Every year is World Series or bust for the Yankees.

But it’s not every year they are coming off an 82-80 season they described as a disaster, unacceptable and embarrassing; not every year they have so many players searching for bounce-back performances; and not every year they have just one guaranteed season with one of the game’s best players on their roster.

That is the heavy pressure facing Aaron Boone’s club this season.

“There’s more pressure on all of us,” Hal Steinbrenner, the owner of MLB’s third-highest luxury-tax payroll at nearly $30 million, said this spring. “Look at me. I mean, look at the bags under my eyes. There’s pressure on all of us, man. We’re feeling it and that’s a good thing. We deserve to feel it. That’s going to make us stronger this year.”

The pressure will be on Aaron Boone this season for the Yankees.Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

The Yankees already had two of the game’s top-10 players in Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole, and added a third over the offseason in Juan Soto, a pending free agent, to fortify their lineup. But they will have to survive at least the first two months of the season without Cole, who is sidelined with nerve inflammation in his elbow, putting the burden on the rest of their rotation to step up in his absence.

After plenty of talk in spring training about using last season as motivation and laying the foundation for a better year with strong offseasons, the Yankees finally have a chance to go out and prove it.

“The expectation is to win a championship,” Judge said. “It doesn’t matter who’s here, who’s not here, who’s going to be here. It’s just about putting in the work and doing what we can to put this team back on top.”

Yankees essentials

Most important hitter: Aaron Judge may finally have a true partner in crime. The Yankees acquired Juan Soto to give themselves one of the best one-two punches in the game, not to mention add a left-handed bat to a lineup that had gotten too right-handed. If Soto has one of his typical years, he will get on base a ton in front of Judge to create plenty of scoring opportunities. The presence of Soto should help take some of the pressure off Judge, who has too often had to put the Yankees on his back in recent seasons.

Aaron Judge is the Yankees captainRobert Sabo for NY Post

Most important pitcher: Even before Gerrit Cole was sidelined with his elbow issue this spring, the pressure was on Carlos Rodon to perform like the pitcher the Yankees are paying him $162 million to be. The left-hander’s first season in pinstripes was brutal, but the Yankees need a legitimate bounce-back from him in Year 2 to help elevate the rotation, especially with Cole likely to miss at least two months. The Yankees believe that if Rodon can just stay healthy, his talent and stuff will come through more often than not.

Will have a bigger year than expected: Anthony Volpe took his lumps as a rookie last season, even while finishing with 21 home runs, 24 steals and a Gold Glove at shortstop. But with that full year of big-league experience under his belt and a refined swing showing encouraging signs this spring, Volpe is in position to take an important step forward this season. His batting average and on-base percentage should see bumps, especially if the rest of the lineup takes some of the pressure off of him (which did not happen last year).

The Yankees acquired Juan Soto this offseasonCharles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Most likely to disappoint: What kind of season does Rodon have to put together to not disappoint? Will simply staying healthy be enough, even if he doesn’t post a sub-3.00 ERA? It remains to be seen whether Rodon can actually get back to his peak form of 2021 and 2022, when he was one of the game’s best pitchers with a 2.6 ERA across 55 starts.

Key call-up: Jasson Dominguez got a Sept. 1 call-up last season and in eight games put together quite the impressive debut. But that was cut short by the revelation that he had torn his UCL and needed Tommy John surgery, which will keep him out until some point this summer. The Yankees are a long way from having to decide whether Dominguez will join them immediately once he is cleared or if he will get some more seasoning at Triple-A. But if it’s the latter, the 21-year-old switch hitter will loom as an intriguing call-up when the Yankees need him.

Biggest managerial decision: How long of a leash does Aaron Boone give Giancarlo Stanton? The 34-year-old is coming off the worst season of his career when his spot in the lineup was largely a black hole, especially in the second half. He got lighter and leaner over the offseason and tweaked his swing in hopes of returning to be a productive hitter. But if those changes don’t lead to early results, at what point does his playing time start to change? Opening up DH at-bats would mean Judge not having to spend as much time in center field, which could benefit him physically.

Don’t be surprised if: The Yankees’ starting pitching depth gets tested. They gave up a strong layer of it to get Soto when they sent Michael King, Randy Vasquez, Jhony Brito and Drew Thorpe to the Padres. And their rotation already had some injury concerns before Cole went on the IL for the first time with an arm injury. Now, the next wave of pitching depth is highlighted by Will Warren, Luis Gil, Cody Poteet, Clayton Beeter and Chase Hampton. The Yankees will likely need at least a few of them to get through the season.

