While the Yankees have only consummated one major move in recent weeks, the trade for James Paxton, rumors have been increasingly swirling. Sonny Gray rumblings are commonplace now. There are the consistent mentions of Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado. Justus Sheffield was reportedly offered for Paul Goldschmidt, and Jacoby Ellsbury for Robinson Cano apparently has been discussed.
We can link a few of these rumors in an interesting way. The offer for Goldschmidt, the Ellsbury/Cano swap, and the discussions of Harper at first base, when viewed as a group, force one to consider: are the Yankees looking for an upgrade at first base?
Reports regarding Harper playing first base have been cropping up over the past month. The Yankees appear to have discussed the possibility. Harper didn’t play the position this past season, but he did prepare to at one point in order to ease a potential logjam in the Nationals’ outfield. If the Yankees did sign the 26-year-old superstar, first base would be a plausible landing spot, with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, and Brett Gardner already in the fold.
The Yankees offered Sheffield to the Diamondbacks for Goldschmidt at some point over the past few weeks, before ultimately sending him to the Mariners for Paxton. Goldschmidt is 31 and one year from free agency, and perhaps doesn’t fit the Yankees’ timeline as well as the more youthful Harper and Machado do. He’s also fifth in overall park and league adjusted offense according to FanGraphs over the past five years, and would help wrench the Yankees title window wide open this year.
The Ellsbury for Cano talk was reported by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (subscription required) just days ago. Cano could fill in at second base with Gleyber Torres shifting to shortstop while Didi Gregorius recovers from elbow surgery, then shift to first base, which could be in the offing regardless given Cano’s age (he turned 36 in October).
Each rumor, on its own, proves nothing about the Yankees’ strategy this winter. Even together, they don’t prove anything definitively. Taken in concert, though, the fact that the Yankees have clearly been open about upgrading at first base suggests that they do view the position as a potential area of need.
In truth, first base is a very tricky position for the Yankees. Greg Bird was seen as the first baseman of the future as recently as six months ago, but after running a .199/.286/.386 slash line 2018, he’s coming off essentially three straight lost seasons. Luke Voit was a genuine revelation last year, and his play, a .333/.405/.689 line with the Yankees, was great enough to warrant second look. Yet Voit’s lack of track record appears to leave the Yankees uneasy about writing his name in pen as the 2019 first baseman.
Teams discuss all kinds of different moves and permutations, so it’s not crazy that we’ve heard a bunch about their first base situation. Even so, it’s hard to ignore the idea that the Yankees are uncertain about what they want to do going forward with the position. Adding an established, high-end bat at the cold corner seems to be on the list of possibilities for the winter.
It should be noted that even if the Yankees made offers for Goldschmidt, it doesn’t seem like they are currently actively pursuing him. The latest from Rosenthal indicates the Yankees aren’t going after Goldschmidt right now, and that first base isn’t a priority at the moment.
If that’s to be believed, then the Yankees’ focus has shifted away from first base, and with reason, as they still have a hole in their rotation that requires filling. Still, the Yankees have apparently discussed Harper, Goldschmidt, and Cano as potential first basemen. This suggests that the likes of Patrick Corbin and Machado are not the only high-profile players on their radar. First base is fair game, and while it doesn’t appear likely that the Yankees will make a move there, it is clearly something that has been and will be considered. Maybe some will take this as a vote of no-confidence for Bird and Voit, but it might be better seen as the Yankees being open to any creative way to improve the team in 2019.