The Hot Stove League Begins Play…
There is always a quietness about the days that follow the World Series unless of course you’re a fan of the World Series champion. Teams have five days following the conclusion of the World Series to exclusively negotiate with their own free agents. It’s rare to see much activity and unlike the NFL and other sports, there is not a flurry of immediate activity when the free agents become free to talk to other teams. So, I guess that puts us in the calm before the storm…the days and weeks leading up to the Baseball Winter Meetings next month in Orlando, Florida. The meetings will be held from Sunday, December 10th through Wednesday, December 13th. The annual Rule 5 Draft will be held on Thursday, December 14th.
The two biggest opt-out clauses this off-season belonged to Justin Upton of the Los Angeles Angels and Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees. This week, the Angels announced they had signed Upton to a new 5-year deal, apparently worth $106 million. Then on Friday night, Masahiro Tanaka announced that he would not opt out of his contract and will remain with the Yankees. His current contract has three more years, through the 2020 season, at $67 million.
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As a Yankees fan, the latter situation is more relevant to me. I am very glad that Tanaka decided to remain in New York. There had been strong speculation that if Tanaka opted out, the Yankees would not aggressively pursue him. Three more years at $22 million plus per year is not chump change and it would have been hard for Tanaka to capture more dollars. Maybe more years but the partial tear of his UCL and the associated risk of eventual Tommy John surgery would have most assuredly scared teams away. Regardless of the risks, the starting rotation for the Yankees is stronger with Tanaka in it than not. He did have an inconsistent 2017 regular season and there was a brief stretch that he looked absolutely awful but he rebounded with a strong finish. He was dominant in the post-season.
So, the front of the Yankees rotation in 2018 will feature Luis Severino, Tanaka, Sonny Gray and Jordan Montgomery. There’s a chance the Yankees bring back CC Sabathia on a one-year deal if the two sides can come together on a mutually beneficial contract. But regardless of what happens with Sabathia, the Yankees have Chance Adams and Justus Sheffield, among others, gnawing at the door for opportunities. There had been a fear at one time that the 2018 would be a total rotation rebuild situation but now it appears to be a strength before the off-season strategy even begins.
With the Yankees trying to make a very strong effort to get under the salary cap this year and reset the luxury tax penalties, it is unlikely the Yankees will pursue any high-priced free agent talent. It’s unfortunate that third baseman Todd Frazier will most likely not return, but with another year remaining on Chase Headley’s contract and the near-readiness of prospects Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, there simply is no room for the Toddfather. Bummer. He was a great fit for the Yankees.
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There seems to be stronger speculation this off-season that the Yankees could actually move Jacoby Ellsbury. They’ll have to eat a good portion of what’s left on his contract but regardless of the cost, this is a move that has to happen. I do not see the Yankees parting with Brett Gardner, and of course Aaron Judge owns right field after his spectacular season. So the Yankees have to make room in the outfield for Aaron Hicks and Clint Frazier without even considering promising young talent like Billy McKinney or Jake Cave. The most likely team with interest (assuming the reports are true) are the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners would allow Ellsbury to return to his native Northwest (he’s from Oregon). The primary problem for the Mariners would be the heavy financial commitments they have invested in other players, most notably Robinson Cano. Therefore, the Yankees would probably have to pay a very significant portion of Ellsbury’s contract to move him to Safeco Field. Hopefully, GM Brian Cashman can figure this one out so that Ellsbury doesn’t become baseball’s highest paid pinch-runner again next year.
Other guys that are vulnerable to potential trades appear to be Chase Headley, Starlin Castro, Austin Romine, and Dellin Betances. With the disappointing end to his 2017 season, the value for Betances is down which probably enhances the potential for him to stay with the team (why try to sell the four-time All-Star while his value is low) but I don’t think the Yankees would hesitate to include him in a deal if it makes sense for the team. The Yankees also seem to be at the crossroads for making a decision about who backs up first baseman Greg Bird. With 40-man roster spots at a premium, it would seem that a choice needs to be made between Tyler Austin and Garrett Cooper. My preference probably leans toward Austin due to his versatility to play the outfield.
The Yankees lost a valuable prospect last year in the Rule 5 Draft when the San Diego Padres kept catcher Luis Torrens on the MLB roster all season. I expect this year’s Rule 5 Draft to be equally painful if not more so. It’s certainly a testament to the strength of the farm system but it is still difficult to see talented young prospects depart.
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Now that Tanaka has made his decision to stay in the Bronx, the biggest immediate problem facing the Yankees is finding a new manager to replace the dismissed Joe Girardi. I am surprised the Yankees have not announced a new deal for GM Brian Cashman since his current deal expired at the end of October, but it doesn’t seem like Cash is going anywhere. Neither the team nor Cashman have tipped their hand to show potential managerial candidates but it does seem like the team is looking at outside alternatives. The question is how much they’ll prioritize actual managerial experience. If they want experience, then former Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus seems to be the best possible option. He was drafted by the Yankees in the 48th Round of the 1987 draft, although he never played for the Major League team. I can still remember the sense of loss when he was taken by the Colorado Rockies in the November 1992 Expansion Draft. Nevertheless, he is a Connecticut guy who grew up in close proximity to New York (even if his childhood team was the Boston Red Sox). He was criticized for being out-managed in the 2014 ALDS when the Detroit Tigers lost to the Baltimore Orioles and like Girardi, has a tendency to lean heavily on his veterans. But by all accounts, he is a player-friendly manager (good communicator) and would interact well with the media. For guys who lack managerial (or coaching) experience, Jerry Hairston, Jr seems to stand out. I also like Mark DeRosa of the MLB Network. I have no idea who the Yankees will ultimately choose but you have to believe that Cashman had someone in mind when the decision was made to part ways with long-time manager Girardi.
|Credit: Corey Sipkin, NY Daily News|
I am ready for the craziness that will ensue over the next six weeks before we settle into the Winter hibernation that precedes the opening of Spring Training camps next February. The Yankees are a team on the rise and the moves made this off-season will contribute toward the team’s success (or lack thereof) as we move forward. No pressure, Brian Cashman. The goal is simple…bring the Yankees’ 28th World Series Championship to New York City now. Teams like the Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox and the Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim are not going to sit idly by. The job is to do it better so that we can celebrate on the streets of New York this time next year.