My 2019 Yankee Blueprint
We’ve all got ideas on what went right and what went wrong in Yankee Stadium in 2018. Should Brian Cashman contact me for feedback in constructing the 2019 Yankees (not sure if I’m in his contacts), here are my suggestions. (Spoiler: there are NO $400 million free agents here).
DH – Sign Daniel Murphy. He’s lefthanded, so that helps balance out the lineup and should play well in Yankee Stadium, he’s experienced (though not necessarily skilled) at playing second and first bases and can give some security at those positions. He is what was once known as a “professional hitter”, which I think is needed in a lineup with five players with over 100 strikeouts. He’ll be 34 next season, but slashed .322/.384/.543 as recently as 2017.
Catcher: Commit to Gary Sanchez Yes, he is frustrating. Yes, there are legitimate concerns about his effort at times. Yes, he will be 26 next season and is immensely talented. Stick with him.
First Base: Competition I’m not thinking that Greg Bird is finished with the Yankees yet. I’m also not totally convinced that Luke Voit is the elite hitter he showed over the last part of the season. Have the two of them compete in the Spring for the spot, with Murphy as a Plan B. My early, early prediction: Bird wins the competition and goes into 2019 as the starting first baseman.
Second Base: Gleyber Torres Gleyber Day is every day! Put him at second base and watch him develop into an elite player.
Shortstop: Didi* Gregorius had another fine season at bat and in the field. The revelation of his needing Tommy John surgery is just devastating. Assuming that Didi will be out of the lineup for about a half season, my recommendation for his short-term replacement is….Tyler Wade. Wade is still a well-regarded player within the organization, and here’s his chance to get sustained at bats and develop as a hitter. His fielding is already major league caliber. If at some point, his bat is so lost that a change is warranted, then Murphy can take some starts at second base and Torres moves to short. I’d really like to avoid that, as I’d really like to leave Gleyber alone at second. If healthy, the Yankee lineup is plenty powerful enough to carry a glove-first shortstop for part of the season.
Third Base: Get Miggy with it! Commit to Miguel Andujar at third. His bat is special, especially when you consider that he had the season he had at age 23. Multiple accounts have him working hard to improve his skills; and he seems to have the raw talent to become at least average at the position. Don’t give up on him being a third baseman quite yet.
Left Field: Move “The Chambers” to Left? I think it’s time for Giancarlo Stanton to have a position and play the field everyday. Is that position left field? Is it right field, with Aaron Judge moving to left? Stanton seemed to do fairly well in left in spots this season. He was among NL leaders in the SABR Defensive Index in 2017 as a rightfielder. So, I think he can hold his own in the field. I’ll let the Yankee brain trust discern who to put where. It’s popular to be critical of Stanton and the trade that brought him to New York, but in his first season he adjusted to a new league, the city of New York, and playing primarily DH and left field while leading the team him homers and RBI. I’m excited to see how he responds in 2019 with a season under his belt and (hopefully) an everyday position.
Center Field: Aaron Hicks had a fine season overall and is the near future of the position.
Right Field: See Left Field.
1. Luis Severino 2. Masahiro Tanaka 3. JA Happ (Free Agent) 4. Patrick Corbin (Free Agent) 5. CC Sabathia
There’s no Sonny Gray listed here, as I think the Yanks and Sonny need to move on.
Corbin has been talked about at length in many sources, and he just makes too much sense for the Yanks. He’s 28 years off and coming off an All-Star season in which hurled 200 innings. Pay him whatever is necessary.
Happ was excellent (7-0, 2.69) for the Yanks after his acquisition from Toronto. I wouldn’t count on that for a whole season, but I think he can fill into the rotation nicely as a #3 or #4 starter. I’d offer him a two-year contract if that is what it takes to sign him. He’s averaged 29 starts and 170 innings over the past five seasons, so there’s a track record of good health.
CC wants another year with the Yanks and I say sign him to another one-year deal. His average numbers over the past two seasons are 12-6, 3.67 in 28 starts; excellent numbers for a #5 starter.
