The Yankees had their worst season in recent memory, with an 82-80 record and a negative run differential. This, for a team that went to the Championship Series last year, was a highly disappointing outcome.
As it always happens, all the people involved in planning and playing have some percentage of the blame. The owner, Hal Steinbrenner, because he stopped Brian Cashman’s efforts to sell off some players at the deadline and for many other things. The players, because some of them didn’t meet expectations. The manager, because he is the leader of the clubhouse/dugout and, well, things didn’t go as planned.
A sizable percentage of the blame, however, should fall in the shoulders of the general manager. Brian Cashman not only failed to have the Yankees open the season with quality depth, but there were too many question marks among regulars, too. Roster construction was a real problem in 2023.
Cashman knew José Trevino had a horrible second half last year, offensively speaking. He knew Josh Donaldson had struggled mightily with strikeouts in 2022 and was rapidly declining. He knew Franchy Cordero and Willie Calhoun were longshots to consistently produce or stay healthy and insisted on catch lightning in a bottle with them. He knew Aaron Hicks’s OPS didn’t even reach .650 in any of the two seasons prior to 2023.
And, above all things, he knew that Trevino, Donaldson, Hicks, Cordero, Calhoun, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Harrison Bader, and Oswaldo Cabrera weren’t particularly likely to be above-average hitters. That’s a lot of players right there! The offense was a problem all year, as the Yankees finished 25th in runs scored (673), 29th in batting average (.227) and 22nd in slugging percentage (.397), and it’s easy to see why.
The Yankees insisted on giving struggling veterans an extended opportunity, like they owed them that. In MLB, performance dictates roles and playing time. There is nothing wrong with giving guys an extended look, but the Yanks had too many struggling hitters at a time and that’s partly on Cashman. The organization also mismanaged Oswald Peraza: even though he didn’t do much to earn an opportunity, he didn’t get the chances that other players got until very late in the season.
The deadline passivity was another point against Cashman. In 2016, when the Yankees realized they were out of it, they turned expensive, useful assets into real, impact prospects. They could have done a similar thing (albeit without the kind of pieces they had seven years ago), but instead, the organization stood pat: the worst thing they could have done. That’s partly on Cashman, but there were also reports suggesting Steinbrenner was against a sale.
Additionally, the organization showed a baffling hesitance between going full analytics or implementing an old-school approach. This was evident when they fired Dillon Lawson and hired Sean Casey as the hitting coach. That was also on Cashman. Overall, the GM seems to have brought in the right people to lead the pitching department, but offense is a different story.
A healthy Aaron Judge carried the Yankees last year. He was similarly good this year, but was only on the field for 106 games and that ended up putting the Yankees in a hole because the offense was not built to sustain an injury to its best player. A general manager can’t directly control injuries, but he can have an impact on the decisions the team makes to make sure they don’t suffer their effect so much.
With offensive stars getting injured (Judge, Anthony Rizzo) and/or underperforming (Giancarlo Stanton, Donaldson, DJ LeMahieu to some extent), there was no way the unit was going to be consistently good. On top of that, player development is very far from other powerhouses in the league, offensively speaking. Cashman also has direct responsibility in that regard.
At least Cashman and the organization decided to have some of their top prospects closer to the majors get their feet wet in MLB, giving them valuable experience ahead of 2024. Still, it’s fair to say the executive didn’t have a good season and is, in large part, to blame for the 2023 struggles. There is a lot of work to be done, particularly in the position player department, but the hope is that the people involved in making baseball decisions can learn from their mistakes.