Not so long ago, looking ahead to the Yankees' future was nearly impossible. The franchise's reliance on veteran free agents and their inability to develop young talent meant that the only thing there was to look forward to was the disappointment of late 30-somethings as they cashed their eight figure paychecks. Over the past year, however, there has been a distinct change in philosophy when it comes to filling out the roster. The goal has been clear: get younger, spend wisely, and think about the future. It started last winter when the Yankees acquired two cost-controlled players in their primes–Nathan Eovaldi and Didi Gregorius–for only a modest price.
Those sensible ways continued this offseason as Brian Cashman closed out the winter meetings with two shrewd moves. One netted two prospects that may one day find themselves in the Yankees' starting rotation for a solid but replaceable reliever in Justin Wilson. The other swapped swingman Adam Warren and backup infielder Brendan Ryan for Starlin Castro, a former All-Star who will be plugged into the lineup as their everyday second baseman. More importantly, Castro is just 26 and locked into a contract that projects to be below market value over the next four years. With these deals, and a minor league system stocked with the most talent it's seen in a long time, the Yankees appear to have a solid foundation on which to build a sustained contender. In fact, if one were to pay a visit to Doc Brown, fill up Mr. Fusion, and take a stroll to the year 2019, it already appears that thy Yankees have a core that will make noise in the American League.
Four years from now, the Yankees will still be feeling the effects of their old free-spending ways as Jacoby Ellsbury will have two years and about $43 million left on his contract. Given his injury history and poor showing when he did play last year, it would be unwise to expect any kind of quality out of Ellsbury in 2019. Luckily, reinforcements from the farm should be primed and ready to contribute. Former top prospects Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams both debuted on the major league roster last year and impressed in their very limited opportunities. By 2019, these guys will be 27 and 26 years old, respectively, and could be playing larger roles if they're still with the team. Recent trade acquisition Aaron Hicks could provide veteran depth in his last year before free agency. What Yankee fans are most looking forward to, however, is the thought of Aaron Judge occupying the middle of the lineup and gunning down runners from right field. The man who many consider to be the Yankees' top prospect could be the key catalyst on this potential squad.
When it comes to the infield, the aforementioned Castro and Gregorius could be the Yankees' elder statesmen and team leaders four years down the road, even though they won't yet be 30 years old. The middle infield spots that so many teams struggle with should be a strength in the Bronx. At the hot corner, Chase Headley would be a free agent by now and, if his glove proves to be satisfactory, Eric Jagielo could already be the full-time third baseman. By 2019, Greg Bird should be manning first base everyday and serving as the home run threat that every good lineup needs. Behind the plate Brian McCann will be a 35-year-old catcher, and depending on whether or not his option vests, he could be gone or he could be the regular designated hitter for a year. Either way, Gary Sanchez will likely be the starting catcher by then.
The 2019 starting rotation is a mystery. Depending on how his opt out deal in 2017 goes, it could be anchored by a 30-year-old Masahiro Tanaka, or he might be gone. In four years, Luis Severino will only be 25 and we'll see by then whether he can make it as a starter or not. By this point, James Kaprielian and Ian Clarkin will be in the rotation and will hopefully be contributing lots of innings for the Yankees. Several other pitchers among their recent college-heavy draft classes should be ready to contribute by then.
Despite team struggles in recent years, the Yankees have always had a solid bullpen under Joe Girardi. That will be no different looking ahead to 2019 with Girardi still in the saddle. The seemingly imminent departure of Andrew Miller likely means that Dellin Betances will be the closer of the future for the Yankees. In four years, the big righty will be entering his final year of arbitration eligibility, meaning that he'll still be one of the best bargains in baseball. Lefty Chasen Shreve will also still be under team control and will hopefully have put last year's second-half struggles far behind him. The bridge between the starters and the backend of the bullpen is sure to be built by a plethora of young arms that the Yankees always seem to have at their disposal. A number of these arms were effective in their Yankee debut last year, including Nick Rumbelow, Branden Pinder, Jacob Lindgren, James Pazos, and Nick Goody. Some or all of those names could be mainstays in the Yankee bullpen come 2019.
A foundation for future success is certainly in place for the Yankees, but any championships in the Yankees future will require more than this core alone. Injuries will happen and some prospects inevitably will bust and that's why it will be important for Brain Cashman to supplement this core with free agents that can pick up the slack when needed. He just doesn't have to break the bank to inject star power into the team in order to make them a contender. For the first time in a long time, the Yankees are not in win-now mode and there may be more World Series trophies in their future because of it. Biff Tannen is probably placing his bets already.