Gerrit Cole says the Yankees ‘get injured too much.’ The team hopes that changes in 2024

TAMPA, Fla. — The New York Yankees had 28 players spend a total of 2,154 days on the injured list in 2023. Only the Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers spent more time on the injured list, but no team spent more money on injured players than the Yankees. Their $82,093,459 spent on players who were out due to injury was nearly $7 million more than the Angels.

A recurring theme around the Yankees for several years now has been the amount of injuries that have piled up. Their injuries last season were one of the main reasons they finished 82-80, their worst record since 1992. The health of the Yankees has been an ongoing problem and one that their ace Gerrit Cole brought attention to on Thursday.

“Certainly, there were injuries that were outside the normal realm of injuries that impacted us,” Cole said when discussing the 2023 season. “With that said, we get injured too much as a group. We need to improve.” 

By the time spring training ended last March, three-fifths of the Yankees’ expected starting rotation was unavailable. Frankie Montas missed almost the entirety of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Carlos Rodón had back and forearm injuries. Luis Severino missed time with a lat strain. And Nestor Cortes, who had a setback before camp began last season, battled health problems all season before his year finished early because of a shoulder injury.

So far, the Yankees have avoided the cascade of injuries, but it’s just two days into camp. Scott Effross, a middle reliever who’s coming back from Tommy John surgery, experienced a back injury while rehabbing this offseason and needed surgery. He’s not expected to pitch until the middle of the season. Starting catcher Jose Trevino had a calf strain but is expected to be ready by Opening Day. He’s already able to catch behind the plate and is participating in light running drills but will likely miss the first couple of weeks of spring training games.

Those are the only new injuries for the Yankees this offseason. If any team in the majors knows that it could be much worse than this, it’s the Yankees.

“I do feel like we have a better handle on where guys are physically, probably more so than any other year, and it’s a credit to them and a lot of people being down here all winter long or varying times this winter,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.

One of those players who’s been down in Tampa for several weeks now is Rodón. He’s noticeably thinner compared to when he bombed in Kansas City and recorded zero outs in his final start of the season. Rodón threw a live batting practice on Wednesday, and the reports were that his fastball velocity is already in the mid-90s. This time last year, Rodón’s fastball was in the low 90s. This doesn’t mean Rodón will automatically become the pitcher the Yankees expected him to be when they signed him to a six-year, $162 million contract, but he acknowledged that something needed to change health-wise for him coming into this offseason.

“Definitely a little on the heftier side,” Rodón said of his weight last year. “I would say I am naturally a thicker, huskier guy. I felt like a couple of pounds off would help me a lot, and hopefully that reflects on the field this year and allows me to stay on the field this year. I want to play. I put more time and effort on my body to get it ready for this year. I started earlier. I want to be on the field. I think losing some weight should help that.”

Cole has been the model when it comes to staying on the field throughout his career. The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner has made at least 30 starts and thrown more than 180 innings (usually at least 200 innings) each of the last six full seasons. Cole said his ability to post every five days starts with his actions in the offseason, well before reporting to camp.

“This isn’t how it used to be,” Cole said. “Even 10 years ago or so when I started, guys would come into spring training and use spring training as a ramp-up. There’s just a higher level of intensity much sooner now. That forces the demand on the player to build the tank up, the capacity up and the tolerance in the offseason. That’s going to be your number one goal.

“From a personal standpoint, it’s a focus of mine to be able to get out there for as many games as possible. There’s always little areas where you can be improving. I feel that there’s been an added focus, especially with some of the conversations that I’ve had around here, that that’s been an area of attention for a lot of our players.”

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that some of the team’s injuries in 2023 were “probably brought on by maybe not being in the best position to start.” Because of the collective bargaining agreement, teams cannot mandate any of their players follow a specific training regimen while away from the team in the offseason. Of course, teams can make suggestions and offer guidelines but many players employ their own personal trainers, their own chefs/nutritionists and sometimes have very little communication with their clubs until they show up for spring training. That’s why a large group of players voluntarily reporting to camp earlier than needed, which is what the Yankees had this offseason, is so important because clubs can get eyes on where their players are health- and performance-wise.

After a disastrous 2023 season, there’s an edge around Yankees camp this spring. A longer offseason for the team resulted in noticeable body composition differences for the Yankees. It remains to be seen, though, if it’ll pay off for the grind of a 162-game season.

“I think, ultimately, our players, our front office and coaching staff, we all have a bad taste in our mouths from last year, understandably so,” Cashman said. “Eighty-two wins fell short of anybody’s expectations. Because of that, I think everybody’s internal motor was set in the right direction. This winter, when you usually come off a bad experience, your focus is going to be even that much more heightened.

“The only way to put ’23 behind us is to have a double-down focus on ’24. That’s with imports, improving the roster but putting yourself in a better position to withstand injuries and rethink a lot of different things, both individually and collectively.”

(Top photo of Cole: Sarah Stier / Getty Images)

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