LADY AT THE BAT: Yankees Find Balance Between Roster Upgrades & Cost Containment

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Yankees Find Balance Between Roster Upgrades & Cost Containment

Last week's acquisition of two minor leaguers from the Dodgers (one of which has already been released and replaced), has filled the Yankees 40 man roster, which might indicate the Yankees off season moves are nearly finished. Open roster spots have always suggested additions may still be on the way. But now that the 40 man roster is full, the only additions might well be for minor league depth or upgrades of players such as the two acquired from the Dodgers. 

Winter moves may otherwise be finished, though we should remind ourselves it is a long way to the trade deadline of  July 31 (August 31 with clearing waivers). So deals can happen well into the season.  But this is a clear indication the Yankees have sworn off signing any of the remaining Major League free agents. The have signed a ton of minor league free agents, but none of the remaining Major League free agents appear to be in play. Not unless a worthwhile player can be had on the cheap and on a one year deal. Not likely, indeed. 

Including the recent trade with the Dodgers, which involved only minor leaguers, the Yankees have completed seven trades this off season. Highlights of these deals include shunning the idea of Rob Refsnyder and Dustin Ackley sharing second base in favor of the Cubs Starlin Castro, and jumping into the  Aroldis Chapman controversy once the Dodgers backed out of their trade with Cincinnati, when stories of domestic abuse involving Chapman surfaced. The question is did the Yankees improve overall?

The best way to answer this question is to break down the roster by position.

Starting Pitching
Off season moves did not address the call by many commentators/bloggers to add a starter. As Brian Cashman recently noted, the Yankees rotation is full, There are six starters for five spots (assuming you don't count the idea of a six man rotation). The names are Tanaka, Severino, Eovaldi, Pineda, Sabathia and Nova, Add Brian Mitchell to the depth chart as number seven, someone who may start at AAA Scranton or serve a role as a long reliever. All but Severino spent time on the DL last season, so concerns are real. But to add a starter would require Cashman to get creative and move a starter or two to open a spot for any newcomer.

The Yankees did add more upper level pitching depth when they dealt reliever Justin Wilson to Detroit for starting prospects Luis Cessa and Chad Green. But did the rotation improve? Not really, unless everyone stays healthy. Also, a full season of Severino may be considered an improvement, So any improvement will occur from within. That measure of improvement may very well be someone actually reaching 200 innings in 2016. Otherwise, did I mention that the trade deadline is still July 31?

The Wilson deal seemed odd at the time because it broke up the late inning trio of Wilson, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. Enter Aroldis Chapman. The Chapman deal became an opportunity for Cashman because the Reds' earlier deal with the Dodgers fell apart amid the domestic abuse allegations against Chapman. It is a disturbing story, and Chapman is subject to possible discipline by Major League Baseball. The Yankees entered into the deal fully aware of the possible repercussions from Major League Baseball and the firestorm that has been created by the allegations. The reality is the Yankees added a closer without sacrificing any of their top five prospects, making the Miller-Betances-Chapman bullpen perhaps the best bullpen in all of baseball. A number of good young arms will compete for the final spots in the pen, also an indicator of an improved pen.

Last winter Cashman found a promising young shortstop to replace Derek Jeter, Didi Gregorius started slowly in all aspects of his game, but finished strongly, securing the position for the foreseeable future, This winter Cashman traded pitcher Adam Warren and the "player to be named sooner," Brendan Ryan, for Cubs infielder Starlin Castro. Castro had recently moved from shortstop to second base, and gives the Yankees at long last a suitable replacement for the departed Robinson Cano. Castro has also been touted as a reasonable backup for shortstop and third base, Mark Teixeira enters the final year of his contract at first base with Greg Bird waiting in the wings, Chase Headley returns, hoping to put a rough 2015 campaign behind him. The second base nightmare may well be over, so on that count the infield, indeed, is improved.

Brett Gardner seemed destined to be traded this winter. Better to trade a player a year too early than a year too late and all that. Gardner remains a Yankee despite the addition of Aaron Hicks from Minnesota, who will likely serve as a fourth outfielder. While Gardner was likely shopped, it was never a given that he would be dealt, It is reasonable to assume Cashman was never offered a package he liked in exchange for Gardner. Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury each turn 33 in 2016. Carlos Beltran turns 39 in April, which means there will likely be lots of opportunity for the switch hitting Hicks, who is strongest from the right side. Keeping the injury prone Ellsbury healthy may mean more frequent  days off . Expect Hicks to spell all three and also serve as a late inning replacement for Beltran in right field. Time will tell if there is improvement in the outfield.

Brian McCann remains the incumbent, but with the trade of John Ryan Murphy for Hicks the Yankees backup will be either Austin Romine (who is out of options) or the vastly improved Gary Sanchez. The decision might come down to the desire to give Sanchez regular playing time at AAA while maintaining depth at the position. On the other hand, Sanchez might force the issue much like Jorge Posada once did in gradually earning playing time against the  incumbent catcher of his early career, Joe Girardi.

Designated Hitter
No surprise that Alex Rodriguez will be the full time DH with little chance of playing third base, or perhaps first base, The 2016 season could be an exciting one for A-Rod, who needs 27 home runs to match Babe Ruth at 714. It should be mentioned here that the four biggest contracts will be gone within two years, Teixeira and Beltran after 2016 and A-Rod and Sabathia after 2017. The Yankees will soon enter an area of more roster flexibility as multiple players might share the DH spot. The four contracts, once gone will free up well over 80 million from the payroll, which offers another type of flexibility,

So, when Hal Steinbrenner says the Yankees need to lower payroll, as evidenced by other teams winning championships with much lower payrolls, believe him. The transactions so far this off season have placed the Yankees in a position to more than reach their payroll goals within two years, once the four large contracts come off the books, all while adding younger players with promise. In that respect, though it remains a work in progress, the Yankees off season, so far,  has been a success.

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