Anthony Volpe is looking to take the next step in his second season.Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Sure to make fans grumble: With Josh Donaldson and Aaron Hicks no longer around, who will be the target of the fan base’s wrath? Stanton and Rodon are likely candidates. But Boone has also endured his fair share of ire from fans over the years and this season is unlikely to be an exception. With expectations high, the team coming off an 82-80 season and Boone entering the final year of his contract (the Yankees have a club option for 2025), a slow start could lead to calls for Boone’s job around Yankee Stadium.

Injury that would hurt the most: Since Cole is already starting the season on the shelf, we’ll go with Judge. The Yankees were a shell of themselves last season when their captain missed two months with a torn ligament in his big right toe. They can’t afford a repeat this year, even with Soto in tow.

Will make playoffs if: Judge doesn’t run into any unpadded walls, Soto doesn’t shrink in his walk year and Rodon, Marcus Stroman and Nestor Cortes pitch the way they are capable of.

Will miss playoffs if: Cole’s elbow injury lingers longer than expected and the rotation is unable to pick up the slack without him.

The Yankees are hoping for a bounce-back season from Carlos Rodon.Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

Playing the field

Catcher: Jose Trevino and Austin Wells are expected to split playing time, though Wells has a chance to earn more than just a 50-50 share since his left-handed bat has more upside. In order for that to happen, the rookie will have to prove he can handle the pitching staff after having an encouraging September call-up last season. The Yankees have raved about Wells’ defensive improvements this spring and pitchers seem to like throwing to him. But don’t underestimate Trevino’s work behind the plate; the Yankees missed him after he had season-ending wrist surgery last July. The veteran could have a hand in steadying the rotation as they try to hold the fort down without Gerrit Cole.

First base: Anthony Rizzo was the Yankees’ most consistent hitter for the first two months of last season. That quickly went off the rails after he collided with Fernando Tatis Jr. at first base in late May, sustaining a concussion that was not properly diagnosed until months later when his production had completely fallen off. Now with a clear head, Rizzo said this spring he felt like he got his “superpowers” back by being able to see the ball on time. The Yankees are banking on that allowing the veteran, left-handed hitter to get back to being a steady presence out of the cleanup spot.

Second base: Despite all of the trade speculation surrounding Gleyber Torres in recent years, he is still here — at least for one more (final?) season. Torres is entering his walk year, and while the Yankees have not engaged in any extension talks with him, the 2-year-old is in a good spot — especially if he can build off what he did last season. In a mostly grim year for the offense, Torres was an exception, thanks in part to an improved approach that included a lower strikeout rate. That said, he still has room to grow defensively and on the bases.

Third base: The Yankees were planning to lean on DJ LeMahieu, believing that the veteran was finally past the foot issues that sapped his production late in 2022 and the first half of 2023. But a “pretty significant” bone bruise on that same foot late in camp landed him on the injured list to begin the season. If the latest foot injury doesn’t linger, LeMahieu is hoping to get back to being the on-base machine he has been for much of his career. Aaron Boone’s top choice to be the regular leadoff hitter, LeMahieu has a chance to set the table for a dangerous lineup. At least for the first week of the season, though, Oswaldo Cabrera will likely be filling in at the hot corner.

Shortstop: Anthony Volpe’s rookie year had plenty of ups and downs — the ups being joining the 20-20 club and winning a Gold Glove at shortstop; the downs being posting the third-worst average (.209) and second-worst on-base percentage (.283) among all qualified hitters. The Yankees are convinced that Volpe will be better off for being able to play through the highs and lows and come out the other side. But Volpe didn’t just sit back over the offseason, he tweaked his swing to flatten his bat path, which should help him hit more line drives and use all fields like he did coming up through the minors.

Left field: The Yankees brought in Alex Verdugo to man the position that was left up to the likes of Oswaldo Cabrera, Aaron Hicks, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Jake Bauers last season. Suffice it to say Verdugo should be a major upgrade after the Yankees’ 10 different left fielders last year combined for a 0.1 WAR. In a best-case scenario, Verdugo benefits from a fresh start with the Yankees, who in turn get a motivated left-handed hitter in his walk year. He should help deepen and balance the lineup while getting some action out of the leadoff spot. But Verdugo also had some issues with the Red Sox — he was benched twice last season for being late and a lack of hustle — which will bear watching.

