Perspectives: Dark Clouds and a Ray of Sunshine!
By Paul Semendinger
March 26, 2023
UPDATED at 6:50 p.m. (Update at end)
The off-season began so promising...
I was excited when the Yankees re-signed Anthony Rizzo. I thought that that was an important step to bringing Aaron Judge back. It seemed to show that the Yankees were serious about winning it all in 2023. It was a good first step.
I was more excited when the Yankees signed Aaron Judge. That, too, signified that the Yankees were playing very seriously. There were times last season when Judge's return didn't seem likely. I believe the home run record changed a lot of things. I was very pleased when Hal Steinbrenner stood up at an owner's meeting and announced that the Yankees wouldn't be outbid on Aaron Judge. And they weren't. That was a great second step.
I was thrilled when the Yankees signed Carlos Rodon. This move seemed to indicate that the Yankees were tired of only getting so far in the playoffs. They have needed another big pitcher. Rodon was the best pitcher out there. They got him.
At that moment, it seemed that the Yankees were well on their way to building a powerhouse team.
But then, even though the decision-makers kept saying that they weren't done, they were. After Rodon, the Yankees stopped making deals. They didn't make any trades. They didn't sign any more players. We were told otherwise. "There's more to come." But those next deals never materialized.
A few months later, Spring Training arrived. The hope was that Spring Training would be a time for the Yankees to come together as a team. We hoped that some big questions would be answered. Most of all, the fans hoped the Yankees, who have been a fragile bunch these last many years, would gear up, stay healthy, and be completely ready for a successful 2023 season.
The Yankees went into Spring Training without knowing who their left fielder would be. They still don't.
The Yankees went into Spring Training with only one legitimate left-handed bat in the lineup. They still have only one legitimate left-handed bat in the lineup.
I believe that these were weaknesses that needed to be addressed. They weren't.
The Yankees went into Spring Training without knowing who their shortstop would be. They still don't. I can understand, to a point, having a battle at shortstop between unproven rookies. What I can't understand, with only five days before the start of the season, is that the Yankees haven't yet figured out which player should be their shortstop.
I also can't understand that we're this close to the start of the season and the Yankees still do not have another true quality left-handed hitter in the lineup. This was an obvious area of concern all off-season. The Yankees were unable to address it.
I also cannot understand the Yankees failing to acquire a quality left fielder. Again, the fact that the Yankees had a weakness there was no surprise.
As the Yankees failed to answer the obvious questions, things got worse. A lot worse.
Frankie Montas got hurt. He's out for the season, or most of it. The Yankees went from having five quality starting pitchers to four. This injury made them a little weaker. It added another question to the team.
Nestor Cortes then backed out of the World Baseball Classic with an injury. He seems to be fine, now, but there is that lingering question. "Is he healthy?" Cortes only started throwing game innings a short time ago. He has thrown all of 7.1 innings this spring. The Yankees say that he should be ready to start the season, but he is also coming in without a starter's typical spring training workload. 7.1 innings doesn't scream out, "Ready or not... here I come!"
Carlos Rodon also got hurt. It seems he's out until May.
This great starting staff started not looking so great. Sure, Domingo German and Clarke Schmidt can fill two spots, but, by my count, there are three concerns with the starting rotation.
And then the news got worse...
Luis Severino is hurt. Again. The Yankees are being cautiously optimistic about this. The think they caught the injury early. But the Yankees are always cautiously optimistic. We have seen a host of injuries that seem minor at first keep players out of action for weeks and even months. Remember, when the Yankees first reported Frankie Montas' injury, they downplayed the cause for concern.
The very deep starting pitching staff has now been reduced to one completely healthy pitcher- Gerrit Cole.
But that wasn't all the bad news...
The Yankees were counting on Harrison Bader to be their centerfielder for the bulk of the season. He, too, is out. He may return in May. Even if he does, his history is one of a player who misses significant time every season.
The options for centerfield are now Aaron Hicks (who seems washed up), Oswaldo Cabrera (who never played there), or Isiah Kiner-Falefa (who also never played there). The choices are two infielders playing out of position or a player who hasn't had a good season in many many years. These are not great options. The battle between Hicks and Cabrera was supposed to be for leftfield, not center.
Of course Aaron Judge could play there. But all that does is move a strength to a different spot on the board. In chess, the Queen is the most valuable piece. It has great value. But it is only valuable in one spot each turn. Judge will be valuable in rightfield or centerfield. He can't provide value in two positions at the same time. (Of course, the Yankees are also experimenting with Judge in leftfield. I don't think that's a good plan, but we can continue that discussion another day. Even if he plays a great leftfield, Aaron Judge is still just one player filling one position on the field.)
The Yankees need Giancarlo Stanton, who, by the way, is coming off his worst year, and who has also not been healthy, to play a lot more in the outfield in 2023.
Third baseman Josh Donaldson is also coming off his worst year.
D.J. LeMahieu has missed significant time the last two seasons to injuries.
Anthony Rizzo has complained of an uncomfortable back this spring.
For the Yankees' offense to thrive, these players: Stanton, Donaldson, LeMahieu, and Rizzo need to have productive seasons. After Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres, those are the Yankees' big bats. Forgive me, please, if I'm not confident that all four of those players will have the impact the Yankees need them to have this year in order to be successful.
In addition to all of those concerns, the bullpen has also been a concern. The pen, right now, is highlighted by young arms and veterans who, for the most part, are coming off serious injuries. Tommy Kahnle and Lou Trivino will already begin the season on the shelf due to injuries.
Finally, it has been widely reported that the Yankees are very reluctant to spend any more money on the team as that would push them over the next luxury tax threshold level. I have outlined a host of concerns around the 2023 Yankees as they get ready to begin the season. I don't see how the team can improve without more expenditures.
Because of all of the above, I am not getting great vibes as the season dawns.
From June 30 through the end of last season, the Yankees went 43-43. That's more than half a season of playing uninspired baseball. Does it seem like the Yankees are a much improved team over the team from last year? If so, I don't see it.
I know some will accuse me of negative thinking here. But, on the other hand, I haven't noted anything above that isn't factually true. These are all facts about the team as Spring Training draws to a close.
As the season dawns, there is a lot to be concerned about with this team.
The Yankees just might be good enough in a weak division to come in first. But, on the other hand, with all that was outlined above, there exists a very real danger. The team seems to be supported right now on two players- Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole. The Yankees don't just need them to stay healthy, they need them to be dominant.
I worry that the season ahead could be a long one. As the season dawns, I don't see a bright shining sun. I see only cloudy skies.
I hope I'm very wrong.
UPDATE - It is being announced that Anthony Volpe, after a terrific spring, has made the Yankees. He will be the Opening Day shortstop. This is a move in the right direction.
I hope the Yankees leave Volpe at shortstop and just let him play everyday. Do as the New York Giants did with Willie Mays in 1951. Aaron Boone should tell Volpe, "You're the guy. If you go 0-for-50, you're playing. Just go out there and be yourself." It seems clear that Volpe has the talent. Now the Yankees need to support that talent.
(The fans as well. If Volpe goes 0-for-50, they shouldn't boo.)
Everyone now just needs to be patient. If he's the real deal, his time to flourish will come.