After a less than ideal season from the team that was projected to have an 81% chance of winning the AL East (PECOTA), the Yankees will spend the 2022 season trying to get back on track.
What happened in 2021?
The Yankees had, in two words, an up-and-down season. The perennial playoff contenders stood anywhere from fourth to second place in the AL East throughout the season. But for a team that was projected to have the second-most wins in MLB (97), 2021’s outcome constituted yet another disappointment for fans. Gerrit Cole posted his worst ERA and WAR totals in his post-Pittsburgh career, and the rest of the Yankees rotation did not contribute much else to the team’s performance. None of the six rotated starters posted an ERA below 4.00, or accumulated more than 200 IP (not including Corey Kluber, who was injured and only amassed 16 starts in the season). Another struggle by New York was due to its inconsistent offensive approach. Employing their frequently effective “strikeout or homer” method, the team did not experience much success in 2021, as they finished bottom-six in the league in K% (24.5%), and sat in the bottom half of the leaderboards with a slightly above average .407 SLG. With power numbers so low, and strikeout percentages so high, this strategy could not advance the Yankees very far in 2021, as they finished their season with a loss to the Red Sox in the AL Wild Card game. One bright spot for the Yankees though, offensively, was Aaron Judge’s continued dominance, as the slugger posted his second-highest single-season WAR total and was the most accomplished hitter on the roster.
Who did they lose before the lockout?
Heaney, a trade deadline acquisition, had a couple of respectable starts for New York, but ultimately he was no better an option than what the Yankees already had available to them in their rotation depth charts. After his final start on September 18th, 2021, Heaney was sent down to the minors before being designated for assignment in October and electing free agency.
Heaney signed a one-year $8.5 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers before the lockout ensued.
Kluber, who threw a no-hitter for New York last season, put up pretty good numbers for the team before getting hurt in April and returning for the last month of the regular season. Nonetheless, he is a rather consistent rotation piece that the Yankees will miss, as he signed a one-year $8 million contract with the Sox’s other division rival: the Tampa Bay Rays.
Odor provided depth for New York in a season where both Gleyber Torres and Gio Urshela spent time one and off the injured list. This depth will definitely be missed with Odor taking his talents intradivision to the Baltimore Orioles, whom he will be with for at least the one year remaining on his contract. Odor had a less-than-stellar year in 2021, but seemed to provide some absent spark for the Yankees during their playoff run.
Who have they added this winter?
The Yankees did not make a big splash in the free-agent signing pool pre-lockout, mostly designating contracts to some free-agent minor leaguers (José Peraza, Joely Rodríguez, etc.). Despite this, though, New York had been tied to some big offseason names pre-lockout, such as Trevor Story, their own Anthony Rizzo, and even Carlos Correa. But, with their lack of moves on MLB free agents pre-lockout, the Yankees took the opposite approach in regards to the international signing pool. New York secured the top player of the window: Roderick Arias (who received a $4 million signing bonus on Jan 15, 2022. New York also secured six different players in the signing period, most notably Luis Suarez (SS) and catchers Diomedes Hernandez and Ricardo Rodriguez. All three of these aforementioned players originate from Venezuela, while top-signee Arias is a Dominican native.
What to watch out for when the season resumes:
Red Sox fans learned in 2021 that Boston and this New York Yankees team was matched pretty evenly, as they finished with the exact same record as each other (with Boston edging them out in Wild Card seeding since they won the season series). Although neither team did much at all before the lockout, the Yankees have been linked to multiple big offseason targets and could come out swinging, acquisition-wise, when play resumes. New York is almost certain to sign at least some bullpen help, whether that be on the major or minor-league level, which means they could conflict with a market that Boston will be involved in as well.
Player-wise, it will be important to watch Aaron Judge, and see if he can obtain the offensive consistency that he showed off in 2021. Judge, the backbone of the Yankees lineup, allows other players to build off of his success, and if he provides yet another spark, it could make for a more productive New York offense in 2022. Even so, they need more than offensive production from just a single player in the lineup, which again plays into their free agency path. Since Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo’s addition at the tradeline did not help to build the offensive system that New York was hoping for, the Yankees will be on the lookout for big free agents that are still on the board. With this, Rizzo’s New York return is still to be determined, which is a factor that holistically affects their team production as well.
Another specific to watch for in New York is a possible catcher battle. In 2021, Kyle Higashioka took playing time away from Gary Sanchéz and was able to post similar offensive numbers and much-improved defensive numbers in comparison to Sanchéz’s dismal performance. This translated later in the year as well, as Higashioka essentially morphed into a personal catcher for Gerrit Cole, implying that his playing time will only increase in this coming season, and he isn’t going anywhere soon.
As for other positions, New York seems to have it figured out. The middle infield will consist of some sort of concoction of Urshela, Torres, and DJ LeMahieu. Some trouble comes at first base, though. LeMahieu is likely to fill this spot as well, with Luke Voit taking on the main day-to-day responsibility. But in the end, Voit is not a sustainable everyday starter for a championship-caliber baseball team, and if the Yankees are seeking to meet that standard, they will need to find someone else to fill the hole at first.
All in all, the Yankees’ performance in 2022 may largely depend on their free-agent signings as the lockout ends. They should still be competitive, with a growing farm system and star players, but the whole team needs to seek consistency in both offense and pitching in order to reach their goal of a World Series appearance.