It’s been just over two weeks since Aroldis Chapman hung a slider to a particular Houston Astros second baseman. In what felt like hours later, Jose Altuve crossed home plate, the Astros were off to the World Series, and the New York Yankees season was over. As one season ends, however, another begins — the offseason.
After going their first decade without a World Series appearance, there are a lot of eyes on Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner entering this offseason. Here is how the Yankees can end their ten (!) year drought and return to the Fall Classic.
#1 – Finally Solidify the Rotation
The rotation is NOT to blame for the Yankees ALCS exit. James Paxton, Luis Severino, and Masahiro Tanaka combined for just a 2.65 ERA during the entire postseason. The problem was they combined for only 37.1 innings in eight postseason starts, or about 4.2 frames per start. This was partly due to a rapid pull from manager Aaron Boone, who tried his best to get to his historic bullpen as quickly as possible, but also a lot of walks and high pitch counts from Yankee starters. Short starts lessened the effect of that fantastic Yankees bullpen, with all four of their dominant relievers (Aroldis Chapman, Tommy Kahnle, Chad Green, and Zack Britton) struggling in the decisive Game 6, with Green having to start the game due to a lack of a capable fourth starter. The only big-name reliever who succeeded in the game was Adam Ottavino, who’d already made four October appearance without recording an out, who came in and pitched a big 1-2-3 inning. Despite the moderate success from the rotation, it should still be the #1 priority for the Yankees this offseason. Cashman has been attempting to solidify the rotation for years, without success, but the Yankees are closer today than ever before. He missed all of last year, but Luis Severino has Cy Young potential when he’s on the field. James Paxton has shown flashes of the ace the Yankees believe he is pitching to a 2.51 ERA, 3.26 FIP, 4.27 xFIP, and 20.5% K-BB% from August 2nd on. They are just a couple pieces away from having one of the best rotations in baseball, and here’s who they could target to do that:
Rumors have swirled around Gerrit Cole and the Yankees for years. New York loved the right-hander when he was in Pittsburgh, but were unwilling to pay the hefty price in trade. Eventually moved to Houston, Cole, with the help of an exceptional coaching staff led by Brent Strohm, took himself to another level. Since joining the defending American League champs, Cole has dominated, pitching to a 2.68 ERA, 2.67 FIP, 2.75 xFIP, and an astonishing 30.3% K-BB%. Many have written off the Yankee’s interest in him, based on last year’s refusal to match the asking price for Patrick Corbin, but this situation may be different. The Yankees front office loves Cole, as stated in Bob Klapisch and Paul Solotaroff’s best-selling book “Inside the Empire.” While Hal Steinbrenner has been much less willing than his late father to blow through any budget, Cole may be the exception. With that being said, some have speculated that Cole’s contract could reach $300M. Gerrit Cole is an ace, without a doubt, but no pitcher is worth the risk of $300M. It’d still be a surprise, but Cole at the top of the Yankees rotation may make them the runaway World Series favorites for 2020.
Despite fighting injuries for almost his entire big league career, former first overall pick Stephen Strasburg has been one of the most consistent starters in baseball since his first full year in 2012. Among starters with at least 1,000 innings, Strasburg ranks 10th in ERA (3.21), 6th in FIP (3.04), 3rd in xFIP (3.01), and 4th in SIERA (3.10). Already considered an ace, his MVP performance in the Fall Classic was just the icing on the cake. However, Strasburg does not seem like an excellent fit for the Yankees. Brian Cashman is not a fan of handing out big contracts to pitchers, and especially not one with the injury history of Strasburg. I’d love it, but I’d be shocked if Strasburg ends up in pinstripes.
Zack Wheeler is a good pitcher. Over the past two years with the Mets, he’s been a consistent pillar in that elite rotation, pitching to a 3.65 ERA, 3.37 FIP, 3.94 xFIP. While those numbers would be fantastic for the Yanks, and Wheeler would give the team the depth in the rotation it so desperately needs, there is so much untapped potential in his big right arm. With a fastball that averages at 96.8 MPH and a couple of solid off-speed pitches – including a nasty curveball – Wheeler has the stuff to be an ace. New pitching coach Matt Blake may be the man to unlock it. Wheeler will come at a significant discount in comparison to Cole and Strasburg and could end up as the steal of the offseason.
