What Positional Plans Do You Think Cashman Should Have Went With This Past Offseason?
by Cary Greene
October 28, 2022
Injuries Truly Devastated the Yankees
All teams must navigate the minefield caused by in-season injuries, but once again the Yankees faced a devastating mix of losses that they were unable to recover from. The Astros secured “home-field-advantage” but it didn’t seem like this mattered in the least. The Yankees were beaten into submission and no matter where the games were played, it didn’t seem to matter in the least.
There will be articles written this offseason about why the rosters Brian Cashman builds with Yankee analytics keep doing this, but today I’d like to start by pointing out what a healthy Yankees lineup could have looked like against the Astros.
The “Pit of Despair” (Princess Bride Reference) for the Yankees during the playoffs has been well documented - the bottom half of the lineup has been awful and there’s no way to sugar coat what truly was a glaring malady.
Assuming Matt Carpenter would have been fully healthy and in synch, perhaps Giancarlo Stanton could have played right-field, with Judge shifting to center field or left field (as I had written about numerous times last season), in order to get Stanton’s bat into the lineup without clogging the DH role - the Yankees might have been able to field a lineup that had a bit more firepower.
Working Oswald Peraza in at shortstop sometime around mid-July, so he would have had time to adjust to life in the big leagues, might have also helped the Yankees in the postseason.
Bang for the Buck, 2022
All-told, positional players ran the Yankees $149.4 million in AAV this season and I think that has to be considered an overwhelming success, considering the season this group of players was able to achieve. They won 99 games. That’s not too shabby for a $149.4 million spend.
I’ve factored the ultimate performance of each player, as measured in millions of dollars by Fangraphs, into a plus/minus by subtracting what the Yankees payed each player, using each player’s f-Dollars in order to bring into focus which players lived up to their contracts and which ones didn’t.
Only Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Donaldson were “duds,” based on the spend, on the 2022 Yankees roster. Each player’s contract, their worth (in f-Dollars) and their overall performance value relative to their contract is reflected below:
1. LeMahieu 3B (RH) $15m (worth $23.6m) +$8.6m
2. Benintendi LF (LH) $8.5m (worth $22.4m) +$13.9m
3. Judge RF (RH) $19m (worth $92m) +$73m
4. Rizzo 1B (LH) $16m (worth $19.3m) +$3.3m
5. Stanton DH (RH) $32m (worth$9.7m) -$22.3m
6. Torres 2B (RH) $9.6m (worth $29.8m) +$20.2m
7. Cabrera SS (SH) $700k (worth $12.2m) +$11.5m
8. Trevino C (RH) $1.9m (worth $29.6m) +$27.7m
9. Bader CF (RH) $4.7m (worth $11.9m) +$7.2m
● Peraza $700k (worth $3.3m) +$2.6m
● Donaldson $21m (worth $12.9m) -$8.1m
● Hicks $10.5m (worth $11.6m) +$1.1m
● Higashioka C (RH) Arb2 $1.75m (worth $13.2m) +11.5m
● Kiner-Falefa $6m (worth $10.7m) +$4.7m
● Carpenter $2m (worth $18.3m) +$16.3m
Based on these calculations, Cashman got $171 in performance value for his $149.4 million positional spend and it’s important to consider this when we evaluate the job he did this season. I think that’s pretty good and no doubt we will forever be left to wonder, “What if this team had been healthy and at full-strength in the playoffs?"
I imagine that most of the Yankees faithful would have felt pretty good about the “If They Were Healthy” lineup, should the Yankees have been able to field that lineup going into the postseason. Of course, the Yankees weren’t actually able to do that.
The Stanton Dilemma
“To play in the outfield or not to play him?” Unfortunately, the Yankees “allowing” Giancarlo Stanton to clog the DH spot in the lineup more than 50-percent of the time has pretty much killed the Yankees chances of fielding a better, more competitive lineup. This one thing, more than any other, caused the Yankees to be inflexible and unable to put a winning lineup on the field and it shouldn’t be minimized.
Stanton himself said during the playoffs, after a game in which he played pretty well in the field, “It’s like people think I can’t run.” Certainly, Brian Cashman’s analytics department fully signed off on the concept of not playing Stanton in the outfield, right up until the Yankee’s backs were against the wall. Of course, Stanton missed 31 days late in the season to an Achilles injury, so that needs to be considered as well.
