The New York Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 2016, concluding the 2023 campaign well below expectations with an 82-80 record. In fact, over a full 162-game season, the Yankees haven’t finished with 82 or fewer wins since 1992, highlighting how far the team plummeted from their position of prominence.
Though the truth of the matter is that the Yankees did have to work around several injury setbacks throughout the course of the season, from Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo, Carlos Ródon, and more, it doesn’t excuse them of their shortcomings, considering they still had plenty of talent to succeed with.
However, with the heart of the offseason looming up ahead, the Yankees will certainly be busy with roster changes and free agent signings as they set out to bounce back from their woeful season. And in anticipation of that exciting period, here’s a look at our Top 3 positional free agent priorities the Yankees should target and why.
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Three Positions the Yankees Need to Reinforce:
3. Relief Pitchers
If the Yankees intend to make it to the playoffs and then deep into a postseason run, the strength of their bullpen has to be much better and bolstered with talent that can close doors and silence crowds. Last season, the Yankees’ relievers were actually home to the best ERA (3.34) and batting average against (.221), led by the likes of closer Clay Holmes and relief pitchers Michael King, Jonathan Loasiga, Wandy Peralta, and Tommy Kahnle. So, it’s not to say that this is a massive concern for the Yankees.
That said, a big reason why this group of Yankee relievers wasn’t as dominant as they could have been is largely because of injuries the unit sustained and how many the starting rotation encountered as well. Although the depth pieces the Yankees had to rely on were solid fill-ins, having to resort to them often, seeing backup starters were also not producing six-plus innings of strong work consistently enough left the Yankees shorthanded often and prone to inflating deficits.
If they add two to three more viable relief options to their arsenal, the Yankees bullpen could be a force to contend with. Both closers Josh Hader and Craig Kimbrel are unrestricted free agents and could make for excellent additions worth signing.
2. Third Baseman
When it comes to addressing positions that don’t consist of pitching, the Yankees are in pretty good shape besides in one key area: third base. With Gleyber Torres at second, Anthony Volpe at shortstop, and Anthony Rizzo at first base, the third base void remains to be the Yankees’ biggest positional priority after both Josh Donaldson and D.J. LeMahieu struggled to provide the offensive production the team has needed from this position.
At age 35, LeMahieu had a poor showing over the 2023 campaign, finishing with a career-low .243 average, 55 runs, 15 home runs, and 44 RBIs in 136 games played. Though the Yankees have a promising prospect in Oswald Peraza, who flashed his leather at third multiple times throughout the second half of the season, it’s the youngster’s offense that still needs to be refined, posting a .191 average with 14 RBIs in 52 games played (191 plate appearances).
In all fairness, Peraza could very well be the future at third base. But until he can produce at a higher level offensively, it’s in the Yankees’ best interest to pursue a third baseman who can deliver in clutch moments and generate big at-bats. Two viable options worth targeting are that of Matt Chapman, who’s an unrestricted free agent, or if the Yankees prefer a slightly less expensive alternative, Jeimer Candelario is also an unrestricted free agent.
1. Starting Pitchers
Aside from having arguably the most dominant starting pitcher in the league in Gerrit Cole, the Yankees’ rotation doesn’t have the same firepower that it’s had in previous seasons and remains to be the most important position for the team to address this offseason. To give you an idea, the Yankees’ starting pitching ranked 18th in ERA (4.44), 16th in earned runs (405), and 27th in home runs (136) to finish the 2023 regular season.
This performance was a result of two issues the Yankees starting rotation encountered. The first was injuries, which kept starters such as Carlos Rodón, Nestor Cortes, and Frankie Montas largely absent throughout the course of the 2023 season. The second was that no one was able to step up and produce at the high level needed alongside Cole, even with the starting pitchers the Yankees had at their disposal, which included Luis Severino, Clarke Schmidt, and Domingo German.
If the Yankees are thinking big picture and want to actually place themselves within the ALCS or World Series in 2024, it’s vital they target at least one, if not possibly two, new starting pitching acquisitions, and there’s plenty on the market outside of Shohei Ohtani. Strong aces such as Blake Snell, Aaron Nola, and Sonny Gray would all make for great candidates and add another layer of talent this rotation can galvanize around.