The odds I look back at the 99-day lockout with a smile on my face improve each day. The lockout prevented Yankees baseball from existing and being a part of my life, and those three-plus months were care-free, stress-free and rather beautiful. The lockout hasn’t even been over for 72 hours and I already miss it.
On Sunday, Aaron Boone opened spring training and the 2022 Yankees season in the only way he knows how: by lying.
“We can win now with what we have,” Boone told the media.
“What they have” is a roster that has added zero pieces since they were embarrassed in the one-game playoff by the Red Sox. A roster that was the favorite to win the American League in 2021, and instead finished fifth in the AL and third in their own division. A roster core that wasn’t good enough in 2018, 2019, 2020 or 2021, failing to get back to the World Series in all four seasons under Boone, while progressively getting worse each year.
“What they have” is a rotation whose No. 2 starter hasn’t started a game in 29 months; a starting catcher they don’t actually let start in the season’s biggest games; a starting first baseman who was benched for the final six weeks of last season; a starting shortstop who they were so reluctant to play at short they waited until the 144th game of the season to do so; a starting third baseman who is a Gold Glove-winning second baseman and a starting center fielder who has had his elbow and wrist surgically repaired over the last two years. “What they have” is a roster that is nowhere near good enough to win their division, let alone a playoff series or the World Series.
What makes Boone’s season-opening lie more infuriating is that his own general manager (the one person in the world outside of his own family who believes in him as a major-league manager) said the exact opposite at the team’s end-of-the-season press conference in the middle of October. On the same day Cashman announced a ridiculous three-year extension with an option for a fourth year for Boone, he also spoke at length about the current roster.
“At times it looked unstoppable,” Cashman said, “But many other times unwatchable because of the streakiness and the lack of consistency.”
“I’m going to be looking to upgrade,” Cashman added. “There are some areas of weakness that have popped up in a lot of categories.”
“Here’s the biggest key,” Cashman explained, “Go to the marketplace, whether it’s the free-agent marketplace, or go to the trade market and see how we can solve that with what’s available in the marketplace. And obviously there will be some legitimate choices to reconfigure in certain categories.”
Since Cashman said that, the only moves the Yankees made at the major-league level have been to lose Clint Frazier (for nothing) and Tyler Wade (for essentially nothing), get rid of Rougned Odor (thankfully), watched Corey Kluber sign with the divisional-rival Rays and saw Anthony Rizzo become a free agent. They have added zero position players or pitchers, and yet, Boone feels a roster Cashman has publicly admitted wasn’t good enough and hasn’t changed at all is capable of winning a championship. Cashman has been browsing the marketplace five-and-a-half months, and his cart is still empty. Nearly all of the “legitimate choices” he spoke about in mid-October are no longer available.
Since the announcement of Boone’s new contract, I have tried to talk myself into believing in Boone with better players. All he needs is a better roster! Because that will prevent him from batting Brett Gardner third (once Gardner inevitably re-signs), using Brooks Kriske (or now someone like him) in extra innings in Fenway Park and choosing Albert Abreu over his entire bullpen with the season literally on the line in Game 161 of the regular season. Just give him better players! Unfortunately, with the way the offseason has played out, the idea of Boone with better players is turning from an idea into a dream.
There are two actual starting shortstop options remaining: Carlos Correa and Trevor Story. Correa is by far the better player, but he’s also a jerk who comes with a lot of baggage. Like CC Sabathia said on his podcast this offseason, Correa has set himself up to be Alex Rodriguez if he comes to the Yankees in terms of being a dividing figure in the clubhouse and being booed on the field following any plate appearance that doesn’t end with him reaching base. I don’t think that’s a 10-year commitment this Yankees front office wants to make, and I don’t see why Correa would want to make it either.
I really don’t know what type of commitments the Yankees want to make. One would think the Yankees would be all about big-money, short-term deals, like the one Max Scherzer signed with the Mets, but the Yankees were reportedly not even involved in talks for Scherzer. How is that even possible? How is it possible that the Yankees weren’t interested in the best available free-agent pitcher and arguably the best pitcher in the game who would only cost money, something they make more of than any other team? Oh, that’s right, the owner of the Yankees voted to lower the luxury-tax threshold, which would in turn damage his team’s ability to use the financial might and strength they used to use to their advantage.
