Now that the 2018-2019 offseason is over for the Yankees, it’s time to look back and take a look at the moves they made (and didn’t make).
Boy, that was fun, wasn’t it? After four months of rumors, quotes taken out of context, and an abundance of people with “sources”, the big dominoes have finally fallen. Last week, Jeff Passan reported that Manny Machado was headed to San Diego, signing a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres. That was a record for the most lucrative free agent signing in all of professional American sports.
Well, for nine days, at least. Then this week, Jon Heyman reported that Bryce Harper and the Philadelphia Phillies finally reached an agreement for Harper to spend the rest of his prime, and possibly the rest of his career, in The City of Brotherly Love. Harper signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with no opt-outs and a full no-trade clause. Many fans had expected the Yankees to bring in at least one of these stud free agents this offseason.
Now that we know that both have signed elsewhere and that the Yankees seem to be done with offseason moves, I figured now would be a good time to look back on what my offseason predictions for the team were in the “Unhinged Yankees Staff Offseason Predictions” article published in late November.
My predictions for the offseason were that the team would sign Machado, Patrick Corbin and Adam Ottavino, as well as package Sonny Gray with pitching prospect Chance Adams in a trade for Reds infielder Scooter Gennett. I also predicted that the team would resign reliever David Robertson, but that reliever Zach (now Zack) Britton would sign elsewhere. When the article was published, the team had already resigned CC Sabathia and acquired James Paxton in a trade from the Mariners.
First, let’s start with what I got wrong. I, like many, expected the Yankees to make a big splash in the free agent market. Most Yankees fans expected the time to sign at least one of the three big free agents: Machado, Harper, and Corbin, who joined Harper’s former team, the Washington Nationals. All three had been rumored to want to play in the Bronx, and the idea that any of them could potentially take a discount to don the pinstripes was music to the ears of fans everywhere.
However, reports have suggested that while the Yankees evaluated all their options, they weren’t particularly enamored with any of the three, especially at the price points that they were looking for. The team met with both Machado and Corbin and reportedly stayed in contact with them and their agents throughout the offseason, but was thrown off by the high price tags that each commanded. Most expected Corbin’s deal to be somewhere around roughly five years and $100 million, but the seemingly desperate Nationals offered him six years and $140 million, which he ended up agreeing to. Yankees GM Brian Cashman supposedly was not willing to sign Corbin to a contract longer than five years.
With the recent track record of free agent starting pitchers signing long term deals and declining significantly or getting injured, refusing to go for the sixth year (especially with such a hefty price tag) was certainly a reasonable decision by Cashman, who had already begun solidifying the rotation by reeling in Paxton and bringing back Sabathia. A week after missing on Corbin, Cashman resigned J.A. Happ to put the finishing touches on the rotation.
Well, not quite the finishing touches. There was one pitcher still lingering around in the rotation who had yet to be addressed: Sonny Gray. Acquired from the Athletics at the 2017 trade deadline, Gray’s 2018 was a colossal failure as he proved that he could not pitch in a big market like New York and that he was much more suited for a smaller market team in a smaller city.
Just days after the team was eliminated from the playoffs, Cashman announced his plans to seek a trade partner for Gray in the offseason. As the offseason dragged on and no trade had been finalized, fans started to consider the possibility that the team go back on their promise to trade Gray and instead would keep him, potentially as a sixth starter or reliever. Gray was eventually traded to the Reds, but not for Gennett, rather for infield prospect Shed Long- who was promptly traded to Seattle for outfield prospect Josh Stowers.
Although the team didn’t make a massive splash by signing any of the three big fish in the free agent market, they still brought in a number of free agents that can help the team this year. The team brought back Britton and signed former Rockies reliever Ottavino, assembling one of the strongest bullpens of all time, which also includes Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Chad Green, and Jonathan Holder. The team has boasted one of the most dominant bullpens in the league each of the last few seasons, and they clearly made that a priority again. Robertson, however, left the Yankees and signed with Philadelphia, amidst some rumors that his role in a team debate regarding the divvying up of playoff shares left a bad taste in the mouths of executives in the organization.
Although the Yankees set records for offensive production in 2018, they made sure to solidify the lineup, even more, this offseason. They didn’t lose any significant bats in free agency other than midseason trade acquisition Andrew McCutchen leaving for (you guessed it) Philadelphia. However, on the same day that Cashman announced that he’d look to trade Gray in the offseason, the team also revealed that shortstop Didi Gregorius suffered a right elbow injury in the ALDS against the Red Sox and would have to undergo Tommy John surgery. Preparing to be without their star infielder for a significant portion of the season, the team brought in two infielders in DJ LeMahieu and former All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. LeMahieu enjoyed career years in 2016 and 2017, hitting a league-high .348 in 2016. Although his 2018 numbers weren’t as impressive, he’s a great slap hitter who can hit to all fields, certainly something nice to have in a lineup full of home run hitters. He’s also incredibly versatile, as he’s capable of playing a number of infield positions, though his defense is especially strong at second base. Expect to see him play all around the diamond this year.
Tulowitzki has been plagued by injuries in his recent years with the Blue Jays, playing only 66 games in 2017 and not playing at all in 2018. The team signed him to a one-year league minimum contract in early January hoping that they could rekindle some of his magic from his Rockies days, though when he was signed most people still thought Machado was likely to sign with the Yankees, meaning that Tulowitzki would come off the bench. With Machado gone and Tulowitzki looking great thus far in Spring Training, it looks like the starting shortstop job is his to lose.
In summary, although most fans thought that this offseason would be considered a massive failure if the team didn’t sign any of the three major free agents, Cashman and the rest of the Yankees front office did more than enough to improve the team, at least in my opinion. They solidified the rotation, bullpen, and lineup without significantly overpaying any free agents. At the end of the day, only time will tell whether this offseason can be considered a success, but in my eyes, this team is a force to be reckoned with and can compete with the best of them, especially when firing on all cylinders.