Perspectives: Quick Thoughts On A Lot...
by Paul Semendinger
October 3, 2023
The off-season is now upon us. April is 180 days away. 180 long days away.
It already seems like an eternity.
This off-season we will have a ton to write about, to complain about... and to hope for as the Yankees head into 2024. We will discuss a host of issues and will provide our thoughts and perspectives. We'll discuss, we'll debate. Sometimes we'll be correct. Sometimes we'll be wrong. (But, overall, for a long time, we have been correct about a lot in regard to the Yankees.)
I have a lot of thoughts on the season that just ended, and I'll get to them all, over time, but for today, I figured, I'd begin the off-season by just touching on many thoughts. I'll get into these thoughts in much more detail as the off-season progresses. We have a lot to cover - and we have a lot of time to cover it.
Here are some of my biggest thoughts as we get going...
* The fact that the Yankees need to hire an independent thinktank to try to figure out what went wrong with the team is an admission that the people making the decisions have done a poor job and that after getting the Yankees into a mess. The Yankees have been going in the wrong direction for a long time now. The best one can say is that the decline has only been for the last season and a half. I feel it's been longer, but regardless. The fact that the decision makers don't know what's wrong is very telling. They seem to have no clue. If they had a clue, they wouldn't need a thinktank to figure this all out. The fact that this is needed is the clearest evidence that big change is needed at the top of the organization, but it also seems clear that that change isn't coming. I fear this is going process to be an exercise in excuse making.
* Speaking of excuses, we'll hear, a lot, that the reason the Yankees had a poor year was because of injuries. The Yankees use this excuse year-in-and-year-out. It no longer caries any weight, significance, or reasonableness. I'll state it clearly - Injuries were not the problem. The roster construction was the problem. The fact that Giancarlo Stanton is a statue isn't a surprise. I was saying it last winter when people were debating with me trying to claim, somehow, that he can play defense. He demonstrated this year that he cannot. The fact that Harrison Bader got hurt wasn't a surprise. That is his profile. It's not a surprise when a player who is often injured gets injured. The same is true for Josh Donaldson and Aaron Hicks and Frankie Montas and Carlos Rodon, and on and on. When a team builds a roster around fragile players, they lose the excuse that injuries hurt their season. The injuries were an obvious part of the roster design. Injuries didn't hurt this team - poor roster construction hurt this team.
* It seems like Aaron Boone is coming back as the manager. This is the first indication that the Yankees are not serious about making meaningful and necessary changes. They are committed to the status quo. That status quo has lead to a 14-year period where the Yankees have failed to reach the World Series. This is one of the longest periods without a World Series visit in franchise history. For a team that markets itself as winners, this is inexcusable. Keeping the status quo, including the general manager, Brian Cashman, who has overseen this entire period, is a mistake. It also send a very clear message to the fans that the team is not serious about doing all that is necessary to make them winners again.
*It is abundantly clear that the Yankees wasted Aaron Judge's best season (2022) and Gerrit Cole's best season (2023). The Yankees had a flawed roster in 2022. They didn't address that flawed roster, ever, for the 2023 season or during it. In 2023, the Yankees looked to raid the discount shelves and ended with a team that gave a discount-type performance. The Yankees spent big on Cole and Judge and didn't surround them with enough good players. In doing so, they wasted the very best years those two players had to offer. It's going to be more difficult to build a championship team around these superstars because their performances are naturally going to decline. This was another problem with the way the Yankees designed the team. The Yankees are on a clear path not to get better, but to keep going backwards.
*I am sorry, but an 82-80 record is not a record worth celebrating. Sure, it's a winning season, but if that's now the definition of success for the Yankees, give me a break. I've mentioned this before, but the White Sox had winning seasons every year from 1951 through 1967. Guess what? No one cares. The White Sox didn't ever win a championship in that time. I've never seen the White Sox market that period. I've never heard a White Sox fan refer to that period as the glory years. Professional sports is about winning championships, period. Since 2001, the Yankees have won one. That, simply, is not good enough. It's not good enough for a small market team, it's absolutely not good enough for the sport's most valuable and storied franchise.
*Why did Aaron Judge sit the season's final game? Was he tired? What was the point? "Oh, let's rest him before he has countless months off. He needs load management before he sits all autumn and winter long." Every excuse to play him once the Yankees were out of it still applied the last game. "The fans deserve to see him," "He's a gamer," and all of that.
*The Mets let Buck Showalter go. Buck couldn't get it done with the Mets. Too bad. I always rooted for Buck. But, the results were the results. I believe that at one time, Showalter was a very good manager who was ahead of the curve in many ways. That's no longer the case. When he was at his best, Brian Cashman was also, basically, at his best. The game passed Buck by. The same is true for Brian Cashman. There's nothing wrong in saying that. It happens to everyone. Time marches on. Give the Mets credit, they're moving on. The Yankees? Nope. They'll try the failed formula again. And again.
