For a season that ended in all-too-familiar fashion, the 2022 Yankees sure did pack in plenty of drama, intrigue, history, highs, lows and everything in between.
Most of the heavy lifting in preparation for 2023 has already been done, but before the new year begins, it’s time to look back on the 2022 season once more and use it as a springboard for what’s to come.
Best game: The Yankees went 20-3 from late April through mid-May, but their win on May 10 against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium was bigger than the rest. The game included three ejections (all Blue Jays), a 3-0 Yankees deficit, a game-tying three-run homer from Giancarlo Stanton in the sixth inning, then the Blue Jays going back up by two runs in the eighth inning. But as he did all season, Aaron Judge had the final say, crushing the first walk-off home run of his career, a three-run shot off Jordan Romano to lift the Yankees to a 6-5 win.
Worst game: As good as the Yankees looked early in the season, their August-early September swoon was just as damning. Late in that downturn came a 9-0 loss to the Rays on Sept. 2 at Tropicana Field that manager Aaron Boone called “embarrassing.” With a mostly healthy lineup, they scattered five hits, left 10 men on base and made three errors. Boone said he hoped it was rock bottom as their AL East lead shrank to five games, the lowest it had been since June 1.
Most Valuable Player: Ha, like there was any decision. Judge.
MVP that wasn’t the AL MVP: Nestor Cortes. The lefty entered spring training facing questions about whether his strong finish to 2021 was a fluke and answered them by taking his game to a whole other level. He was an All-Star with a 2.44 ERA and further cemented his status as a fan and clubhouse favorite.
Least Valuable Player: Unfortunately for the Yankees, there are a few candidates here, from Joey Gallo and Frankie Montas to Aaron Hicks and Aroldis Chapman. We’ll spare Gallo and Montas since they only spent part of the season in The Bronx and go with Chapman, who, besides his 4.46 ERA, went on the injured list for an infection from a new tattoo and later quit on the team when it became clear that his postseason roster spot was in question.
Best trade: Three days before spring training ended, with backup catcher Ben Rortvedt still injured, the Yankees acquired Jose Trevino from the Rangers for Albert Abreu and minor leaguer Robby Ahlstrom. Trevino turned into an All-Star and the Yankees got Abreu back later in the season anyway off waivers.
Best trade now that looked like the worst trade then: Harrison Bader for Jordan Montgomery. Bader arrived to the Yankees in a walking boot while Montgomery got to the Cardinals and was suddenly untouchable on the mound. But after Bader got healthy, he was one of the Yankees’ best players in the postseason and now looks like a key piece for 2023 in center field. Montgomery, meanwhile, would have been the Yankees’ fifth starter at best after they landed Carlos Rodon this offseason.
Best decision: Judge betting on himself and turning down a seven-year, $213.5 million extension offer ahead of Opening Day. All he did after that was hit 62 home runs, win AL MVP and land a nine-year, $360 million contract to stay in pinstripes earlier this month.
Worst decision: We’ll never know if it would have made a difference in the long run, but Boone taking Gerrit Cole out early in Game 3 of the ALCS sure seemed like a nail in the coffin. The Astros led 2-0 in the sixth inning when they loaded the bases with no outs and Cole at 96 pitches. Boone then went to Lou Trivino, who quickly gave up three runs to blow the game open.
Biggest decision for 2023: When will Anthony Volpe be ready? The Yankees’ top prospects, and one of the highest-ranked prospects in baseball, will have a chance to compete for the shortstop job in spring training alongside fellow prospect Oswald Peraza and Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Volpe is projected to have the highest ceiling and has been held out of trade talks because the Yankees believe he is a special player. Exactly when he’s ready to show that in The Bronx will be a critical decision, especially if it could potentially free up Peraza to be used in a trade.
Best surprise impact: Matt Carpenter. It’s a shame that a broken foot in early August derailed his season and made him a shell of himself in the playoffs. But after going from the couch to the Yankees lineup in late May, the veteran provided a boost, hitting 15 home runs in 47 games to go with a .305 batting average and 1.138 OPS.
