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Why It Is Not Time to Panic

Why It Is Not Time to Panic

By Chris O’Connor

December 5, 2021

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This offseason has not gotten off to a good start for the Yankees. The team’s biggest need is at shortstop and already Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, and Javy Baez are off the market. As the Dodgers proved last year, no team can have too much starting pitching, and the Yankees have many questions in the rotation behind Gerrit Cole. Well, top pitchers Justin Verlander, Robbie Ray, and Kevin Gausman all signed elsewhere. Max Scherzer then signed with the other New York team, who was also able to lure Starling Marte, the best center fielder in the free agent market. With center field another need for the Yankees, and little in the way of inspiring options left at the position, that was another major blow.

While I understand the uneasy feelings of Yankees fans who have grown disillusioned by the spending habits of management, I do not think now is the time to panic. Here are a few reasons why.

The dominoes are falling to give the Yankees a clear path at Carlos Correa.

Think of the teams thought to be in the free agent market at the beginning of the offseason. The Rangers are obviously out on Correa after getting both Seager and Semien. The Tigers, who were considered to be the favorites to sign Correa, instead signed Baez. The Dodgers were rumored to want Seager back, but they prepared for his departure by trading for Trea Turner at the trade deadline. If they wouldn’t go up to $325 million to bring back their own guy, does it seem likely that they would go to that level to sign Correa? The Astros had several years to get a deal done and do not seem willing to go past 5 or 6 years. The Angels are a big market team with a need at the position, but they need pitching more than anything. Teams like the Cubs and Phillies loom as possibilities, and the Cubs in particular have a major need, payroll flexibility in a big market, and no clear connection to the sign-stealing scandal. The Yankees, however, are significantly richer and just much better than either of those teams. I am confident that Correa will be a Yankee if the team shows any inclination that they want him. If they do not get him, it will be because the Yankees said no, not the other way around. And if they do not get him or Trevor Story… then it might be time to ask difficult questions about how the Yankees will perform in 2022.

While the starting pitching market has been cleaned up, pitching is not a huge need for the team.

Due to the maddening inconsistency of the offense, I think that the Yankees pitching development was massively underrated last year. In the rotation, Jordan Montgomery and Nestor Cortes had very nice seasons behind Gerrit Cole, and Jameson Taillon flashed dominance at times while dealing with natural inconsistency as he worked his way back from Tommy John surgery. Jonathan Loaisiga, Lucas Luetge, Clay Holmes, among others, had breakout years out of the bullpen. A starting rotation of Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, Jameson Taillon, Jordan Montgomery, and Nestor Cortes looks solid, and when injuries inevitably strike the Yankees have nice options in Domingo German and Mike King ready to step in. Not to mention young guys like Clarke Schmidt and Luis Gil who may be ready to take the next step in their development. The rotation ranked sixth in fWAR last year, and I can see it being even better next year with the return of Luis Severino. Sure, Justin Verlander would have been an excellent addition. But if missing out on him makes it more likely that the Yankees spend more to bolster the offense, I am for it. The bullpen has incredible depth as well, and the Yankees seem to develop bullpen arms as well as any team. Again, teams can never have too much pitching, and I would have loved to see the Yankees go big-game hunting in the top-heavy starting pitching market. But if they have a specified budget that they will not go over, allocating those funds to fix the offense is the right thing to do.

The trade market is very interesting.

The Yankees recently decided to tender a contract to Miguel Anduar, Luke Voit, and Gary Sanchez, but that does not mean that any of those three will be back with the team in 2022. It is clear now that the Yankees have bundled their management and development of all three. And while none have much, if any, trade value, all can still be side pieces in a larger deal that would involve prospects. Jose Ramirez, Matt Olson, and Wilson Contreras are three names to watch. Olson stands out as an obvious fit for the team as he fills the hole at first base and brings a great lefty bat to the lineup. If the Yankees were to miss out on Correa and Story because they did not want to pay them, I think it is more likely that they would pursue Olson. When looking at potential infield configurations, the fit becomes more obvious. Let’s say they miss out on Correa and Story and sign Andrelton Simmons to play shortstop. Gleyber Torres is earmarked for second base. D.J. LeMahieu is not going anywhere and the team can play him at first or third. That leaves Gio Urshela as the odd man out and presents an opening at first or third, making Olson and Ramirez more of a reality. I think the Yankees prefer LeMahieu at third and would want more power and defense at first base, so Olson stands out as the guy who makes the most sense.

Despite the big signing of Marcus Stroman, the Cubs are not ready to compete for the playoffs and like Gary Sanchez, Contreras is a free agent after 2022. The Cubs and Yankees could swap catchers with the Yankees sending some prospects and/or Voit and Andujar to the Cubs. The Yankees would get an upgrade at catcher to a team that will need every win it can get in a competitive division. The Cubs would take a flier on the epitome of a change-of scenery candidate in Sanchez, and they proved with the signing of Clint Frazier that Yankees reclamation projects appeal to them. They are a rebuilding team with plenty of at-bats available and can afford to see if Voit can bounce back to 2020 levels or Andujar 2018.

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