Perspectives: Moving Forward
by Paul Semendinger
December 10, 2022
It's been an eventful post season thus far.
Aaron Boone is coming back.
Brian Cashman is coming back.
Anthony Rizzo is coming back.
Tommy Kahnle is coming back (again).
And Aaron Judge is coming back.
The Yankees are making moves. They are absolutely making moves, but, forgive me... and I like the player moves they've made... but while they have made a bunch of moves, in a way, they are kind of standing still.
One cannot say they have improved the 2022 Yankees. The decision makers in the front office and on the field are the same. The players, by and large, will be the same (at least so far).
The moves the Yankees have made so far we moves they had to make, but I don't see that they moved the needle forward in any appreciable way. Nothing has really changed yet, except that the players they brought back are now a year older.
I know there's some positive words being written about Tommy Kahnle's return. I always pause, for a long bit, when the Yankees bring back a player, especially a pitcher, from years ago, with the hopes that he's the same guy they had. And Tommy Kahnle might do really well, but he hasn't had a good season since, realistically, 2019. That wasn't yesterday.
Tommy Kahnle pitched one inning in 2020, no innings in 2021, and just 12.2 innings last year. I'm sorry, but whatever he did last year can't really be taken all that seriously. He pitched four big league games in May and then in nine games from mid-September on. Talk about a small sample size. He did pitch in the playoffs... and gave up three runs in two innings. Not good.
Now, there could be reasons why Tommy Kahnle projects to be a solid pitcher in 2023, but let's be fair here, the team should not count on him for any significant role. To rely on Tommy Kahnle, at this point, would just be wishful thinking. Sure, he looks to be back, but a championship team can't build its bullpen around a guy who just might be his old self. Remember, his last quality season, the last time he pitched significant innings and did well was 2019. That was a long time ago. Four years in a lifetime... Kahnle could be a nice piece. He could make for a great story, but championship teams cannot be built around players with such huge question marks.
Now, like so many, I am very glad that the Yankees brought back Aaron Judge. It was something they had to do. It is even a fair contract, or so it seems, in light of the economics of baseball today. Still, this contract has the potential, as all big long-term contracts do, of becoming an albatross. The hope is that it doesn't happen. But, the second hope is that if it does happen, that it does not happen in the first years of the deal.
But here's the thing. This is not on entirely on Aaron Judge. Sure, the Yankees need him to be great. And, let's be honest here. Aaron Judge had what was, by some accounts, one of the greatest seasons ever for a baseball player. The 2023 Yankees will not be getting the 2022 Aaron Judge. That player has now left the building. Aaron Judge should be great in 2023, but he's not going to be 2022 great. To expect him to repeat a legendary season, one of the best ever, a season better than most of the greats ever had, again, is wishful thinking. Aaron Judge was worth 10.8 bWAR. (Only six players in baseball history have had more than one seasons greater than Judge's 2022: Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Rogers Hornsby, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays. And of them, only Mays, Bonds, and Ruth had two or more seasons that great past age 30. Mr. Judge in 2023 will be 31-years-old.)
Aaron Judge is great. He's a very special player, but a 6.0 or a 7.0 WAR season would be tremendous. The Yankees can't count on him being the player he was in 2022. That's just not realistic. It is very likely, and highly probable that Judge will not be a 10+ WAR player in 2023.
Anthony Rizzo had a nice season last year. His bWAR was 2.3. Nice enough, but not great. But (and you might notice a small trend here), 2022 was Rizzo's best season (according to bWAR) since 2019.
So, while the Yankees have made moves, necessary moves, big moves, even great moves, they haven't really taken any steps forward and it is very reasonable to state that they have actually taken a step backwards. It's logical to expect both Anthony Rizzo and Aaron Judge to have lesser seasons in 2023 than they had in 2022. Again, that's not saying they aren't good or great players, it's just looking at baseball history and the players themselves and noting that as players age, their performance tends to decline.
So work has to be done for 2023. This team is not yet ready for battle. If the Yankees weren't good enough in 2022, they haven't really taken any steps forward, yet, for 2023.
Here's the big point though...
No matter what happens with Aaron Judge, it's up to the Yankees, in regards to the way they handle the building of the rest of the team, over the length of his contract, that will determine if the contract becomes an albatross.
If the Yankees use the luxury tax thresholds as salary caps, Aaron Judge's contract could (and will) prevent them from acquiring necessary talent. As I have said many times, if that's the case, Aaron Judge's contract will harm the Yankees the same way that Alex Rodriguez's contract hampered the Texas Rangers all those years ago. A contract that eats up too much salary space to prevent the team from acquiring the necessary talent to win is, by definition, a bad contract.
