61 Thoughts on the Yankees Offseason
61 Thoughts on the Yankees Offseason
By Chris O’Connor
April 2, 2022
I like the Josh Donaldson trade in a vacuum. The Yankees needed to shake things up and Donaldson is still an excellent player: he hit 26 home runs in 135 games and had a 124 WRC+. If anything, he was incredibly unlucky: per Baseball Savant, the difference between his wOBA and xwOBA (based on quality of contact) was the 13th largest in the majors last season.
Trades, however, do not happen in a vacuum. The Yankees biggest need was shortstop and with his market shrinking by the day, it seemed like the stars were aligning for the Yankees to swoop in and get Carlos Correa on a short-term, team-friendly deal.
Seeing the contract that Correa signed, I cannot believe the Yankees were not more in on him. A 27 year-old star at a premium position, a position of major need? Giving out a 10-year deal was not as likely when the team is going to pay Judge long-term and has Volpe/Peraza waiting in the wings, but a 3-year deal with opt outs provides basically no risk for the team.
It appears that the money that the team took on from the Donaldson trade stopped them from opening up the checkbook for Correa. I do not believe that the Yankees did not want him because of the sign-stealing scandal or his comments about Derek Jeter’s fielding. Aaron Hicks recently said that the Yankees mentality in 2022 is F-You, and the trade for Josh Donaldson supports that. Who better to shake up a stale locker room than Correa?
For luxury tax purposes, they sent away $14 million in Sanchez and Urshela and took back $27.5 million in Donaldson and IKR. Would you rather Donaldson and IKR for $27.5 million or Correa for $35 million?
More broadly, would the team rather spend a combined $44 million for Rizzo, Donaldson, IKR, and Rortvdet or $54 million for Voit, Urshela, Correa, and Sanchez?
The fact that I am even talking this much about finances is frustrating. Forbes estimates the value of the Yankees at $6 billion, with the next closest MLB team (Dodgers) at $4.075 billion. The Yankees are worth 50% more than any other team in the league.
This reminds me of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Forbes estimates their net worth to be $5.5 billion, third-highest in the NBA behind the Knicks and Warriors.
The Yankees and Lakers have many similarities.
Both are the premier franchise in their respective sports.
Both lead their respective leagues in titles (the Lakers are tied with the Celtics at 17).
Both are family-owned, so unlike Steve Cohen with the Mets, the wealth of each team primarily comes from the team itself and not other businesses.
Both saw their larger-than-life, longtime team owner pass away and have fallen on (relatively) hard times with the patriarchs’ children leading the way.
Back to the Yankees.
On one hand, I get it. I am a Finance major at the University of Maryland with an interest in corporate efficiency, so I can understand why the Yankees are loath to run astronomical payrolls.
The nature of baseball is that the best teams win less frequently than other sports like the NFL and NBA. The two most recent full-season champions were the 88-win Braves and the 93-win, Wild Card-winning Nationals.
The expanded postseason further diminishes the value of building a great team. Yes, the top two division winners get a bye to the Divisional Round. Even then, however, you still need to win three rounds against tough playoff teams.
I am not saying it is the internal goal for the Yankees to win 88 games. What I am saying is that I can at least understand their reluctance to spend an extra $30 million to get a 92-win team up to 95 wins when they can already make the playoffs at 92.
And guess what? While all of that may be true, you still see the Dodgers going after Freddie Freeman when they already appear to be the best team in the league without him. They did the same in trading for Mookie Betts in 2020.
If only there were a way to combine George Steinbrenner’s willingness to spend whatever it took to win with Hal’s understanding of the benefits of analytics and patience in player development.
Which is basically what the Dodgers do.
Again, I hesitate to criticize the team’s lack of spending too much because I understand the team’s right to spend their money in the way they deem most efficient.
And it is not like the team has not been successful. They have made the playoffs in each of the last five seasons powered by a core of homegrown players.
It is just that the team had such obvious flaws last year and the only big external move was a single trade for a 36 year-old third baseman, a platoon catcher, and a stopgap shortstop.
From the start it appeared that a stopgap shortstop was the way things were headed. It never seemed like the Yankees were truly big-game hunting at the top of the shortstop market.
When the Yankees say that they did this because of their belief in Anthony Volpe and Oswald Pereza, do not believe it. Not only are prospects notoriously unpredictable, but shortstop prospects generally have the ability to move around the infield. Had they signed Correa, for example, they could have moved Volpe to third base.
You can’t even say that they would have dipped in if the market dictated that they could get a star at a discount because that is exactly what happened with Correa. No, this was purely a money thing.
Shortstop was not the Yankees’ only need this offseason. They also had needs at 1st base and center field.
Let’s go one by one.
After seeing the return that the A’s got for Matt Olson, I can not blame the Yankees for passing on him.
According to Keith Law of the Athletic, the prospects that the Braves gave up were ranked 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 15th in their system.
The equivalent trade for the Yankees, with Law’s rankings used, would have been Anthony Volpe, Oswald Peraza, Luis Gil, and Josh Breaux.
It is not a perfect comparison, as Volpe is ranked higher than anyone in Atlanta’s system, but it is hard to believe that the Yankees could have gotten Olson without giving up Volpe or Peraza and several other top prospects.
