The New York Yankees have a crucial offseason ahead of them. With players potentially opting out of their contracts, others becoming free agents, and positions needing upgrades in general, there’s going to be a lot of work done by Hal Steinbrenner, general manager Brian Cashman (not yet under contract but likely to stay), his staff, and current manager Aaron Boone.
Some of the needs are more obvious than others, but if the Yankees want to continue fighting for an appearance in the World Series, or at least bid for another shot at the Astros, they can’t remain stagnant or make many mistakes. They need to get tangibly better.
The elephant in the room is Aaron Judge. The Yankees need to re-sign him, and there’s no two ways about it. He is arguably the best hitter in the game today, and after crushing 62 home runs with a wRC+ of over 200, his presence in right field is the biggest key to the Yankees' success. He does everything well at the plate and has one of the best arms in the entirety of Major League Baseball. There isn’t a player — or indeed, a New York media darling — like him, and if they were to lose out on the future captain of the team after getting swept in the American League Championship Series, there would be a huge revolt.
Everyone knows that they are going to need to pay a hefty price for this once-in-a-generation player. Whether or not they’re willing to do that after Judge bet on himself over the offseason and passed on his extension offer has yet to be seen.
According to reports, it’s looking increasingly likely that first baseman Anthony Rizzo is going to decline his player option for next season and re-test free agency, which spells trouble for this position as well. I wrote about this in a previous article, which you can read here, but the stuff he brings to the lineup in the batter's box (left-handed top-of-the-order power hitter that can also get on base) and in the field aren’t things that can be replicated by many players, especially those at the position heading to the free agent market. He had one of the best seasons of his career in pinstripes last season, and even though it’s going to take some more money out of the budget, the Yankees need to bring him back.
Unfortunately, this is a position that Yankees fans and media talked about all season long. There needs to be changes, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa can’t be trotted out there on Opening Day if the team expects to win. Fortunately, the Yankees don’t have to spend boatloads of money here if they don’t want to go after someone like new free agent Trea Turner, or the returning Carlos Correa, who opted to be a free agent after one season with the Minnesota Twins.
The Yankees have several internal possibilities to consider here. Oswald Peraza has perhaps the highest immediate ceiling of potential cost-effective options. In 57 plate appearances over 18 games, he accumulated 0.4 fWAR and 146 wRC+. The sample is small, but considering that Cashman refused to move him at the most recent deadline, it would be worth it to have him in the six-hole on opening day. Oswaldo Cabrera is also an option there if the Yankees don’t feel ready to start Peraza. However, the Astros proved that giving mature young players a chance can benefit the team, so maybe after a strong Triple-A stint towards the end of 2022, Anthony Volpe could be the best option.
Again though, there needs to be an answer beyond IKF. So whether it’s a new signing, an up-and-coming prospect, or a surprise trade, something has to give.
Let it be known that I, like many others, have no problem with Josh Donaldson in the field. He was one of the best third basemen when it came to preventing runs. But scoring runs was a whole different story. He was abysmal, especially in the postseason. He couldn’t get anything done and kept staring at fat pitches for strikes while whiffing on balls.
Donaldson didn't play up to the price tag on his contract, and moving him — even if they have to eat some of the cost — may not be the worst decision considering the amount of money the Yankees have to commit elsewhere. They have utility Gold Glove defenseman DJ LeMahieu available to take his position on the left side of the infield too, so they’re not at a total loss.
The Aaron Hicks era with the Yankees needs to be over, which leaves a spot open in left field. Andrew Benintendi filled that hole before getting injured, and with Harrison Bader coming back and crushing it, Cabrera took over. He was a net neutral in a small sample, but if there’s any consolation, that’s better than most of the options the Yankees threw out there over the regular season. I like the idea of having him in the outfield. It allows the Yankees to keep him in the lineup consistently, and use the arm that he showcased in right field early in his major league appearances.
Any offseason after being swept is an important one, but with so many positional needs and two big players to the roster becoming free agents, the front office is going to have a ton of work on their hands in the near future. We didn’t delve into pitching much here since that group largely did its job in 2022, but there are plenty of good arguments for the Yankees to take noticeable steps to improve their rotation and bullpen as well.
Gear up, Yankees fans. This winter could get interesting.