The Korean lefty has struggled to stay on the field for years but, finally, put it together in 2019. While his remarkable 2.32 ERA is untelling, Ryu was still excellent last season. His 3.10 FIP ranked sixth in the big leagues, while his 3.32 xFIP and 3.37 SIERA ranked 8th and 14th, respectively. While he looked good last year, Ryu is not an ace. Nevertheless, he’d be a substantial addition to the Yankee rotation if they miss out on the big guns.
Alex Wood has quietly been one of the most consistent starters in baseball during the latter part of this decade. Before last year’s injury-riddled season that saw only seven starts out of him, Wood had never had a FIP over 3.53 for a season. Among the 131 starters with at least 800 innings between 2013-2018, Wood’s 3.42 FIP, 3.55 xFIP, and 3.73 SIERA ranked 20th, 28th, and 34th in the league. Does he move the needle? No. However, Wood is undoubtedly a massive improvement on JA Happ and CC Sabathia.
OTHER OPTIONS (2019 Stats):
Jake Odorizzi (3.51 ERA, 3.36 FIP, 4.33 xFIP, 4.14 SIERA)
Cole Hamels (3.81, 4.09, 4.38, 4.55)
Madison Bumgarner (3.90, 3.90, 4.31, 4.15)
#2 – Bring Back Dellin Betances
Re-signing Betances should be a top priority for the Yankees. When he’s on, Betances has arguably the best stuff in the game. After fighting all way back from a shoulder injury, a heartbreaking Achilles tear sidelined him for the postseason, but that shouldn’t stop the Yankees from doing everything they can do bring back Betances. Since his first full season in 2014, among all big league relievers (minimum 100 IP), Betances ranks 2nd in FIP (2.25), 1st in xFIP (2.27), and 4th in SIERA (2.17). Also, the 6-8 righty’s astonishing 40.4 K% ranks third in baseball in that timespan. If the Yankees need to do one thing this offseason, it’s bring him back.
(IF THEY ARE DUMB AND LET HIM WALK) OTHER OPTIONS (2019 Stats):
Will Harris (3.15 FIP, 3.04 xFIP, 3.18 SIERA)
Will Smith (3.23, 2.73, 2.71)
Ken Giles (TRADE) (2.27, 2.73, 2.49)
#3 – Figure Out the Center Field Situation
With Aaron Hicks undergoing Tommy John Surgery, likely meaning he’ll miss the majority of the year, a star will not be manning center field for the Yankees. With heavy rumors circulating that they are looking to bring back Brett Gardner, it seems like competition is brewing for the starting center field spot. Signed to be a fourth outfielder, Gardner came out of nowhere, blasting past his career-high, hitting 28 bombs last season while playing a solid CF and managing a .325 OBP to go along with his 115 wRC+. However, buyer beware on the 36-year-old. His good .344 wOBA last season is extremely bloated by the juiced ball, compared to just .301 xwOBA by a ton. There may as well be a giant arrow with the word “REGRESSION” flashing on it. Regardless, it is likely that fan-favorite Gardner is back next year, it should just be as a fourth outfielder, with Mike Tauchman being given the starting role until Hicks returns.
Tauchman was unbelievable last season. A late spring trade brought him over from Colorado, and the 28-year-old quickly became a fan favorite. Tauchman hit to a .277/.361(!)/.504 clip, with a 128 wRC+ and .364 wOBA. Similar to Gardner, though, Tauchman greatly over-performed his xwOBA of .323. Regardless, it’s his defense that should win him the center field spot. Despite playing just 87 games, Tauchman ranked 10th among all MLB outfielders in Outs Above Average with nine. For comparison, Gardner was tied for 53rd with two. At least until Hicks returns, center field seems to be Tauchman’s.
#4 – Get Another Bat
The Yankees declined Edwin Encarnacion’s option, spelling the end of a short stint in New York for the veteran bat. While first base is Luke Voit’s (deservingly), Didi Gregorius’s career in pinstripes is likely over, meaning there is at least one open spot in the Yankees lineup.
IT’S NOT HAPPENING, BUT LET A GUY PRAY:
Rendon is the best third baseman in baseball. In his five full big league seasons, Rendon has posted at least 6.2 fWAR, hitting 7.0 last season to go along with a .319/.412/.598 clip with 34 HRs, and a 154 wRC+. Rendon will garner a huge contract, and the Yankees are probably not the team he ends up with. They have to extend their superstar in Aaron Judge, as well as budding star Gleyber Torres and Silver Slugger DJ LeMahieu in the near future. All along with their $23M a year to Giancarlo Stanton, it’s not looking good for Rendon to New York, but a guy can dream?!
