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Weighing the Yankees Pursuits to Bring Back Three Critical Position Players

This article is a writing sample as part of consideration for a writing position at Pinstripe Alley.

As much as you would love to hear more about Josh Donaldson and IKF, instead I'm going to talk about three of our star players from the 2022 season who became free agents, free agency buzz that would affect them, and what the Yankees might look like with or without them.

The Rise and Fall of Matt Carpenter

Interestingly, nobody is talking about Matt Carpenter, though it's probably because Aaron Judge has been in the spotlight. The end of the season wasn't a bright moment for him, but that was an extenuating circumstance and I don't think the story is over for Mustache Matt over here.

Now let’s rewind back to happy times in July. Do you remember the feeling of excitement when Matt Carpenter was stepping into the batter's box and you knew he was going to do damage? Every time he came up, it was must-watch baseball. He was like Aaron Judge 2.0 at that point and as the rest of the club was nosediving, he was raking.

This was a guy who had not had an effective season since 2018, where he hit .257/.374/.523 with a career-high 36 homers and an .895 OPS. Then his performance sank to a new low in 2019, then worse in 2020 and even worse in 2021 with a dismal .169 average and .580 OPS with just 3 homers in 207 at bats.

Determined to get back in action, he spoke to his friend Matt Holiday, other pros, and worked with private hitting coaches to re-tool his swing so he could have another taste of success in the big leagues. Then the Yankees found him in the minors with the Rangers, and signed him in May, after liking what they saw.

In just 47 games and 154 plate appearances starting in late May, he had a slashline of .305/.412/.727 with 15 bombs, an OPS of 1.139, a whopping 217 OPS+, 217 wRC+, and a 2.3 fWAR. If that production continued for let’s say, ~450 plate appearances, then he’d have a ~6.9 fWAR and would have been second on the team for WAR only to Aaron Judge’s 11.4 fWAR. Damn pretty nice.

And this is a guy who was sitting on his couch before spring training, not wondering if he’d ever play again. Once he was signed by the Yankees, he said he’d do anything to help the team, even if that’s loading bags on/off the plane. That’s humility for ya.

Carpenter was also the last Yankee to have multiple 7+ RBI games in a season, and joined Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gherig, and Babe Ruth as the only other Yankees player to have achieved such a feat. Yet, it took him less than one third of a season to achieve. How can you not love his story? But until he signs another contract with the Yankees, then a Yankee he will be no more.

His short run was amazing -- until it wasn't. Our beloved and left-handed mustache Matt had fouled a ball off his foot, consequently broke it, and then his season ended in a split second. You gotta feel for the guy.

He did everything he possibly could to heal and get back into action, and he actually did come back in the postseason, but he'd already missed so many at bats and the pressure was at its height, which greatly limited his effectiveness. Hitting off a tee just wasn’t enough to get him game-ready and he finished the postseason with one hit (a double) in 12 at bats, for a .172 average in an albeit small sample size.

Matt Carpenter is the type of player, who, if he retains his pre-injury form, could be a very dangerous bat in the Yankees lineup regardless of whether or not AL home run king Aaron Judge comes back. But if Judge does come back, our lineup will be that much deeper. In fact, his wRC+ was actually higher than Aaron Judge’s. He was that productive.

I think we’d want that for 2023, but Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, and Steamer peg him for a major regression from those 2022 numbers in 2023, probably because of his anomalous resurgence and him approaching his age 37 season.

Baseball Reference Projections

Fangraphs and Steamer Projections

With the 2022 season now in the rear view mirror, it sure would be awesome to get him back as a Yankee, or at least in my eyes. Carpenter would be another super-utility lefty power bat who could man first base, second, third, right field, left field, and DH. Admittedly, he has diminished defensive acumen but good versatility nonetheless. Though he would take some DH reps from Stanton, too.

I would think that after a comeback season for the ages and the record books, it could cost the Yankees a pretty penny to get him back in pinstripes, as I would expect he’s going to be asked about by opposing ball clubs. But I do not see his potential asking price as prohibitively expensive for the Yankees.

If Aaron Judge doesn’t come back, I think he and his power are going to be needed even more -- and why I think the Yankees should pounce on signing him ASAP, and as insurance at the very least. One to two years of $6 to $10 million per year is my estimate.

But will the ball clubs look at his projections and write him off again, or offer less because of the projections and take a chance on him? Will the Yankees look at him as the projections do? Or will they see the player that he became in 2022 and expect the same production? It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

The Wildcards

There are a few wildcards that get thrown into the mix that could impede Carpenter’s return. Masataka Yoshida from Japan’s NPB is one of them. He’s a left-handed hitter for average, has some decent power, and is an average defensive outfielder. Yoshida hit .336 over the past two seasons, hit 22 homers on average over the past five seasons, and struck out at only 14 percent. But Japanese ball is not quite as competitive as the MLB, so we can expect those numbers to diminish. And we can expect him to cost a lot because he will be a force to be reckoned with nonetheless.

Andrew Benintendi is another wildcard, as is Everson Pereria’s emergence, but the Yankees don’t have to pay for Pereria to come back since he's a prospect (and one of the top prospects, at that). Benintendi was a gold glove left fielder who hits for average more than power. After a rough start with the Yankees, he came into his own and found his stroke again until he sustained a season-ending wrist injury.

Yoshida and Benintendi are going to create more free agent competition to bring back Carpenter. But as you know, he's not the only player that I think the Yankees need to bring back. There are two more: Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo.

To Be Stingy or Not to Be Stingy, That is the Question

It seems that the players are fighting back against the stinginess of Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman by performing quite well last year. They will force them to move past the luxury tax threshold again if they want to retain their best talent players and fan favorites -- or the stinginess of the front office will prevail and the fanbase could revolt, come to fewer games, and boo the front office more. Especially if Donaldson and IKF are still on the field by opening day.

