Offseason Review

February 10, 2019

 

 

For years now, Yankee fans have been patiently awaiting this offseason. With the club finally under the luxury tax threshold, big contracts off the books, and huge names available, many people anticipated the Yankees making rather splashy moves. Much to the surprise of almost everyone, the Yankees have gone in a slightly different direction than anticipated. Rather than adding the big names (at least to this point), the Yankees have made an extensive series of somewhat minor, but still impactful acquisitions. Due to the lack of big-name signings, Machado, Harper, and Corbin in particular, many are viewing this offseason as a disappointment. With that said, the Yankees have improved in all areas, and will undoubtedly be one of the favorites to take home the title in October. Let’s recap what has been done to this point in the offseason, what may need to be addressed over the next couple weeks, and if the Yankees are in fact done spending.

 

Starting Rotation

 

Everyone knew that the starting rotation was the facet of this ball club that was in the most need of reform. Severino and Tanaka were the only two that were guaranteed spots in the starting rotation, and as a result, many fans had their hearts set on Patrick Corbin or a blockbuster trade. Signing CC Sabathia early on immediately added depth, veteran leadership, and ensured that a fan favorite would be returning to the roster. This signing was far from a surprise, and Sabathia will be hungry to take home a World Championship in what will be his last season in baseball.

 

The next move was one that was slightly surprising to the baseball world, as the Yankees traded Justus Sheffield and some lower level prospects to Seattle in exchange for southpaw James Paxton. Paxton is certainly an all-star caliber arm when healthy. To this point in his career, the 30-year-old Paxton has posted a 3.42 ERA (2.98 in 2017 and 3.76 in 2018), 1.19 WHIP, and 9.5 K/9. The problem with Paxton is that he has yet to pitch over 161 innings in a season. If Paxton can remain healthy and limit the HR/9 allowed (1.3 2018), he should serve as an effective two starter. One reason that made Cashman willing to gamble on Paxton’s questionable injury history is that he came at a decent value. While the loss of Justus Sheffield certainly hurts, one can tell that the front office and coaching staff were not necessarily sold on him. Questions regarding his size, command, and ability to stick as a starter resulted in a hesitancy to call him up to the majors. With an opening day roster spot for Sheffield far from guaranteed and the Yankees in championship or bust mode, Cashman felt comfortable dealing Sheffield away for two years of Paxton control at only around 9 million dollars a year.

 

Cashman then directed his attention to Patrick Corbin, a move that seemingly made perfect sense. Corbin is a Syracuse NY native who expressed interest in playing for the Yankees last season. Ultimately, Corbin signed for much more money than the Yankees were willing to give him. Many analysts felt that the Nationals overpaid for the former Diamondback, so it is easy to see why Cashman decided to go in a different direction. There was a steady backup plan in place, as the club brought back crafty veteran lefty JA Happ. Happ was the best Yankee starter down the stretch last year, and he has proven that he can still be productive despite his 36 years of age. Since 2015, Happ has recorded an ERA of 3.48. He is far from flashy, but adding him to Severino, Paxton, Tanaka, and Sabathia gives the Yankees a formidable rotation.

 

Over the course of the winter, many trade rumors surfaced but never came to fruition. Noah Syndergaard still finds himself in Queens, and Corey Kluber is still a Cleveland Indian for the time being. However, Cashman did pull the trigger on one additional trade involving a pitcher, as Sonny Gray was shipped to Cincinnati. Everyone knew that this move was coming, as it was rather evident that the two sides had to move on from one another. In return for Gray, the Yankees netted the 36th overall pick in the 2019 draft and promising outfield prospect Josh Stowers from the Seattle Mariners. With only a year of control left, the Yankees were forced to deal Sonny Gray at a reduced price compared to what he was initially acquired for.

 

It appears as though the Yankees are satisfied with their current batch of starters and will probably not make any moves to improve this area of the team for the remainder of the offseason. There have been whispers throughout the offseason of a three-team trade that would bring Kluber to the Bronx and send Andujar to San Diego, but this seems highly unlikely. The Yankees are in a strong position to make a move at the deadline if there is still a desire to add some depth or a potential front end starter to the rotation in the middle of the season. Although the Yanks seem set with their starting five in the rotation, do not be surprised if they bring in a cheap arm for depth.

 

One name not to forget is Jordan Montgomery, who should be returning from Tommy John surgery around midseason. Montgomery will essentially be serving as a defacto trade deadline acquisition that will hopefully be able to provide production in the second half of the season. With Sabathia, Tanaka, and Paxton not having the cleanest of health track records, having capable arms ready to provide some injury relief and rest will prove to be vital. Overall, the rotation has been improved, but maybe not to the extent that some were envisioning. It would be surprising if another significant rotation arm was to be added, so here’s a look at the tools Boone and company will have to work with this season.

