The Yankees were swept away by the Astros in the American League Championship Series and woke up Monday morning to the harsh reality that they have a lot of work to do this winter if they hope to close the big gap with Houston.
It’s no secret that GM Brian Cashman’s biggest offseason priority is re-signing Aaron Judge to a long-term contract after the world’s right fielder just completed arguably the best offensive season in history. baseball. Judge bet on himself by turning down the Yankees’ offer of $213.5 million over seven years in spring training and is now expected to earn about $100 million more in free agency. He will be the best player in a special class of free agent. Will he be back?
Other key decisions await. Anthony Rizzo is expected to retire from a $16 million player option for 2023, so first base needs to be addressed. The Yankees are expected to exercise right-hander Luis Severino’s $15 million team option, but will they look to further strengthen the rotation? They will lose payrolls in the bullpen next year with Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton and Chad Green out of contract, but how will they bolster their diminished relief corps? Other pending free agents expected to leave include left fielder Andrew Benintendi and right-handed starter Jameson Taillon, though New York could try to re-sign either or both.
Additionally, this offseason, the Yankees need to improve their base traffic at the top of the lineup, clarify what they want to do on the left side of the field (third base, shortstop, left field), and find a more close who can dominate the ninth inning like Chapman once did.
Let’s take a look at each position, discuss the state of the organization, and suggest some moves the Yankees could make this offseason to improve their team.
The rotation is instead slated for 2023 with ace Gerrit Cole, southpaw Nestor Cortes, Severino, Frankie Montas and Domingo Germán all under the team’s control. The Yankees have other options, including Clarke Schmidt, but they could use more starting pitch depth, preferably another southpaw. The future free agent southpaw who screams Yankees at me is Carlos Rodón, who had a record-breaking season with San Francisco. As the cliché goes, you can never have too many tee shots, and Rodón would be a game changer for them. I estimate he will receive a four-year, $107 million contract on the market, which would require a significant commitment from the Yankees. However, I think it’s more likely that they’ll focus their financial resources on re-signing Judge, backing the bullpen, and adding high-end players.
The Yankees’ biggest downfall this season has been the eruption of injuries in the bullpen, from Green to Britton to Michael King, Ron Marinaccio and Luis Gil, not to mention Chapman’s demise. The front office acquired midseason replacements, including Lou Trivino in a trade with Oakland and Scott Effross in a deal with the Cubs. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Effross also suffered an injury and had Tommy John surgery, which will keep him out for at least the next season.
The Yankees have a strong bullpen, led by right-handers Clay Holmes and Jonathan Loáisiga, and left-handers Wandy Peralta and Lucas Luetge, but they need closer impact that can miss the bats. Edwin Díaz, arguably the best baseball player fitting that description, will be a free agent, and he’s a perfect fit for the Yankees (as well as many other teams). Díaz converted 32 of 35 save opportunities, posted a 1.31 ERA and was worth 3.2 WAR, according to Baseball Reference. He proved he could handle the pressure of pitching in New York. With Chapman, Britton and Green on the books in 2023, the Yankees should have the wherewithal to get Díaz away from the Mets. According to my first estimates, it will take a four-year, $72 million contract to land him.
The Yankees have more questions than answers about what their infield will look like next season.
They’d like to keep Rizzo, who hit 32 home runs, reached nearly 34 percent on base and played well-above-average defense at first base. Rizzo has a $16 million option and would like to return, but is expected to get a raise. He’s a perfect fit for New York, and the upcoming shift restrictions should help improve his batting average and on-base percentage, making him even more valuable.
Gleyber Torres looked much more comfortable this year after moving from shortstop to second base, and he had a 4.1 bWAR season with 24 homers, 10 stolen bases and a 114 OPS +. At shortstop, the Yankees are committed to their talented youngsters, with Oswald Peraza the first favorite to win the job in 2023, although top prospect Anthony Volpe is expected to eventually be shortstop every day, perhaps from the end of next summer. Third base is unstable. There’s still a guaranteed year left on Josh Donaldson’s contract, but he turns 37 in December and has declined to the point of no longer being a starter. DJ LeMahieu missed the playoffs with a foot injury, but he should recover this winter and I expect him to come to spring training as a starting third baseman.
