Yankees 'embarrassed' by 2023, have 'something to prove' this season, Hal Steinbrenner says

The team's owner expressed confidence in a "championship-caliber team" while admitting to some concern about the pitching depth

TAMPA, Fla. — The 2023 Yankees were a catastrophe.

Yes, a late-September surge ensured an above-.500 finish, but last year’s club delivered the franchise’s worst single-season record since 1992. In the first year after Aaron Judge’s landmark re-signing, he and his teammates spent October on the couch, marking the first time the Yankees had missed the postseason since 2016.

The entire organization is well aware of how bad things got — Yankees in various roles have been vocal this spring about last year’s trainwreck — but it’s always refreshing to see ownership take ownership.

On Thursday, in the bowels of the spring training stadium that bears his father’s name, Yankees team owner Hal Steinbrenner reckoned with the past and championed the future. Throughout a comprehensive, 15-minute question-and-answer session with a variety of outlets, including Yahoo Sports, Steinbrenner discussed a number of topics, presenting an optimistic outlook on the upcoming season while pulling no punches in regard to his club’s horrific 2023.

“I was embarrassed. We were all embarrassed,” he said. “I mean, I don’t think there was one person in this organization who wasn’t embarrassed.”

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That was the word of the day. Steinbrenner used “embarrassed” and “embarrassment” no fewer than seven times in the first minute of his session. He also referred to 2023 as a “disaster.” Both are apt descriptions for a team that entered Opening Day with astronomic expectations coming off 99 wins and an ALCS showing in 2022 but ended last year’s campaign seven games back of a wild-card spot.

“They [the Yankee players] believe they have something to prove after that disaster last year,” he said.

Asked by Yahoo Sports what he thinks went haywire a year ago, Steinbrenner cited two main factors: injuries and underperformance.

“Clearly, we had a lot of injuries, but too many of our good position players just did not play up to their potential,” he said. “We couldn't score runs.”

That assessment lines up with the Yankees’ offseason. The biggest acquisition of their winter, all-world slugger Juan Soto, will be a significant and immediate boost to an offense that finished 25th in runs scored last year.

To add Soto and his bulky $31 million salary, the Yankees were willing to push the team’s payroll past the $290 million mark, beyond the highest apron of MLB’s luxury-tax threshold. For Steinbrenner, who has occasionally drawn the ire of fans for lacking the gunslinging, win-at-all-costs approach of his late father, the added investment is something of a pivot.

Steinbrenner has previously expressed that he doesn’t see a $300 million payroll as necessary to win a championship, something he reiterated Thursday. In his mind, anything in the upper ranges of $200 million should be enough. And at this point, any further additions to the Yankees’ roster — Blake Snell, Cody Bellinger, Jordan Montgomery and Matt Chapman remain free agents — would likely shoot the team beyond Steinbrenner’s comfort zone.

Still, he stopped short of calling the team’s winter done and dusted.

“I think we have a championship-caliber team right now,” he said. “But we haven't stopped looking to improve. And we never will.”

Because the Yankees parted with a number of young, promising pitchers to add Soto, Steinbrenner voiced concerns about the club’s upper-level pitching depth. He specifically mentioned prospects Will Warren and Chase Hampton as arms other teams have inquired about but whom the Yankees see as part of their plans for 2024 and beyond.

He admitted that the Yankees offered a significant deal to new Dodger Yoshinobu Yamamoto but at some point went “pencils down” as the dollar figure continued to rise. The club’s fruitless pursuit of the Japanese fireballer was an area of some consternation for the fan base during the long offseason.

“The depth is somewhat concerning to me,” Steinbrenner acknowledged. “But the rotation as it stands is a very good one.”

Sources indicated to Yahoo Sports that the Yankees, at various points throughout the winter, have also been engaged with the White Sox on starter Dylan Cease. While such diligence is extremely commonplace, that dynamic, as well as the Yankees’ addition of free-agent arm Marcus Stroman and their heavy interest in Yamamoto, only further highlights the internal discomfort about the starting rotation.

But as the calendar inches toward Opening Day, Steinbrenner is turning the page. He says the team’s mindset this season is different, more determined, wholly focused on making up for last year’s tidal wave of mediocrity.

“I think these guys really believe they have something to prove,” he said. “And they're ready to do it.”