How to think about the Yankees variables that could change the AL East

I like what Wins Above Replacement is trying to do, if only to motivate us to try to think about how we would rate an entire player: hitting, defense, and baserunning, for a position player.

But it’s just a formula, and while it’s a helpful general guide, it shouldn’t be taken as definitive.

There are also no accepted calculations with the major providers: Baseball Reference and Fangraph often get different results for the same player.

For example, Baseball Reference’s version liked Isiah Kiner-Falefa (3.0 WAR) and Josh Donaldson (2.3) last season more than Fangraphs’ version, which had Kiner-Falefa at 1.3 and Donaldson at 1.6. While Baseball Reference saw Kiner-Falefa in 2022 as somewhere between a solid starter and an above-average player and Donaldson as a solid starter, Fangraphs had both with Kiner-Falefa less than that.

Much of the disagreement comes from different ways of IT defense.

The eye test would bet on Fangraphs when it comes to those two Yankees’ seasons, though both systems like Kiner-Falefa’s defense more than his regular work would allow.

Advanced stats say Isiah Kiner-Falefa was a better defender at shortstop last year than the eye test indicated.Getty Images

For a team competing in the Yankees’ market, part of the equation has to be who you trust with the ball with a one-run lead in the ninth inning at Fenway Park. Kiner-Falefa showed jitters with the glove and his shots, and he got worse in big spots as the season went on.

Donaldson can get a little sketchy at times with both as well, but overall he was very good defensively last year. That’s where he fell off offensively, especially late in the year and in the postseason.

Donaldson plays with an edge and swagger that’s more bearable when he’s hitting, something he’s done throughout his career. But he struck out in 27.1 percent of regular-season plate appearances and 16 of 36 postseason plate appearances. It wasn’t nearly enough damage for so many empty at-bats.

As the Yankees’ first half unraveled in more meh games, the three players the team acquired from the Twins over the years became the focus of fan abuse: Donaldson, Kiner-Falefa and Aaron Hicks.

And in a flip-flop, Joey Gallo, the player who was the biggest hit with the crowd even in the first few months, signed with Minnesota in the offseason.

The acquisitions of Donaldson, Kiner-Falefa and Ben Rortvedt at the start of spring training last year have now left Brian Cashman’s record in tatters. Not because he left her. Gio Urshela is a good player, but not someone whose foul is devastating. Gary Sanchez has yet to have a major league job this season.

Josh Donaldson #28 of the New York Yankees swings and misses against the Houston Astros in the seventh inning of Game 2 of the American League Championship Series on October 20, 2022 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas.Josh Donaldson’s big personality works when he hits well, but when he struggles the way he did last season, fans and teammates may be less forgiving.Getty Images

No, this is about opportunity costs. The Yankees’ misgivings about Kiner-Falefa prevented them from finding a replacement last season, which could have involved calling up and playing Oswald Peraza much sooner.

Donaldson’s presence and the $25 million he counts toward luxury tax payroll prevented the Yankees from other options, as Hal Steinbrenner created an artificial payroll cap to stay under $293 million, the highest tax threshold. The horror of four Twins remaining on the 40-man roster means there could be a redraft, or more dirt.

I thought it might be fun to put up these players and some other numbers the Yankees have had since the start of last year.

How these players could affect where the Yankees finish in the tough AL East:

1. Ben Rortvedt: Over or under 0.5 major league games played

It’s easy to forget now that Rortvedt was a key part of the trade with the Twins. The Yankees were firm believers in his defensive catcher, and hoped his left-handed bat would provide lineup diversity.

Instead, he suffered an oblique injury in spring training. The Yankees acted quickly by trading for Jose Trevino, winning the Platinum Glove Award.

Rortvedt dominated for a few days last year, but never got into a game. This year he had an aneurysm that led to a loss of circulation in a finger. He will miss time again, meaning that even with injuries to Trevino or Kyle Higashioka, Rortvedt may not be available to participate.

New York Yankees catcher Ben Rortvedt #38 behind the plate at Steinbrenner Field at the New York Yankees Spring Training complex in Tampa, Florida.Ben Rortvedt could spend a second consecutive season recovering from injury.Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

The Yankees signed veterans Nick Ciuffo and Jose Godoy to provide depth, and liked what Carlos Narvaez saw defensively in spring training.

2. Isiah Kiner-Falefa: Over or under 99.5 plate appearances

Last year he was sixth in the group with 531 plates. The fact that he got even half of that as a Yankee this year (that’s the key words: “as a Yankee”) likely caused disaster for the team either in injury or performance.

Kiner-Falefa was always in contention for shortstop. Unless both were terrible in the spring, Peraza or Anthony Volpe would be the shortstop.

