I love baseball transactions. I really really do. I love the way rosters get assembled, the way different managers need different tools, the way certain players complement one another in a lineup. I love evaluating offense and defense, pitching and hitting, attempting to understand just how valuable versatility and depth are to a given team. And so here in the midst of the stretch run where my Rockies and Yankees are both in the midst of playoff races, the Rockies for a spot and the Yankees for home field advantage in the WC game, I find myself wanting to escape from the reality of the present and escape into the future, thinking about how one might approach an off-season that's been highly anticipated for some time now. So, here are some thoughts:
I think the Yankees should plan to have a 6-man rotation next season. It just makes sense. Injuries come from overworking. I'd rather have 160 effective innings from a starter and have him ready for the playoffs than 170 effective innings plus 30 ineffective ones and have him running on fumes when October comes around. We've seen Luis Severino's second-half break this season, a result of his having pitched nearly 200 innings last season. We know that even though CC (who I just assume the team is going to re-sign, since he wants to play another season) has somehow managed to stay effective as his age creeps up, his knee can break down at any point in time. Tanaka's elbow is never a sure thing. Jordan Montgomery is coming back from Tommy John. And the Yanks are hoping that Justus Sheffield can make the jump to the big leagues in 2019; it would be smart to keep him on an innings limit to gradually get him calibrated to the big league schedule and avoid a drop-off in the second-half after his first full season.
So you fill-in a six-man rotation:
1. Luis Severino
2. Masahiro Tanaka
3. CC Sabathia
4. Jordan Montgomery
5. Justus Sheffield
My suggestion: re-sign J.A. Happ; bring Patrick Corbin on-board.
Do we like J.A. Happ or do we like J.A. Happ? He's been a godsend since coming over from Toronto, pitching to a 3.10 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP over his first 40.2 IP in pinstripes. While his FIP with the Yanks is up at 4.77, with Toronto it was just 3.77. That's in-line with what he pitched like the last two seasons. In 2016, he had a 3.18 ERA (3.96 FIP) with a 1.17 WHIP over 195 IP. In 2017, he came through pitching to a 3.53 ERA (3.76 FIP) with a 1.31 WHIP over 145 IP. If you can get him for less than $16mm a year and a 2 or 3 year commitment, he's a smart investment. He's not going to win the Cy Young, but he can give you a lot of quality innings and keep a team with a top-notch offense and lights-out bullpen in the game every time he takes the mount.
As for Patrick Corbin, a lot has been made of the whole "his family likes the Yankees" thing, but I'm more interested in his 3.06 ERA (2.36 FIP), his 1.01 WHIP, and the 214 strikeouts he's already thrown in 173.2 IP this year. That's almost a full run better than the 4.03 ERA he clocked in 2017, and more than a run and a half better than the 4.08 FIP that came with it. But, it might really be a fundamental change in his pitching because the kid had a 4.71 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP in the first half of 2017 before turning in a 3.26 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP over his last 15 games (14 starts). He's less than 3 years older than me, making him 29, which means he's likely still got a few good years ahead of him. Especially with the Yankees roster being full of young cost-controlled talent for the next few seasons, I'd be open to a 5 or 6 year deal at a rate of $18mm or $20mm a season. Yu Darvish, at 31, signed a 6 year, $126mm deal last winter. Corbin has not had the type of dominant career to date that Darvish had had when his deal was signed. He is, however, 2 years younger, which is why I think he could still command such a high annual rate.
First off, I've given the Yankees 7 starters: Severino, Corbin, Tanaka, Sabathia, Montgomery, Sheffield, and Happ. I just assume that at any point in time someone will be injured or in need of tune-up starts at triple-A. Now, I also have a little wacky suggestion that this group of 7 arms would enable. Corbin, CC, Monty, Sheffield, and Happ are all lefties. Five lefties! The Yankees could use their starters as lefty specialists in the bullpen. You're doing a 6-man rotation, so everyone is already getting an extra day of rest. All these guys have to pitch bullpen sessions between games, why not pitch said sessions during another game and bring them in to face a batter or two if the need arises for match up purposes. Look, I might be a lunatic -- but isn't that what they said about Tampa when they came up with the Opener strategy? It's worked out pretty decently for them. A 6-man rotation that weaves the left-handers in as lefty-specialists (re-inforcing a go-after-em mentality) could be the same type of new-wave thinking that gives the Yanks a competitive edge.
What about starter number 8, Sonny Gray? We'll get to that later!
2. Manny, Bryce, and Where Would We Even?
Hi, the Yankees aren't going to get rid of Miguel Andujar or Didi Gregorius and their team-friendly deals to make room for Manny Machado and a big-ass contract, okay? That said - I still am 90% certain that Machado will be in pinstripes next season. Okay, so - what?
