Much to the dismay of Yankee fans everywhere, offseason planning started a few weeks earlier than anticipated this year. For years now, fans and executives have been looking ahead to the absolutely loaded 2019 free agent class, eager to get their hands on some of the talents that will be available. Although this class has taken some hits over the past few years and is not as deep as originally anticipated, there is still plenty of star power up for grabs. By remaining under the luxury tax threshold in 2018, the Yankees are in an ideal position to do something that would make George Steinbrenner elated: spend boatloads to add onto the already loaded core of players currently on the roster. Additionally, where Brian Cashman thrives as a General Manager is in the offseason trade market, and it appears as though he will be incredibly active in this area over the winter as well. Everyone knows the names that the Yankees will be linked to such as Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel and others. However, especially with the crushing news of the Didi Gregorius surgery, there are several more options that could make sense for the Yankees. Also, many current Yankee players on the roster, including Brett Gardner, J.A. Happ, CC Sabathia, Zach Britton, and Andrew McCutchen will become free agents, so there are some decisions to be made and some replenishing to be done. Here are some under the radar names that may find themselves in pinstripes next season, whether it be via trade or free agency. Keep in mind, some of these are long shots, but they are some players to keep an eye on as we approach offseason transactions.
Versatility, left-handed power, postseason experience, and a proven track record all come along with veteran infielder Daniel Murphy. Right now, the biggest question marks offensively exist in the infield, and the acquisition of Murphy could put these question marks to bed. With Gregorius injured, Gleyber could slide to shortstop, and Murphy could play second base. Once Gregorious is healthy, Murphy could play first base as well, platooning with Luke Voit as Murphy is not as strong against left-handed pitching (.238 batting average and only one home run in 80 at-bats against LHP in 2018). Between the Cubs and Nationals this season, Murphy posted a .299 batting average, .790 OPS, and only struck out in every 8.2 at-bats (as low strikeout rates are something this lineup could use). Also, the three-time all-star has a career .309 postseason batting average and has 8 home runs in his 97 at-bats. Having played for the New York Mets for the beginning part of his career, perhaps Murphy would be open to accepting a two or three-year deal to return to New York, this time in a different borough. His left-handed swing and defensive versatility is something this lineup could use desperately, and he will be nowhere near as costly as some of the alternative infield options available.
While Murphy does have the ability to play second, first or third, the problem is his proficiency at these positions. For those who are not aware, Murph is a lackluster defender at best. At second base, he posted negative-18 defensive runs saved in 2018 and has a career DRS of -83 at the position. He is average(ish) when it comes to his defense at first and third (albeit in fewer opportunities), but the Yanks would likely need him to fill in at second. He also owns a career ultimate zone rating of -29.3 at second (-5.5 in 2018). For a team that already struggles at times on defense, Murphy’s presence would only worsen this facet of the team. His bat would provide balance, but at what cost?
Along with Ben Zobrist and Brock Holt, Marwin Gonzalez is one of the league’s ultimate swiss army knives. The man played every single position in 2018 with the exception of catcher and pitcher. When a position is in need of a filler, Marwin Gonzalez is ready to take that spot, and this Yankee club could use some of that versatility. Yes, the 29-year-old is a free agent, but it may take a lot to lure him away from Houston, as he has found himself in a pretty perfect home with a winning ball club. If for some reason, Marwin shows signs that he is looking to go somewhere else and the Yankees are able to entice him with a pile of cash, it would make for an intelligent and strategical pickup for the Bombers even though Gonzalez is not necessarily a household name. The switch-hitter has a career .264 batting average, a 6.8 combined WAR over the last two seasons, and he knows how to win. Having Gonzalez available to play the infield or left field would add another quality bat to the lineup while also shoring up some defensive uncertainty.
Eovaldi is pitching the best he has his entire career at the most opportune time. With increased fastball velocity and the introduction of an absolutely deadly cutter, Eovaldi has the arsenal to remain a quality starter for the next few years, as he is currently 28 years old and has seemingly made a full recovery from his Tommy John Surgery. In 12 games regular season game pitched for the Red Sox, Eovaldi posted an ERA of 3.33. Throughout the postseason, Eovaldi has shown dominant flashes, but there are questions surrounding whether or not he will be able to sustain this level of success. Someone is probably going to overpay for Eovaldi this offseason based on his recent performance, but inconsistency and injury history remains a concern. That being said, Tanaka and Severino are the only two penciled into the 2019 starting rotation so the acquisition of pitching will be the top offseason priority. Would Cashman and Eovaldi both be open to a reunion? Difficult to say, but if the Yankees strike out on some other pitching options, perhaps they turn their attention to Nasty Nate even though there are some lingering question marks. The Yankees know Eovaldi as well as any team. The information that they already have on him likely has already determined whether he’ll be of interest to them or not this winter.
