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Injury Woes Prove Yankees Depth is a Puddle, Not a Pool

A stagnant Yankees squad hovers around .500. A comedy of injuries gives the team’s depth its first true test of 2023.

Death by a Thousand Cuts

The New York Yankees health struggles are nothing new. In 2019 the club set an MLB record with 36 Injured List stints. That included losing impact players like SP Luis Severino, RP Dellin Betances, SS Didi Gregorius, SP James Paxton, OF Aaron Judge, C Gary Sanchez, DH Giancarlo Stanton, 3B Miguel Andujar, and OF Aaron Hicks.

2020 was again a lost season for a multitude of Yankees players. Aaron Hicks had Tommy John surgery, as did Luis Severino. As they tend to do, players went down with more minor injuries but were out for weeks of the shortened season–see Aaron Judge’s rib fracture, and Giancarlo Stanton’s Grade 1 calf strain. James Paxton also missed time to remove a pericardial cyst, which is of course no fault of Paxton or the Yankees, but something to note, nonetheless.

Luis Severino, RP Zack Britton, RP Tommy Kahnle, OF Clint Frazier, RP Darren O’Day, and Miguel Andujar headlined the ranks of injured Yankees the following season. The threesome of O’Day, Britton, and Kahnle combined for just 34 appearances across the Bombers’ 162 games. Aaron Hicks and OF Tim Locastro also suffered season ending surgeries: a tendon sheath tear ended Hicks’ season in late May and Locastro’s year ended with an ACL tear in mid-July.

The Yankees got off to a terrific start in 2022, only to drag their way through the second half at a .500 clip. Second half injuries to OF Matt Carpenter, OF Andrew Benintendi, RP Mike King, and RP Scott Effross limited the Yankees production and an abysmal ALCS ended the season at the hands of the Houston Astros in a four-game sweep.

Despite the onslaught of injuries over the past four years, 2023 might be the most frustrating season yet, and we’re just getting started.

Injured Players through month one of 2023:

1. Aaron Judge – Hip – 10 Day IL

2. Giancarlo Stanton – Hamstring – 10 Day IL

3. 3B Josh Donaldson – Hamstring – 10 Day IL

4. SP Carlos Rodon – Elbow – 10 Day IL

5. Luis Severino – Back – 10 Day IL

6. C Ben Rortvedt – Shoulder – 10 Day IL

7. RP Jonathan Loaisiga – Elbow – 15 Day IL

8. SP Frankie Montas – Shoulder – 60 Day IL

9. Tommy Kahnle – Bicep – 60 Day IL

10. Scott Effross – Elbow – 60 Day IL

11. SP Luis Gil – Elbow – 60 Day IL

12. RP Lou Trivino – Elbow – 60 Day Il

*OF Harrison Bader not included – activated 05.02.2023

2023 salary of injured players – $152,641,983

Next Man Up

2023 has been a difficult month of baseball for the New York Yankees. Despite a “winning record” (15-14) through the month of April, the Yankees are already faced with a brutal onslaught of injuries and are entrenched in a 4-7 skid. As if to brighten spirits, an Aaron Judge trip to the injured list and brutal RP Clay Holmes blown save ring in the month of May with a bang.

The only positive from these injuries, if there is one, is UTIL Oswald Peraza’s share of playing time has increased following Josh Donaldson’s injury. The replacement players for the injured Yanks have been absolutely dreadful. Full stop.

Who is Playing in the Outfield?

Yankee outfielders not named Aaron Judge are a combined .178/.232/.263 with six home runs and 23 RBI. For a week, it seemed OF Franchy Cordero would be 2022 Matt Carpenter reincarnate, but after a four homer week to begin the year, Cordero posted a .036/.036/.036 triple slash in 11 games (1-28) before a demotion to AAA.

Super-utility man Oswaldo Cabrera has taken the lions share of his reps in left field this season and so far at the dish has posted a paltry .196/.227/.272 with an OPS+ of 39. Harrison Bader’s return to the lineup may be over as quickly as it began, following a head-on collision with UTIL Isiah Kiner-Falefa in just his second game back off the injured list. Kiner-Falefa, an outfielder for the first time in 2023, has posted a meager .196/.237/.196 with two RBI. He has yet to record an extra-base hit.

Outside of Aaron Judge, OF Willie Calhoun has been the best Yankees outfielder in 2023. A career -2.4 WAR player who has thus far earned himself -0.2 WAR, Calhoun has the best OPS+ among the quartet of Hicks, IKF, Cabrera, and Cordero. What does the best OPS+ look like for the Yankees offensive darling? 89.