I have to wonder aloud, would a real baseball person have pulled the plug on this “mollycoddle Stanton at all costs” nonsense much earlier in the season? I think the chances of that happening would have been fairly high and no doubt, a decision like that - intended to make Stanton either pull his weight or be gone, would have been pretty significant.
What’s the point of mollycoddling Stanton so much anyways? Is he “that” valuable? Many may think so, but the problem with that thinking is, and I’m banging the same old drum here that I bang with every passing season, the Yankees should either play Giancarlo Stanton in the field or dump him.
It’s just not a sound baseball strategy to allow Stanton to forever clog the DH spot and Cashman keeps allowing this to happen season after season. It really needs to end. Why has it taken this long for Cashman to come to his senses? I’m at a complete loss to explain here.
The Hicks Effect
Surprisingly, and another note, Aaron Hicks lived up to his contract this season, albeit by a pinch. He got shelled by the media during the months he wasn’t streaking, but at the end of the day, he was a fine left-fielder defensively. Offensively, he doesn't give the Yankees much value, but he draws his walks and runs the bases very well. Unfortunately, he doesn’t hit well enough to justify a position on a team like the Yankees, so I pose this question to Yankees fans everywhere: Why is Hicks still a Yankee? Could it be that he has a massively negative -22 MTV? Hmmmm?
Would You Rather Have a Falefa or a Peraza?
Equally surprising was that Isiah Kiner-Falfea easily played up to his contract though, he certainly isn’t a long-term answer at shortstop for the Yankees. He too runs the bases well and though he’s merely average fielding the position in most regards, he did have a knack for making some clutch defensive plays that saved runs.
Offensively, he’s an old school shortstop, he has very little power and he’s a singles hitter. There’s little bang for the buck in terms of his bat, so why again is he the Yankees starting shortstop?
I’d argue that Oswald Peraza should take over the shortstop position in 2023, right out of Spring Training. Kiner-Falefa meanwhile is suitable in a bench role as a utility infielder or perhaps Cashman might consider trading him to free up a roster spot for Anthony Volpe, when he’s ready to ascend at some point next season. With Peraza and Oswaldo Cabrera both around, the Yankees don’t really need Kiner-Falefa and he could be packaged with prospects for a solid return. Kiner-Falefa could easily start at shortstop or third base on a fair number of major league ball clubs, but he’s not a shortstop on a World Series Yankees team and I think most realize this at this point, after watching him play for a full, grueling season.
Hitting the Jackpot on players like Jose Trevino and Matt Carpenter likely saved the Yankees season and I’d characterize both of these acquisitions as near-miracle finds. In this department, I give Brian Cashman credit. This is important for Yankee fans to consider as we also weigh the number of faults that exist with Cashman and the direction he’s taken the roster.
We have to ponder the question, are these rare finds a solid operating strategy or would it have been wiser to acquire premium free-agents ahead of time, instead of having to trade for long-shots and essentially roll the dice - hoping for a miracle while simultaneously depleting the organizations farm system with every trade made once the season is underway.
The Impact of Yankees Catching this Season
Speaking of Trevino and also factoring in Higashioka, those who are struggling with thoughts of the Yankees upgrading at catcher for the 2023 season and who might be hoping for more offense at the position should first acknowledge that Yankees catching provided a massive $39.2 million in surplus value based on what the Yankees paid the tandem of Kyle Higashioka and Jose Trevino.
The defense this pair provided was nothing short of other-worldly compared to watching Gary Sanchez pretend he’s a big-leaguer behind the plate for yet another grueling season. In all honesty though and in fairness to Sanchez, he’s actually a barely passable catcher and it’s really his offense that is the problem these days. My point here is that Sanchez doesn’t remotely compare to Jose Trevino or Kyle Higashioka in terms of his overall receiving skills. A big reason the Yankees were very good this season was because of the impact that Yankees catchers had on the pitching staff.
Trading to Improve at Catcher
For the “Sean Murphy lovers” out there, who want the Yankees to consider paying what it would take to acquire Murphy, who is presently listed at $51.3 MTV by Baseball Trade Values, they might consider that Murphy provided $37.3 million in value - which is $1.9 million less than what the Yankees got from Trevino and Higgy this season.
