The vibes may not be good heading into the winter, but there are many reasons to dream for spring.
Things are not looking up in the Yankees Universe right now. The team looked lifeless for much of the second half, got swept by the hated Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series, and is at risk of losing Aaron Judge in free agency because they could not ink him to an extension before the season. Controversy over Aaron Boone’s and Brian Cashman’s return have dominated the post-ALCS discourse. And after thirteen years without an American League pennant, let alone a World Series, fans are in the mood to see big changes.
We’ve talked a lot already about our negative feelings as the long night of winter descends upon the baseball world. But as disappointing as the end of the season was and the team’s apparent meh-ness about it appears to be, 2022 wasn’t all bad. In fact, as we head into the offseason, there are many reasons why I will still dream of spring training. Here are those that inspire me the most.
The Baby Bombers 2: Electric Boogaloo
You know what’s more fun than watching a young kid make his major league debut and make an immediate impact? Watching two young kids make their major league debuts and make immediate impacts. Getting the call from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in late August and early September, respectively, Oswaldo Cabrera and Oswald Peraza gave fans a lot to be excited for (even if neither of them was actually given a legitimate shot at taking over either the shortstop job from Isiah Kiner-Falefa or the third base one from Josh Donaldson).
Although it took his bat a bit of time to round into form, Cabrera electrified the fanbase from his first day with the team with his elite defense, flashing the leather at shortstop, third base, left field, and right field. In limited time, Peraza showed off a smooth glove at shortstop and impressed with the bat too. Unless one of them is traded this winter (which is always a possibility) I expect both of them to be key components of the 2023 Yankees, and I, for one, am excited for that — not only because I think they can be really good players, but they were also just plain fun.
Cerberus in the Rotation
It feels like every year, the Yankees have question marks in the starting rotation. This winter is no exception. Jameson Taillon is an impending free agent, Frankie Montas was flat-out awful since coming over from Oakland at the trade deadline, Luis Gil is recovering from Tommy John surgery, Clarke Schmidt and Michael King spent the season as relievers, and Domingo Germán has been consistently inconsistent. Chances are, Brian Cashman will do something this winter to add an arm — given his previous acquisitions of James Paxton and Jameson Taillon, probably a question-filled young pitcher with injury-related question marks, two years of team control, and “James” somewhere in his name.
But you know what I feel really good about? Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, and Luis Severino. Yes, they all have question marks of their own. Can Cole figure out how to reduce his home run rate, which turned a borderline Cy Young season based on his strikeout rate into one in which he was merely very good? How will pitching more than 150 innings for the first time since 2018 affect Cortes? Can Sevy stay healthy? All of these are important questions. But when all three are on the mound, the Yankees have one of the league’s best three-headed monster atop the rotation.
Not a bad foundation to begin building on, I think.
Downsizing & Upgrading the Bullpen
During the Baby Bomber years, the Yankees have invested heavily into their bullpen. They signed (or re-signed) Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Darren O’Day, and Justin Wilson as free agents. They traded for David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Britton, Scott Effross, Miguel Castro, and Lou Trivino. And that’s on top of a pitching staff that had developed Dellin Betances, Chad Green, Jonathan Loáisiga, Michael King, Luis Cessa, and Clarke Schmidt, among others. Because of this continued investment and reinvestment, the Yankees bullpen leads MLB in fWAR with 33 over this span, six more than the second-place Dodgers. A dominant set of relievers has been one of the team’s defining features.
Unfortunately, this investment comes with a downside: over the past two years, the Yankees have spent a combined $60 million on Chapman and Britton. While both were elite relievers and key components of the 2017-2020 teams, the last two seasons have seen both pitchers battling injuries, and when they have been on the mound, they’ve simply been bad. Fortunately, both pitchers’ contracts end this season … conveniently freeing up $30 million at the same time that Aaron Judge hits free agency.
(Look, Cashman — it’s clear that this was your plan, just add enough zeroes to get him to sign on the dotted line already)
On top of that, these last two years have shown that the Yankees don’t need to spend heavily on the bullpen to maintain its dominance. King and Loáisiga were two of the league’s most dominant relievers this year and last year, respectively, and neither of them requires the big bucks that the two former closers received. Holmes and Peralta were acquired via low-level trades, and both became lockdown relievers in pinstripes. Last season, Stephen Ridings came out of nowhere and suggested that he could become the next Betances (although he struggled with injuries in 2022). This year, Ron Marinaccio put his name on the map with a big season of his own and Greg Weissert turned some heads in a cameo appearance. While the closer’s role was up in the air at the end of the season, there’s reason to believe that the Yankees can continue to develop a dominant bullpen without investing a large amount of salary.