The off season has arrived for the New York Yankees. We recently heard from both GM Brian Cashman and Manager Joe Girardi. While neither gave us a comprehensive outline of what's in store for the coming months, we can at least try to sort fact from fiction as the potentially busy off season commences. Here are a few of the off season goals, some of which have been discussed while some have just been the subject of speculation.
1. Rebuild the rotation after Masahiro Tanaka
Both CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda are expected to return to the rotation according to Cashman. That leaves two spots open at minimum. One option is to go big and trade for an ace. Chris Sale rumors have been constant since Sale's destruction of the White Sox throw back uniform. As a Yankee, Sale would have no problem, since the Yankees wear pinstripes and road grays, period. The Among all teams, White Sox have the worst uniforms (think 1970s) in baseball history, so in some ways I really don't blame Sale for his tantrum. However, the reality is, any talk of Sale to the Bronx would start with Gary Sanchez and involve two or three other prospects.
A second option would be to go "under the radar" for a starter, much like they did for Nathan Eovaldi. Or look at almost ready prospects like Luis Cessa and Chad Green, again.
A final option is to settle on an in house option from a mix of Cessa, Green, Luis Severino, and Bryan Mitchell, maybe Adam Warren with thoughts toward mid season promotions of the likes of Dietrich Enns, Chance Adams or Jordon Montgomery.
Likely outcome: Add one starter from outside the organization, not on the ace level of Chris Sale, but someone at least serviceable. The final rotation spot would go to someone within the organization, with the others assigned to a bullpen role or AAA. All this depends on health issues. of course, which seem to change rapidly.
2. Finish the sell off of veterans
They are Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Chase Headley and Brett Gardner. But how likely are any of these to occur?
Rumors were such that McCann was headed back to Atlanta mid season. So why not this off season? McCann will be relegated to a backup role, but could also fill the bill as designated hitter to get most of his at bats. He also could play first base, at least in part of a platoon, should Greg Bird not be ready. McCann gives the Yankees some left handed power. The big issue is that McCann has a full no trade clause and is signed through 2018. Unless McCann prefers to be a number one catcher, he wants to remain in the Bronx, which he has already stated at the end of the season.
Not only does Ellsbury have a full no trade clause, he is signed through 2020. with another option year. This is probably the most difficult of the four to trade, but stranger things have happened in baseball.
Headley was asked to take a seat on the bench more frequently down the stretch. Are the Yankees are trying to tell Headley something about future playing time? There isn't a no trade clause, but are there any takers if Headley is shopped? Headley seemed to flourish a bit following his horrid start to the season, but his final numbers, .253 Avg 14 HR 51 RBI, are less than stellar. Yangervis Solarte, traded to San Diego for Headley hit .286 /15/ 71 for the Padres this season,
If ever there was a player that fit the old adage, "better to trade a player a year too early than a year too late" it's Gardner. Seems to be a year or two years too late to deal Gardner for a solid return. Gardner, never much of a power hitter coming up, found his stroke for awhile, but has suffered diminishing power numbers. His hitting has been mired in the .250's (actually .261 in 2016) in recent times and his speed, while good, no longer translates into a ton of stolen bases.
Likely outcome: I really believe Cashman will deal any or all of the four should the opportunity present itself. I'm guessing all four will remain, but as young players make their cases to be brought to the majors, Cashman could get really creative. Consider the likes of Clint Frazier, Mason Williams. Miguel Andujar and Dustin Fowler as others being in that group.
3. Become buyers again
Cashman has already mentioned pitching as a priority, so a trade/free agent signing for a position player probably won't happen. Cashman more or less stated if the Yankees are just one player away from the top tier of teams, a blockbuster trade would be possible, perhaps likely. Unfortunately, Cashman has stated the Yankees at present are not close to being that team, at least not yet.
Likely outcome: The Yankees eventually will be buyers. The trades for a slew of prospects this year added much needed depth to the farm, but it also can eventually create a logjam when several prospects reach the day they have to be added to the 40 man roster. Rather than lose any to the Rule 5 draft, the Yankees will have to prepare roster management plans which includes trades. Expect the Yankees to start buying gradually, including as early as this winter.
4. Contingency plans of Greg Bird and Aaron Judge aren't ready
Neither Bird nor Judge will be handed first base and right field, respectively. Judge's debut in the Bronx was hampered by striking out in exactly one half of his 84 at bats. Bird missed an entire season and had to heal and rehab following a major surgery.
Likely outcome: It's all open to competition. Right field includes the likes of Judge, Tyler Austin, Aaron Hicks, Rob Refsnyser and Mason Williams. First base might include Austin, McCann, Austin Romine and Bird. If Judge and/or Bird need more seasoning at AAA. Aaron Hicks, with a solid spring performance may be the opening day right fielder and Austin and McCann could form a first base platoon.
5. Fix the Bullpen
Do the Yankees sign a free agent? More to the point do they sign Aroldis Chapman? What is the role of Dellin Betences? Who wins the likely spring free for all for the remaining bullpen spots? Consider all those pitchers who do not win a spot in the rotation, plus holdovers like veteran Tyler Clippard and the slew of young relievers named Heller, Holder, Pazos. Goody and others.
Likely outcome: Cashman might convince ownership to bring back Chapman, who will not cost the Yankees a draft pick. Otherwise it's looking like a free for all with Betances remaining at closer.
6. Non Tenders
Seems as if Nathan Eovaldi is gone and that will in time become official. Relievers recovering from injuries might also go, including Nick Rumbelow, Branden Pinder, plus utility player Dustin Ackley. The list of Rule Five eligible players this winter include Andujar, Tyler Wade. Jorge Mateo, Dietrich Enns and Rashad Crawford. Catcher Kyle Higashioka will be added to the 40 man according to Cashman.
Consider that the Yankees could non tender Michael Pineda, though they recently stated they expect the ever struggling righty to be part of their 2017 rotation.
Likely outcome: Expect Pineda to stay as he will be pitching for a big contract at the end of next season. The Yankees can only hope Pineda finally puts it together. Pineda could also follow the path of former Yankee Ivan Nova in a deadline deal out of town next July.
The off season is going to be busy and Brian Cashman has just about admitted the Yankees are not quite to the point of seriously contending in 2017. But that could change. A free agent signing or a surprise trade could happen. Some player, not ready for prime time right now could emerge in the spring or mid season. This is all about the Yankees roster being a work in progress which will carry over well into the next season.
Brian Cashman, do your magic.