Yankees banking heavily on bounce-back seasons from 3 prominent players

josh donaldson, yankees
Oct 23, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson (28) reacts after striking out in the third inning against the Houston Astros during game four of the ALCS for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

When fully healthy, the New York Yankees have one of the strongest offensive batting orders in the game. Headlined by Aaron Judge, coming off an MVP season and setting the single-season home run record, behind him, the team is littered with star power.

General manager Brian Cashman retained Anthony Rizzo on a two-year deal, keeping his lefty bat in the lineup, which should get even more efficient after the MLB banned the shift.

The Yankees need Donaldson, Stanton and LeMahieu each to bounce back to an approximation of the feared hitters they were in their primes.

As suggested by Chris Kirschner and Brendan Kuty of The Athletic.

In addition, the Yankees are relying on a few veterans to return to form, battling injuries during the 2022 season. For example, DJ LeMahieu, who suffered a toe injury that ended his season prematurely and forced him to miss the entire postseason run. At 34 years old, DJ played 125 games last season. LeMahieu has been healthy throughout his career, playing 150 games in 2021, but there is concern that the toe injury could resurface and disrupt his flow.

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One way or another, the Yankees need to tread carefully with DJ, who has been working in Tampa diligently to rehabilitate and prepare for the upcoming season. Most believe he is 100% and shouldn’t skip a beat, but repetitive stress on that toe could end up re-aggravating things, so managing his workload will likely be a priority.

“He looks healthy, whether it’s in the weight room or on defense or hitting. He’s pushing it with everything, and he’s able to do it. If you didn’t know how last year ended, you wouldn’t think anything of it, but we all saw that.’’

Via the New York Post.

The Yankees’ success relies on their sluggers staying healthy:

Aside from DJ, Josh Donaldson and Giancarlo Stanton represent two of the more prominent names on the roster they need to bounce back in their respective ways. The Yankees may offload Donaldson, but the $21 million on his salary and the baggage he carries likely means he will stick out the remainder of his contract in pinstripes.

At 37 years old, Donaldson is coming off a Gold Glove caliber defensive season on the hot corner but put together dismal offensive numbers. Across 132 games and 546 plate appearances, he hit .222 with a .308 OBP, 15 homers, and 62 RBIs with a career-high 27.1% strikeout rate. This was the first time since 2012 his walk rate dipped below double digits. His 97 wRC+ was also his lowest since 2012, recording a 1.6 WAR.

Unless Donaldson bounces back with a tremendous offensive campaign, his value primarily stands behind his defensive qualities, which simply isn’t enough if the Yankees have to decide between him and DJ starting at third base.

The most impactful of the bunch, though, may just end up being Stanton. At 33 years old, he’s expected to play the outfield in “spurts,” according to manager Aaron Boone (Via Brian Hoch of MLB.com). Nonetheless, ever since joining the Yankees in 2018, he’s played only two seasons of over 110 games. He enjoyed 158 in 2018 and 139 in 2021 but fought through injury and had one of his worst offensive seasons in 2022.

Despite making the All-Star game (winning the MVP of the game, as well), Stanton ended up hitting .211 with a .297 OBP, 31 homers, and 78 RBIs. Clearly, his power stroke didn’t dissipate, so as long as he can remain healthy and active as the team’s designated hitter, there’s potential for him to hit 40+ homers.

Unfortunately, we can all but factor Stanton out as a defensive contributor, aside from some workload management days for Aaron Judge. He can serve as one of the best DHs in the entire game, but he’s had a pesky calf injury resurface at times, meaning the Yankees either have to give him plenty of days of rest or change his workout strategy to help mitigate any concern in that area.

Betting on all three of these players to bounce back and put forth healthy seasons is extremely optimistic. Still, they remain the difference between the Yankees making it to the World Series and getting knocked out early against the Houston Astros. Baseball is all about timing, and I think the Yankees would trade their dominant first half of the 2022 season for their disappointing second half that was littered with injuries and inconsistencies.