The Yankees lost out on free-agent Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The Japanese star signed a $325 million deal with the Dodgers and a lot of Yankees fans seem worried. I’m not one of them.
1. I thought I would be more upset about the Yankees not landing Yoshinobu Yamamoto, but I’m not. Losing out on Yamamoto (and losing Michael King) hurts their overall pitching staff, but it’s not enough to ruin the 2024 Yankees. The Yankees may not have the pitching depth they had before trading for Juan Soto or the depth they thought they could replenish when Yamamoto was still an option, but pitching hasn’t been a problem for the Yankees in 15 years. The offense, however, is what has led to the demise of the current Yankees core in each of their postseasons and what prevented them from even reaching the postseason last year.
2. The Texas Rangers just won the World Series with a rotation similar to the Yankees’ and an inferior bullpen. They were able to win four postseason rounds and went on the road in the wild-card series to end the Rays’ season, swept the 1-seed Orioles in the ALDS, knocked off the Astros in Games 6 and 7 in Houston and then beat an NL Cinderella story that had eliminated the Brewers, Dodgers and Phillies.
3. Does that mean I don’t want the Yankees do anything else? Certainly not. The Yankees still need to build back up their starting pitching depth. It seems as though they are content with their current lineup situation, and because of that, pitching will be their primary focus for the remainder of the offseason. As currently constructed, the Yankees have a strong team on paper and in theory. On paper and in theory, it’s a roster full of household names that should return them to the postseason. In actuality, it’s a roster that is banking on the majority of its players to stay healthy and return to their usual form. I don’t want to go into 2024 with the roster representing the type of parlay card full of +400 and +500 underdogs the Yankees have put together in recent years. Parlays are for suckers and the recent rosters the Yankees have called “championship-caliber” were suckers. The long odds on that parlay card can be shortened by signing one or two of the leftovers starting pitchers with Yamamoto off the board.
4. The Yankees’ inability to sign Yamamoto makes their trade for Soto all that more important. If the Yankees hadn’t acquired Soto and were three days out from Christmas with a replacement-level outfielder the Red Sox didn’t want as their only move, then yeah, things would be bleak for 2024. Soto moved the needle that much for me and the 2024 Yankees. They will still need a lot to happen, but they need a lot less now that they have Soto.
5. Ultimately (credit to Aaron Boone for that word), the Yankees’ season will come down to the following:
Anthony Rizzo being healthy and the offensive force he was in April and May of last season.
DJ LeMahieu being healthy and productive.
Giancarlo Stanton having his first productive season in three years, and if not, the Yankees being willing to move him down in the order, bench him or release him.
Anthony Volpe taking a giant step offensively in his second full season after a rough rookie season at the plate.
Carlos Rodon not being the worst start pitcher in baseball.
Nestor Cortes staying healthy.
If all of those things happen, the Yankees will be fine. (Fine in terms of the regular season.) If half of them happen, they should still be fine in terms of reaching the postseason. If only the Rodon and Cortes needs work out, they will still be fine. If none of them happen, well, Yankees fans will have a lot of free time in August, September and October again like they had last season.
6. The addition of Soto helps mitigate a lot of the offensive issues and uncertainty, but had the Yankees signed Yamamoto they would still be hoping to hit on a few items from that list. Like Soto, adding Yamamoto would have lessened the need for those listed items to go the Yankees’ way, but neither Soto nor Yamamoto alone, nor together, would fully safe-proof the 2024 Yankees from some sort of roster parlay.
7. This offseason has felt longer than normal because the Yankees’ season was hanging on by a thread in mid-July and officially over on August 13. There was essentially seven weeks added to the length of his offseason because of how early the Yankees were out of it. When they open the season on March 28 in Houston, it will be more than seven months since they last played a truly meaningful game.
The Yankees’ lack of depth in all departments leaves little wiggle room for them to sustain injuries and underperformance the way they were able to in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. We saw last year what happens when the current roster is banged up, and next year’s roster currently has less depth than that. If you’re a Yankees fan who’s not already praying for a healthy 2024, you may want to start.
8. I don’t care how much money Yamamoto received and anyone who thinks it’s too much money for a pitcher who has never thrown a pitch in the majors or too much period has been fooled by the owners into thinking there is a limit to how much players can be paid. At least three teams offered Yamamoto $300 million and the team that landed him already invested $700 million in another player. That same team has more than $400 million committed to Mookie Betts and nearly another $200 million to Freddie Freeman and Tyler Glasnow each. Every team can pay and overpay for players. Some just choose to do it more than others.
9. The good news is I don’t see how the Yankees don’t re-sign Soto now with Yamamoto off the table. Hal Steinbrenner could have cried poor after 2024 and let Soto walk if he had just committed to a decade of Yamamoto at $300-plus million. But now? Now the only star position player for the Yankees under contract after 2024 is Aaron Judge. A year ago, Steinbrenner said, “Fans want to see stars,” and then paid a star-less lineup for most of 2023. The Yankees have two stars now and they will hit back-to-back in the order, representing the best back-to-back situation in the sport. I expect them to have both for 2024 and beyond. I have been under the impression the Yankees would re-sign Soto from the second they traded for him, and now I fully expect it. If they don’t, I will be right back to where I was as a Yankees fan the second before the deal for Soto was finalized.
10. Missing out on Yamamoto in this dreadful free-agent class means the Yankees can’t go into 2024 as the true odds-on favorite to win the AL. (Maybe that’s a good thing since they were the odds-on favorite for 2021 and finished third in their division and fifth in the AL and their postseason lasted nine innings.) The AL was wide open for 2023 and the Yankees chose not to be a part of it with their “Run It Back” roster. As open as the AL was last year, it’s similarly open for 2024. Without Yamamoto, the Yankees can’t truly separate themselves from the pack, but there are still free-agent signings they can make to at least have somewhat of an edge on the rest of the league.