Where Do the Yankees Go From Here?
Source: AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
Well, that sucked.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, like I wish I was over the past couple of days, you know that the Yankees were eliminated by the Boston Red Sox in four games in the ALDS, thus ending the Yankees’ 2018 season. It was an embarrassing end to what was a 100 win year, and it’s going to lead to a few big moves in the off-season.
Before I get into the thick of my to-do list for these Yankees, I want to address the elephant in the room that is Aaron Boone. When Boone was hired prior to this season, I liked the move. He was a fan favourite from his time as a Yankee, hitting arguably the biggest home run in franchise history; he was a TV broadcaster over the past few seasons, where he got to learn how the game is managed and played in this day and age; and he was a fresh face, after having the same manager for the past decade. With all that said, his rookie campaign as manager was not very good. Sure, the team managed to get 100 wins and the first Wild Card spot, but due to the talent on this team, that could’ve been done with virtually anybody as manager. Throughout the year he showed his inexperience. Whether it was leaving a starter in for far too long, even though you have a dominant bullpen at your disposal; or giving an off day to a player that is coming off of a two home run game; he just continued to make questionable decisions that led to this team failing to reach their full potential. It got to the point where Boone seemed like he had absolutely no feel for what was going on in the game and was too dependent on numbers. Sure, numbers are great and all, but nothing will ever beat the ability of a manager being able to take a starter out a bit early just because they have a gut feeling, which is something that Boone seemed to lose as the lights got brighter and the stage got bigger.
Now, the big question that everybody is asking: Do you fire Aaron Boone? My initial thought was no. He was a rookie manager. Growing pains were to be expected. But the way that he handled the last few games just leaves a sour taste in the mouth of all Yankees fans. The more I think of this question, the more that I think it all depends on what other options you have. If there aren’t many options you like, then you keep Boone and hope he can sort out his rookie mistakes in his second year. But if you have a candidate that you love, or could get a person like Alex Rodriguez, yes, that Alex Rodriguez, out of the TV booth, much like you did with Boone, then I say you pull that trigger. Hiring A-Rod seems like it would be just a repeat of the Boone hiring, but in my opinion, it would be a big improvement. In his time as a broadcaster, he has displayed that he has one of the best baseball minds in the game. He’s also currently an advisor for the Yankees, helping out their young talent throughout the season, so he already has his foot in the door. Most importantly, he played under the brightest spotlight we’ve seen in baseball over the past few decades. With all the talent, broken records and controversy, there hasn’t been a situation that A-Rod couldn’t handle. But, maybe you see this as a lesson learned and look to hire a person who has actually managed a baseball game before. Regardless of the possibilities, I don’t see them firing Boone; making his return for a second season the likeliest scenario. But, until the Yankees release a statement saying that they are retaining Boone, you can bet that there will be an incredible amount of speculation surrounding the managerial position in the Bronx.
Now, onto the main part of this piece. Here is my list of things that the Yankees should do in this off-season, in hopes of winning ring #28 next season. But before you read my list and think that some of these are out of the realm of possibility, I want to remind you that the Yankees reset their luxury tax penalties, since they managed to stay under the $197M luxury tax for the first since the luxury tax system was introduced in 2003; and they just watched their biggest rival clinch a division title and eliminate them on their home field. They are going to be determined to make large moves.
1a. Sign Manny Machado
This is priority numero uno. I don’t care what it takes. Give him 10 years/$400 million. It’s not my money. I don’t care if they regret the contract in 2027 or 2028, as long as they win a few rings between now and then. Aside from Bryce Harper, Machado is going to be the biggest name on the free agent market. He’s coming off of a career-best year, hitting 37 home runs, 107 RBI and slashing .297/.367/.538 between the Orioles and Dodgers. He also has a few big home runs this postseason and is getting ready to take on the Brewers in the NLCS to see who will represent the National League in the World Series. No matter what happens in that series though, the Yankees have to be gearing up a record-breaking contract to offer Manny. The only possible holdup I can see is if Manny isn’t willing to move back to third base. If he doesn’t want to play the hot corner again, then the Yankees have to talk to Didi Gregorius about making the move to third, just like Derek Jeter should’ve done when A-Rod became a Yankee.
