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  • Cary Greene

Part-6: Plan-B, Life Without Judge

by Cary Greene

December 6, 2022

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In my previous four articles, Part-One, Part-Two, Part-Three , Part-Four and Part-Five of "Plan-B, Life Without Judge,” I established a positionally better balanced team that could contend for a World Series championship in a “Life without Judge” scenario. I haven’t revealed what the budget of this rather apocalyptic roster is yet, but last we convened, I left each of you with a vision of what the projected Plan-B lineup looks like:


1. LeMahieu 2B– Peraza/Cabrera

2. Benintendi LF– Cabrera/Yoshida

3. Bogaerts SS– Peraza/Cabrera

4. Stanton RF– Cabrera/Yoshida

5. Rizzo 1B – LeMahieu/Carpenter

6. Donaldson 3B – Peraza/Cabrera/LeMahieu

7. Carpenter DH– Yoshida/Stanton

8. Trevino C – Higashioka

9. Bader CF – Peraza

Bench: Cabrera, Peraza, Yoshida, Higashioka


My Plan-B: Life Without Judge Promise

This is my final article in this series. In a scenario without Judge, I’ve built as strong a roster as I could, which is capable of providing literally hundreds of intriguing lineups that is top to bottom better than last year’s team, even with Judge. The OPS subtracted is more than offset by the OPS gained. Here is a chart to illustrate the gains, some of which are made by playing players in their natural positions and others of which are the result of free agent acquisitions. I thought it fair to leave 2023 Carpenter as a blank question, for we don’t know for sure what, if anything, he has left to give.


I promised fans that I’d scour the baseball landscape to create the best possible pitching plan for 2023. In my original plan, I had Tyler Anderson slotted in as the fifth starter and Carlos Rodon slotted into a middle of the rotation role. Where exactly he fits is a bit unclear, mainly based on the presence of Nestor Coretes Jr and Luis Severino - who are Aces in their own rights. With Anderson signed to a reasonable contract, I could have delivered a rotation in which three of the five starters were of the left-handed ilk. Unfortunately, the “signing of Anderson” ship has sailed, as the Angels wisely snapped him up.


At this point, dear readers, please understand that the best pitching plan isn’t cheap. Unless Cashman can find another Nestor Cortes Jr, he’s going to have to pony up and pay for what he wants. The competition in this year’s free agent pitching market is the fiercest I’ve ever seen it - in my five decades of being a baseball fan.


Jacob DeGrom got an absolutely “wild” contract from the Rangers to kick the pitching market into full-tilt mayhem this past week. When healthy, DeGrom is the best pitcher in baseball, but he’ll be 35 years-old in June and Texas just inked him for $222-million over five-years, which will deliver a potential $44.4-million AAV. The signing was a gut-punch to Steve Cohen and the Mets and the ripple-effect dominoes will fall swiftly. The Mets need to offset the loss of DeGrom. The Rangers have one of the top-shelf starters they wanted. Baseball’s other GM’s are scrambling to adjust their plans and their budgets, as DeGrom has set an all-time AAV-bar that will surely influence all of the top-shelf pitchers who are as of yet, unsigned. Where shall the Yankees turn then? I’d suggest turning to where they should have been strategizing all along. The Yankees should be all-in on the best available lefty starter? Short of moving the right field fence in, why wouldn’t they be? They do, after all, play 81 games a season in the Bronx and the goal in doing so is to encourage opponents not to stack their lineups full of left-handed hitters. Good lefty starters have a way of ensuring this happens.


Why Rodon Makes Sense

My thinking was to add a front of the rotation power lefty and a mid to back-end lefty who could limit contact and induce ground-balls, giving the Yankees three left-handed starters in all. Anderson was far and away my first choice to be the latter and Carlos Rodon is clearly the best power lefty available in this year’s free agent class. Why is Rodon such a good fit for the Yankees?


