About the Off-Season: Taking Shape
By Tim Kabel
December 28, 2023
Well, Christmas is over, at least technically. I have always been a believer in the 12 days of Christmas. To me, Christmas is like the World Series, which lasts for several days.
Thanksgiving is like the Super Bowl, because everything is condensed into one day.
Now that we are just about at the end of 2023, the Yankees, and all the other teams, need to start finalizing their rosters for 2024. Over the next few weeks, we should get a very clear indication of what the 2024 Yankees will look like.
We already know the Yankees did not sign Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Despite some criticism leveled at Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner, it is fair to say the Yankees made a genuine effort to do so. Perhaps Yamamoto wanted to be a Dodger all along. We don't really know and, it really doesn't matter. The Yankees can now take the money they would have spent on him and distributed it among a few other players.
A few things have already happened. Earlier this week, the Yankees traded Estevan Florial to the Cleveland Guardians for Cody Morris, who could potentially be rather useful out of the bullpen. The Yankees never really gave Florial a chance. Hopefully, he will have an opportunity with the Guardians and can flourish there. Also of note, Isiah Kiner-Falefa signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. The best part about that is he won't be on the Yankees. I'm not knocking him. He was fine in his role, but the problem was that Aaron Boone continued to push the limits of that role. I have a feeling that if he had returned to the Yankees, Boone would have eventually worked him into the lineup on a regular basis. That would have been a problem because IKF does not have the talent for that. Let's wish him the best of luck in Toronto, except in games against the Yankees of course. Florial never really had a role with the Yankees and IKF had a role that he didn't deserve or fit. Now, they are both gone.
I still do not believe Aaron Judge will be the starting center fielder next season until Jasson Dominguez returns. I expect the Yankees to sign Cody Bellinger. The next step will be to find a team to take Gianarlo Stanton. I know it will be difficult to trade him, but they have other people who can fill his role better than he can at this stage of his career. Over the last year and a half, he has devolved into an all or nothing player. Much more often, it is nothing rather than all.
When it comes to the starting rotation, now that the Yankees have lost out on Yamamoto, they need to consider other free agent options. The three best choices are Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery, and Shota Imanaga. I have a feeling that the most likely option of the three is Imanaga, as Snell has concerns including his health and wildness as well as his overall inconsistency. Montgomery may not wish to come back to the Yankees, particularly since they stated in 2022 that he would not make a start during the playoffs. It is conceivable that the Yankees could sign Imanaga and another starter such as Frankie Montas for depth to the rotation and still have plenty of money left over from what they would have spent on Yamamoto.
For the bullpen, the Yankees could sign Josh Hader and possibly Jordan Hicks. They may also go after Yariel Rodriguez, who although he is Cuban, pitched in Japan for a few years. He has been mentioned several times during the off-season as a possibility for the Yankees and other teams. I would suspect that if the Yankees sign him, they will use him in the bullpen as opposed to the starting rotation.
The point is that the Yankees still have a lot of moves they need to make. While many fans are discouraged that they did not sign Yamamoto, there are other options, and they may be able to acquire players who will fill multiple slots for the same amount of money they would have spent on Yamamoto.
What should be encouraging to Yankees' fans is the fact that the team was willing to spend money. They did make a substantive offer to Yamamoto. He chose to go elsewhere. The Yankees cannot really be faulted for the effort they made. In fact, as has been noted many times, the average annual value of the Yankees offer was higher than that of the Dodgers.
The Yankees are finishing off the roster for 2024. They still have moves to make and the fact that they did not sign Yamamoto necessitates more moves to the starting rotation but it also frees up a great deal of money to spend on free agents. They do have the option of trading for starting pitchers and have been linked to Dylan Cease and Corbin Burnes. However, trades would take players, primarily prospects, and the Yankees used a great deal of their trade capital to acquire Juan Soto, and to a lesser degree, Alex Verdugo. The Yankees cannot trade too many more prospects because they need to keep some of them to build their own team. They may be able to pull off a trade or two but nothing that would cost a boatload of prospects.
The Yankees have made a few big moves by acquiring Soto and Verdugo. They have also been tinkering by adding some bullpen pieces and trading Florial. I anticipate a few more substantial moves, as they mold the roster into one that can compete for a championship in 2024.