3 make or break factors for the Yankees’ 2021-22 season

new york yankees, nyy, gerrit cole
Apr 1, 2021; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone takes starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) out of the game during the sixth inning of an opening day game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees haven’t made an appearance in the World Series in over a decade, but even if they settle on a stopgap shortstop this off-season to fill the void, they still have aspirations to reach the final series of the season.

Ultimately, the Yankees have several needs that require spending, and owner Hal Steinbrenner may not give general manager Brian Cashman the green light to go above the luxury tax threshold. Depending on how the new CBA ends up looking and changes to the luxury tax and salary floor, Steinbrenner could either open up the gates to his checkbook or remain cautious.

Either way, the Yankees will have big expectations going into next season with their star-studded cast. A team that has Gerrit Cole, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and several other notable players is expected to at least be a postseason caliber team. That wasn’t the case during the 2020–21 campaign.

Three expectations for the Yankees:

1.) A healthy starting rotation

Starting pitching has held the Yankees back in recent years, especially with the exorbitant number of injuries they have sustained. Cole remains a consistent option, but Luis Severino and Domingo German both suffered injuries last year that held them out for the majority of the campaign.

Cashman tried to cut corners and landed Jameson Taillon from the Pittsburgh Pirates via trade and signed Corey Kluber to a one-year deal. Both starters ended up missing significant time with a myriad of injuries, forcing reserve options to fill the void.

At some point, the Yankees are going to have to spend big on another starting pitcher they can rely on behind Cole. However, health remains one of the team’s most significant vulnerabilities, and if they can be a bit more sustainable in that category, they will find themselves playing meaningful baseball come the postseason.

2.) Reliable infield defense

The Yankees have several holes to fill this off-season, with shortstop being the primary one. Reports have indicated the Bombers could spend big on Carlos Correa or settle on a stopgap option with Andrelton Simmons. The Yankees have the flexibility to be luxurious or negligent, depending on if they prefer to wait for Oswald Peraza or Anthony Volpe to reach the majors.

Last season, they rolled with Gleyber Torres before eventually moving him due to defensive liabilities. Over 108 games, he posted a .952 fielding percentage and 18 errors. He logged a -10 defensive runs saved above average, representing a far below-average defensive player of the position.

One thing is for sure, whatever supplement they bring in to replace Torres at SS, they will be a far more superior defender. In addition, the first base spot has also been up for grabs for several years, but Anthony Rizzo held down the fort after being acquired from the Chicago Cubs at the deadline. The Yankees are thought to be intrigued by Rizzo and a potential extension, and he would do nicely as a long-term solution at first.

3.) More base-runners

The Yankees have hyper-focused on hitting home runs in recent years, but without base-runners, they simply can’t win on solo shots. Despite their magnitude of sluggers, the Yankees ranked in the bottom half of the league in several categories this past year. They ranked 23rd in average at .237, and while they don’t necessarily subscribe to the efficiency of a batting average, they ranked just sixth in home run total, at 222. The Toronto Blue Jays belted 40 additional homers, landing the first place slot.

The Yankees need a few more batters that are refined in extra-base hits. The Yankees did, however, enjoy the most walks of any team last season at 621. Theoretically, that would provide more base-runners with home runs driving them in, but the bottom half of their order simply didn’t contain the power they needed.

Bringing in a player like Carlos Correa or even Freddie Freeman would give the Yankees tremendous talent at the top of the order and push quality hitters down the chain, strengthening the bottom portion. Interestingly, the Yankees ranked last place in doubles this past season with just 213. Extra-base hits put runners in scoring position, and with a team that doesn’t necessarily rely on stolen bases, having runners on first base represents the lowest probability of scoring on a base hit.

I expect they will continue to rely on home runs to drive in base-runners, but they need a few more contact hitters who can get on base effectively.