Reason one is that considering the league average wOBA was a .316 last season, Rodon limited opposing hitters to a .255 wOBA. He’s a power pitcher with a fastball and slider mix and that combination has played pretty well in Yankee stadium over the years - think Ron Guidry. Rodon’s 33.4% K-Rate put him in the top 5-percent of MLB last season. He’d be a pretty lethal complement to slot in behind Gerrit Cole in the Yankees rotation. Frangraphs is projecting Rodon to earn a two-year deal in the neighborhood of $83-million. I’ve seen five-years and $125-million floated as well, so let’s assume Rodon gets an AAV of between $25-million and $42-million, regardless of how many years the deal winds up being.


Considering the bidding for his services is shaping up to be fierce, with the Rangers, Mets, Giants, Dodgers and Twins all in pursuit, Rodon’s market is projected to be very pricey. Interestingly, this season’s rumors actually do connect Cashman to Rodon, but there is always a chance that Cashman has just been doing his typical “due-diligence” by kicking tires - as he often does with pitchers this time of year. He may view Rodon to be too expensive, as he often has a way of doing this time of year with starters not named Gerrit Cole. Last season’s “pitching plan” allocated $8.37-million in AAV per starting pitcher, but the number is absurdly skewed because of the boatload of money ($36-million) that the Yankees pay Gerrit Cole. Cole aside, the Yankees starters averaged $4.4-million in AAV. Seriously? It “that” supposed to win you a World Series championship? Talk about shooting the Cole investment in the foot. The Yankees actually pay nobody, other than Cole. That’s not going to help take the hill.


So where to turn then, considering Anderson and DeGrom are both off the board? Are there better options than Rodon, options who might make more sense?


The Curse of Verlander

If Cashman decides to go in another direction, where else might he turn to secure a second Ace to make the Yankees rotation more formidable? Rumors are swirling around that the Dodgers, Rangers and Yankees are all interested in this year’s American League Cy-Young award winner, Justin Verlander, so let’s consider if he would make sense for the Yankees.


“Slim” was the word a few weeks ago that described how the Yankees view their chances of signing Houston’s Justin Verlander. Verlander met with the Dodgers last week as he views the deal Max Scherzer signed last season as a precedent. Scherzer was 37 years-old at the time, while Verlander is 40. It seems Houston’s owner, Jim Crane, who’s running the show presently after GM James Click refused to accept a one-year contract, isn’t keen on giving Verlander a three-year deal similar to the one Scherzer signed. It would appear Verlander is therefore testing the market presently, to see if another team might give him what he’s looking for.


Personally I think the outcome of Verlander’s exploration of the market will lead to another, higher AAV contract with an opt-out, similar to the one he negotiated himself last offseason. Therefore, I think he may wind up signing for $86 to $90-million over two-years, with an AAV in the neighborhood of what Scherzer got, which would be $43 to even $45-million. The Dodgers, who are desperate for quality pitching presently, actually prefer to do high-AAV, shorter term deals with pitchers and Verlander is an ideal match, considering an age-related compromise is most certainly in order. I don’t see Cashman and the Yankees making a serious play for Verlander and Cashman is likely faking interest, as he often does this time of year, to drive the price up for the Yankees rivals.


What Team Doesn’t Want Senga?

With no substantial rumors ever connecting the Yankees even remotely to Jacob DeGrom, who’s now off the board to boot, there are however rumors connecting the Yankees to 29-year-old Japanese righty sensation Koudai Senga, who’s been clocked at 102 mph.


Senga has also been connected to numerous other teams and recently, such as the Mets, Dodgers, Rangers, Cubs, Blue Jays and Mariners. Padres and per reports, just about every other team in MLB has shown interest. Obviously his market is soaring and that means the contract he receives may be vastly higher than previous projections. Would Cashman overpay for the non-MLB-proven Senga? I don’t see it truly happening, mainly because I think some other pitching starved team will be happy to do just that, as they demonstrate a willingness to slot Senga in as their ace-apparent, before even so much as witnessing his ability to grip a Major League Baseball.


Our own Andy Singer recently detailed his skepticism on whether or not Senga’s forkball would be effective or not. I’ll air on the side of the jury being out. Needless to say, is there another possible direction Cashman might steer the pinstriped yacht?


