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Yankees offseason preview: Impending free agents

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Let’s set the scene for the Yankees’ offseason by going over who they stand to lose in the coming months.

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The MLB season isn’t quite over yet, but the offseason is rapidly approaching. We even saw a substantial trade consummated last week, with the Marlins adhering to their brand and sending effective relief pitcher Kyle Barraclough to the Nationals. With winter approaching, the Yankees will obviously be faced with a host of challenging decisions.

To continue setting the scene for the Yankees’ offseason, let’s take a quick look at who the Yankees stand to lose. They have a chunk of free agents coming off the roster, including several who made major impacts in 2018.

In the starting rotation, trade rentals J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn will become free agents. They will join CC Sabathia, meaning that 60 percent of the Yankees’ rotation down the stretch is free to leave if they so choose.

The Yankees also have notable free agents in the bullpen. David Robertson is finishing up his second tour of duty in New York, and he will have to decide if he’s up for a third. Zach Britton, who turned in three months of work with the Yankees after coming over from the Orioles, will hit free agency as well.

Here’s a summary of the pitching the Yankees could see leave this winter:

Yankees Free Agent Pitchers

Player IP ERA FIP WAR
Player IP ERA FIP WAR
CC Sabathia 153 3.65 4.16 2.5
Lance Lynn 54.1 4.14 2.17 2.1
David Robertson 69.2 3.23 2.97 1.5
J.A. Happ 63.2 2.69 4.21 1.1
Zach Britton 25 2.88 4.08 0.1

That’s a pretty substantial bit of production that is on its way out. Despite some of these pitchers only having joined the Yankees in July, they contributed over seven WAR in total per FanGraphs’ calculations. That’s over 400 innings the Yankees will be looking to fill during the winter.

Free agency is looking less daunting on the hitting side. Andrew McCutchen is the best position player the Yankees could lose, though he was only in pinstripes for a matter of weeks. Neil Walker’s one-year contract with the team is up, though his tenure in the Bronx has been uninspiring, and his potential departure isn’t likely to keep fans up at night.

Brett Gardner, one of the team’s primary elder statesmen, may also have seen his final days as a Yankee. The Yankees have a team option on Gardner worth $12.5 million, while it would cost $2 million to buy him out. So, Brian Cashman and the front office must decide if Gardner’s contributions next year will be worth $10 milllion, in essence. If they deem Gardner’s play and veteran leadership to be worth less than eight figures, Gardner will become a free agent.

That’s a fine trio of players, but their overall production in 2018 wasn’t on the same level as the Yankees’ impending free agent pitchers:

Yankees Free Agent Hitters

Player AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR playerid
Player AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR playerid
Brett Gardner 0.236 0.322 0.368 90 2.5 9927
Andrew McCutchen 0.253 0.421 0.471 149 0.8 9847
Neil Walker 0.219 0.309 0.354 81 0.1 7539

In total, the Yankees could lose up to almost 11 WAR in the form of free agents. That’s enough to shift the team’s projection going forward from something like a 100-win team to a team that could be expected to win around 90 games.

Of course, the Yankees will sign players to replace their free agents, or they will just re-sign them outright. They will have plenty of payroll to play around with, and an enticing lot of free agents to choose from. Just based on how much talent they have on the way out, the Yankees should not be contorting themselves in the slightest to stay under the luxury tax. They have plenty of good players whose contracts are expiring, and they must pony up to either bring them back or find adequate replacements.