It’s Time To Rebuild the Bombers

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Suffice it to say, the 2023 season has not gone the way either the New York Yankees or their fans had hoped. The team’s current nine-game losing streak is their longest in 41 years. And while the team’s 60-65 record isn’t on the same grim level as those of the Athletics or Royals, it’s still awful by the franchise’s typical standards. New York has teetered on the edge of .500 a few times recently, including being outscored in three of four seasons from 2013 to 2016, but you have to go back to 1992 to find the last time they crossed that negative line. Rather than tear everything down to the foundation when things go wrong, the Yankees tend to be a team that reloads and tries again next time. But can they do that this offseason?

The Yankees have had some bad breaks this season, but blaming everything on that would be a mistake. I’m not going to wax poetic about why this season has been so miserable — other writers have already laid out the club’s tale of woe — but we still need to review the basics to get a good view of where things truly stand. The pitching bears quite a lot of the blame. In detailing how the preseason PECOTA projections for the Yankees diverged from what has actually happened, Patrick Dubuque didn’t mince words at Baseball Prospectus:

Two of the Yankees’ seven starters have met expectations so far, and it’s their two worst ones. Injuries have pressed those sixth and seventh (and eighth) starters into service, even more so than our depth chart team anticipated. But when you imagine a collapse like the Yankees have had, you assume that it’s injuries. You envision Aaron Judge’s plate appearances replaced by Billy McKinney’s, like the world’s most unprepared Broadway understudy. While Brito and Randy Vásquez haven’t bailed the team out, they also didn’t make the hole. And at this point, it’s more hole than boat.

For the Wall Street Journal, Lindsey Adler talked about how the team’s plan to develop around homegrown talent has given way to a lineup and staff stocked with aging veterans rather than young stars:

Years later, the 2023 mess represents the failure of the Baby Bombers to find success at the major-league level. Only Judge, Torres, and Severino remain on the team today. Bird is out of baseball, Andújar and Frazier are in the minor leagues, and Sánchez has taken his low-average, high-slugging shtick to San Diego.

No team strikes gold on every prospect, but with that group the Yankees had the potential to have a robust core—two outfielders, a catcher, a shortstop, a second baseman, a first baseman, and an ace—under team control for many years to come.

While it would be fun to be able to say, “Ha, ZiPS saw this coming the whole time, puny mortals!” I don’t get to have that satisfaction. ZiPS had the Yankees with a median projection of 89 wins coming into the season, tied with the Toronto Blue Jays in first place in the AL East. (At this point, to hit that 89-win record, the Yankees would have to win about three-quarters of their remaining games, which, while possible, is an extremely tall order.) Even if you liked the Yankees coming into the season, the fact is that there was always substantial downside to be found in the roster. Looking at the history of the Yankees’ ZiPS projections, you can see the ebbs and flows of the team’s fortunes over the last 20 years:

ZiPS Yearly Projected Wins – New York Yankees
Year Projected Wins
2005 91
2006 94
2007 95
2008 95
2009 97
2010 96
2011 88
2012 93
2013 83
2014 83
2015 82
2016 84
2017 81
2018 92
2019 98
2020 99
2021 95
2022 88
2023 89

The fact that a 99-win 2022 season only produced enough performance-based goodness to juice the team’s projections from 88 to 89 wins should have been a red flag about the team’s downside. I talked about this briefly in my final preseason standings post:

The Yankees were the most volatile team in the standings when I ran these projections back in February and the uncertainty of the team’s rotation has just magnified that result. We shouldn’t necessarily panic about Luis Severino and Carlos Rodón at this stage, but their injuries are adding yet more mysterious fog of war to the mix. Combine a rotation with a lot of variance with the fact that there’s a lot of value tied up in a single player, Aaron Judge, and the Yankees are the division’s X factor.

The Yankees have become reliant on larger parts of their win total coming from a shrinking percentage of their roster, which leaves a lot tied up with the fate of a few players. The Angels can tell you about the inherent risks of that, though the Yankees have historically done a much better job filling out their rosters with complementary players than their haloed compatriots out west. The 2022 season demonstrated how good the Yankees’ core was when things went their way more often than not; the 2023 team is a very similar roster showing the opposite scenario. Just as 99 wins was a realistic possibility, so was a 79-win season.

So, what’s next? While you’d have to be seriously deluded to confuse this team’s spending habits with those of the Rays, George Steinbrenner is gone and Hal Steinbrenner appears to have a different appetite for patching holes with piles of cash. We estimate the Yankees’ luxury tax payroll as approaching $300 million this year, and they already have close to $200 million committed for next season. When you consider that that $200 million does not include salaries for arbitration-eligible players such as Gleyber Torres, Nestor Cortes, Clay Holmes, or Jonathan Loáisiga (the Yanks spent nearly $50 million on salaries for arbitration-eligible players in 2023), they may not have enough room under their self-imposed payroll limits to quickly retool as they have in the past.

