Perspectives: An Answer for an Aging Team
by Paul Semendinger
July 7, 2023
One of my concerns about the 2023 Yankees is that they don't see like a team that is ascending, rather they seem like a team that has already peaked and is starting a long decline.
Since July 1, 2022, the Yankees have a record of 91-82 for a winning percentage of .526. That's good. It's nice. It's not great.
The 2023 Yankees are 48-40. For all the complaining, they are eight games over .500. Again, that's certainly not bad.
But it is also certainly not great. To the Yankees' credit, they're actually performing better than their projected record by the Pythagorean method which says they should be 46-42. In other words, while the Yankees are eight games over .500, they've actually played like a team that should be just four games over .500.
The Yankees need to honestly ask themselves if the team they have right now is one that is championship caliber. Does this look or feel like a championship team?
I shared some key statistics in an article I wrote yesterday:
The Yankees have one starting pitcher with an ERA+ better than league average.
The Yankees have nine starting position players with an OBP+ under league average.
No matter how one might like to spin it, those are concerning numbers.
What the Yankees should do is look at those concerning statistics and determine if they are likely to get better, stay the same, or become worse over time (short-term and long-term).
On the positive side, Carlos Rodon returns to the mound tonight. That is a huge step in the right direction. If he is healthy, and strong, Carlos Rodon should be one of the top pitchers in the league. Logic, though states that, at least for his first few starts, Rodon won't be that strong (as far as giving the Yankees lots of innings). The boost the Yankees should get from Rodon, at least at the start, will probably be minimal.
The fact is, Rodon isn't an innings eater. Last year he averaged 5.74 innings per start. The year before, it was 5.50. I understand that is the way pitchers are handled today, but, as he comes back, it is safe to assume that he'll give the Yankees even less than that. For at least his first few starts (and, if all goes well, Rodon will give the Yankees only about 16 starts the rest of the way), Rodon will probably be a "five and fly" guy.
Rodon presents a step in the right direction, but it might not be as big of a step as many hope.
Of course, we keep hearing that Aaron Judge might be coming back. That's the hope. That's the big hope. But, at this point, he's been out since June 3. He's not baseball ready yet, of course. It will probably take a few weeks for him to get into baseball shape once he is ready (and we don't know when that will be). Is it fair to say that the best case scenario is looking more and more like an August return? But what we don't know, and won't until he does come back, is how well Aaron Judge will hit if his foot is still in pain. The other day there was a report that said it might take years for this injury to heal. Will Aaron Judge be the player the Yankees need him to be if he is compromised physically?
The optimistic side of me wants to believe that Rodon's return and Judge's eventual return will help buoy the team, but it's more realistic to assume that their impact will be less than what the Yankees hope. They both have to build up to their previous levels - and that's just not easy in the middle (or later) in a season, especially coming off serious injuries.
It might be that the Yankees have to look to the current roster as they players who they'll need to get them to (and through) the playoffs. And the concern there is that the current roster is old.
Let's take a quick look at some of the core pieces of the team - all older players who are not performing all that well:
1b- Anthony Rizzo (will turn 34 in August): He is batting .168 with no homers since June 1.
3b- Josh Donaldson (37 years old): He has hit a bunch of homers, but overall, he is batting .144 for the season.
INF- D.J. LeMahieu (will turn 35 next week): He is batting .219 on the season.
DH - Giancarlo Stanton (33 years old): He is batting just .201 this season. Since June 4, he has one home run.
C- Jose Trevino (30-years old) and Kyle Higashioka (33-years-old): These two players are hitting a combined .221 on the season.
That group is a significant part of the team. Those are, by and large, the core players the Yankees will need to rely on if they have championship hopes.
Looked at another way, of the Yankees' position players, the following are under 30-years old:
2b- Gleyber Torres (26) - He is a player who shows flashes of brilliance, but for the season is batting just .245. His OPS+ is just 103. In other words, he's basically a league average player.
