Earlier today, it was announced that star third baseman Manny Machado has signed with the San Diego Padres, putting the final dagger in Yankee fans hopes of getting the 26-year-old. Most of those dreams died a few weeks when the Yankees signed DJ LeMahieu to a two-year, $24-million deal. I’m here to say, to my fellow Yankee fans, that it’s all going to be okay. Yes, Manny Machado would’ve been fantastic for this baseball team, but put down the lighter on the brim of your Yankee hat, take a deep breath, and let’s use some logic.
Just to state the obvious: the New York Yankees won 100 games last year. If not for a Red Sox team that had one of the best seasons of all time, no one would be saying the Yankees needed to improve entering this year. But, the Sox did have that year, and they won the World Series. It was a must for the Yankees to become a better baseball team. Guess what? They did.
While the “Hal Steinbrenner is cheap” fans won’t admit it, the Yankees are a much better baseball team than they were one year ago. They added James Paxton, a stud with ace potential every time he steps on the mound, DJ LeMahieu, a former batting champ with Gold Glove defense, Adam Ottavino, a right-hander with an unhittable slider, and brought back deadline-acquisitions Zach Britton and J.A. Happ. Not to mention LeMahieu’s former double-play partner Troy Tulowitzki, who will fill in for Didi Gregorius as he rehabs from his Tommy John surgery.
Ottavino is – another – former Rockie who makes a deep Yankee bullpen absolutely unhittable. Last year. Ottavino posted a 2.43 ERA in a career-high 75 appearances. Ottavino adds a fifth all-star arm to the Yankee bullpen and will replace David Robertson, who left for the City of Brotherly Love (and Super Bowl riots). Over the last few years, the Yankee have prided themselves on building great bullpens, and this one would be, arguably, the best ever constructed. With Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Chad Green, a full year of a healthy Britton, and Ottavino, the Yankees could make any game a four or five innings game if needed. All they would need is a strong few innings from their starter, and they could end it early.
What may scare Yankee fans though, is that last year they had that dangerous bullpen. While Britton and Green weren’t at their best, and Robertson was struggling, that was still their strength. But starters getting killed early and putting the Yankees in deficits in the first and second innings didn’t allow their blueprint to play out. Brian Cashman made it a priority to improve the rotation, and he did.
While J.A. Happ was hit in the ALDS, bringing him back after he posted a 7-0 record with a 2.69 ERA with the Yankees in the regular season was a pretty easy decision. Happ, while he doesn’t wow with his stuff, is a consistent lefty, who can hold down the fort as the third or fourth starter.
Entering his sixth year in pinstripes, the Yankees have high hopes for Masahiro Tanaka. Coming off of a 27 start, 3.75 ERA year, Tanaka looks to find some consistency. While Tanaka has excellent stuff, he’s never been able to keep the ball in the park, which has been the only flaw in his game. He doesn’t walk guys, he strikes guys out, and he is one of the best big game pitchers in the game. The last part may be the most important. Even last year, Tanaka was the only Yankee with a strong start in the ALDS. He now has a career 1.50 playoff ERA, not allowing more than two runs in any of his four starts. If Tanaka can unlock that ace potential that we all know he has, he can make the Yankee rotation all that more dangerous.
The big move that seems to be hugely overlooked, is the Yankees grabbing James Paxton. Staying on the diamond has been hard for him, as he is yet to make 30 starts in a season, but when he’s on the mound, he’s one of the better pitchers in the game. While his ERA from last year doesn’t look too pretty (3.76), he had a WHIP of 1.09 and a K/9 of 11.69, which ranked fifth in the league among pitchers who threw at least 150 innings. What hurt his ERA, was an inability to, for the first time in his career, keep the ball in the park, allowing 1.29 HR/9, a career-high. Obviously, coming to Yankee Stadium doesn’t help, but many think Paxton can find his groove and give the Yankees a dangerous 1-2 punch.
Speaking of the 1-2, how about the Yankees number one guy? Luis Severino entered the All-Star break with the lowest ERA in the game, which naturally became the worst ERA in the game in the second half. Some say he was tipping pitches, others say he was injured. No one knows what happened to Sevy, but his season was capped off with him being demolished by Brock Holt. The Yankees need to get first half Sevy back next season. This rotation lives and dies by the right arm of Sevy. Tanaka and Paxton have both shown the potential of being aces, but neither has the ceiling of Severino. When Severino is on his game, he throws the hardest average fastball of any starter at almost 98 mph, has a disgusting slider, and a changeup that entirely changes his game. That changeup may be his most important pitch, something shown by his numbers when he was on. If the Yankees get that Severino back, their rotation will be led by one of the best in the game.
So, the pitching staff is not too bad huh? Well, how about the offense. The offense that hit the most home runs in the history of baseball. The offense that scored more runs than every team besides Boston last season. The offense didn’t need too much improvement, but it was the free agency of Machado and Bryce Harper so, naturally, it would only be considered a success if they landed a big fish. Well, one of those options is now off the books, and the Yankees have made it well known they aren’t in the Harper sweepstakes. It’s officially a failed offseason. The offense won’t score runs, the team won’t win a game, and the New York Yankees will cease to exist. Well, not exactly.