One Possible Direction Cashman Might Take

I’m betting that Cashman is probably leaning in one of two directions. It appears most likely that Cashman will look to keep Frankie Montas for the 2023 season and, due primarily to the costs associated with all of the top free agent pitchers, he may look to add either Rodon, or morel likely, he’ll look to execute a trade for another possible starter, in what would be characterized as a move made to upgrade the rotation by moving on from Jameson Taillon and thereby replacing him with a better pitcher.


Consequently, Taillon’s market is also exploding with so many interested teams involved in his courtship that it’s now projected that he’ll far exceed previous contract projections, which now call for him to land more than $14-million in AAV for at least four-years. Hmmmm. Seems to be a theme for all of the elite talent this offseason doesn’t it? Considering that Tyler Anderson was by far the better pitcher than Taillon last season, signing Anderson for $13-million in AAV for three reasonable years doesn’t seem like such a bad plan now after all, does it?


All of this may lead to Cashman needing at this point to sign either Rodon or Senga, but considering Rodon’s market is likewise exploding, I do think Cashman will elect to simply keep Frankie Montas and make a trade, if possible, for a fifth starter. Doing this would be a typical Cashman move, where he’d explain to the media that he thinks the pitching is better than it was last season and therefore, he’d sell Yankee fans on the old, “we’re good enough to compete for a World Series” concept yet again.


The Direction Cashman “Should Take”

Personally, I’m not convinced that making do with Montas is the right way to imagine a championship. Willingly agreeing to roll out a Yankees rotation that is still, after all of these years, predominantly right-handed doesn’t address fundamental deficiencies as related to strategically crafting a rotation that’s built to win in the confines of Yankee stadium. In short, it’s basically a stupid way for Cashman to think. However, the direction Cashman “should have” gone in is no longer possible. Therefore, he has to pay through the nose if he wants to upgrade and barring a Rodon signing, he won’t be able to make the Yankees rotation “lethally” left-handed.


Not to mention the 2023 American League Championship certainly seems likely to run through Houston again and if a team is to get past the Astros, they have to suppress runs at an equal to or better level than the Astros formidable pitching staff does. Timely hitting will also matter, but championship aspirations need to begin with pitching. Presently and as I see it, the Astros minus Verlander and the current Yankees minus Taillon aren’t equal. They are if you go by certain WAR calculations, but head to head, we’ve already seen enough to more than give the nod to the Astros, for having the better pitching staff, even if they don’t have Verlander presently. It’s actually Verlander who is now the lynchpin of the market. DeGrom got his years and his record AAV. Verlander now aims to follow suit.


While it’s true that Verlander has been basically a gatling-gun to the Yankees in the playoffs, facing them 9 times while posting a 5-1 record with a 2.68 ERA and 68-strikeouts over 58 ⅓-innings, he’s also going to be 40-years old next season.


However, since Hal Steinbrenner was unwilling to take on Verlander's contract back in 2017 when Cashman was poised to trade for him, the Yankees have been basically experiencing the “Verlander’s Curse.” This could cause Stienbrenner to give the order for Cashman to take a mad-charge at Verlander. Also, it should be noted that the Yankees reportedly had some interest in Verlander last offseason, even though he was coming off Tommy-John surgery, so there’s no denying interest on the Yankees' part.


We are afterall talking about this past season’s American League Cy-Young award winner in Verlander and considering he has pitched with Gerrit Cole in the past, it’s conceivable that if Verlander doesn’t re-sign with the Astros or worse yet, jump to the Dodgers who have multiple spots in their rotation to fill, Hal Steinbrenner could give the green light and offer up the bags of gold necessary to sign Verlander at what is projected to be a two-year, $75-million asking price.


Signing Verlander would mean adding at least $37.5-million in AAV to what is already a pretty bloated payroll. Though I’ve covered this topic and given due respect to it, let’s assume Verlander choses to sign with the Dodgers and elects not return to Houston. I think that’s a fair outcome considering the Dodgers aforementioned love of short term, high-AAV deals and Verlander’s desire to get paid as much as possible.


