It feels like just last year that Didi Gregorius sent the Yankees to a surprise ALCS appearance with a pair of home runs in ALDS Game 5 against Cleveland, and only just yesterday that the calendar was turning over to 2022 with the sport mired in a lockout. And yet here we are, in the final day of 2022 and five years removed from that upstart Yankees squad. New Year’s Eve is often a time for reflection, so let’s take a trip down memory lane and celebrate the five-year anniversary of the squad that launched the Baby Bomber era by catching up with the five players who defined that team.
Yankees fans need no reminder of Judge’s exploits over the last five years... but we’ll bask in their magnificence all the same. After winning AL Rookie of the Year and finishing second in AL MVP balloting in 2017, Judge was never quite able to replicate those results in the interceding years whether due to injury or slight regression.
That is, until 2022. In likely the greatest walk year and possibly the greatest offensive season in MLB history, Judge broke Roger Maris’ 61-year-old record for most home runs in a campaign in AL history, bashing his 62nd on the penultimate game of the regular season en route to taking home AL MVP. The prize? A record-breaking nine-year, $360 million contract to remain a Yankee lifer as the franchise’s 16th captain.
After a rocky first two seasons in MLB, Luis Severino burst onto the scene in 2017, establishing himself as one of burgeoning aces in the league. Between 2017 and 2018, his 11 fWAR placed him fifth among all pitchers as he spearheaded the pitching side of the Baby Bomber wave. Armed with a high-octane fastball and devastating slider and changeup, the sky was the limit for the young fireballer.
But then injury struck. Sevy missed most of the 2019 season with shoulder and lat injuries, only to then undergo Tommy John surgery that cost him all of 2020 and most of 2021 following a series of rehab setbacks. In all, he pitched just 18 regular season innings from the end of the 2018 season to the start of the 2022 season in addition to a handful of postseason cameo appearances. He finally started a campaign in full health and flashed some of the Sevy of old in 2022 and enters 2023 still a Yankee after the club picked up his $15 million option, looking to reclaim the glory of his two ace-level seasons.
When Gary Sánchez lit the league on fire, launching 20 home runs in a 43-game span in 2016, it was easy to get carried away wondering if the Yankees had uncovered the next great power-hitting catcher in the franchise’s illustrious history of legendary backstops. The Kraken was as mercurial a player as we’ve seen over the last five years, tantalizing and tormenting fans in equal measure with feast or famine seasons in the Bronx.
From his debut through 2019, he graded out as the fourth-most valuable catcher in baseball, but a pair of particularly disappointing campaigns in 2020 and 2021 convinced the Yankees to move on from the catcher who at one point looked like he would form part of the backbone of a decade of championship contention. In a trade whose repercussions the Yankees are still suffering, New York sent Sánchez and Gio Urshela to Minnesota for Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Ben Rortvedt. Sánchez was so-so for the Twins, slashing .205/.282/.377 with 16 home runs, 61 RBI, and an 89 wRC+ in 128 games and now finds himself an unwanted man on the free agent market.
Didi Gregorius had the unenviable task of filling the monumental sized shoes vacated by Derek Jeter. And after an understandable initial adjustment period, he rose to the task, performing as one of the best dozen shortstops in baseball from his 2015 debut campaign in pinstripes through the 2018 season. During this time, he became a fan favorite and one of the beating hearts of the clubhouse thanks to his infectious personality and penchant for postseason heroics.
But then Tommy John surgery prior to the 2019 season robbed him of his offensive potency and worsened his already-suspect defense at short such that the Yankees preferred to stick Gleyber Torres at short rather than reunite with Gregorius in free agency. He ended up signing two contracts totaling three seasons with the Phillies to rather disastrous results. Starting with his injury-shortened 2019 season and ending with the just-completed campaign, Gregorius grades out as the worst qualified shortstop in baseball, which I suppose is why he finds himself still out of work despite multiple teams in need of a shortstop.
The Yankees raised some eyebrows when they awarded Masahiro Tanaka a seven-year, $155 million deal as part of their 2014 free agent spending spree, but he lived up to the billing, performing as the team’s most valuable pitcher across his first six seasons. By 2017, he was the team’s Opening Day starter, leading a rotation that included Severino and CC Sabathia. More importantly, the legend of Playoff Tanaka was born that autumn.
In that postseason and the subsequent two, Tanaka was unquestionably the guy you wanted to have on the mound the most. During that timeframe, Tanaka made seven starts, pitching to a sterling 1.54 ERA with 34 strikeouts against just eight walks in 41 innings. However, with his contract expiring following the 2020 season and the Yankees firmly setting their sights on a luxury tax reset, Tanaka found himself on the outside looking in. He wound up signing a two-year, $17.2 million deal to return to NPB and pitch for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, with whom he just re-upped for 2023. In his two years back in Japan, Tanaka has made 48 starts, going 13-21 with a 3.16 ERA and 252 strikeouts in 318.2 innings. Unfortunately for his fans, at 34 years old it is unlikely we will see Tanaka pitch again in MLB, but he certainly provided some unforgettable memories.
And just for fun, let’s go “lightning round” through the rest of the playoff roster:
Dellin Betances: Retired after 2022 comeback bid with Dodgers
Greg Bird: Free agent (played in minors for Yanks in early 2022)
Starlin Castro: Free agent (mostly persona non grata)
Aroldis Chapman: Thankfully a free agent after acrimonious ending with Yankees
Jacoby Ellsbury: On Hall of Fame ballot, so essentially retired
Todd Frazier: Announced retirement in April 2022
Jaime García: Announced retirement in January 2019
Brett Gardner: Essentially retired after 14 years with Yankees ended in 2021
Sonny Gray: Under contract with Twins through 2023
Chad Green: Free agent following Tommy John surgery in June
Chase Headley: Essentially retired, has not played since 2018 with Padres
Aaron Hicks: Still with Yankees on extension through 2025
Matt Holliday: Finished playing in 2018,
now the new Cardinals bench coach (or not)
Tommy Kahnle: Back with Yankees after Tommy John-induced detour to Dodgers
Jordan Montgomery: Under contract with Cardinals through 2023
David Robertson: Signed with Mets for 2023
Austin Romine: Invited to Reds spring training
Ronald Torreyes: Free agent (played in minors for Phillies in early 2022)
CC Sabathia: Retired in October 2019, now special assistant to MLB commissioner
Adam Warren: Retired as of the end of 2022