Surprise player who could impact 2023: Boone, Matt Blake and Brian Cashman have already tabbed left-hander Matt Krook as an interesting arm who could contribute out of the bullpen a year after Ron Marinaccio played that role. So we’ll go with Jimmy Cordero, who pitched to a 2.09 ERA in 38 ⅔ innings last season with Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre in his first year back from Tommy John surgery. The hard-throwing righty reliever was added to the 40-man roster in November.
Best call-up: The Yankees were in serious need of a spark in mid-August when they decided to promote Oswaldo Cabrera and Estevan Florial. Cabrera provided the jolt they needed, both with his bat and in his ability to move around the diamond, asserting himself as a strong utility option for next season.
Most dire lineup: Sept. 7 vs. Twins: Cabrera RF, Judge DH, Torres 2B, Guzman 1B, Andujar LF, Kiner-Falefa 3B, Florial CF, Higashioka C, Peraza SS. Yes, this was a lineup for a real game that mattered — because of injuries and the paternity list — not one for a split-squad Grapefruit League game on the road in March. The one two days later with Hicks batting third and Kiner-Falefa batting cleanup was a doozy, too.
Most ideal 2023 lineup: LeMahieu 3B, Judge RF, Rizzo 1B, Stanton DH, Torres 2B, Bader CF, Cabrera LF, Trevino C, Volpe/Peraza SS. We’re trying to be somewhat realistic here — as in no trade for Bryan Reynolds to be the new left fielder — but this lineup would mean a healthy DJ LeMahieu, Cabrera manning left field, Kiner-Falefa either traded or in a utility role and some team trading for Josh Donaldson and a prospect.
Most random player: Anthony Banda. We could have picked Chi Chi Gonzalez, but by the time he was called up to pitch in a game, the Yankees had already clinched the AL East. Ronald Guzman also made a three-game cameo in September for an injured Rizzo, but he had been in the organization since spring training. Banda, meanwhile, signed as a free agent on Aug. 28 and pitched for the Yankees that night in Oakland. A few days later, he made his second and final appearance before being designated for assignment.
Estevan Florial’s choose-your-own-adventure story
If there was ever a time for Estevan Florial to play up to his potential at the big-league level, now would be it.
With the left-field free-agent market suddenly thin — the top options remaining are Jurickson Profar, A.J. Pollock and David Peralta — and any trade for a top left fielder (read: Bryan Reynolds) likely requiring a haul, it’s looking more and more like the Yankees could try to fill the void in-house.
That would likely fall on Oswaldo Cabrera, who might be more valuable in a versatile role, and Aaron Hicks, who is coming off a brutal season both offensively and defensively.
One of the only other options on the 40-man roster is Florial, now 25 years old. He seemed to put it all together, and stay healthy, last season at Triple-A, batting .283 with 39 steals and a .850 OPS. But when he was called up in August, he struggled to carry over that momentum and grab hold of the opportunity.
While Florial has not exactly received an extended look in any of his call-ups, across 29 games in the big leagues over the last three years, he has batted only .185 with a .579 OPS. And now he is out of minor league options.
The Yankees might leave the door open again for him this spring, but unless he finally barges through, he could more likely be in for a change of scenery.
The offseason roster churn, especially for players on the periphery of the 26- and 40-man rosters, can be unforgiving. Such was the case with Lucas Luetge, who was designated for assignment last week when the Yankees had to open a spot for the free-agent signing of Tommy Kahnle.
Luetge’s DFA was announced as the final sentence of a press release announcing the addition of Kahnle, then came back into focus on Wednesday when the Yankees traded him to the Braves for a pair of minor leaguers. It should be a solid landing spot for Luetge, joining a bullpen for the five-time defending NL East champs.
Luetge’s two seasons with the Yankees were his first in the majors since 2015, marking a scouting victory for the Yankees and a personal triumph for the 34-year-old lefty.
Now it’s up to the Yankees to find the next Luetge.