The Yankees are preparing to rev the engines of spring training in just a few days, with pitchers and catchers set to report down in Tampa. Many are anticipating an exciting 2024 season led by the acquisitions of Juan Soto and Alex Verdugo.
However, while the offense got a major boost, some concerns remain about the team’s pitching and the long-term prospects of the roster.
Three Concerns the Yankees Have Heading Into the 2024 Season:
1.) Starting Rotation
Right off the bat, many will point to the starting rotation as a potential weakness for the Yankees in 2024. They are hoping for several bounce-backs from injury, notably pitchers like Carlos Rodon and Nestor Cortes.
Rodon, now 31, is coming off his worst season as a professional, tossing just 64.1 innings and recording a 6.85 ERA, 60.5% left-on-base rate, and 27.1% ground ball rate. He posted the second-highest HR/FB ratio in his career at 15.2%, walked the most batters since 2019, and saw his strikeout rate dip below 9 per nine innings for the first time since 2018. This was not the pitcher the Yankees spent $162 million on over six years, averaging $27 million per season.
Fortunately, Rodon has been working diligently to drop weight and improve his stamina, which should lead to a more effective arm as the number two in the rotation.
After recording a 2.44 ERA in 2022 over 158.1 innings, he was only able to throw 63.1 innings last season, tallying a 4.97 ERA. Of course, we’ve seen the best of Cortes, and the Yankees know what he’s capable of on a good day, so they’re hoping for more consistent performances this upcoming season.
Aside from the two bounce-back candidates, the Yankees hope that Clarke Schmidt can compound his 2023 performance. In his first year as a primary starter, Schmidt tossed 159 innings with a 4.64 ERA. He was wildly inconsistent at times, struggling to get through the batting order for the third time, so utilizing his pitch mix more effectively is paramount.
There is still hope that general manager Brian Cashman will add another top arm to the rotation, which was indicated by their interest in Corbin Burnes before he was moved to the Baltimore Orioles.
Reports have indicated that the Bombers don’t want to send Spencer Jones in a prospective trade, so they will have to find another way. They could always bend the knee and spend on Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery, but they’re asking for significant contracts, and Cashman doesn’t want to lock himself into another deal with a pitcher over 30 years old.
2.) Leadoff Hitter Dilemma
The Yankees have a big decision to make at lead-off hitter, but the expectation is that DJ LeMahieu will man the spot to open the year.
DJ is still very effective but struggled in 2023 before the All-Star break. Pre-All-Star break, DJ hit .220/.285/.357. Fortunately, he picked things up post-All-Star break after the Yankees fired Dillon Lawson, hitting .273/.377/.432, including eight home runs and 17 RBIs.
LeMahieu has traditionally been a fine lead-off man, but he lacks athleticism and won’t be able to capitalize as a base runner. In a perfect world, Anthony Volpe would be the team’s primary lead-off hitter, given his ability to steal bases and make the most of an opportunity with runners in scoring position.
The Yankees have plenty of options to consider, but they all have their flaws and weaknesses. The safe option is undoubtedly LeMahieu.
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3.) Championship Window Concerns
There’s a legitimate fear bubbling around the Yankees that 2024 may be their championship window. They have multiple top-flight players on expiring contracts this upcoming season. Soto, Verdugo, and Gleyber Torres will all hit the free agent market in 2025, three primary starters that could leave massive holes in their wake.
The team does have a few prospects climbing the system ready to help supplement as insurance policies, but there’s simply no replacing a bat like Soto’s.
Torres has been adequate at second base for a few years and put together his best offensive campaign in 2023, hitting .273/.347/.453, including 25 homers and 68 RBIs. Defensively, Torres did struggle a bit, but his offensive production is certainly above average — 23%, to be exact.
The hope is that the Yankees extend Soto on a mega deal next off-season, but we are still a long way away from that being a reality
. Cashman has his work cut out for him, and he needs to do everything in his power to make 2024 worthwhile, especially when it comes to the starting rotation and the risks they are taking.