By the time the Yankees' 2019 season ended, the team was falling apart. Both figuratively — riding a spent bullpen and getting bounced by the Houston Astros on a gut-churning, series-ending home run by Jose Altuve – and perhaps more literally, as a slew of players performed through serious injuries. At least three of them required or will require surgery, general manager Brian Cashman said Thursday.
Aaron Hicks, whose three-run homer off Justin Verlander staved off elimination in Game 5 of the ALCS, will have Tommy John surgery on Wednesday and will not return for eight to 10 months – at least midway through the 2020 season. Cashman characterized the tear as partial but substantial.
Masahiro Tanaka already has had arthroscopic surgery to remove bone spurs from his pitching elbow and Luke Voit had surgery on his bilateral core muscle. Both are expected back for spring training.
Hicks was sidelined in early August with what originally was termed a flexor strain in his right elbow, but flexor strains and UCL tears tend to go hand-in-hand, Cashman said, and Hicks was told that sooner or later, he would have to undergo surgery. Hicks was sent home but discovered in an impromptu throwing session with a friend that his elbow felt better, and he indeed returned in time for the ALCS.
“I don’t have the percentage off the top of my head, but I want to say it was 51 percent [torn],” Cashman said Thursday during the team’s season-concluding news conference. “It wasn’t a small – it wouldn’t be a full – but it was something that was a big enough problem.”
In all, Thursday’s news conferences painted the picture of a team that was proud of what it accomplished but ultimately disappointed in the final result. The Yankees haven’t been to the World Series since they won the championship in 2009, basically a lifetime in the world of pinstripes. Still, they won 103 games despite sending a record-setting 30 players to the injured list, some for long stretches, and made it to the ALCS for the second time in three years.
“It’s hard to ever get over the sting of losing,” Boone said. “It’s just trying your best to get over it and move past it as best you can, knowing that it’s something you’re going to drag with you for the rest of your life. You know, when you get close and you have a special group like that, the ending hurts a lot … You know you desperately want to move on and try to get back to that point and push through, and that’s where the work immediately starts.”
All the injuries lead to a number of pressing offseason questions. The Yankees will need a centerfielder, which could open the door for the return of Brett Gardner, 36, who’s entering free agency. The team also has to figure out why the Yankees were so susceptible to injuries this year and whether to make changes to its rehab and medical staff. Cashman said it certainly will be a point of discussion, though he declined to be specific on the subject of personnel.
“The focus is going to be on the area of [injuries that] might’ve been preventable,” he said. “Are they preventable? Is there something that we’re missing? Is there something in our process that is faulty? I can assure you that has been a laser focus — I described it as CSI: The Bronx. That has occurred. It is occurring.”
Cashman and Boone seemed to agree that they had the pieces necessary to win a championship. Cashman said he couldn’t have predicted losing Domingo German and Dellin Betances in September. The Yankees were one of the best situational-hitting teams in baseball but in the postseason, they stopped producing with runners in scoring position.
"We have a core of players and a team that’s probably on a very short list of [being] truly capable of going out and [winning a championship],” Boone said. “Failure, success, that’s for people to define. I think we did a lot of amazing things this year. Some guys came of age this year. But ultimately, we wanted to be holding that trophy up here in the next week or so.”
Cashman concurred, though he did acknowledge the Yankees “failed in our ultimate goal and dream of a world championship.”
“I wouldn’t dismiss all the tremendous things that occurred,” he said. “So we failed in our final goal, but we didn’t have a failed season, in my opinion.”