*It seems the Yankees want Sean Casey to return as hitting coach. Why? What great results did he produce? The team's winning percentage in the first half (before Sean Casey arrived) was .538. The Yankees played to a .465 record in the season's second half. That isn't all on Casey, but he was part of that. Also, none of the young kids produced well or, to be generous (again) well enough. They all disappointed with the bat. Worse, and this has to be on Casey, because he's the hitting coach. In the first half of 2023, the Yankees batted .231. In the second half, they batted .221. They got worse. This is the problem with the Yankees. They seem to like Sean Casey. He seems like a good guy. But he didn't produce. I'm sure Aaron Boone is a good guy also. At some point, though, a professional sports team has to produce. The Yankees seem content with good guys who don't produce.
*A lot of people give the Yankees a lot of credit for resigning Aaron Judge last winter. It's talked about as the smart move they made last off-season. "Well, they brought back Judge." That wasn't necessarily a smart move, it was the only move they could have made - they had to bring him back. But, let's not forget how it played out. Judge was on the verge of leaving when, at the last minute, Hal Steinbrenner offered him a gigantic contract, and the captaincy. Brian Cashman didn't do that, Hal did. But, let's also remember that Steinbrenner wasn't working on this with the general manager, he was in Italy. He was a disinterested part of the negotiation until... until it was almost too late. That wasn't great business management. It was bad business. The resigning was one of the most important moves (from a PR standpoint if nothing else) for the team in a long long time and the owner was a disinterested participant until it was on the precipice of being too late.
*There are so many examples of mismanagement and poor decision-making from the Yankees these last many years. For whatever reason, these are glossed over by many.
*(Oh, boy, this isn't going to make people happy...) I believe all of baseball observers agree that defensive stats are flawed and even over the course of one season not all that reflective of a player's defensive abilities. In 1966, for example, Brooks Robinson's dWAR was 0.6. I am quite sure, he was a better player than that in 1966. In 1970, it was 0.8... The fact that defensive stats are unreliable is especially true in regard to an unproven big leaguer who has just one season under his belt. We know Brooks was great because over the course of his career, he proved to be so, but on a season-by-season basis, the numbers don't necessarily reflect that. So, let's just take a bit of a pause when we say that Anthony Volpe proved he can play shortstop at a high level defensively because this season he had a dWAR of 2.4. I think we need more time before we can safely say he's a plus defender at shortstop in the big leagues. I hope he demonstrates this over many years, but, one year, while it's a good starting point, isn't all that convincing to me.
*I know, also many people will also say, "Volpe proved he belonged as a hitter as well, but, his OPS+ was 81. That's not even close to being an average big leaguer. It's way way way below. Volpe did not prove he's the answer at shortstop. He had all season to prove it, but he never did. Volpe batted .216 in the first half and .200 in the second half. He hit .163 in September. (So much for the Chicken Parm story...) We never saw him blossom into an established big leaguer. It's not wrong to say any of this. It's the truth. I wish it wasn't the truth. I wish he had a great season, but... quite simply, he didn't. His overall WAR looks good because it is comprised, by-in-large, by his defensive stats. That's not a good sign for 2024 because those stats are not ones to base big decisions on. I know most people disagreed with me from the start on Volpe, but, I have to wonder if maybe, just maybe, he would be performed better as a hitter if the Yankees just left him alone and batted him ninth all season. That might have worked. It would have given him consistency. It would have removed much of the pressure on him. The Yankees didn't do that. They rushed him. They expected too much of him. And, as a hitter, he was a well-below average contributor. Again, that's just the fact as much as we might not like it.
*In fact, none of the kids demonstrated anything convincing that shows that they're going to be contributing Major League players. There are still a lot of question marks. We did not see any position player answer the doubts with a productive season. The Yankees will head into 2024 will a lot of players who haven't really proven anything.
*A lot of people feel Austin Wells demonstrated a lot in the season's final weeks to prove he's a big league hitter. Maybe he did. Maybe. But I give these numbers as comparison:
Player A = 21-years-old: 18 games: .328/4/12
Player B = 23-years-old: 18 games: ..197/4/13
Player B is Austin Wells before yesterday's game.
Player A was a different Yankees can't-miss catching prospect: Jesus Montero.
The point... it's much too early to say that Austin Wells showed anything, at all. He has a long long long way to go.
*The Yankees have been great at excuse-making. Many fans buy into it, but the truth is, the Yankees have one mission - to win. That's the goal. It should be the goal of every team in every sport, but this is especially true of the Yankees. This is their brand. And they haven't won in a long time. A long long time:
Longest Periods Without Winning Yankees Franchise History:
1903-1920 = 18 years
2010-2023 = 14 years
1982-1995 = 14 years
1965-1975 = 11 years
One would think that the entire fanbase would see the above and expect accountability. Instead I again and again I hear so many making excuses.
*This off-season could and probably will determine the next long period of team history. The Yankees have already lost a generation of young fans who spent their formative rooting years never seeing a winner. If the Yankees don't make significant changes this off-season, we'll see a year in 2024 not unlike 2023 and the second half of 2022. The years before that were clearly heading in this direction. This wasn't difficult to see. The concerning thing is that it looks as though the Yankees themselves don't have the answers and the people without the answers will still be making the big decisions for next season. This is not a recipe for hope, rather it seems to be a recipe for disaster. I hope I'm wrong about this, but I don't think I am or will be.
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