This story was excerpted from Bryan Hoch's Yankees Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
Ask people within Aaron Judge's orbit what he will do for an encore to his historic 2022 season, and the responses are largely the same. He is not focused on hitting 63 home runs, 70, or even 74. In Judge's universe, the ring is the thing, with an opportunity to chase championships weighing heavily in his decision to return to the Yankees on a new nine-year contract. So, as we close the books on '22 and look forward to 2023, let us be the first to say that Judge will not break his own single-season American League home run record … not this coming year, anyway. Judge's focus is squarely set upon October, and while we're making predictions, how's this -- the Yankees will finally get over the mountaintop for championship No. 28. I'm guessing we have your attention on that one! But it's been long enough; as I wrote on the night that the American League Championship Series ended, the Yanks have not reached the World Series since 2009, a fuzzier-by-the-day period when the iPad, Instagram and Uber did not exist. "For me, I want to win," Judge said in November, on the night he was crowned the AL's Most Valuable Player. "My ultimate, most important thing is just, I want to be in a winning culture and be on a team that's committed to winning -- not only for the remainder of my playing career, but I want a legacy to live on."
While we're peering into the future, here are three more predictions for the Yankees' 2023 season:
High-octane deliveryThe state-of-the-art pitching lab that the Yankees spent a considerable chunk of change outfitting at their player development complex in Tampa, Fla., is nicknamed the "Gas Station," a zone intended to help pitchers tune up their mechanics. Imagine what Gerrit Cole and Carlos Rodón might be able to do in there. Cole and Rodón pace what is now arguably the Majors' most stacked rotation, followed by Nestor Cortes, Luis Severino and Frankie Montas. Cole broke Ron Guidry's franchise record for strikeouts last season, fanning 257 batters, while Rodón led the Majors with 11.983 strikeouts per nine innings with the Giants. That dynamic duo will give the Yanks an excellent head start toward their single-season franchise record of 1,634 strikeouts, set in 2018. They had 1,459 last year, which ranks 17th all-time. The Major League record is 1,687, established by the Astros in 2018.
Bash brothersThe Yankees are 28-2 when Judge and Giancarlo Stanton homer in the same game, which seems to be a time-tested formula for success -- get both of the big guys going yard, then shake hands at the end of the night. While we're not penciling Judge in for another 62 (maybe he'll read this and prove us wrong!), could Judge and Stanton best their highest power total? They combined for 65 homers in 2018 before Stanton was limited to just seven long balls over the next two seasons, including the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. They hit 74 together in '21, then reached 93 this past year, thanks to Judge's heavy lifting. But Stanton played only 110 games; we predict he belts a few more, helping Judge and Stanton get to at least 80 homers combined. Let's also take a moment to appreciate that Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle combined for 115 homers in 1961, which remains the highest combined single-season total for any two teammates.
Short storyThe Yankees' spring shortstop battle figures to be fascinating, with managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner outlining his vision of having Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe in the middle infield -- if not on Opening Day, then soon after. Complicating the matter is that Isiah Kiner-Falefa returned on a $6 million contract, too expensive to be a utilityman or bench ornament, so a trade could be entertained down the line. Figure that Peraza and Volpe will be given real opportunities to impress in the spring, with the Yankees looking for the youngsters to step up and claim the position. Volpe may begin the year in the Minors, as this will be his first big league camp and he's only had 99 plate appearances at Triple-A, but Peraza impressed the Yankees late last season. As manager Aaron Boone raved: "Easy arm, moves well. He's got these actions where you look at him and go, 'He's a shortstop.'"