The decline and fall of the New York Yankees

The decline and fall of the New York Yankees


Aaron Boone
Photo: Getty Images

It’s not just that the Yankees haven’t won a World Series since 2009, although it can’t be repeated enough that the Yankees haven’t won a World Series since 2009.

In four years with Aaron Boone as their manager, the Yankees have won one division title, and though they’ve been to the postseason every year, they have advanced to the ALCS only once. That’s better than the previous five years under Joe Girardi, when the Yankees won zero division titles, made only two playoff appearances, and advanced to only one ALCS… but we’re talking about the Yankees here. They haven’t just not won the World Series since 2009, they’ve won only one division title since 2012, and they’ve only even been within five games of first place in the AL East one other time in the last nine years.

The best team doesn’t always win in the baseball playoffs, but the Yankees seem to have given up on even trying to assemble the best team, ceding the mantle of baseball’s Team That Buys Its Way To The Top to the Dodgers, who in the last nine years have won eight division titles, three pennants, and a World Series by doing things like trading for Mookie Betts, but also developing talent from within in a way that New York has struggled with since the days of the Core Four.

Before the lockout, the Yankees — clearly a step behind the Rays, ever battling with the Red Sox, and spying the Blue Jays coming up fast — did little, with the general thought being that they would wait to see what happened with the collective bargaining agreement, then add in the frenzy of player movement after that.

They have added, trading Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela to the Twins for Josh Donaldson, and re-signing Anthony Rizzo to play first base, and now this is what their lineup looks like, positionally:

  • 1B Anthony Rizzo
  • 2B Gleyber Torres
  • SS Isiah Kiner-Falefa
  • 3B Josh Donaldson
  • LF Joey Gallo
  • CF Aaron Hicks
  • RF Aaron Judge
  • C Kyle Higashioka/Ben Rortvedt
  • DH Giancarlo Stanton

There’s a lot of big names there! That should be an excellent team, right? Let’s try that again.

  • 1B Guy whose last 30-homer season was in 2017
  • 2B Guy with a .703 OPS, 12 homers, and 132 strikeouts since 2020
  • SS Guy with an 81 career OPS+
  • 3B Guy who’s 36 and has been to the injured list four of the last five years
  • LF Guy with a career .206 batting average
  • CF Guy who has managed to play 100 games twice in his career
  • RF Baseball Kyrie Irving
  • C It’s Kyle Higashokia and Ben Rortvedt, what do we need to say here?
  • DH Guy who has played 180 games since the start of 2019

D.J. LeMahieu and Luke Voit are on the bench in Fangraphs’ projected lineup, but it’s not like they don’t have their own question marks, with LeMahieu crashing to earth in a big way last year after he hit way more in his first two seasons as a Yankee than he ever did with the Colorado Rockies, and Voit, the 2020 home run king, becoming a strikeout machine last year who hit half as many homers as he did the year before, in 10 more games of an injury-plagued season that also saw the Yankees replace him at first base with Rizzo.

The Yankees’ pitching should be very good, but even with Gerrit Cole, you’re looking at questions about what you’ll get out of Luis Severino, Jameson Taillon, and Jordan Montgomery… and nobody trusts Aroldis Chapman at the end of the biggest games, with good reason.

None of this is to say that it’s impossible for the Yankees to win the World Series this year. They’re good enough to get into the playoffs, and once you get into the playoffs, it’s baseball and you can get on a heater and win.

It’s that the Yankees shouldn’t be doing that. The Yankees should be paying multiple tiers of luxury tax, building the Goliath of the American League, and entering the season with multiple superstars who they can bank on.

Freddie Freeman didn’t want to come to New York? That’s when the Yankees are supposed to offer more money than anyone else to get the man who can make the difference between contenders and champions. The Yankees might no longer have more money than everyone else now that Steve Cohen is in town, but that doesn’t mean that they’re the new Rays. And the Yankees make tons more money when they’re winning and making deep playoff runs than they do when they’re farting around for a decade winning 90-ish games a year and not appearing in the World Series.

That was the story of the 1980s, when the Yankees won more games than anyone else in the majors, and only had two playoff appearances to show for it, a quick exit to the Royals in 1980, and a pennant in the strike-shortened 1981.

Part of what stopped the Yankees from getting over the top in the 1980s was collusion. What if the 1986 Yankees, who finished second in the AL East to the Red Sox, had signed Carlton Fisk instead of rolling with Butch Wynegar, Ron Hassey, and Joel Skinner behind the plate?

What might the Yankees’ record over the last decade have looked like if they hadn’t obsessed so much about avoiding the competitive balance tax?

We might be about to find out in New York… only, from Cohen and the Mets.



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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.