We’re nearing the New Year, and that means we’re also getting closer to a final decision on where Manny Machado will be playing in 2019. While the Yankees would love to add Machado to their already star-studded lineup, it pays to prepare for the moves that will be made whether he comes to New York or not. So, let’s attempt to plot out what the priorities will be for both versions of the Yankees that we could see next year.
Timeline A: Machado signs with the Yankees
Assuming the Yankees land Machado, the first order of business is completing the bullpen. With Machado’s contract likely pushing the team close to the luxury tax threshold, the Yankees would have to make the decision to go all-in on paying the tax to maximize their roster’s competitiveness if they wanted to sign one of the top flight relievers. Because of this, signing only one pitcher and going over seems redundant, so the smart money would be on the team signing a pair of pitchers to complete the super bullpen. On the plus side, that would remove options for the competition to sign.
Bringing back one of the two relievers the Yankees have on the market currently in David Robertson or Zach Britton would be highly likely, with the team pursuing Adam Ottavino as the big upgrade to match. Robertson and Britton have both been connected to the Red Sox in their markets, so the possibility of one signing there can’t be ignored, but in the end it seems likely that one of them will end up walking. The Sox have their own hole with Craig Kimbrel possibly leaving, so it’ll still be a net positive if the Yankees land two of the bunch.
Next, the team has to decide on whether they will go into the season with Miguel Andujar on the roster. Trading Andujar would open up a hole on the infield, but that hole could be closed once Didi Gregorius returns midseason and Machado gets moved to third base. Didi’s injury timeline isn’t a set in stone return however, and there are variables in how well he could return from Tommy John to consider.
Ultimately, there is only one scenario where it would be viable to move Andjuar. If the Yankees and Indians can come to an agreement on a deal for Corey Kluber, whether it involves a third team like the Padres or not, then they should go for it. Unfortunately for them, the Indians are reportedly seeking an outfielder as the primary piece for the ace pitcher, and the Dodgers have the best piece for them in Alex Verdugo. Considering the difficulty in negotiating a three-team trade and the desire of the Dodgers to land Kluber, I think it is more likely than not that Andujar is on the roster for Opening Day.
From there the Yankees only have bench pieces to consider, but with no need to sign a backup shortstop with Machado aboard the Yankees can handle this in-house. Hansen Alberto, who the Yankees picked up months ago in a waiver move from Texas, could serve as the backup infielder. Austin Romine reprieves his role as the backup catcher, and Clint Frazier can make his return to the big leagues as the backup outfielder if he can win the job over Jacoby Ellsbury and his encyclopedia of injuries.
Timeline B: Machado signs elsewhere
If Machado chooses to go somewhere else and spur the Yankees, then the game changes. The bullpen is still the first priority, but it becomes less likely that the Yankees go for two when they can stay under the luxury tax for a second straight season. Tax dollars may not matter to the fanbase that wants to compete with a fellow juggernaut within the division, but they do matter to the man writing the checks. Hal Steinbrenner made it clear that he does believe the Yankees can compete without spending $200 million, and after chasing but failing to sign Machado and Corbin, it’s entirely plausible that he pulls the pursestrings on 2019 until at least the trade deadline.
In that case, the choice comes down to going with the reliever you know in Robertson or Britton, or the one you don’t in Ottavino. The Yankees let Robertson walk once, and they might let him go again to sign someone they perceive to be better in the short run, which means Ottavino becomes target number one.
No Machado also quickly concludes the Andujar dilemma as well. Without an elite player to replace his production, there’s no way the Yankees move Miggy before the deadline, and likely not at all for 2019. It does leave the question of who covers shortstop in the meantime, and there the Yankees would have to find an option on the market again. A cheap defense-first fielder would be the likely move, like Adeiny Hechavarria whom the Yankees got to try out in the second half of last year. The backup outfield can still be decided in-house, and that wraps up an offseason of near-misses for New York.
Either way, we shouldn’t have to wait long once we have a decision. Machado has been a divisive figure for many this offseason, but signing him not only improves the team but the options they have going forward. We’ll finally know which way they’re heading soon enough.