Early Offseason Predictions
Early Offseason Predictions
By Chris O’Connor
November 15, 2021
Everything that I am hearing suggests that the Yankees will go big this offseason, and I believe it. This offseason gives me 2008-2009 vibes where the team has a terrific core but needs better players as a supplement.
While Hal and Cashman are, to put it nicely, more economical than George Steinbrenner, I think that they have shown that they will open the checkbook when the opportunity presents itself to get the Yankees over the hump. While it ultimately was doomed, they opened the checkbooks after the 2013 season and signed Masahiro Tanaka, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran to a combined $438 million in total value to improve a playoff-less team.
After 2017, the Yankees essentially signed Giancarlo Stanton to a contract of 10 years and $265 million when accounting for the money the Marlins are kicking in (yes, it was a trade, but it was a salary dump for all intents and purposes). They reset their books after 2018 to get under the luxury tax knowing that Gerrit Cole would be a free agent after 2019, and they signed him to a big contract to get the team over the hump. While that has not happened, they took a painstaking approach to get under the tax in 2021, and I think that portends an offseason of another marquee free-agent signing. To be clear, this is what I think will happen, not what I would do.
Yankees sign Carlos Correa to a 9 year, $315 million deal. Correa just recently turned 27, so a deal of this size would take him only through his age-35 season. Correa will want to beat Franscisco Lindor’s $340 million and Fernando Tatis’ $341 million, but Lindor did not have the injury concerns that Correa has and Tatis was just 22 when he signed his deal. I think that the injury woes prevent him from getting a full 10 years, but unlike Lindor and Tatis, Correa will have multiple bidders as he hits the open market. While his overall value is less than Lindor and Tatis, the AAV of $35 million beats them.
With regards to the Yankees, their need at shortstop is clear, and I absolutely believe that they will land one of the big fish. I think that they will have significant interest in Marcus Semien on a shorter deal, more so than many believe, but I see him either staying in Toronto or going home to the West Coast. I think this ultimately comes down to Correa or Seager.
I think the Yankees prefer Correa for a few reasons. For one, I think that Cashman believes that the clubhouse can use a jolt (much like C.C. Sabathia provided in 2009), and Correa provides this by forcing the Yankees to lean into their rightful villain role. Correa is also a superior defender than Seager, and while Seager would bring a nice lefty bat to diversify the lineup, Cashman has proved in the past that he just wants the best hitters regardless of their handedness. When the Yankees want their guy, they almost always get him. Correa seemingly loves the spotlight and would not shy away from New York.
Yankees trade for Oakland A’s first baseman Matt Olson. While I do believe that the Yankees really like Anthony Rizzo and do want to bring him back, I think Cashman has learned that the Yankees should be more aggressive in the trade market. In recent years, the Yankees have failed to capitalize on trading players when their market value was high, even if they did not have an obvious fit with the team. Luke Voit, Miguel Andujar, and Clint Frazier fit this mold, as do prospects like Deivi Garcia and Chance Adams. The Yankees want to be an organization at the forefront of the player development revolution, but in an odd way, I think this makes them more likely to trade prospects this offseason.
Look at the Dodgers, who have routinely traded high-end prospect capital for guys like Mookie Betts, Yu Darvish, Manny Machado, and Max Scherzer/Trea Turner. They do this because not only do they know that they have the money to sign replacements if their stars fade for any reason, but they are so skilled at player development that they can afford to trade away top prospects. If they trade a Josiah Gray away, they know that they can develop another pitching prospect in a similar mold. The Dodgers, however, only trade their top prospects for true stars.
Like how I believe that the Yankees will be aggressive in free agency, I think they will open up some of their top prospects (not including Anthony Volpe and Jasson Dominguez) ONLY for an established star like Olson or Jose Ramirez. I am not saying that the Yankees would like to trade away good prospects, but if a star like Olson (who fills a gaping hole at first base) becomes available, I think that they will be more aggressive than in the past. Olson is under team control through 2023 and is set to make just $12 million in 2022, so I think that his 2-year cost will be similar to Rizzo’s. Olson is entering his age-28 season and is right in the prime of his career. He is a clear upgrade on a declining Rizzo by providing superior power, defense, and comparable on-base skills.
If they do make the aggressive outlays for Correa and Olson, I do not see the Yankees spending much else. This is, after all, still Hal and Cashman running the show. I think that there will be limits to their aggressiveness, which would be focused on fixing the offense. Every team needs starting pitching, but I think the Yankees believe that a rotation of Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, Jameson Taillon, Jordan Montgomery, and Nestor Cortes is solid. This is especially true with internal pieces like Mike King, Luis Gil, and Deivi Garcia or Clarke Schmidt waiting in the wings. Thus, I think the Yankees will shop in the bargain bin for a high-risk, high-reward starting pitching. I think that their interest in Justin Verlander is real, but only if the pursuit of a marquee shortstop fails. I can see them looking at reclamation projects like Jon Gray, the number 3 pick of the 2013 draft who has had an inconsistent career with the Rockies.
Other needs include center field and catcher. While reports suggest that his wrist will be fully healed by December, Aaron Hicks is unreliable at this point in his career. I think that the Yankees will seriously look at center field options like Chris Taylor and Starling Marte, as well as trade candidates like Bryan Reynolds. If the Yankees get Matt Olson from the A’s, I think that it is less likely they splurge in center and take a shot on a cheap option who is not guaranteed a full-time role. If the Yankees cannot get Olson and instead bring back Anthony Rizzo, I think that makes it more likely that they sign Taylor or Marte or trade for a stud like Reynolds. Olson would cost a lot in prospect depth and bring an eight-figure salary while Rizzo would just cost money; while, again, I think the Yankees will be aggressive, there are always going to be limits to their aggressiveness under this regime. When looking at other trade candidates, there just aren’t that many center fielders on non-contenders that would be a big upgrade for the Yankees. The Orioles are not trading Cedric Mullins, and even if defense-first guys like Victor Robles and Michael A. Taylor are available, are they that much more of an upgrade over what the Yankees have?
When it comes to the catcher position, I have little idea of what to expect. I believe that the Yankees would like to move on from Gary Sanchez, who projects to earn around $7.5 million in his final season before hitting free agency. The problem is that there are not many inspiring options in free agency. I can see the Yankees doing something like platooning Kyle Higashioka with a defense-first catcher that can hit righties, like Alex Avila. The trade market is a little more inspiring for more every-day catchers like Wilson Contreras, Carson Kelly, and Jacob Stallings. In the end, while I think that the Yankees would like to move on from Sanchez, I am just not sure that they will find anyone appreciably better. Ultimately, I think they will bring him back in 2022.