By Ed Botti
January 21, 2023
As we enter the NFL Playoff portion of the MLB offseason, and anticipate the coming MLB season, I go through my annual deep Baseball thoughts in 2 phases.
Retrospectively and Prospectively.
Like most of us that follow the game in general and the Yankees specifically, retrospective analysis over the last 13 season has been a frustrating practice. 2022 was no different.
Many have written about and discussed the dichotomy of the 2022 Yankees season. The highs and lows. The great slump of July and August. The in-season trades. Aaron Judge.
Beginning with the lockout and ending with the peculiar/questionable playoff moves made by Aaron Boone, there seems to be an infinite amount of issues that have been discussed and analyzed ad nauseam.
To date, I am not sure what sticks out more in my mind. The season we all witnessed by Aaron Judge, or the epic, humiliating sweep suffered at the hands of the hated Astros.
I’d like to say I will remember 2022 for Aaron Judge, but I’d be lying. This is a team sport. Individual accomplishments become subordinate to team performance, in my opinion. 2022 was the year of the sweep.
Don Mattingly’s memorable 1985 season became a footnote because the Yankees lost to the AL East winning Blue Jays by 2 games. They needed a sweep, but only took 2 out of 3 to end the season.
Mattingly bats against Milwaukee in 1985 (Sports Illustrated)
I always got the feeling that “Donnie Baseball” would have gladly given his MVP award away in exchange for a shot at winning it all in 1985. To this day, I believe they would have crushed the Royals in the ALCS and handled the Cardinals in the World Series.
Once we get past reliving the highs and lows of 2022, and reconciled ourselves to the fact that Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone aren’t going anywhere, all we have left is to look forward.
A prospective look at the 2023 Yankees leaves me with much to be desired.
I look at this team, and I see multiple holes throughout the everyday lineup, an average bench, and a patchwork bullpen. Many in the media are praising the rotation. I am not buying into the hype.
No, this is not the 1990 Yankee rotation by any stretch. But it is also not the 1998 rotation. Not even close.
Similar to the great Royals teams of the mid to late 1970’s that simply could not beat the Yankees, the Yankees have a similar foe. The Astros.
Looking forward to 2023, I end up with the same question. Did they do enough to close the gap on the Astros?
Since the Astros were crowned World Champions in November (that still seems very weird to me, Baseball should be over in October), the Astros have replaced first baseman Yuli Gurriel Jr. with free agent All Star first baseman Jose Abreu.
Just as important, they retained their great manager Dusty Baker.
Abreu at 35 years old, will provide the Astros with an additional RBI threat in the middle of their batting order.
Abreu, will team-up with Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, and Kyle Tucker to provide the Champs with a lethal lineup of significant and balanced hitters.
The Astros also retained outfielder Michael Brantley who has become a very solid line drive hitter who fits in very well in their lineup, if he can stay healthy.
On the other side of the coin, the Astros lost American League Cy Young Award Winner Justin Verlander as a free agent to the New York Mets. That is a huge hole to fill.
The Astros rotation, as of today appears to be set up with left-hander Framber Valdez, and right-handers Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers Jr., Luis Garcia, and Jose Urquidy.
The rotation is good, but not great. What they provide is length and competitiveness to an Astro lineup that knows how to play.
They are still the team to beat. Did the Yankees do enough to not only close the gap, but to pass them and beat them?
To start, the Yankees re-signed Anthony Rizzo for 2 years at $40 MM, and then closed the deal with Aaron Judge agreeing to a 9-year, $360M contract and thus avoiding the humility of losing the best player on the team.
They then signed left-handed free agent starter Carlos Rodon to a 6-year, $162M contract after letting Jameson Taillon leave via Free Agency.
The Yankees also brought back free agent righty reliever Tommy Kahnle on a two-year, $11.5M contract.
The addition of Rodon on paper should upgrade the Yankees rotation.
But can Rodon stay healthy?
Rodon has a history of injury problems including a sprained left wrist, left biceps bursitis, arthroscopic shoulder surgery in 2017, Tommy John surgery in 2019, and left shoulder soreness in 2020.
Rodon did manage to start 24 games for the Chicago White Sox in 2021, when he made his first American League All Star Team.
