Not only did the 2023 Yankees waste "a" prime season of Gerrit Cole's career. They might've wasted the prime season of Gerrit Cole's career.
The damage was largely done in the offseason (and the previous two offseasons), when Brian Cashman did an "oopsie" and forgot to acquire a left fielder. He also relied too much on unproven rookie talent and opted out of shoring up depth in any capacity/finding two powerful lefty hitters to complement his established right-handed talent, but the left field thing remains the most egregious, so we'll pin that on him most prominently.
Of course, the final piece of the pain puzzle came on June 3, when Aaron Judge sprinted back into deep right field at Dodger Stadium to make a game-saving catch in the eighth, running into the wall in the process. He completed the game, but sat out the Sunday series finale with some nebulous form of foot pain. Only after the contest was complete did we learn that his toe was barking; that soreness eventually became a torn ligament, which sidelined him for nearly two months.
When Judge departed, the Yankees were an imperfect team that was still 10 games over .500 and had an 80.1% chance to make the playoffs, per FanGraphs. Only in the wake of his departure did the house of cards offense collapse completely -- and of course it did. They were already deficient on talent. Then, they lost their motivator and north star. Add in Anthony Rizzo's (undiagnosed, but certainly obvious) concussion, and their goose was cooked.
Which makes Cole's nearly flawless Cy Young campaign all the more frustrating. Cole kept the ball in the park spectacularly well in 2023, lowering his ERA from 3.50 to 2.63 year-over-year primarily because he reduced his dingers from a league-leading 33 to 20. He finished his 209-inning season with one final flourish, a complete-game shutout against the Blue Jays on Wednesday, kicking the birds back in the Wild Card hunt. But, after the game -- in which Judge homered twice -- Cole revealed plenty of truth in his sarcastic response to the Captain's huge day.
Gerrit Cole spoke for every Yankees fan with sarcastic Aaron Judge comment
Where would the Yankees be without losing Judge on a freak play for the heart of the summer? Where would Cole's legacy be, with a likely defining playoff run ahead of him? Where would the Yankees' audit be? Probably nonexistent. Ok, so one positive.
Judge, the Yankees' other gladiator, had nothing but praise for Cole's powerhouse season after the game wrapped, humbly neglecting to mention that something special might've been robbed from both of them by faulty construction.
That's alright, though. Let Cole speak for both of them.
The Yankees, mostly since calling up the kids and rededicating themselves to athleticism, have gone 18-9 since the Tigers series at the end of August. Imagine what could've been if the Yankees had spent the whole year supplementing their two cornerstones instead of watching them fight valiantly for nothing (or sit on the sidelines stewing)?
Cole somehow avoided the wall all year, pitching with as much potency in September as he did in April. Sadly, his offensive counterpart wasn't so lucky, and now major change (or boiling frustration) is ahead for these Yankees instead of a championship run.