1b. Move Miguel Andujar to first base
Before I get started, this move only happens if the Yankees get Machado. If they don’t sign Machado, then disregard the rest of this section.
Look, Miguel Andujar had an incredible rookie season, and should win Rookie of the Year, in my opinion, but, he’s just not that great defensively. He has a decent glove and a rocket arm, but he’s far too inaccurate to be a dependable everyday third baseman. The biggest display of this was in the decisive game four of the ALDS where the Yankees benched him in favour of Neil Walker. It’s possible that they took him out just to shake things up, but I can’t imagine them taking his bat out of the lineup if he had Gold Glove caliber defence. That decision alone makes me confident that they are getting ready for a full court press to get Machado in pinstripes. There were dozens of plays this year where I thought either ”Machado would’ve made that play” or “Machado makes that play look much easier”. On the other side of the equation is moving him to first base. This is a no-brainer if they can land Machado. Before being called up this past season, Andujar was starting to get reps at first base in the minors. He’s obviously not an MLB level first baseman right now, but if they can get him a full off-season to learn the position, he should be good enough to start there next year.
2. Decline Brett Gardner’s option ($2M buyout)
Brett Gardner is the longest tenured Yankee on the roster, but that should change this off-season. His level of play took a drastic fall off this year, couple that with the fact that he turns 36 in August, and there’s no way to justify picking up his $12.5M club option. The team currently has Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Hicks under control for next season, along with Jacoby Ellsbury (if he could somehow find a way to not need thirty-seven surgeries in a season), so they should be good in terms of outfielders. If they decide that they can’t trust Ellsbury to be on the field, then maybe they sign Gardner to a one year deal to be a bench bat, but I feel like another team will come calling with a starting job. So it’s very likely that Gardner has played his last game as a Yankee.
3a. Sign Patrick Corbin
Out of all of the things on this list, I think that this is the least likely to happen, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no chance of it. The reason why this is the least likely is that as long as Clayton Kershaw doesn’t opt out of his contract, Corbin will be the top pitching free agent. He’s also a lefty, so he will have plenty of suitors. 2018 was by far the best season of Corbin’s career; he went 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA and 246 strikeouts in 200 innings. To make things even more interesting for Corbin, he was much better on the road this season than at home. The reason I bring this up is that Arizona added a humidor to their stadium this year, which usually benefits pitchers. So, the fact that Corbin’s numbers weren’t inflated, or deflated, however, you want to look at it, by the humidor shows that his season wasn’t a fluke. To get the hopes of Yankees fans even higher, Corbin said this back in April, in an interview with Bob Nightengale of USA Today:
"It would definitely be great to play there. I grew up a Yankee fan. My whole family are Yankee fans. My mom, my dad, my grandpa, everybody. Really, every generation of my family has been Yankee fans.”
It would seem that a deal would be mutually beneficial. It might cost the Yankees a pretty penny to sign him, but it would be an upgrade at what is currently their weakest position.
3b. Re-sign J.A. Happ
I originally put this down as a backup plan if they don’t land Corbin, but the more I think about it, the more I think they can sign both Corbin and Happ. The Yankees acquired Happ from the Blue Jays at the deadline, and they gave up a couple of good, young players to do so. Due to what they gave up, and Happ’s performance post-trade, I think the Yankees will be determined to keep him in the Bronx. After being acquired, Happ went 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 regular season starts for the Yankees. He turns 36 next week, but I don’t see why the two sides can’t come to terms on a two year deal in the range of $10-14 million per year.