 

Projected Starting Rotation

 

Luis Severino

James Paxton

Masahiro Tanaka

J.A. Happ

CC Sabathia

 

Names to Watch

 

Jordan Montgomery (Will hopefully return around July)

Jonathan Loaisiga

Mike King

Domingo Acevedo

Chance Adams

 

Position Players

 

Stunningly, two generational talents are still on the board despite pitchers and catchers reporting in just a few days. Still, with rumors dying down, maybe the Yankees are done making moves for position players. With Brian Cashman at the helm and the prices of the stars seemingly dropping, it is hard to tell if the Yankees are out of it, but let take a look at what has been done to this point.

 

Behind the plate, Sanchez and Romine remain the only two significant names. Early on, there were some rumors of Sanchez being dealt and Realmuto being brought in. These rumors quickly dissipated, and likely only surfaced to create leverage for Miami. Sanchez is the Yankee with the most to prove in 2019, and Romine is one of the game’s better backup catchers. This position was in no need of alteration or addition.

 

The infield, however, was a different story. The Didi Gregorius injury left a hole at shortstop while first base remained uncertain with Greg Bird and Luke Voit. Additionally, many people are not entirely sold on Andujar’s shaky defense.

 

Obviously, the name with the most offseason buzz in relation to the Yankees was Manny Machado. Because he is still available, let’s not focus our attention on him for now, and instead look at who definitely will be a Yankee in 2019, like Troy Tulowitzki. Once considered to be the best shortstop in all of baseball, the 34-year-old is looking to return to prominence. In 2018, Tulo never stepped foot on the field. In 2017, he played in just 66 games, hitting seven home runs and posting a lackluster .249/.300/.378 slash line. While it may not seem like a flashy signing, this is a low risk, high reward deal. If Tulo struggles, no big deal. There is depth surrounding him and virtually no money tied to his name. Also, when Gregorius returns in the summer, Tulo may even become an unnecessary luxury. If the Yankees are lucky, maybe they’ll even see flashes of vintage Tulo. While this is unlikely, it was a risk worth taking. Out of all Yankee signings this offseason, this came at the best value (and coincidentally the league minimum).

 

Speaking of infield depth, another former Colorado Rockie will be making his Yankee debut in 2019. D.J. LeMahieu is a two-time all-star, former batting champion, and two-time reigning gold glove award winner at second base in the National League. LeMahieu has a very Jeter like approach at the plate, spraying the ball to all fields while not getting too much elevation. The Yankees were in need of a guy who put the ball in play, and they may have found their man. LeMahieu has above average contract rates and exit velocity. Launch angle is the only part of his swing that the Yankee coaching staff may be inclined to try adjusting. Since 2015, DJ has a .309 BA, .369 OBP and 40 home runs (.276, .321, and 15 respectively in 2018). He also has a 13.6 WAR over the time span (3.0 in 2018). The 30-year-old is seeing his power numbers increase, but his average numbers are starting to come down a little bit. Where LeMahieu thrives is defensively, but this is where his role with the Yankees is unclear. LeMahieu is one of the best second basemen defensively in the league. With that said, it appears as though he will be taking on the Neil Walker utility man role in 2019. This is a little bizarre because he has only played four games professionally at first, four at shortstop, and 41 at third. LeMahieu is big (6’4’’) and athletic, so maybe he can make it work. His stellar glove work should translate across the diamond. LeMahieu was not really on the radar of Yankee fans, but the signing makes a lot of sense due to his versatility and approach in the box.

 

Maybe the Yankees are not done adding pieces to the infield, but if they are, they have a strong and deep group to work with. Bird and/or  Voit will play first, Torres will play up the middle, Tulo will play shortstop, Andujar will play third, and LeMahieu will play all over the place. When Didi returns, there will almost be too much infield depth, if that's a thing.

 

The outfield is mostly unchanged from the 2018 version. Gardner was brought back on a one year deal, which will probably make this his last year in pinstripes. The question marks are surrounding Jacoby Ellsbury and Clint Frazier. Both were M.I.A. in 2018, but both could spend significant time on the MLB roster in 2019. Along with Stanton and Sanchez, Frazier is the other position player that has a whole lot to prove in 2019, so perhaps the Yankees could finally get a breakout year from him. With Judge, Stanton, Hicks, Gardner, Ellsbury, and Frazier, there is absolutely no shortage of talent patrolling the outfield in Yankee Stadium. Bryce Harper, you ask? Well, it would be somewhat Cashman-like to stunningly bring him in, but do not count on it. The Yankees are not in need of an outfielder who struggles defensively. Harper would be an expensive luxury. Effective? Yes, buy an expensive luxury and not a necessity.

 

So much talent is still available, starting with Harper and Machado. In addition to these guys, Marwin Gonzalez, Josh Harrison, Mike Moustakas, Jose Iglesias, and Adam Jones are still available as well. If the Yankees are done, they will have plenty of offensive firepower in 2019.

