by Paul Semendinger
February 5, 2023
I love the optimism that comes from Spring Training. I love the hope and speculation that comes as a new season dawns.
"_____ will have a breakout season."
"_____ will turn back the clock."
"_______ will continue to improve."
"________ will be the surprise of the year!"
I have noticed something very interesting with many of the predictions that I have been reading. Many people are predicting that certain batters, such as Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton, among others, will have huge years because the shift will be eliminated.
But, at the same time, while many predict that many hitters will benefit from the shift's elimination, many are also speculating that many pitchers will also improve or perform as well as last year. That makes me pause...
If the elimination of the shift is going to help many hitters, isn't it just as likely that it will also hurt many pitchers?
For the record, I see the shift helping Anthony Rizzo and not helping Giancarlo Stanton at all.
In 2022, the Yankees had an amazing first half and a terrible second half. Yet, they won 99 games. While many say that the Yankees can only improve considering how bad the second half was, isn't it just as possible that the second half Yankees were who these players truly are at this point? If that's so, 99 wins is a dream.
A lot has been made about the fact that the Yankees led the league in runs scored last year. That is, of course, true, but, again, in the second half of last year, the Yankees didn't lead the league in that category. The Blue Jays did. The Astros were second. The Yankees were third and not by much. The Yankees scored 310 runs after the All-Star break. The Guardians were at 307. The Red Sox and Mariners were at 305 each. The Rangers were at 301. Take an amazing season by Aaron Judge out of the equation and were the Yankees, as a team, really that much better than the pack? I don't think so.
Heading into Spring Training, the Yankees don't seem to have a great bullpen - at all. Further, they don't have any left-handed pitchers out there other than Wandy Rodriguez. Sure, they'll find a player of two, but look at the bullpen as it stands right now... it's a collection of hopes and dreams. It's not impressive at all.
The Yankees always seem to figure it out with the bullpen, and I have hopes they will again, but it is just as likely that the bullpen is a disaster. The Yankees right now are counting on a host of players who over-performed and/or who are coming back from injuries to be at the top of their game. That seems to be a big ask. This includes Clay Holmes, Michael King, Tommy Kahnle, and Wandy Peralta. Who are the "sure things" out there? Is there a player that is considered a no-doubt top of the line pitcher?
If so, I don't see it.
The Yankees have too many infielders. It's a glut and it's too much. A team can't possibly find adequate playing time for D.J. LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Oswald Peraza, Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Anthony Volpe, and Oswaldo Cabrera. It's impossible.
The easy solution, and I hate to say it, but the easy solution is for Peraza and Volpe to begin the year in the minor leagues. The glut would be further eliminated by the Yankees playing Cabrera primarily in left field with Aaron Hicks.
That leaves LeMahieu, Kiner-Falefa, Donaldson, and Torres as the infielders. I see this as the most likely scenario.
I don't agree with this, and it's the easy solution which isn't always the best, but it's the direction I see the Yankees going.
I also see Aaron Hicks as the starting left fielder on the 2023 Yankees. I don't think that's a good thing. Even if he bounces back a bit, this is a player who has hit a combined .220 over the last four seasons (since 2019). He's been not good for a long time.
Here's another concern - Who plays centerfield in Harrison Bader gets hurt?
Harrison Bader, by the way, has never played even 140 games in a season. Ever. Last year, he played in only 86 games. The year before, he played in only 103.
I'm probably the only person who will say this, but I don't think there is any way, at all, that Aaron Judge ever sees significant time in centerfield going forward. No way. Up until last year, the Yankees did not have a long-term financial interest in Judge. They do now. I can't see them putting their $40 million-a-year right fielder in centerfield for 30 to 50 games if Bader can't play. It's too big of a risk.
The Yankees also know that their entire offense centers on Judge. They can't risk him being out of the lineup or worn down. He is the one player the whole team is built around.