Center field: Aaron Judge is back in the middle of the diamond, set to play the position where he saw the majority of his starts during his 62-homer season in 2022. There are some concerns about the physical toll that playing center field regularly might take on the 6-foot-, 282-pound Judge, though the Yankees have downplayed that and also plan to get him a few days a week at DH. Despite missing almost two months last season with a torn ligament in his big right toe, Judge still crushed 3 home runs with a 1.019 OPS. If he can stay healthy this year, there’s no telling the numbers he could put up.

Giancarlo Stanton slimmed down after a brutal 2023 season.AP

Right field: Before he lands a huge payday in free agency next offseason, Juan Soto will make Yankee Stadium his latest playground. One of the game’s best hitters should benefit from hitting in front of Judge and bring a much-needed left-handed hitting, high on-base weapon to the lineup. The generational talent should be a headache for opposing pitchers, putting together the kind of tough at-bats the Yankees want to be known for having on a nightly basis. Money will talk loudest at the end of the day, but Soto will also get a season to decide whether The Bronx is somewhere he wants to call home for the next 10-plus years.

DH: The Yankees need Giancarlo Stanton to be a healthier and more productive version of himself than the one they have gotten recently. To that end, the 34-year-old got leaner over the offseason and tweaked his swing in hopes of rebounding from the worst season of his career when he hit just .191 with a .695 OPS across 101 games. A litany of leg injuries have hindered Stanton in recent seasons, but the Yankees believe his new physique could help with that issue.

Starting pitching: This rotation has the potential to be boom or bust — and that was the case even before Gerrit Cole was sidelined with nerve inflammation in his elbow that will keep him out at least until the end of May. Regardless of what version of the reigning AL Cy Young winner the Yankees get when he returns, they will be leaning on Carlos Rodon, Marcus Stroman, Nestor Cortes and Clarke Schmidt to pitch up to their potential. Rodon, Cortes and Stroman each dealt with physical issues last season, though unlike Rodon and Cortes (both All-Stars in 2022), Stroman actually pitched well in 2023 before getting injured. Schmidt, meanwhile, is coming off the heaviest workload of his career, but could have another level to reach this year if he is not burdened by the physical effects of last season. While Cole is out, the Yankees will give Luis Gil the first crack as the fifth starter.

The Yankees added Marcus Stroman to the rotation this offseason.USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Bullpen: The Yankees posted the lowest bullpen ERA in the majors last season, though this relief corps may look a little different. Michael King and Wandy Peralta are out and ex-Dodgers lefties Victor Gonzalez and Caleb Ferguson are in to supplement the late-inning core. Clay Holmes returns as the club’s closer after staying healthy for all of 2023, something that cannot be said for his top setup men, Jonathan Loaisiga and Tommy Kahnle. Both were sidelined for long stretches last year and Kahnle’s season debut will be slightly delayed this year because of a slow buildup. But the Yankees have excelled at developing unheralded bullpen pieces in recent years, with last year’s gem Ian Hamilton set to return as a multi-inning threat. This year’s crop will include Nick Burdi, a talented but oft-injured arm who opened plenty of eyes this spring.

Bench: Trent Grisham, who arrived with Soto in the trade from the Padres, should provide some high-level defense in center field when called upon — either in occasional starts or as a late-game defensive replacement. The utility role is expected to be filled by Oswaldo Cabrera, who can play all over the diamond but will have to provide more production with the bat than he did last season.

Yankees projected lineup

1. Gleyber Torres, 2B

2. Juan Soto, RF

3. Aaron Judge, CF

4. Anthony Rizzo, 1B

5. Giancarlo Stanton, DH

6. Alex Verdugo, LF

. Anthony Volpe, SS

8. Austin Wells, C

9. Oswaldo Cabrera, 3B

Bench: Jose Trevino, C; Trent Grisham, OF; Jahmai Jones, IF/OF; Ben Rortvedt, C

Starting rotation

1. Nestor Cortes, LHP

2. Carlos Rodon, LHP

3. Marcus Stroman, RHP

4. Clarke Schmidt, RHP

5. Luis Gil, RHP


Clay Holmes, RHP

Caleb Ferguson, LHP

Ian Hamilton, RHP

Victor Gonzalez, LHP

Jonathan Loaisiga, RHP

Clayton Beeter, RHP

Luke Weaver, RHP

Nick Burdi, RHP

Projected on IL: Gerrit Cole, RHP; DJ LeMahieu, IF; Tommy Kahnle, RHP; Jasson Dominguez, OF; Lou Trevino, RHP; Scott Effross, RHP

Yankees Prediction


Almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong on the way to 82-80 last season. Having two of the game’s best hitters in Soto and Judge should help correct that this year, as long as their rotation holds up its end of the bargain.