Heading into spring training 2017, the Yankees had many, many unanswered questions. Would Gary Sanchez build on his sensational, albeit abbreviated, rookie campaign? Could two of the young pitching prospects expected to take spots in the rotation go out and give the team a chance to win every fifth day? Would either Greg Bird or Tyler Austin seize the first base job and become a worthy successor to Tex? Could Aaron Judge win the right field job and perform better than he had during his strikeout-ridden callup the previous September? Could CC continue his bounce back? Would Didi take another step forward? Could Tanaka stay healthy?
Almost every single question you could ask was answered with a resounding affirmative. The mix of talented youngsters and seasoned veterans got the team to within one win of the World Series. As a result of this success, and the undeniable realization that 2017 was but a glimpse of what was likely to come, the club has far fewer questions as this year's hot stove heats up.
1. Starting rotation
The biggest roster question was already answered. On Friday, Masahiro Tanaka announced that he would not exercise the opt-out clause in his contract, and would remain a member of the New York Yankees. The team now has only one rotation spot to fill before Opening Day.
The organization has many options. The most obvious would be to re-sign CC Sabathia.
CC enjoyed his best production since 2012. He went 14-5, with a 3.69 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. Most importantly, he emerged as the team's stopper. Including the postseason, Sabathia went 10-1 in starts following a New York loss. The lone defeat came in Game Seven of the American League Championship Series.
Despite taking the loss in that game, the veteran lefty was critical to the club's postseason run. He gave the team a chance to win each of his four postseason starts. This includes the two against Houston in the LCS, where he posted a 0.96 ERA.
Re-signing Sabathia means that the Yankees would return with the same rotation that they ended the last campaign with. That group, which includes Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery, Luis Severino, Tanaka, and Sabathia, paced the team to a 20-9 record in the final month of the regular season, and a 7-6 mark in the playoffs.
Other starting pitching options include the one that has been talked about the most. That being two-way Japanese star Shohei Otani.
Otani is not treated as a free agent under MLB rules in the same way that Tanaka was. Meaning Otani cannot simply be posted by his Nippon Professional Baseball league team and negotiate a high-value MLB contract. Instead, Otani is subject to the new international free agent signing bonus pool guidelines. This may or may not affect his decision to move to MLB now, or wait a few years until he is able to negotiate the same type of deal that Tanaka did. Also, a new agreement between MLB, MLBPA, and NPB governing the transfer of players from Japan and has not yet been completed. Talks have reportedly stalled. So Otani’s future is up in the air until that is resolved.
The Yankees could pursue another marquee free agent, such as Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish. They could also pursue a bottom-of-the-rotation guy, like Jaime Garcia, Alex Cobb, or Lance Lynn. The latter two received qualifying offers today, as did Arrieta.
The club also has internal options. The braintrust may or may not feel that Chance Adams is ready for an audition. They might decide to give Caleb Smith or Brian Mitchell another opportunity. Or they could tell Chad Green to prepare as a starter, like they did with Severino, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle again.
2. Third base
Todd Frazier's love affair with New York was definitely mutual. Doesn't it seem like he was born to play in the Bronx? I just don't know if his brief, but incredibly exciting career here, is going to be extended.
Chase Headley is under contract for one more year. If Frazier wants a three or four year deal, like some pundits are speculating, I just don't see the Yankees going there. If it is possible to get him on a one or two year deal, I think the Yankees might see the benefit in doing that.
Headley could be a really solid backup corner infielder, providing a legitimate insurance policy for the injury-prone Bird at first base. That's something that has been sorely lacking, as we all learned from last season. Headley could also DH.
The organization's top third base prospect is currently Miguel Andujar. He hit up a storm in the minors and in his lone game in the majors. But word is that his defense at third is not yet major league caliber.
In the end, Brian Cashman could just decide to stick with Headley at third. Perhaps Andujar will be given an opportunity to work his way into the picture there at some point.
3. Designated hitter
The Yankees signed Matt Holliday to a one-year deal last offseason. He brought solid veteran leadership to a club that had just recently parted ways with Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran. He also hit, until he was stricken with mono on that fateful West Coast trip last June. Holliday was never the same again.
One big bat that's available is J.D. Martinez. He projects to get at least four or five years and over $100 million. Do the Yankees want to make that kind of commitment?
New York may just use the DH spot to give regulars a half-day off. Or it could provide Andujar a chance to crack the lineup and get regular playing time. He's already on the 40-man roster.
Ownership has been talking about getting the club under the Competitive Balance Tax threshold since its inception. It's never happened. But they're still talking about it.
For 2018, the CBT threshold is $197 million. After counting the salaries of the players already under contract, estimating the awards to the nine arbitration-eligible players and raises for second and third year players, adding in the $5.5 million paid to the Astros towards McCann’s salary, and estimating the 1/30 of the player benefits the team will have to contribute to MLB, the Yankees projected payroll for 2018 currently stands at approximately $170,000,000.
That leaves them with only $27 million left to spend. Remember, though, they can't commit all of it before Opening Day. The CBT isn't calculated until after the season has been completed, so they have to leave room for roster changes during the year.
I would say if they are serious about "Plan 197," then they can't realistically commit more than $20 million to free agent signings during this winter's hot stove. For what that's worth.
I honestly don't think there is really a need to spend more. They are going to be returning essentially the same team. And they still have a deep farm system.
My feeling is that they could very well stay away from high-priced free agents seeking multi-year deals. Re-signing Sabathia to a team-friendly one-year contract, while also pursuing Otani, seems like a more logical course of action given the circumstances.
This could prove to be the least eventful Yankees’ winter re-tooling in recent memory. Then again, we already have a lot to look forward to.
What is your plan for the Yankees this offseason? Let us know in the comments section below.