Not wanting to give up prospects in a trade is more understandable than justifying a pass on a free agent star at a position of need on the basis of having prospects at the same position.
When Atlanta made the trade for Olson, it appeared that the Freddie Freeman sweepstakes came down to the Yankees and the Dodgers.
Freeman is from LA and seemingly wanted to return home (if he could not stay in Atlanta), so the Yankees would have had to blow the Dodgers offer out of the water in order to get him.
As the Yankees have proved in the past (Gerrit Cole, C.C. Sabathia), West Coast preferences may not mean much if the Yankees flex their muscle. It just never felt like Freeman was their guy.
When looking at first base exclusively, once the Yankees decided to move on from Luke Voit, the choice came down to: go after Freeman for 6 years and, say, $180 million or Anthony Rizzo for 2 years and $32 million.
In 2022, ZIPS projects Freeman to be worth 4.0 WAR while STEAMER is at 2.7. For Rizzo, those numbers are 2.8 and 2.9. A 1-2 win difference could be the difference between earning a playoff spot, as the Yankees saw last year.
But that difference in projected production is not a massive difference and if the money saved goes toward an Aaron Judge extension, all the better.
Speaking of Judge, can he play center field?
While shortstop and 1st base were the needs that got most of the headlines, those needs were easily fixable because of the surplus of available options. The need in center looms large.
Since signing his $70 million extension in 2019, Aaron Hicks has played in 145 of a possible 382 games, which translates to 61 games out of 162. Aside from him, they have little depth at the position. Judge and Gallo can play capable defense in center in a pinch, but they are more suited to the corners.
The Yankees appear willing to use Giancarlo Stanton in the outfield more this year, but he is going to be used exclusively in the corners. Marwin Gonzalez, if he makes the roster after a terrific spring, is not a center fielder, either.
So when the inevitable Hicks injury occurs, the Yankees will be forced to rely on Judge and/or Gallo moving over or some combination of Ender Inciarte, Tim Locastro, or even Estevan Florial. Not great.
Ultimately, it seems that the Yankees are banking heavily on internal improvements and positive regression from numerous key pieces to the lineup like D.J. LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, and Joey Gallo. If even a few guys revert back to their career norms after relatively disastrous 2021 seasons (or half-season in Gallo’s case), the offense suddenly becomes a strength again.
A sneaky, potentially massive hire that can help accomplish this was Dillon Lawson as hitting coach. Lawson had been the Yankees minor league hitting coordinator where he helped the Yankees minor league teams consistently put out top-tier offenses, so a more streamlined, cohesive approach to hitting from an organizational standpoint will be huge moving forward.
With a revamped coaching staff around Aaron Boone, I am optimistic that the offense will drastically improve on its 10th place finish in the American League in runs scored. With Luis Rojas installed as third base coach, I do not think the Yankees lead the league in outs made at home plate in 2022.
While I have my concerns about relying almost exclusively on internal improvements offensively, I think the Yankees pitching depth is underrated.
Teams can never have too much pitching, but I think concerns about the rotation depth behind Gerrit Cole are overblown. Fangraphs projects the Yankees rotation as the 2nd best in the league behind the Mets and thinks that the Yankees bullpen will be the very best in baseball. After last season, the Yankees pitching development staff has earned the benefit of the doubt.
I can’t wait to see which talented arm(s) becomes the next breakout star out of the bullpen or even as a rotation piece. Out of young studs like Luis Gil, Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt, and Albert Abreu, I figure that the Yankees can coax a Loaisiga-like breakout out of at least one.
The AL East will be a slog this year. It is entirely realistic that four playoff teams come from the division.
Right now, I think that the Blue Jays are the best team in the division. It is difficult to see the Rays being appreciably worse than last year, when they won 100 games. I think the Yankees are more on par with the Red Sox.
The difference between the Yankees and the Red Sox, however, is the Yankees upside. Their pitching depth provides them a high floor, as last season showed. The key is the offense.
I do not think it is talked about enough that a team that had been in the top 3 in all of baseball in runs scored every year from 2017-2020, with mostly the same lineup, suddenly fell to 19th in 2021.
The Yankees chose to make one offensive upgrade with the Josh Donaldson addition and prioritized defense at shortstop and catcher. That tells me that the Yankees are very confident in positive regression from the offense.
Are they that crazy to think that? LeMahieu seemed hampered by a hernia all season. Gleyber Torres, for all of his warts, is an immensely talented player. As recently as 2020, Aaron Hicks played in 54 of 60 games and had a 124 WRC+. And with full seasons from Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo, I do not think that it is unrealistic for the team to bounce back with a top-10 offense in 2022.
They certainly could have done more to improve the offense and make that more of a certainty, but I find it unlikely that the Yankees are not a top-6 team in the American League. That’s obviously not a high bar to clear, but that is what expanded playoffs do to the sport.
I am cautiously optimistic about the 2022 Yankees. I think that their pitching depth gives them a high floor and while I do not see them as the best team in the division right now, I do think that they have World Series upside if the offense can get straightened out.
My final record prediction: 93-69, second in AL East.