Indeed, I think the Yankees should probably be looking ahead two or more years, rather than focusing on 2024. We’re perhaps already seeing the beginnings of an increased nod toward the long haul rather than the short one. Everson Pereira and Oswald Peraza were just called up, and I doubt the team would be doing that right now if they didn’t intend to give them serious looks and full-time play. Austin Wells has been solid at Triple-A, and when the minor league season ends, it’s going to be hard not to give him a look in the majors as well. All three may play critical roles on the next good Yankees team, that team just might not take the field next season.

I ran some very, very, very (keep saying “very” for another 15 minutes) preliminary projections for the 2024 season. These projections assemble teams based only on the players who are currently under club control; think of them as “baseline” projections, the place where every team begins the 2023-24 offseason. The Yankees do not start off in a dominating position:

ZiPS Projected 2024 Standings – AL East
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Toronto Blue Jays 89 73 .549 33.4% 35.4% 68.8% 6.7%
Tampa Bay Rays 88 74 1 .543 26.1% 35.9% 62.0% 5.6%
Baltimore Orioles 86 76 3 .531 19.7% 34.6% 54.3% 3.9%
New York Yankees 83 79 6 .512 10.7% 27.3% 38.1% 2.0%
Boston Red Sox 83 79 6 .512 10.1% 26.3% 36.3% 1.1%

Despite the Yankees only having one imminent free agent they might miss (Harrison Bader), the state of the team is such that simply standing in place and hoping everything that went wrong this season will go better next year may very well be a losing proposition. Even if the rest of the AL East also stood pat, the Yanks still wouldn’t be in a dominating position. On the offensive side of the equation, only five players under contract project at 1.5 WAR or more in 2024:

ZiPS Projections – Yankees Hitters, >1.5 WAR
Player BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SB OPS+ DR WAR
Aaron Judge .271 .380 .562 447 85 121 19 0 37 97 78 6 158 7 5.5
Gleyber Torres .261 .329 .427 548 75 143 26 1 21 77 55 12 109 -1 2.9
Anthony Volpe .219 .301 .391 512 71 112 26 4 18 73 52 23 91 2 2.5
DJ LeMahieu .249 .325 .355 453 57 113 19 1 9 48 49 2 90 8 2.1
Oswald Peraza .239 .307 .375 440 59 105 16 1 14 60 35 18 89 2 2.0

By comparison, the Red Sox have seven, the Orioles and Rays have eight, and the Blue Jays have an absurd 13, enough that they won’t have enough playing time for everyone. (When the Yankees have a core strong enough to challenge for the AL East in a couple of years, those upstart Orioles will already be starting to say goodbye to some of their young talent. I’ll complain about that another day, though.) Even Aaron Judge has a reduced outlook compared to before the 2023 season. He’s still viewed as one of of the scariest hitters in baseball, but ZiPS projects him well below the output of his historic 2022 season. Injuries and the continued march of time will do that.

Nearly a quarter of the team’s guaranteed money for 2024 is tied up in two players who aren’t on the above list: Giancarlo Stanton and Anthony Rizzo.

ZiPS 2024 Projection Percentiles – Giancarlo Stanton (455 PA)
Percentile 2B HR BA OBP SLG OPS+ WAR
95% 24 38 .282 .372 .580 156 3.6
90% 21 35 .274 .364 .562 149 3.1
80% 19 31 .261 .345 .528 137 2.5
70% 18 29 .251 .337 .505 130 2.0
60% 17 27 .245 .329 .486 123 1.7
50% 16 26 .238 .321 .468 117 1.3
40% 15 24 .230 .313 .451 111 1.0
30% 14 22 .222 .306 .432 106 0.7
20% 12 20 .210 .296 .409 96 0.1
10% 11 17 .198 .280 .379 83 -0.6
5% 9 16 .187 .270 .354 75 -1.1

ZiPS 2024 Projection Percentiles – Anthony Rizzo (505 PA)
Percentile 2B HR BA OBP SLG OPS+ WAR
95% 26 28 .275 .374 .484 133 3.2
90% 25 25 .259 .358 .462 125 2.5
80% 22 23 .250 .343 .437 114 1.8
70% 20 21 .240 .337 .424 108 1.5
60% 19 19 .232 .330 .411 102 1.1
50% 18 18 .226 .323 .393 99 0.9
40% 17 17 .220 .317 .379 91 0.5
30% 15 16 .212 .310 .362 88 0.2
20% 14 13 .204 .303 .346 81 -0.3
10% 12 11 .193 .289 .319 71 -1.0
5% 10 9 .185 .281 .298 62 -1.6

Stanton is no longer a young superstar, a prime-age superstar, an aging superstar, or even a regular star. His last 3-WAR season was in 2018, and he’s only had a single two-win season since (and it’s not likely to happen this year either). Stanton turns 35 soon after next year’s World Series, and the odds of the team ever getting the player they hoped for when they traded for him are growing increasingly long. ZiPS now thinks it’s more likely than not that Stanton will fall short of 500 homers in the end.

