Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s rare that the New York Yankees, not to mention their devoted fans, enter the offseason saltier than the Second Avenue Deli’s menu. Or sadder than a Bryant Park ice rink breakup. Or like the G Train, whose very existence is highly debated to this day.

But there captain Aaron Judge and his Yankees stood at the end of a lost, lonely, and truly stunning 2023 season. New York finished 82-80 and fourth in the AL East. The Bronx Bombers never stood a chance between injuries, underperformance, and miracle starts by the Rays and Orioles. Judge himself missed two months after crashing into Dodger Stadium’s bullpen fence and spraining his toe.

The former MVP called the lost campaign “unacceptable” and succinctly summed up his and his teammates collective thoughts: “This can’t happen again.”

Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman clearly heard the man and acted accordingly. The Yankees were once again aggressive this offseason, though not through free agency. Cashman instead picked the shrewd trade route, thinking “win now” while picking prospects his farm system can replicate practically overnight.

And yet again, the Yankees are projected to either win the East or miss the playoffs. Which is it? Let’s take a look.

Greatest Addition: Juan Soto. How do you fill the Aaron Judge protection void in the lineup? If you’re Cashman, you trade for the soon-to-be belle of the free agency ball. Soto hit .275 with 35 home runs and 109 RBI in all 162 games and also led the majors in walks for the third time in his six-year career. He is still just 25 years old.

Batting second and playing right field, Soto gives the Yankees security in case (Babe Ruth’s ghost forbid) Judge gets injured again. His bat should feast on Yankee Stadium’s short porch. Better yet, you know the Yankees will try and re-sign him in the offseason.

Soto is simply that great. He’s a net positive for the Yankees no matter how you spin it, and the Yankees also got slick-fielding center fielder Trent Grisham in the deal. As long as he and his teammates are healthy, New York has a path to the World Series.

Greatest Loss: Michael King. Sadly for the Yankees, trading for Soto came at a well-justified cost. The Padres received a package with King as the centerpiece along with a trove of minor league pitchers, including reigning Pitching Prospect of the Year Drew Thorpe and popular backup catcher Kyle Higashioka. San Diego later flipped Thorpe to the White Sox for Dylan Cease.

Losing King affects the Yankees on several levels. First, he was a solid multi-inning high leverage reliever who averaged nearly 11 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) last year. As if that wasn’t enough, King joined the rotation on August 24 and pitched like an ace. He had a stellar 1.88 ERA in eight starts.

Cashman’s track record developing and scouting pitchers means the Yankees won’t miss King too much. He’s in a better position for himself too and will be the Padres’ No. 4 starter to begin the season. But with how King pitched at the end of last year, it’s still disappointing he didn’t get to continue in pinstripes.

Greatest Strength: A new edge. I spoke to The Ringer and SNY’s own John Jastremski two years ago and he uttered six words that have since stuck with me: The Yankees have too many nice guys. It certainly made sense at the time. Judge and Stanton are both fairly stoic, while Anthony Rizzo seems to always be smiling. Steely, edgy, competitive Eff-You focus wasn’t overtly visible in New York’s lineup.

I’d dare JJ to say the same about the lineup this year. On top of Soto, the Yankees acquired the feisty Alex Verdugo from the Boston Red Sox. On top of adding solid defense in left field, Verdugo can hit effectively while maintaining a low strikeout rate (K%).

The new attitude extends to the pitching staff too. New York-born Marcus Stroman signed a two-year deal in free agency and has never looked more motivated on the field. Add some youth from Austin Wells and Gold Glove shortstop Anthony Volpe, and these Yankees have plenty of life.

Oh, and just as an added bonus, Jasson Dominguez is back from Tommy John surgery in the summer.

Greatest Weakness: Disorder in the house. We’ve seen enough from Brian Cashman’s front office in the last five years to know that on the whole, the Yankees largely know what they’re doing. The fact that the Josh Donaldson trade is the worst move Cashman has made by himself in over 25 years proves as such. No matter how you spin it, the New York Yankees are a top-tier organization.

The problem, rather, is the front office has all of this information, but little idea what to do with it beyond presenting it to the players. The Yankees are all in on analytics and give the team all of the numbers, data, and information on a tablet, but who’s actually communicating what it all means? You can’t expect players to embrace the analytics, basically highly complicated math and science, without some guidance.

Again, this is not an indictment on Cashman nor his front office, frustrating as they have been in the past. It’s just a call for everyone to get on the same page and continue a clear, winning vision for the New York Yankees in 2024 and beyond.

Will the New York Yankees win the World Series in 2024? As a rule, I never make full-blown season predictions in any sport. Seasons are a long bell curve, with two extremes and endless outcomes in between. This baseball season will be no different for the Yankees.

I will say, however, that the AL East is absolutely the Yankees’ to lose, even with reigning AL Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole starting the season on the injured list. The Rays have done nothing to improve their team, nor have the Blue Jays. The Red Sox are rebuilding, and the Orioles are a young team with too many pitching questions. Unless all the top players plus Soto are hurt, the Yankees should be in the hunt from start to finish.

And for the fans’ sake, let’s hope that the Bronx Bombers at least reach the World Series.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.