Will Aaron Judge Come Back?

Aaron Judge’s historic and likely MVP season is forcing them to up the ante in a big way. He had the best walk season you could ever ask for, launching an AL record of 62 homers and hitting .311/.425./.686 with an OPS of 1.111 and wRC+ of 207. He was just a few points away from taking the triple crown and led in almost every single offensive category.

I can see the Giants offering him ten years and $400 million. And it’s rumored that they’re willing to meet and exceed any other offer.

Let’s hope Aaron Judge will take a less enriching offer from the Yankees, because Judge wants ten years, and he was requesting 38 million a year BEFORE the season started. The Yankees are now, reportedly, willing to meet and exceed the contract he desired before the start of the season.

The biggest problem the Yankees have with signing Judge to such a long term contract, aside from the salary, is one of my favorite players, Giancarlo Stanton. The Yankees don’t seem thrilled about ten years for someone who’s 30 and as large as him with his injury history, but maybe they will agree to bake in a lot of performance bonuses and incentives to be able to pay him less in years nine and ten if Judge won’t budge from the contract length.

Anthony Rizzo remarked to reporters that he feels Judge has earned his pay day and they should "pay the man." Judge and Rizzo know they’re worth more than what was offered and they know the Yankees have the money.

The Yankees are the richest franchise in baseball. If they want to be the most feared team in baseball and achieve #28 next year, then they better cough up the dough. They’re already coughing it up for Donaldson at $21 million/year, they publicly said he’s our 2023 third baseman, and he wasn’t even graded as an average player in 2022, so why not pay them too? It only seems fair.

Judge has already had a couple of injury-marred seasons before he reached age 30. The Yankees seem to think that a man of Judge’s stature will not age well and he’ll be a less effective fielder who they would want to DH more and more as he ages. But that will be hard if Big G needs to DH constantly or is forced by the team to solely DH in several years, and likewise with Judge. The Yankees would have two mammoth-sized outfielders/DH’s and they’ll have to do a lot of juggling with the two so they can be in the lineup daily.

There is also very little in the way of comparable players of Judge and Stanton’s size, power, and output to "judge" how he’ll hold up in the later years of his contract, both offensively and defensively. However, if #99 can keep up a modicum of his production from 2021-2022, maybe defense will matter less and they’ll continue to play him in RF for a long time?

Either way, Aaron Judge needs to come back, because he’s our leader, de facto captain, franchise cornerstone, and a one-man wrecking crew when healthy. The Yankees admit that he’s an extremely important person to the organization, team, and fans. And Hal Steinbrenner has said "we’ll do everything we can to bring him back." They’ll just have to find a way to make it work or forever disappoint the fans for as long as we’ll be able to remember.

Will Anthony Rizzo Follow Where Judge Goes?

At the time of writing, Rizzo was not slated to come back, but right before posting, he is going to be coming back as per Jeff Passan on a two to three year deal. However, my commentary and analysis will remain here if you care to read it.

We all know Aaron Judge is a top priority, but we also have to retain Anthony Rizzo or find an even better lefty power bat for first base who’d likely be without the pedigree that Rizzo has. It’s a very short list. And the Yankees would probably rather sign him again than another guy who might not perform as well under the brightest lights and biggest stage.

While Rizzo’s batting average could have been better, he was very good otherwise, despite being graded poorly for his defense by fangraphs. Despite only having .1 fWAR more than Matt Carpenter in over 3x the at bats, he’s still very much worth bringing back in 2023 and beyond. Anthony Rizzo is a leader in the clubhouse and off the field, a gold glove defender, a world series champion, and a power lefty bat for the top of the order. He hit .224/.338/.480 with a career-tying 32 HRs and .818 OPS and 132 wRC+. Very good numbers. He also raked in the postseason.

He has to be retained, even with his back spasm and back issues because we have no other real first baseman. Anthony Rizzo’s amazing year and contract opt-out of a $16 million 2023 payday is following up on the sentiment of making the Yankees pay more for them. The only problem is that there’s speculation that Rizzo will try to go where his new BFF Aaron Judge goes. So what if Judge doesn’t stay? Will Rizzo walk too?

If re-signed, it will likely be to a new multi year deal (that I'm sure he wants after his opt-out). I’m pegging him to get $18-20 million per year for no more than three years.

I don’t think he’ll get more than three because he’s aging and has had a history of back issues and he’s 33 years old already. With his back issues bad enough to keep him on the bench, but not bad enough to put him on the IL, he needs fewer reps at 1B to keep him feeling fresh. It’s also the most trafficked position aside from catcher, making for more wear and tear on his derriere.

That’s why we have our 4x gold glover and 2x batting champion, DJ LeMahieu, who can play across three positions (1B, 2B, 3B) in the diamond as our infield super utility guy who can put on a defensive clinic, and when healthy, can be a game-changer both offensively and defensively.

While he’s capable at first base, he’s also listed as the ONLY person at first base in the depth chart. In 2022, DJLM’s wRC+ was only 116, which is just a little better than average. We don’t want him to be our starting first baseman if we don’t have to, and he’s a righty, not a lefty (which is more preferred for first base). That’s why we need the lefty Rizzo back so much. Sorry DJ, but we still love you!

Carpenter, Judge, and Rizzo are 1/3rd of our lineup and a huge chunk of offense, combining for 16.1 fWAR in 2022 and 109 home runs. Will last year’s three musketeers come back or will the trio part ways with the organization?

For 2023, it seems money needs to abundantly flow from the Yankees’ coffers for these three players to come back and don the pinstripes again. But at what lengths will the management be willing to go? That remains to be seen.

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