Since the calendar turned to August, the Yankees have played terribly, irredeemably so. This is not news to any of the fans who have tuned in at any point. It’s been a rough time as a fan, and it’s been an optimal one to think about what’s gone wrong from a team-construction standpoint.
An inescapable facts for this team is that it has the highest average batters age in the majors (30.5, according to Baseball Reference). At the same time, a number of players have gone on the injured list without any compelling alternatives available (at least that the Yankees are willing to use). This leads to the question of whether the roster for this version of the Yankees was flawed from the start, with its heavy reliance on aging hitters.
Coming into the 2022 season, the Yankees made the conscious decision to bet big on older imports like Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rizzo, and Marwin Gonzalez. They bet on Giancarlo Stanton, coming off his first relatively healthy season in four years, as well as DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Hicks, with DJ coming off an injury-plagued season, and Hicks potentially completely washed up. They made the assumption that at least some of these players would be able to stay healthy and hit like they were still in their 20’s. But none of these players are spring chickens (in the context of professional sports, as least).
Donaldson is 36, Stanton is 32, Gonzalez is 33, Rizzo is 33, LeMahieu is 34, and Hicks is 32. While this might not very old in regular human years, it is quite advanced for elite athletes. Each of these players has been an excellent contributor in years past. However, it is not controversial to say that the likelihood of injury and ineffectiveness increases as a player ages.
In essence, the Yankees have engaged in a high-risk and high-reward strategy. If everything works out, they could have All-Star hitters to propel the team. In fact, the 2009 Yankees did much the same. They had a team full of aging hitters (30.6 years old for average batter age), but they still managed to win 103 games. In 2009, the older players managed to both stay healthy and perform well. It is not impossible for a team to do well with this kind of strategy, but there remains a considerable risk attached to it.
The Yankees have found that out this year. Many of the older players have battled injuries and ineffectiveness, with the former often influencing the latter. The Yankees bet big on these brand name players being able to perform up to their previous standards, and that they would not get injured. For the most part, neither of these bets have panned out.
Even the players that have had good years in Rizzo (.832 OPS), Stanton (.750 OPS), and LeMahieu (.739 OPS) have seen a pretty consistent battle with various nicks and ailments. The rest of aforementioned vets have OPS figures below .700, and Rizzo just went on the IL himself.
If the Yankees had some reliable minor league depth, or depth that they were actually willing to use, then this might be a different story. Unfortunately, the combination of a high-risk team construction and a lack of high end minor league depth has left the Yankees in a precarious position. They’ve either been reluctant to promote minor leaguers like Oswald Peraza, Oswaldo Cabrera, Anthony Volpe, and Estevan Florial, or they’ve been left handing at-bats to entirely inadequate fill-ins, like the aforementioned Gonzalez, Miguel Andújar, and Tim Locastro.
The Yankees should either get younger at the major league level, or at least mitigate the risk of injury and ineffectiveness by cultivating high end talent in the minor leagues. Simply engaging in a risky strategy of employing aging stars without a backup plan is unsustainable. With younger position players, the Yankees can mitigate the risk of injury and underperformance. In addition, younger players often are much easier to move on from in the event things do go awry (case in point: the 28-year-old Joey Gallo, approaching free agency, netted the Yankees a real prospect despite his horrid 2022 performance).
There is hope for a new, young wave of talent on the horizon with players like Cabrera, Peraza, Volpe, and Jasson Domínguez. However, the Yankees need to be more willing to dip into their pool of prospects to determine if they can help at the major league level. Simply hoping and waiting that an older player will recapture their previous form is not a sustainable form of roster construction. There is simply too much risk that having a team full of older players without any depth will result in flop.