New York has been active this offseason, making strides to close the gap that the Astros made apparent when they drubbed the Yankees in the ALCS. With months still until Opening Day, it’s possible the club is not finished making moves, either.
I think there are reasons to be optimistic that the 2023 Yankees can go deep into October and beyond, in chase of World Series title No. 28. The other side of the coin though is that as things stand in mid-January, there are reasons to be bearish on the Bronx Bombers’ chances of bringing another title home in 2023.
1. From whence comes the offense
The good news is that the Yankees re-signed Aaron Judge. If he had left in free agency, this offense would look scary, and not in a good way. The bad news is that when you pull out your metaphorical baseball cards and look at the 2022 stat lines for a lot of the guys in the Yankee lineup, it’s not great.
Josh Donaldson, Jose Trevino, Aaron Hicks, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Kyle Higashioka all finished the season below the league average in wRC+. It’s possible (though unlikely, perhaps) that they could represent the starting third baseman, catcher, left fielder, and shortstop, and the backup catcher, respectively, for the 2023 Yankees. That’s a considerable chunk of the batting order every day.
There are other reasons to worry. Both Oswaldo Cabrera and Oswald Peraza acquitted themselves well at the plate as rookies, but there is no guarantee that one of them, let alone both, will perform as well or better in 2023. Finally, even among established Yankee bats who put together strong offensive campaigns in 2022, some faded in the second half. Giancarlo Stanton, for example, saw his wRC+ drop to 68 after the All-Star break. Gleyber Torres meanwhile fell to 99. Admittedly, Stanton fought injury, and Torres’ August destroyed an otherwise strong season. But injuries and slumps happen.
The Yankee offense should be good enough to keep the club in contention throughout 2023. But there are warning signs, and I doubt anyone is chomping at the bit to throw them at the Astros pitching staff in a playoff series as things stand now.
2. The bullpen has a high ceiling … but a low floor
At the best of times, relief pitchers as a whole can be an inconsistent lot. Even MLB executives can find themselves wondering what they will get from heir bullpens. With the departure of Aroldis Chapman, perhaps the largest source of fan terror is gone from the Yankees, but there are still reasons to wonder what Aaron Boone’s late-inning flamethrowers have in store for 2023.
A glimmer of good news is that the Yankees should have Michael King for a considerable chunk of the season. He recently threw his first bullpen session post-elbow injury.
Yankees reliever Michael King threw his first 10-pitch bullpen on Monday and felt good. Coming back from elbow injury that did not require Tommy John, King is an important bullpen piece this year.— Sweeny Murti (@YankeesWFAN) January 11, 2023
But even that ray of sunshine should come with a warning note. King was outstanding last season, compiling 1.7 fWAR in only 51 innings. But it might take time for him to get back to form.
Meanwhile, other Yankees who will likely be responsible for notching critical outs have their own concerns. Clay Holmes stumbled and struggled through the second half of 2022 after a lights-out beginning. Which Holmes will the Yankees get in 2023? Tommy Kahnle, starting his second stint with the club, has only pitched 13.2 innings in the last three seasons. Jonathan Loáisiga has his own extensive injury history, and in a reverse of Holmes’ season, had an abominable first half of 2022.
Make no mistake, if these guys are healthy and clicking, the Yankee bullpen should be just fine. At the end of the day though, it’s not unreasonable to be a bit worried about how New York’s relief corps will fare this season — especially since I think it’s probably not feasible to have Wandy Peralta pitch every game.
3. Starting pitching depth
The Yankee rotation, one through five, looks outstanding, with a fearsome one-two punch at the top. That said, there is no way the club is getting through 2023 only needing five starting pitchers. Even tossing Domingo Germán into the mix, the Yankees will need more than six starters. Last season, 11 different hurlers started contests for New York.
Of those 11, Luis Gil is injured and will be unavailable for at least part of 2023. Jordan Montgomery and JP Sears are gone, dealt at the deadline last season. The latter two are not the only starting pitching depth gone from the organization either. Ken Waldichuk, Hayden Wesneski, and Luis Medina all left New York in various deals. None of the three started for the club last season, but the first two at least likely would have been in the mix if and when necessity arose this season.
If the rotation as it stands right now stays healthy this season, the starting pitching depth becomes much less of an issue. But the voice at the back of my mind keeps pointing me towards innings limits and injury histories for some of those starters. Germán should be first in line to fill in if needed, but after him, there are question marks for the Yankees.
Notwithstanding the reasons I spelled out above, writing this has actually made me more optimistic compared to where I was at this time last offseason. I had no trouble thinking of a myriad of reasons to be pessimistic headed into 2022.
Now, a 99-win team has added one of the best starting pitchers in the game to the rotation and looks to be in a much better place than 12 months ago. I’ll be worried all year about whether the Yankees can hit Astro pitching, but other than that rather glaring concern, I’m cautiously optimistic as we crawl towards Opening Day. And who knows … maybe Cashman is not done yet.