An unsuccessful season for the New York Yankees typically means one where they don’t reach the World Series. No MLB team holds itself to higher standards, so it’s little wonder there’s a sense of despair in the Bronx as it becomes clear that the 2023 squad will miss out on the playoffs altogether. In fact, the Yankees are in danger of putting together their worst season in 30 years.
The Boston Red Sox came to Yankee Stadium last weekend with an opportunity to effectively end the postseason hopes of their archrivals. Time may be running out for the mediocre Red Sox to leapfrog the teams ahead of them in the Wild Card race, but they came alive when given the chance to avenge the “Boston Massacre” of 1978 (or perhaps its 2006 reboot).
After two straight demoralizing losses to Boston, the Yankees showed signs of life on Sunday as they tried to avoid being swept. After tying the Red Sox several times, it looked like they had a late lead before a dubious umpiring reversal resulted in a potential winning run being ruled out at the plate. The Yankees would go on to lose 6-5, extending their losing streak to eight games.
An eight-game losing streak is bad for any team, but it’s practically unheard of for the Yankees. The last time they dropped that many games in a row was way back in 1995. Barring an always-possible Red Sox meltdown come September, the Yankees look poised to finish last in the American League East for the first time since 1990.
At this point, fans are already starting to debate whether the team should start shutting down stars and promoting prospects from the minor leagues. Considering that owner Hal Steinbrenner still wants fans to show up to games, that’s probably not going to happen.
Maybe it shouldn’t because even as mathematical elimination looms, there are still things left for the team to play for. The Yankees are several games under .500, but a strong finish would help them avoid their first losing season since 1992. As far as shutting down ace Gerrit Cole, as the always-reasonable New York Post suggests? Well, he is the AL Cy Young frontrunner thanks to a 10-4 record, a 3.03 ERA and 170 strikeouts on the season. Try to convince Cole that he should cut his campaign short.
So if Cole has been as good as advertised, how has this team followed up a year where they won their division by seven games with their worst season in decades? It starts with roster construction: the Yankees were built around reigning MVP Aaron Judge, who rightfully earned himself a mammoth contract after setting the American League home run record last year. Unfortunately, Judge suffered a foot injury that kept him out of the lineup for two months.
Judge’s injury has been the most significant factor but it’s not enough to explain just how brutal this season has been. So, when tasked with the responsibility of further diagnosing the problem, this New England-based writer sought out an expert and contacted Stacey Gotsulias, host of the Locked On Yankees podcast.
Gotsulias began by noting that pitcher Carlos Rodón was signed to be the No 2 starter after Cole. Meanwhile, Anthony Rizzo was supposed to help Judge carry the offense. Heading into the season, these were reasonable expectations.
Instead, Rodón missed significant time thanks to injuries and has put up a ghastly ERA when actually on the mound. Meanwhile, Rizzo’s hitting understandably fell off the map after suffering what was extremely belatedly diagnosed as a concussion. Maybe not a worst-case scenario but very close to one.
Some fans have scapegoated manager Aaron Boone, partly for his in-game decision-making and partly because his attempts at projecting calmness in the face of adversity have made him seem like a captain blithely unaware that his ship is taking on water.
Boone can only work with the players he has on hand. For that reason, Gotsulias saves their most pointed criticism for longtime GM Brian Cashman. Gotsulias points out that Cashman seemed curiously disinclined to sign talented left-handed hitters to exploit Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right-field: “What’s the point of having that advantage if you’re building a lineup filled with righty hitters?”
It’s a valid criticism, considering that the front office gave hefty contracts to the likes of ageing righthanded batters Giancarlo Stanton and DJ LeMahieu, both of whom have struggled just to reach base this year. As the Los Angeles Angels have proven, it’s not enough to have two of the best players in the game – in the Yankees’ case, Cole and Judge – if you don’t surround them with the right supporting cast. It’s not enough just to spend money, you have to spend it wisely.
Given that rebuilding isn’t a serious option for the team with MLB’s second-largest payroll – right behind the New York Mets, who have had even less success this year than their crosstown rivals – it’s not likely that there is an obvious fix on the horizon. Gotsulias was not optimistic about the team’s free agency options this offseason outside the extremely unlikely chance of landing Shohei Ohtani.
“You signed Aaron Judge to his nine-year deal and you have Gerrit Cole,” they wrote. “You cannot waste them and that’s exactly what’s happening right now. 2024 could be just as bad as 2023 unless the Yankees do something drastic. What that is, I have no idea.”