If I Were the GM: Looking Ahead to 2020 – First Base
This article is the third in my series on how I would build the 2020 Yankees.
You can see the previous segments here:
This one is going to take a bit of explaining, so please bear with me…
It is with first base that I make the first significant splash of the off-season. My starting first baseman for 2020 is not a current member of the team. In order to get the player I want for this position, the Yankees are going to have to make a series of trades.
But, let me take a step back first.
As I go through this exercise, I have to assume that if I were the General Manager, the Yankees ownership team would put the same caps on me that they put on Brian Cashman. In other words, I have to assume as I go through this exercise that I have a very real budget that I have to work with. I cannot just list every single great player and state, “I’d get him, and him, and him…” For the most part for this exercise I have to work with the assumption that if I am going to spend big on a contract, I’m also going to have to find a way to save money somewhere else. It is only fair for me to have to operate under the same rules as Brian Cashman has to work within.
Thus far, the team I have assembled (Gleyber Torres, D.J. LeMahieu, Miguel Andujar, Gio Urshela, and Thairo Estrada) is one that is extremely cost-friendly to the Yankees. As the GM, I am being very thrifty and cost conscious as I build this team. I am making my bosses proud.
One more note, though, as I do this, I am also going to go with the assumption that the Yankees will be willing to spend big at least in one area (starting pitching) after falling short of the promised land each of the last three post seasons. I have to assume that the Yankees owners are willing, finally, to spend a little more. (I just don’t see how they can address the starting pitching needs without spending big.) If the mandate is that they don’t spend, and if they aren’t going to spend on pitching, we should just count the long days until the 2020 season now because it won’t be a very exciting off-season (and I have some high hopes for this winter).
Now, on to how I will address first base.
I will address first base by trading J.A. Happ.
There, that was easy.
Ok, let me explain…
J.A. Happ (who I believe will be a better pitcher going forward than he was in 2019) is under contract with the Yankees for the 2020 season for $17 million. In order for the Yankees to acquire the first baseman I desire, they will need to shed Happ’s salary. As part of this process, I am not going to speculate on where Happ will get traded and who he’ll get traded for. To do that would make me have to assume to be the GM of another team as well. (“The Pirates would trade _____ for _____.”) I’m just going to say that I believe Happ can, and will, get traded. For this exercise, the Yankees will trade Happ, probably including some minor leaguers to sweeten the deal, to shed his $17 million salary.
This would allow the Yankees to pick up a player who has a salary around $17 million.
As we move forward with all of this, I need to also make a note regarding minor leaguers in the Yankees system. In I were the General Manger, in order to make these deals work I would be willing to trade almost any players in the Yankees system except for a precious few. After not being in a World Series since 2009, my goal would be to build up the Major League team to win now while retaining, and maintaining its young core at the big league level. The off-limits, non-touchable minor leaguers for me would be the following: Deivi Garci and Jasson Dominguez. That’s all. A good prospect will probably have to be moved to trade Happ. And then I’d have to bundle a bunch of other prospects to make my deal to cover first base.
And (finally), the player I will acquire to man first base for the Yankees in 2020 (and 2021 when his option is picked-up) will be Carlos Santana formally of the Cleveland Indians.
Let’s break this down.
It seems to be a common expectation that the Indians are willing to let players go to shed payroll. Lots of writers are speculating that they’ll trade Francisco Lindor. That I don’t see. Lindor is too young, he’s too good, and he’s too much a bright face of the franchise. The Indians would be crazy to trade Lindor. I cannot see it happening. At all.
But, to rid themselves of $17.5 million (just $500,000 more than J.A. Happ’s salary), I am very confident that they would let Carlos Santana go. I’m very confident in that. After the 2017 season, Cleveland let Santana go when he signed with the Phillies. They brought him back for 2019, but he’s not a long-term solution for them. (Lindor can be.) Santana will be 34-years old when the 2020 season starts. He is a player who needs to be on a “Win Now” team.
The Yankees are that team.
Why would the Yankees want Carlos Santana? Let me count the ways…
The Yankees need a power left-handed bat in the middle of their lineup. The Yankees do not have very many open line-up spots. Thus far, for my team, the other starters on the infield (and their back-ups) all bat right handed. Here’s a spoiler alert… unless they make another trade, there isn’t a lefty power guy in the outfield (Brett Gardner isn’t a middle of the lineup power hitter) or behind the plate. If the Yankees acquire a lefty power hitter, he’ll need to play first base. There is no other spot for a big lefty bat. Santana is that guy. (The fact that he’s actually a switch hitter makes him more valuable.)
The Yankees believe in patient hitters, but don’t necessarily have them in bulk. Do you know how many Yankees walked 100 or more times in 2019? Zero. Do you know how many Yankees walked at least 80 times in 2019? None again. Luke Voit led the 2019 Yankees in walks with 71. Going back to 2018, guess how many Yankees had 100 or more walks… yeah, none. Aaron Hicks led the team in walks with 90. We like to think that the Yankees have a lot of players who walk a lot. They don’t. Guess how many single player 100-walk seasons the Yankees have had since the start of the 2007 season. You won’t believe the answer. It’s one. One. The only Yankee batter to walk 100 or more times in any season from 2007 through 2019 was Aaron Judge who walked 127 times in 2017. That’s it. One. Over the last six seasons, Carlos Santana has averaged 104 walks a season.
Carlos Santana has hit 20 or more home runs in each of the last seven seasons. I suspect he’d hit more playing almost half his games as a lefty-hitting first baseman in Yankee Stadium.
Of course, if the Yankees acquire Santana, that begs the question of a few other players:
Luke Voit – Voit had a magical end to the 2018 season. His 2019 showed him to be a nice player; not a great player. I don’t expect him to be anything more than he was in 2019. He’ll hit around .250-.260, he’ll hit for some power, and he’ll strikeout a ton. He’s also right handed. The Yankees need a lefty thumper. I’d trade Voit or have him on the bench. He doesn’t fit in my plans for the 2020 Yankees. Voit is a fun player, but he’s not my answer at first for a team that is looking to win a World Series.
Mike Ford – I think he can hit in the big leagues. He’s a great story. He’s a lefty bat, but he’s not Carlos Santana. The Yankees are looking to win the World Series in 2020. Ford spends 2020 for me as a shuttle piece between AAA and the big leagues.
Greg Bird – No. That ship has sailed. Bye, bye Birdie. (I wish it weren’t so.)
The Japanese slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo would be a great story, but I have to be budget conscious. I am always in favor of the Yankees signing the great international talents, they add an extra dimension of fun and interest to the team. Add to the fact that he is a left-handed power hitter and I would love to have him on the Yankees. If this were the Yankees of 2005, I’d sign him in a nano second and figure the rest out. But it’s not 2005. This is a hard pass, but it’s a pass.
On my 2020 Yankees, Carlos Santana plays first base.
My 2020 Yankees as reported thus far:
MGR – Aaron Boone
PITCHING COACH – Dave Righetti
1B – Carlos Santana
2B – D.J. LeMahieu
SS – Gleyber Torres
3B – Miguel Andujar
UTL – Gio Urshela