I don't think I've ever wished for a busy Winter Meeting for the Yankees more than this year. For sure, the Yankees needed for a variety of reasons, none more critical than the fact that the roster is/was in need of significant upgrades. No, this year, my reasons are far more personal. This year, I somehow managed to have a project that has spanned the length of my professional career and another critical multi-year undertaking come to their ultimate conclusion at the exact same time. Functionally, this means that almost every hour of the day is spent working. What's more, I have been away from home since Thanksgiving, save for a day or two on the weekends. This schedule will continue through at least part of January.
What this means is that, much as I am truly an incurable baseball rat, it is easy for me to lose sight of baseball in the midst of my schedule. That makes me incredibly unhappy, as baseball is one of the hobbies that I most enjoy. However, the Yankees solved this issue by remaining very active this Winter. In fact, the Yanks have been active enough that even with my very limited time, I can't help but pay attention. Normally, I don't much care for teams that make headlines for headlines' sake (yes, I'm looking across the city of New York); I care far more about building a better roster, with or without flashy moves. This year, the Yankees are managing to do both, in a year that I really need both. As much as I've complained about what it means to be a Yankee fan these last couple of years, the Yankees are giving me plenty of reasons to care, even when I don't have a lot of time to give.
It's a fun off-season to be a Yankee fan; ownership clearly understands that the team needed a big off-season to turn things around. I have a hunch that the executive baseball staff, led by Brian Cashman, had been trying to convince ownership for some time that an off-season like this was needed. While it may be years too late, it is better late than never, and it happens to coincide with an off-season where I need more baseball for the sake of my own sanity. For the first time in a long time, it feels good to be a Yankee fan.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll discuss the possibility of an ulterior motive for the Alex Verdugo trade, the Yankees' losses in this week's Rule 5 Draft, and how to manage the Yankees' infield jam! Let's get at it:
Michael G. asks: Do you think it's possible one of the things the Padres wanted for Soto or the Soto/Grisham package was a major league replacement? Otherwise it only makes sense if the next move is to sign Bellinger because I can't see them going with an outfield of Soto Judge and Verdugo none of them should be everyday centerfielders. Obviously, we have the answer to the first part of this question now. Admittedly, when I first heard about the Verdugo trade, this was my first thought as well. It was rumored at various points over the last couple of seasons that the Padres had interest in Verdugo, but a deal never came together. Given that Verdugo initially appeared to be an odd fit alongside Soto and Judge, my initial reaction was that he was the last piece to the Soto trade. Selfishly, this is what I hoped to be the case as well, because I have never particularly liked Verdugo as a player.
The next day, Aaron Boone noted in an interview that he could see Aaron Judge playing CF in 2024. At that point, I knew that Verdugo was in New York to stay, at least for 2024. Cody Bellinger isn't coming to New York, and the Yankee outfield is set. Judge will start in CF (at least against righties), with Soto and Verdugo in the corners, and Trent Grisham as a legitimate 4th outfielder.
Most importantly, the Yankees finally have championship level depth in the outfield, something they haven't had in quite some time. Using Grisham as the 4th outfielder is an incredible luxury, as Grisham's total value as an everyday player is that of a second-division regular in CF. At some point, someone will miss time either at DH or in the outfield, and the Yankees will be very thankful that they have Grisham around instead of Florial or any of the players the Yankees have in the minors who represent even a steep drop-off from Florial.
I don't love using Judge as an everyday CF, not from a defensive perspective, as Judge has proven to be an average or slightly better defensive CF, but from a durability standpoint for the Yankees' best player. The pieces don't fit quite as perfectly as we'd all like, but I think the offensive fit between Verdugo and Soto is pretty clear.
In one week, the Yankees have put together a significantly better offense than they had at any point last season.
David asks: Any reaction to the Yankees' losses in the Rule 5 Draft? You had listed Sauer and Spence as possible protection candidates and both were picked.
Do I think that Spence and Sauer will emerge as critical pieces for either the A's or Royals, respectively? No, I don't. Do I think that both could be useful 40-man depth pieces for the Yankees in 2024? Yes, I do. I think the Yankees knew that they would be eliminating a significant amount of pitching depth with any Soto trade and had 40-man roster spots to burn, so to me it seemed strange to expose Spence and Sauer to the Rule 5 Draft.
Spence is likely nothing more than a 6th starter in the Majors, but that can be a critically important role, as almost no team gets through the season with just 5 starters. Spence is built up, able to take the ball every 5th day, and though his stuff isn't great, he knows how to pitch and work the ball in and out of the zone. I think it was worth keeping him around.
Sauer is the guy I really wanted to keep around. Nothing about his profile screams starter to me. His delivery is inconsistent and violent, and he has just 2 legitimate pitches. However, those pitches are good enough (particularly if they tick up out of the bullpen) that I think Sauer could quickly be a useful relief pitcher, and that would be useful for a team with questions in the bullpen.
In short, I don't expect the loss of Sauer or Spence to be of critical importance to the Yankees, but I am surprised that they weren't protected this off-season, at least initially.
Brian asks: The Yankees have now stated that DJ LeMahieu will be the starting 3B in 2024. If that's true, how does the rest of the infield shake out for the year and what do the Yankees do with Peraza who is out of options?
Much like the outfield, you have too many players for too few positions until you don't. For a team pushing for a championship, I think an abundance of depth is a very good thing. Gleyber Torres is in the last year of his contract, and we really don't know yet if Oswald Peraza will hit enough to justify an everyday spot in the lineup. What we do know is that he's an excellent defender, with the skillset to defend well at multiple positions while also possessing the potential to hit. This is an opportunity for Peraza to prove that he deserves a shot at Gleyber's job in 2025.
Prior to the last week, I really thought that Gleyber could be on his way out of town, based on ownership's slavish devotion to the last luxury tax tier ($297 million in 2024) as a hard cap. However, since Soto's acquisition, we have heard credible whispers that the Yankees are not opposed to running a payroll north of $300 million if they could get both Soto and Yamamoto. If that's really true, then I don't see Torres going anywhere, as he's probably the 3rd best hitter in the lineup.
Now, if a team really likes Peraza enough to sacrifice a good starting pitcher, then I understand dealing him away, but I think he (and to some extent, Oswaldo Cabrera) can both serve as critical depth on a championship team in 2024. I'd keep them all if the Yankees are able to get Yamamoto. Of course, if injuries hit in-season, then they might have to be dealt, but otherwise, I'd keep everyone around and see how the season plays out.