The Yankees did not sign Freddie Freeman or Robbie Ray. They aren’t going to sign Carlos Correa and they didn’t trade for Matt Olson. The big, vintage George move of the offseason isn’t coming, and if you want to be upset they’re no longer keeping pace with the Mets or the Dodgers in the marketplace, or that their 2022 roster isn’t as impressive as the Blue Jays’ or Rays’, you have every right.
They are, after all, the Yankees, and they wouldn’t be the second-most valuable sports franchise in the world if they weren’t making a healthy profit, regardless of Hal Steinbrenner’s hollow excuses.
This article isn’t about the players who the Yankees could’ve or should’ve added. It’s about what the 2022 roster will actually look like and how it compares to last year’s iteration. Despite several disappointing individual performances, the 2021 Yankees finished 92-70 and made the playoffs. Using that as a baseline, let’s evaluate where they stand now.
This is the hardest position to evaluate both objectively and subjectively. We have picked apart Gary Sánchez ad nauseum. At his best, he is an elite offensive player, but his hot streaks have become less and less frequent. Overall, he averaged out to roughly a league-average catcher in 2021 according to some versions of WAR, but he was far too unreliable and clearly needed a change of scenery.
However, Ben Rortvedt appears to be an inadequate replacement. He’s only 24, but he was never a major prospect and he didn’t hit at all in his brief rookie season. Yes, he’s left-handed, so he can form a classic platoon with Kyle Higashioka, but if their combined offense is no better than Sánchez at his worst, it’s hard to view this as an improvement. Defensively, they are undoubtedly stronger, but the catching tandem is one of the worst in MLB.
Verdict: Weaker, regardless of your feelings about Sánchez.
The Yankees have altered their infield more than any other aspect of the roster. We have to start with the assumption that Luke Voit will be gone. Through no fault of his own, he wasn’t healthy when the team needed him, so they Wally Pipped him with Anthony Rizzo, who they have now re-signed. It’s not wholly accurate to say that they’re treading water here. Six months of Rizzo instead of just two— with the rest filled in by Jay Bruce, Chris Gittens, and D.J. LeMahieu moving over to make room for Rougned Odor— is a substantial improvement.
Speaking of LeMahieu, he theoretically doesn’t have a position. He’s still a starter, but he’ll steal a game here and there from Rizzo, Gleyber Torres, Josh Donaldson, and indirectly from everyone else in the lineup when they need to rest or DH. That’s the plan at least until someone inevitably gets injured— or if Torres gets traded. Both LeMahieu and Torres are great bounce-back candidates. It’s hard to envision both of them hitting as poorly as they did a year ago, which means second base should be in decent hands.
Despite his age, Donaldson is a clear upgrade over Urshela at third base. He’s a borderline Hall of Famer who still hits the ball nearly as well as he did at his peak. His defense is no longer Gold Glove-caliber, but he still receives better marks from advanced metrics than Urshela. He’s more likely to play 135 games than 160, but that’s what LeMahieu is there for.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa isn’t the shortstop we all wanted or expected. He’s a slappy, singles hitter with a clean glove who will bat eighth or ninth. If the goal is to be an improvement over 2021 Gleyber Torres, that isn’t a very high bar. If all goes according to plan, this job could be Oswald Peraza’s by midseason anyway, which would make Kiner-Falefa a valuable bench player.
Verdict: Stronger at every position, albeit not by much.
Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton remain stalwarts of the lineup. That much has not changed. Left field and center field are where they have made moves. Prior to the trade deadline, those positions were manned by a hodgepodge of Miguel Andújar, Clint Frazier, a bunch of scrapheap veterans and Quad-A rookies, and way too much Brett Gardner. Even after Joey Gallo arrived, his bat fell into a cold snap. Over the course of a full season, he ought to be one of the better overall players on the team.
Aaron Hicks succumbed to season-ending surgery for the second time in three years. The team can’t count on him for 700 plate appearances, and at age 32, his range in center field will surely have declined. However, much like at shortstop, all he needs to do is be more valuable than what they had in 2021, which was a punchless Gardner. He will probably sit once or twice per week, possibly shifting Judge to center and Stanton into the field.
Verdict: Stronger and more stable in left field and center field.
The pitching staff has been much less transient than the position players this winter. Four-fifths of the rotation returns. Gerrit Cole should be a Cy Young candidate as usual. Jordan Montgomery is a consistent mid-rotation starter. Nestor Cortes was the most pleasant surprise in a season full of disappointments, and there’s no reason to think he can’t repeat his breakout performance. Jameson Taillon was supposed to be sidelined until May after ankle surgery, but appears to be ahead of schedule and should begin the season in the rotation.
The biggest tradeoff is saying goodbye to Corey Kluber, who was up-and-down over a half-season’s worth of nonconsecutive starts, in exchange for a healthy Luis Severino. The former ace of the Yankees has thrown only 18 innings in the Majors since 2019 (27.2 if you include the postseason). Now, according to Aaron Boone, he’s the “most ready pitcher in big-league camp.” Another massive injury could strike at any time and it’s highly unlikely he’s going to make 30 turns through the rotation. However, if he can avoid anything more severe than minor maladies, he shouldn’t have any trouble replacing and surpassing Kluber’s production.
Rotation depth is surely a concern, but no more so than it was last year. Domingo Germán has a bum shoulder for the time being, but he’ll most likely pick up some starts in the second half. Luis Gil and Clarke Schmidt are also expected to contribute. They don’t have the talent to weather more than one injury at a time, so they need some good luck or a trade for another arm.
Verdict: Stronger, health permitting (especially Severino’s).
The Yankees return almost the same exact bullpen, man for man. The four biggest relief innings eaters are Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, Jonathan Loáisiga, and Lucas Luetge. All three of the 2021 trade acquisitions return as well: Clay Holmes, Wandy Peralta, and Joely Rodríguez. Michael King and Albert Abreu offer upside, though Abreu is out of options so it’s a make-or-break campaign for him. Every pitcher who threw at least 20 innings in relief remains in pinstripes, and no one new has been added. It’s business as usual, which is more than sufficient for one of MLB’s best relief corps.
Verdict: Exactly the same.
Prior to the 2019 season, the Yankees signed LeMahieu to a two-year contract and the fan base nearly revolted. There was nothing wrong with the signing at face value, but it meant they weren’t pursuing Manny Machado. LeMahieu hit .327 that year and .364 the next, finishing in the top four in AL MVP voting both seasons. Is Machado a better player? Of course, but the team still won 103 games that year and LeMahieu excelled.
Three years later, they have opted for LeMahieu-over-Machado incremental improvements once again. Given that their starting point is 92 wins, that might be enough. Then again, the Blue Jays were the best fourth-place team in history last year at 91-71, and they have made several major additions, while the Rays are probably still the best team in the AL.
Are the Yankees better than they were in 2021? Yes, probably. In a vacuum, that’s a good thing, but they haven’t really addressed any of their weaknesses in a meaningful way. The more important question is, “Are they good enough to win the AL East and the World Series?” Time will tell, but it feels as though they’re both winning and losing at the same time.