The conversation for years now has been about Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and whether the Yankees would get one or both of them this off-season. I don't see Bryce Harper becoming a Yankee this winter. The team has worked so hard to get past the years of superstar egos and arrogant mentalities. The Judges, and Didis, and Gleybers, and Luke Voits, and CCs, and Gardys, and Torreyeses, and Andujars of the world are the types of players who the Yankees want their clubhouse built around. I'm not sure Harper necessarily fits into that mix. That said, obviously he's a premiere player and you can always find space for a guy like that in the lineup. The Yankees have their outfield set (presuming they pick up Gardy's option, as I expect them to do), with Gardy, Hicks, Judge, and Stanton, plus (hopefully) a healthy Ellsbury and Clint Frazier. The Yankees could theoretically trade Hicks or Frazier to make room for Harper, but it doesn't seem all that likely to me.
Instead, I think Manny's the fit. Everyone knows that, like Corbin, dude wants to be a Yankee. However, the Yankees have their most likable player at shortstop and the probable Rookie of the Year at third. And it's not like they can shift somebody over to second, since Gleyber has that spot locked down for the foreseeable future. Instead, I think the Yanks will teach Miguel Andujar to play first base this winter. If Andujar can learn first base, it would provide the Yankees with some flexibility. Andujar could play first or third. Gleyber can play second, short, and third. Manny could play third or short. If injuries hit, this gives the Yanks flexibility to to put together the best defensive alignment given the healthy players.
Obviously, this doesn't leave room, necessarily, for Greg Bird. Theoretically, you could keep Birdie on the roster and just never play him against lefties. He could DH on occasion, spell Miggy at 1B from time to time, and be a pinch-hitter. But, most likely, I think the Yankees would send Birdie to triple-A to iron out the issues in his swing, then use him as trade bait in a potential trade deadline deal. It's hard to imagine the Yankees entirely giving up on Bird. They genuinely think he is a solid hitter who should contribute. But, he'll be 27 going into next season, which will be his first year of arbitration eligibility. Time's running out on the Yankees-Bird relationship, and I assume the Yanks would prefer a sure thing in Manny Machado (who also would solve Andujar's defensive problems at third) than Greg Bird. As for Luke Voit, I mean -- I love him. That said, he's probably going to be stuck in a Tyler Austin type role for the foreseeable future. Who knows? I'm trying not to let a hot couple of weeks sway the way we think about the next 5+ years.
Aroldis Chapman. Chad Green. Dellin Betances. Jonathan Holder. Not a bad start to a 'pen. Losing David Robertson and Zach Britton at season's end will affect the 'pen, but I'm not sure re-signing either of them, at the prices they'll command, is a worthwhile decision. Relievers signed for way too much last winter, and all you have to do is look at all the resources the Rockies have wasted on the least effective members of their bullpen to see why that's likely ill-advised. There was a time when the Yanks had a "Mariano-plus-whatever-sticks" mentality to the 'pen, and I think they've got a strong enough base to possibly look into a situation like that again.
If we assume a 6 man rotation, a 9 man lineup, a backup catcher, backup IF, and backup OF, that leaves us with 7 bullpen slots. Of course, remember that we're already using some of our starter quality arms as lefty specialists in this scenario. Now, of those seven spots, you have to stake four out for Chapman, Betances, Holder, and Green.
The Yankees could add to the equation with a free agent arm, but if you think about the price of Corbin, Happ, Machado, and re-signing Sabathia, they might not want to pony up too much for another reliever, especially if prices stay similar to last off-season's. If they were to go after a free agent, I'd pick a former Yankee: either Adam Warren, Justin Wilson, or Andrew Miller. Miller has struggled with injuries this season, which means he'd be unreliable from a health perspective, but he also would certainly come at a discount. Justin Wilson is going to make a pretty penny as a top-notch left, but I know Adam Warren loves being a Yankee and it would only feel right if he came back to the Bronx again. I think that is the most likely scenario - a Warren reunion.
That leaves two final spots to split amongst:
RHP Ben Heller
RHP Jonathan Loaisiga
RHP Domingo Acevedo
RHP Mike King
RHP Tommy Kahnle
RHP Luis Cessa
RHP AJ Cole
LHP Stephen Tarpley
The team always has some sort of reliever shuttle. My guess is that Loaisiga could fill a role similar to Warren, pitching multiple innings at times, and that Ben Heller could step-up and become an elite reliever if given the opportunity. The rest of the gang will likely remain at triple-A, ready to come up to the bigs at a minute's notice. If enough rotation issues pop-up, Loaisiga, Acevedo, and King, could all pounce on an opportunity to join the rotation and make their name known. Kahnle has had a strange year, losing a lot of stuff on his fastball. If he regains it, obviously we know what he is capable of. If he doesn't, though, then the Yanks have to hope he'll sort it out at triple-A.