Not only were the Yankees not in on Scherzer, but they let the reigning Cy Young winner in Robbie Ray sign with the Mariners on what I think is a favorable contract for the Mariners. They watched Kevin Gausman sign with the Blue Jays, and even Jon Gray (who the Yankees once drafted and have always been connected to) was signed by the Rangers. The Rangers also signed two of the available shortstops in Corey Seager (who was my No. 1 choice for the Yankees to sign) and Marcus Semien.
It keeps me up at night to think who will play shortstop for the 2022 Yankees. (I think they would be more inclined to sign Story since he will be cheaper and they were unsuccessfully tried to trade for him last July, essentially admitting midseason they didn’t have an everyday major-league shortstop on their roster, while continuing to play Gleyber Torres at the position for another six weeks) and then call it an offseason. This team isn’t a shortstop away from a championship. They are many, many pieces away from that.
If the old adage holds true that you want to build up the middle, then the Yankees’ current middle is Gary Sanchez (whose name made headlines this offseason just for being tendered a contract), Torres (who was removed from shortstop and is now being forced back to second base), no one at shortstop and Aaron Hicks (who has played 145 games in the last three years and in that time has suffered a back injury, a hamstring injury and has had his throwing elbow and left wrist both surgically repaired). That’s the Yankees’ middle: Sanchez, Torres, no one and Hicks. Yes, Boone, these Yankees can definitely win now with what they have!
Both Correa and Story make the Yankees much better simply because they’re breathing and the Yankees don’t currently have an actual shortstop on their roster. That sentence reads like a joke, but it’s far from a joke. However, they need a whole lot more than one of those two. Aside from LeMahieu, they essentially need an entire infield since I have given up on Torres, whose mere presence is screwing up the infield alignment, and they need someone who can be trusted to play a full season in the outfield whose name isn’t Brett Gardner.
On top of that, they need starting pitching. They have Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery. Luis Severino has pitched 27 2/3 innings since the end of 2018 and hasn’t started a game in 29 months. Corey Kluber is now a Ray. Jameson Taillon is recovering from ankle surgery. Domingo German flat-out sucks. Clarke Schmidt is always hurt and has put 31 baserunners on in 12 2/3 innings in the majors. In six months, Deivi Garcia went from looking like the future of the rotation to having a future in an independent league. Michael King is a reliever.
Scherzer is a Met, Ray is a Mariner, Gausman is a Blue Jay and Gray is a Ranger. The Yankees didn’t want to go to a second year for Justin Verlander (just like they didn’t want to take on his salary in 2017), so he’s back with the Astros. Eduardo Rodriguez went to the Tigers, Steven Matz to the Cardinals, Noah Syndergaaard to the Angels, Alex Wood back to the Giants and Yusei Kikuchi to the Blue Jays. Even Alex Cobb (who signed with the Angels) or a reunion with James Paxton (who went to the Red Sox) would have been viable depth options. The Yankees signed none of them. I thought a trade with the A’s for Chris Bassitt would have made a lot of sense. The Mets made the trade for Bassitt.
I really hope there’s a multi-player return trade coming any minute now because that seems like the only way the Yankees improve their roster. The remaining free-agent pitchers all might as well be J.A. Happ (who happens to also be a free agent) because there’s no one left who will improve the rotation. And unless the Yankees are going to sign Correa and Freddie Freeman, there’s nothing left in free agency to get excited about.
Still wearing his uniform long after the wild-card loss to the Red Sox, Gardner said, “There’s a lot of uncertain, uncharted waters with this team heading into the offseason … Hopefully we’ll have a chance to run it back.”
Well, a scenario that seemed impossible to fathom after that embarrassing “postseason” loss is very close to coming to fruition, and Gardner may just get his wish. The same roster that has never been good enough to win in the postseason and is now not even good enough to get into the actual postseason and play a series is still intact more than five months later.
The last game the Yankees played and the next game the Yankees play will come against the team that humiliated them in that postseason game ( a game that was over four batters into the bottom of the first). The roster that wasn’t good enough to win the last game will likely be the same roster that plays the next game. As of now, it will be worse.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!