The planned 2018 rotation of Severino/Gray/Sabathia/Tanaka/Montgomery started 117 games. Gotta have a bunch of “plan B’s”. I see them as:
Justus Sheffield Domingo German Jordan Montgomery Mike King (11-5, 1.79 in A-AA-AAA) Chance Adams Luis Cessa Jonathan Loaisiga
Hopefully Monte can come back and be a good resource late in the season and step fully back into the rotation in 2020. German may be best suited for bullpen work but showed flashes of talent in his fourteen starts. Sheffield was solid in AAA and is knocking at the door for a spot. In a true rebuilding mode, I’d recommend him for a spot in the rotation. King was acquired from Miami for Caleb Smith and Garrett Cooper in a trade to make 40-man roster space. Is he a prospect, or does he project like Adams, whose gaudy AAA numbers hasn’t translated to MLB performance? If he stays healthy, Loaisiga has the stuff to someday be an impact pitcher, either in the rotation or out of the bullpen.
Aroldis Chapman (Closer) Dellin Betances Jonathan Holder Chad Green David Robertson (Free Agent) Andrew Miller (Free Agent)
If healthy, Miller basically is exchanged for Zach Britton, who has expressed a desire to stay in New York, but who I think may reconsider when offered closer money from another club. Robertson should be a priority for the Yanks to re-sign. He adds too much on the field and in the clubhouse to be allowed to be let go without a competitive bid.
It might also be a good idea to consider making an offer to our good friend Adam Warren, who despite the questionable decision to trade last summer can still be a solid contributor to the staff due to his versatility.
Other options for the pen include:
Tommy Kahnle Steven Tarpley SP prospects
If Kahnle gets back to 2017 level, he adds another elite arm to the pen. The organization is clearly high on Tarpley based on their decision to carry him on the playoff roster. Some of the young starting pitchers listed above may also be able to find their way to the pen a la Betances and Green.
Bench It’s tough to make firm bench recommendations without knowing the lineup, but assuming my lineup recommendations are accurate, here are some thoughts:
1. Bring back Brett Gardner as backup left and center fielder.
2. Make Ronald Torreyes primary utility infielder while Gergorius recuperates. When he returns, the better player of Wade or Toe can serve as the backup for the rest of the season.
3. Austin Romine performed very well as the backup catcher and deserves to come back. If a more veteran presence became available (Brian McCann) who could mentor Sanchez becomes available, consider it but I wouldn’t necessarily pursue it that hard.
Thoughts on other players
1. Clint Frazier – I’m rooting for him to get back to full health. A healthy Frazier adds depth and a trade piece if needed.
2. Jacoby Ellsbury – I know it’s easy for me to day this as I’m not paying his salary, but I don’t see a place for him in the organization unless there’s an injury, and that’s making the assumption that he’s healthy next season. Might be time to release him.
3. Neil Walker – While Walker’s final numbers look pretty ragged due to an abysmal first half, he was a significant contributer in July and August, slashing .261/.359/.451 while playing first, second and third bases and right field. If nobody else signs him I’d invite him to Sprint Training.
As I noted above, there are no big $300-$400 million additions to the team. With Hal Steinbrenner paying attention and putting limits on payroll, the thoughts of another huge salary added to Stanton’s makes me a bit nervous. If Hal is going to try to keep payroll “reasonable”, having a couple of players taking up $60-$65 million (assuming Machado and Harper would command $30-$35 million/season) can be a huge drag as needs come up during the season that must be fixed. Let’s also remember that if folks like Judge, Severino, Sanchez, Andujar and Torres progress as hoped and expected, each of them should be able to command high salaries in the not-so-distant future. That’s not even counting Gregorius who will head to free agency before any of them. I’d hate to see a home grown star leave because the payroll is overextended. Payroll flexibility is a must in this day and age.
One more thing to remember coming off of a 2018 season that many fans and pundits found to be frustrating – this was a young team! The average position player was just over 27 years old, fifth in the majors. Hoping the rough edges of youth will be further smoothed over in 2019.
In short, I think the upgrade of starting pitching, the addition of a bit of a more consistent bat, and continued maturation of the young core will push the team to the next level. Remember, this is a team that won 100 games this year, A few small adjustments can go a long way. I do have concerns about Gregorius being out for so long, but right now I don’t see the need to go outside of the organization. If we get to July and Didi is still out, there are always Hechavarrias on the market during the season that can be had for cheap.
It will be a long winter, but maybe not as long as previous years as opening day is March 28, 2019 – a bit early but that’s fine by me. Bring on Spring!