3c. Re-sign CC Sabathia
This one is easy. CC has said that he plans on 2019 being his final year. What better place to end his career than the place he has won a Championship and spent the past 10 seasons? Don’t get me wrong, this wouldn’t be some sort of pity signing on the Yankees part. They’re not in that business. Sabathia was actually a valuable part of the rotation this season, pitching to a 9-7 record with a 3.65 ERA. As a 5th/6th starter who can get you 130-150 innings, Sabathia will be a solid signing in what should be his final major league season.
4. Re-sign David Robertson and/or Zach Britton
I think signing both of these guys is possible, but unlikely. Zach Britton is an incredible reliever, but he struggled a bit this season. A big reason why is that he was returning from a ruptured Achilles. I don’t care who you are, if you’re a pitcher who’s a few months removed from a significant Achilles injury, whether the doctors say it’s fully healed or not, you’re not going to be the same pitcher. Even though he struggled this year, I would still love to see him back with the Yankees as another big-time lefty in the bullpen. But, due to his past success as a closer, including one of the best seasons of all-time by a reliever back in 2016, I won’t be surprised if he gets a hefty contract to be a team’s closer.
David Robertson, on the other hand, is a completely different story. Robertson had another successful season in the Bronx, as he had a 3.23 ERA in 69 2/3 innings with 91 strikeouts. He also contributed five saves, while periodically filling in for the injured Aroldis Chapman. He’s an integral part of this bullpen and has spent eight and a half of his eleven seasons with the Yankees, so there’s a familiarity between him and the team. I think the chances of Robertson being a Yankee next season are quite high.
5. Re-sign Andrew McCutchen
This would all depend on the amount of money it takes to get a deal done. McCutchen was a solid add at the waiver trade deadline and played well in his time in New York. He was solid defensively, aside from one game in Oakland, and showed great patience at the plate as a leadoff hitter, with 22 walks in 114 plate appearances and an OBP of .421. He’s obviously not as good as he was when he won the NL MVP, but he’s still a solid player who is good for around 20 home runs, and 10-15 steals. He’s on the wrong side of 30, he turned 32 yesterday, but he would make for a decent stop gap until Clint Frazier or Estevan Florial are ready to be full-time big leaguers.
6. Start Greg Bird in Triple-A
Uhhh, ya think? There is no conceivable way that Greg Bird is the starting first baseman for the New York Yankees on Opening Day in 2019. It just can’t happen. In the past two seasons, he has a total of 20 home runs in 481 plate appearances, which is very good. But he’s only hitting a putrid .196 with an OBP of .287. That’s just unacceptable. He’s also injury prone, as shown by the fact that he’s averaging ~240 plate appearances over the past two years. Even with the injury concerns, the main problem with Bird is that he’s currently not good enough to be the Yankees starting first baseman. But, he has too much potential to be on the bench as a backup who gets little to no at-bats. He needs as many plate appearances as possible; hence, him starting the year in Triple-A. Ideally, they sign Machado and move Andujar to first base, and then have Luke Voit, who is arbitration eligible and was incredible for the Yankees down the stretch, as their backup first baseman. That leaves Greg Bird as the everyday Triple-A first baseman until he gets things figured out if that ever happens.
7. Trade Sonny Gray
Sonny Gray was an absolute disaster this season. He still has an incredible amount of talent, but some players just aren’t built to play under the bright lights of Yankee Stadium. He’s young enough, with a year of control, to fetch some sort of prospect haul from a team looking for a reclamation project. The Yankees traded a number of prospects in mid-season deals, so maybe Sonny Gray can help their farm system get a little closer to where it once was.
Ideal 2019 New York Yankees lineup and rotation
C – Gary Sanchez
1B – Miguel Andujar
2B – Gleyber Torres
3B – Manny Machado
SS – Didi Gregorius
LF – Andrew McCutchen
CF – Aaron Hicks
RF- Aaron Judge
DH – Giancarlo Stanton
CC Sabathia/Justus Sheffield