“Going all-in. That was the Yankee Way. Teetering on the fence isn’t the Yankee Way, and it’s come back to bite them for sure.”
In conversations with a handful of scouts on Wednesday — the day after a disappointing 2021 season for the New York Yankees went up in flames with a 6-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox in the American League Wild Card game, costing one BetMGM bettor in New Jersey $100,000 — this was the one comment that stood out.
So this is really about Hal Steinbrenner, to start. And if the last few years are any indication, Steinbrenner is content to spend to the luxury tax but not exceed it, win 90-something games, and then hope for the best in October.
It’s OK. Just not better than the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have blown the Yankees out of the water in all aspects of their baseball operation, from payroll to personnel. Or the Tampa Bay Rays, who have become the class of the AL East. In fact, the Yankees might just be the fourth-best team in their division heading into 2022. Unless they do something drastic. Probably, unless they go all-in again.
Here’s PlayNY’s look at a significant offseason ahead:
Aaron Boone, Brian Cashman and Analytics for New York Yankees
Approval ratings for Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman are at a low point. Boone’s contract is up, while Cashman is entering the final year of his deal. But the consensus opinion was that Boone, who has qualified for the playoffs in all four of his seasons at the helm, would ultimately be brought back on a short-term deal.
Essentially, unless the Yankees change their philosophy of being reliant on the front office and analytics, Boone remains a good fit. He does all the “modern manager” stuff well. Boone communicates. He collaborates. He defends his players (and decisions he may or not make, along with lineups he may or may not write) in front of the cameras. Steinbrenner likes him.
Is he the best in-game skipper? Probably not, though again how much of the gameplan and bullpen lanes are scripted beforehand? He was also managing a flawed, ill-constructed roster. And there’s no obvious, top-of-your-head replacement that fits the current Yankee Way.
So the guess is Boone stays, assuming he wants to return after his spring-training heart procedure and an up-and-down campaign. His coaching staff figures to look a lot different, though. Now, whether the Yankees should allow baseball people to have more of a say is definitely a conversation that should be had. Something needs to change philosophically. “They got a lot of things wrong,” as one source put it.
The rotation was mostly uninspiring. The lineup was too right-handed (until the trade deadline) and strikeout-prone. Defense and athleticism were lacking. Players were forced to play out of position. The clubhouse environment, save for that 13-game winning streak, was described as “joyless.” The Yankees haven’t had a losing season since 1992, but patience is wearing thin.
Yankees need starting pitching, starting pitching, starting pitching
The awful Tuesday outing by Gerrit Cole was concerning on several fronts. He’s paid $36 million annually to dominate do-or-die games. And by not getting out of the third inning, he came up very small against the Red Sox.
Scouts described Cole’s fastball as flat. His confidence waned. Whether that was a result of his hamstring injury, a lack of sticky stuff, or after-effects from his difficult bout with COVID-19, it’s all certainly possible. But the 31-year-old righty remains very much a question mark with seven years left on his deal. And top-of-the-rotation types are hard to come by.
The Yankees do need at least one other starter who can get into the sixth and seventh innings regularly so as not to overtax their bullpen. It could be worth calling the Cincinnati Reds again on Luis Castillo, who posted a 3.98 ERA but made 33 starts and threw 187.2 innings in 2021. Robbie Ray of the Toronto Blue Jays, the AL Cy Young favorite, will be a free agent. And then there’s the hope of internal improvement from promising youngster Luis Gil, who has intriguing stuff but inconsistent control (ditto to a lesser extent for swingman Mike King).
Nestor Cortes, Jameson Taillon and Jordan Montgomery had their moments. Yet all three seem better served as late-rotation pitchers. Corey Kluber is a free agent. Luis Severino might be better off in the bullpen after coming off Tommy John surgery and his subsequent setbacks. There needs to be more certainty both behind Cole and from Cole himself.
Shortstop, catcher, position player needs for Yankees
Shortstop was the consensus position that scouts felt the Yankees needed to improve the most.
Highly touted prospect Anthony Volpe, 20, has drawn rave reviews. But he’s still not ready yet. The free-agent market will include Corey Seager, Carlos Correa and Trevor Story. Seager, in particular, has a World Series MVP and a left-handed bat. He’s also got an injury history and could move to third once Volpe is ready. Again, how much are the Yankees willing to spend?
It seems well past time for the Yankees to move on from Gary Sanchez. Sanchez has been remade four times, but is still the same liability behind the plate. A change of scenery seems in order.
The contract with Anthony Rizzo is up. He provided plus-defense, long at-bats and a positive presence in the clubhouse. But he may cost too much. And a return to the Cubs might be in the cards. DJ LeMahieu was just an average player in Year 1 of his six-year, $90 million extension. But he could figure at first base or third going forward. Although there was a lot of mystery surrounding LeMahieu’s injuries.
Gleyber Torres looked much more comfortable after moving to second from short. Seemingly, Torres, who shouldn’t have been playing short in the first place, has bounce-back potential. Defensive wiz Gio Urshela could still figure in the mix at the hot corner. The future of Luke Voit is very much tenuous. The Oakland Athletics’ Matt Olson could be an intriguing possibility via trade given his lefty bat.
In the outfield, Aaron Hicks will be back, with Brett Gardner’s time with the club possibly over. Aaron Judge is finally in his last year of arbitration. Could an extension be presented? Not doing so would seem crazy. But finding the right terms for both player and team could be an adventure. Giancarlo Stanton, 32, was brilliant down the stretch, and should spend time split between left and DH. Joey Gallo provides too much swing-and-miss, and he could be a potential trade candidate.
It’s unclear where Clint Frazier and Miguel Andujar factor into the equation. Obviously, this group can be too feast or famine and needs more balance.
State of the Yankees bullpen
The Yankees’ bullpen was volatile throughout, though the unit mostly ended the year on a high note. Aroldis Chapman (entering the final year of his deal, less effective post sticky ban) and Chad Green (14 homers allowed) both went through their share of struggles. Zack Britton just had Tommy John surgery in September. Jonathan Loaisiga, though, had a breakout season and looks like a future potential closer given his lively arm.
Credit to either the coaches or computers or a combination of both for resurrecting Clay Holmes into a weapon with his heavy sinker. Albert Abreu had his moments but still needs to harness his stuff. Lefties Joelys Rodriguez and Wandy Peralta were both effective. Is Deivi Garcia’s future in the bullpen after a disappointing minor-league campaign? The Yankees might be better off trying to fix guys that investing significant dollars in the bullpen given what they have. But you can never have enough capable relief arms.
Ultimately, it’s on Hal Steinbrenner. The two highest-paid players on the team are in their early 30s. Going over the luxury tax to try and win now sure seems like the best move (new CBA pending).
“They don’t have a lot to be excited about,” one of the scouts said. “And the other three clubs in their division (not Baltimore) are moving in the right direction.”