4. Making Use Of Your Resources
Greg Bird, Clint Frazier, Sonny Gray, Luis Cessa, Luke Voit, Tyler Wade, Tommy Kahnle. They're all players who might not fit into the Yankees plans in the long-term, but still have some value. Birdie and Gray, specifically, are both talented players who just aren't living up to their potential right now. If the Yankees can get another team to pay for what their worth, the Yankees could use them as chips to upgrade in certain areas. Bird could be a fit for the Rockies, Cardinals, Marlins, Nationals, Mariners, Indians, Twins, and White Sox (presuming they trade Jose Abreu). Gray could be an interesting piece for the Brewers, Pirates, Phillies, Nationals, Mariners, or Angels, . Those two NL Central teams look like particularly good fits.
If I were the Yankees, I'd see if they could use these resource to upgrade somewhere with a combo deal. I.E. Send Bird + Hicks for a better centerfielder. Or something like that -- a straight upgrade, using another player to make up the difference. It would likely have to be either to upgrade over one of the current starters or to upgrade over Hicks or Gardy. Gardy is such a staple of the team, though, that I don't think the Yanks would want him out of the clubhouse.
Here are some players I think could fit on the Yanks from some of the aforementioned teams. Obviously, there's a wide variety of plausibility w/ re: acquiring any of these guys:
Rockies: RHP Riley Pint, 2B/SS Garrett Hampson, OF David Dahl, OF Raimel Tapia
Cardinals: 1B/OF/DH Jose Martinez, RHP Miles Mikolas, RHP Carlos Martinez, RHP Jordan Hicks
Brewers: 1B/2B/3B Travis Shaw, OF Domingo Santana
Pirates: OF Corey Dickerson
Marlins: UTIL Derek Dietrich, RHP Drew Steckenrider, RHP Kyle Barraclough, LHP Adam Conley
Nationals: RHP Tanner Roark, RHP Joe Ross
Mariners: LHP James Paxton, LHP Mike Leake, RHP Alex Colome, 2B/OF Dee Gordon, OF Mitch Haniger
Indians: RHP Mike Clevinger, RHP Trevor Bauer, RHP Danny Salazar
White Sox: LHP Carlos Rodon
I wonder if Greg Bird, Clint Frazier, and an arm or two could be a package for Carlos Rodon? Maybe Sonny Gray could become Dee Gordon, and serve as a back-up 2B and OF, late inning defensive replacement, and pinch-runner. With the added flexibility, the Yankees could pinch-run in the 8th or 9th anytime the game's remotely close and need an extra run. They could also save Brett Gardner 100 innings on the field or so by having Dee replace him late in games that aren't too close. Maybe Sonny Gray plus something for Mike Leake? There's all sorts of possibilities.
Obviously, in a dream world, the Yanks would go after post-season king of kings, Madison Bumgarner. With the Dodgers, D-Backs, and Rockies all playing the way they are, and the Padres having the best farm system in the game, you have to think the Giants will finally recognize that they need to tear down -- that the Longoria and McCutchen acquisitions didn't do what they wanted them to this season. If the Yanks could find a package of prospects to the Giants liking, Bumgarner would be an insane addition and make the re-signing of Happ unnecessary. Imagine Bumgarner, Severino, Corbin, Tanaka, Sabathia, Sheffield, and Montgomery as starting options throughout the season. A Bum-Sev-Corbin playoff rotation doesn't sound too bad to me! Rodon would also be a great add if the Yanks found a way to get the White Sox to bite.
So, this is what we'd wind up with:
Yankees Re-Sign LHP J.A. Happ - 3 years/$45mm
Yankees Sign LHP Patrick Corbin - 5 years/$90mm
Yankees Sign RHP Adam Warren - 2 years/$10mm
Yankees Sign SS/3B Manny Machado - 10 years/$360mm
1. C Gary Sanchez
2. 1B/3B Miguel Andujar
3. 2B/SS/3B Gleyber Torres
4. SS/3B Manny Machado
5. SS Didi Gregorius
6. LF/CF Brett Gardner
7. CF/RF Aaron Hicks
8. RF Aaron Judge
9. LF/RF Giancarlo Stanton
10. RHP Luis Severino
11. RHP Masahiro Tanaka
12. LHP Patrick Corbin
13. LHP J.A. Happ
14. LHP C.C. Sabathia
15. LHP Jordan Montgomery
16. LHP Justus Sheffield
17. LHP Aroldis Chapman
18. RHP Dellin Betances
19. RHP Chad Green
20. RHP Jonathan Holder
21. RHP Adam Warren
22. RHP Ben Heller
23. C Austin Romine
24. IF Ronald Torreyes or Tyler Wade
25. OF Jacoby Ellsbury or Clint Frazier
Anyway, just a bunch of thoughts that don't mean nothing.