The New York Yankees, in their 2023 campaign, find themselves 14 games adrift in the American League East and trailing by 6.5 games in the Wild Card race. Although there’s a lingering sense of optimism from manager Aaron Boone and captain Aaron Judge about a potential late-season resurgence, the stark reality is that the Bombers’ postseason dreams are nearly extinguished.
Financial Troubles and Veteran Performance
With a whopping active total payroll of $281 million, one could expect stellar performances. However, the season has been anything but spectacular, with many high-priced veterans underdelivering.
Hal Steinbrenner, the owner, might now be rethinking further investments in the coming off-season given the current ROI. The big spending was expected to yield a triumphant squad, but general manager Brian Cashman’s acquisitions and talent investments have raised eyebrows.
Given the present scenario, the prudent strategy for the Yankees seems to be to vet their prospects for potential MLB-grade talents, aiming for effective cost management in 2024. The success formula of teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, who operate with significantly lower payrolls yet deliver impressive results, showcases that while money can fetch talent, the precision of investment is paramount.
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Yankees’ Performances in Focus
A startling fact is that three Yankees players, with a combined salary of $68 million, collectively achieved a WAR equivalent to that of Isiah Kiner-Falefa, one of the team’s less consistent assets. For clarity, while Kiner-Falefa has a season WAR of 0.4, the trio of DJ LeMahieu, Josh Donaldson, and Giancarlo Stanton, surprisingly, also aggregate at a 0.4 WAR.
Giancarlo Stanton’s four-year obligation of $118 million becomes more daunting when you consider his current performance. His stats, including -0.1 WAR, a 95 wRC+ (the lowest in his career), a batting average of .201, and an OBP of .283, paint a bleak picture. Unfortunately, his contract’s no-trade clause means the Yankees are saddled with it.
DJ LeMahieu, another underperforming asset, is batting at .242 with an OBP of .317. His output is notably lower than his 2018 stint with the Colorado Rockies (his worst wRC+ season). At 35, and with a contract that only expires post-2026, the Yankees owe him $15 million annually.
The spotlight then turns to Josh Donaldson, arguably one of Cashman’s more controversial acquisitions. Having accepted the remaining $50 million of Donaldson’s two-year contract, the Yankees haven’t seen the desired return on investment.
A season-ending calf injury and an underwhelming batting average of .142 this year make Donaldson’s 2021 performance with the Minnesota Twins seem like a distant memory. The analytics guiding such acquisition decisions undoubtedly need a revisit, especially given the propensity to invest in aging, injury-prone players.
A Call to Action
The Yankees’ trajectory is hurtling towards a season with a sub-.500 record, a feat not seen since 1992. Their challenges can be attributed to the waning performance of their veteran roster. Both Cashman and Steinbrenner have decisions to make to prevent further descent and course-correct the team’s path.