Starting with Manny, when we look at it, it was never a great fit. I’m not gonna sit here and act like I didn’t want him. You bet I did. He’s an elite player that plays Gold Glove defense. He would’ve been awesome on this baseball team, and I would’ve screamed and cheered my butt off every time he came to the plate. But there are so many reasons besides the insane amount of money he demanded why he isn’t a Yankee. First off, there’s Giancarlo Stanton. I’ve seen people complaining that the Yankees promised a big-time free agent after they got under the luxury tax. What these people aren’t considering, is that the Giancarlo Stanton trade was that spending spree. He is on a megadeal right now, at about $23-million per year. That’s $7M less per year than what Machado got. The Yankees already have one massive contract, and they have to think about when Aaron Judge, Severino, and co. hit free agency and how they’re going to pay them. Secondly, the Yankees have a full right side of the infield. I, for one, don’t think Miguel Andujar will be a good defender at third base, but that isn’t a reason to spend $30-million. If the Yankees believe he can grow at the position, give him a shot. At shortstop, where Machado has said he would rather play, the Yankees will have Didi Gregorius for, hopefully, 95% of the time Machado would’ve been under contract. Didi is a spectacular defender who has morphed into a good hitter and, all-around, one of the best shortstops in the game. He won’t demand the same type of money as Machado, but still gives excellent production and, bringing me into my final reason, is a change of pace for the lineup: a lefty. Machado would’ve been another right-handed bat. While, yes, LeMahieu is, Machado’s fit just never made sense when you account his position, money, and handedness. Machado was always a luxury. A luxury I would’ve cried tears of joy if the Yankees got, but still, a luxury.
Now, I’m reading your mind. “THAT MEANS HARPER IS A GOOD FIT BECAUSE HE’S AN OUTFIELDER AND A LEFTY, SO HAL REALLY IS CHEAP.” Yes, yes, and no. Harper would’ve been an excellent fit for the Yankees. But, he is by no means a necessity. The Yankees have a Gold Glove defender in Brett Gardner currently manning left field, and Giancarlo Stanton can spell him on any day. In addition, former top prospect Clint Frazier is finally healthy after missing so much of last season to a concussion. He has the potential to be a huge part of this lineup, and the Yankees hope the righty with “legendary” bat speed can reach his ceiling. The whole Stanton contract also plays into Harper, but, the other flaw with Harper is how it would change up the lineup. Arguably the best four players on the team would’ve been outfielders, meaning one would always have to DH. It would take away the luxury of using the DH slot to rest someone, forcing one of the four (usually Harper or Stanton) to DH. The Yankees missed out on the big fish, but they still did something.
First, re-signing Brett Gardner, a move that, at first I was skeptical of. Gardner was not productive at the plate last year, and I thought they could’ve found better options on the market. But, Gardner’s defense played a significant factor in the re-signing. Gardner plays Gold Glove-caliber defense, being named a finalist for the award in each of the last four years, and delivers a veteran leadership that s highly praised by ownership. Gardner slots into the starting left field spot, but Clint Frazier could play his way into a place in the Bronx if he unlocks that potential that Cashman has been raving about for years.
After getting Gardy, the Yankees signed the former infield tandem of the Colorado Rockies, in Tulowitzki and LeMahieu. Tulo at the league minimum is a no brainer. He can start at shortstop until Gregorius returns, and if you can find a way to just get a fraction of his production in Denver at the plate, he could be the steal of this class. LeMahieu was a surprising move when it was announced. No one was really connecting the two, and people thought that the Yankees were going to make more of a push for Machado. They didn’t, instead turning to LeMahieu. Where LeMahieu fits? I don’t know. But, wherever they put him, he will be successful. A former batting champion who is one of the best defending second basemen in the game, and who the Yankees feel can move around the infield. While LeMahieu is a righty, he delivers a nice change of pace from the Yankees sluggers, as he puts the bat on the ball. His contact rate of 87.5% would’ve ranked second on the Yankees last year, just 0.1% behind Gardner, and his low K% of 14.1% would’ve been second behind Gregorius last year. But, as mentioned earlier, where will he play?
There is a way for the Yankees to keep the five infielders on their roster in Gleyber Torres, Andujar, Luke Voit, LeMahieu, and Tulowitzki in the everyday lineup. Making Andujar the everyday DH, and Stanton the everyday LF. The problem there is, not only would it, like signing Harper, take away all flexibility for the DH spot, but it would also make the Yankees lineup 100% right-handed besides the switch-hitting Hicks. The more likely (and more interesting) scenario would be one of these infielders being moved, with Andujar and Voit seeming like the obvious suspects. Voit’s value will never be higher after he dominated the last month and a half of the year, and Andujar is coming off of a great rookie season that saw him fall just short in the Rookie of the Year voting. Andujar has more value and could be dangled if the Yankees want to try to get another frontline starter to really put the rotation over the top, but they also may bank on Andujar developing a better feel of the strike zone. If they don’t want to move Miggy, trading Voit or packaging him (Sonny Gray anyone?) could be the move. That way, either LeMahieu or Andujar could take some reps at first, and the DH spot would still be cyclical.
As it stands, the Yankee lineup could look something like LeMahieu, Judge, Hicks, Stanton, Sanchez, Andujar, Torres, Tulowitzki, Gardner. That is a lineup that should make teams fearful. Once Didi comes back, that gets even more dangerous and well-rounded. Package that with a dominant bullpen and a top of the line rotation, and the Yankees will be striking fear into opponents well into October.
Featured Photo: Keith Allison/Flickr