Now, Rizzo’s concussion and its after-effects (not to mention continuing to play through post-concussion symptoms) add greater uncertainty to his projection than is typical, but he’s also a player in the twilight of his career, so it’s hard to really be enthused about his likely 2024 contributions.

On the pitching side, only three starters currently project above the 1.5 WAR mark:

ZiPS Projections – Yankees Starting Pitchers, >1.5 WAR
Player W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WAR
Gerrit Cole 11 6 3.29 29 29 175.3 146 64 22 45 199 125 3.35 3.8
Carlos Rodón 9 6 3.48 22 22 113.7 89 44 14 37 137 118 3.43 2.2
Nestor Cortes 6 5 3.70 24 21 116.7 101 48 15 31 117 111 3.69 2.0

Even if you like Domingo Germán, once you account for injury risks, the Yankees probably need to add two good starting pitchers this offseason if they want to compete in 2024. ZiPS remains skeptical of Clarke Schmidt (and even more so of Jhony Brito), Randy Vásquez wasn’t even getting Triple-A hitters out, Luis Gil’s coming off Tommy John surgery, and next season may be too quick for Will Warren.

The relievers, at least, project somewhat better, but that’s not enough in itself to return the Yankees to the top of the division:

ZiPS Projections – Yankees Relievers, ERA+ >110
Player W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ FIP WAR
Jonathan Loáisiga 5 2 3.14 42 1 48.7 42 17 3 13 41 131 3.19 1.0
Clay Holmes 6 3 3.23 61 0 61.3 47 22 3 25 67 128 3.12 1.1
Jimmy Cordero 3 2 3.59 39 1 42.7 35 17 3 15 44 115 3.27 0.5
Michael King 6 3 3.62 45 1 69.7 56 28 9 24 87 114 3.58 1.0
Scott Effross 4 2 3.73 41 1 50.7 46 21 6 12 50 110 3.67 0.5

Reloading quickly and effectively looks like a really tough challenge for the Yankees. The team is arguably in worse shape than at any point in recent memory, perhaps going back to the CBS-era Yankees, which only non-Yankees fans wish to remember. In 1993, Baseball America ranked the Yankees farm system as the fourth-best in baseball. In our most recent farm system rankings, we have the team at no. 25. The Yankees have had the same approach for a very long time. Perhaps they’d be well served by a laser focus on the future, rather than what’s immediately coming.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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CC AFCmember
7 months ago

Inherited wealth child screws up the family business. Man bites dog, etc.

I’ve also been the last one to get on Cashman’s case because I think he’s done a great job adapting to changing environments through the years. But it’s time for him. Things are a lot different and it doesn’t look like the org is on par with the best in the game anymore (except in the very specific area of getting mid-level pitching prospects to throw harder). Thank you and enjoy your retirement, guy.

marechalmember
7 months ago
Reply to  CC AFC

Agreed on Cashman. He has had a pretty sustained run of success, but his las 2-3 years were pretty miserable. When every single high profile trade you’ve made has failed catastrophically and left you in a much worse position than standing pat, it’s probably time for new voices in the room.

Last edited 7 months ago by marechal
tz
7 months ago
Reply to  CC AFC

Same here – I think Cashman is a possible HOF GM, all things considered, but this feels oddly like the start of the Andy Hawkins Era 2.0 for the Bronx Bombers.

Not a bad time to hit the reset button.

Ivan_Grushenkomember
7 months ago
Reply to  tz

He should be an easy HOF GM.

sadtrombonemember
7 months ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

Cashman is probably the third best GM of the last 25 years. Him and Billy Beane and Theo Epstein. Friedman and Anthopoulos will probably beat him someday but if you want to know what a Hall of Game GM looks like, it looks a lot like Brian Cashman.

dl80
7 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Dombrowski?

Cool Lester Smoothmember
7 months ago
Reply to  dl80

Dombrowski’s a no-doubter.

tz
7 months ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

He absolutely should be. I do wonder if the relative lack of WS rings for a Yankees GM will be an obstacle in him getting in, however.

