The painful stretches of streaky baseball for the Yankees have reared its full head far too many times. Throughout the season, the team has looked anything but the championship caliber team most people expected them to be going into the season. Instead, they look old and a step slow, trailing the Blue Jays by two games for the last wild card spot with a 55-50 record. For a team that always has high expectations each year this is not even close to what they envisioned.
Now granted, they've dealt with plenty of injuries with the most devastating one, being a toe injury that Aaron Judge suffered while making an incredible catch to prevent an extra base hit in a win against the Dodgers. At that time, Judge was really starting to replicate last year's MVP season, and the Yankees themselves appeared to have been turning the corner at the time.
However, Judge's injury has exposed the many weaknesses within the Yankees' roster. Outside of Judge general manger Brian Cashman has constructed a roster with too many hit or miss players. Guys at the heart of their lineup like Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton, and Anthony Rizzo are too inconsistent, and that's the last thing the Yankees need at this time. Since Judge's injury, they've been dead last in batting average and on-base percentage, while ranking 28th in runs scored.
Cashman also ignored third base and left field which were two positions that had to be addressed over the offseason. It was obvious from last year that Josh Donaldson and Aaron Hicks were major weak links that had to be replaced. Yet despite their age and poor play, they decided to keep both of them, and the results have gone expected. Hicks was released and Donaldson recorded 15 - yes, 15 - hits before suffering a hamstring injury that will likely end his season.
Their pitching hasn't been as shaky as the team's hitting. The Yankees rank ninth in ERA, which can be attributed to Gerrit Cole's success. He might be having his best season in pinstripes, leading the team in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. But there were higher expectations for others going into the year. Injuries and inconsistent play from the other starters - particularly Luis Severino, Carlos Rodón, and Nestor Cortes - have held back their starting rotation.
Despite this season going downhill, rebuilding shouldn't be the first option for the Yankees. Especially when you have a generational player in Judge and an ace in Cole. A rebuild would involve them cutting ties with everyone, including both players mentioned. The team must reload instead by surrounding both guys, Judge in particular, with other players who bring a lot more consistency.
For that to be done, it's imperative that Brian Cashman does whatever it takes to reel in big names. Yes they could get guys like all star third basemen Jeimer Candelario at a low price, but this team needs another star who can make a difference in the short and long term. Fortunately, there are a couple guys on the market who could make a significant impact.
They could look into acquiring Juan Soto of the San Diego Padres. At just 24 years old, he is one of the best hitters in the last six years, and has championship experience having won the 2019 World Series with the Washington Nationals. Although he's enjoying a strong season, there's uncertainty surrounding his future in San Diego. His contract ends in 2024, and if the Padres become desperate to get anything for him, the Yankees could swoop in without having to give up a king's ransom.
But if they want to go even bigger, they could sign the amazing Shohei Ohtani who's having another incredible season, if that's even the right word to describe it. Every time he's out there, Ohtani is making a significant impact whether it's his 148 strikeouts, or his league leading 36 home runs. He's in the final year of his contract, and there's the possibility the Los Angeles Angels could deal him if they aren't confident with negotiations. While it does appear the Yankees will have to wait for free agency to get Ohtani rather than the trade deadline, they must do whatever it takes to land him.
Most NFL teams treat the running back position like an iPhone. Whereas people cycle through one iPhone after another every two years, teams will use backs as the focal point of the run game for around four years before usually drafting another back.
This offseason featured plenty of talented running backs in Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, and Tony Pollard who were in line for a contract extension. But all came away empty handed following the Monday 4 PM deadline. While this was somewhat understandable given the wear and tear of the position, it feels like an unnecessary low point for the running back market.
What makes the decisions a little reasonable is that once running backs get signed to a new extension, the results are mixed. While there have been some good ones in recent memory such as Christian McCaffrey and Derrick Henry, the bad ones like Todd Gurley and Devonte Freeman seemed to be fresh in the minds of general managers. Even players who were still productive after their extensions like Ezekiel Elliot and Dalvin Cook couldn't replicate their previous production enough to the point where they became cap casualties (released to help teams get under the salary cap), and are now waiting to be signed.
But the simplest explanation for why executives are hesitant, is that running backs wear down quicker than most skill positions. Every time they touch the football, they're guaranteed to be tackled. Going through that type of physicality typically causes them to become less durable after a certain amount of years.
That being said, it's still shocking to see zero running back extensions this offseason. They are a bigger victim of the length of rookie contracts compared to other positions. First round rookies usually play all five years assuming the teams pick up the fifth year of their contract, but running backs at that point in their career might be on the verge of breaking down. That's why most extensions for backs come after their third season. If rookie contracts for running backs were four years instead, perhaps they'd get more extensions.
Then there's the overall value of running backs that's being ignored. Teams might be leaning more on the passing game, but that doesn't mean today's running backs don't have anything to offer. There are plenty of guys who are a threat in the running and passing game, or can simply take pressure off their quarterback. And while there might not be as many workhorse backs like there used to be, the few backs who do consume many touches make a significant impact each week.
For Barkley, he was practically the entire Giant offense as they heavily utilized his talents last season. Although the previous three years were a far cry from Barkley's rookie year due to injuries, he enjoyed a resurgent 2022 season, shredding defenses en route to the Giants' first playoff appearance in six years. From yards after contact to downfield sprints, Barkley accounted for almost 30% of the Giants' total yards from scrimmage.
Josh Jacobs was always a solid player, but after the Raiders declined his fifth year option, this was a prove-it year for Jacobs and he delivered in a big way. He led the league in rushing yards while also tying his career high in touchdowns. While the motivation of securing a contract could've played a role in Jacobs' monster year, this was the type of season he's been expected to have for a while.
Unlike Barkley and Jacobs, Tony Pollard spent last year splitting carries with Ezekiel Elliott, but when he got the ball, Pollard often made the most of it. He rushed for 1,007 yards despite registering 193 carries, the least for a back with over 1,000 yards last season. Pollard was tagged in February, but extending him would've made more sense since he's now the focal point of the run game after Elliott's release.
The only way to summarize these recent transactions is that the running back market has truly taken a nasty fall. It's unfortunate to see a position be deemed as replaceable to the point where it doesn't matter if they were an all-pro the year before. This has already caught the attention of other running backs who are in line for their first extensions such as Najee Harris and Jonathan Taylor. It will be interesting to see whether these approaches will pay off or backfire because this is probably going to influence how general managers negotiate with running backs going forward.