2022 Yankees: Plenty of Questions
By Mike Whiteman
October 11, 2021
Since the Yankees’ unceremonious postseason exit, fans are chomping at the bit for the upcoming offseason. They are hoping to see big changes in the team; hoping to soon see their beloved team reach the pinnacle of the sport once again. Now the Wild Card is preferable to no postseason, but the goal clearly needs to be to win the division and avoid that single-game elimination nonsense.
While the emotion and disappointment are still high, I’m holding off on my “plan” to take the next steps forward next season. That doesn’t mean I don’t have plenty of questions today.
Will the Yankees flex their financial muscles this offseason? Per baseball-reference.com, the Yankees estimated 2021 payroll was about $48 million less than the Dodgers. Think about that – the Yankees, perhaps the most valuable team in sports, were outspent by $48 million!
Yankees estimated payroll in 2005 – $208 million Yankees estimated payroll 2014 – $258 million (highest in team history) Yankees estimated payroll in 2021 – $208 million
It almost seems like the team has been trying to prove that they don’t need to leverage their economic advantage to win. They should look to the Dodgers for an example of combining baseball smarts and economic power.
What is Aaron Judge’s long-term outlook? The questions now start about re-signing Judge. His MVP caliber 2021 season can’t hurt him in his stated desire for a lucrative extension. Of course, the past two Yankee players extended before free agency were Luis Severino and Aaron Hicks, and those deals haven’t worked out well for the team. Judge’s injury history and the fact that nobody really knows how his body type will age going forward will make this decision making process interesting.
Is Luis Severino back? Sevy was so good in 2017 and 2018, before injury nightmares wiped out most of the past three seasons. He looked fine coming out of the bullpen in the waning days of the 2021 season. A healthy Severino in the rotation behind Cole would be a big deal.
Who’s on first? Anthony Rizzo is a free agent. He was a welcome addition in the clubhouse and on the field, as it seemed like he was constantly scooping up bad throws from other infielders, preventing numerous errors. He seems to have slipped a bit at the plate, but one wonders how much his COVID case a little over a week into his Yankee tenure affected that, as his OPS dropped almost one hundred points after his return.
Luke Voit has had his moments in Pinstripes, and certainly goes down as a good acquisition by Brian Cashman, but his defensive struggles and redundancy as another right-handed basher in this lineup could mean his days as a Yankee could be numbered.
What effect did COVID have on the Yankees’ 2021 season? The Yankees were one of the teams most impacted by the pandemic, with crucial players Judge, Rizzo, Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery, Jonathan Loaisiga, Gio Urshela, and Gary Sanchez among those affected. How much does the team take COVID into account in evaluating 2021 and planning 2022?
What is on Second? It’s clear that Gleyber Torres feels much more comfortable at second base than shortstop. It seems like he’s been around forever, but Gleyber turns only 25 this winter. What makes the situation bit vague is that DJ LeMahieu may stand in the way. 2021 was poor season for DJL, but while I’m guessing the glory days of 2019-2020 are past history, I think he’s a better player than he showed this season. Assuming he is, where does he play? Second base? Third base? Utility?
Is Nestor Cortes for real? “Nasty Nestor” came into the 2021 season with a 6.72 career ERA. Brought to the Bronx as an injury replacement he turned out to be much more, with a 2.90 ERA. Cortes’ vast menu of pitches and deliveries brought a different look to the rotation, and some fun in a season that often struggled to entertain.
Can Joey Gallo succeed in New York? I don’t want to rush to judgement on Gallo, as there’s been plenty of good players who took a bit of time to adjust to playing for the Yankees. But, a .160 batting average is ugly, even in today’s OBP driven game. I liked the Gallo pickup, and still do because of his power, good glove and positional flexibility. I personally think he could do well in New York but due to his propensity to strike out should never bat in the 3-4-5 position of the lineup.
Will the Yanks move on from Gary Sanchez? Remember 2017 and Sanchez’s 33 HR, 90 RBI, .876 OPS season? Heading into 2018 and his age-25 season, his career slash was .283/.353/.567. His defense was a work in progress, but with that bat his adventures with the glove could be tolerated.
Since that time, he has hit .201 with a 99 OPS+ and continued defensive lapses. Will the team hang in there another season? Will they move on?
Is Gerrit Cole the ace the Yankees thought they were getting? After beating Boston on July 17th, Cole was 10-4, 2.63 ERA and the likely American League Cy Young winner. Afterwards, he was 6-4, 4.40 and of course had the brutal Wild Card game start. Was he fatigued? Impacted by the crackdown on sticky substances? Did his COVID case affect him more than thought? Was it his hamstring injury? I suspect it was a mix of factors.
