TAMPA — The stench of an 82-80 season is still wafting through the Yankees’ airspace, but the scent of spring and its promise of wiping the slate clean is about to offer a welcome diversion.
It will require more than a quality offseason of roster transactions or an encouraging spring training for the Yankees to fully fumigate what happened in 2023.
But they have to start somewhere, and as pitchers and catchers report to camp Wednesday, they will try to begin turning the page on the franchise’s worst season in 31 years.
While the first full-squad workout is set for next Tuesday, the Yankees have had a growing number of players already in Tampa over the past weeks and months, using the disappointment from a season that general manager Brian Cashman described as a “disaster” to try to make sure it does not happen again.
“[In] all aspects we’re going to try to hit the ground running, as you do every year, but obviously this year is even that much more important and meaningful given how last year played,” Cashman said last month. “I think every player, every staff member, anybody in the front office, ownership all understands and knows that. No one wants to have that experience that we had last year of underperforming, failing, however you want to characterize it. We’re better than that. And our fans deserve better than that. And we’re intending on running a 2024 season in a much better light.”
The Yankees will do so with a revamped lineup bolstered by the arrival of Juan Soto, one of the game’s best hitters joining one of the game’s worst offenses from a year ago.
The superstar only has one year left on his contract before hitting free agency, and while the Yankees will likely try to keep Soto around long term next offseason, the guarantee of just one year heightens the pressure to go all-in this season.
That blockbuster trade with the Padres (which also included outfielder Trent Grisham) came a day after the Yankees acquired Alex Verdugo from the Red Sox, reshaping their outfield with a pair of left-handed hitters on either side of Aaron Judge, who will shift to center field.
The other half of Cashman’s dream offseason fell through, though, as Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto picked the Dodgers’ 12-year, $325 million deal over the Yankees’ 10-year, $300 million offer.
Turned off by the steep prices for the other high-end pitchers on the free-agent and trade markets, the Yankees pivoted to sign Marcus Stroman to a two-year, $37.5 million contract to fill out their rotation.
And yet, despite the offseason additions raising the Yankees’ luxury tax payroll north of $300 million for the first time in franchise history, questions linger about the state of their rotation.
Its potential hinges on the health and bounce-back abilities of Carlos Rodon, Nestor Cortes and (to a lesser extent) Stroman behind reigning AL Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole.
“I think we’ve improved,” said Cashman, who also traded for a pair of lefty relievers from the Dodgers in Caleb Ferguson and Victor Gonzalez. “I think our team was better than how it finished, regardless of last year. But despite all that, we’ve jump-started a lot of areas, especially the offense, which was a difficult run for us last year. So I think we’re improved. But it doesn’t matter what I think, it just matters how it’s gonna play. But we’re excited about the possibilities.”
The offseason began with the Yankees pledging to make big changes following their nightmare season.
Besides the roster moves, plus a new bench coach (Brad Ausmus) and hitting coach (James Rowson) to replace coaches who left on their own, the rest of the changes appear to be of the behind-the-scenes variety (including a year-long partnership with the analytics firm Zelus to see if the Yankees are satisfied with their internal numbers).
And so manager Aaron Boone enters the final year of his contract for the second time in his tenure, tasked with meshing a few new personalities into the clubhouse and trying to get the best out of a roster that failed to play up to its potential last season.
“I think the players that were here are very hungry, had a bad taste in their mouth from last year’s experience,” Cashman said, “and nobody wants to have that experience again.”
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