We are witnessing the worst New York Yankees season in three decades. Boston Red Sox dropped the Yankees to 60-64, the latest into the season they have been under .500 since finishing the 1992 campaign at 76-86. They have lost eight straight games and are 24-39 since peaking at 36-25 on June 4.
"We're OK," Yankees manager Aaron Boone, a perpetual optimist, told NJ.com on Saturday. "I mean, we're definitely wearing it. Not fun going through this, right? But I feel like we're OK, and I do feel like the turnaround is coming."
The Yankees have 38 games remaining and although their postseason odds are long, those 38 games don't have to be meaningless. There are steps the Yankees can take now to set themselves up better for 2024. Here are four.
1. Shut down Judge
On June 3, Aaron Judge made a spectacular catch crashing into the Dodger Stadium wall. He also banged his foot on a small piece of exposed concrete, and tore a ligament in his right big toe. It sent him to the injured list for eight weeks, and although he's played well since returning, Judge is clearly hobbled. He runs with a limp and has a noticeably diminished top speed.
"It's not going to be pain-free, but we'll just get as close to manageable as we can,".
This is Year 1 of Judge's massive nine-year, $360 million contract. With the Yankees fading out of the race (crashing out of the race is more like it), why make your franchise player play through pain?, but the sooner he stops playing on the toe, the sooner he can begin healing, and the sooner he can prepare for 2024.
Shutting Judge down would be difficult for the Yankees to swallow. It would be an admission they're throwing in the towel on 2023 and focusing on 2024, plus it would hurt ticket sales and television ratings these last six weeks. Judge is a great ballplayer, first and foremost. He's also an enormous draw who puts butts in the seats. Shutting him down is for the greater good though.
2. Shut down Cortes too
The Yankees were dealt a pretty significant blow two weeks ago when lefty Nestor Cortes . He missed more than two months with the same injury earlier this season, returned on Aug. 5 and looked great (one run and eight strikeouts in four innings while on a pitch limit), but then had to go right back on the injured list.
"Maybe there was some added (adrenaline) there. A lot of stuff that can happen that led to this. Hopefully I can get through it this time around," Cortes told MLB.com about reinjuring his shoulder in that Aug. 5 start. "... It's hard to pinpoint something. It's probably a combination, a little bit of everything."
Cortes, who threw 158 1/3 innings with a 2.44 ERA last year and went to the All-Star Game, will be shut down 3-4 weeks, and the Yankees have already acknowledged his season might be over. There just might not be enough time remaining in the season to rehab and build back up, even as a short reliever. The schedule might make the decision to shut Cortes down for the Yankees.
"We'll see," Boone told MLB.com when asked whether Cortes could return in 2023. "It'll probably be tough with that kind of timeline. I know they're going to re-evaluate him in three weeks, so you're talking three to four weeks of no throwing, essentially starting over from there with catch play. It would be pretty difficult."
Shoulder injuries, particularly rotator cuff injuries, are not to be messed with. With the postseason a long shot at best, there's no reason for the Yankees and Cortes to push for a return in September. Give the shoulder ample time to heal so this injury doesn't occur for a third time, and prioritize being 100% for spring training. Shutting Cortes down seems like a no-brainer.
3. Give young players a shot
Calling up young players just for the sake of calling up young players late in the season is not the way to do it. Young players are not automatically more MLB ready just because the big-league Yankees are out of the race, and if you rush a prospect or push him too aggressively, you risk stunting his development. Calling up young players is worthwhile. It just has to be done smartly.
Fortunately for the Yankees, they have several young players who appear ready for an MLB look, most notably infielder Oswald Peraza. Peraza lost the shortstop job to Anthony Volpe in spring training, though he's gotten some big-league time the last two years, and he has played 170 career games at Triple-A (and played well). Josh Donaldson's injury opened up playing time at third base and the Yankees need to figure out what they have in Peraza.
Outfield prospect Everson Pereira has hit .300/.373/.548 with 18 home runs in 81 games with huge exit velocities between Triple-A and MLB this season, and SNY reports a Pereira call up is "expected soon." Pereira, like Peraza, is already on the 40-man roster, making a promotion nice and easy. There are no add/drop machinations to work through.
Rookie righties Jhony Brito and Randy Vásquez have made spot starts throughout the season and are positioned for longer auditions now with Cortes hurt, Domingo Germán , and Clarke Schmidt soaring beyond his previous career high innings total. Vásquez is a touted prospect who has impressed when thrust into duty. He'll get more starts down the stretch.
Fellow righty Clayton Beeter, who came over in last year's Joey Gallo trade, must go on the 40-man roster after the season and the Yankees could add him early and give him a few starts down the stretch. He's fanned 42 batters in 35 2/3 innings since being promoted to Triple-A in June. A September call up would allow Beeter to get his feet wet before assuming a larger role in 2024.
Not every young player hits the ground running in the big leagues and there's a lot of value in giving a player like Beeter or Pereira a taste of the show late in the season so they can experience it and begin the process of making adjustments in the offseason rather than on the fly next year. Given their current place in the standings, youth should now be the priority for the Yankees.
"Those guys are obviously knocking on the door," Boone told the New York Post about calling up Pereira and others. "Those are guys that are pushing their way into the conversation. So we'll see."
4. Replace Cashman?
. While I believe Cashman returning is the most likely outcome, I wouldn't assume that decision is final. How ownership feels in August may not be how ownership feels in September or October or November. There's always a chance, however small, that was a dreaded vote of confidence.
If the winds begin to shift and chairman Hal Steinbrenner becomes open to replacing Cashman, the Yankees will want to make that decision -- and that move -- sooner rather than later. The sooner you pull the plug, the sooner you can begin the process of hiring a replacement, and the sooner your next general manager can begin reshaping the roster. With each passing game, it looks like the Yankees should be playing for 2024, and that includes finalizing the baseball operations department.