From the Yankees' standards, the 2023 season was a disaster. While they avoided a losing season and clinched their 31st straight winning season, that isn't nearly enough for a team viewed as one of the top contenders for winning the World Series before the season. I'm not one of those Yankees fans who screams "27 RINGS!" to the mountaintops, but for a franchise that has won that much, barely finishing above .500 is unacceptable.
The Yankees finished the season 82-80 and avoided the basement as they were only ahead of the Boston Red Sox in the AL East. They are now in the midst of an offseason where they will have to work on seriously fixing the issues that were exposed throughout the year.
What Went Right
The biggest bright spot for this team is clear, as it was Gerrit Cole putting up a Cy Young season. In his fourth year as a Yankee, Cole ran away with his first career Cy Young award as he was voted unanimously. The 33-year old led the American League in ERA (2.63), starts (33), shutouts (2), innings pitched (209), WHIP (0.98), bWAR (7.5) and batting average against (.205). He didn't have the strikeout numbers that he had last year, when he broke the Yankees' single-season strikeout record with 257. But Cole did still strikeout 222 batters and was the most consistent he has been since signing with the Yankees in the 2019-20 offseason.
The former 1st overall pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates limited the damage via the long ball better than he has since he began his career in Pittsburgh. Cole was third in the AL, behind Sonny Gray and Kyle Bradish, with a 0.86 HR/9 rate. He was the first Yankees pitcher to win the Cy Young since Roger Clemens won it in 2001. The one big thing New York has been searching for over the last several years is a true ace and have certainly found that in Cole. Just sucks that the year he puts up his best numbers and wins his first Cy Young, the Yankees miss the postseason with other glaring issues. The Yankees wouldn't have finished above .500 had it not been for Cole.
After a historic 2022 season, Aaron Judge was well on his way to having a repeat of that this year, before the damn right field wall at Dodger Stadium had to go and injure his toe. Even playing just 106 games due to the toe injury, Judge still flirted with 40 homers - finishing with 37 - and posted a 1.019 OPS. That would be 56 bombs on a 162-game pace. Just imagine what would could have happened with this season had he not gotten hurt. Upon returning from the injury at the end of July, Judge smashed 18 taters over the last two months, including his first two three-homer games of his career.
Outside of the seasons of Cole and Judge, not much else went right from a team standpoint. The only hitter in the lineup outside of Judge that showed consistency was Gleyber Torres. Yet somehow, we are yet again hearing trade rumors surrounded around the Yankees' second baseman. They are just rumors, but that's bad enough. Torres had his best seasons since 2019. He posted a slashline of .273/.347/.453 along with a 118 OPS+, 123 wRC+ and 3.2 fWAR. Torres also recorded his lowest strikeout rate of his career, at 14.6 percent, and second-highest walk rate, at 10 percent.
So now, let's get into the long list of what went wrong.
What Went Wrong
A lot. While a lot can be blamed on Judge getting hurt (the Yankees went 19-23 without him), there was just so much more wrong with this team than just being without their star outfielder. They were also the worst hitting team in baseball while he was on the IL, as they hit just .220. Living and dying by the home run killed the 2023 Yankees. Really, it's been killing them for years, it just wasn't as scrutinized since they were still making the playoffs.
Yes, home runs win in the postseason, which has been proven many, many times. But you need a more balanced lineup and the Bombers just didn't have that. They really haven't for years. The team couldn't find a big hit if pitchers were throwing beach balls out there. Firing hitting coach Dillon Lawson midseason and hiring Sean Casey for the position didn't seem to help too much. Lawson was just a scapegoat at that point and nothing was really going to help the Yankees horrible approach at the plate.
The roster just wasn't built good enough by General Manager Brian Cashman. The long-time GM of the Yankees continues to get far too much credit for building the Yankees' dynasty team, when Gene "Stick" Michael should really get most of the credit. Making asinine trades for Josh Donaldson, Joey Gallo and others (Isaiah Kiner-Falefa actually turned out to be a decent piece to that trade, though) and keeping Aaron Hicks for far too long will come back to bite you. Not to beat a dead horse, but Cashman passed on Bryce Harper back in 2019 because "they had too many outfielders."
Let's forget about that, though. Whatever, it's in the past. It is what it is. But those are just the types of mistakes that have led the Yankees to this point. It's just inexcusable anymore. Cashman shouldn't be given chance after chance after chance. I'm sorry, but if Aaron Boone were to go, that would be a scapegoat move. If one goes, both should go. Because we all know, Boone is a puppet for the front office and really doesn't make a majority of the decisions, anyway. If he were to be replaced, it would just be another puppet. Hell, you could bring Joe McCarthy back from the dead and make him the manager, but it wouldn't matter if he didn't have control over the decisions.
Another trade that has turned out awful is Frankie Montas, who missed almost the entire 2023 season and hasn't been good when he has pitched. Then you have a guy who was supposed to be the No. 2 behind Cole in Carlos Rodon, completely shitting the bed in his first year of a 6-year contract. The southpaw finished 3-8 with a 6.85 ERA and ended off on a very unpromising note, surrendering eight runs in the first inning against the Royals. Another pitcher who's had ace potential in the past, Luis Severino, also had a horrible season. The Yankees will not be bringing him back as he is now a free agent. Nestor Cortes getting hurt towards the beginning of the season and being shutdown in May with a rotator cuff strain certainly didn't help matters for the rotation.
Now that we are well into the offseason, nothing too major has happened for the Yankees as of yet. The one big move so far was finding their new hitting coach after Sean Casey decided to not return and focus on his family. They hired James Rowson for the role last week, who previously served as the Yankees' Minor League hitting coordinator where he helped Judge develop into the superstar hitter he is today. Rowson spent this past season on the Detroit Tigers' staff as their assistant hitting coach, following a stint as the Miami Marlins' bench coach from 2020-22 and hitting coach of the Minnesota Twins from 2017-19. The Twins ranked fourth in the Majors in runs scored (2,492), fifth in batting average (.260) and slugging percentage (.445), sixth in OPS (.775) and seventh in home runs (679) during Rowson's tenure.
He recently stated that he isn't sure whether or not Casey Dykes and Brad Wilkerson will return as assistant hitting coaches, but will discuss it with Cashman. One of Rowson's top priorities is getting Giancarlo Stanton back on track after the slugger had one of his career-worst seasons.
The Yankees must go out and have a very productive offseason on the free agent and trade market. After the Yankees missed the playoffs in 2008, which was the final year of the Old Yankee Stadium, they made massive moves, highlighted by signing CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira. This offseason, not only is Shohei Ohtani a free agent but Juan Soto is on the trade block. Acquiring either one or both is honestly a must for the Yankees to return to the Bombers of old. There is no if ands or buts about it, they can't go into the 2024 season without making a splash.
As we get closer to the season, we will talk more about what this team looks like. The youngsters - or the "Yankee Yutes" will be key going into next season as well.
Main Image Credit: From Getty Images