The Yankees, without a total teardown of the team, can make three position-player moves to solidify the lineup. Consider these suggestions.
The Yankees, despite calls for a total teardown of the team, are not that far away from a lineup that is improved and ready to compete in AL East.
Following are three areas of weakness that need the attention of Brian Cashman this offseason, along with suggestions as to how each can be solved for 2022.
Short of an all-out revolution by Yankees fans, there is no way Brian Cashman can continue with the Gary Sanchez fantasy. Kyle Higashioka is as fine a backup catcher as a team can find, but he is not suitable as an everyday catcher.
Next to starting pitchers, good catchers are rare commodities in the big leagues, so teams with one are not likely to trade them.
Assuming the Yankees trade Sanchez, the remaining source at the disposal of the Yankees to find a replacement for Sanchez is the free-agent market.
According to Spotrac, the top of the 2022 free-agent market for catchers looks like this:
Buster Posey has no reason to leave San Francisco, and unless the Giants insult him with an offer, he is out of reach for the Yankees and everyone else.
While Mike Zunino is coming off a career year for the Tampa Bay Rays, a close look at his stats reveals him to be a clone of Sanchez, which is no improvement.
Like Sanchez, Zunino has the power (33 HR 62 RBI), but his batting average of .216 is his career-best, and his strikeout (132) to walk(34) ratio is unacceptable.
Instead, the Yankees can find what they’re looking for in Christian Vasquez, the 31-year-old catcher who caught 131 games for the Boston Red Sox this year.
Though lacking the power stats (6 HR), one-fifth of his hits this year went for doubles (23), and he struck out only 18% of his at-bats compared to Sanchez (28%). Also, his .259 BA was well above league average.
The trouble is Boston has a team option of $8 million or a $250,000 buyout on Vasquez’s contract, which dramatically reduces the chance he will be available to the Yankees or any other team.
Yan Gomes, however, is an unrestricted free agent who split time with the Nationals and A’s in 2021. An All-Star in 2018, Gomes also won a Silver Slugger Award in 2014 while he was with the Cleveland Indians.
At 33, Gomes only needs to fill a hole for the Yankees for two years, giving ample time for any of several Yankees catching prospects to flourish and be ready for play at Yankee Stadium.
Gomes is a defensive whiz, but he can handle a bat as well.
Gomes has only 45 passed balls in ten big league seasons, and he’s thrown one out every three runners trying to steal.
Gomes hit .252 with 14 HR, 15 doubles, and 52 RBI.
Gomes earned $6 million last year, the same the Yankees paid Sanchez. He could be a wash on the Yankees’ projected 2022 payroll.
Shortstop Or Third Base
This one has many moving parts, which is why the Yankees could be looking for either a shortstop or third baseman.
Assuming Luke Voit is no longer in the Yankees’ future and he will be traded, and Gleyber Torres is the team’s permanent second baseman, that can open up a regular spot at first base for DJ LeMahieu.
Gio Urshela is a third baseman by trade, but he played 28 games for the Yankees at shortstop. Recently, Urshela told the New York Post that, if asked, he wouldn’t mind playing at shortstop full-time.
“I really enjoyed playing shortstop because you get more involved in the game. Every play, you’re going to be involved. Third base, I just wait for the [ball], and that’s it.”
If the Yankees agree, they will then be looking for a third baseman. But with the glut of free agent shortstops and the mastery of Urshela’s play at third base, the Yankees will more likely look to sign from the pool of shortstops.
The Yankees can pick any one of them and not go wrong.
But it may not be up to the Yankees to do the picking, as Carlos Correa is married to Jose Altuve and is not likely to depart the Astros. In my book, Javier Baez is a look before you leap, as his time with the Mets, though productive, did come with a few unsettling hiccups (the thumbs down episode).
Corey Seager would be my first choice, but why would he ever want to leave the Dodgers, a team virtually assured of a playoff appearance for the next several seasons?
At $31 million, Seager is also at the top of the market value list, and therefore not conducive to the Yankee’s bent on staying under the luxury tax threshold.
This leaves Trevor Story, a man who has no reason to stay with the Colorado Rockies.
While Story is coming off a down year with the Rockies, he likely played the entire season with one eye on the doorway out.
A sub-par .251 BA with 24 HR and 75 RBI is still a pretty good year, and the Yankees will be counting on a return to his All-Star and Silver Slugger Award seasons of 2018 and 2019 when he also finished eighth and twelfth in the MVP voting.
As the Rockies’ team’s face, Trevor Story has doubled his salary in each of the last three seasons through arbitration, reaching a high of $18,500,00 for 2021.
Trevor Story won’t come cheap, but he does answer the Yankees’ need for the next four or five years.
As with Gary Sanchez, the Yankees may decide to play into the fantasy of Aaron Hicks as their regular center fielder for 2022, but God help them if they do, given Hick’s propensity for injury.
And besides, is Hicks the best they can do even when he’s healthy. I can’t even remember it’s been so long since I’ve seen him play.
As opposed to finding a catcher, the Yankees have a better chance of acquiring a centerfielder via a trade, but there are so many possibilities it’s hardly worth the time to explore them here.
Alas, however, the list of 2022 free agent centerfielders is nothing to write home about.
While Starling Marte is the best player in the group, the Yankees’ age (33) needs to be considered before offering him a multi-year deal.
Even so, speed is a weapon the Yankees lack and need more. Speed is an excellent weapon for Marte. At 33, he still managed to steal 20+ bases this season while hitting over .300 for both the Miami Marlins and Oakland Athletics.
Marte has a lifetime OPS+ of 116 (100 is the MLB average), a .345 OBP, and he’s hit an average of 33 doubles per season over ten years in the big leagues.
If the Yankees want to go cheap, an alternative to Marte might exist with Kevin Pillar, who played with the Mets in 2021.
In only 347 plate appearances, Pillar had 15 HR and 47 RBI, and doubling those numbers, though a stretch, over an entire season of at-bats looks good, at least on paper.
Marte is the best fit for the Yankees, mainly because he fills a deep void in their lineup with a career .305 BA with men on base, .297 with runners in scoring position, and .331 with two on and two out (Baseball-Reference).
For a good reason, the Yankees shudder at the notion of using Aaron Judge in centerfield, something Aaron Boone was forced to do 23 times this year.
In sum, a lot depends on the health of Hicks and the contribution he makes to the team. If not Marte, Cashman may decide to go with Hicks if the health reports are good, delaying a move to acquire his replacement.
Open to the Yankees as another option, of course, is to resign Brett Gardner for one more year.
Yankees: Summarizing The Offseason Moves
As stated in the opening, the Yankees are not that far from a lineup built to compete in 2022.
They have all but three of the pieces they need, and together with juggling a few of those and adding a few more pieces, the whole can be complete.
Following the World Series, Brian Cashman will begin to implement the plan he has, and hopefully, that plan includes consideration of the moves suggested here.