Chili Davis Eyes
7 months ago
Reply to  tz

He won 4 rings! That’s a lot! You can’t really compare him to old-timey GMs like Ed Barrow and George Weiss, who were playing against a lot fewer teams and didn’t have to go through any playoffs.

SirCharlesK
7 months ago
Reply to  tz

There’s absolutely no ‘possible’ about it. First ballot GM.

bglick4
7 months ago
Reply to  tz

Even Hall of Fame GMs can see the game pass them by. See also Beane, Billy.

MRDXolmember
7 months ago
Reply to  CC AFC

I don’t think the inheritance thing is an issue, honestly. Many of the worst/most meddlesome owners— Reinsdorf, Angelos, Moreno— are self-made billionaires from genuine non-wealthy backgrounds. They have significantly more ego about “running a business” is the issue. The owners who grew up rich are quite used to hiring competent, specialized people to run their assets.

68FCmember
7 months ago
Reply to  MRDXol

It feels like the “self-made” owners tend to meddle heavily in baseball ops/decision making (Reinsdorf, Peter Angelos, Moreno, George Steinbrenner, Dick Monfort, Jim Crane), likely for the reasons you mentioned.

The inherited wealth owners seem to be the ones who constantly give the worst quotes and seem very out of touch and entitled (John Angelos, Phil Castellini, John Fisher, Tom Ricketts). Of course there is plenty of overlap.

sadtrombonemember
7 months ago
Reply to  CC AFC

Brian Cashman is still a guy who can be a GM in this league and maybe is even one of the better ones, but it’s very hard to ignore the flashing red lights. The total failure of the Rizzo and German situations and the fact that they’re probably finishing with a losing record despite spending a huge amount of money are pretty worrisome.

It is definitely time to get some new blood in there somehow. Whether that’s Cashman going or him hiring away some people from other organizations, I’m not sure but they’re clearly behind in some key areas. One of the things I have noticed is that there a very few front offices who can stay on top of things without a regular infusion of executives from other organizations. Hiring a brand new person at the top is often an obvious time to bring in lots of different voices. But if you look at the worst front offices in the recent past—the recently fired White Sox, the Royals, the Rockies, the Avila-led Tigers, and probably the A’s, it’s people who haven’t had any new voices in a very long time. Almost every other organization is constantly looking to bring in new people who have new ideas. The Yankees…I don’t know, have they done that? I don’t think they have.

What I will say is that the job Cashman has done up until this point is shockingly good. He has only rebuilt once in about 25 years and has repeatedly won the toughest division in baseball. He has the benefit of a huge payroll but he never gets a shot at the top talent in the draft and the expectations hem him in somewhat compared to what he could do elsewhere. The fact that this year the team has been mediocre could simply be that gravity is winning.

Or, it could be time to see how much money James Click would need to come take over. It is hard to tell from here.

tz
7 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

As a Red Sox fan, I’d welcome Cashman as head of baseball ops for all those reasons.

If I were a White Sox fan, I’d be petitioning Reinsdorf to do all he can to bring Cashman on, and beginning said petition right now, to thwart any ideas of bringing LaRussa back to run the whole organization.

sadtrombonemember
7 months ago
Reply to  tz

I saw a rumor today that La Russa wants Dayton Moore in as GM. Which would be better than having La Russa himself, but mostly by default.

MikeSmember
7 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

The rumor is a combo of Dayton Moore, who is bad at the job and weird, along with Chris Getz who is bad at the job he has now.

Getz is unsurprising since Reinsdorf loves to promote people from within but I don’t know what he sees in Moore or why he thinks the Royals are a model organization.

Hiring two guys goes against what they said in the press release announcing Hahn and Williams were out just yesterday when they stated they were looking for a single voice. Also the fact that they already seem to have people lined up is in opposition to their stated plan of a “search,” but consistent with how they handled the Renteria for LaRussa change.

It makes me wonder if Grifol was Jerry’s idea and still leaves me wondering who is in charge of baseball decisions. This team is rapidly becoming the Rockies of the Midwest.

bglick4
7 months ago
Reply to  MikeS

Dayton Moore has the same number of rings as Cashman over the last 20 years and he’s been there twice as often. Don’t get me wrong, Cashman’s ability to keep his team playing at a high level all these years, even with his budget, is a remarkable feat. His failure to get a greater number of his teams over the top is certainly a strike against him, but as Dayton Moore shows, luck plays a role in this. A much, much bigger role than it does when it comes to team building. That’s where Cashman has excelled.

Lanidrac
7 months ago
Reply to  bglick4

You do realize there are 30 teams, right? As long as you win a Championship more often than every 30 years, you’re ahead of average expectations. One time is the past 20 years is just fine, and 6 times in the last 30 years is spectacular.