The 2018 Yankees wouldn’t be the successful team they are today if not for the contributions of their young players. Rookies Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar have become instant contributors, while Luis Severino and Aaron Judge have been superb. Most of the overall team core is under 26 years old!
The team, however, also owes a debt of gratitude to the support of some key veterans. Reliable foot soldiers like CC Sabathia, Brett Gardner, and David Robertson, plus new pickups J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn, have played a large role in the Yankees’ success. They provide experience and savvy, and are among the team’s leaders.
The Yankees have nine pending unrestricted free agents, and they are all veterans who have played a large role for the Bombers this year. When the season ends, the team will see the contracts of 60 percent of their starting rotation, two of their top four relievers, two award-winning outfielders and two utility infielders expire. Who will the Yankees choose to keep around, and who should be left to walk?
This one is an easy call. Sabathia has continued his late-career revival and has remained one of the Yankees’ best pitchers at age 38. Sabathia has been on the disabled list every year since 2012, but the Yankees know this and have begun to manage his workload better. The team needs starting pitching and vocal leaders, and CC fits the bill on both.
Sabathia is making $10 million this year on a one-year deal, and he has earned the Andy Pettitte treatment of receiving single-season pacts until he wishes to retire. A one-year deal for $10-$12 million is an easy win-win for the Yankees and Sabathia, who could boost his Hall of Fame case with another ring.
What a revelation Happ has been for the Yankees! He began his Yankees career by going 5-0 with four quality starts in six tries, and has kept up his career-best strikeout and walk rates. He is confident on the mound, and another lefty in a rotation desperately needing one. He even has some playoff experience, to boot. Simply put, Happ has been everything the Yankees have needed.
Happ is also 35 and will not be cheap this offseason. His last contract was a reasonable three-year, $36 million pact, but he’s improved since then and player salaries have risen. Happ will be among the best free agent pitchers available, but he could very well decline by the time a multi-year deal is expiring. Still, the Yankees and Happ are a perfect fit. A three-year deal worth $48-$52 million wouldn’t be too unreasonable.
When the Yankees acquired Lynn, he got off to a fast start. He’s cooled off since then though, and hasn’t put up a quality start August 11. He’s currently on a one-year, $12 million deal. He would be a nice depth piece if he’s willing to come back on a similar deal, but some other team will likely overpay Lynn for a couple of good starts and give him a multi-year deal.
D-Rob is an interesting case. On one hand, he’s generally been a pretty good reliever this year. On the other, he’s run into home run trouble and will be 34 next year. If he’s going to return, it’ll have to be for less than the $13 million he’s making now. The Yankees and Robertson like each other, so I’m sure a cheaper one-year deal can be worked out.
Britton was brought to the Yankees with the expectation of being a shutdown late-innings reliever. Instead, he’s struggled with his control, and he’s shown some signs of decline for a couple of years now. He’s still among the top relief options available this offseason, and a team will definitely pay him to be their closer. Britton was always a pure rental move by the Yankees, anyway.
This is the toughest one to figure out. Gardner has really looked worn down during the stretch run, and he’s been demoted from the leadoff spot. Yet, there are still several positives that Gardner provides. He remains the club’s best defensive and baserunning player, and he’s actually been the seventh-most productive Yankee by WAR this year.
Gardner’s contract includes a team option for $12.5 million. That would represent a raise over his current salary, which he probably hasn’t earned. The idea of bringing Gardner back on a one-year deal, however, is ideal given his reputation as the unofficial team captain and the Yankees’ lack of outfield depth. This could get messy, but maybe the Yankees can convince Gardner to come back for one year at a slightly reduced cost. If he pushes for multiple years though, the Yankees may not be able to make it work.
McCutchen was a perfect waiver trade pickup by Brian Cashman, but that’s all he’ll ever be as a Yankee. McCutchen deserves to be a full-time starter somewhere next year, and he will earn an expensive contract that the Bombers would be better off spending elsewhere.
While Walker has had his ups and downs, he’s probably been worth the $4 million that the Yankees paid for him. He can play three infield positions and fake it in the outfield, and a switch-hitter always has value. Walker plays best as an everyday player, though, and he wouldn’t be that on the 2019 Yankees. Another team can probably nab the trusty veteran for two years and $12-$18 million.
Acquired in another waiver deal by Brian Cashman, Hechavarria is an elite defender at shortstop and has been a big league starter for six years. Shortstops are always in demand, and Hechavarria will catch on somewhere as a stopgap fill-in.