The reason the Yankees probably let the Dodgers have Verlander is that they might not view a 40-year old “workhorse” as being worth the money spent. That leaves the highly sought after and right-handed Senga as the only logical fallback for the Yankees. Senga was recently projected to get a four or five year deal with a very reasonable AAV of $15-million or so, but I think that number has been going up considering the interest level in him.


The First Fallback Position

If trying to increase the chances of winning a World Series, in a “Life without Judge” situation, should therefore be to sign both Rodon and Senga, while also trading Montas and German. It’s a big ask, but with this strategy, the Yankees do get more left-handed and they still get potentially vastly better than last season, while also fielding a far scarier possible playoffs rotation. All this of course depends on Senga’s ability to translate to near “Ace” level in MLB and Rodon continuing to be in good health.


This isn’t what I would have preferred Cashman to do, because I wanted Rodon and Anderson initially, which would have given the Yankees three really good lefty starters, but this move improves the Yankees rotation dramatically and it pulls the plug on Montas while he’s still worth something, so doing that helps the Yankees farm system as well.


Adding Rodon –and– Senga creates $40-million to $57-million in extra payroll, so there’s basically no getting around spending big to give the Yankees rotation worthy of having World-Series aspirations. It’s doubtful Hal Steinbrenner would be interested in doing this. In my “Plan-B, Life without Judge” payroll, which was at $245-million after I improved the positional part of the roster and executed a number of trades, now soars to between $285-million and $302-million.


Let’s assume the Yankees would land, best case, at the very top of the Third-Tier of the CBLT. Doing this would cause Hal Steinbrenner to have to pay a whopping Tier-Three CBT.


Short of pulling off a trade for the Angel’s Shohei Ohtani, who has always been a near-perfect fit for the Yankees, increasing the 2023 payroll by a combined $40-million to $57-million is the price to build a true contender. Since Cashman, as I mentioned, passed on the reasonable Tyler Anderson, who only cost an AAV of $13-million, the price to be paid for a World Series capable rotation is now substantially higher.


Adding $40 to $57-million to my “Plan-B, Life without Judge” scenario budget that already stands in the First-Tier of the Threshold at $245-million, means Hal Steinbrenner would be looking at a $285 to $302-million payroll for 2023. This would propel the payroll from Tier-One towards the top of Tier-Three. The tax-rate that would be assessed to the Yankees in Tier-Three is 74.5-percent, so on a spend of say $293-million, which would mean spending at the very top of Tier-Three’s cutoff, Steinbrenner would pay $44.7-million in Luxury Taxes.


However, adding Rodon, Senga, Bogaerts, Benintendi, Yoshida and Carpenter to an existing core that has seen Hicks, Torres, Montas, German and Florial all traded creates a roster that is better balanced offensively and more able to make impactful contact and better suited to dominate with a pitching-first approach in the playoffs.


Based on having so many relievers with various stages of injuries, the Yankees would need to find a way to creatively fill the bullpen, but there exists plenty of depth to do that and Cashman usually hordes fringy relievers so I’m sure if the Yankees needed to dip into their depth here or there, it wouldn’t be much of a problem.


The 2024 plan would be to continue to implement the partial youth-movement. Candidates to help the big league team in 2024 include Trey Sweeney, Anthony Volpe, Austin Wells, Jasson Dominguez, Everson Pereira - barring any blockbuster trades. The Yankees currently have almost $100-million coming off the books ahead of the 2024 season. I added six free agents, so that number changes quite a bit, but the Yankees would actually be under the 2024 threshold so if Hal Steinbrenner wanted to do a reset, it would be easily possible. Again - all this is possible without Aaron Judge.


In addition to the lineup listed a the start of this article, I’ll leave you with a glimpse of a World Series favorites starting rotation:

1. Gerrit Cole

2. Carlos Rodon

3. Koudai Senga

4. Nestor Cortes Jr

5. Luis Severino – Clarke Schmidt / Luis Gil / Will Warren / Clayton Beeter / Yoendrys Gomez/Randy Vasquez..etc (all for depth)











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