SS- Anthony Volpe (22) - He just might be a star. He has shown, in recent weeks, proof that he can hit. My concern (I know many disagree) is that the Yankees are asking a lot (I'd argue too much) from the rookie. His job isn't to carry the offense, but the Yankees seem to need that from him. Also, even though he is getting on base, part of his value is supposed to be his ability to steal bases. He has all of three stolen bases since May 14. Why did the Yankees stop running him, especially with a team that has trouble scoring runs?
CF- Harrison Bader (29) - Bader has proven to be a delightful player, an impact player with tons of upside. He's a fan favorite. He can seemingly do it all, but his injury history is a concern. And he's a free agent after this year.
LF/RF- The Yankees are putting out a collection of players all who have had moments, but none whom are very good. Also, none of these players, outside of Oswaldo Cabrera, are particularly young.
What the above says is that the Yankees have an aging and declining core. It is also possible that of the young players who are starting this season, only two, Anthony Volpe and Gleyber Torres will be on the team next year.
I think it's time for the Yankees to look at this realistically. They have an aging team of under-performing former stars while at the same time they do not have much young talent, at all, currently on the team.
Yes. The Yankees could turn it around. I remember the 1983 Phillies as a team with a host of aging veterans all who came together for one last glorious moment to reach the World Series. I remember the 1984 Padres in a similar way.
Looking at the Yankees realistically, does this team seem like a collection of players who will improve over time or does it look like a team that has seen its better days? If it is the latter, doesn't it make sense for the Yankees to begin to look to the future?
Along with this, young help does not seem particularly on the horizon. Here are the quick stats and levels of play for the top position player prospects in the Yankees system:
Jasson Dominguez - Double A - batting .198
Austin Wells - Double A - batting .244
Spencer Jones - High A - batting .263
Everson Pereira - Triple A - batting .299 (with 11 homers)
Trey Sweeney - Double A - batting .241
Brando Mayea - in Rookie Ball
Roderick Arias - in Rookie Ball
Elijah Dunham - Triple A - batting .212
The future might be very bright for those players. They might all be stars. Maybe. But, save for Austin Wells, none seem particularly close. It's unlikely that any of those players supplement and enhance the current core of the Yankees. They all seem to be years away.
Not listed above, Oswald Peraza is not considered a prospect any longer. He started the Triple-A season doing tremendously well, but he has been injured and is now batting just .278 for the season.
Of note - the Yankees starting pitchers are also not a collection of young players. Here are their ages and the ERA+ of each for the season:
Gerrit Cole (will turn 33 in September) - ERA+ = 151
Carlos Rodon (30-years-old) - has not pitched
Domingo German (30-years-old) - ERA+ = 93
Nestor Cortes (28-years-old) - ERA+ = 82
Clarke Schmidt (27-years-old) - ERA+ = 95
Luis Severino (29-years-old) - ERA+ = 57
Jhony Brito (25-years-old) - ERA+ = 90
Of those pitchers, only Brito is young. Cortes has been injured. Schmidt has a long injury history. Severino is a free agent after the season.
All of this, to me, adds up to a huge concern. The 2023 Yankees have not been particularly good. They are, at best right now, and really since July 1 last year, a slightly better than .500 club (a .526 winning percentage over 162 games is about 85 to 86 wins). The 2023 Yankees don't seem like a team that is ready to battle for a championship.
Worse, without some major changes, 2024 isn't looking to be a lot better.
The Yankees are at a crossroads. Yes, they can chase the championship in 2023 - and it just might work. Anything can happen. Hope springs eternal...
Or they can look with what I believe is a more realistic eye and start to build the team to be better in 2024, while Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole, the two most important players, are hopefully still in their primes and able to perform at elite levels. In order to build for 2024, though, the Yankees will need to trade much of their current starting core to teams that might believe they are a veteran player or two away from their own glory. In this regard, Anthony Rizzo, D.J. LeMahieu, Luis Severino, Harrison Bader, Gleyber Torres, Domingo German, and even Isiah Kiner-Falefa may have some value on the trade market. With some smart dealing, the Yankees could regroup and build for next year quickly.
At this point, I think the Yankees have to decide if they wish to chase the dream in 2023 or build for 2024. I don't think both are possible. I also think one is the prudent direction and the other continues the foolishness we have watched for the last many years.