Have the Yankees Improved During the Off-Season?
By Derek McAdam
February 3, 2023
Yankee fans… we have officially made it to February, which everyone looks forward to. Spring Training is now right around the corner and baseball fans will have games to watch again after nearly four months since the World Series ended.
With Spring Training nearing, it also means that the off-season is nearing its end. With many free agents still looking for a contract for the 2023 season, and possibly beyond this year, the next three weeks may be filled with signings, many of which will go under the radar. This leads to the topic of conversation regarding the Yankees’ off-season transactions and whether or not they have improved the roster from last season.
The first point worth mentioning is that I think the Yankees have made some decent signings so far. Yes, they invested roughly $550 million over four players, but a couple of the signings were absolutely necessary. The biggest issue that I find with the Yankees’ off-season isn’t what they have done, but rather what they haven’t done.
Here’s what the Yankees have done. They brought back both Anthony Rizzo and Aaron Judge on multi-year contracts. Having Rizzo at first was a big part of why the Yankees’ infield defense went from one of the worst in 2021 to one of the best last year. At the plate, he is not the best hitter, but he can work counts and can give the Yankees at least 25 home runs.
Judge is pretty self-explanatory. He had one of the best seasons ever last year and was named AL MVP. He can still play the outfield at an elite level and the bat speaks for itself. Yes, the length of the deal might be too long, along with $40 million per year, but Judge still remains a Yankee.
The Yankees also added a bullpen piece in Tommy Kahnle and a starter in Carlos Rodon. Kahnle can help fill the bullpen spots after the Yankees lost Aroldis Chapman and Chad Green to free agency, in addition to free agent Zack Britton. Rodon is seen, by some, as an upgrade to Jameson Taillon. For now, let’s just say he’s Taillon’s replacement.
Brian Cashman has also added a few players with major league experience to minor league contracts, including Jake Bauers and Michael Hermosillo. Now, let’s examine what the Yankees have not done this off-season.
First, the big issue the Yankees have yet to resolve is who will play left field. Cashman says Aaron Hicks will primarily play in left field, but Hicks’ defense has dramatically dropped off over the past year or so. The Yankees are betting on the fact that eliminating the shift will allow Hicks’ offense to improve, which would be great to see, but looking at this from a non-analytic point-of-view, I’m not betting on that. The Yankees also were unable to trade Hicks, which comes as no surprise.
Second, the Yankees did not join the sweepstakes for one of the major shortstops. I’ll be the first to say that I like the idea that the Yankees did not go this route. Oswald Peraza is already at the Major League level, and has proven, in his brief time with the Yankees, that he can play shortstop. While it is too early to say how good of a hitter he can be, he has also shown that he has really good potential. The battle for the starting shortstop title between Peraza and Isiah Kiner-Falefa may be the biggest story for the Yankees during Spring Training.
The Yankees were also unable to trade third baseman Josh Donaldson, which also does not come as a surprise to anyone. While Donaldson can still play a solid third base, his bat speed plummeted last year, and his average took a dip as a result of the decreased speed. With DJ LeMahieu returning, it is likely that Donaldson’s role at third may decrease throughout the season. Additionally, Kiner-Falefa can always move back over to third, so Donaldson’s 2023 status with the Yankees may actually be unknown.
This all leads me back to my original question, which is “Have the Yankees improved this off-season?” To be frank, no they haven’t.
The offense is looking almost identical to the end of last year. Yes, Peraza could take a step forward while having a full season in big leagues, but does LeMahieu come back fully healthy and still give the Yankees good at bats? Judge is more than likely going to take a step back from last year, although he will still likely have a good season if he stays healthy. What about Giancarlo Stanton? His average dropped to a .211 last season while he missed nearly two months during the season.
The Yankees seem to believe that pitching will be the key to success. The team was swept in four games by the Astros, but failed to score more than two runs in three of those games, in which they were shut down by pitching.
After seeing so many sportswriters and columnists say that the Yankees have improved this off-season, it’s hard to understand where they have improved. Maybe the starting rotation has improved, but this is still, relatively, the same team as last year. Let’s just see if there is any sort of different result.