Hope springs eternal every spring, and after a very exciting offseason, we’re able to argue that the Yankees closed the gap on the Astros. New York enters 2023 with optimism, despite another season that ended in despair. In fact, with the way other top teams have come back to the pack, they Yankee boast their best chance to win a title in years.
The Yankees entered this offseason with one giant question mark surrounding the organization: Where would Aaron Judge be playing baseball come next season?
Things got dicey, and for a while, the possibility of the reigning AL MVP leaving the Bronx felt very real. How close he got to leaving the team is impossible to gauge, but we were all sweating, and after a significant waiting period, the club managed to lure him back with a nine-year contract worth $360 million.
Many of us were so concerned with the possible loss of this franchise’s cornerstone that we would have settled for just retaining him, but ownership didn’t stop there, and Brian Cashman went out to the market and brought in the premier left-handed starter available, and one of the best in all of baseball, Carlos Rodón. A genuine 1B to Gerrit Cole’s 1A status.
This set of moves sets up a team that feels like it must win now.
A core of peaking players
The thing about the 2023 Yankees is that their high-end players are all in their peak seasons, to some extent.
Luis Severino will finally get a healthy year in this window of contention. Rodón has shelved the concerns about his durability, coming off a healthy season in which he flourished in San Francisco, and looks like an ace at age-30.
Cole and Judge are in their early 30’s, but haven’t begun to decline yet. While Judge is unlikely to put up the same monster year he did in 2022, he could still be the best hitter in baseball, and Cole also still has the ability to pitch even better than he has thus far as a Yankee. They are great, and will power this team to success in 2023, but the thing about being at the peak is that eventually, you have to come down.
Elsewhere, Giancarlo Stanton has started to slip. Anthony Rizzo is 33, and while he still is a strong producer, he’s not getting any younger. Nestor Cortes, Domingo Germán, Frankie Montas, all in their late 20’s or early 30’s. Sure, there’s a wave of young homegrown talent about to crest in the form Oswald Peraza, Oswaldo Cabrera, and Anthony Volpe, but for now, they project as players on the margins of this roster. The core of the team, however, is veteran, excellent, and nearing the decline phase.
This might be their best collective shot at a title. So many of the Yankees’ best players are at their best right now, and while they certainly won’t turn into pumpkins once they decline, Cole, Judge, and the like are never more likely to be great than they are right now. Not only that, but a handful of players (Severino, Harrison Bader, Montas) can hit free agency next year, further upping the sense of urgency.
With baseball, you never know, and the Yankees have the resources to continue to operate and build a longer window than most teams. But for these core guys in particular, this could be as good a shot as they’ll ever get.
While the Yankees got stronger, two of their biggest adversaries got weaker
The Astros and Dodgers are formidable ball clubs, and virtually nothing could happen to drastically alter how they’re viewed heading into this season. Despite the losses of Justin Verlander and Trea Turner, respectively, these two teams remain extremely talented. But one can’t simply dismiss those exits as insignificant.
The Astros still possess one of the better rotations in the league, but the Yankees’ one is now unarguably better, especially at the top, and looking way ahead to a postseason series, that’s vital.
The Dodgers play in the NL, so this is not as relevant, but as for baseball supremacy (and the prospect of a number-one overall seed in MLB), you have to be aware of the top teams, and the 2023 lineup in Chavez Ravine will feel the weight of the loss of Turner to a certain extent.
Sure, the Astros and Dodgers aren’t the only contenders in the league, and the likes of the Blue Jays, Rays, Mets, Braves, and Padres all look very threatening in 2023. But the fact remains that the league’s premier clubs took steps backward this year. This might represent the Yankees’ best chance to enter the postseason bracket as the league’s top team.
Overall, it adds up to a 2023 season for which optimism abounds, but so does urgency. The Yankees aren’t about to go off a cliff or anything, but their core is in absolute win-now mode. This may be their best chance in years, and for years to come.