What Would Signing No Free Agents Look Like?
What Would Signing No Free Agents Look Like?
Mid November Thoughts
by Cary Greene
November 20, 2023
From a team like the Yankees perspective, one of the many drawbacks to MLB’s expanded playoffs format is that it’s made it more difficult to find trade partners and it’s also now harder to sign free agents because there are not only more playoff berths, but there are even more teams in contention later into the season. Not only is the Trade Deadline not what it used to be, but many teams find it more enticing to dabble at signing free agents in the offseason.
Compounding these issues is that MLB essentially put the kibosh on the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline that historically permitted trades a full 30 days past the actual Trade Deadline. Prior to 2019, players could be placed on trade waivers after the original trade deadline. Perhaps the most painful reminder of the good old days when the Waiver Deadline existed was at the end of August in 2017, when the Astros acquired Justin Verlander from the Tigers in exchange for three prospects. However, ever since 2019, there is now only one MLB Trade Deadline.
With the increase of teams looking to improve their lineups and pitching staffs, the “pickings’ seem to be slimmer and slimmer with each passing year and with Hal Steinbrenner imposing hard stops on Brian Cashman’s budget every year, this business minded approach of Steinbrenner’s causes Cashman and the Yankees to often find themselves scouring scrap heaps for stopgap players while they steadfastly cling to the hopes that some of their prospects might actually pan out.
What if this offseason, the stars simply don’t align for the Yankees. What if the Padres hold onto Juan Soto, preferring not to deal him until next year's Trade Deadline, if they chose to deal him at all should they find themselves in contention for a playoffs spot? What if Yoshinobu Yamamoto of Japan’s NBL prefers to play for a west coast team and the Yankees miss out the chance to sign him? What if the hated Red Sox sign Jordan Montgomery, effectively removing his name from the group of top tier starters that are available this offseason? What if the Phillies or the Braves sign Blake Snell and what if the Giants wind up signing Cody Bellinger? All of these outcomes are very possible given the current climate in MLB. What then would the Yankees do? With all of their preferred offseason targets off the board, does a scenario exist where the Yankees decide to reset the CBT and basically refrain from signing a single free agent this offseason?
It doesn’t sound likely that this would happen, but what if the Yankees decided to get creative and use only in-house solutions while they choose to immerse in a real rebuild? - doing something Metro New York teams basically never do.
Comprising the core of the team, the Yankees would look to rebuild around Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole, penciling in a bevy of prospects most of whom won’t be ready for the Bigs at the start of the season but who would be capable of impacting the roster later in the season or by 2025. Coming up on December 6th in Nashville Tennessee, MLB will be conducting its annual Rule 5 Draft. Revealing a glimpse into their future hopes and dreams, the Yankees recently moved to add catching prospect Agustin Ramirez to the 40-man roster, while also protecting righty Clayton Beeter by adding him as well. Are either of these prospects highly regarded and considering the Yankees farm system as a whole, are potential solutions to the many roster problems the Yankees suffer from currently residing in the Yankees minor league ranks?
On the pitching front, joining the aforementioned Beeter on a short list of hurlers whose minor league seasons impressed this season were Drew Thorpe (Tier-2 and MLB’s 99th ranked prospect), Chase Hampton (Tier-1) and Tier-3 prospects Randy Vasquez, Johnny Brito, Richard Fitts and Will Warren. What are the differences between the tiers that are used to evaluate prospects though and is it even realistic to think that the Yankees system might actually have some ability to impact the Yankees roster?
Common Baseball “Prospect Speak” dictates that prospects are rated in three basic “Tiers” and with position players, their skills are often rated on the common 20-80 scale whereas pitchers will have their pitch mix graded in likewise fashion. The breakdowns for the various tiers are as follows:
● Tier 1: Prospects with high expectations of both making the majors and playing at an All-Star level for a number of years.
● Tier 2: Prospects with above-average expectations of making the majors and being a solid contributor.
● Tier 3: Prospects with an average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor.
● Tier 4: Players who have the potential of making a majors or have a high likelihood of making the majors, but will provide minimal impact (middle relievers, utility or platoon type players..etc)
● Tier 5: Players of interest who teams should keep an eye on, who have an outside chance of making a team’s 40-man roster (depth pieces basically).
Based on the above grades, the Yankees system might be able to help the Yankees, after all, there exists a number of pretty solidly rated Yankees prospects. Brian Cashman hasn’t been the kind of leader who can impact his team’s ability to cash in on their prospects by successfully translating them to the Yankees roster. But what if this narrative changed, starting this offseason.
