The 2022 season is only a few days away, and an overwhelming amount of fans are upset with the lack of moves general manager Brian Cashman made to begin the 2022 campaign. It is hard to disagree. While he may have thought blaming those darn 2017 Houston Astros for his lack of innovation in the past five years would be sufficient for the fans, few took the bait. But, though he didn’t land any of the coveted free agents in Carlos Correa or Trevor Story, nor did he trade for additional pitching, the New York Yankees lineup is still lethal. Further, with the addition of two teams in the playoffs, it should more than likely push them into the playoffs. However, there are three main concerns I have with the Yankees as they begin their quest to end their title drought.
1. Health and Athleticism
Now, of course, this is always a concern when you have three of the largest baseball players on your team in Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Joey Gallo. However, my concern is not just with those three particularly, but the entire team in general. The Yankees got older this offseason, not younger. They retained Anthony Rizzo, a 32-year-old first baseman, for another two years.
While this was likely the wise move–keeping the lineup balanced with a left-handed hitter with a good OBP and good defense, it continues to age their lineup. This is especially true when there were great first base options out there between Freddie Freeman and Matt Olson. I don’t think Freeman wanted any part of New York, but to not pursue Olson, which many argue is the better of the two, was concerning.
Olson is 28 years old, and has posted elite defense and offense, all while playing in one of the worst ballparks to do the latter. Cashman has always coveted prospects, sometimes to his detriment, so while the A’s took some questionable returns in their trades, Cashman better hope his continued overvaluation of prospects is correct, otherwise the drought will continue.
Lastly, they added Josh Donaldson, a 36-year-old injury-prone player. Why? This move was a head-scratcher when made. Sure, ridding them of Gary Sanchez was wise, but to replace fan favorite and athletic Gio Urshela with a player that has been troubled by nagging calf injuries of late was questionable. The addition of Isiah Kiner-Falefa (IKF) is a great add, but I can’t help but wonder if it is worth it to not have just kept Urshela. The comps don’t seem to be that much better. Urshela slashed .267/.301/.419 last season, with IKF slashing .271/.312/.357. To me, the only significant difference between the two is that IKF brings more speed to the Yankees, having 18 stolen bases last year to Urshe’a’s one. Urshela was beloved by fans and the Yankees, and not to say IKF won’t be, but sometimes messing with team chemistry can have lasting impacts.
Ultimately, the Yankees added athleticism, with IKF even having some experience playing catcher, yet continued to make their roster older, and likely more injury-prone. While Rizzo hasn’t had many injury issues, Donaldson has. The injured list has not been the Yankees’ friend the past few years, and let’s not forget about the Judge and Stanton injury issues. It would be naive to say there won’t be injuries this year, so let’s just hope the stints are short and the timing of injuries will be as best as it can be. Otherwise, I worry about the Yankees’ depth.
This was an odd free agent year for pitching. Most of the free-agent pitchers came with question marks. Was Robbie Ray really that good, can Kevin Gausman repeat those numbers, and, can Carlos Rodón stay healthy? Those were my concerns about the offseason. I am happy the Yankees didn’t pursue any of them, to me, they all seemed a bit too risky. But, they still should have done something because right now, after Gerrit Cole, the wheels come off.
The presumed number two starter, Luis Severino, has not been good this spring, allowing seven runs in seven innings, and walking five. Further, he just recently received treatment for “general arm soreness”. The treatment seemed to work, as in his most recent spring start, he went four scoreless against the reigning champs, and walked none, with his velocity up. But general arm soreness usually does not dissipate without some surgical help or significant time on the IL. Yet, remaining optimistic, if his last spring start is foreshadowing his season, the Yankees will finally have the one-two punch they had planned on since signing Cole.
Hoping Sevy’s arm holds up should be the main prayer of fans this year because their 3-5 starters are…not good. Jordan Montgomery shows some promise, posting a sub-four ERA last year. Yet those numbers need to continue to improve, especially when playing in the hardest offensive division in MLB. No one expects to seamlessly navigate the Toronto Blue Jays or Boston Red Sox lineup, but going against them with starters hovering near a four ERA is problematic. Jameson Taillon, Monty, and Nestor Cortes all pose this issue. (And yes, Cortes was a breakthrough last year, but let the man pitch more than 90 innings before believing he is a Cy Young contender.) Further, when going against the pitching of the Jays, runs will be hard to manufacture, so allowing even 4 may be deadly.
Though the Jays appear to have great pitching, the Red Sox continue to have holes in their rotation, so, aside from the Nathan Eovaldi vs. Cole games, I expect slugfests between the two teams.
Divisional matchups will ultimately be what defines the AL East playoff teams this year. The Yankees pitchers, from starters to relievers, must improve their stats to have a fighting chance in this division and playoffs.
3. Judge Extension
As of now, we are just three days away from Opening Day. Judge said he will not be negotiating his contract during the season. Assuming the Yankees believe this sentiment, this leaves only 3 days for them to agree on his extension. Reports have been that they are willing to extend him, and plan to deliver an offer in the coming days. Those reports were from a week ago, so the days are here. The question then will be, how much are you willing to give him, and will you be happy about it?
Michael Kay said he expects Judge to sign for as high as a $40 million AAV. That is insane, and if true, Hal should start deconstructing the Judge’s chambers in right field like, right now. Further, those that cling to the notion of “hometown guy” or “hometown discount” need a reality check. Rumors are, that Judge is a union guy. Translation: get as much money as possible to help the union continue to prosper. This was the same notion Mookie Betts took when he told the Red Sox he would test free agency. (Of course, that was a lie, when the Los Angeles Dodgers offered him enough to say screw free agency.) There is, of course, nothing wrong with this approach, but fans should prepare for one of two outcomes.
Outcome #1. Sign Judge for whatever he wants, and expect Cashman to not make any moves for the next 3-4 years.
The payroll is already north of $250 million. Even a Judge extension of a 30 AAV would bring it closer to 300. Seeing as how Cashman was unwilling to spend with the $250 million now, what makes you think he will spend when it increases? Further, the $30M AAV is generous, I figure it to be at least $33M.
The main thing to consider with this outcome is this: Yankees haven’t won with Judge. This is fine, but the truth. So, does adding Judge, hindering your payroll, and continuing to have pitching and infield issues benefit you? My main question is rather, what does a Judge extension help them achieve, aside from keeping a fan favorite. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug but can be a bit too intoxicating at times.
If fans want Judge retained that badly, they should expect more offseasons like this past one to repeat for the next 3-4 years, with Cashman, Aaron Boone, and Hal Steinbrenner all repeating the rhetoric “we feel we have a championship-level team.”
Outcome #2: Let Judge walk after this season, and use capital on other holes.
Perhaps not the fan-favorite, this option allows for the Yankees to become more flexible with their payroll and lineups. Again, the Yankees will need to add pitching, or find something from within their organization. There is also a slew of younger outfield talent, ready to be freed from the shackles of their terrible franchises. Whether it be via trade like Pittsburgh’s Bryan Reynolds or waiting until free agency, like Juan Soto, there is not a shortage of outfield talent. Further, there is still a beloved New York outfielder on the market in Michael Conforto. I am not saying these are all future Yankees, yet just examples of pivotable positions Cashman can take should a Judge extension not work.
I know the Judge extension is a polarizing topic, as is Cashman’s latest decisions. But, as far as I can see, these are the best options the Yankees have, and the only two the fans should consider. So I guess it comes down to how much you value a “lifer” Yankee, or what you want or see in the long term.