Yankees Thoughts: Life Without Juan Soto

The Yankees lost the first two games of the Dodgers series before bouncing back to salvage the series finale. The weekend served as a look into life without Juan Soto for the Yankees.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. I spent every available second on Friday checking for the results of Juan Soto’s left forearm tests. Thankfully, the results came back with no structural damage to either his forearm or elbow. It was as good of news as possible given the ominous feeling around the Yankees on Thursday night, even if it meant he would go on to miss the entire weekend series against the Dodgers.

The weekend series against the Dodgers was the Yankees’ version of It’s a Wonderful Life starring Soto. Every Yankees fan was treated to a glimpse of life if the Yankees hadn’t traded for Soto and what life will be like without Soto if the Yankees don’t re-sign him. The result: the 2023 Yankees.

“It’s a big bat out for us right now,” Alex Verdugo said. “But we always know when one guy is down, the next guy has to step up.”

Except there’s no guy who can step up and be Soto. Pitching-wise? That’s a different story. Gerrit Cole goes down and Luis Gil becomes Cole. Things like that happen. But you don’t find or create a Soto replacement. There isn’t one.

2. The Yankees didn’t score for 10 innings on Friday, and only eventually plated a meaningless run in the 11th thanks to the automatic runner. They lost the series opener 2-1 and then got pummeled 11-3 in the second game. Through 20 innings without Soto, this was the Yankees offense:

First run: Aaron Judge singles in the automatic runner.

Second run: Scores on an RBI groundout (was initially called a double play).

Third run: Judge solo home run.

Fourth run: Judge solo home run.

Judge, the automatic runner and a groundout. Welcome back to 2023, indeed.

3. Not only did the Yankees look like their 2023 selves at the plate, but Aaron Boone reminded everyone that he still hasn’t figured out how manage the actual game on the field. His only redeeming quality as manager continues to be his relentless defense of his players’ performance. He defended Gleyber Torres’ defense on both Friday and Saturday. He defended Alex Verdugo’s misread on a line drive on Saturday. And after Dennis Santana got knocked around yet again on Saturday, he said the reliever threw ball well.

4. Despite his manager thinking he threw the ball well against the Dodgers, Santana was designated for assignment ahead of Sunday’s game. Unfortunately, with John Sterling’s retirement, Michael Kay will likely be the only emcee of Old Timers’ Day, and therefore these former Yankees bios moving forward will have to be read as if they are coming from Kay:

Old Timers’ Day 2041: “Our next Yankee signed as a free agent prior to the 2024 season. The previous year, he was put on waivers by the Braves and Twins and granted free agency by the Mets. No one wanted his career 5.17 ERA and 1.430 WHIP except for the Yankees. He made the Opening Day roster and spent more than two months on the team pitching to a career-worst 6.26 ERA. He was allowed to pitch in high-leverage situations despite recording only 6.3 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.354 WHIP. Please welcome back, Dennis Santana!

5. As long as bad relievers are on the team, Boone will find ways to get them into games. With Santana gone, Caleb Ferguson and Victor Gonzalez take over for Santana as being tied for the worst and least trustworthy relievers. Sure enough, despite having a rested bullpen for Sunday night’s game, Ferguson was the first guy out of Boone’s bullpen. After he got the final out of the sixth inning, he no longer needed to meet the three-batter requirement, but that didn’t stop Boone from trying to steal outs with Ferguson in the seventh. And sure enough, the first two batters reached, and Luke Weaver had to come in with two on and no outs rather than a clean inning.

6. The defense of Torres’ defense is indefensible. With a straight face, and being completely serious, Boone praised Torres’ defense over the weekend. His error on Friday was erased by a pickoff. But his error on Saturday led to a four-run Dodgers inning to effectively end that game. Torres leads all second baseman in errors. At the plate, Torres didn’t make up for his defensive miscues, going 2-for-11 with three strikeouts.

7. Since Boone won’t give an honest opinion of his players, like Torres or Anthony Rizzo, I will: The pre-concussion Rizzo isn’t coming back. Despite being 1-for-June, Boone still hit Rizzo fifth in the lineup on Saturday and Sunday before sitting him down. Rizzo has two doubles since May 12. He has two walks since May 11. He last homered on May 10. He’s hitting .224/.285/.339. Rizzo looks incapable of figuring it out, and he would have to go on a Judge-like tear to get his numbers back to respectability, which isn’t possible.

8. I thought DJ LeMahieu could come back and make up for the lack of production from Torres and Rizzo, but LeMahieu is hitting like a 35-year-old who has missed 31 percent of the team’s games since 2022.

LeMahieu had a season-ending injury in 2022 and 2023 and missed the first two months of 2024. He has seven singles in 39 plate appearances, and one of them was ruled a single despite being a ground ball that hit a runner. He is hitting everything on the ground, and because of that, he has already hit into four double plays in 10 games. LeMahieu deserves a longer leash than 10 games, especially since players like Torres and Rizzo have been given endless leashes, but the early results for LeMahieu aren’t good.

The Yankees’ lineup can’t be three guys (Soto, Judge and Anthony Volpe), even if two of the three are the two best hitters in baseball. One of Torres, Rizzo or LeMahieu has to hit like the best version of themself. Because without that, and with the streakiness of Giancarlo Stanton (who is 8-for-52 with 20 strikeouts), there is no depth to the offense.

9. The big pitching matchup of these big series always ends up being the offense game. Gil allowed three earned runs in 5 2/3 innings for the most runs he had allowed since April 26 and Tyler Glasnow gave up five earned runs, including home runs to Oswaldo Cabrera and Trent Grisham.

The “WE WANT SOTO” chants during Grisham’s three-run home run at-bat were warranted. If Soto was truly available (and why wouldn’t he be if he’s now going to be OK to play on Monday?) then that was going to be the spot to use him. Boone decided against it, Grisham got a middle-middle fastball and crushed it into the right-field seats.

“Yes, I heard them,” Grisham said of the chants. “I was just happy that I was able to stay present in the moment, worry about myself and put a good swing on one.”

“I wasn’t too happy with it,” Judge said about the Soto chants. “He got his point across with that homer.”

Settle down, Judge. The only point he made was don’t throw him a middle-middle fastball. Other than that, people want to see the best player in the league in a big spot rather than the guy with the .695 career OPS.

10. The best player is expected to be back in the lineup on Monday in Kansas City. If he’s not, there will need to be a lot of questions asked about his absence given everything the Yankees have said about him since Friday afternoon.

Seth Lugo goes for the Royals, and he has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season. Carlos Rodon goes for the Yankees, and the last time he faced the Royals was his last start of last season when he allowed eight runs without getting an out. Over the last three days, I have had more 2023 flashbacks than I can handle. Rodon needs to keep his strong season going, Soto needs to return to the lineup and everything that was good about this season before Thursday’s rain delay needs to continue.