Per Bleacher Report, the Yankees have farm system ranked 16th in the game, with their top positional prospects being Jasson Dominguez, the team's only positional Tier-1, a group of Tier-2 prospects including Everson Pereira, Oswald Peraza, Austin Wells, Spencer Jones, Roderick Arias, Trey Sweeney and Brando Mayea who are followed by Tier-3 prospects like the aforementioned Ramirez, Ben Rice, George Lombard JR, Keiner Delgado, Jared Serna and the late blooming Estevan Florial.
One of the Yankees primary bugaboos over the last several years has been their relative inability to successfully turn their best prospects into viable Big Leaguers, but if the Yankees were able to start succeeding, their farm system (though rated as middling) does actually have plenty of creme that could rise to the top and become contributors at what is the game’s highest level - the Big Leagues!
Meanwhile, aging veterans DJ LeMahieu, Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton all have concerningly low levels of gas left in their tanks, with PECOTA player comps suggesting all three are nearing the end of the line, suggesting each are projected to decline in production in the not too distant future. Rizzo is in the final year of his contract and seems to have recovered from his concussion issues, LeMahieu had a strong second half last season and Stanton is pretty much a mess these days as his bat has fallen off a cliff and he’s been frequently injured as well.
Still, all three aging veterans provide the Yankees a bit of a luxury in the sense that they might be helpful place holders for some of the Yankees still developing talent. While there are a number of pricey free agents on the open market this winter that the Yankees may not wind up landing, what if the Yankees were actually forced to use in-house solutions for the coming season? I’m sure the fanbase would be outraged because as I mentioned, New York teams don’t do full rebuilds because they’re under a ton of pressure from their fan bases to win and win now! But what if the market forced the Yankees to actually use the prospects they currently have?
With a vast amount of money already on the Yankees books, which is tied up basically in four star players - Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gerrit Cole and Carlos Rodon. Brian Cashman couldn’t possibly sell the fan base on the idea of an organic, grass roots rebuild, but I’m sure Hal Steinbrenner would appreciate the reduced payroll that a full-on rebuild would net. I’m personally hoping it doesn’t come down to this, but I certainly can see a set of circumstances that could force the Yankees to actually give their prospects a better chance of sticking.
What would a more wide reaching rebuild look like and more importantly…could it succeed? It seems like there might be a wide range of possible outcomes if the Yankees were to elect to do a full scale rebuild, the first of which would likely be steeped in growing pains associated with inconsistency and fan outrage over the lack of spending. Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman would take even more heat than the fanbase is blasting them with presently. On the field, various newly anointed rookies would struggle to prove they belong.
After a year of growing pains and with the payroll reset, the Yankees would likely begin to find more consistency. Unfortunately, prime years of Gerrit Cole and Aaron Judge would have largely been wasted, but such would be the price of a full scale rebuild. It would also seem reasonable that if the Yankees decided to do a full rebuild, that they would be resigned to being a fringe contender for one of the six 2024 postseason berths in MLB’s current expanded playoffs format. Perhaps ownership would be okay with whatever the team’s 2024 regular season outcome wound up being, because the organization’s real goal would be a full reset, with an eye towards the 2025 season and beyond.
Central to a plan like this, the Yankees would seek to reduce payroll and reset the CBT, with the Yankees looking to shed the CBT’s “three time offender” status that spending big this winter would otherwise trigger. With the CBT reset, the Yankees could commit to a very large 2024 offseason spend as they turned to free agency, looking to put the finishing touches on their much younger and vastly overhauled roster.
Many might think that the Yankees engaging in a full rebuild is very unrealistic, but if the Yankees leadership team were doing an honest self-reflection by looking at themselves and their roster in the mirror, behind closed doors they probably would have to admit a few very concerning things. Cashman currently claims to be searching for two left-hand hitting outfielders while also being on the lookout for opportunities to improve the team’s pitching but could that close the gap on the Yankees Divisional rivals – all of whom seem to be forming plans heavily reliant on using the internal talent they all have.
Brian Cashman would love nothing more than to be authorized to shop at the top of the free agent market to fix the many issues that the Yankees have. If he can’t pull this off, what then? The Yankees rivals have waves of highly regarded prospects all in various stages of forcing their way into the mix. It’s at this juncture that I’ll challenge our readers to come up with a 100% home-grown 2024 or 2025 lineup, rotation or bullpen (or all three if you want to) in the comments section below.