Offseason urgency is always high for Yankees fans. When you’re the Yankees, you have a chance at every free agent in existence. It’s perfectly reasonable to maintain a more or less perpetual expectation that some of the better ones will find their way to the Bronx every year.
Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. When they hold their checkbooks for a year or two to facilitate giving massive contracts to the likes of Gerrit Cole and Aaron Judge, you can live with it. This year, though, the urgency is real, and the consequences for refusing to shoot for the stars might be more dire than ever. I’m not usually one to gravitate towards the hyperbole of “yeah, they really need Soto and Ohtani and Yamamoto or they’re totally effed.” This is the year, though, where it just might be true.
Why? Take a look at the rest of the AL East. The Rays are, well, the Rays. They’re going to trade Tyler Glasnow, not sign any major free agents, and not miss a beat when Junior Caminero and Taj Bradley are getting Rookie of the Year votes. We don’t need to talk about them.
But think about the Orioles, and what their needs are going into the heart of the offseason. Their offensive holes are located in the infield, so their eyes will likely turn in a different direction than Brian Cashman’s when it comes to free agent bats, but their early exit from the playoffs can be mostly attributed to having nobody better than Dean Kremer to turn to in a win-or-go-home situation. They need pitching, and lots of it.
The Orioles won’t spend enough to put themselves in the Yamamoto sweepstakes, but if the Yankees were to whiff on him, the Orioles will be some of their stiffest competition for the tier of pitchers below him that both teams need to bolster their rotations. Baltimore is going to be tough enough to beat as it is, and seeing them steal, say, the Yankees seemingly desired reunion with Jordan Montgomery out from under them would be a double-whammy that a team with as many holes as the Yanks really can’t afford to take.
Now let’s look at Toronto. They’ll have George Springer and Daulton Varsho penciled into the outfield for the next few years, but as of right now, Roster Resource has Nathan Lukes slotted at left field, and no noteworthy prospects waiting in the wings. They desperately need an outfielder — especially with Matt Chapman leaving a hole in the middle of their lineup — and while the Yankees can still outspend most of the league, the Blue Jays are run by a corporate behemoth with $55 billion in total assets. They’re one of the few teams that could probably go toe-in-toe with Steinbrenner money, and if they decide to swing for the fences on a new outfielder, it’ll probably come at the direct expense of the Yankees and their own outfield hole.
The Jays’ need for pitching isn’t as dire as Baltimore’s, but the uncertainty surrounding Alek Manoah and volatility of Yusei Kikuchi (who’s also a free agent after next season) could make them a candidate to jump into that same Montgomery-Eduardo Rodriguez-Shōta Imanaga tier of starters that the Yankees and Orioles will also be interested in.
Finally, and perhaps most frighteningly, there’s the Red Sox, who have more holes to fill than anybody in the AL East, reset their luxury tax clock in 2023, and have virtually no money committed after 2024 beyond Rafael Devers, Masataka Yoshida, and Trevor Story. John Henry has mysteriously tightened his pocketbooks in recent years, running middle-of-the-pack payrolls after spending most of the 2010s somewhere in the top five, so it’s not a guarantee that he’ll sudden let it pour forth now. If he does decide to spend, though, he’ll be able to play at the top of the market at multiple positions. They certainly have room for more than one of Ohtani, Yamamoto, Bellinger, Lee Jung-hoo, and all of the second-tier pitchers mentioned above, if they so desire. Losing out on Ohtani is one thing. Losing out on him and having to play against him 13 times a year for a decade? That’s a wound.
Similarly, it would seem that neither the Red Sox nor the Blue Jays have the prospect depth to compete with the Yankees on a Juan Soto package, but you never know how a front office evaluates another team’s prospects, and both Marcelo Mayer and Ricky Tiedemann are big enough names that they could still conceivably headline an acceptable package of lesser-known prospects. Again, perhaps not super likely, but the point remains that for every big name the Yankees might attach themselves too, their rivals can hang right there with them.
None of this is to say that the Yankees are automatically screwed if they miss out on a few of the available stars. If, for some reason, the top dogs all decide that the West Coast is the way to go, nobody will be any better or worse off. That being said, the odds this offseason are higher than ever that a division rival prevents the Yankees from getting better while also getting considerably better themselves. There’s already a seven-game gap in the standings to make up between the Yankees and the East’s three playoff teams. Overcoming that will be hard enough as it is, and unless the Yankees land some big fish in the coming months, well, it’s going to become even more Sisyphean. The Yankees have passed up on acting like the Yankees more than once in recent offseasons, and this is where it’s gotten them. If Hal continues to diverge from his old man’s spending habits, the consequences will be more dire than ever.