We are in the midst of what will likely be a free agent market that moves even more slowly than two years ago, when it became an actual possibility that Bryce Harper and Manny Machado might still be without a team by the time teams left their spring training camps.
The COVID-19 outbreak has caused a number of financial ripples that may give MLB owners a reason to avoid opening their checkbooks this offseason, especially considering that some MLB owners already consider the industry to be not that profitable in the first place. With that in mind, as NBA free agents fly off the shelves within days while MLB free agency moves at the pace of a crawl at best, it wouldn’t be hard for one team to declare itself the outlier, and make big moves while other teams stay put.
The Yankees could be that team, if they so choose. After falling short of a World Series berth once again in 2020, losing to the eventual American League champs in the playoffs for the fourth straight season, this could be a time for the Evil Empire to act as such, and push their chips to the middle of the table to assert themselves as clear favorites in the American League. The core is certainly there for a bona fide contender, but that core of Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Luke Voit and Gerrit Cole need more pieces to give themselves the best chance possible to reach the Fall Classic. Why not go after those pieces now, while the market continues to stall?
The Yanks already lost a chance to upgrade their rotation with Charlie Morton signing with the Braves on a one-year, $15 million deal. That was certainly a deal the Yankees should have strongly considered, given the fact that the rotation has been the team’s most glaring deficiency in their last three postseason exits. Sure, Morton wasn’t his 2019 self when he was a Cy Young finalist, but after returning from injury early in the 2020 season, he pitched to a 3.72 ERA over his next 29 innings, and was lights out in his first three postseason starts. Considering the Yanks’ rotation is painfully thin with Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton heading to free agency, Morton would have been a big addition without a long-term commitment. The Yankees still have a chance at other impact starters like Trevor Bauer, and if his market moves slowly, they should take advantage and spend where other teams are not willing.
The bullpen also showed its lack of depth in October, especially with the loss of Tommy Kahnle and the struggles of Adam Ottavino. All-Star reliever Brad Hand recently cleared waivers, and could have been had for just $10 million had be been claimed. The Yankees, and every other team in the league, decided not to bite, but the Yankees could still grab Hand and other high-caliber bullpen arms like Liam Hendriks. The options are there, should the Yanks choose to go for it.
Players of the caliber that Bauer, Hendriks and Hand belong to could have certainly been the difference between another early playoff exit and a World Series title. While many other teams may avoid big spending this offseason due to the pandemic, the Yankees could take that opportunity to make multiple splashes and significantly upgrade the roster in the span of one offseason. All it will cost is money, which the Yankees have more of than any other team in the league. It may be time to flex that muscle.