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Why the Yankees shouldn’t just focus on the pitching market

It’s clear the Yankees need to improve on the mound, but doing so without regard for the lineup would be a mistake.

MLB: General Managers Meetings Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Among Yankees fans, the mantra is the same wherever you look: the Yankees need pitching! Newspaper reporters, online bloggers, radio personalities, and Twitter all agree that Brian Cashman should prioritize top-tier starting pitching, with the pursuit of free agents Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg at the top of that list.

I’m not here to argue with that. In fact, if you were to ask me what my ideal offseason would be, landing one of those starters would be step one. What I would like to talk about, however, is the apparent obsession with it.

Starting pitchers have not been the only names that speculators have linked with the Yankees so far this November. Names like Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor, Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, and (rather surprisingly, and perhaps somewhat facetiously) Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts have been tossed around. And what has been the most common reaction by the Yankees fanbase to these rumors?

“That’s a terrible idea. They need pitching, not another bat!”

That is where the fanbase is mistaken. You see, let’s take a look for a second at what players might form the Opening Day lineup, along with their 2017, 2018, and 2019 OPS+ (injury-shortened seasons marked with *):

  • Gary Sanchez, Catcher (126, 89*, 119)
  • Luke Voit, First Base (92, 186, 124)
  • DJ LeMahieu, Second Base (93, 88, 136)
  • Gleyber Torres, Shortstop (N/A, 122, 128)
  • Gio Urshela, Third Base (44, 68, 133)
  • Giancarlo Stanton, Left Field (169, 130, 138*)
  • Mike Tauchman, Center Field (60, -16, 128)
  • Aaron Judge, Right Field (171, 150*, 143*)
  • Mike Ford, First Base/Designated Hitter (N/A, N/A, 137)
  • Clint Frazier, Outfield/Designated Hitter (84, 107*, 111)
  • Miguel Andujar, Third Base/Designated Hitter (286, 130, -26*)
  • Greg Bird, First Base/Designated Hitter (84*, 82*, 50*)

Even assuming the Yankees bring back Brett Gardner, which seems extraordinarily likely, that’s a lot of offensive potential relying on guys without long-established track records (Miguel Andujar, Gio Urshela, Clint Frazier, Mike Ford, Mike Tauchman). They’d be relying on all of them to repeat their peak performance, and that’s assuming no injuries. The offense has sky-high potential, so the Yankees do not need to prioritize bringing in a big name offensive weapon, but they definitely need to add an established veteran of some sort to help raise this group’s floor just a bit. Doing so would not hinder the Yankees from improving their starting pitching in the slightest.

But what if, say, the Indians, Cubs, or Red Sox were so desperate to cut payroll that you’d be able to acquire the previously mentioned players for pennies on the dollar in prospect value, or the Yankees were able to nab a top free agent that’s not a pitcher? History tells us that, no matter what position, acquiring as much talent as possible is the way to go. Going into spring training last season, for example, nobody would have expected the Yankees to need to look outside the organization for outfield help, nor that the acquisition of Zack Greinke at the trade deadline would be required to give Houston three starters that they were comfortable with in October.

The truth is, having as many impact players as possible, and figuring out how to employ them later, is the way to go. If the Yankees limit themselves to just pitchers, it’d put them at a distinct disadvantage.