Yes, Murphy is a better offensive player than either “Trevy” or “Higgy” but he represents a big drop off defensively from Trevino and considering that acquiring Murphy would require the Yankees to cough up Anthony Volpe and a lesser prospect as a package, I’d strongly urge Yankees fans to contemplate how truly ghastly a prospect cost trading for Murphy represents.
There’s no way I’d condone a deal for Murphy at anywhere near his present MTV, unless the Yankees went out and signed a big time shortstop this offseason.
Would a combo of Murphy AND Trevino be sweet? Potentially, yes, but ideally, if the Yankees are going all out to improve the catching, they should probably look to add a left-handed hitting catcher to pair with the right-handed Trevino - but I realize that’s a big ask. Therefore, I’m quite content with the Yankees catching as is and I’d like to see Volpe remain a Yankee.
Lineup Balance and What Should Have Been
Speaking of signing a big-time shortstop becoming more left-handed, two other questions also persist. Why has Cashman taken so long to build a better balanced lineup? –and– Why are the Yankees STILL suffering at shortstop, a position that Derek Jeter once manned and considering that American League East rivals are fairly-well stacked at shortstop?
Once the 2021 season was in the books, Cashman’s roster had numerous issues that needed attention and instead of starting by building up the middle and choosing to solve the glaring shortstop or centerfield issues, Hal Steinbrenner chose to tighten the purse strings and curtail Cashman’s ability to spend and this caused Cashman to proceed forward with mostly the same team positionally. In effect, an entire year where the Yankees could have made solid strides forward was lost.
In 2019 the Yankees had an opportunity to add a generational talent in Bryce Harper, but Cashman passed as he struggled to make do with Steinbrenner’s budget limitations and instead chose to focus on acquiring Gerrit Cole.
Many fans felt at the time that signing one of Cole or Harper without the other was kind of a sign that Stienbrenner wanted to win but really wasn’t all-in towards that objective.
That being the case, personally I wondered, “Why sign Cole if you’re not going to surround him properly?” A fair number of fans didn’t want Harper at the time as well, perhaps some preferred Manny Machado, but my point is that the Yankees largely ignored their positional issues while also ignoring their lack of left-handedness.
This made me truly wonder, why not move the short porch in right field back 200 feet? The Yankee strategy compelled opponents, playing on the road in the Bronx, to load up on left-handed hitters. Would this strategy deliver a World Series championship? I was doubtful.
No doubt 2020 was a lost season due to the Pandemic, but the Yankees certainly didn’t use the “down market” to their advantage. Anyone on Wall Street knows that down markets are often the time to strike, but Cashman and the Yankees seemed a bit bewildered during the 2021 offseason and their fear of the unknown, how the CBA would impact their payroll, caused Steinbrenner to once again limit Cashman. The Yankees played a cautious hand instead of being aggressive.
Cashman’s non-aggressive decisions in 2021, per Steinbrenner’s budgetary constraints, also contributed to the Yankees being bounced yet again from the playoffs this season as the ripple effect from largely doing nothing is still felt in the Bronx to this day. Cashman chose to let the Mets trade for Francisco Lindor and when that oversight combined with his refusal to sign a top free agent shortstop this past offseason, he single-handedly sabotaged the Yankees by creating a roster dotted with a few star players but held together with a far too many stopgap type “fill-ins” and a few lucky “jackpot” finds (like Jose Trevino and Matt Carpenter) sprinkled in.
In the postseason, the cream ultimately rises to the top and this season, after barely getting past the strong pitching of Guardians, making the jump to the next-level Astros pitching proved to be too difficult of a task for what really was an unimpressive Yankees roster.
While all that was happening, baseball fans got to see first hand what a generational talent can do for a team in the playoffs as Bryce Harper propelled the Phillies past the favored Padres and into the World Series. We can only wonder at this juncture, what Harper might have meant to the right-handed Yankees lineup?
What Lineup Did You Envision for the Yankees?
Imagining the lineup that Brian Cashman could have fielded over the years is enough to bring pinstriped tears to most Yankees fans eyes and certainly, most of the Yankees faithful imagined a product vastly different that what Cashman sold us in 2022.
Therefore, I pose a question to our marvelously insightful readers. What Yankees lineup did you envision in 2022?
How many years back would your plan have dug? I’d love to see some comments in that department.