Even now that Volpe has won the job, Oswaldo Cabrera may play shortstop when Volpe is given a day. And if Volpe struggles or suffers an injury, Peraza will be called up from Triple-A.

With Cabrera, Donaldson, DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres at second base and third base, Aaron Boone will have to figure out how to get at bats. Cabrera will also play in the outfield, so even Kiner-Falefa’s time in center field during the spring doesn’t guarantee him much playing time.

And there’s always the possibility of him working away from the Yankees at some point.

3. Josh Donaldson/Aaron Hicks: Still on Yankees roster as of June 1st over/under

So far, the Yankees haven’t shown as much tolerance for cash-eating as Steve Cohen’s Mets, who will currently be charged more than $31 million (for luxury tax purposes) in dead money for Robinson Cano, James McCann and Darin. Ruf.

New York Yankees Aaron Hicks #31 at bat in the 2nd inning. Aaron Hicks had 26+ goals each of the past two seasons.Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Donaldson is owed $27 million between his 2023 salary and the 2024 buyout. Hicks still has three years left at $30.5 million.

Boone needed little prompting to be adamant that Donaldson will have a bounce-back year. Not an outrageous claim.

Donaldson was good in 2021 and is a proud player with a solid track record. I think there’s a 25-30 percent chance of a 25-homer, .750-plus OPS season with solid defense.

But what if the beginning of 2023 looks like the end of 2022? What is the tolerance then? The Yankees could play LeMahieu as a primary third baseman, though playing him too much could run the risk of a recurrence of the foot injury that doomed LeMahieu’s second half.

Boone has not defended Hicks like Donaldson. Boone told me he anticipates Hicks’ switch-hitting playing against most righty players. He has maintained the discipline of the plate. But power and speed are big questions, as is his defense and his ability to play at Yankee Stadium, where Hicks was horrified last year.

Will Donaldson and Hicks really go to the finish line as the Yankees this year? The fans also don’t like the fact that they made the starting blocks.

4. Tommy Kahnle: 12 ⅔ innings over/under

New York Yankees reliever Tommy Kahnle #41 takes live batting practice at Steinbrenner Field, the New York Yankees Spring Training complex in Tampa, Florida.If Tommy Kahnle is able to stay healthy, he could help bolster a Yankees bullpen that has a lone lefty in Wandy Peraltan.Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

In the spring, Kahnle had a slow-recovering case of tendinitis after signing a two-year, $11 million deal in the offseason. It’s an injury he’s dealt with before. But he’s only thrown a combined 13 ⅔ regular-season innings over the past three seasons.

The Yankees hoped the righty switch would be a weapon against lefty hitters and alleviate some of the concerns of having a lefty (Wandy Peralta).

5. Frankie Montas: 2.5 over/under starts

Montas underwent shoulder surgery earlier this month and won’t even get to throw a ball until mid-to-late May. In a perfect free agent and Yankees situation, he returns to make 10-12 late season starts. But his time with the Yankees, so far, has hardly been ideal.

6. Harrison Bader: Over/Under Jordan Montgomery’s WAR

It’s one of those trades that has volleyed back and forth for the winner. The Cardinals looked great early on as Montgomery had a whirlwind start around the NL at the end of last season, in which he pitched as well as ever while Bader recovered from a foot injury. Bader then went on to hit five homers in nine playoff games.

We’re back on familiar ground: The Montgomery Cardinals are in the rotation. Bader (oblique) is injured.

New York Yankees center fielder Harrison Bader #22 runs the bases after being hit by a double in the 2nd inning.What Harrison Bader gives the Yankees will be judged by the pitching numbers of Jordan Montgomery, who was traded to the Cardinals for Bader last year.Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

The Yankees hope to have Bader back by the end of April and then watch him deliver 15 homers, 15 steals (maybe more with the new rules) and a Gold Glove in the middle of defense. Will he be healthy enough to do so? Bader and Montgomery are free agents after the season.

Comparing WAR between pitchers and hitters is imperfect and best used for fake games like the one here. And, once again, we will have to decide which WAR to use. Montgomery was 2.7 WAR last year via Fangraphs and 1.7 with Baseball Reference, while Bader was 1.5 and 1.1, respectively. For the purposes of this exercise, let’s use Baseball Reference.

7. Carlos Rodon: Outings over/under 15.5 years

Rodon is returning from a strained left forearm muscle. He’s been consistent over the past two seasons, but that’s not his history.

Nor is it the history of Luis Severino. At best, the Yankees are both back a few weeks into the season and unleash their power behind Gerrit Cole.

The difference between Rodon and Severino combining for 30 starts or 40 starts or 50 starts could be the difference between the Yankees finishing third, second or first in the AL East.

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