What’s next for the Yankees? Three major questions with Aaron Judge’s future, Aaron Boone uncertain after sweeping

At some point this season New York Yankees They seemed to have a chance to challenge the MLB record of 116 wins. In the end, they were unceremoniously overrun by Houston Astros in ALCS, A series that revealed the gap between the two teams. Houston sent the Yankees home Sunday night with a 6-5 win. This is the third time in the past six years that the Astros have eliminated the Yankees.

The Yankees haven’t won a world championship since 2009, a drought that is an immortal in the Yankees years, and they’ve been repeatedly put on hold in the postseason during what we’ll call the Aaron Judge era. Since the Judge’s AL Rookie of the Year season in 2017, the Yankees have lost in the ALCS three times (2017, 2019, 2022), the ALDS twice (2018, 2020), and the Wild Card Game once (2021). So far, this group has culminated in a 7-game loss to (who else?) the Astros at the 2017 ALCS.

Now Judge is weeks away from free agency, Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton have had another year away from all the remaining primes, and others like Josh Donaldson and DJ LeMahieu appear less likely to be major contributors to a championship team moving forward. The Yankees are still a very good team – you don’t win 99 games by accident – but it’s fair to wonder if the best days of this group are over, and where the next core team comes from.

Here are three pressing questions facing the Yankees as they head into one of the most significant outdoor seasons in the last 25-30 years. Maybe longer than that.

1. Do they memorize the judge?

The question is not whether the Yankees can keep the judge, the 62-year-old Homer man. Of course they can. They are Yankees and can match – and beat – any contract offer that comes their way in the off-season. Pretending otherwise is crap. All indications are that Judge wants to remain a Yankee and the Yankees want to retain Judge, although saying and doing different things. Complex contract negotiations are on the way and the Yankees have kept a checklist on their payroll under Hal Steinbrenner’s supervision.

“There is a pot of gold in there. The kind of gold is not specified—how much it weighs—but it is a pot of gold, no doubt about it. Pretty good for him. It was indeed a large pot, and evidently, it would be greater,” General Manager Brian Cashman told the AP about Judge’s upcoming free agency ahead of ALDS. “He put himself in a great position to have a lot of options. And obviously, obviously, we want to win the day in that discussion, and that’s clear for another day. But we said that before the season. We said that. So many times during the season. If you need to. To listen to him again. I’ll say it again: Yes, of course we love Aaron Judge’s return as the New York Yankee, but that’s all for another day.”

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Judge’s record-setting season could potentially set him up for a record-setting contract, though beating the overall guarantee (Mike Trout’s $426.5 million) and average annual value (Max Scherzer’s $43.3 million record) will be tough because Judge will turn 31 by day Opening shortly 2023. However, his next contract numbers will be $300 million. I projected nine years and $38 million a year, or $342 million last month. Like I said, that was just a guess.

There is no way to replace a judge and his loss of free agency would set the Yankees back in a big way. It is their best and most marketable player, and the alternatives available pale in comparison. In the free agency there is post-wrist surgery Andrew Benintende, David Peralta, Brandon Nemo, Jock Pederson, and that’s really it. Judge was a 10.6-WAR player in 2022. Those four deserved 10.1 WAR together, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Judge beats WAR again in 2023.

Brian Reynolds may be a predator in the trade, although that would require letting go of odds that the Yankees have so far been unwilling to trade (more on them in a bit). Ian Hub? Anthony Santander? There is no substitute for the judge. The only way to do this is by upgrading and replacing many functions in total, which is not easy. The Yankees are the richest team in the sport. There is no reason why they can’t afford to re-sign the judge. The only question is will they do what it takes to re-sign it?

2. What about brain confidence?

Cashman’s contract expired after this season. Manager Aaron Boone was skillfully thrown under the bus by a few players after losing Game 3 at ALDS. Between payroll and competitive balance tax owed, the Yankees were more than $50 million behind New York Mets this year. Why would the Yankees top $50 million, let alone a team in their city? The general manager is unsigned, the manager may have lost the club, and the ownership’s commitment to fielding the best possible team is called into question. There are real issues to be addressed here.

