It’s Christmas Eve. The tree shines brightly, the smell of cookies baking fills the air, and all the presents have been wrapped. At long last, it’s time to sit back, grab some eggnog, turn on your favorite 60-year old holiday special, and settle in for a long winter’s nap while you wait for guests to arrive.
Then, suddenly, your heart skips a beat, and you remember that you never actually ordered a gift for your cousin who didn’t RSVP until yesterday. And so you drag yourself to the door, put on your coat, and brave the elements for a last-minute trip to Target, Wal-Mart, or whichever nearest big store is open and still has something that can pass for a Christmas present.
Preparing a Major League roster in the offseason is very much like Christmas shopping. You get as much as you can done early, but ultimately, it’s a very long process filled with twists and turns all the way until the Opening Day roster is set. In recent years, Brian Cashman has been active on the free agent and trade markets all the way up until the day itself to fine-tune the roster.
2012: Andy Pettitte
Perhaps the most unique situation on this list, Andy Pettitte was not exactly an outside acquisition. After retiring following the 2010 season, the left-hander was brought to spring training as a guest instructor. Being around the team again gave him “the itch” to return, and on March 16th — just three weeks before Opening Day — he and the Yankees agreed to a one-year, $2.5 million contract. He would only make 12 starts that year, as he had to spend the first six weeks of the season getting stretched out in the minors and then missed almost three months with a fractured fibula after getting hit with a line drive. Nonetheless, he was an important arm for the team in the postseason and was a crucial member of the 2013 rotation, after which season he retired for good.
2013: Brennan Boesch, Vernon Wells, and Lyle Overbay
Speaking of the 2013 season — that was a dark, dark time. The injury bug hit the team early and often: Alex Rodriguez underwent surgery in January and would be out until the summer, Derek Jeter re-injured the ankle he broke during the previous ALCS in spring training, Mark Teixeira injured his wrist in the World Baseball Classic, and Curtis Granderson suffered a pair of damaging hit-by-pitches that severely limited his final season in the Bronx. The Yankees had already frequented the hill of over-the-hill players to fill out the roster that winter, re-signing Ichiro Suzuki and adding Travis Hafner and Kevin Youkilis.
Lacking any semblance of talent in the minors, Cashman turned to the scrap heap to plug holes, signing Brennan Boesch (a career 96 OPS+ hitter) on March 16th after the Tigers released him, trading for Vernon Wells from the Angels on March 26th, and convincing Lyle Overbay not to retire after the Red Sox released him that same day. Somehow, these moves worked out at least for a time, powering the Yankees to a hot start (they ended April leading the division with a 16–10 record). In the end, though, they represented what was very wrong with the 2013 squad — a deep, deep rot up and down the organization.
2015: Gregorio Petit
Not every last-minute addition turns out to be a crucial member of the squad. Gregorio Petit certainly falls under that category. Acquired from the Houston Astros in exchange for cash considerations on April 1st, Petit served as the backup shortstop/utility infielder after Brendan Ryan began the season on the injured list. He played 20 games for the Bombers that year, bouncing between Triple-A Scranton and the Bronx to fill in for injuries. Not surprisingly, the Yankees let him walk in the offseason, as he slashed a measly .167/.217/.238, good for a 25 OPS+.
2018: Neil Walker
The Yankees entered the 2018 season with an eye towards top prospect Gleyber Torres taking over the second base job sooner rather than later. Rather than handing him the job, they had him battle it out with Tyler Wade and Ronald Torreyes from the start of camp, then brought in veteran Neil Walker on a one-year, $5 million contract on March 12th.
Although he started off as the Opening Day second baseman, Walker struggled in April and ultimately lost the job to Torres before the month was out. From that point on, he became the team’s utility infielder, splitting time at first base, second base, and third base — a proto-DJ LeMahieu, if you will. And when Aaron Judge went down in August and Shane Robinson proved that he did not belong on a MLB roster, Walker picked up an outfielder’s glove for the first time in his career and...well, he wasn’t good at it, but he was better than the alternatives.
2022: Jose Trevino and Miguel Castro
With the lockout-shortened winter, every team did major last-minute shopping last March. Fortunately for the Yankees, theirs turned out much better than anyone could have possibly expected. While Miguel Castro, acquired from the Mets on April 3rd for Joely Rodríguez, was nothing special — a serviceable middle reliever who you didn’t want to use in high-leverage situations and who missed half the season with an injury — the trade acquisition from the day before, Jose Trevino, would be the coup of the campaign.
The Yankees brought Trevino in because Ben Rortvedt was on track to begin the season on the injured list and the former Ranger represented an upgrade over Rob Brantly. By the end of April, he majorly ate into Kyle Higashioka’s playing time. By July, he had seized the starting job for himself, was named to the All-Star team, and had become a fan favorite. Although he gathered attention early and often for his clutch hits, Trevino’s major calling card is that he is best pitch framer in the business. Because of his work behind the plate, he become not only the first Yankee catcher in decades to win a Gold Glove, but also the first Yankee ever to win the Platinum Glove.
Not bad for a last-minute gift.