The Yankees capitalized and committed big on free agent stars, but excitement and anxiety reign as Spring Training inches closer.
As is the case with every off season, Yankees fans are tantalized with countless rumors about superstar free agents. Few are real, most are baseless clickbait, and the winter months remain a daze for Bronx faithful. After ‘whispers’ about Trea Turner, Arson Judge’s departure to San Fransisco (yes, Arson), and Fernando Tatis jr. trade rumors that set Yankees Twitter ablaze, it’s time to take a step back and look at the Yankees’ offseason for what it was: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
A brief review of notable transactions thus far:
Major League Signings:
Aaron Judge OF: Nine years, $360M
Carlos Rodon SP: Six years, $162M
Anthony Rizzo 1B: Two years, $40M
Tommy Kahnle RP: Two years, $11.5M
Notable Minor League Additions:
Nick Ramirez, LHP
Michael Hermosillo, OF
Wilmer Difo, 2B/SS
Willie Calhoun, OF
Rafael Ortega, OF
Zack Britton, LHP
Chad Green, RHP
Aroldis Chapman, LHP
Jameson Taillon, RHP
Andrew Benintendi, OF
Marwin Gonzalez, 1B/SS/OF
Matt Carpenter, 1B/2B/3B
Lucas Luetge, LHP
Tim Locastro, OF
The Aaron Judge sweepstakes began for the Yankees over a year before its blockbuster conclusion last December. Hal Steinbrenner (showing shades of The Boss) showed he was not afraid to break the bank, making Aaron Judge the highest paid position player in baseball history, at $40M AAV for a hair under a decade, likely keeping the slugger for the rest of his baseball career. For many, this move was considered a must, and the Yankees delivered in a big way while setting the market. To put the cherry on top, Steinbrenner named Judge the 16th captain in franchise history – the first since Derek Jeter.
Undoubtedly the most exciting acquisition of the offseason not named Judge, Carlos Rodon’s six-year $162M pact completes the Yankees star-studded rotation in a big way, placing them firmly in the conversation for the best starting rotation in all of baseball. Following a slew of injuries to begin his promising career, Rodon was finally able to empty the tank in 2021, and boy did he. Since the start of 2021, Rodon has posted a 2.67 ERA with 422 strikeouts in 310 innings, earning back-to-back All-Star appearances and a fifth- and sixth-place Cy Young finish in consecutive seasons.
Since his arrival at the 2021 trade deadline, Anthony Rizzo has performed as advertised both on and off the field, providing above average offense, high caliber defense, and bona fide leadership in the clubhouse. It is also no secret, thanks to an appearance on The Tonight Show, that Rizzo was keen to keep Judge in the Bronx and not afraid to let him know it. Per Aaron Judge, Rizzo launched a tireless text message campaign, even using their puppy pals friendship as a secret, heartstrings-seeking tactic to try and sway the Captain. A $40M price tag for two years is a reasonable price to pay for the everything Rizzo brings to the park, so this was a successful signing for the club.
Despite the trio of big acquisitions headlining the winter, many question marks remain as Spring Training approaches.
The Yankees remain without an everyday left fielder.
As it stands, Aaron Hicks appears the likely candidate to command the left field job come Opening Day, despite an abysmal 2022 where he slashed .216/.330/.313, good for an OPS+ of 86. Save for his lone solid campaign in 2018, Aaron Hicks has been wholly underwhelming: unable to produce when on the field and seldom on the field at all. 2022 was just the third time since his debut in 2013 where he played in more than 100 games.
Despite rumors swirling for months about the potential acquisition of switch-hitting Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds, the reported asking price includes four of the Yankees top-prospects, a price which Yankees GM Brian Cashman has thus far been unwilling to meet. A combination of Oswaldo Cabrera and Giancarlo Stanton could supplement Aaron Hicks and create an IKF-like stop-gap for left field until prospects Jasson Dominguez, Everson Periera, or Spencer Jones come of age.
Yankees miss out yet again on a loaded shortstop free agent class.
The Yankees farm system is loaded with premier shortstop talents in Anthony Volpe, Oswald Peraza, and Oswaldo Cabrera. Talent which, for better or for worse, Brian Cashman seems intent on seeing through to the major leagues. In the past two offseasons, the Yankees have passed on free agent shortstops Carlos Correa, Trea Turner, Cory Seager, Dansby Swanson, Xander Bogaerts, Trevor Story, Javier Baez, and Marcus Semien.
