About the Off-Season: Decisions, Decisions
About the Off-Season: Decisions, Decisions
By Tim Kabel
October 12, 2023
The 2023 season was not acceptable for the New York Yankees. Ownership, management, players, and fans are universal in their agreement on this issue. Everyone believes that changes need to be made. It's when we take it to the next step that things get a little messy. I have been reading a lot of articles about what the Yankee should do. Some say that they should not trade away any of their young talent. Others state they should definitely not spend a lot of money signing free agents. Trading for players such as Juan Soto is not accepted on all fronts either. It's like asking your spouse what he or she wants for dinner, and getting the response, "It's up to you but, I don't want red meat, poultry or seafood." It sort of limits your possibilities.
The Yankees clearly need to improve. However, if they can't make trades or sign free agents, exactly how are they supposed to do so? As Theodore Roosevelt said, "In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing." In other words, the Yankees need to commit to making moves and then follow through on them.
I think it's possible to improve the team without going completely in one direction. They don't have to commit to only making trades or only signing free agents. They could do both. The best way to build the team would be to blend the three concepts of trades, building from within, and signing free agents. By doing that, they would avoid overspending, depleting the farm system, and being saddled with unwieldy, long-term contracts.
The Yankees' primary areas of need headed into 2024 are more consistent and better offensive production, ideally in left field, depth in the starting rotation, and another reliever or two for the bullpen. Let's take a look at each of these areas.
We know that Jasson Dominguez will be lost for a portion of the 2024 season. How large a portion it will be is a matter of speculation at this point. It all depends on how well and quickly he heals and how his rehabilitation progresses. It is useful to look at how other players have recovered from similar surgeries. But each person is different. Healing is a lot like grieving; everyone does it in their own way and on their own timetable. Regardless, the Yankees need someone who can play centerfield until Dominguez returns. Ideally that someone will not be Aaron Judge. The Yankees could stay in-house and use Estevan Florial. Everson Pereira has also played centerfield in the minor leagues but has not done so on the Major League level. If the Yankees let Isiah Kiner-Falefa play centerfield this year, there's no reason why they couldn't let Pereira do it next season. At least, he has played there in the minor leagues.
In addition to needing somebody to play the outfield, the Yankees also want to improve their offensive production. That leads us to two options. Cody Bellinger is a free agent. He was the 2019 National League Most Valuable Player. He then had a few bad years for the Dodgers. Of note, he was severely injured and had a lengthy recovery process. This season, playing for the Cubs, he batted .307 with 26 home runs, 97 RBI, and 20 stolen bases. He is 28 years old and is a left-handed hitter, who plays excellent defense. He can play centerfield, leftfield, and first base. There is some concern regarding the off years but, I'm willing to apply some logic here and surmise that those years were due to his injury and the limitations that put on him.
The other option is Juan Soto, who is even younger than Bellinger. Soto will turn 25 in two weeks. This season, he batted .275 with 35 home runs and 109 RBI. He is also a left-handed batter. He could certainly play leftfield, but his defensive abilities are somewhat lacking. He is not a free agent, so the Yankees would need to make a trade for him. There has been a lot of speculation about prospective trades. Most of them seem to center around Spencer Jones, the Yankees' top prospect, who finished the year at AA. He will turn 23 early next season. There would be other prospects involved as well.
Theoretically, the difference between acquiring Soto and Bellinger is that Soto would be acquired via a trade, as opposed to being signed to a huge contract in free agency. In reality, Soto will become a free agent after next season. So, the only way it would make sense for the Yankees to trade for him would be if they could have a window to sign him to a long-term contract. Basically, there would be little difference between signing Bellinger and trading for Soto. In fact, one could argue that Soto would ultimately be more expensive, as the Yankees would need to cough up a few, or more, top-rated prospects, and still sign him to a contract. When you factor in Bellinger's defensive superiority as well as the fact that he can play first base in addition to the outfield, the scale tilts more toward his favor. I would lean toward signing Bellinger.
The Yankees have been linked very heavily to Japanese pitcher, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who will be posted this off season by the Orix Buffaloes. He is 25 years old and is considered to be an extremely dominant pitcher. He could strengthen the Yankees rotation for years to come. There are other free agent options available, including Blake Snell, as well as pitchers who could be acquired via trade. The Yankees had very good luck when they acquired Masahiro Tanaka. Yamamoto has thrown two-no hitters, including one while he was being scouted by the Yankees and other MLB teams. I would sign Yamamoto if I were the Yankees. If Frankie Montas were agreeable to signing a one-year, team-friendly contract, I might consider that as well, for depth.
As far as the bullpen goes, Josh Hader, who is 29 years old, and is an excellent left-handed reliever with the Padres, will also be a free agent. However, since the Yankees would be signing Bellinger and Yamamoto, based on the blueprint above, it might be better to acquire one or two bullpen arms via trades. Whatever you want to say about him, Brian Cashman has been very good at acquiring relief pitchers, who were sort of under the radar. He may be able to swing one or two trades that would improve the bullpen without adding huge contracts. Of course, Aroldis Chapman will be available again. That is a joke.
If the Yankee sign Bellinger and Yamamoto, and trade for one or two bullpen arms, they should have a solid foundation for a winning team. In addition to those moves, the Yankees will have several young players who will be continuing their development, including Anthony Volpe, Oswald Peraza, Austin Wells, Jason Dominguez, (when he returns), Oswaldo Cabrera, and Everson Pereira, although his role is uncertain. Clarke Schmidt established himself as a solid pitcher and Michael King demonstrated that he is capable of being a member of the starting rotation. Adding Yamamoto and possibly another pitcher who can start will provide options, insurance, and depth.
The last area where the Yankees need to improve is ridding the team of faded players on long-term contracts. If they can find a way to trade Giancarlo Stanton and possibly DJ LeMahieu, they should do it. I would only pause regarding LeMahieu because of Anthony Rizzo's uncertain status. However, if Rizzo appears to be fully recovered and ready to go for next year, and especially if the Yankees do sign Bellinger, LeMahieu could become expendable.
Since we all agree that the Yankees need to make improvements, we should not wring our hands and curl up in a fetal position bemoaning the fact that acquiring players will cost money or other players. That's how it works. The Yankees need to make prudent decisions and then commit to them. As Theodore Roosevelt said, "the worst thing we can do is nothing." Paralysis by analysis is something we want to avoid.