I'm glad Aaron Judge is back. That's great. BUT, unless the Yankees invest in building a high quality team around Judge, the team will be destined to stay on the same path they've been on these last many years - they'll be good, not great. They will be a playoff quality team, but not quite good enough to win it all. In other words, they'll be World Series pretenders rather than World Series contenders.
For me, I won't be satisfied with that. I am tired of the Good not Great approach.
What we'll find out in the coming weeks is if the Judge contract is already an albatross. If the Yankees shy away from addressing their staring pitching and if they are unable to secure a quality left fielder, we'll see, rather quickly, that not much has changed.
The Yankees have been willing, to a point, to pay big for players. The Yankees paid big for Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees paid big for Gerrit Cole. They even paid big for Aroldis Chapman, and to a lesser extent for D.J. LeMahieu and even for Josh Donaldson, but they have not spent big, or maybe better said, they haven't used their resources in a wise enough manner that has allowed them to put the best quality team out there.
The way the rest of the off-season plays out will provide a very clear window to how the Yankees will use their resources to build a championship ballclub.
For the Yankees, the time to win is now. This is not a young team. By any means. Let's take a quick look at the position players as it stands now and their ages next season:
C - Jose Trevino (30), Kyle Higashioka (33)
1b - Anthony Rizzo (34)
2b - Gleyber Torres (26)
SS - Isiah Kiner-Falefa (28)
3b - Josh Donaldson (37)
LF - ?
CF - Harrison Bader (29)
RF - Aaron Judge (31)
DH - Giancarlo Stanton (33)
UTL - D.J. LeMahieu (34)
To me, that looks like the solid outline of a win-now team. Logic dictates that players' performance declines as they age. Looking at the above, the Yankees have a bunch of important, centerpiece players, all on the wrong side of 30-years-old, and many on the wrong side of 32-years-old.
The time to win is now. In order to make sure that the team has the best chance to win, more moves have to be made. Carlos Rodon is out there...
The question will be, will the Yankees use their financial strength to address the current needs, or, after signing Aaron Judge, will they look for lesser-quality (expensive) answers?
In short, the rest of this off-season will give a very good glimpse into what we, as fans, have to look forward to over the next nine years. Will this team be all-in, or will they look for lesser solutions around the big-contract players whose performance will decline as they get deeper and deeper into their long-term contracts.
One of the Yankees' biggest question marks is second base and Gleyber Torres. Supporters of Torres will note that in 2022, he was a better-than average player. His OPS+ was 114 (an average player would be 100). He was also a 4.1 bWAR player. Every team would like to have a player like that at second base.
But, in 2021, Torres had an OPS+ of 93. That made him a below-average player. His bWAR was just 0.8. That isn't good enough.
Will the real Gleyber Torres please stand-up?
Further compounding the mystery is the fact that Torres himself was a good player and a bad player (and an average player) last year. In June, he batted .244. In July, he batted .292. In August it was .180. In September/Oct. he hit was .323.
The Yankees will need Gleyber Torres to be the good player he was in 2022. This is where the team's evaluators have to make a cold-hard decision - and it won't be an easy one. If they see the 2022 Torres as the player he will be going forward, he should be part of the team in 2023. If not, if they feel he over performed last year, the time to trade him is now, while he has value. Remember, last off-season many said he was untradeable. His value will plummet with a poor 2023. Right now, I would assume, Torres can be traded for a quality player who can help the 2023 team.
This might be the next biggest decision the Yankees have to make.
If the Yankees go out and sign Carlos Rodon, a top left-handed starter, that would indicate, quite clearly, that they're playing to win.
It's time for the Yankees to step all the way up and do that.
I'm very interested to see how left field is addressed. That will also be a telling decision.
There is talk that the Yankees are in on Carlos Correa. I don't believe it, but if they get Correa, that would seem to indicate that they would be willing to trade one of Anthony Volpe or Oswald Peraza. Might signing Correa also indicate that Bryan Reynolds is on his way in a big trade that includes one of the Yankees' top prospects?
Boy would a move like that speak volumes.
I've never been a fan of Carlos Correa, but the Yankees have already signed members of the Astros, so using that as a reason to not bring in a talent, to me, at this point, is silly. Gerrit Cole was an Astros player.
I know many feel that Matt Carpenter will be back, and should be back. I am a Matt Carpenter doubter. I believe his resurgence was something that is not sustainable. It was magical and it was fun and it was great, but I don't believe it is something he can replicate in 2023.
You know the old adage, "Every fighter thinks he has one last good fight in him." Sometimes they do, but often times those last fights are ugly. Every now and then a fighter defies Father Time and wins a surprising victory. What often happens after that, in the next fights, isn't usually as pretty.
Last year, for a short time, Matt Carpenter defeated Father Time. It's not likely to happen again.
I have to give the Yankees credit. They are making this an interesting off-season thus far.
I look forward, with great anticipation, to see the next moves.
GO BIG YANKEES! BIG!!!
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