In lieu of a superstar, the Yankees utilized Isiah Kiner-Falefa for much of 2022 where, despite his ‘glove first’ reputation and 2020 Gold Glove, he recorded 15 errors and hit a meager 84 OPS+ (worse than Aaron Hicks). What’s more, Yankees manager Aaron Boone continued to start Kiner-Falefa in the face of red-hot rookie arrival Oswald Peraza, who started just 14 games and managed a .306/.404/.429 to finish the season. Shortstop is a promising position for the Yankees who have a bevy of young talent leveling up through the minor leagues, but unless they’re ready, shortstop remains an area of need for the Bombers.
Yankees spending $33M on broken parts
A mid-March swap with Minnesota brought the talents of Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Josh Donaldson to the Bronx, shoring up their left-side of the infield and leaving the squad poised for Opening Day. Unfortunately, neither player lived up to the expectations Yankees management had hoped of them. A year later, Donaldson is no more than an aged, $23M blemish on an already oversaturated Bombers payroll.
Aaron Hicks’ struggles over the last seven seasons have been well detailed, and at a cost of $10M per year to the club. This offseason, Yankees management has been unable to move either player off the books and it seems like both Hicks and Donaldson are here to stay.
Spring Training Storylines:
A log jam is brewing at shortstop, Anthony Volpe aims to impress
Yankees top prospect Anthony Volpe has a lot at stake this spring. Per Michael Kay, Anthony Volpe received a call from Brian Cashman informing him he has a real chance to win the starting job come March 30. Following his call with the Yankees GM Brian Cashman, Volpe abandoned his plans for some much-deserved rest in the offseason and drove down to Tampa to work out. He’ll have to duke it out with the likes of Oswald Peraza, Oswaldo Cabrera, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, but don’t stray far from your TV when Volpe is at the plate, this kid has something to prove and a job to win.
Injured Frankie Montas leaves fifth rotation spot up for grabs
On Jan. 14, 2023, news broke that Frankie Montas would miss the first month of the MLB season with a shoulder injury. Montas, the consensus five starter for the Yanks, leaves behind a significant opening in an otherwise loaded rotation. Clarke Schmidt and Domingo German are favorites to take over the position, which could make for an entertaining watch as the season begins.
After the departures of Ken Waldichuk, Luis Medina, and Hayden Wesneski during last season’s trade deadline, options are dwindling within the Yankee ranks. Remaining prospects Clayton Beeter and Will Warren remain too far to make an impact at the big league level and with Luis Gil down with Tommy John surgery for most of 2023, Deivi Garcia and Matt Krook appear the only Yanks minor-leaguers with an outside chance at the rotation.
Veterans in need of strong spring training to lock down starting roles
A log jam at shortstop may prove troublesome for Josh Donaldson as well. Isiah Kiner-Falefa is among contestants for the starting job up the middle despite his noted defensive prowess at third base where he was a Gold Glove winner just 3 years ago. Should Kiner-Falefa fail to win the starting shortstop job, a bad spring from Donaldson could motivate Yankee management to award Isiah the starting job.
Similarly, Aaron Hicks’ job is in jeopardy as well. His struggles to stay on the field and hit a stride have been a constant presence in the eyes of the Yankees faithful for many years now. With a handful of youngsters chomping at the bit for their cup of coffee, a big spring from Aaron Hicks could silence the naysayers and fend off the kids a bit longer.
Potential Yankees Opening Day Lineup
The likelihood that the best young players all beat their veteran counterparts is unlikely at best. Below is an optimistic but not unrealistic look at what the Bronx Bombers might look like come Opening Day.
Starting Lineup and Bench
- Catcher: Jose Trevino
- First Base: Anthony Rizzo
- Second Base: Gleyber Torres
- Third Base: Josh Donaldson
- Shortstop: Oswald Peraza
- Left field: Oswaldo Cabrera
- Center Field: Harrison Bader
- Right Field: Aaron Judge
- Designated Hitter: Giancarlo Stanton
Bench: DJ LeMahieu, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Aaron Hicks, Kyle Higashioka
- Gerrit Cole
- Carlos Rodon
- Luis Severino
- Nestor Cortes
- Domingo German
- Mike King
- Wandy Peralta
- Clay Holmes
- Ron Marinaccio
- Greg Weissert
- Tommy Kahnle
- Lou Trivino
- Clarke Schmidt
- Jonathan Loaisiga