With a 15-14 record, the Yankees are undoubtedly still in the playoff race. Although April was subpar, they began the season strong as the last team in baseball to lose a regular-season series. However, a 3-7 slump has left them tied for last place in the American League East. The Texas Rangers recently routed the Yankees 15-2 on Sunday, a disgusting game that captured their struggles throughout the season. Injuries plague the rotation, the offense is in shambles, and their reinforcements come with huge question marks of their own
For the sake of the fans, job security in the organization, and players’ morale, a quick turnaround is necessary. The big question is not whether the Yankees need to improve but if they can do so in time to save a season that appears to be spiraling into disaster.
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What Has Happened to the Offense?
Some critics argue that the Yankees have consistently experienced lineup issues in recent years and that Brian Cashman has been oblivious to them. While this statement isn’t entirely accurate, the 2022 team did lead the American League in Runs Scored and ranked among the best in baseball in wRC+. It’s also important to remember that losing DJ LeMahieu, Andrew Benintendi, and Matt Carpenter significantly impacted the team’s chances against the Astros in the ALCS. Although LeMahieu’s injury was not entirely unforeseen, the injuries to Carpenter and Benintendi were essentially freak accidents.
There is no way to defend against a walk, just as there is no way to prevent a hamate bone from snapping or a foul ball from breaking bones in one’s foot. Despite calling up Oswald Peraza and Oswaldo Cabrera, their offense became vulnerable to the Astros’ formidable pitching staff. The team was ill-equipped to face a 13-pitcher-deep roster that offered no breaks, with their least experienced arm, Hunter Brown, currently being a frontrunner for the AL Rookie of the Year and possibly receiving Cy Young votes.
While the 2021 team did not boast an outstanding offense, the 2017-2020 offenses were undeniably great. Claiming that the Yankees have had offensive issues every year of the Baby Bomber Era is inaccurate, but concluding that the 2023 team was ill-prepared to maintain its offensive success is spot-on. One major concern is the departure of Benintendi and Carpenter from the 2022 roster, two key players they sorely missed in the postseason. Although Carpenter was active in the ALCS, he was not at his best due to the injure. In Benintendi’s case, parting ways in free agency was the right decision, but he was never replaced.
Although it is only April, Benintendi is already facing an elbow issue, resulting in an 89 wRC+ performance with -2 OAA, decreased hard-hit rates, and lower power numbers. There were valid concerns that his hamate bone injury could have long-term effects, and it appears that this may be the case. Even if his power returns during the season, the Yankees would only be slightly better off with Benintendi. The problem lies in their failure to replace the contributions of the 28-year-old lefty, who provided a 111 wRC+ and +1 OAA during his brief time in the Bronx.
One significant oversight by Brian Cashman during the offseason was not acquiring major league depth for the outfield. Instead, he opted to convert IKF into a center fielder, costing $6 million. If IKF could replicate his 2022 performance, he would make a decent fourth outfielder. An 80-85 wRC+ with +2 DRS and +1 OAA in CF and above-average baserunning is respectable, but a poor fit for a team in need of offense. The Yankees’ roster included too many defense-first players, such as both catchers, Aaron Hicks, IKF, Josh Donaldson, and Oswaldo Cabrera, who were all more renowned for their glove work than their batting skills.
Despite their lackluster offense, Jose Trevino and Kyle Higashioka are competent catchers. However, their offensive shortcomings are accentuated when the rest of the lineup underperforms, which is not entirely fair to them. Franchy Cordero and Willie Calhoun should not be the primary replacements when players are injured, considering both have recorded negative fWARs since 2020. While Cordero deserves credit for a stretch earlier in the season during which he hit big homers that led the Yankees to wins, it’ is’s time for his tenure in pinstripes to end.
The Yankees’ offense is not just struggling; it is currently performing poorly, and rightfully so, considering the lineup. A team featuring Willie Calhoun as the fourth or fifth hitter in the order should be vying for the first overall pick rather than spending $290 million to win a division. This situation is a slap in the face to the team’s fans, investors, and players. No disrespect intended to Calhoun, who consistently puts in his best effort to help the team, but he should never have been in this position in the first place.
This leads to my second point: the Yankees’ lack of preparedness for Giancarlo Stanton’s absence is baffling Stanton is sidelined for a portion of the season nearly every year, with 2018 being the notable exception. However, the team had no alternative DH besides the player who, according to Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement (fWAR), has been the worst player in baseball since 2020. While Brian Cashman is adept at assembling a pitching staff, this is one of the most shortsighted mistakes he has made in recent memory.
Were there no other players available to sign? Perhaps if the team had not invested $6 million in a defense-first player, they could have explored the market for affordable hitters who have had successful seasons in the past. These options include, but are not limited to:
Offensive pieces were available at three different price points, yet Brian Cashman didn’t explore any of these options. It’s unfortunate when players underperform expectations, but should it really be considered bad luck when Franchy Cordero has a nearly 40% strikeout rate? Before anyone argues that the Yankees were not linked to some of these players, remember that it’s not my responsibility to identify low-cost talent to enhance the roster. That falls on Brian Cashman and his staff, and it’s frustrating when they fail to accomplish it.
In previous years, Hal Steinbrenner has partly been blamed for not approving moves to acquire free agents to bolster the team, choosing more budget-friendly players to stay under the Luxury Tax. This time, however, the responsibility lies with the decision-makers, not Hal. With a payroll exceeding $290 million, we should the Yankees to possess the depth to remain competitive without some of their star players, but they simply don’t. Perhaps someone like Jake Bauers can step up, or maybe a prospect like Andres Chaparro or Elijah Dunham may receive the call, but relying on them to save the season is both unrealistic and unfair to these players.