Payroll Does Matter
Payroll obviously needs to be factored in to answer that question, considering the Yankees weren’t far from being in the third-tier of the luxury tax threshold this season and we all know that’s a place Hal Steinbrenner simply wouldn’t go. Given Steinbrenner’s financial obstinance, what lineup would you have rather seen this year?
If you do answer this question, please try to keep the progressively stiffer 2022 Luxury Tax Thresholds in mind. If you wind up creating a lineup that Hal Steinbrenner would have approved, you’ll need to avoid going above a $270-million payroll. To save you from looking them up, here they are:
● Tier One: $230-250MM (teams pay a 20% overage)
● Tier Two: $250-270MM (32%)
● Tier Three: $270-290MM (62.5% for first-time payors; 65% thereafter)
● Tier Four: $290MM+ (80%)
It wouldn’t be fair of me to ask our readers this question without taking a stab at the question myself, so here goes nothing! I’d have preferred the lineup I’m about to lay out mainly because I think it's built to score on elite postseason pitching, not because it’s necessarily more productive during the regular season.
The Lineup I Imagined
The lineup I imagined, including the bench players, would have commanded around $153.3 million in AAV and therefore would only have cost about $4-million more in AAV than what Cashman accounted for positionally going into this season.
Like I wrote, I would have flat-out loved it if Cashman had traded for Lindor when the Yankees had the chance. In my estimation, that needed to happen early in the 2021 offseason.
Then, this season and with shortstop solidified, Cashman could have thought about making the heart of the Yankees lineup more formidable by signing Kyle Schwarber and committing to him being the team's every-day DH. Doing that means that Giancarlo Stanton would have been asked to be an everyday outfielder again because he’s simply not that valuable as a lineup clogging DH. He also hits markedly better when he’s playing the field and he isn’t a terrible defensive player in all honesty. Stanton will never play the outfield full-time, but he certainly can and should be asked to do it four or five days a week. It’s the only way to work a lefty slugger into the DH spot.
Given that the Lindor ship had sailed, I would have giddily settled on Corey Seager as a 2022 offseason signing, which could have been done for only $3-million more ATV than Lindor cost the Mets, once he was extended. All along, I was in-on Lindor so permit me to include him in my “what if” lineup. I’ll exclude Harper in my lineup mainly because the choice to not sign him is now a bit too-far in the past. If you want him, or others from the 2019 class in your lineup, by all means, run the numbers and show us how it works.
Trading for Matt Olson or signing Freddy Freeman were also hot topics in the Yankees universe and because I was out on both of those options and wrote many an article about it, I’ll accept the Anthony Rizzo signing happily because he was on my 2021 offseason wish list (but by no means was he my top priority because I wanted Seager, since Cashman passed on Lindor).
Kyle Shwarber has lightning fast hands and he’s a dead-red pull hitter. The guy can hit elite pitching and he proves it in the postseason in big spots every year. I’ve long thought he’s about the perfect DH for the Yankees and I’m downright bummed that Cashman has never shown much real interest in acquiring him. In the postseason, elite opposing pitchers fear Schwarber and they often pitch around him, which to his credit, results in a lot of walks because he has very solid pitch recognition skills. Sandwiching Schwarber in between Judge and Stanton and then protecting Stanton with Rizzo was the way to go in the 2021 offseason and I wrote about this a number of times. Therefore, I’ll stick with that thinking as I build my “what if” lineup.
Another move I wanted to see Cashman make was to secure Seiya Suzuki, who the Cubs wound up winning the bidding for. He has a really high ceiling and would have looked great in the top half of the Yankees lineup. He’s acclimating to the MLB style of play and I think he’s going to turn out to be a pretty special player, one whom Cubs fans should enjoy in the coming years.
Aaron Hicks was tabbed by most insiders as “untradable” last offseason - meaning no team wanted him. On one hand, it made sense to dump him by any means necessary - such as paying full contract and offloading him kind of like the Rangers did with Rougned Odor last season, only with the Yankees covering several additional seasons compared to what the Rangers did with Rougy, or perhaps Cashman should have just DFA’d Hicks which would have been a very pricey and total-loss. Any model that doesn’t include Hicks drives the payroll of that model up another $10-million. There’s just no way around having to do that.
Hicks was looking better in Spring Training last April though and he was musing, as it turned out, about hitting 30 home runs and stealing 30 bases. Perhaps Cashman took the bait, wanting to believe, but in fairness to Hicks, he actually did outperform most projections in terms of At-Bats anyway.
