Aaron Boone NY Yankees
Tommy Gilligan | USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees have actual things to complain about now.

Real things, too. Not just kvetching about Joey Gallo and calling into WFAN to propose catcher trades. The Yankees have injuries. And COVID-19. And potential clubhouse strife. And, perhaps most importantly, an upcoming road trip to their top nemesis.

Let’s start there. This torrid start – first to 30 wins in the Majors, a .698 winning percentage, victory in 25 of their last 32 games – has built the Yankees a mere four-game lead on the Rays in the loss column atop the American League East. And with a four-game set this weekend at Tropicana Field, a Rays sweep – improbable, but not impossible – could catapult Tampa Bay into first place by Memorial Day.

And remember, these are not the Blue Jays. The Rays have won the last two division titles and have beaten the Yankees in the postseason. They aren’t afraid. This is the stiffest test Aaron Boone’s team has faced all season. They’re not beating up bad teams any longer. And they’ll do so with their roster fraying.

Closer Aroldis Chapman is on the injured list with an Achilles issue. It would normally be addition by subtraction, given his recent struggles. But Michael King and Jonathan Loaisiga are in a funk as well, Chad Green needs Tommy John surgery and Clay Holmes is in real danger of being overexposed.


DJ LeMahieu (wrist) and Giancarlo Stanton (calf) are now banged up as well. Stanton is of real concern. He’ll get an MRI on Wednesday (LeMahieu’s already came back clean). Stanton’s injury history gives plenty of pause. But so does the fact his bat has been covering up for the fact LeMahieu, Aaron Hicks and others have not been producing. The Yankees have real issues if Stanton is out for an extended period.

Kyle Higashioka is back from COVID IL, but Gallo and Josh Donaldson remain on it. Gallo is close to a return. There’s no timeline for Donaldson. But when the third baseman does come back, he returns to a firestorm that is not subsiding. Every person connected to the Chicago White Sox is lining up to rip him after the Tim Anderson altercation. And Aaron Judge didn’t exactly circle the Yankees’ wagons around him either.

General manager Brian Cashman brought in Donaldson to his seventh big league club after he wore out his welcome with the first six for a reason. He wanted to give the team an edge, and he likely figured being on a veteran contending team would moderate Donaldson’s tendency to be himself. It didn’t, as his moronic “Jackie” taunts toward Anderson illustrated. And his bad explanations and curious decision to appeal his MLB-issued punishment likely have not won many hearts and minds in his clubhouse.

The Donaldson situation is going to be fascinating moving forward. It’s not going away, and it could strain the team’s internal culture. It’s a real challenge for Boone. And even if it becomes an untenable situation from a baseball standpoint, the financial implications may prevent action. Donaldson is under contract through 2023. Is Hal Steinbrenner going to take a $30 million bath like Steve Cohen and the Mets did with Robinson Cano (under much different circumstances) if that is what is needed?

To be clear: The Yankees are not in crisis yet. But this is not handwringing of the 162-one-game-seasons variety. These are real issues. The smooth sailing was never going to last forever. We’re about to learn a great deal about this team.

James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]

James Kratch is the managing editor of ESNY. He previously worked as a Rutgers and Giants (and Mike Francesa) beat reporter for NJ Advance Media.