Less than a week ago, the New York Yankees were sent home for the offseason following a rather feeble ALCS sweep at the hands of the Houston Astros. The Astros have eliminated the Yankees four times in the last eight years and the Yankees have lost five straight Championship Series dating back to 2010. That is the longest such streak in baseball history.
"Not close enough," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said following New York's Game 4 loss when asked how close the Yankees are to getting over the hump and winning a World Series. "They beat us, and we end up second in the American League. We've got to keep working to get better."
Last year, Boone became the first manager in Yankees history to return for a fifth season after failing to win a World Series in his first four years, and he'll get a sixth season as well. On Wednesday,, and added he's already had preliminary offseason discussions with GM Brian Cashman. Cashman's contract is up, but the fact he's already talking to the owner about the offseason is a strong indication he will return as well.
There is something to be said for stability and continuity, and the Yankees have had it at what is really an unprecedent rate the last few decades. They've only had three managers since 1996 (Joe Torre from 1996-2007, Joe Girardi from 2008-17, Boone from 2018 to present) and Cashman has been the general manager since 1998. Before that, he spent three years as assistant general manager, so he's had a hand in the team-building process for almost 30 years. Hard to believe this is the same franchise that had a new manager every few months under George Steinbrenner.
The fact of the matter is Boone's and Cashman's teams win. They win a lot, in fact. The Yankees have averaged 99 wins in the last four 162-game seasons, they've gone to the ALCS three times in the last six years, they haven't had a losing season since 1992, and they've missed the postseason just four times in the last 28 years. That's two generations of Yankees fans who have known nothing but a competitive baseball team every single year. The Yankees are never truly bad.
At the same time, sticking with the status quo feels untenable. The Yankees are going on 13 years since their last pennant and World Series title, and the ALCS defeat was especially distressing because the gap between the Yankees and Astros is wider than it's ever been. Three of four games were close on the scoreboard but the series was never close on the field. At no point during the ALCS did the Yankees appear to be at Houston's level. The Astros didn't just win the ALCS. They made it look easy.
The Yankees have not beaten a non-AL Central team in a postseason series (i.e. not the Wild Card Game) since the Baltimore Orioles in the 2012 ALDS. Since 2017, they are 12-5 (.706) against AL Central teams in the postseason and 9-19 (.321) against all others. They have been eliminated three times by the Astros since 2017, twice by the Boston Red Sox, and once by the Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees and those three teams operate similarly (they lean heavily on analytics and research and development), but there's been a gap in decision-making and execution. A significant one, at times.
The ALCS felt like a watershed moment. A series that revealed just how far the Yankees have to go to get over the hump and back to the World Series. Running it back with the same cast of characters and hoping things work out better next year is a recipe for more October heartbreak. The offense is flawed with too many swing and miss righties, and the Yankees did not have a starting shortstop in the postseason. Isiah Kiner-Falefa lost the job and New York, in the middle of the ALCS, tried out rookies Oswaldo Cabrera and Oswald Peraza. What contender does that?
Re-signing AL MVP favorite Aaron Judge is atop the offseason to-do list, and even if the Yankees manage that, the fact is Judge's best years are likely behind him. Certainly his best years in terms of salary vs. production. Ownership cut payroll to get under the luxury tax threshold twice during Judge's six years of team control (2018 and 2021), and the front office cut a few too many corners when filling out the roster around him (Kiner-Falefa in 2022, Rougned Odor in 2021, etc.). Another year of Judge's peak (and Gerrit Cole's and Giancarlo Stanton's peak) came off the calendar this season.
Boone is returning and no, he's not the reason the Yankees keep falling short of their ultimate goal. He's also not the primary reason for their success, and the fact he returns aftersuggests the Yankees' higher-ups don't see much cause for concern. Just stay the course and hope for better luck in the next short postseason series is not the path the Yankees should take. There are real problems to be fixed, mostly on offense, otherwise it won't matter who is calling the shots from the dugout.