By Sal Maiorana
Sal Maiorana, a friend of the site, shares some of his thoughts on the Yankees.
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It was pretty clear that the Yankees’ three-pronged Plan A in the offseason was to trade for hitting machine outfielder Juan Soto, sign free agent Japanese phenom pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto (yeah, I’m kinda glad I don’t have to spell that name now) and then work outside the margins to upgrade the outfield, the rotation and the bullpen.
As Meatloaf once sang, two out of three ain’t bad.
They got Soto but lost out on Yamamoto, though honestly, I wasn’t crushed by that because $300 million, which is what the Yankees offered, for a 5-foot-10 pitcher who has never thrown a pitch in MLB seemed a little crazy. And now Brian Cashman is well into the third phase of the plan, trying to fill in the roster with useful pieces before pitchers and catchers report to Tampa one month from now.
The biggest acquisition since the trades that brought Soto and outfielder Alex Verdugo to the Bronx went down last week when free agent right-hander Marcus Stroman agreed to a two-year, $37 million deal. To me, Stroman is a pretty good get for the Yankees.
Stroman, who grew up on Long Island, came up with the Blue Jays and across six seasons pitching in the rugged AL East he started 129 games, went 47-45 and had a 3.76 ERA despite not possessing overpowering strikeout stuff as he stands just 5-foot-7. He was traded to the Mets at the 2019 deadline and pitched well, sat out the 2020 Covid year by his choice, then started an MLB-high 33 games in 2021 for those guys in Queens and pitched to a 3.02 ERA and 1.145 WHIP (walks, hit per innings pitched).
Adding Marcus Stroman certainly strengthens a Yankees rotation that still has plenty of question marks.
He signed with the Cubs as a free agent in 2022 and his ERA there was 3.73 across 50 starts. He made the 2023 NL All-Star team with a great first half, but then got hurt and missed much of the second half, and when he returned he was clearly not right and got shelled. So yes, all Yankees fans should raise an eyebrow because we all know this team’s history with signing damaged goods players.
However, Stroman’s injury last year had nothing to do with his arm; he had hip inflammation and a rib cartilage fracture. The only time he’s had any problem with his throwing arm was in June 2022 with the Cubs, some shoulder soreness that sidelined him for a month. After he returned, he started 17 games and had a solid 3.30 ERA, so no lingering issues.
For now, Stroman gives the Yankees a starting five that includes Gerrit Cole, Carlos Rodon, Nestor Cortes and Clarke Schmidt. Based on 2023, Stroman would slot in as the No. 2 starter behind Cole, which is why I said this is a good get for the Yankees. If he pitches to the back of his baseball card, he’s going to eat innings and do it effectively which is exactly what the Yankees need.
The Yankees dabbled in the Blake Snell market, but the asking price for the reigning National League Cy Young winner is too high. The Yankees reportedly made an offer and Snell’s people said it wasn’t nearly enough. Fine. Snell has been an outstanding pitcher which his two Cy Young awards would indicate - he also won the 2018 AL award pitching for the Rays - but I had no interest in him and I’m glad it appears the Yankees have moved on.
The only two seasons Snell made at least 30 starts were his Cy Young seasons, 2018 and 2023, and in both of those years he barely got to 180 innings pitched. He’s not a guy who goes deep into games, and his highest innings season after those two was 129 in 2017 with the Rays. He’s also dealt with control issues and walks too many batters with a career mark of 4.1 per nine innings.
True, his career ERA is 3.20 which is great, and that’s because he does a nice job of limiting the damage from those walks which is an admirable trait. But will that continue now that’s 31 years old? And pitching in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium is way different than San Diego’s pitcher-friendly Petco Park, or even the Trop in Tampa Bay. In the Bronx, those walks could really hurt if he gives up multi-run dingers.
As for Jordan Montgomery, the other big free agent pitcher still unsigned, I don’t think he’s interested in coming back. He wasn’t thrilled when the Yankees traded him to St. Louis, saying they didn’t think they could trust him in the postseason. Then he went out and helped lead Texas to a World Series last year pitching great in the postseason.
He’s asking a big number, too, and my thought is that if the Yankees decide to make an offer and he accepts, great, welcome back and he’ll definitely help. But I’m also fine if the Yankees stay away.
