Yankees Thoughts: Last-Place Losers

Yankees have lost seven of 10 and are tied at bottom of division

The Yankees have lost three straight series, seven of their last 10 and find themselves tied for last place in the AL East. The season is unraveling.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. I celebrated the New Year and start of 2023 by writing ‘New Year, Same Yankees Lineup’ on January 1.

Here are some snippets from that blog:

I never believed Hal Steinbrenner when he told Aaron Judge he had the payroll flexibility to re-sign him and add more to the roster to essentially close the four-win postseason gap between the Yankees and Astros. And because I don’t believe a word this Steinbrenner says — unless he’s talking about how to implement harsher luxury-tax penalties, which in turn are bad for his franchise’s chances of winning and then every word he says is the truth — I’m not surprised that the Yankees’ lineup is the same it was two-plus months ago when they were laughed out of the postseason for the third time in six years by the Astros. Actually, it’s not the same, it’s worse.

That lineup at least had the potential to have a healthy Matt Carpenter and Andrew Benintendi. The 2023 lineup will have neither, and the only addition made to it this offseason has been to re-sign Judge, a move for which Steinbrenner has been praised. Yes, the owner of the highest-valued franchise in the league that makes more money than all the other teams has been celebrated for retaining the team’s star player, in what should be a given. Steinbrenner has been referred as some kind of folk hero or legend for getting on the phone during his Italy vacation to speak with Judge and eventually agree to give him $360 million of the money he inherited from his father.

If you think there’s still a lot of time left in the offseason, there’s not. The Yankees’ roster you see today is most likely the one on Opening Day. The lineup you’re used to seeing underachieve and disappoint is getting yet another chance to “get over the hump” the team’s manager claims the team has been “close” to getting over in his five season as manager, only to come up shorter each time.

It’s not like anything I wrote was far-fetched, and it’s not like I made any wild, long-shot predictions. It was all obvious because everything about this team has been obvious for several consecutive seasons now. The Yankees internally keep thinking everything will change and work in their favor despite statistic, data, logic, reasoning and common sense suggesting otherwise. Only Yankees employees and the biggest of Yankees homers looked at this time on Opening Day and thought it was good enough to win a championship. After a month, only a fucking idiot could still look at this team and think that.

2. The Yankees have scored 116 runs in 29 games. They have scored the least amount of runs in the AL East, and unsurprisingly, they are tied for last place in the AL East with the Red Sox.

The only teams that have trail the Yankees in runs scored in the AL are Oakland (on pace for 129 losses), Cleveland (on pace for 75 wins), Kansas City (on pace for 123 losses) and Detroit (on pace for 103 losses). Even the White Sox (who are 8-21) have scored more runs than the Yankees. Going back to June 30 of last season, the Yankees are 61-63. A 124-game sample size.

3. Over the weekend, the Yankees lost three of four to the Rangers (including three straight) to finish their seven-game road trip at 2-5. In those three losses, the Yankees seemed to be on their way to getting no-hit by Jacob deGrom before he left the game injured, allowed Nathan Eovaldi to throw a complete-game shutout against them and then let the left-handed Martin Perez shut down their nearly-all-right-handed lineup. The Yankees were outscored 24-8 in the four games and scored four runs in the last three games of the series. Four runs in three games. In Texas!

4. In the second game of the series, this was the Yankees’ lineup:

DJ LeMahieu
Anthony Rizzo
Gleyber Torres
Willie Calhoun
Oswald Peraza
Franchy Cordero
Oswaldo Cabrera
Aaron Hicks
Kyle Higashioka

Here was the Yankees’ lineup from Apr. 28, 2013, 10 years to the day earlier:

Brett Gardner
Ben Francisco
Robinson Cano
Vernon Wells
Francisco Cervelli
Ichiro Suzuki
Eduardo Nunez
Lyle Overbay
Jayson Nix

After 2013, I never thought I would see the Yankees create lineups as poorly constructed as that season, but here we are. And after the postseason expanded to six teams in each league, I never thought there would be a season in which the Yankees didn’t reach the postseason but here we are. There’s a very real chance the Yankees could not be in the top 40 percent of the AL despite having the highest payroll in the AL.

