As Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman eulogized the Yankees’ 2022 season on Friday afternoon with separate press conferences at Yankee Stadium, there was some definite melancholy in the air.
Boone called this period a “rough time” and said that the Yankees “need to slay that dragon” living in Houston. Cashman called the end of the season “frustrating.” He specifically pointed to Andrew Benintendi’s hamate bone injury (he had surgery to remove the bone in college, but it curiously grew back this year and snapped in September) as one of the things that derailed a previously unstoppable train.
But with respect to the 99-win season the Yankees put together, nobody cares about that anymore. Most people have accepted that the Astros were a significantly better team, and now the focus lies solely in the future. Particularly, whether free agent Aaron Judge will be part of that.
Cashman gave no comment when asked about conversations he’s had with Judge and his agent, and also would not reveal the years and dollar amount he is planning to offer. Technically, Cashman is also not under contract with the team right now, though his return feels like a formality.
“My contract expired October 31,” Cashman said. “We’ll obviously talk. [Hal Steinbrenner] expressed interest in having me back, and of course I’d like to stay. We have not had any further discussion on that.”
Bringing Judge back won’t be as simple as just giving him a mammoth sum of money. On the Yankee side, they’d like to keep a few dollars available to pursue other free agents, and for Judge, many have wondered whether the New York market is not as desirable as it used to be. Case in point being Yankee fans booing Judge during the postseason, just days after he finished inarguably one of the best seasons in franchise history. Getting him to come back will mean selling the Yankee brand to him, which has fallen down the pecking order a bit among Major League Baseball’s elite clubs.
“Ultimately the owner has to take everything into account,” Cashman said. “[Judge] checks all the boxes. He’s a fan favorite, he interacts with our fans extremely well, he’s respected in that clubhouse, he goes about his business as good as you possibly can, and he’s an elite performer. He’s one of the game’s best players, if not the best player. Those are the guys that you want to retain. It involves a lot of different categories.”
It behooves the Yankees to figure this out quickly. Getting strung out into the later parts of the offseason would leave them a bit handcuffed in their pursuit of other players, and it’s also hard to convince free agents to be a Yankee if they don’t know whether Judge will be one too. Cashman acknowledged that they’d like to get Judge locked up as soon as possible, but also knows that the man who just hit 62 home runs holds the power in these negotiations.
“It’s optimal to know what you’re dealing with,” Cashman said about getting a deal done early. “It helps you navigate the rest of [the offseason] if you know what you’re committed to already. He’s going to dictate the dance steps of his free agency because he’s earned the right to get there.”
Judge, simply put, has to be the No. 1 priority. Losing him not only makes the Yankees much weaker, it sends a message to the rest of the league that being a superstar in the Bronx isn’t very alluring anymore. Both parties know how important Judge is to the Yankees’ overarching business plans, and the rest of MLB’s executives will want that for their team as well.
“Certain individual players transcend the team,” Cashman said. “Everything stops when they’re at the bat or have the ball in their hand. He’s one of those talents. Ultimately, Hal Steinbrenner will collect all information from an industry standpoint. Things can get pretty crazy.”
Boone said he had a “nice conversation” with Judge after the final game of the ALCS, and when asked if that felt like a goodbye, the skipper replied, “I hope not.” The Judge free agency saga is going to dominate the offseason news cycle in a way that hasn’t been seen for years, and even though some would believe the Yankees have the upper hand due to familiarity and Judge’s success at Yankee Stadium, Cashman hinted at an already-present level of detachment.
“Free agents are free agents. Once they’re out in the atmosphere as such, they’re no longer on your roster. You’re going to have to evaluate all legitimate choices.”
TRUST THE PROCESS
The debate of process vs. results has become very popular in recent years. The argument goes, if you believe your process was sound, that should make it easier to live with bad or fluky results. The flip side says that results are king, and they should trump any sort of perceived bad process as long as things are going well. Boone thinks the Yankees have great internal processes, even if they haven’t gotten them to the World Series.
“I am comfortable with our process, with my process. You’re constantly trying to evaluate that and trying to be better at it. I think I’ve done that and I think we’ve done that. I think we’re a very well-run and buttoned-up organization.”
THREE TRUE OUTCOMES
Cashman may have learned a new phrase on Friday. While it seems extremely unlikely that the general manager of a supposedly analytically-driven organization wouldn’t be aware of it, Cashman had to stop and clarify when a reporter asked him about a fairly well-known idea.
“What’s the three true outcome rate?” Cashman asked.
The term refers to the three outcomes of a plate appearance (walk, strikeout and home run) that are unaffected by defense. Believers in the merits of the three true outcome approach posit that balls in play can be subject to poor luck, and home runs are the best outcome anyway, so eschewing contact by waiting out a walk or whiffing on a home run swing is fine. Haters say that putting the ball in play creates more chances for things to happen. Once Cashman was fed the definition, and told that his team led the league in three true outcome rate, he expounded.
“I know one of the areas of interest is to limit the strikeouts,” he said. “That’s why it was important for us to acquire a guy like [Anthony] Rizzo, and then Benintendi as well. We’ll continue to look at stuff like that.”