If I Were Brian Cashman
by EJ Fagan
November 19, 2023
NOTE: The following comes from EJ Fagan's substack page and is shared with permission.
Please check out EJ's substack page for more great articles.
Hal Steinbrenner has given me gave me the following mandate: build a World Series contending team for 2024, don’t exceed the $277 million luxury tax threshold, don’t count on any team taking a bad contract off the Yankees hands. What would I do?
With Jake Bauers traded and Lou Trivino non-tendered, the Yankees have about $247 million committed for next year. I’m going to work within that contraint.
Step #1: Trade Gleyber Torres and Kyle Higashioka Torres has long been underrated by Yankee fans, but he’s no longer a cheap player. Torres is expected to earn $15 million in arbitration. Higashioka is $2.6 million backup catcher, effectively replaced by minimum-earning Austin Wells or Ben Rortvedt. The Yankees can better use their money given the current state of the roster.
I thought about trading Tommy Kahnle’s $6 million salary as well, but the Yankees bullpen is a little thin at the moment and my plan below doesn’t need the extra cash. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Cashman rid himself of Kahnle as well.
I’m not going to try and construct trade proposals here, but I don’t envision either player being traded for nothing. I have other trade targets that I think could be realistic listed below.
DJ LeMahieu becomes your primary second baseman, with help from Cabrera or Peraza, depending on who makes it through the trades.
Luxury tax payroll after Step #1: $230 million
Step #2: Sign Yoshinobu Yamamoto A 25 year-old potential ace is available for nothing but money. I don’t think that the Yankees can pass that opportunity up, even if starting pitching isn’t their top priority. The Yankees need to spend their money on players with their best years ahead of them.
Fangraphs estimates that Yamamoto will earn a 7-year, $28 million contract. Sign me up. The Yankees rotation becomes: Cole, Yamamoto, Rodon, Cortes, King. Pretty darn good if at least one of Rodon or Cortes bounce back into their elite forms.
Luxury tax payroll after Step #2: $258 million
Step #3: Trade for Brendan Donovan and Dylan Carlson It’s getting a little stale, but we have a rumor that the Yankees are interested in Brendan Donovan and one of the Cardinals’ spare outfielders. While the link talks about Alec Burleson, I think Dylan Carlson makes a lot more sense. Donovan is a lefty hitting (strict) platoon bat who can play average defense all around the diamond. Carlson is a defense-first center fielder coming off an injured, frustrating season where he couldn’t crack a crowded Cardinals outfield.
Donovan becomes your third baseman and leadoff hitter against right-handed starting pitchers, whom he has hit .287/.381/.420 against during his career with a great 15% strikeout rate. He should never see a left-handed pitcher.
The challenge for the Yankees in center field is finding an available player who is good enough to win games but won’t block Jasson Dominguez when he returns. I thought about signing Jung Hoo Lee, but they might not have a spot for him when Dominguez, Judge and one other outfielder joins the team via trade. Carlson isn’t going to below anyone away, but he’ll hold the position down for now. Then, he turns into a strong fourth outfielder. Donovan makes the minimum. Carlson is set to earn $1.8 million in arbitration.
Luxury tax payroll after Step #3: $260 million
Step #4: Trade for Juan Soto Boom! The Yankees pull off the trade of the offseason. Juan Soto is a Yankee.
Soto makes so much sense for the Yankees. And I don’t think he’ll cost as much as people think he might. It will hurt to get Soto, but the Yankees probably won’t have to give up a Dominguez or Volpe-level prospect in return.
A big reason why Soto won’t cost as much as you might think is his salary. He’s set to earn $33 million in arbitration, eating up the remainder of our budget. That’s why trading Gleyber Torres is Step #1. The Yankees barely fit under the luxury tax threshold with Soto, leaving room for maybe one relief pitcher signing.
Final luxury tax payroll: $293 million
My 2024 Opening Day Lineup:
3b Brendan Donovan
LF Aaron Judge
RF Juan Soto
DH Giancarlo Stanton
1b Anthony Rizzo
2b DJ LeMahieu
CF Dylan Carlson
SS Anthony Volpe
C Jose Trevino
Bench: Wells, Pereira, Cabrera/Peraza, X Rotation: Cole, Yamamoto, Rodon, Cortes, King or Schmidt
My 2024 Yankees are a team that can hang offensively and defensively with anyone, especially once Dominguez returns. It is more balanced than any Yankee team since at least 2012. It has a young bench that could, we hope, provide some depth. The team suffers a bit defensively when compared with the 2023 Yankees, but it is still probably a little bit better than average.