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  • Lincoln Mitchell

The Kids Might Not Be Alright

by Lincoln Mitchell

October 6, 2023

***

Undoubtedly many Yankees fans view the 2023 season as disappointing, but that adjective understates the problem. The season was not merely disappointing, it was just bad, reflecting an organization that feels lost. Checking in on the Yankees at various points this season felt like touching base with an old friend only to learn that he was getting up at noon, starting drinking at 2PM, and was promising to look for a job “soon.”


2023 was one of those Yankees seasons like 1982 or 1965 when the wheels came off and it seemed like everything that could have gone wrong did. In both those previous cases, Yankees teams got old and could not keep up. In 1965, the team finished under .500 for the first time since 1925. Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were injured much of the year while Elston Howard and Whitey Ford began showing signs of age. The Yankees would not win a pennant for another decade. In 1982, the late 1970s championship team finally collapsed. Thurman Munson had died in plane crash in 1979; Reggie Jackson had gone to the Angels via free agency and good seasons by star players like Dave Winfield, Goose Gossage, Tommy John could not conceal the team’s many weaknesses. The team’s sub .500 record in 1982 was their first in almost a decade.


In 2023, many problems the Yankees had were predictable, and indeed predicted. Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Donaldson and DJ LeMahieu continued to age and were not productive. A freakish injury to Anthony Rizzo revealed the team’s lack of depth. Players like Isiah Kiner-Falefa got way too much playing time. Failing to address the longstanding problem in left field turned out, to the surprise of almost nobody, not to be a wise strategy. Aaron Judge continued to be an elite offensive player, but lost almost two months to injury. That was a bad break but, again, hardly a surprise. Luis Severino lost most of the year to injury and, as evinced by his frequently terrible pitching, was probably never fully healthy. Brian Cashman’s penchant for acquiring injured players continued to dog the Yankees as star free agent acquisition Carlos Rodon was limited to 14 starts and pitched appallingly badly, finishing the season with an ERA of 6.85.


At the beginning of the season, the Yankees starting rotation was viewed as one of the very best in baseball. Ace Gerrit Cole did his part and will likely win the AL Cy Young, but Rodon, Luis Severino, and Nestor Cortes combined for 12 wins with Severino’s 6.65 ERA only slightly better than Rodon’s. Only when compared to Rodon and Severino’s disastrous season does Cortes’s 4.97 ERA look okay, but Cortes was also hurt or ineffective pretty much the entire year.


Those are all reasons why 2023 was such a bad year for the Yankees, but unfortunately there is also reason to believe that help is not yet on the way. When the season began, the Yankees finally began to make some room for younger players. Anthony Volpe was made the starting shortstop; Oswaldo Cabrera was expected to see a lot of time in left field; Oswald Peraza was seen as poised to contribute in some capacity, while several other young players were not too far from making the team.


On the positive side, the Yankees commitment to younger players in 2023 was much bigger than in recent years. Players 25-years-old or younger got a combined 1,483 plate appearances, roughly three times more than in either 2021 or 2022, when the team was clearly too old. Unfortunately, very few of those players showed clear signs of being ready to make an impact at the big league level. The major exception to this was Jason Dominguez who slashed .258/.303/.677 in 33 plate appearances before he was shut down for the year due to injury. Dominguez is unlikely to be back before the middle of next season and will probably be limited to a DH role for the rest of 2024 after he returns.


Anthony Volpe’s season was something of a puzzle. Concerns about his defense proved overblown as he demonstrated that he is a fine defensive shortstop. However, Volpe failed to hit consistently, striking out in 28% of his plate appearances while hitting only .207 with a .283 on-base-percentage. Volpe’s combination of power, 21 home runs, and speed, 24 stolen bases, demonstrated what he could be, but unless he can add 40 or so points to his batting average, he will not be a true force at the plate. However, given that Volpe did all this in at the age of 22, with the right coaching, something that is not a given with the Yankees, Volpe could still develop into a better hitter.


The rest of the young players simply didn’t hit. It is still possible that Austin Wells, Peraza, or Everson Pereira will develop into solid major leaguers, but none of them hit enough in relatively extended opportunities in the last month or so of the season. Wells struggled to get on base, but hit with enough power to finish with and OPS+ of 97. However, questions still remain about his defense behind the plate. If Wells cannot remain as a full-time catcher, he will have to hit much more than that to be a contributor.


One way to see the struggles of the Yankees who were 25 or younger this season, including Dominguez, Volpe, Peraza, Pereira, Wells, Orlando Cabrera, Estevan Florial, and Ben Rortvedt, is that they slashed a collective .201/.274/.340. That is an OPS+ of about 72, and includes Dominguez’s OPS+ of 158. In other words, as a group the young Yankees his about as well as a sub-replacement level backup infielder.