Andres Chaparro, a 23-year-old corner infielder with a month of experience at Triple-A, possesses plenty of power that could help right now. However, how fair is it to him that he has to learn first base and be rushed to the Major League level simply because of inadequate roster construction? I am all for fast-tracking players, but when it’s done out of desperation rather than exceptional performance, it sets them up for failure. In 2021, it was Hoy Park and Trey Amburgey; in 2022, it was Oswaldo Cabrera and Oswald Peraza; and now, it’ is ‘s Andres Chaparro and Elijah Dunham.
I recognize that every team has Triple-A players who their fanbase eagerly anticipates calling up, but when they become the only solution for a struggling offense, it indicates a roster destined to fall short in the postseason against a more dominant team within the division or in Houston. While the offense is the primary issue, the Yankees do have one advantage at the moment: time.
It’s Still a 162-Game Season
Unless Rob Manfred has announced a schedule change unbeknownst to me, the Yankees still have 133 games remaining on their schedule, providing plenty of time for them to right the ship. Harrison Bader is slated to return this week, Aaron Judge could potentially make a comeback as well, and Jake Bauers will avoid a stint on the injured list. The outfield could have an entirely different appearance in time for a crucial showdown with the Tampa Bay Rays, inspiring hope that the team can start to turn things around.
As for the Yankees’ pitching staff, I expected that Cortes will recover after a rough start in Texas, Cole will continue his stellar performance throughout the season, and one of Brito, Schmidt, or German will step up. Luis Severino is commencing his rehab assignment in Tampa this week, with Carlos Rodón set to return either in late May or early June. The team is not currently complete, and although the fact that Rodón, Severino, Montas, and Cortes are all unable to consistently make 30 starts a year demonstrates poor roster construction on Brian Cashman’s part, they’re exceptional pitchers when healthy.
Harrison Bader may be a league-average batter, but his presence is something the team desperately needs, particularly considering the abysmal offensive performance they have received from some of their most frequently utilized outfielders on the roster:
On top of that, it seems unlikely that these players will perform poorly throughout the entire season. IKF is not genuinely a 27 wRC+ hitter, regardless of opinions about him. Oswaldo Cabrera certainly possesses the talent to perform better than he has all season. The lineup has to wake up eventually, and perhaps it is only a matter of time. The Yankees are not the first team to ever experience a lackluster April, with some of the best teams in the league last year stumbling out of the gate in 2022.
Out of the eight teams that made the Division Series last season, four of them had an equal or worse record than the Yankees did through their first 29 games. Three of those four teams were multiple games below .500, with one of those three teams being the NL Champion Phillies. Among those teams were the Guardians, Braves, and Mariners, with Cleveland and Atlanta both winning their divisions at the end of the season. This is not to say that the Yankees will win the pennant because they are off to a slow start; rather, it demonstrates that the standings in April often do not mirror those in October.
It should also be noted that at the end of May 2022, all four of those teams were below .500, meaning they followed up a mediocre first month with another poor month before going on a tear. Fifty percent of the teams leading their divisions at the start of June would go on to lose the division, with two of those three teams completely missing the postseason. Baseball is a long season, and the 2022 Yankees serve as evidence of this fact.
The best team in baseball for the majority of the season, they stumbled into October battered and bruised, encountering an Astros team that finished just a game above .500 in the month of April. That Astros team, which was considered “vulnerable” in April, would crush everyone they faced in October, losing merely two games en route to their second World Series title in the last six years. Baseball is genuinely a random sport, and while this roster currently lacks the talent to replicate what the Astros achieved that season, we cannot predict what this team might look like come October.
At the moment, uncertainty is the Yankees’ best ally, which is strange to say, considering that uncertainty is the feeling surrounding this team’s postseason chances for many. Baseball is a sport that rewards patience, and there could be some assistance arriving during the summer. Giancarlo Stanton is scheduled to return sometime in June, the aforementioned high-profile pitchers are on their way back, and Frankie Montas could join this ballclub in the summer as well. As long as they avoid replicating the poor start of the 2021 squad, they could emerge from the trade deadline as a feared contender once again.
I do not expect everyone to read that last line and feel much comfort; how many times have we heard “Just wait until October” for a team that hasn’t reached a Game 7 of the ALCS since 2017? I have witnessed it all as well; year after year, entering the postseason with false optimism only to be stomped by a team that had been superior to us all season. That being said, we enter with that hope for a reason, and that’s because all it takes for a team that has fallen short every year is just one hot streak.
Jasson Dominguez currently holds a 114 wRC+ in Double-A after a challenging start to the season; could he potentially fast-track his way onto the Major League club? The White Sox are in disarray right now; could they sell early to a Yankee team desperately in need of assistance? The Yankees have discovered lightning in a bottle before; could a few big hits from Jake Bauers and Harrison Bader alter the trajectory of a daunting month of May? Who knows? It’s up to this roster, this front office, and this organization to figure it out.
The situation is bleak right now. That’s the only way to describe it, but it doesn’t mean the season is over. We play 162 games for a reason, we crown champions in October for a reason, and we don’t celebrate April for a reason. Perhaps this team turns things around, or maybe they don’t, but we’ll have 133 more games to let that unfold. The outlook for the Yankees is currently grim, but they are far from finished.