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The Yankees need to avoid half measures with roster construction

Going “all in” would be great, and staying the course could be justified, but the Yankees can’t proceed with stopgaps and half-measures.

Oakland Athletics v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Given the current state of CBA negotiations between MLB owners and the MLBPA, much is up in the air about what most teams’ lineups will look like come Opening Day. In the Yankees’ case, there’s even more uncertainty, as their relative inaction thus far this offseason has offered little insight on their specific 2022 plans. That said, of the varying ways in which Brian Cashman and his bosses can approach roster construction, there is one direction that the team should absolutely avoid.

It would make most fans happy to see the Yankees go “all in” and use the team’s considerable resources to acquire elite talent, making them an instant World Series contender. On the other hand, spinning 180 degrees and making no major changes while simply going with the current roster would undoubtedly anger a good chunk of the fan base, but at least a decent portion would understand the logic. What the team can absolutely not do is play it halfway. Implementing half measures by acquiring Options B, C, or D (or worse) to fill roster holes would simply cement the team in the 12-year cycle they’ve been in — which is to say, they’ll be “good”, but once again not “good enough” in 2022.

The best course of action is obviously to go all-in and make a legitimate run at the 2022 World Series. Despite the number of very good-to-great players snatched off the market already, there are still numerous names available to the Yankees who can not only fill needed holes, but who can push them close to the top, if not over. Carlos Correa and Trevor Story are two top shortstops and capable of filling the Yankees’ most glaring hole. It’s no secret that Matt Olson and possibly Freddie Freeman are possibilities for first base.

The trade market might cost premium talent, but it’s quite enticing as well. Cedric Mullins and Bryan Reynolds were the best center fielders in MLB last season according to bWAR, and both played for two of the worst teams (which means at the very least, the phone will be picked up when Cashman calls those teams). Luis Castillo and German Marquez would certainly slip nicely into the No. 2 spot in the starting rotation. Castillo plays for a team with no realistic chance of winning next season and Marquez plays for one with no realistic expectation of finishing within 30 games of first place — or second place for that matter.

Before we move on, allow me to address what you may be thinking: Some of the players named above may not truly be available via trade, as their teams may be reticent to part ways with them. To that, I say this: If our favorite team’s GM calls another GM with a potential trade, gets turned down, and then hangs up only to say “Well I made them an offer and they turned it down” with a shrug, then we have bigger problems than the ones under discussion today. A good GM can sell his counterpart on a trade and will offer the prospects necessary to do it if they feel a player can put his team over the top. Given the teams mentioned above, “selling” them on the fact they’re not winning next season and that they should be thinking two years down the road shouldn’t be hard, and the Yankees arguably have the farm depth to pull any deal off. As for potential free agents, the Yankees are worth $1.68 billion more than the second most valuable team according to Forbes, so there’s no need to entertain a discussion about not signing a desired free agent.

If the organization is unwilling to go the “all in” route, the second option is to simply go with their current players they currently have, see how things play out over the season’s first half, and reevaluate matters in July. This would be very unpopular with the fan base, but at least the logic could be understood. This would give the team flexibility to make a blockbuster deal at the trade deadline if necessary, would offer three more months to evaluate their own prospects before making long-term decisions, and would make it easier to work out a contract extension with Aaron Judge. Additionally, the roster “as is” is still an above-average roster, so it would be far from throwing in the towel on 2022.

Obviously, that plan includes significant rolls of the dice. The combinations of Luke Voit and DJ LeMahieu as first basemen, and Aaron Hicks and Estevan Florial as center fielders certainly come with risk, in a few different ways. Shortstop is an even bigger gamble with natural third baseman Gio Urshela, highly regarded prospect Oswald Peraza, who’s only had 31 plate appearances beyond Double A, and recently signed Jose Peraza, who hasn’t played shortstop regularly in three years, as the only current options.

Although risky, the above strategy does come with upside, and as we saw with the starting rotation last season, the organization is not afraid of high-risk roster planning. LeMahieu, Voit, and Hicks have all have pretty good upsides, and perhaps giving the younger Peraza and Florial six weeks with the big club in spring training may show us something we weren’t expecting. (Many of us are old enough to remember when the Yankees held off on trading for Felix Fermin and went with a mostly untested 21-year-old shortstop in spring training of 1996, and that worked out OK.) If during spring training, we learn that Peraza, Florial, or anyone else above isn’t ready, then there’s no stopping Cashman from scouring the waiver wire and remaining free agents, or making a low-level trade for a stopgap solution at that point. It’s unlikely that the middling-at-best options will be substantially worse than they are right now.

What the team can absolutely not do, is apply the stopgap modus operandi across the board. Filling the shortstop, center field, starting pitcher and first base needs with less than the top-level options — think Freddy Galvis, Brett Gardner, Brett Anderson, and Anthony Rizzo* — creates two problems. First, it’ll likely cost over $20 million, which under Hal Steinbrenner’s budget would unfortunately make it difficult to add a significant player at the trade deadline if necessary, and would also likely take extending Aaron Judge’s contract off the table.

*To be clear, I’m picking Galvis, Gardner, Anderson, and Rizzo randomly – you can pick any four not top tier free agents at those positions and the numbers will be more or less the same.

More importantly, those players wouldn’t collectively impact the team’s win total much more than going with the current roster. For example, Steamer projects those four players to combine for about five fWAR in 2022 – that’s just short of three by the trade deadline. Matters would need to go sideways in an ugly way for the current Yankees to not produce a combined three fWAR at those positions by the end of July.

There are many variables with the current CBA negotiations and a few more going on behind the scenes in the Yankees’ front offices, so there is a wide range of possibilities of what the Yankees’ starting lineup will look like on Opening Day 2022. Using the team’s considerable resources to add top-tier players to go with Cole, Judge, and Stanton to make a championship run in 2022 would of course be the best decision. Staying the course with the current roster would be frustrating as heck from a fan’s standpoint, but at least the logic could be understood.

What needs to be avoided at all costs is the half-measure route with underwhelming stopgap roster additions. That would only ensure the Yankees will be good, but not good enough, yet again in 2022.