(We had a gathering of many SSTN writers yesterday. It was great. They all disagreed with me on this point.)
If Harrison Bader gets injured, or needs to rest for any significant period, and, again, he's never played a full season (In his best season, way back in 2018, he missed 24 games) the Yankees most likely option for centerfield is... Aaron Hicks.
When that happens, the question won't be "Who plays in the outfield, Hicks or Oswaldo Cabrera?" It will be an outfield with Hicks and Cabrera.
That just does not fill me with enthusiasm.
Take a look again at the (possibly weak) bullpen. Then imagine the offense (or lack thereof) that will come from the catcher position. Now think about a team with Isiah Kiner-Falefa as the starting shortstop with Aaron Hicks in left field or centerfield, and Josh Donaldson at third base.
Does that scream "Championship!"? I don't think so. And I am of the belief that Josh Donaldson will have somewhat of a bounce-back season in 2023.
I know there has been a lot written about the Yankees getting Giancarlo Stanton into the outfield. I just don't see it. He has proven to be too fragile. He's also not a good left fielder.
I also don't see Stanton playing right field. The idea of moving Aaron Judge to left field is one of those ideas that might look good on paper ("Sure he can do it"), but I don't think it will happen, and if it does, I believe the Yankees are being very foolish.
Before anyone writes and says, "Aaron Judge will play left field," I'd like them to share a list of the great right fielders who were moved in their prime to left field. I've looked this up and haven't found any. Not Roberto Clemente. Not Dwight Evans. Not Al Kaline. Not Ichiro. Not Reggie. Not Mel Ott. Not Tony Gwynn. Not Roger Maris. On and on...
Babe Ruth played a lot of left field, but he started in the outfield there. Not right field. He doesn't count. Dave Winfield played left field in 1981 when he first came to the Yankees because they had Reggie Jackson in right. As soon as Reggie was gone, Winfield moved to right field. So, Winfield doesn't count either.
Left field and right field are two very different positions. From a distance one can say otherwise ("they look the same"), but the history of baseball and the way teams have always handled their star players says differently. The ball comes off the bat differently in left and right field. The ballparks are different. The skill-sets are similar but they still are different.
We saw Joey Gallo, by all accounts a very good defensive right fielder, struggle in left field.
Aaron Judge's tremendous arm is a weapon in right field. That weapon is taken away by playing him in left field. It wouldn't make sense to do that.
Teams just don't move their star players as has been suggested by some for Judge. The Yankees have invested $40 million per year in Judge to play right field. That's where his skills are. He is a specialist there. His entire career, since college, has been spent in right field. That is where he is a virtuoso.
Could a foot surgeon operate on a different area of the body? Probably. I'm sure that doctor would know what to do, but that person's specialty is feet, nowhere else. I don't think you'd want that surgeon operating on your knee or shoulder.
Could Yo Yo Ma play the bass in an orchestra? I'm sure he could, but why would you move a great cellist to a different instrument? You wouldn't.
It's the same with Judge. He is a master at right field. That is where he has honed his skills. That is his area of expertise. And that is where he'll play. And that where the Yankees invested 360 million dollars for him to play.
The American League East doesn't seem like it'll be much of a powerhouse in 2023. I think the Yankees have built a team that should win a weaker division. 92 wins could win the league. The Yankees will probably win the AL East. But, I don't see this team, as currently constructed, as one built to win in the playoffs. That's a long way off, of course, but it feels like more of the same. They will be good enough to reach the playoffs, but not good enough to win there.
Now, a lot can change, but we'd have to see the Yankees willing to sit veterans (Kiner-Falefa, for example) and willing to address areas of weakness that develop by spending money and go over the next luxury tax threshold. Until I see them do that, I'll remain skeptical. I hope they do. I want them to. But until they do, I'm not a believer that they will.
All that being said, hope springs eternal. I look forward to the Yankees proving me wrong on much of this (but not Judge in left field).
Let's Go Yankees!