Hicks was obviously not a starting outfielder on the New York Yankees and he’s not a very valuable switch-hitter in Yankee Stadium either, which makes him a bad platoon player offensively. Yet Cashman wrote him in as the starting center-fielder coming into the season and it wasn’t long before the Yankees had the same old problem as ever. This experiment was a significant blunder by Cashman and one that even the most casual of Yankees fans probably could have easily predicted wouldn’t work out.
It would have been in the Yankees best interests to find a way to part with Hicks last offseason. I was on record for wanting Cashman to acquire Andrew Benintendi and I envisioned him occupying Hicks’ roster spot.
I was totally in favor of moving on from Gary Sanchez but not at the cost of giving up Gio Urshela while also taking on Josh Donaldson just to acquire Isiah Kiner Falefa. That’s a deal I didn’t want to see made.
This was a bad trade and it made as little sense to me then as it does now, after a full season of watching Donaldson and Falefa bat. I know Kiner-Falefa had his supporters at the time of the trade, but a stopgap shortstop wouldn’t have been needed if Cashman had traded for Lindor when he had the chance.
Let’s assume Cashman moved Sanchez in a lesser deal prior to the start of this season and therefore, my “what-if” lineup imagines the Yankees never acquiring Donaldson, IKF or Ben Rortvedt. More will be written about this trade this offseason, but let me start the ball rolling by saying it wasn’t an impressive deal by Cashman.
In-season trades for Benintendi and or Bader would have been great depth moves and would have also increased the 2022 spend for my lineup below, which is already $4 million more than Cashman spent. Trading for both adds another $7 million in prorated payroll, but then we’d also subtract the prorated salary of whomever was traded away.
It’s also likely that I’d have to factor in the cost of dumping Aaron Hicks. Let’s assume I ate half of his contract and coughed up a solid prospect to entice another team to take him. Therefore, I MIGHT be able to afford Bader but probably couldn’t afford Benintendi as well.
Also, I’m assuming the Yankees wouldn’t have kept Gio Urshela around based on how he was trending after 2021, especially if they would have traded for and extended Lindor, so that saves me almost $10-million there.
Here’s my “what if” lineup, as I saw it prior to the start of the 2022 season. I envisioned Marwin Gonzalez giving way to Oswaldo Cabrera before the All-Star break and I also envisioned Oswald Peraza being called up in August, at the very latest.
1. Lindor SS (SH) $32m (worth $56.4m) +$24.4m
2. Suzuki RF (RH) $17m (worth $16.1m) -$900k
3. Judge CF (RH) $19m (worth $92m) +$73m
4. Schwarber DH (LH) $20m (worth $21.4m) +$1.4m
5. Stanton LF (RH) $32m (worth $9.7m) -$22.3m
6. Rizzo 1B (LH) $16m (worth $19.3m) +3.3m
7. LeMahieu 2B (RH) $15m (worth $23.6m) $8.6m
8. Trevino C (RH) Arb 1 $1.9m (worth $29.6m) +$27.7m
9. Cabrera 3B (SH) Pre-Arb $700k (worth $12.2m) +$11.5m
● Higashioka C (RH) Arb2 $1.75m (worth $13.2m) +11.5m
● Peraza SS/2B/3B (RH) Pre-Arb $700k (worth $3.3m) +$2.6m
● Bader CF (RH) $4.7m (worth $11.9m) +$7.2m
● Carpenter DH/RF/3B (LH) $2m +$16.3m
Likely Not Traded For: (though I love him in pinstripes obviously)
● Benintendi LF (LH) $8.5m (worth $22.4m) +$13.9m
My “what if” lineup produces $164.3m in f-Dollars and it cost $162.75m so I got what I paid for even though Giancarlo Stanton’s contract significantly sandbags any attempt to build a World Series champ in the Bronx.
Meanwhile, Cashman only paid $149.4m and he got $171m in f-Dollars (+8m more than my positional team). Cashman did better than I would have, for sure but a fair question to ask is, would my lineup have done better than his in the postseason? We’ll never really be able to answer that question and in giving the devil his due, Houston does have a stellar pitching staff.
Maybe the only way to have beaten the Astros was to have spent the lion’s share of the payroll on pitching?