The Bombers have, once again, bombed out.
Another season wasted, another chase for 28 coming up short. The Yankees will fly home Tuesday night after a 6-2 loss at the hands of the Red Sox in the AL wild-card game. Boston did the Yankees a favor, taking them out back like Old Yeller and finishing the job for a limping, wounded, streaky squad.
Hopes that they would flip the switch once again to carry them through to the World Series were met by a buzzsaw in Nathan Eovaldi in Fenway Park, with the Sox downing their AL East rivals in the playoffs for the second time in the last three years.
MORE: Yankees vs. Red Sox results: Early homers, strong start from Nathan Eovaldi propels Boston to AL wild-card win
So, where do they go from here? The Yankee window to win a championship isn’t entirely closed, but after another year of coming up short in the postseason, New York enters a pivotal offseason for the future of the franchise.
Here are five questions that must be answered in the immediate:
Trade Aaron Judge? Extend Aaron Judge?
Reports surfaced earlier in 2021 that the Yankees and Angels had “the lightest of flirtations” on an Aaron Judge trade. Who or what would be involved in that deal is pure speculation, but with the Yankees having a pretty busy outfield set for 2021, those flirtations could become full-on makeout sessions over the coming months.
The Yankees will have to make a decision on Judge’s future sooner rather than later: He’s under team control in 2022 before hitting free agency, and is coming off his best, healthiest season since his rookie year in 2017. He’s also going to be 30 by the time he hits free agency. That’s not old, but it certainly makes for a tricky contract extension situation.
That puts the Yankees in a difficult position: Do you hold onto Judge for another year, or trade him for … whatever you can trade him for this offseason? Maybe it’s pitching help, maybe it’s prospect help. His value probably won’t be higher than it is right now, and with Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Gallo both under contract for 2022, there could be an outfield glut to try and resolve.
If the Yankees aren’t planning to pay Judge in the long term, then they might view a Judge deal as an inevitability. That’s, by far, their toughest decision to make heading into 2022.
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What do you do with Gleyber Torres?
Gleyber Torres is no longer 22 — the rallying cry of Yankee fans during the 2018 postseason — and he’ll be 25 come December. Torres is also coming off back-to-back really bad years for the Yankees, both at the plate and in the field, and there’s a question of when potential will meet production again.
While New York once looked at Torres as an everyday option at shortstop for the future, his defensive abilities have been bottom-of-the-barrel (negative-10 DRS at shortstop; negative-2 at second base in 2021) and he has also put together back-to-back seasons of poor offensive success for New York. Not entirely encouraging signs.
Torres played much better as a second baseman than as a shortstop down the stretch, and is generally a better defender at second, too, though not by much. Does that place his future with the Yankees at second base? There are a few other layers to peel back on this stinky problem onion:
What does that do for DJ LeMahieu? Does he shift back to the super utility guy? LeMahieu played most of his innings at second base in 2021 (663 innings at second base, 620 innings at first base and third base combined). LeMahieu is also coming off a pretty bad offensive season, but his contract means he’s going to play everyday somewhere in 2022.What happens at shortstop? While the Yankees have one of baseball’s top prospects, Anthony Volpe, in the pipeline, he’s still two seasons away from being major-league ready. There are plenty of long- and short-term options in free agency, should they want to spend the money.
While two bad seasons is hardly a death knell on a career, Torres’ down power numbers and lack of apparent growth at the plate should have the Yankees at least paying attention to what’s happening.
MORE: Why did Yankees pull Gerrit Cole after two innings? Ace gets quick hook against Red Sox in wild-card game
Re-sign Anthony Rizzo?
Anthony Rizzo had a pretty Rizzo stat line with the Yankees since his arrival at the trade deadline, and he offers a lot more to the roster than simply being a lefty.
Rizzo is a lefty bat — something the Yankees desperately lacked to start the year — a decent defender and has power that will play in Yankee Stadium over a full 162 games. While Rizzo had a down year overall in terms of offensive production, he’s worth taking the risk on a contract extension, if the Yankees go that way.
If the Yankees can lock up Rizzo for, say, a four-year deal, that makes Luke Voit expendable in any trade. The Yankees need to balance their lineup better; with Voit, Giancarlo Stanton and others vying for time at DH, a Rizzo re-signing and subsequent trade of excess parts kills two birds with one stone.
MORE: Yankees’ Phil Nevin waves Aaron Judge home, results in easy out for Red Sox in wild-card game
Pitching, pitching, pitching
Was pitching the No. 1 problem with the Yankees in 2021? No. But they hit on their lottery tickets, which can be a risky proposition for a few years in a row.
While Brian Cashman got his “white whale” in Gerrit Cole, he seemingly had a difficult time filling out the staff behind him in recent years. Corey Kluber pitched a no-hitter and then was on the shelf for three months. Jameson Taillon seemed to figure things out this year and pitched pretty unevenly in 2021, but was decent enough for a back-end guy.
If Deivi Garcia — who struggled in Triple A this year — or Clarke Schmidt or any of their highly touted young arms don’t come through in 2022, the Yankees are going to have to bargain shop for starting pitching again.
It’s clear the Yankees would rather devote resources to shoring up the bullpen as opposed to the rotation — just look at any and all of their pitching moves not named Gerrit Cole over the last four seasons — so if that’s the route they choose to go again, they could be dealing with a patchwork rotation that’s light on innings in 2022.
MORE: Yankees broadcaster hilariously botches Giancarlo Stanton non-home run call in wild-card game: ‘What did I do wrong?’
Will the Yankees fire Aaron Boone?
Aaron Boone has drawn the ire of Yankee fans since the day he was hired. Maybe it’s because he seemingly isn’t a hard-nosed disciplinarian like his predecessor, or maybe it’s because he seems to have an “Aw, shucks” vibe about him, or maybe it’s because he’s not great at the day-to-day … managing stuff.
As always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Boone has been a perfectly fine manager for the Yankees; He has helped guide them to a .601 winning percentage in the last four years and has had to navigate a lot of murky and choppy waters in that span.
No, Boone’s in-game decisions haven’t always been the best. But more blame should be levied on general manager Brian Cashman than Boone after the latest Yankee playoff bust.
After diminishing playoff returns since 2017, Cashman’s approach to team building hasn’t exactly yielded the best results. While he’s heralded for his trades, Cashman has skirted by on a fair amount of responsibility when it comes to team building. The 2021 trade deadline confirms that: Usually reserved for adding one or two finishing pieces, the acquisitions of Rizzo and Joey Gallo were more made to remake the lineup on the fly than to add to a near-finished product.
That might not be the stuff fans want to hear, especially in an era when managers are more expendable than ever. But when a manager has to navigate a season with a patchwork rotation and injuries and ineffectiveness in the high-priced bullpen, an unbalanced lineup and poor performances by pivotal players … that’s a lot to ask anyone to overcome.
If Boone is next in line to get his walking papers, but Cashman gets another go at propping open that playoff and World Series window — that’ll make for some good Bomber drama this offseason.