The Lone Star

The only person Aaron Hicks seems to be surprising is himself. Just one year removed from his ambitious 30 homer, 30 stolen bases season goal, Hicks is scorching his way through 2023. Through 19 games, Aaron Hicks has an impressive -0.6 WAR and a mind-boggling .146/.212/.146 triple slash line. He has amassed a whopping five runs scored, recorded one RBI, and an OPS+ of three (three!). Contrary to what these numbers suggest, Aaron Hicks does in fact bring a bat to the plate.

Fans are still rooting for Hicks to complete his 30 homer/30 stolen bases quest, though I doubt anyone imagined it would take five years. Since 2019, Aaron Hicks has smacked 30 home runs and stolen 15 bases, just shy of the illustrious 30/30 mark. In addition to his supreme offense, Hicks is a web-gem machine in left field. He put on a clinic for the fans in Spring Training and made sure his supreme defense carried over to the regular season, where he has provided the Yankees with an abundance of hustle, great defense, and -1 rDRS.

On a human level, Aaron Hicks deserves better than this. He is injury prone, aging, and no longer the player he used to be at the plate or in the field. The expectations for Hicks are high, and baseball’s biggest market magnetizes each and every mistake he makes. He might be able to fly under the radar and be terrible in peace in a smaller market, but that’s not something he can control. Brian Cashman should do fans and Hicks a favor and cut bait.

On the Hill

Entering the season, the Yankees were among the best rotations in the American League. Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodon, Luis Severino, SP Nestor Cortes, and Frankie Montas have all received Cy Young votes at least once in their career, and the disgusting starting rotation was set to blaze through the American League and take advantage of the new schedule against more non-divisional opponents. Fast forward to May 1 and Gerrit Cole is the only one performing as advertised. Through seven starts, Gerrit Cole leads the league in: winning percentage at 1.000, complete game shutouts with one, innings pitched with 46.2, and he has yet to allow a home run. He owns a 1.35 ERA and 52 strikeouts to just 14 walks and is showing no signs of slowing down.

The rest of the staff is in shambles. Montas, Severino, and Rodon have yet to take the ball in 2023, with the latter still rehabbing an injury from his first Spring Training start. Cortes has been roughed up as of late, posting an uncharacteristic 4.91 ERA and 1.182 WHIP through six starts. Cortes surrendered a career-high tying seven-run start against the Rangers to close out April, but otherwise has posted a decent 3.49 ERA in his five previous starts.

Lack of Pitching Depth

The 2022 deadline saw the departure of nearly all of the Yankees minor league pitching depth, and the options for the front office are few and far between. SP Deivi Garcia’s shift to the bullpen and Luis Gil’s Tommy John surgery leave SP Clarke Schmidt and SP Domingo German to shore up the rotation along with rookie SP Jhony Brito. Domingo has shown flashes of brilliance, twirling 8.1 innings of one run ball against the Guardians and owning a sub-1.000 WHIP, but he surrenders homers at a high rate, allowing at least two home runs in three of his six starts.

Clarke Schmidt has been rough to watch, pitching more like an Oakland Athletic than a New York Yankee. His 5.83 ERA in 29.1 innings has been brutal, and he has lost five of his seven contests.

Clay Holmes’s struggles persist: his 4.50 ERA through ten innings this year fits right in with his second half struggles in 2022. Since the 2022 second half began, Holmes owns a 4.77 ERA through 32.1 innings, a far cry from the 1.31 ERA he posted in the first half of 2022.

Diamonds in the Rough

The 2023 season hasn’t been all bad news for the Yankees though. 1B Anthony Rizzo has been excellent, slashing .289/.374/.465 with a 133 OPS+, five home runs, and 14 RBI. After a tough start at the plate, SS Anthony Volpe has gotten off the interstate and owns a .221/.325/.356 triple slash line with a team-leading 10 stolen bases. Growing pains aside, watching Anthony Volpe terrorizing pitchers on the base paths has been a breath of fresh air to a traditionally slower, slugger-type lineup the Yankees have rolled out in recent years.

2B Gleyber Torres has been decent, which puts him in rare company so far this year. INF DJ LeMahieu has shown off his ability to hit in the clutch, posting a .409 batting average and .440 OBP in 25 plate appearances with men in scoring position.

As easy as it is to hit the panic button, Yankees fans need to take a deep breath. It is early. There is still time for players to come back. The roster as it stands is not a playoff roster, much less a World Series-caliber roster. But if and when this injury plague passes, the Yankees will Yankees again.

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