Cole’s final performance line is still pretty darned good, and he will certainly receive some Cy Young consideration. One stat that certainly disappointed – the team was 16-14 in Cole’s starts in 2021, not what you are looking for in a $30+ million ace starter.
What’s Brett Gardner’s future? Gardy has stated he wants to come back. He slashed .261/.351/.441 in August/September. His defense slipped, but he held his own in centerfield. He has a player option for a relatively low $2.3 million and may be forced to exercise it if he wants to give it one more go. Of course, the potentially crowded Yankee outfield, not including any new additions, make it difficult to see Gardy in Pinstripes in 2022 unless something remarkable occurs.
So, what is happening in center field? Your guess is as a good as mine. Aaron Hicks is a nice player when healthy, but that’s clearly not something to be counted on. The best free agent option looks to be Starling Marte, who had a really good 2021 season and would add a greatly needed speed element to the team. That being said, how much resources do you put into a 33-year-old centerfielder? Esteban Florial displays some seductive tools, but is he anywhere close to a finished product?
Are any young pitchers ready to contribute in 2022? Deivi Garcia took a huge step back after an encouraging 2020. Clarke Schmidt experienced mostly a lost year, though looked OK when he was pressed into duty for a September start. Luis Gil showed tantalizing stuff in his six Yankee appearances. Luis Medina and Ken Waldichuk had some moments in AA. Opportunity inevitably presents itself to young pitchers during the course of a 162-game season – are there any ready to step forward?
Will Aaron Boone be manager in 2022? – This question dominates the early offseason chat. Boone’s .601 career managing percentage trails only Joe McCarthy, Casey Stengel, Bucky Harris, and Joe Torre among managers who led the team more than one season. Unfortunately, while the Yankees have reached the postseason in each of Boone’s four seasons, they have yet to reach a World Series. Boone is held in high regards in his clubhouse and within the game, as Aaron Judge and Joe Torre have offered endorsements of Boone since the end of the season. Will his regular-season success be enough for a new deal?
What about the coaches? – Phil Nevin’s work at third base very reasonably fell under scrutiny this season, culminating with the terrible call to send Judge home in the wild card game. One must wonder if the team’s baserunning and defensive challenges can be addressed in part with coaching changes. Can changes be made to the coaching staff but not the manager? Pitching coach Matt Blake may be on firmer footing than even Boone due to his highly regarded work with the pitchers in 2021.
Shortstop? We all know of Anthony Volpe’s emergence as an elite shortstop prospect and anticipate his arrival in the Bronx in 2023 at the earliest. How does the team fill the gap in the meantime? Would they dare send Gleyber back to shortstop? Would any of the shortstops on the market take a shorter-term deal or consider a possible position change in the near future? Do they take a short-term flier on someone like Andrelton Simmons, who was a zero at the plate but very good again in the field?
What does the rest of AL East look like? The competition still looks to be stiff. The smart management of the Rays indicates that they will continue to shuttle players in and out of the roster and still be formidable. After a brutal 2020 season, Boston has shown they are back. Toronto’s young core took a big step forward, and as long as they are willing to spend to augment this group of players they should be a factor as well. The Yanks will need to up their game even to just keep pace in this competitive division.
Will Corey Kluber be back? Kluber was 3-1, 2.27 in May, including a no-hitter on May 19th. We all knew the risk involved with signing the two-time Cy Young award winner and sure enough most of the summer was lost to injury. In the “you can never have too much pitching” category, can a one-year deal to satisfy the pitcher and club be worked out? Are either party interested in a second act?
How do Miguel Andujar and Clint Frazier fit into Yankee plans? Both struggled with injury and poor performance in 2021. Both have shown flashes of great talent in the past as well. Here’s hoping for to come back at full strength in 2022. Special thoughts for Frazier, who experienced dizziness and vision problems last summer, issues that can impact much more than just his baseball career.
Can Jameson Taillon be counted on in 2022? All things considered, 2021 should be considered a success for Taillon, returning from his second Tommy John surgery. “Jamo” had a 2021 of two parts – 3-4, 5.43 ERA through June and 5-2, 3.25 afterwards. Can he approach his 2018 season (14-10, 3.20) again?
Is Giancarlo Stanton back in the field? The Yanks were cautious in bringing Stanton back to the field after two years of injury, making his first appearance at the end of July. For the rest of the season he split his time roughly 50/50 between the outfield and designated hitter, and slugged a “Stantonian” .608 during this time.
When is 2022 Opening Day? March 31, in Texas