The Yankees’ Aaron Hicks prepares for batting practice on Oct. 9, 2022.

The Yankees’ Aaron Hicks prepares for batting practice on Oct. 9, 2022. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The Yankees accomplished offseason priority No. 1 — and, really, they had little choice as far as their fan base was concerned — by re-signing free agent Aaron Judge in early December.

Though plenty of drama preceded it — including what turned out to be an erroneous report during the winter meetings that said Judge appeared headed back to his native Bay Area to sign with the Giants — the Yankees, worried throughout the process that they might lose their most popular player since Derek Jeter, secured the outfielder with a nine-year, $360 million deal.

Still, even after the Yankees signed Judge and brought in longtime target Carlos Rodon to slot into the rotation behind ace Gerrit Cole, a legitimate question can be asked:

As the Yankees enter spring training this week in Tampa, how much have they truly closed the gap between themselves and the gold standard of the American League?

That, of course, would be the Astros, who won their second World Series title in six years in 2022 and have eliminated the Yankees from the postseason four times in the last eight years, including last October with a four-game American League Championship Series sweep.

“As of now,” one rival AL talent evaluator said of the Yankees, “they don’t look all that much different” from the team whose offense was throttled by Houston in the ALCS.

“I like the Yankees’ winter and the rotation especially because of [the addition of] Rodon,” another evaluator said. “But I’m not sure that pushes them past Houston.”

It is important to note the “as of now” part of the first talent evaluator’s comment.

As general manager Brian Cashman always points out at this time of year, his club is never a finished product as it enters spring training. Plenty of roster work can and will be done between the time pitchers and catchers report and the summer trade deadline.

One of the Yankees' most significant moves of 2022, for instance, came early in spring training when Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela were shipped to the Twins in exchange for Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Josh Donaldson and Ben Rortvedt.

Fans should expect a handful of moves — some bigger than others — between now and the time the Yankees break camp at the end of next month in advance of their season opener March 30 against the Giants at the Stadium.

The roster as it currently stands?

It remains a good one, one that many from the outside believe is talented enough as is to make it back-to-back crowns in the  AL East, the sport’s best top-to-bottom division.  

The lineup, though still too righthanded-heavy, again should be among the most potent in the game. And it should be even stronger with a by-all-accounts-healthy DJ LeMahieu, who was hampered the majority of last season by a mysterious right toe injury.

On paper, even with Frankie Montas due to miss at least the first month with the lingering shoulder issue that plagued him much of last season, the rotation is as diverse and deep as anyone’s. The group features Cole and Rodon at the top and will slot, in some order, Luis Severino, Nestor Cortes and Domingo German behind them. However, there is not a ton of organizational depth when it comes to starting pitching, the reason another addition in that area can’t be ruled out.  

The bullpen again should be among the best in the AL.

Though the switch-hitting Aaron Hicks currently is the most likely starter in leftfield, the Yankees spent the offseason trying to find someone else for the job, a pursuit that will continue. In the meantime, Hicks will compete for the spot with rookie Oswaldo Cabrera and prospect Estevan Florial, among others.

The most intriguing — and wide-open — battle of spring training will be waged at shortstop, a competition whose results are sure to be chronicled day-by-day in rich detail. Kiner-Falefa is the incumbent and, all things being equal, enters  spring training  as the favorite. The Yankees, though, would love to see one of their top position prospects, Anthony Volpe or Oswald Peraza,  earn the job with a standout camp.  

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