While the Yankees may have been hoping to make a few more big splashes in the free agent market, the addition of Juan Soto to pair with Aaron Judge gives New York one of the best one-two lefty-righty punches in the American League.
How to best deploy Soto and Judge atop the lineup is something manager Aaron Boone admits to “thinking about... all the time.”
“Right now probably Juan in the two-hole and Judgie third, but we’ll just see how the leadoff spot shakes out,” Boone said on the “Foul Territory” YouTube show on Friday, adding that while he sees the pair “hitting back-to-back,” the order is still “up in the air.”
“It may depend on who actually is hitting in that leadoff spot, who is hitting in the four-hole and beyond,” the manager said about determining if Soto bats ahead of Judge or vice versa.
On the leadoff spot, Boone added he was “really excited about the way [DJ LeMahieu] finished the season last year and the winter that he’s had. He’s in Tampa already getting rolling. So, I’m hopefully that he gets back to being the player that he was in the second half where he’s getting on-base a ton and solve that leadoff spot for us and then roll everyone from there.”
“I do feel like we have a lot of really good options, we’ll just see how everything shakes out with spring and then obviously once you get into the season depending on guys being nicked up or injuries you face or performance or all those things,” he said.
And all of these lineup options has the skipper excited about the potential of the lineup in 2024 is the balance of it.
“We’re gonna have upwards of four or five lefties in the lineup so you can rally alternate things and that’s not even talking about when Jasson Dominguez hopefully gets back for us at some point in the summer,” Boone said. “... and then it’s just seeing, I think Big G [Giancarlo Stanton] has had a great winter. How’s Big G doing? Where’s he coming at into spring and into the regular season? Like I talked about with DJ, do you have a situation where vs. a left-handed starter vs. a right-handed starter, do you have a different leadoff hitter? We’ll see. We’ll see how that kinda shakes out and how it becomes fluid.
“But I think you start with the idea that hopefully Judge and Soto are hitting back-to-back over 150 times this year.”
In addition to sorting out the lineup, the Yankees will have to find the right mix in the outfield with Soto assuming right field duties and Verdugo slotting into left. Boone said at the MLB Winter Meetings in December that the club is comfortable with Judge as the everyday center fielder and reiterated that Friday.
"I'm planning on playing Judgie in center a lot, he’s preparing for it now,” he said. “The one thing is when I play him in center, I tend to use the DH with him a little bit more often. If he’s playing most days in center field, especially with Trent Grisham on the roster now, who is an elite, elite defender out there, more of that balance, he’ll obviously get some more reps out there.”
Boone added that he has “even talked to Judgie about playing a little bit of left field on a certain day when I want to get Grisham and him in the outfield which he’s open to.” (Judge has never played left field in his MLB career.)
While the offseason is not yet complete, the skipper indicated the club is in a good spot as they look to rebound from what he called an “unacceptable” season.
“I’m really excited about everything that we’ve added,” Boone said about the offseason. “...I know we’re still kicking the tires and seeing where we can improve a little bit more. But I’m excited about the depth that we’re building.
“And I think in a year where we struggled a little bit offensively last year a lot with guys being out of the lineup, hopefully, we’ve created more balance and I feel like some guys are in the midst of having really strong winters to put themselves in position to go out and do what they’re capable of doing.”
Some of those who the Yanks could really benefit from a healthy 2024 include Stanton – who Boone repeated has worked this offseason at getting down to a lower weight – and left-hander Carlos Rodon, who “certainly had his struggles last year.”
On Rodon, who signed a six-year, $162 million deal ahead of the 2023 season in free agency, the manager said a lot of his poor debut season “was due to starting with injuries” in spring training and then having a setback that led him “to just playing catch up all year and couldn’t get in that good groove or that good rhythm.”
“The biggest thing that I probably told [Rodon] going into the offseason is, it didn’t go away. The good thing for you is you are super talented. And,” Boone paused to snap his fingers, “It’s just about being healthy for him.”
He added that the 31-year-old is one of the players he believes has had “an outstanding winter” and is “in great shape, he’s throwing the ball well and delivery-wise he looks good already” and has been in Tampa already to “get a leg up” to be successful this season.
“The biggest thing that I want him to focus on is going to the post,” Boone added. “Whether that means 170, 180 and upwards innings, whatever that is. Focus on going out there and being able to post and doing what you need to do from a physical standpoint to be able to post.
“And I truly believe that if that’s the case and if he’s handling that, the results will follow over time because his stuff is simply too good and he’s too talented as long as he’s taking care of all the other things that allow him to go out there every fifth or sixth day.”