Ever since July, it appears as though the Yankees and Pirates have switched uniforms. There’s little need to contextualize how dreadful they’ve played lately or how empty the offense has become (save for Aaron Judge of course). We’ve all seen what they look like at present and we all know the most likely outcome for the remainder of the season including the playoffs. They built up a significant enough lead in the first half that even if they squander the division—which would truly be a Red Sox or Mets-worthy collapse—they’ll back into October anyway. Regardless of how they squeak into the postseason, a World Series run is practically o,ksut of the question.
At this point in the season, there’s little the Yankees can do to find help externally. There are no saviors in the farm system and the only other player acquisitions they can make are from the scrap heap. Even if they pick up a free agent, that player wouldn’t be postseason eligible. Besides, if they rely on someone like Anthony Banda to right the ship, they may as well drown.
Let’s skip past the next angsty weeks and focus on the coming winter. The organization has some monumental decisions to make if they’re going to fix a doomed roster before the 2023 season.
The earliest decisions involve the decision-makers themselves. It’s not as though these contracts matter much, but Brian Cashman’s is expiring. In 25 years as general manager, he has never overseen a losing season, but their championship drought has already been longer than the Horace Clarke Era. Even more damning, he is directly responsible for stringing together the current roster filled with broken pieces. Aaron Hicks, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Kyle Higashioka, Marwin Gonzalez, Gleyber Torres, Josh Donaldson, and Joey Gallo all became Yankees because Cashman trusted them to be productive players.
In the dugout, Aaron Boone has been catching heat for his questionable bullpen usage and lineup decisions for years. Rightly or wrongly, most other franchises would have already fired their manager weeks ago in the wake of their epic collapse, and if this had happened in the 1980s, George Steinbrenner would’ve probably gone through three of them by now.
If we’re being honest, we see very little of what a manager or general manager does in their jobs. There’s no way for us to know if they’ve lost the clubhouse or if they’re still the right people to get the most out of this group of players. When Boone benches a player inexplicably, there could be something personal going on in the player’s life and we’re not privy to that information (nor should we be).
The person who is ultimately responsible for making the decision on the direction of the club is Hal Steinbrenner, who deserves as much of the blame as anyone. The Yankees’ payroll has more or less stagnated since 2005 even though revenue has more than doubled. They’re one of the largest worldwide financial behemoths in sports, yet they continue to squander away their greatest advantage for the sake of greed. Directly or indirectly, he’s the reason why they passed on last winter’s historic class of free-agent shortstops. Nevertheless, we have no choice but to trust him to make the best decision with regard to Cashman, Boone, and the overall path forward.
Let’s get this out of the way: the first order of business should be retaining Aaron Judge. Otherwise, they must replace him with someone else who can hit 60 home runs. Seeing as that person doesn’t exist, it’s an open-and-shut case. Pay him whatever the hell he wants, name him the captain, and start hewing his monument. Failure to do so would truly signify the end of the Yankees as a superpower.
Two free agents the team won’t miss at all in 2023 are Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman. Believe it or not, they’re still the two highest-paid lefty relievers in baseball except for David Price, who only became a full-time reliever this season. Britton hasn’t pitched at all this year, though he may still join the team this month. Chapman has been inconsistent, unreliable, and mysteriously injured at present due to a tattoo infection. Good riddance to him and his history of domestic abuse.
There are more difficult choices to make in the rotation, where Jameson Taillon becomes a free agent and the team has a club option on Luis Severino. They will only have four established starters under contract: Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, Frankie Montas, and Domingo Germán—five if you include Clarke Schmidt. They should pick up Severino’s option, but if not, they will need to add at least one more starter.
Anthony Rizzo has a player option that he may or may not exercise. If so, the Yankees will welcome him back gladly. If not, they should let him walk away. He has been their second-best hitter this season, but he’s now 33 years old with a chronic back problem. They can’t take on another aging player on a multiyear deal with questionable health. Needless to say, they would need to fill the first base position elsewhere; D.J. LeMahieu’s defense is too valuable at second and third.
Andrew Benintendi is also a free agent to be. He’s not a building block of the team, but he’s a quality hitter near the top of the lineup and an excellent left fielder. In many ways, he fills the void left by Brett Gardner. It’s not as crucial to retain his services as it is for Judge, but he would look good in pinstripes on a long-term deal.
Players Under Contract
Time to clean house. Just like Gary Sánchez a year ago, several players need a change of scenery. Gleyber Torres has only had one half-season of productive plate appearances over the past three years. He’s slashing .187/.218/.293 since the All-Star Break. He’s arbitration eligible and will most likely be tendered a 2023 contract, but they ought to trade him away and start fresh.
Aaron Hicks’ slugging percentage is down to .297. He has only hit 15 balls as far as 350 feet all year. In other words, he can’t reliably hit a sac fly—much less a home run—because he doesn’t even have fly-ball power. To hell with the three remaining years on his contract. For the Yankees, roster spots are a more valuable resource than money. They have no choice but to release him outright.
Remember when the starting catcher was going to be Kyle Higashioka? His .237 on-base percentage is right in line with his career .235 mark. He’s not a major-league caliber hitter, regardless of how many home runs he hits in Spring Training. He ought to be non-tendered. Perhaps they can roll with Ben Rortvedt as their 2023 backup catcher.
Josh Donaldson didn’t have an aging curve—he simply got old all at once. The club owes him nearly $30 million after this season, but contending clubs need more lineup production than he provides. He won’t have much trade value, but if they don’t find a way to export him, they must diminish his role. Perhaps LeMahieu becomes the starting third baseman instead.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa hasn’t exactly disappointed. He has hit pretty much exactly like the back of his baseball card says he should. He underperformed defensively in the first half but has improved his glovework lately. The mistake was entrusting him with the starting shortstop job in the first place. He can remain on the roster, but only as a backup. When the Yankees claimed he was a placeholder for Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe, that was a lie. They had no intention of handing either of them the keys in 2022. For 2023, it’s a little more believable, but if they truly want to let the kids play at one of the middle infield spots, they had BETTER be the real deal.
Incoming for 2023
The only position players the Yankees can rely on for 2023 are LeMahieu, Giancarlo Stanton, Jose Trevino, and believe it or not, Harrison Bader. Judge, Benintendi, and Rizzo are contractual question marks. There’s another bumper crop of shortstops on the market this year, headlined by Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, and Dansby Swanson. The team needs to learn from their mistake and pony up for one of the big names this time. LeMahieu can move to third base and Peraza/Volpe can handle second base. (Volpe’s arm is supposedly questionable for the left side of the infield anyway.)
If the unthinkable happens and Judge walks away, signing at least one top-tier free agent becomes non-optional. They could even go big with one of the elite free agent pitchers: Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, and Carlos Rodón.
Trades are always possible as well, but it’s too early to speculate which players might be available this offseason. Besides, the Yankees would probably have to part with Peraza, Volpe, or Jasson Dominguez to trade for an established star. They have been reticent to do so thus far.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. It would be insane for the Yankees to watch this collapse and think the club needs only minor tinkering. Whoever ends up calling the shots—whether it’s Cashman and Boone or someone else—must recognize the need to cut bait on unproductive players and make the daring moves to reload. Let’s just hope Hal Steinbrenner recognizes the urgency.