After the New York Yankees shut the door on their abysmal 2023 season, they watched as their nemesis the Houston Astros reached the American League Championship Series for the seventh straight year. Then they watched the Texas Rangers, led in part by former Yankees Jordan Montgomery, Nathan Eovaldi and Aroldis Chapman, win the World Series. Yankees fans waited all October, throughout the Bronx Bombers’ first missed playoffs since 2016, for a positive sign. They waited for one, just one indication, that perhaps the 2024 Yankees would return to some semblance of the Evil Empire.
And then Hal Steinbrenner said the Yankees need to bunt more.
The Yankees chairman and managing general partner spoke publicly Tuesday for the first time since the end of the club’s 82-80 season, which he called “awful and unacceptable.” It was, by record, the Yankees’ worst season in over three decades. Months earlier, Steinbrenner said he would ask “tough questions” if the Yankees missed the playoffs. So, naturally, the public was curious about what exactly were those tough questions.
“I’ve asked a lot of questions,” Steinbrenner said in a Zoom call with reporters. “I wouldn’t even know where to begin. But obviously the first question that I asked had to do with, should Aaron Boone be our manager next year?”
Among those who weighed in on this probe were former Yankees Nick Swisher and Andy Pettitte, as well as advisors Brian Sabean and Omar Minaya, and current players. Since it appears Steinbrenner kept his inquiry to in-house personnel only, it’s not surprising that Boone received ample support and adulation for his ability to manage. Those views, Steinbrenner said, paralleled his own positive opinion of Boone. Thus, Boone will remain the Yankees manager for a seventh season. Boone’s contract runs through 2024, with a club option for 2025.
Steinbrenner claimed to have asked “many” other questions, but he stopped short of stating what those queries were. The Yankees owner did not specify what changes would be coming to the 2024 Yankees, but he did note that his superstar slugger, Aaron Judge, considers them significant. It’s a sign that Judge’s influence with Steinbrenner, and within the team’s various departments, is strong. Judge, signed through 2031 on a nine-year, $360 million contract, is playing a heavy hand in the direction of the Yankees.
The rest of Steinbrenner’s Zoom call was vague. He bounced from different topics like the Yankees being evaluated by a third party, Zelus Analytics, to the organization’s own strength in its analytics department, to the payroll required to compete, to the offense’s biggest problems.
Regarding the latter, Steinbrenner specifically pointed to bunting as an area the Yankees need to emphasize. That idea came from Boone, who believes the Yankees are not teaching their young players to adequately bunt. Steinbrenner also pointed to this recent postseason as proof that teams do not need enormous payrolls to win.
“I do believe that a team shouldn’t need a $300 million payroll,” Steinbrenner said. “The Rangers didn’t, the Astros didn’t.”
The Rangers and Astros also didn’t bunt to get deep into October.
Rangers are World Series champs for first time in franchise history
The Bruce Bochy-led Rangers recorded the fifth-fewest bunt hits (six) in MLB in 2023. Houston collected the same number of bunt hits (10) as the Yankees. Texas also had the ninth-fewest sac bunts with 10, and the Astros had slightly more with 14, which rated in the middle of the pack. The club with the highest amount of sac bunts was the Arizona Diamondbacks, who won the National League pennant. The D-backs’ entire modus operandi was small ball and it proved successful — to a point. That style of play couldn’t keep up with the Rangers’ overpowering offense in the World Series.
But Arizona’s 2023 offense was built on youth, speed, and contact because that played to their strengths. The Yankees’ offense certainly stands to get younger, but the presence of veterans like Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rizzo and DJ LeMahieu, each of whom still have at least another year left on their contracts, complicates that initiative.
“What you need is a good mix of veteran players and young players,” Steinbrenner said. “We’re going to get a bit younger.”
Aiming to get a bit younger was one of the most positive takeaways from Steinbrenner’s Zoom call. The Yankees finally displayed flash and urgency when they promoted Jasson “The Martian” Domínguez to the big leagues in September. Domínguez and another September call-up, catcher Austin Wells, created such a refreshing new look that it was curious why the Yankees didn’t promote them sooner.
New York’s 2023 season changed for the worse the minute Judge’s toe collided with the concrete wall at Dodger Stadium. The Bombers’ in-house options to replace the then-reigning AL MVP were nonexistent, and they fell out of contention by the time general manager Brian Cashman might’ve upgraded at the trade deadline.
Yankees have officially hit rock bottom
Throughout all of these apparent queries and unspecified team changes, Cashman’s role leading the Yankees front office is seemingly unchanged. The GM was re-signed in Dec. 2022 to a four-year deal that runs through the 2026 season. Cashman will again be at the forefront of the team’s decision-making process this winter as the Yankees navigate how to put their best players on the field. In the free-agency landscape, Steinbrenner was asked about striking a potential megadeal, and the owner said “everything is on the table.” Juan Soto in pinstripes sure would make the Bronx fan base forget about the club’s recent trip-ups.
So, the state of the Yankees heading into an important offseason is a bit unknown. They will hire a new hitting coach after the departure of Sean Casey, who filled in following the midseason firing of Dillon Lawson. Zelus Analytics will continue to evaluate the organization for one year. The Yankees feel good about their analytics department, an area Judge praised on the final day of the regular season while also lamenting that the club needs to reevaluate “how we use them and how we value them.”
Interestingly, Cashman pushed back against the notion that the Yankees overly rely on analytics at the GM meetings Tuesday.
“No one is doing their deep dives, they’re just throwing bulls— and accusing us of being run analytically,” Cashman said. “To be said we’re guided by analytics as a driver is a lie. … We have the smallest analytics department in the American League East. Is that a shocker to you guys?”
Yankees legend Derek Jeter on the use of analytics in the postseason
The Yankees’ forgettable 2023 season necessitates change on many levels. Steinbrenner on Tuesday attempted to generate optimism around the Yankees moving on from this painful year. But, without pointing to actual, specific changes, the only thing he got across was a “trust us, we got this,” sentiment.
What Steinbrenner might not realize is that he’s running out of trust and patience. More than that, the Yankees just need more wins. As of now, the only thing one can bank on from the 2024 Yankees is more bunts.
Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.
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