023 it seemed common knowledge — by Yankee broadcasters and fans — that Higgy was gone.

Wells and Rortvedt are lefty swingers. Boone has said Wells will be given a chance to be the starting catcher next year. One thing Wells has to prove is ability to hit lefties — he was 0-6 against lefties in 2022.

Rortvedt became Gerrit Cole‘s personal catcher. He’s a lefty. One might expect him to stick around.

Does NY go into 2024 with Austin Wells and Trevino as the catchers and Ben Rortvedt backing them? Not a bad way to go considering Wells has to prove himself against lefties.

Austin Wells hits 2-run Homer to left in the top of the 9th — the game winner.

9. The Bullpen

The bullpen was great for the Yanks in 2023 — as it is most every year. The Yanks build their team from the bullpen out, it seems.

Yank relievers scheduled to be free agents this winter:

If the Yanks don’t re-sign Wandy or Middleton (they may very well re-sign them), the bullpen going into 2024 the bullpen will be:

Clay Holmes

10. The Manager

Latest word at end of the year was it looks like Aaron Boone will stay as manager for at least another year. The players like and support him.

11. The GM

It looks like Brian Cashman is here to stay for a while as well. As much as Yankee fans rip him constantly — he operates in an environment described at the top of this article: 12-1 odds for big market teams, luxury tax, top players demanding massive contracts that pay til age 39, etc.

The Yanks won in 2009, and also would have been in the World Series in 2017 and 2019 if another team hadn’t cheated. Big picture, Cashman has made some mistakes, but overall has operated the Yankees well. It can be debated.

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