The 2023 season has undoubtedly been a disappointing one for the Yankees. They snapped a nine-game losing streak yesterday but lost again today, bringing their record to 61-66. That has them last in the American League East, 6.5 games back of the fourth place Red Sox. They are 10 games away from the final Wild Card spot in the American League and FanGraphs pegged their playoff odds at 0.3% coming into today’s action. For a club that came into the season aimed at contending and ran up one of the league’s highest payrolls, it’s obviously not an ideal outcome.
General manager Brian Cashman spoke to the media yesterday, acknowledging the obvious, with Brendan Kuty of The Athletic among those to relay some of the specifics. “It’s been a disaster of a season,” Cashman said. “We’re embarrassed by it.” He also made it clear he was aware of the disappointed fans who wanted him fired but also defended his claim on continuing in his job. “I think we’ve got a pretty good track record here,” he said. “We’ve had a real good run of success. But this, at the same time, is not an easy sport. Nothing is guaranteed.”
The overall track record is indeed strong, when looking back to Cashman becoming the general manager in February of 1998. The Yanks have never finished below .500 since then, with their last losing season coming back in 1992. Since 1995, they’ve only missed the postseason four times and have won the World Series five times.
For some fans, that’s not enough, or it’s been too long since the most dominant stretch of the Cashman era. Four of those five titles came from 1996 to 2000 with the last one in 2009. Though the Yankees have made the playoffs in each of the six previous years, they haven’t made it past the ALCS in over a decade and have a chance to break their 30-year streak of winning seasons here in 2023. Whether that track record is enough to keep him in his current position remains to be seen and Cashman himself provided little clarity, saying that it would be “somebody else’s decision that’s above me,” presumably in reference to chairman Hal Steinbrenner.
How much blame Cashman deserves for the struggles of the 2023 club is a matter that could be debated, and certainly is in certain circles. Injuries have been a significant factor in their results, as various players who were hoped to be key contributors have missed significant time. The starting rotation has been without Frankie Montas all year while Nestor Cortes and Carlos Rodón have each bounced on and off the injured list while posting diminished results when on the field. On the offensive side of things, players like Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo and others have dealt with significant injuries issues that led to absences or downturns in performance or both.
Defenders of Cashman could point to that litany of injuries as evidence that a strong on-paper roster was cursed by the baseball gods, but detractors could highlight the fact that all clubs deal with injuries and part of the job is building a roster than can succeed over an entire season as player health ebbs and flows.
Regardless of the reasons, it seems like all manner of possible changes will be considered in the coming months. “I think we’re all going to be evaluated,” Cashman said, referring to himself and manager Aaron Boone. “You’re going to see look at every aspect of the operation because that’s what you have to do under these circumstances, and then that takes us where it takes us. Nobody’s happy here. We’re better than this, but it’s not played better than this, and we’ll see. Stay tuned.”
How the franchise responds to this down year will be an interesting thread to follow over the coming weeks and months. The Yankees are usually one the most reliably aggressive teams when it comes to competing and spending. Before the offseason has even begun, their 2024 payroll is at $186MM while their competitive balance tax figure is at $197MM, per Roster Resource. Those figures don’t include arbitration salaries for players like Cortes, Gleyber Torres, Clay Holmes and more. Factoring in raises for those players will put the Yanks in the vicinity of next year’s base luxury tax threshold of $237MM before even making any offseason additions.
Assuming the Yanks look to compete again next year, there would be plenty on the to-do list this winter. The rotation theoretically has a strong front three, with Gerrit Cole followed by Rodón and Cortes, though that’s dependant on the health of the latter two. Even if they are healthy and Clarke Schmidt takes a back-end spot, there would be room for another pitcher in there, keeping Jhony Brito and Randy Vásquez as minor league depth.
The lineup has many question marks, as the team has collectively hit .229/.304/.400 this year for a wRC+ of 94. Some of that can be explained by the aforementioned injury struggles of Judge and Rizzo, but the club has also received poor performances from veterans like DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton. The 35-year-old LeMahieu has hit .239/.316/.370 this year, 91 wRC+, and still has three years and $45MM left on his contract after this one. The 33-year-old Stanton has a line of .193/.277/.423 this season for wRC+ of 88 while still being owed $128MM over the next four years. The Yanks could try to move on from those players but their respective contracts and ages will make it very difficult.
There will also be fresh holes made in that lineup, with Harrison Bader and Isiah Kiner-Falefa set to reach free agency. Neither played is having an outstanding season at the plate but Bader at least provides speed and excellent center field defense while Kiner-Falefa also has speed and can provide cover at multiple positions. Josh Donaldson is likely to depart for the open market as well, as his deal has a mutual option that is unlikely to be picked up.
There are many questions for the Yankees to answer between now and 2024, but it seems they will start by using the remainder of the current campaign to get a look at some younger players. Earlier this week, they promoted youngsters Everson Pereira and Oswald Peraza to get some reps in what’s left of the schedule. That group could soon be joined by Austin Wells, as Kuty reports the catching prospect is likely to join the club when rosters expand from 26 to 28 in September.
Wells, 24, was selected in the first round of the 2020 draft, with the Yanks taking him 28th overall. He has since climbed the minor league ladder and is considered by many outlets to be a top 100 prospect, with Baseball America currently having him in the #83 slot. He’s considered a bat-first catcher and is hitting .241/.333/.443 in the minors this year, walking in 10.8% of his plate appearances while hitting 26 home runs.
The Yanks are without Jose Trevino for the rest of the season, as he underwent wrist surgery in July. They are currently using the duo of Kyle Higashioka and Ben Rortvedt behind the plate but the expanded rosters could allow them to carry three catchers and get a look at Wells before the offseason arrives. Wells isn’t yet on the 40-man roster and would require a corresponding move to be added.