To temper some excitement, there have been no rumors about Joey Votto being traded away from Cincinnati, as he seems to absolutely love it there. In reality, it seems extremely unlikely from all sides. However, it makes for some interesting conversation. Cincinnati knows they are nowhere near competing, so perhaps GM Nick Krall would be willing to press the rebuild button, trading away an aging, expensive player in order to improve an already loaded farm system. From the Yankees’ perspective, Joey Votto is the type of bat this lineup desperately needs. Left-handed, limited strikeouts, and solid defense at first base? Votto checks all of these boxes. Votto is on the downslope of his career at age 35, but for an American League team, he could receive some time at DH, keeping him fresher and more productive. Votto has unbelievably had an OBP over .400 9 of the last ten years and an OPS over .800 in 11 of his 12 professional seasons. In 2018, Votto hit .284, while posting more walks than strikeouts (only Votto, Carlos Santana, Jose Ramirez, and Alex Bregman accomplished this). With a move to Yankee Stadium, his power numbers would undoubtedly increase, as he hit 29 or more home runs in 2015, 2016, and 2017 but only 12 in 2018. The major roadblock in this trade is that the price tag will be through the roof, as Cincinnati will not want to say goodbye to the face of their franchise, and there 6 expensive years of team control remaining. Even if the front office were to find a deal they were satisfied with, it is possible Votto would not waive his no-trade clause. Here is the reality of the situation: The Yankees will look at all potential options at first base. In all likelihood, they will balk at pursuing Votto due to his age and contract. If they pay a large sum of cash to anyone, it will not be someone nearing the end of their career. While Votto is still extremely productive, chances are his best days are behind him. It is not worth it to spend so much for an aging player when so many younger, better talents are available.
In the discussion of the MLB’s best first baseman, Votto and Goldschmidt are two of the premier names to come up. Unlike Joey Votto, rumors of Paul Goldschmidt to the Yankees have already begun, as Goldschmidt is due to be a free agent in 2020. With other top talent expected to depart this offseason, perhaps Arizona would be willing to part ways with their face of the franchise if the return price was sweet enough. As previously discussed with Votto and Murphy, the Yankees will be in the market for an infielder, particularly a shortstop or maybe a first baseman. Goldschmidt, who was 7th in the NL in WAR this season, has been an all-star in 6 consecutive seasons, accumulating 3 gold gloves (and potentially a fourth) in the process. Over the past four seasons, his slash line sits at .301/.410/.538 god for a .948 OPS. With 126 home runs and 78 stolen bases in the time span, Goldschmidt is a rare five-tool player who plays the first base position. What is crazy about this is that Goldschmidt struggles at home, with a .339 road batting average and .238 home batting average. Especially since Goldschmidt has a tendency to hit the ball with power the other way rather frequently, it is likely that he would see in a boost in his numbers playing 81 games at Yankee Stadium. If the Diamondbacks find themselves in a position to sell or retool, Goldy would be one of the names dangled in trade talks. The Yankees are the perfect end destination, as other contenders seem to be set at first base. Also, for what it is worth, the Yankees and Diamondbacks have a history of making trades between each other, the most recent being the Brandon Drury acquisition. Fan favorite Didi Gregorius also came over from Arizona, which is turning out to be one of Cashman’s greatest under the radar acquisitions. The Yankees obviously like Luke Voit (as do the fans), but they will not hesitate to inquire about a talent like Goldschmidt if available.
Speaking of the Arizona Diamondbacks, their two top starters will possibly both be available this offseason. While Patrick Corbin is a free agent, GM Mike Hazen will likely look into moving Greinke’s mammoth contract. At a yearly value greater than $34 million (which is currently the league’s largest but will be surpassed in a couple months) and three years remaining, finding a trade partner willing to bear this load will be difficult, but New York has money to spend and a need for pitching. Greinke is 34 years old, but he is still effective. The right-hander posted a 3.21 ERA in 2018 and a WHIP of 1.079. Now here is an interesting scenario that is starting to gain some traction. Do you remember an outfielder by the name of Jacoby Ellsbury? Yes, shockingly he is still on the Yankees roster. With AJ Pollock expected to become a free agent, perhaps Arizona would be willing to swap Greinke and Ellsbury if Cashman threw in a few prospects. Ellsbury is cheaper, has a year left remaining, and would be the starting center fielder in Arizona. If Ellsbury was not involved in the trade, it would be hard for Cashman to be willing to acquire Greinke and the enormous price tag attached to his name. Perhaps if Arizona would be open to a swap highlighted by Greinke for Ellsbury, Cashman would pull the trigger to improve the starting rotation. Is this likely? No. Probably not at all. Cashman is too smart to not at least give Arizona a call. The idea of acquiring Greinke is probably similar to Votto. Why pay for a player who is aging when other younger talents are available? Free agent lefty Patrick Corbin (another D-Back) will certainly be a higher priority than Greinke, with the latter likely serving as one of many backup plans.
Okay, okay, this one might be the most far-fetched. Lopez is a young, talented arm on a rebuilding team, and has not quite broken out yet. Hear us out though. In 2012, Brian Cashman shocked the World by trading Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners for young arm named Michael Pineda. Both sides were left disappointed, as neither truly lived up to the expectations, but it leaves one wondering if Cashman would be willing to make a similar trade in the future. This is where Reynaldo Lopez of the Chicago White Sox enters. While the Yankees have a shortage of arms and a surplus of position players, the south side of Chicago is in the midst of a long rebuild similar to that of the Houston Astros a few years ago. Lopez is expected to play a role in this rebuild, but perhaps they would be open to a trade similar to the Jesus Montero trade from a few years ago. At 24 years old, Lopez is under control until 2023. This past season was his third in an MLB uniform, and it was by far his most productive. In 32 stars, Lopez had an ERA of 3.91, WHIP of 1.272 and a WAR of 3.1 placing him 19th amongst AL pitcher (ahead of free agent Dallas Keuchel). There is a good chance Chicago will be unwilling to move the youngster and he is labeled as untouchable, but it is worth a call to gauge interest. If Cashman were to entice Chicago with some youngsters of his own, they’d be forced to consider, although it is hard to imagine the ChiSox parting with Lopez.
(Top Photo Credit: Rachel Getz/Flickr)