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The Off-Season: Firing Up The Hot Stove

The Off-Season: Firing Up The Hot Stove

by Tim Kabel

November 13, 2021


The wood is stacked on the hearth. I have strategically arranged wood, crumpled newspapers, and those little fat stick fire starters that just ooze sap, inside the stove. My mug is full of cocoa, with just the right number of marshmallows. The match has been struck. The off-season is underway.

Brian Cashman attended the General Managers’ meetings this week. Although the only move the Yankees made was to re-sign Joely Rodriguez, there was more discussion and rumors than there would be in a high school lunchroom on the day after the prom. The Yankees were linked to almost all the top shortstops in the free agent market. There were also rumors concerning the Yankees pursuit of Starling Marte and Bryan Reynolds, the centerfielder of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Reynolds is 26-years-old and has four more seasons before he is a free agent.

There were multiple articles discussing various options for the 2022 Yankees. The Yankees apparently sent scouts to watch Justin Verlander pitch to see how far he has come in his recovery from Tommy John surgery. There were also rumors about Max Scherzer coming to the Bronx. Over the next few weeks, there will most likely be a dizzying number of news reports, articles, and just plain rumors about the Yankees acquiring or hoping to acquire just about every major free agent. Many will contradict the ones that immediately preceded them. There will also be articles linking the Yankees to trades such as the ones earlier this week stating they may be working out a trade with the Oakland A’s for Matt Olson.

While none of these stories have turned it into reality yet, they are important because they indicate the Yankees will most likely be active in the off-season. Based on the specific comments Brian Cashman made, as well as the sheer number of comments he made, it is clear the Yankees have plans. It is also clear or at least it appears to be, that having reset the luxury tax threshold, the Yankees will not be dissuaded from spending on free agents. However, even if that is the case, they still won’t be able to use free agency to address every need. That is why Cashman seems to be exploring trade options.

There were also articles touting the Yankees two top shortstop candidates, Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe. Catcher Donny Sands, who is 25-years-old, and hit 261 in the minors this year, with 18 home runs, was added to the 40-man roster.

The hot stove season is beginning. Welcome to the most wonderful time of the year.

It does not appear the Yankees will be spending this winter engaging in occasional speculation with nothing coming to fruition. Cashman has indicated that upgrades will happen. He had previously stated a desire to address the shortstop position but has now discussed centerfield as well. First base and starting pitching will also be addressed. I do not picture the Yankees being shy and withdrawn this winter. It won’t be like watching Woody Allen strolling along, expressing his angst in a park. Rather, I believe the Yankees will be as subtle and understated as the scenes with Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, and Shelley Winters in the Poseidon Adventure.

Bringing back Joely Rodriguez was certainly not a huge move but, he demonstrated some ability, particularly against left-handed batters, so having him back is a positive. Let’s put it this way, would you prefer they signed Joely Rodriguez or Andrew Heaney, who is now a member of the Dodgers? I’ve seen articles linking the Yankees to free agents Anthony Rizzo, Freddie Freeman, and Brandon Belt. In addition, the Oakland A’s are apparently going to enter a rebuilding mode and may have a fire sale of their top players. This bodes well for the Yankees possible acquisition of Matt Olson. They may be able to acquire a pitcher as well.

Brian Cashman was not reticent about expressing himself at the general managers meetings. He even went so far as to say the Yankees would not be deterred from signing Carlos Correa despite his involvement in the Astros’ cheating scandal of 2017. I’m not sure how rapidly moves will be made based on the players’ and agents’ willingness to sign quickly, and the issue of the CBA, which has still not been resolved. There has been some speculation that the big free agents will want to be signed before December first, while the current CBA is in effect. That certainly proved to be the case for Andrew Heaney.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have laid out my thoughts on how the Yankees need to rebuild the team for 2022. I endorsed the Jim Bowden suggestion that they trade for Matt Olson and now it seems that is a distinct possibility. I also identified starting pitching, shortstop, and centerfield as areas needing an upgrade. No, I have not had any conversations with Brian Cashman, nor do I expect to. I think if I were to try to do so, I would be gently led away from the Yankees’ facility. I do not need to be lunch buddies with Cashman. Nor do I need to rappel down the side of the Landmark building in Stamford, CT with him in his annual effort to raise money for charity. If I were to attempt such a thing, the sight of a rotund man with a beard doing so may set the hearts of children aflutter, thinking Santa had come early. An equally alarming prospect would be that such a spectacle would cause the hearts of elderly women to flutter, thinking Dom DeLuise had come back to life. No, the fact that Cashman is addressing the areas I identified as needs simply indicates my grasp for the obvious is fully intact. These are clearly areas that need to be improved. How Cashman goes about doing it is the big question.

I believe the best way to upgrade the team is through a blended method of using free agency, promotions from the minors, and trades. Starling Marte is an excellent player but, he is 33-years-old. He is also a free agent, which means he will command a higher salary than the Yankees may be willing to spend, considering they will also need to spend on other positions. Again, you can’t spend on every position. Bryan Reynolds, if he could be acquired, would be an excellent choice, much like my suggestion that the Yankees acquire Cedric Mullins, Reynolds is similar to Mullins, in that they are both well under 30 and have some years of control left before becoming free agents. I would not complain if the Yankees signed Starling Marte but, I think a trade is a better avenue to acquire a center fielder, especially if it’s someone like either Mullins or Reynolds. Remember, Cashman’s guiding principles are to make the team younger and more athletic and to fill it with high-contact hitters.

The Yankees also need to make a determination regarding Gary Sanchez. That they moved Donny Sands to the 40-man roster indicates a couple of things. One, they were concerned about potentially losing Sands in the Rule 5 draft. Also, if he is on the 40-man roster, moving him to the 26-man roster will not be difficult. They will not carry three catchers on the Major League team next year but, they may feel that Sands is ready to step up in a combination with Kyle Higashioka, if they decide to let Sanchez go. Another option would be for Sands to take the place of Higashioka but, due to Gerrit Cole’s comfort level in pitching to Higashioka, that seems unlikely.

Brian Cashman has always shown an ability and willingness to explore every possible option to improve the Yankees. That means he will look at all the options for shortstop, starting pitching, first base, and centerfield. I’m sure he is scrutinizing the catching position as well. The best part of all this is that the Yankees seem to have a plan and are attempting to implement it. There would be nothing worse than a winter full of hemming, hawing, and very few actual moves. After all, we have had the Mets to fill that role for years.

Since the Yankees have multiple moves to make, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to expect that at least one move will be made soon, possibly by the end of this month. There would be no logical reason to wait and try to do everything in December and January. The stove is heating up and as the old saying goes, “Where there is smoke, there is fire.” (I prefer the saying, “Where there is smoke, there is brisket.” but, that’s just me.) There has been a lot of smoke in the last week or so, suggesting possible Yankees’ moves. Now, we simply have to see what happens.


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