2023 Season Autopsy Begins With Communication For The New York Yankees
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The misery of the 2023 season has mercifully come to an end for the New York Yankees. Only two will be immune from the onslaught of criticisms thrust upon the beleaguered ball club: right-handed pitcher Gerrit Cole and right fielder/designated hitter Aaron Judge. As both ball players are on Hall of Fame trajectories in the prime years of their careers, the Yankees have already wasted precious time that Cole and Judge don’t have mired in mediocrity. Failed analytical experiments with one-dimensional ball players are only a small portion of the problems the Yankees must solve this offseason. They are a poorly constructed ball club with contract and communication issues along with deficiencies in four key areas: athleticism, contact, speed, and quality left-handed hitters.

The YES Network beautifully captured Judge sitting alone in the dugout after losing the final ball game of the regular season to the lowly Kansas City Royals. As he watched a 106-loss ball club celebrate a 5-2 victory, Judge was deep in thought as his body language spoke a thousand words. One could only imagine the depths of anger running rapidly through Judge’s mind and how the current situation is unacceptable for someone who returned to the Yankees for far more than a nine-year, $360 million free agent contract.

The Yankees had the second-highest Opening Day payroll this season of $275,249,873 according to the Associated Press and are in line to be a second-time Competitive Balance Tax payor this winter. While ball clubs don’t calculate their Competitive Balance Tax payrolls until season’s end, it’s safe to assume the Yankees will be paying a hefty penalty for an 82-win season without a postseason appearance. The base tax threshold for the 2023 season is $233 million, the first surcharge threshold is $253 million, and the second surcharge threshold is $273 million according to the current collective bargaining agreement. As a potential second-time Competitive Balance Tax payor, the Yankees would be paying a 30% tax on the base tax threshold, a tax rate of 42% for exceeding the first surcharge threshold, and a tax rate of 75% for exceeding the second surcharge threshold based off current projections.

As a first-time Competitive Balance Tax payor in 2022 under the current collective bargaining agreement, the Yankees paid a penalty of $9.7 million for exceeding the base tax threshold of $230 million and the first surcharge threshold of $250 million with a $267,753,417 payroll according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Since the penalties began in 2003 through the 2022 season, the Yankees have paid Competitive Balance Tax penalties on 17 occasions for a grand total of $358 million according to the Associated Press. During this period of unprecedented spending on payroll, the Yankees have won two American League pennants (2003, 2009) and one world championship (2009).

Excluding Cole and Judge for obvious reasons, the Yankees have a quartet of veteran ball players who could complicate offseason planning. Besides financial commitments and concerns about declining performance, each of their contracts contains language regarding full and limited no-trade protections. Even as fans have begun to compile wish lists for the “Hot Stove” season beginning with the likes of Shohei Ohtani, Cody Bellinger, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and Juan Soto, each present varying levels of difficulty regarding free agency, the Japanese posting system, and club control of an arbitration eligible ball player.

Cot’s Baseball Contracts provide key details pertaining to structure, club options, buy outs, and Competitive Balance Tax ramifications. Designated hitter/outfielder Giancarlo Stanton is owed $128 million over the next five seasons. While the Miami Marlins will pay the Yankees $30 million since Stanton didn’t exercise the opt-out clause after the 2020 season as part of the December 2017 trade agreement, the Marlins’ six payments of $5 million won’t begin until 2026 on a semiannual basis.

The Yankees will wind up paying Stanton at least $98 million which includes a $10 million buyout for the 2028 season. If the Yankees decide to pick up the 2028 club option, it will be worth $25 million for a ball player who posted a -0.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) based on Baseball-Reference’s calculation this past season. According to Spotrac, the 33-year-old Stanton missed 47 days due to a hamstring injury with $8,086,021 of his $32 million payroll salary being earned during this period.

Left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodón had a difficult first season in the Bronx. He is owed $135 million over the next five seasons after posting a 6.85 earned run average over 14 starts (64.1 innings pitched) while striking out 64 batters according to Baseball-Reference. Utility ball player DJ LeMahieu has three years remaining on his contract and is owed $45 million. First baseman Anthony Rizzo is scheduled to earn $17 million for the 2024 season. He has a club option for the 2025 season at $17 million with a $6 million buyout. Rodón posted a -0.8 WAR for Pitchers while LeMahieu and Rizzo combined to produce a 1.8 WAR.

Before the autopsy begins on every aspect of the ball club conducted by an independent consulting firm, the Yankees must use desperation as fuel and act with a sense of urgency. An external presence needs to look carefully at their flawed communication strategies when it comes to how analytics is incorporated into the clubhouse’s culture. The Yankees must make a concerted effort to understand how ball players analyze, interpret, and implement data into their daily routines. This is a mature exercise that will require the Yankees to take a step back and assess the different learning styles of ball players. You can’t hand a world class athlete data visualizations on an iPad and expect them to immediately implement changes while disregarding years of experience shaped by coaching, natural talent, and baseball instincts.

It comes down to who is delivering the message for the New York Yankees and what teaching techniques are being utilized to create an environment conducive for learning. How are they assessing improvement and mastery of content? Are they using the appropriate metrics to maximize performance through instruction? Could the Yankees be presenting data in an incorrect fashion regardless of how much they have invested in analytics and innovation? The process cannot be mechanical in nature with a condescending tone, but a collaborative exercise that is intended to act in the best interests of the ball players.

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