By Joe Pantorno
Once again the Yankees are left to pick up the pieces of another season that has fallen woefully short of initial expectations.
A Game 5 ALDS loss to the Tampa Bay Rays has relegated the Yankees to watching the ALCS and World Series on television for yet another season — an 11-year championship-less drought feeling more and more like an eternity to a fan base that was spoiled with four championships in 13 years from 1996-2009.
And with it, a pivotal offseason that could prompt some more major spending and difficult in-house decisions to make.
Sifting through the rubble that is the Yankees’ premature exit, it’s rather clear to assess what some of the most glaring needs are to turn them into more of a World Series competitor: Starting pitching and stability at the catcher’s spot.
After winning Game 1 of the ALDS, the decision to start 21-year-old Deivi Garcia as an opener only to make way for JA Happ after one inning seemingly took the wind out of the Yankees’ sails.
Whether that was on manager Aaron Boone or if he was pressured to do so by general manager Brian Cashman, it was an overly-analytical decision in an attempt to one-up the small-market Rays — who have made advanced statistics and scouting the foundation of the organization.
But it also showed that the Yankees don’t have a true, reliable No. 2 arm to complement Gerrit Cole — even though Masahiro Tanaka has shown an affinity for pitching well on big postseason stages more often than not.
Regardless, the Yankees’ rotation isn’t far off from being a top-tier unit if everyone were to stay healthy.
Behind Gerrit Cole next season, the Yankees will still be able to boast Luis Severino, James Paxton, and Tanaka as proven arms — but one more high-level hurler would make the Yankees elite while providing a true No. 2 behind Cole without having to worry about the hypotheticals that come with Severino returning from Tommy John surgery.
Upon external options is free agency’s top prize this winter, Trevor Bauer, who is on the verge of winning the 2020 NL Cy Young Award after a brilliant truncated season with the Cincinnati Reds.
Regardless of who is pitching, the Yankees seem to have a major question mark still brewing behind the plate as Gary Sanchez’s role at the club is still very much up in the air.
The last three seasons have been nothing short of a nightmare for the 27-year-old, who has batted .200 over his last 244 games.
Offensive inconsistencies have made him a liability, especially given his defensive struggles, which had the Yankees leaning on Kyle Higashioka down the stretch and in the postseason more than Sanchez — who had just nine at-bats during the playoffs.
With two years left of arbitration, the Yankees have a decision to make whether or not they’ll want to bring him back, especially when JT Realmuto — considered by many to be the best catcher in baseball — will be available on the free-agent market.
The Yankees have been far more frugal in recent years, even with the $324 million signing of Gerrit Cole, when it comes to rounding out its roster.
Should that philosophy maintain itself under Cashman, the chances the Yankees make a major splash in free agency isn’t too great. But if desperation is sinking in, we could see some major shakeups this winter.