Behind the scenes, the Yankees front office is telling people in the game that they don’t plan to be players on the best free agent shortstop market, which is expected to include Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, Trea Turner and Dansby Swanson. They say they will go ahead with their young infielders and prefer to spend their money on judging, pitching and hitting hitters. Bottom line: I won’t be surprised if the Yankees’ opening day infield is Rizzo at the start, Torres at second, Peraza at short and LeMahieu at third.
Signing the judge to a long-term contract is the top priority, but it won’t be easy after slashing .311/.425/.686 and leading the league in so many categories, including a 1,111 OPS, 391 total bases, 133 runs, 62 homers, 131 RBIs and 111 walks. It will take a commitment of more than $300 million for Judge, the favorite to win the American League MVP title, to end his career as a Yankee.
Beyond Judge, the biggest question in the starting lineup is what the Yankees will do in left field. They like rookie Oswaldo Cabrera, who has impressed in a 44-game stint this season, bringing plenty of energy and versatility to the roster, but he could be better off as a super utility player coming off the bench . The Yankees need to fill left field with a top hitter who can build traffic for their midrange power bats. Trying to re-sign Benintendi makes a lot of sense as he beat .304 with an OBP of .373. His left-handed stick would also bring important balance to the Yankees’ roster. Another possibility on the left is future free agent Brandon Nimmo, who was worth 5.0 bWAR this season with 16 home runs, a .367 OBP and a 130 OPS+. He played center field for the Mets but is better suited to left field. Nimmo is a left-handed hitter.
New York doesn’t have to worry about center field with Harrison Bader under team control until 2023. A Golden Glove defender, Bader has put on an impressive post-season and has already become a fan favorite from the Bronx.
The Yankees are fixed at receiver with Jose Trevino and Kyle Higashioka under team control for three and two years, respectively. Trevino is arguably the best pitcher in the sport. He contributed on offense hitting .248 with 11 homers and made his first All-Star team. Higashioka hit .227 with 10 home runs, but he hit nearly .300 in the second half of the season. Trevino and Higashioka are highly respected by Yankees pitchers, who rave about their ability to call a game.
Giancarlo Stanton will be the designated hitter as his $325 million contract, signed in 2014 with the Marlins, runs through 2027. He has hit 31 homers this season while battling an Achilles injury, but has also posted a career low of 113 OPS+. Improved health and shift restrictions should help Stanton post better numbers next season.
For Yankees fans dreaming of a trade for Shohei Ohtani… well, it’s not happening. However, if Ohtani becomes a free agent after the 2023 season, who knows? Stanton, if healthy, could move to an outside corner.
The bottom line
Catching up with the Astros juggernaut this winter is probably unrealistic for the Yankees. They have a long way to go, and re-singing Judge alone won’t be enough. Is there a way via the baseball checkbook for the Yankees to make that type of leap this offseason — yes, but it would require something like kicking the judge, signing Rodón (or another elite starter ), inking Díaz, landing Turner (or another star shortstop), and acquiring a left fielder for the top of the lineup who can provide traffic on base paths. But I don’t see any of that happening.
So, let’s regroup. Here’s my checklist for what the Yankees’ top offseason priorities should be:
1. Sign Judge to a long-term contract.
2. Pursue Díaz in free agency, reinforce the back of the bullpen.
3. Pursue Rodón in free agency.
4. Target Benintendi or Nimmo in free agency to play left field.
5. Re-sign Rizzo to address first base.
6. Get the rest of the team healthy.
Yes, the Yankees have big areas to tackle this winter, but after a 99-win season and a trip to the ALCS, they also have a solid foundation to build on for 2023, if they can bring Judge back.
(Judge Aaron Top Photo: Elsa/Getty Images)
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