PROBABLY NOT HAPPENING, BUT THERE’S A SMALL POSSIBILITY
Gary Sanchez is fine. Despite an atrocious postseason, he is one of the best catchers in baseball. However, he is no Yasmani Grandal behind the plate, and their offensive numbers are very comparable. While Grandal doesn’t have the power of Sanchez, he was unbelievable last season, managing a .380 OBP with 28 homers and a 121 wRC+, compared to Sanchez’s .316 OBP, 34 homers, and a 116 wRC+ (in 47 fewer games). Defensively, framing still matters, and few do it better than Grandal, who’s 17.0 FRM towers over Sanchez’s -6.8 last season. It won’t happen, but moving Gary to DH, spelling Grandal at points, would be the best move the Yankees could make for the offense.
After an injury-riddled 2018, questions circulated about whether former MVP Josh Donaldson’s long run of dominance was over. He answered those questions with a resounding “NOPE!”. A .259/.379/.521 clip, along with 37 homers and a 132 wRC+, makes Donaldson one of the most appealing free agents on the market. At 34, he won’t require a long deal but could take an offense to the next level. So, where does he fit in New York? Third base. I know, I know, “What about Urshela?”. Donaldson had an astonishing 15 DRS at third in Atlanta last season, compared to Urshela, who scored in the negatives. The move here is to attempt to teach Urshela first base, shifting Torres to short, LeMahieu to second, and Voit to the DH role. A short-term, high $ deal with Donaldson could be exactly what the Yankees need to put an already amazing lineup to the next level.
FINE, I’LL BE REALISTIC, BUT IT’S UNHEARD OF
Another offseason, another Moustakas to New York conversation. He’s been called a Yankee more times than Manny Machado, and Bryce Harper combined. Moustakas is nothing special in the field, but he has shown the versatility to play first, second, and third, meaning he could play wherever needed for the Yanks. At the plate, though, Moose would be a substantial addition. The big lefty power bat hit to a .254/.329/.516 clip with 35 homers and a 113 wRC+ in Milwaukee last year. While he isn’t moving any needles, he would add some depth and replace Didi as the Yankees’ best lefty bat.
Speaking of big lefty bats from Milwaukee, Eric Thames fits the mold. Similar to the Yankees best hitters, Thames is a high-walk, high-K, high-OBP, high-power player. Last year, he hit to a .247/.346/.505 clip, along with an 11.1% BB% and 30.5% K%, to go along with 25 homers and 116 wRC+. For Yankee fans that want a big contact guy, Thames is not the answer. However, his big lefty bat would feast on the short porch, and he would mean a slight defensive improvement over Luke Voit.
Do you see a pattern yet? I’m looking for a big lefty power bat. The former Ranger was solid in Boston, hitting to just a .252/.328/.507 clip in his last year in Boston, platooning at first base. Also, he hit 19 homers in 91 games, with a 112 wRC+. Defensively, Moreland is at a minimum average but has shown flashes of greatness at first, including encompassing 10 DRS in 1,170 innings at the position back in 2017. Also…it’s always fun to steal a player from the Sox, no matter how small.
Did you think I forgot about the 2018 Rookie of the Year finalist? Well, I did. Andujar put together a solid rookie year that saw him hit 27 homers with a 130 wRC+ and a 2.8 fWAR despite his horrible defense at third. If he is on the team, he is either playing first over Voit (Voit DH) or DHing (likely). However, and I’m going to get killed for this, I don’t think he should be on the team. Why? He’s not that good. His power is great, that’s for sure, but his 4.1 BB% is ridiculously low, and that horrible plate discipline, while it will improve, is not a recipe for future success. Besides, the “third baseman” overperformed his .326 xwOBA in 2016 by almost 40 points. There are better options on the free-agent market, and maybe Miggy can bring back a reliever despite his low value on the trade market.
The 2019 New York Yankees were a great team. They went cold at the wrong time, but they were six wins away from a championship for a reason. If Cashman and Co do NOTHING this offseason, they will still be a real contender in 2020. But, the front office has a real shot at putting them to another level. I know Hal Steinbrenner isn’t reading this, but it’s time for him to spend some money. They’ve been saving up for something for years, why not make it Gerrit Cole.
FEATURED: Getty/Mike Stobe