Yankees fans have suffered a pretty uninspiring offseason. First, we were told that upgrading the team’s starting rotation was the organization’s number-one priority, only to learn that the top starter of this year’s free agent class didn’t even receive an offer from the Yankees. Next, we learned that a certain coveted free agent target had received an offer from at least one suitor, but not the Yankees. Then a fan-favorite bullpen arm departed for Philadelphia after failing to receive an offer from the Yankees. How do you expect players to sign with you if there is no offer on the table?
After spending October watching the rival Red Sox march inexorably to another World Series title, fans are frustrated that the front office hasn’t done more to improve the Yankees roster – and with it, the prospects of unseating Boston in 2019. But there are three free agents whose signing could put the Yankees over the top. At the very least, adding Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, and Adam Ottavino would improve the club’s chances considerably.
Here are the top 10 reasons the Yankees can make this an offseason to remember by signing all three:
1. Harper and Machado will shore up the Yankees’ biggest weakness
The Yankees hit .253 with runners in scoring position in 2018, the 15th-worst production in franchise history (since 1920). Yankee teams that fared worse include seven from the dark CBS ownership days of the late 1960s and early 70s, the 95-loss 1990 squad, and a couple from the end of World War II when top players were away serving the country. None of the Yankees’ championship teams hit worse than last year’s group with runners in scoring position.
Unsurprisingly, the World Series champion Boston Red Sox led MLB by hitting .289 with RISP. They also led the majors with an .872 OPS with runners in scoring position, while the Yankees were barely above league average at .784 – nearly 100 points behind Boston.
This problem persisted all year long, and was one of the main reasons the Yankees lost both the AL East and the Division Series to Boston. If the Yankees want to prevent the Red Sox from winning their fourth straight division title and repeating as world champs, then they must improve in this critical area where they displayed historical ineptitude last season.
Harper and Machado can shore up this Empire State Building-sized weakness. Since the two entered the league in 2012, only eight players have produced a higher OPS with runners in scoring position (minimum 3,900 plate appearances) than Machado (.903) and Harper (.899). The group includes a roster of MVP Award winners and top finishers like Mike Trout, Joey Votto, and Paul Goldschmidt – none of whom are available as free agents. But Harper and Machado sure are. Check out how the two fared in 2018 with RISP compared to Yankee players:
2018 hitting with RISP
If Harper and Machado played for the Yankees last season, they would have led the team in both OPS and on-base percentage with runners in scoring position. Machado also would have led the team in batting average and RBI in those clutch scenarios.
2. Ottavino can help ensure that the Yankees maintain their greatest strength
The Yankees pitching staff set a major-league record in 2018 by averaging 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings pitched in high-leverage situations. The improvement of one strikeout per nine from 2017 allowed the Bombers to re-take the record from Cleveland. New York held it in 2016 (9.6) and ‘15 (9.5).
Last year, Ottavino struck out 12.98 batters per nine in high-leverage situations. Only eight pitchers in baseball (minimum 60 innings overall) displayed more punch-out power in such scenarios: Josh Hader (16.54), Matt Barnes (15.49), Dellin Betances (15.16), Edwin Diaz (15.16), Craig Kimbrel (13.5), Brad Peacock (13.5), Domingo German (13.17), and David Robertson (13.16).
Since the Yankees already let Robertson leave for Philadelphia, the least they could do is replace him with a flamethrower who appears to be following in his footsteps. The front office has already stated that keeping the bullpen dominant is a priority this winter, so replacing D-Rob is a must.
3. Three home run champions in pinstripes
Despite the long roster of prolific home run hitters throughout their illustrious history, the Yankees have never boasted three former home run champions on the team at the same time. They sort of came close once, in 1925, when they had four past and future home run champs.
Babe Ruth had already led the league six times, and would go on to do so six more times before calling it a career. Incumbent first baseman Wally Pipp was a two-time home run champ (1916-17), and his young replacement Lou Gehrig would go on to lead the league three times during the 1930s. The trio were out-slugged in 1925, though, as Bob Meusel blasted 33 dingers to lead the AL.
Harper led the NL with 42 homers in 2015, and it would be really nice to see him join 2017 champs Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge in the Bronx. Machado’s got some pop, too. Maybe the Bombers could break their own single-season homer mark by belting 300 in 2019?
4. It’s time to revive the Curse of the Bambino
The Red Sox started the 20th century by winning the World Series five times through 1918 – then the Curse of the Bambino happened. It’s time to bring it back, before Beantown claims its fifth title this century. Seriously, if the Yankees don’t rise up to prevent the Red Sox from repeating, then who will? Are you reading this, Hal?
5. Maximize the championship window that’s open right now
Gregorius, Hicks, and Betances are set to become free agents after the 2019 season, and who knows whether the Yankees will be able to re-sign these key players. So it’s best to maximize the current championship window while it’s open.
6. Make Mets fans happy
Do you think Mets fans will be happy to get Harper out of the NL East? Do you think they will be ecstatic if Machado doesn’t sign with Philly? Of course, nobody wants to face those guys 18-19 times per year. Hence the term, “generational talent.”
7. Make the Players Association happy
Labor peace is predicated on the players receiving approximately 50% of MLB’s revenue. As Forbes recently reported, that has been the case in recent years, but is in danger of ending – primarily because the Yankees’ spending is not increasing with their revenue. After researching and compiling historical payroll and revenue data, I discovered that the Yankees actually spent less than 30% of their estimated revenue on payroll in 2018 – their lowest percentage ever.
The Yankees can sign Machado, Harper, and Ottavino and still fall well below the league average in percentage of revenue spent on payroll. They project to rake in around $680 million in 2019, so if they pay the three free agents a combined $70 million, it would push their payroll to around $282 million – which is only 41% of their expected revenue.
8. The Yankees should always be the team to beat
The Yankees should never be the scrappy underdogs, waiting around for the Red Sox (or anyone else) to falter. That’s not their raison d’etre. The Yankees were put on this earth to be the gold standard that all other teams strive to match. Always.
9. Yankees fans need championship #28 more than Hal needs a new yacht
Hal, you will very much enjoy the parade down the Canyon of Heroes. Trust me. The investment will be worth every penny.
10. Pinstripes are slimming
And their families will LOVE the Big Apple. Get it done, Cash.