5. Aside from Aaron Judge (who I’m sure will be held out of the lineup for a few days while the Yankees play shorthanded only to later be placed on the injured lis) there’s no help coming. The Yankees are going to have to rely on the likes of Willie Calhoun, Franchy Cordero and Jake Bauers because there’s no one else. The team chose to not upgrade the everyday lineup through free agency or trades in the offseason and completely disregarded building a major-league-caliber bench on top of that. They purposely assembled a recipe for disaster and did so to perfection. This roster with the second-highest payroll in the sport was built this way intentionally.

6. Unfortunately, there’s no change to be made. This is all on Brian Cashman, but for the guy who has a lifetime contract from the Steinbrenner family, a disastrous 2023 season won’t result in any changes. Ownership and the front office will blame the season on injuries. It’s not like the Yankees’ injuries are surprising. Before last season, Judge would spend have at least one stint on the injured list per season. Josh Donaldson has played one “full season” in seven years. DJ LeMahieu came into this season having had his last two seasons end early due to injury. Anthony Rizzo missed 20 percent of last year with back issues that also flared up this spring. Harrison Bader has missed 30 percent of his games since becoming a major leaguer. Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks have nearly been hurt more than they have been available as Yankees. Carlos Rodon made 31 starts last year and in his other seven major-league seasons made more than 24 once. Luis Severino has started 22 regular-season games for the Yankees since 2019. Jonathan Loaisiga has been the pitcher version of Hicks when it comes to injuries. The Yankees’ injuries aren’t freak, unexpected occurrences. They are the result of oft-injured players getting injured again and again.

7. Injuries aren’t an excuse, but there’s no doubt in my mind the Yankees will cite that as the reason for this season if it doesn’t turn around. This team wasn’t going to be good enough if it stayed healthy. The best-case scenario would have been reaching the ALCS and losing to the Astros for a fourth time in seven years. The worst-case scenario would have been this.

8. The Yankees have buried themselves in the division. The Rays need to go 67-66 to win 90 games. Play one game over .500 for the rest of the season and they win 100 games. The Yankees would need to go 75-58 just to tie them in that scenario. Not only would the Yankees need to play .564 baseball for five months if the Rays play just .504 baseball, but the Yankees would need to separate themselves from the Red Sox and jump the Blue Jays and Orioles before overtaking the Rays. So yeah, the division is over before a game in May has been played.

Seven of the Yankees’ next 13 games are against the Rays, so by the end of play on May 14, we will know if the Yankees officially have a prayer to win the division. We could know well before them if the next few days against the Guardians don’t go well prior to the weekend series at the Trop.

9. I would sign up for a wild-card berth right now. I would take the 6-seed right now and I know what that would mean. It would mean going on the road for all games of a best-of-3, burning two or three of the Yankees’ best starters, and if able to survive, going on the road to Tampa without those two or three best starters. A 6-seed would mean an abbreviated postseason yet again.

In an ideal world, not reaching the postseason would be better than being the 6-seed because not reaching the postseason could lead to front office and managerial changes. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and the Yankees don’t operate in an ideal world where wins and losses matter and payroll is commensurate to team revenue. They operate in a world where “the process is more important than the results” (their words not mine) and everyone’s job is safe and winning is far from the priority. Every Yankees fan knows nothing will change even if this season ends with zero postseason games. Cashman has a job for life and Aaron Boone is his guy. This dynamic duo will be here for a long, long time and seemingly no level of losing, coming up short or incompetence will change that.

10. If the Yankees miss the postseason, nothing will change. If they reach the postseason and lose in the silly best-of-3, the organization will say they were “right there” even though everyone knows they weren’t, aren’t and haven’t been. So I might as well say I would take the lottery ticket 6-seed, which right now feels unattainable with this team.

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My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is available as an ebook!