In 2022 he become a National League All Star, stayed healthy and started 31 games for the Giants.
Can he do it again?
The Yankees’ envisioned rotation was set with right-hander Gerrit Cole, lefty Carlos Rodon, right-hander Luis Severino, lefty Nestor Cortes and right-hander Frankie Montas.
The rotation did not even make it to Pitchers and Catchers before suffering its first injury, as Franke Montas is said to be 8-10 weeks behind in his healing process and will miss at least the first month of the season. Not a good sign.
In my opinion, the difference between the 2022 Yankees and the 2023 team is only Rodon and Kahnle.
Would they have changed the outcome of the 2022 ALCS?
Judge, Rizzo, and Stanton will continue to be the core of the Yankees lineup. No doubt, they will once again bring fear to opposing pitchers and managers.
Inexplicably, to date the Yankees’ front office hasn’t added anyone else to their offensive roster. You know, the roster that could not hit Astro pitching in October,
What are the chances that Judge can equal his amazing 2022 season, which was not enough to lift the team past Houston? And what if the other hitters struggle?
Does the Yankee offense have enough depth to overcome it? Did the Yankee offense get any upgrades? No and no.
The Astros on the other hand upgraded their offense at first base by adding Abreu, and have Brantley coming back from injury, and we know he will help them.
As of today, it appears the Astros have more depth in their lineup than the Yankees.
Here is why.
1) Josh Donaldson hit .222 with 15 home runs (down from 26 in 2021) with 54 RBI (down from 74 in 2021) in a full injury free season. He actually had 20 more at bats in 2022 than he did in 2021. At 38 years-old, his best years are far behind him now.
2) Left field as of today has no occupant. They decided to balk at Benintendi and let him leave. The publicized options are Oswaldo Cabrera, a 23 year-old infielder by trade, Estevan Florial, a career minor leaguer who has difficulties with pitch recognition, and Aaron Hicks, who clearly is not even close to the player Cashman envisioned him to be when he signed him to a 7-year contract.
Photo David Gravely/Southwest Times
3) Shortstop. Although the team has two excellent and exciting prospects in Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza, both are (in my opinion) in need of more time in the minor leagues before reaching their potential. That may be as soon as mid-2023, but what do they do for the first 80 or so games?
I do not believe that incumbent, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, is a major league shortstop. I may be one of the few that will state that I think he did a good job in 2022 despite playing out of position. It is vividly clear that he does not possess a shortstop’s arm or footwork, and was put in the awkward position of playing shortstop in spite of those flaws (just as they did with Gleyber Torres in 2020 and 2021). A Major League shortstop should have been brought in to, at the very least, provide reliable and solid defensive play until one or both of the prospects are ready for the big jump to MLB.
At some point the Peraza/Volpe situation will have to be solved. Both cannot play shortstop, and one of them needs to play another position. Which brings me to second base...
4) Second Base. Gleyber Torres took one for the team and moved from second base to shortstop for nearly 2 years, and frankly embarrassed himself after showing signs of being an above average second baseman. I give him all the credit in the world for doing so. But, something happened to him during that period. He began to play lazy, and buy into the three true outcome nonsense promulgated by Cashman and his analytics people.
When/if the Yankees are convinced that the tandem of Volpe and Peraza are the new middle infielders, combined with the escalating salary Torres will be in line for, Torres will be the odd man out. I believe it is better to trade a player a year too early than a year too late.
The Yankees have committed significant financial resources in bringing back Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo, in addition to the Giancarlo Stanton contract.
If healthy, on paper they improved their pitching depth with the additions of free agent pitchers Carlos Rodon and reliever Tommy Kahnle.
But, let’s not forget Taillon, Britton, Chapman and Luetge are gone.
The fact is that if there are no other additions to the Yankees roster, they will begin 2023 with the same team, with the exceptions of pitchers Rodon and Kahnle.
Did they do enough this offseason to catch and pass the Astros?
I think not. Let’s hope that they are not done and still have something up their sleeve.
Today’s Trivia: Yogi and Dale Berra were the first father- son combo to play for the Yankees. Who were the second?
RIP to Jeff Back and David Crosby.
Photo courtesy of Alamy