The Off-Season: Post-Lockout Fever
by Tim Kabel
December 14, 2021
The lockout has been in effect since December first. Prior to that, the Yankees had their own self-imposed lockout. They excluded themselves from any activity or action other than a few minor moves. So far, they have signed Jose Peraza and Rob Brantley to minor league contracts. That’s it. That has been the whole ball of wax for the Yankees this offseason. Now with the actual lockout in place, they can’t do anything other than minor league signings. Once the lockout ends, they can begin making moves. As I have discussed previously, it may have been prudent of Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner to wait until the new CBA is in effect, so they know the new parameters and lay of the land. However, none of that helps in the middle of December, when fans are pining for some action. We want to talk about baseball and think about baseball and to discuss what the Yankees are doing. Talking about nothing is not something that I like doing. If it were, I’d run for office.
This is the holiday season. People are baking cookies, making eggnog and preparing all sorts of delicacies. One of the best aspects of doing those things is taking a little taste as you go along. Therefore, I suggest we take a little taste of the post lockout world. Let’s think about what the Yankees might do. We don’t have to discuss everything. We need not delve into the whole team. Let’s just take a taste. Let’s take one area and speculate about what they can do, should do, and most likely will do once we escape the frozen tundra of the lockout.
First thing is first. Let’s talk about first base. The internal options for this position are slim pickings. DJ LeMahieu can certainly play first base but, is much better suited to other positions or being a roving infielder, where he plays first base, second base, and third base whenever needed. That leaves Luke Voit. Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner have talked about improving the team and getting younger, more athletic, and better. We have seen what Luke Voit can do and while he’s not horrible, the Yankees can certainly do better. There is no one in the minor leagues who is ready to come up so, that leaves external options
Anthony Rizzo played for the Yankees after the trade deadline in 2021. He did a fine job and is an excellent fielder. He is available as a free agent and all indications are that he would gladly come back to the Yankees. He is 32 years old and will turn 33 next August. He showed last year that despite what Luke Voit said, he was an upgrade. Signing him would be a step in the right direction. Is it the best move? Let’s explore the other options
Matt Olson is currently under contract with the Oakland A’s. He is 27 years old and will turn 28 on March 29th. Last year he hit .271 with a .911 OPS and had 39 home runs and 111 RBI. He is an excellent fielder. Oakland is reportedly willing to trade him. However, I do not believe they are willing to give him away. It is unclear what they would request in a trade but, Billy Beane is not a neophyte. He knows how to make trades and he may ask for a king’s ransom in prospects. I would not like the Yankees to give up Anthony Volpe or Oswald Peraza in the trade. I have advocated acquiring Matt Olsen before and I still think it’s a great idea. Perhaps, it’s the best idea. However, putting plans together is like constructing a jigsaw puzzle; you have to fit all the pieces together. If the Yankees can acquire Matt Olson without sacrificing their best prospects, then I say full speed ahead. On the other hand, if the cost in prospects is too high, I would go in a different direction.
Everyone assumed Freddie Freeman would re-sign with the Atlanta Braves. While he still might, right now he is sitting at home during the lockout without a team He will not turn 33 until the end of next season. He has been linked to the Yankees in free agency. I don’t know how likely that is because he has played his whole career in Atlanta and may want to finish there. But they didn’t reach an agreement before the lockout. Until the day the lockout end and Freeman re-signs with Atlanta, he remains a viable option for the Yankees. He was the National League MVP in 2020. Last year, he hit .300 with 31 home runs and had an OPS of .896. He was part of the Braves team that won the World Series this fall. He is a great player, offensively and defensively. Yes, he is older than Matt Olson but, if he could be acquired as a free agent, it might be the better move. The Yankees would not have to surrender any prospects for him and imagine how he would fit in the Yankees lineup.
Again, constructing the roster is like constructing a jigsaw puzzle. The Yankees just don’t have to make one move; they must make several. While Brian Cashman constructs the 2022 team, he has to make both short-term and long-term considerations. He needs to build the team for not only 2022 but the future as well. If the Yankees can acquire Freddie Freeman to play first base while keeping Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe, that would be a better move than trading for Matt Olson and sacrificing prospects. In addition, they need an upgrade at shortstop and center field. They could also use another starting pitcher.
Once the new CBA is in place, Cashman will have a better indication of what the parameters are on his spending. If the Yankees are able to spend freely, it is conceivable this could be like 2009 and they could acquire a pitcher, a shortstop, and a first baseman through free agency. They could then make a trade for a centerfielder without sacrificing their most desirable prospects. They have enough prospects as well as Major League talent such as Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela, and the aforementioned Luke Voit to use in a combination to acquire a center fielder or a relief pitcher.
The resolution of the lockout and the establishment of a new CBA will bring clarity. I believe the Yankees will then quickly address their needs. The fact that Freddie Freeman remains a possibility for them is an unexpected bonus. If they were able to sign him and a short stop, the Yankees’ fans’ annoyance at the lack of activity prior to December first would evaporate. All would be forgiven.
However, first thing is first, but first thing is not really first base. First thing is ending the lockout. If 12 days was a sufficient duration for Christmas, it is more than sufficient for a lockout.