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  • Tim Kabel

Rowing in the Same Direction

About the Off-Season: Rowing in the Same Direction

By Tim Kabel

January 9, 2023


As usual, the off-season is filled with optimism. I assume this is the case for almost every team. Last season, the Yankees made it to the ALCS before being eliminated by the Houston Astros. During the off-season, they brought back Aaron Judge, and Anthony Rizzo. They also signed Carlos Rodon and Tommy Kahnle as free agents. Leftfield is still an unclaimed position at this point and there are some other questions, but the off-season can be viewed as an overall success at this point.

A large part of the optimism regarding the Yankees in 2023 is based on the anticipated influx of young players. Oswaldo Cabrera became a key contributor to the team late last season and Oswald Peraza showed a great deal of promise in his audition. Anthony Volpe is also knocking on the door. Hal Steinbrenner said on the record that he would like to see both Peraza and Volpe given an opportunity to win jobs in the middle of the infield. The idea of the Yankees infusing the team with youth, athleticism, and excitement is very appealing. It would be wonderful to bring new talent to the Major League team to complement the players who are already there.

There is just one problem.

At this point, Josh Donaldson and Aaron Hicks are still on the roster. So is Isaiah Kiner-Falefa. Gleyber Torres is there as well and is the starting second baseman. Although Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman have spoken glowingly about Peraza and Volpe, their paths might be blocked. There is another hurdle that must be cleared.

Aaron Boone has not been one to embrace a youth movement in his tenure as Yankees manager. He has not developed a single star position player while he has managed the team. Part of that may be that there were not many candidates to fill that role. However, it is clear that he prefers established major leaguers over young players. Boone treats young players the way a child treats a new pair of shoes. They don't like the breaking-in process and would just as soon wear the old worn-out pair of shoes they are used to, even though they may be full of holes and broken down.

Although many fans and reporters have suggested a starting lineup that included Peraza at shortstop, Volpe at second, and Cabrera in leftfield, that may not happen. Aaron Boone has proven that he can be quite stubborn when he chooses to be. He did not move Isaiah Kiner-Falefa out of the starting lineup until the playoffs last year. He continued to play Aaron Hicks well after Hicks demonstrated he was not the best option. He continued to bat Aaron Judge in the lead-off position down the stretch and into the playoffs until that noted sage, Alex Rodriguez, criticized him publicly.

Unless the roster changes, I can envision an opening day lineup with Josh Donaldson at third base, Isaiah Kiner-Falefa at shortstop, Aaron Hicks in leftfield, and Gleyber Torres at second base. It will be more of the same. Boone will tell us that Hicks, Donaldson and Kiner-Falefa are the best options at this point, due to their experience and history at the Major League level. We will watch Donaldson continue to decline. We will see the erosion of Hicks's abilities to the point where he is barely competent to play the outfield. Boone will come up with all sorts of metrics to prove that Kiner-Falefa is a borderline Gold Glove shortstop. He will sweep Torres's inconsistencies and streakiness under the rug. Cabrera will probably be on the team in a utility role, playing sparingly. Peraza and Volpe could very well be the double-play combination in Scranton Wilkes Barre.

It is all well and good for the owner and general manager to talk about a youth movement. If the manager is not on board and prefers to play the veterans, no matter what their deficiencies are, that's what will happen. Unless Boone is ordered to play the youngsters, it may not happen. He can very easily spin things to make the case that the veterans are his best option. As usual, he won't be very convincing to anyone other than himself.

We still have time before spring training starts but, if Boone is not rowing in the same direction as the owner, the general manager, and other front office personnel, it is highly likely the young players will not be playing regularly in 2023. Boone has not shown a willingness to do so historically.

When Peraza came up at the end of the year, Boone was reluctant to replace Kiner-Falefa, despite his shortcomings and inadequacies. It was clear to everyone, except Boone, that Peraza was a superior fielder, and most likely a better hitter. Boone continued to play IKF until his flaws became so obvious in the playoffs on a national stage. Boone then panicked and rotated Cabrera, Peraza, and IKF in and out of the shortstop position.

There will be much less urgency at the beginning of the season than there was in the playoffs. Boone can preach patience and stick with the veterans. It is possible Donaldson, IKF, and Hicks might have enough occasional success to allow Boone to hold out hope that they are the best options and are capable of having great seasons. That would be a mirage.

The Yankees held on to Cabrera, Peraza, and Volpe because they believed they would be key contributors to the Major League Team. They need to be given that opportunity. The best way for that to happen is to remove Hicks, Donaldson, and Torres from the roster. That way, the temptation of playing washed up veterans or players who are extremely streaky and inconsistent will be removed from Boone. As long as those players are on the roster, it is quite possible Boone will row in his own direction and avoid making moves that will ultimately be in the best interest of the team. Doing that will stunt the professional growth of the young players and prevent the Yankees from fielding their best possible team.

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