My hunch – and I emphasize this is just a hunch – is that the Yankees will keep Cashman. The property loves it because the Yankees go to the postseason every year with a commitment to mandate payroll, whatever it is. The Yankees are not a “world championship or bust” team led by Hal Steinbrenner they were under George. They can say what they want openly. Their actions indicate a team that prioritizes being good enough to make it past the season and not much more, and if they get into a championship one of these years, that’s great. Otherwise the postseason is so unpredictable that the result of a short string cannot be attached.

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It is difficult to predict the state of Bonn. He secured a new three-year contract out last season, making him the first coach in franchise history to return for a fifth season after failing to win a world championship during his first four years. The fact that several players, most notably closest all-star Clay Holmes and third-game rookie Luis Severino, questioned Boone’s decision at ALDS is a giant red flag. It takes a lot – a lot – for players to get to the point where they publicly ask the manager in this way.

The property is not going anywhere and the Steinbrenners have not given any reason enough to believe they will move the payroll to the Mets/Dodgers level, which means over $300 million. If any major change is made this season, Cashman and/or Boone are likely to be replaced more than the money is pumped into the roster. Bottom line, the Yankees have just been worn by the Astros again. It’s happened enough times to force a change, and unsuitable circumstances (Cashman’s contract has expired, Boone is being questioned by his players) are ready for a change.

3. How are the Yankees improving?

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It’s hard to improve on a 99-win slate, but having said that, the 2022 Yankees were more like a truly talented team winning 93-94 that was raised to 99 wins by the historic Judge season. There have been several matches this season, particularly in the second half, when the Judge carried the Yankees to victory despite them being completely outperformed. Judge placed fourth in the AL MVP vote a year ago. If the Yankees get a 2021 Judge in 2022 instead of the judge they got, the AL East race will be much closer.

As talented as they are, the Yankees have obvious areas in need of improvement, and the judge’s loss of free agency would only add to the unofficial to-do list. And in particular, the Yankees have to do something about their shortstop. They passed the historic free agent class of Offisson and settled in Isiah Kiner-Falefa, a light bat who largely negates his impressive range with plays completing problems. is error prone, He lost his job at postseason. How did you get to that point in October?

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The Yankees passed these free agents because (in order) they didn’t want to award a major contract, and they want Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpi to keep their position in the future. Volpi had a very good season in Double-A and finished the year in Triple-A. Peraza did very well at Triple-A and spent September in the Bronx, despite only starting 14 games. It hit the .306/.404/.429 in limited action and impressed defensively, yet it was excluded from the ALDS list.

If the Yankees deliver a big contract this off-season, it’s going to Judge, not Carlos Correa, Trea Turner or one of the other elite stopping points. In that case, did Kiner-Falefa get the job again in 2022? Will the Yankees hand it over to Peraza? Do they jump Volpi straight into the grand slams on opening day like the Astros did with Jeremy Peña? Shortstop is a clear position that can be upgraded. So can third base, as Donaldson showed his age in 2022, left field, back spin, and bull.

Notably, the Yankees have a lot of money coming out of the books this season, much of it going to players who didn’t contribute much in 2022. Here are the impending free agents who spent the entire season with the Yankees and their 2022 salaries:

(First base player Anthony Rizzo has a $16 million player option and could become a free agent as well. He has not yet indicated if he will actually pull out.)

Judge is clearly the big name and the Taillon was a solid mid-turn option and should be replaced. The Yankees had $36.63 million tied up in four painkillers that haven’t done much this year. Britton and Greene missed most of the year with rehab after Tommy John’s surgery, and Chapman was weak when he was healthy (Then he gave up the team at postseason), and Castro was ambiguous about a shoulder injury. That $36.62 million grossed just 81 rounds and -0.5 WAR.

Last season the Yankees reshaped their roster to improve their defense and add more contact bats to the lineup, and overall it has been successful. They rated well defensively and their strike rate of 22.5 percent was roughly the league average (22.4 percent). Now they have to re-sign the judge, fill in the blank in the left field, find upgrades on the left side of the field, and boost the shooting crew. There is some money to spend and room for improvement. In the end, it is up to the judge. The Yankees’ hands might be tied up a bit until they know the judge’s decision. He holds the keys to themselves.

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