What a weird last 12 months or so. The Yankees entered last season in a weird place, as it felt like they’d immensely underachieved in 2021 then had an underwhelming offseason. So of course, they came out of the gates with their hair on fire, looking like one of the greatest teams of all time ... until they did not, as a second-half swoon jolted everything back to reality. Despite a bitter end to the 2022 season, they still won 99 games and advanced to the ALCS.
With New Year’s Day in the rear view window, fans are starting to jones for baseball (if they weren’t already). What can we expect from the 2023 iteration of the Bronx Bombers? Here are three reasons to start saving your pennies for World Series tickets.
1. The starting rotation
The Yankees’ second-most notable signing of the offseason brought a bona fide top-of-the-rotation starter to the Bronx to pair with Gerrit Cole, in the form of Carlos Rodón. As things stand right now, those two headline a rotation that features the revelation known as Nestor Cortes, flamethrower Luis Severino, and deadline acquisition Frankie Montas.
If that sounds like a pretty solid one through five, that’s because it is. Using Steamer’s 2023 projections, we can get a glimpse of what might be in store. To begin, Rodón and Cole come in at third and fourth, respectively, on the fWAR leaderboard for all MLB pitchers, with 4.5 and 4.4 fWAR. If nothing else, boasting two of the very best starting pitchers in the world is a good starting point.
Moreover, Cortes, Severino, and Montas project to pull their weight as well, with each of the three putting up at least 2.0 fWAR, a number that seems especially bearish when it comes to Nasty Nestor. All told, Steamer sees the potential for 146 combined starts from the five. I suspect very few fans would hesitate to sign up for that, especially if Cole and Rodón form a devastating one-two punch at the top of the rotation.
2. Aaron Judge is extremely good at baseball
Is the Captain, the reigning American League MVP and AL home run king, going to hit 62 home runs again in 2023 amid another season that even some of the greatest to ever play can only dream of? Probably not. But here’s the thing. It feels like even a season that features some “regression” is still going to be pretty darn good.
As a jumping-off point, consider Steamer’s projection for Judge. Because the system doesn’t like his defense, he’s only projected to be the second-most valuable player in baseball by fWAR with 6.9 (behind Juan Soto at 7.1). Meanwhile, this hypothetical version of Judge will lead baseball in long balls with 44, while raking to the tune of a 163 wRC+.
The crazy thing is that, while I would sign up for that from Judge in a heartbeat, it’s entirely possible he’ll be better than that this season. Andrés wrote in-depth about a week on the incomparable nature of Judge’s power. Considering that, what if Steamer is underestimating the giant slugger? What if his 2023 looks more akin to 8.0 fWAR, 50+ home runs, and a wRC+ closer to 180?
3. The kids are alright
We got a glimpse last fall, but it seems highly probable that from Opening Day onward, at least a couple of the next generation of touted Yankee prospects will play important roles for the Yankees. Oswaldo Cabrera earned his spot on the team in the second half, and it feels like Oswald Peraza will get every chance to win the starting shortstop gig for New York.
I’m still a bit skeptical that Anthony Volpe will make the club out of spring training, barring a torrid performance from the blue-chipper. He’s still only had a cup of coffee at Triple-A, and it feels like more seasoning could be in order. Nonetheless, I expect Volpe too will play a part in the upcoming season, though likely not right out of the gate.
But Peraza got his callup last fall, though he did not get the major league reps we perhaps expected him to. He’s here, and from all the offseason chatter, seems to be firmly ensconced into the aforementioned position battle at shortstop. It doesn’t sound like the Yankees expect him to come up as an all-glove, no-bat player either. Yankees hitting coach Dillon Lawson recently praised Peraza’s approach, noting his exit velocities, swing decisions, and aggressiveness.
Meanwhile, Cabrera figures to be a large part of the Yankees’ plans this season, whether as the regular left fielder or as a jack-of-all-trades capable of filling in virtually everywhere on the diamond. The young switch-hitter, buoyed by his defense and a slightly above-average bat, put up 1.5 fWAR in 44 games. It’s perhaps unrealistic to expect him to exactly replicate that in 2023 (though we’d all take 5.0 fWAR in 145 or so games), but he showed tantalizing potential last fall and it’s exciting to think what he can do with a full season to showcase his versatility.
Just writing about this has me ready for baseball season, to see what the 2023 Yankees can do. From a starting rotation that looks stacked, to seeing what kind of encore Aaron Judge puts together, to seeing what the next generation of Baby Bombers can do with the brass ring, there are multiple reasons I am excited for Opening Day.
But I’m not a blind optimist. The gap between the Houston Astros and the Yankees looms. And there are reasons to be pessimistic about the 2023 Yankees. I’ll take a look at some of those next week.