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The Yankees are now the underdogs in the AL East

Although the Bronx Bombers remain a playoff-caliber team, they have a lot of competition in their division and need to make post-lockout moves to improve their chances

Wild Card Round - New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images

The New York Yankees had a somewhat disappointing season in 2021, as they finished with a 92-70 record (eight games behind the AL East winners, the Tampa Bay Rays) and were ousted by their archrivals, the Boston Red Sox, in the Wild Card game.

Not only that, but at times, they looked like the fourth-best team in the division as they were able to top the Toronto Blue Jays by just one game. Their divisional challenges in 2022 will get much, much more difficult, which doesn’t bode well for their chances on their first AL East title since 2019.

If the league implements the expanded playoffs (which seems to be a likely scenario, whether it’s 12 or 14 teams), the Yankees should be able to make the cut, but it won’t be as easy as it sounds because as currently constructed they may be the fourth-best team in their own division AL East.

The Yankees’ offense has too many question marks. Gary Sánchez (.204/.307/.423, 99 wRC+ in 2021) and Joey Gallo (.160/.303/.404, 95 wRC+ with the Yanks last year) will still have to deal with the shift in 2022, and Gleyber Torres (94 wRC+), DJ LeMahieu (100 wRC+) and Gio Urshela (96 wRC+) were all league average or worse hitters.

Fortunately, the Yankees still have Aaron Judge (148 wRC+, 39 home runs) and Giancarlo Stanton (137 wRC+, 35 dingers) to provide power, but they still need to bring a center fielder who can jockey for playing time with injury-prone Aaron Hicks. Additionally, they need to bring a new shortstops and figure out what to do at first base — a typical power position.

The pitching staff looks to be two or three arms short. Gerrit Cole (3.23 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 5.3 fWAR in 181.1 innings) is a legitimate ace despite a few blips after MLB decided to ban pitchers using foreign substances on the ball, but besides the reliable Jordan Montgomery (3.3 fWAR in 157.1 frames), there aren’t many sure things past their top two starters.

Luis Severino has all the talent in the world, but hasn’t pitched much in the last three seasons due to a myriad of injuries, and Jameson Taillon is recovering from foot surgery.

This leads to a rotation with significant questions including: Will Néstor Cortés Jr. (2.90 ERA in 93 innings) repeat his excellent 2021? Will Domingo Germán ever show some consistency? Will Clarke Schmidt be healthy enough to pitch and contribute? Will Deivi García rebound?

To compete, New York needs to spend

The Yankees need at least two reliable starters for depth. The good thing is that their bullpen, headlined by Jonathan Loáisiga and completed with closer Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, Lucas Luetge, Joely Rodríguez, Wandy Peralta, Mike King, Clay Holmes, and others, does seem good, and reliable.

There is one thing to keep in mind, though: the Yankees’ roster is probably not fully constructed at this point in the ‘offseason’. They waited to make a big move, missing out on pre-lockout signings, but now feel the pressure to make something happen once the ban to make transactions is lifted.

As we mentioned, shortstop is a clear area to improve. Carlos Correa and Trevor Story remain free agents and could be options, but they could also opt to sign a stopgap player, perhaps someone like Andrelton Simmons, and reallocate longer-term funds to first base or pitching.

The Yankees don’t seem entirely sold on Luke Voit as a first baseman, not because he isn’t a good hitter (he is), but because he is injury-prone and a defensive liability. The Yankes have been linked to Freddie Freeman or Matt Olson of the Oakland Athletics, but those are costly alternatives, who in the era of Steinbrenner 2.0, seem unlikley to be signed.

Win Total Prediction: 93-69 (.574)

Whether it is a first baseman, a reserve center fielder, a shortstop, or some pitchers (or all of them), the Yankees should be expected to make a move or three whenever they have the chance. That’s why I am projecting them to finish with 93 wins: some rebound performances, a star-level shortstop, and some more arms would go a long way.

Some additions would certainly enhance their chances of competing with the Rays, the Blue Jays, and the Red Sox, but those are three very good teams and the Yankees are slowly being left behind, not to mention that all those teams could (and probably will) make moves, too.

Those four teams will be competing for the AL East crown all year, but it’s hard to see the Yankees getting the last laugh, even with 90+ wins.

*For our season previews, we’re predicting wins based on a 162-game season.

Andrés Chávez loves the game of baseball and writes about it at Beyond the Box Score, Pinstripe Alley, and other sites. He is on Twitter as @andres_chavez13