The Yankees believe that Aaron Boone continues to be the right choice to lead the franchise to a 28th World Series championship, inking the manager to a three-year contract extension earlier this offseason while shuffling his coaching staff.
That answered one prominent question in the Bronx, coming off a season that saw the Yankees win 92 games before falling in the American League Wild Card Game. It has been a dozen years since the Bombers’ most recent World Series appearance, their longest drought since a 14-year span after 1981, and Boone recognizes that patience is running thin.
“We’ve had varying degrees of success along the way, but we want to get to the top of the mountain,” Boone said recently. “It’s on all of us to continue to grow, to continue to find areas where we can improve and to hold each other to account in that regard. That’s an area where hopefully I, and all of us, can continue to get better.”
1. Who is the Opening Day shortstop?
It’s easier to explore who will not be playing shortstop for the Yanks on Opening Day, beginning with Gleyber Torres, who saw his year-plus experiment at the position end in September. Torres seemed to respond following a shift back to second base, where the organization believes he profiles better. Gio Urshela was a decent stopgap, but the Yanks saw that more as a short-term solution.
Though a sizable portion of the fan base has clamored for the club to sign free agent Carlos Correa, the Yankees have shown little appetite to match the 10-year, $350 million pact that Corey Seager landed with the Rangers. Suppose the Yanks don’t splurge on Correa or Trevor Story. In that case, they might target a stopgap like José Iglesias while Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe develop. Peraza and Volpe are expected to be big league ready in 2023.
2. Who’s on first?
While Luke Voit remains under team control, the Yankees seem ready to move on, entertaining other options at first base. With Voit missing most of the year due to injury, Anthony Rizzo improved the club’s defense and offered a patient, potent left-handed presence after joining the Bombers in a midseason trade.
Now a free agent, Rizzo has expressed willingness to return to New York. In a December appearance on former Cubs teammate Ian Happ’s podcast, Rizzo said he “loved” living on the Upper West Side, where he’d visit Central Park daily to walk his dog, Kevin.
“And then playing baseball for the Yankees, it was a good time,” Rizzo said. “We really enjoyed it.”
The Yankees were among the clubs to show trade interest in the A’s Matt Olson before the lockout. They could also be in the mix for free agent Freddie Freeman, if Freeman does not return to the Braves.
3. What is Aaron Judge’s future?
General manager Brian Cashman has said that the Yankees planned to engage with Judge on a potential contract extension this offseason. However, it is not believed that any talks occurred before the lockout. Now in his final year of arbitration eligibility, Judge can be a free agent after the 2022 season.
“Obviously he’s been a great Yankee and he’s certainly impacted us in such a positive way for quite a long time, so it’d be nice to keep it going,” Cashman said recently.
Judge has said that “if it was up to me, I’d be a Yankee for the next 10 years.” Judge turns 30 in April and earned $10.175 million this past season, when he hit .287/.373/.544 (149 OPS+) with 24 doubles, 39 home runs and 98 RBIs in 148 games.
4. Do they have enough pitching?
The Yanks believe their bullpen should continue to be a strength, even with Zack Britton likely to miss most or all of the year, but their $25 million offer to Justin Verlander indicated a willingness to gamble on upgrading the starting rotation. Though Verlander chose to return to the Astros, the Yankees could certainly dip back into the pitching market, especially with Corey Kluber now a member of the Rays.
At present, New York’s rotation would be helmed by ace Gerrit Cole, then feature Jordan Montgomery, Luis Severino, Nestor Cortes Jr. and Domingo Germán. Montgomery pitched to a 3.83 ERA (112 ERA+) across 30 starts last season, but Severino has made just seven big league appearances since signing a four-year, $40 million contract extension during Spring Training in 2019.
Cortes has established his place as a valuable swingman, pitching to a 2.90 ERA (148 ERA+) across 22 games (14 starts) last season, while Germán posted a 4.58 ERA (94 ERA+) in 98 1/3 innings after missing all of 2020 while serving a domestic violence suspension. Jameson Taillon is also expected to return from right ankle surgery sometime in the first half.
5. Who is ready to bounce back?
Severino is near the top of a list of Yankees who need to put forth more consistent performances in 2022. Torres has experienced a mysterious power dropoff since slugging 38 home runs in 2019, belting just 12 long balls in 676 plate appearances over 2020-21. Perhaps working with a new set of hitting coaches, as well as a full-season shift away from shortstop, will help.
It is no stretch to say that DJ LeMahieu as the Yanks’ most valuable offensive player across 2019-20, but that production was lacking in ’21, when he batted .268/.349/.362 (97 OPS+). LeMahieu had surgery in October to repair a sports hernia, an injury that undoubtedly impacted his production.
The Yanks are also counting on a healthy return to center field from Aaron Hicks, who had a torn left tendon sheath repaired in May. The switch-hitting Hicks has played in just 145 games since signing a seven-year, $70 million extension in the spring of 2019.