Trading for Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes, Cleveland’s Shane Bieber, and Dylan Cease of the White Sox has also been bandied about, but the asset price is ridiculous and the Yankees have already traded too many players - especially pitchers - from their farm system in the deals to get Soto and Verdugo, not to mention the previous trades the last few years that brought stiffs like Joey Gallo, Josh Donaldson, Harrison Bader, and Frankie Montas.
Burnes, Bieber and Cease might be available at the trade deadline for a much lesser price and if the Yankees are in contention at that point, maybe they can take a run at one of them. Right now, it’s not worth it, especially in the case of Burnes and Bieber who will be free agents after 2024.
There have been a few other minor moves recently that need to be discussed.
One-time top prospect Estevan Florial was finally jettisoned, bringing an end to a frustrating tenure for him in the system. He just could not hit major league pitching in the few opportunities he received, and that’s too bad because he’s a terrific outfielder with great speed if he could only get on base. He also had some pop in his bat as 102 homers in the minors, including 28 last year at Triple-A, would attest.
He was sent to Cleveland in exchange for righty Cody Morris who will compete to be a spot starter/long reliever, helping to fill the void created by the departures of Jhony Brito and Randy Vasquez who both went to San Diego in the trade for Soto. Morris has been bouncing around the minors since 2017 and has only 13 MLB appearances between 2022 and 2023. He actually pitched two scoreless innings in Game 4 of the divisional series against the Yankees, so I’m not banking on him being a difference maker, but we’ll see.
Another depth pitcher was re-signed, Luke Weaver. You may remember him when he joined the Yankees in September and made three garbage time starts and threw pretty well with a 3.38 ERA. Like Morris, he’ll be around in case there are injuries - which, of course, we know there will be - and he’ll serve as a spot starter or middle reliever, assuming he makes the team.
A third depth pitcher signed was righty Cody Poteet who hasn’t pitched since 2022 with Miami due to Tommy John surgery. He has 19 career MLB appearances, nine as a starter and has a 4.45 ERA with pretty mundane numbers.
At this point, there might not be much more happening, and if that’s the case, this is what the 2024 positional depth chart could look like when spring training begins:
First base: Anthony Rizzo, DJ LeMahieu
Second base: Gleyber Torres, LeMahieu, Oswald Peraza, Oswaldo Cabrera
Shortstop: Anthony Volpe, Peraza, Cabrera
Third base: LeMahieu, Peraza, Cabrera
Left field: Juan Soto, Alex Verdugo, Trent Grisham, Cabrera
Center field: Aaron Judge, Grisham
Right field: Verdugo, Judge, Giancarlo Stanton
Catcher: Jose Trevino, Austin Wells
Designated hitter: Stanton, Judge, Soto
Here’s the starting rotation:
RHP Gerrit Cole
RHP Marcus Stroman
LHP Carlos Rodon
LHP Nestor Cortes
RHP Clarke Schmidt
Here’s the bullpen, including potential spot starters, not all of whom will make the 26-man roster:
RHP Clay Holmes
RHP Jonathan Loaisiga
RHP Tommy Kahnle
RHP Ian Hamilton
RHP Scott Effross
RHP Ron Marinaccio
RHP Luke Weaver
RHP Luis Gil
RHP Clayton Beeter
RHP Cody Morris
RHP Cody Poteet
LHP Nick Ramirez
LHP Matt Krook
Is this team capable of challenging for the AL East title or an AL wild-card berth? Probably, but I still don’t think the Yankees are better than the Orioles, and they may not be better than the Blue Jays who I’m expecting will have a bounce back season after a very disappointing 2023.
It seems like the Rays won’t be as dangerous as they’ve been because they have suffered some big-time subtractions from their roster, but can we ever really say that about the Rays? That team always finds a way to be annoyingly good. And then there’s the Red Sox who I don’t think are on par with the Yankees.
As always, the biggest key for the Yankees will be to stay at least reasonably healthy. If miracles exist and they can avoid the long-term killer injuries - like losing Judge for two months because of a broken toe, and so many other examples I could cite - then I think they’ll be in the mix.
But if injuries cripple them again, and the starting pitching falters which is certainly possible with question marks hovering over Rodon, Cortes and Schmidt, then no, the Yankees will be sitting home twiddling their thumbs again in October and the massive trade package they sent to the Padres for Soto will have been wasted.