After a third straight season in the so-called “championship window” without a World Series appearance, there could be significant changes facing the Yankees’ roster this winter. The first order of business? Determining which Yankees are worth bringing back, and which ones aren’t.
First, two asterisks. Aroldis Chapman will not be considered for this list, as we do not know yet if he will exercise his opt-out or not. Should he become a free agent, he would take the top spot on this list for me.
We will also not be considering Edwin Encarnacion, as the Yankees will likely pay him a $5 million buyout rather than retain him for one year at $20 million. The club has other internal options at first base, and Encarnacion’s poor playoff was not the best last impression.
That leaves five key internal free agents left: Brett Gardner, Didi Gregorius, Dellin Betances, Cameron Maybin and Austin Romine. How should the Yankees prioritizing re-signing these players?
1. Dellin Betances
It may seem odd after a season that ended after just one appearance and was dogged by injury concerns, but bringing back Betances should be the Yankees’ top internal priority this offseason.
For one, the team’s super-bullpen is its greatest pitching asset. If the unit disassembles, the Yankees’ bullpen will be mortal, which only makes the team’s deficiencies in the rotation even more costly.
Secondly, if Chapman was to opt out and ultimately leave, the Yankees’ bullpen could be in disarray to close out games. Either in the eighth or the ninth inning, Betances’ presence would be crucial in a Chapman-less ‘pen.
Even if Chapman stays, Betances’ role will be huge. He is an elite strikeout artist and a four-time All-Star, and although his lost 2019 season is a mild red flag, all reports say he should be good to go by spring training.
Although the Yankees made it through the 2019 season without Betances, they wouldn’t be wise to let him go chase further opportunities.
2. Didi Gregorius
Although Gregorius admitted he had a bad 2019 season, the Yankees should not take that as a sign that Gregorius is cooked. They should make every effort to ensure that a fan-favorite borderline All-Star shortstop doesn’t walk out the door.
First off, his hitting struggles may have stemmed from recovery from Tommy John Surgery, which also dogged Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager during his first few months. I don’t remember seeing too many people saying that Seager was toast after a few poor months following surgery, but for some reason, we hear that about Didi.
If anything, I’m going to trust the previous three years of Gregorius’s performance rather than one injury-shortened half-season. From 2016-2018, Gregorius slashed .277/.319/.472 while averaging 24 home runs per season with solid defense. He’s entering his age-30 season, but I’d bet on Gregorius’s numbers bouncing back toward those totals next season.
Although the Yankees could get by without Gregorius by giving larger roles to Gleyber Torres, DJ LeMahieu and Gio Urshela, injuries obviously can happen. You can never have enough depth, and chasing a valuable player and candid leader off the team would not behoove the Yankees in the long run, even if they saved a few bucks in the process.
3. Brett Gardner
Gardner has found a way to defy time and continue to produce at a high level for the Yankees into his age-36 season, and that shouldn’t change. With Aaron Hicks out until the All-Star break with Tommy John Surgery, bringing Gardner would certainly make the Yankees’ outfield picture clearer at the outset of the season.
Adjustments in his swing (and the presence of juiced baseballs) allowed Gardner to tap into more power this season, as he posted career highs in home runs, slugging and OPS. Factor in his strong defense and clubhouse leadership, and you’ve got a keeper.
4. Austin Romine
Romine is in an interesting spot this winter. For the first time in his MLB career, he’ll be a free agent, and with the state of catching leaguewide at a low point, he could probably start somewhere else. However, he is well-liked by his teammates and coaching staff in New York, and is a perfect backup catcher for Gary Sanchez.
If I was in charge, I’d try to offer Romine a two-year deal with a pay raise, but if another team swoops in and offers him more, the Yankees may not match it. Romine has been a quality backup catcher for the past couple seasons, but the dropoff from him to, say, Kyle Higashioka, might not be worth breaking the bank over.
5. Cameron Maybin
I loved watching Maybin play for the Yankees this year, but he’s in a similar spot as Romine. The Yankees could use him back as a reserve outfielder, but he’s probably earned more money and a bigger role somewhere else. The Yankees also have Mike Tauchman and Clint Frazier around, who are younger and have higher ceilings, but I’d still make Maybin an offer as a courtesy for all he meant to the team this year.
If another team offers Maybin more, he’d be foolish not to take it.
Who is the most important free agent to re-sign?
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