This story was excerpted from Bryan Hoch’s Yankees Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
Aaron Boone glanced at the lineup card resting upon his desk in the visiting clubhouse of Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium late on Sunday afternoon, the Yankees’ 162nd game of the season having just been completed. There would be no more batting orders for the manager to fill out, and that jarring reality felt strange.
“We need to be playing this time of year,” Boone said. “I take a little bit of solace in how these guys continued to show up, continued to prepare, and continued to compete all the way until the end. But we need to be playing this time of year, and that’s ultimately the takeaway.”
With a record of 82-80, the fourth-place Yankees narrowly avoided their first losing season since 1992, but a 31st consecutive winning season meant little considering their mission statement of ending the club’s World Series drought — now 5,056 days and counting.
“It definitely wasn’t a success, I know that,” said outfielder Aaron Judge. “But I think hopefully these guys in this room will use the extra four weeks that we’re going to get to prepare themselves and get ready for this next season.”
Defining moment: We’ll always wonder what the season might have looked like had Judge chosen a different route in pursuing J.D. Martinez’s fly ball on the afternoon of June 3.
When the reigning AL MVP completed a spectacular catch, he crashed into a low-lying cement barrier at Dodger Stadium, sustaining a torn ligament in his right big toe that would cost him two months. The Yankees were 10 games above .500 that day at 35-25; when Judge was ready to return, he rejoined a last-place team.
What we learned: There were significant flaws with the team’s roster construction, which were obscured by Judge’s 62-homer performance in 2022. Most of ’23 looked and felt like a continuation of the Yanks’ second-half slide in ’22, prompting managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner to vow that tough questions will be asked this winter.
With Steinbrenner having ordered a third-party audit of the organization, the club’s processes with regard to analytics will be scrutinized, examining the decision-making that led to disastrous trades like those that imported Josh Donaldson and Frankie Montas. Judge said on Sunday that he believes “we might be looking at the wrong numbers.”
Best development: Gerrit Cole took his game to another level, putting forth his best season to date in pinstripes, one that seems certain to be honored with the ace right-hander’s first career Cy Young Award.
Cole stamped an exclamation point upon his case with a shutout on Sept. 27 at Toronto, finishing with a 15-4 record and 2.63 ERA in 33 starts. Cole led the league in ERA, winning percentage (.789), shutouts (2), innings (209), ERA+ (165), WHIP (0.981), and hits per nine innings (6.8).
“You need a lot of help from your teammates to have success; we have to play well as a team,” Cole said. “That’s a big part of why this year turned out so well for me personally.”
Area for improvement: There is plenty to point to here, but let’s begin with the bats, which were remarkably ordinary. A team advertised as an offensive juggernaut instead fell well short of expectations with a .227 batting average (14th in AL), .304 on-base percentage (12th in AL), .397 slugging percentage (11th in AL), and 673 runs scored (11th in AL).
When Judge went down, veterans like Giancarlo Stanton, DJ LeMahieu and Anthony Rizzo could largely not pick up the slack. A productive outfielder, particularly one who bats from the left side of the plate like Cody Bellinger, would be a welcome addition.
On the rise: Michael King’s late-season transition to a starting role was a welcome development, and Boone now says he envisions King as one of the Yanks’ starters in 2024. King posted a 1.88 ERA (8 ER in 38 1/3 IP) over eight starts from Aug. 24 on, striking out 48 against nine walks in 38 1/3 innings.
Catcher Austin Wells did a nice job working with the staff and showed some September pop, placing him firmly in the mix to win an Opening Day roster spot. Outfielder Jasson Domínguez homered on his first swing in the big leagues, a tantalizing preview of what could be once “The Martian” recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Team MVP: You could flip a coin between Cole and Judge, but this year, it’s Cole’s turn to savor the spotlight. Even Judge agrees.
“Seeing Gerrit this season was special, but it’s honestly a disappointment for me that we weren’t able to back him up, have a better season and take a guy like that into the postseason,” Judge said. “He’s the benchmark right now. He’s the standard for what you look for in an ace. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next year.”