 

Bullpen

 

Going into last season, the bullpen was considered the strength of the Yankees, and rightfully so. In 2018, the Yankee bullpen had the fourth-best combined ERA in the majors and their relievers combined for the highest wins above replacement in the league. While the unit was still one of the best in baseball, it still somewhat failed to meet astronomical expectations. Tommy Kahnle spent a significant portion of the season in Scranton. Aroldis Chapman missed time with knee issues, and Dellin got off to a slow start. While the bullpen would be strong without any additions, there was some addressing to be done.

 

This offseason left question marks regarding the bullpen, as David Robertson and midseason trade acquisition Zach Britton were free agents. Also, formidable bullpen arms Craig Kimbrel, Adam Ottavino, Jeurys Familia, Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, and Joe Kelly were also available via free agency. In addition to these names, star Seattle closer Edwin Diaz was also made available via trade. This created many opportunities for Brian Cashman and the Yankee front office.

 

Most assumed that David Robertson would be brought back, as the move seemed to make a lot of sense. However, Robertson decided to leave the Bronx for a second time, this time for the Philadelphia Phillies. In what was a little bit surprising, it was Zach Britton who ended up returning to the Bronx, not Robertson. Everyone knows what Britton can be. When he is on, he is the best reliever in all of baseball. This was made evident between 2014 and 2016 where Britton had a 1.38 ERA and 215 punch outs in 209 innings pitched. While 2018 was far from his greatest campaign, Britton was still effective for the bombers down the stretch, surrendering only 8 earned runs in 25 innings pitched. While Britton may never return to his 2016 self, he is still one of baseball’s better bullpen arms and will be welcomed back with open arms. His left-handed arm and diving sinker will complement Betances and Chapman beautifully in the back end of the pen.

 

The other marquee free agent that decided to come to the Bronx is Adam Ottavino, a name that many Yankee fans may be somewhat unfamiliar with. Ottavino and his filthy slider burst onto the scene in his age 32 season in Colorado. In 77 ⅔ innings pitched, Ottavino held opponents to a .158 batting average. In addition to an extremely impressive 0.99 WHIP and 2.43 ERA, Ottavino recorded 112 strikeouts. This is largely a result of his aforementioned slider, which experts consider to be one of the single best pitches in the game. There is one slight concern with Ottavino however. The Northeastern University graduate did struggle in 2017 (5.06 ERA); however, this may have been a side-effect of his Tommy John recovery. If Gary Sanchez can keep the slider in front of him, Ottavino should have an all-star caliber season for the Yankees in 2019 while wearing number 0.

 

Overall, the bullpen appears to be the only unit for the Yankees that is completely set in stone. It is possible that one last pen spot could be up for grabs. Who could take that spot? Maybe a Joe Harvey, Stephen Tarpley, Danny Farquhar, Ben Heller (if healthy) or a free agent signing. There are four closer caliber arms on the roster, a statement that has never been made by any ballclub before. The Yankees have far and away the most talented bullpen in all of baseball. In the very back end, there is a potent mix of righties and lefties that strike people out with ease. Bullpen X-factor Chad Green will provide strong middle relief, and hopefully, Jonathan Holder can do the same. If Tommy Kahnle can shake off his brutal 2018 season, this bullpen only becomes that much scarier. If the Yankees enter the 5th or 6th innings with a lead, they are going to be incredibly difficult to take down, which takes some pressure off the rotation.

 

Projected Opening Day Bullpen

 

Closer: Aroldis Chapman

Set Up Man: Dellin Betances

Set Up Man: Zach Britton

Set Up Man: Adam Ottavino

Middle Reliever: Chad Green

Middle Reliever: Jonathan Holder

Middle Reliever: Tommy Kahnle

 

Names to Watch

 

Danny Farquhar

Stephen Tarpley

Joe Harvey

Young Starting Pitcher Prospects: Albert Abreu, Michael King, Domingo Acevedo, Jonathan Loaisiga

 

Wrap Up

 

With an abundance of free agents still unsigned, it is possible that the Yankees do make another move. Cashman will continue to remain engaged, but the Yankees seem comfortable with their current team. Adding rotation depth seems like a smart thing to do, even if it is someone of similar caliber to a Lance Lynn type. Maybe this moves comes now, or perhaps Cashman waits until the trade deadline to do this. Adam Warren is still a free agent, so maybe a third stint in the Bronx could be in order. Who could forget Machado and Harper? Maybe the stars align and one of the stars finds their way to New York… Regardless, the Yankees are in an outstanding position to win a title in 2019. The pieces are there, so even if no one else is added, there is no excuse not to win a ring this season. Despite splashy moves not being made, Cashman did a very good job addressing positions of need without spending boatloads of money, even if that is not what many fans wanted.

 

Top Photo Credit: AP

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