This underscores just what a wasted season this was for the Yankees. In addition to squandering one of the few remaining peak years of both Judge and Cole, the Yankees failed to sufficiently develop the next generation of players. The youth movement may have begun in 2023, and for that we should be grateful, but although there is always potential, other than a now injured Dominguez and a season from Anthony Volpe that was equal parts promising and frustrating, there is little reason to believe the future has arrived in the Bronx.

21 Comments


Andy Polizzi
Andy Polizzi
Oct 06, 2023

Sorry, I see you did get Collins in there. I don't think he made it through a whole season.

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Robert Malchman
Robert Malchman
Oct 06, 2023
Replying to

He did, one year, and then that was it for the "speed and defense" Yankees. I see Collins had a long career with a bunch of teams -- I'll have to remember him for Immaculate Grid!


And if that oversight is the worst thing you did today, you've had an excellent day!

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Andy Polizzi
Andy Polizzi
Oct 06, 2023

Thank you, Paul, for making my point for me in clearer terms. I think Robert missed one of the three words in my statement - VIABLE free agents. Bryce Harper would be an example. I think he's a little jerky but his teams win and make the post-season regularly. He could've been the new Reggie Jackson. Vladimir Guerrero was another missed opportunity that might've extended the dynasty.


Robert, I'm sorry you left out the immortal Steve Kemp and the vanguard of the "Bronx Burners" Dave Collins and Omar Moreno. :-)

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Robert Malchman
Robert Malchman
Oct 06, 2023
Replying to

It's a smorgasbord of options. But I did cite Collins!


I took "viable" to mean "available," not necessarily "good."

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Andy Polizzi
Andy Polizzi
Oct 06, 2023

I think the Yankees have produced their once in a generation player with Judge. It's time to go back to the George Steinbrenner playbook and start looking for viable free agents. That means doing two things the current Steinbrenners abhor: spending their billions and replacing the current management staff in toto. So be prepared for a wait of a decade or so for the next Judge to come along (and you'll probably never see a Jeter/Posada/Williams/Rivera/Pettitte situation in your lifetime with current ownership/management.) Maybe the Braves or Dodgers or Rays have some young management available that has watched these teams build successfully.)

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Robert Malchman
Robert Malchman
Oct 06, 2023
Replying to

'82 16 GB, '83 7 GB, '84 17 GB, '86 5.5 GB (9.5 GB on Oct. 1, with garbage time 4-game winning streak to end the season), '87 9 GB. That's not contending. In '85 they did contend, being eliminated on the third-to-last day of the season.


I give Der Bozz credit for '76-'81. That he didn't succeed in destroying the team after his sadly-not-lifetime suspension doesn't redeem the chaos he brought to the franchise. He was still interfering with managers and players, and only stopped when Torre came back from 0-2 and won the Series. Do you doubt for a minute that Steinbrenner would have fired him if he had lost to the Braves? If not, put …


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fuster
Oct 06, 2023

One might come to some understanding of the collective performance of the rookies by lumping them together and evaluating the results, but it is likely a better exercise to assess their individual performances. they will not all be retained, will not all be featured.


the kids will be weighed in the balance


the team will be wanting to retain Dominguez


may well be wanting to shed Pereira when Dominguez returns.


a guy such as Cabrera may be useful as a bench player, but may be replaced by some other guy.


they have two kid shortstops in Peraza and Volpe as well as a valuable but maddening second baseman in Torres. one of the three might be traded and Torres' offensiv…


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Paul Semendinger
Paul Semendinger
Oct 06, 2023
Replying to

I agree that the Yankees need to spend. Absolutely. And I'd love to have Bellinger, in theory, at least the 2023 version of him, but we've been the Yankees enough these last many years to know they'll pass on Superstar X because they have a 32-year-old past-his-prime Bellinger in a year or two...

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etbkarate
Oct 06, 2023

I felt, back in March, that they brought Volpe up a year to early. I still do. I am holding out my appraisal of him until next season. He simply was not ready, and got intoxicated by the dillon lawson, et al, launch angle garbage. The 2023 youth movement should only be the the opening act, as players such as Spencer Jones, Will Warren, Luis Serna, Elijah Dunham, Drew Thorpe & Tyler Hardman might be more impactful then the players we saw come up in 2023. I like the very little we saw of Wells, the stuff that doesn't make the box score. I watched him live in Somerset. He has the tools and heart. Add dominguez to the…

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