If the Yankees intend to sign one or two top-flight free agents, now is the time to do it. The reason? The 2020 class offers only old and used up crumbs.
The Yankees, along with everyone, have looked forward to the 2019 free agent free-for-all for some time now. The Class of 2019 has not disappointed. The headliners, of course, are Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, but their supporting cast is fortified with talent as well. Patrick Corbin, Josh Donaldson (signed by the Braves – 1yr $23 million), J.A. Happ, Charlie Morton, to name a few, are all attractive enough to warrant bidding wars, such as the one going on now between the Phillies and Yankees over Corbin.
Good teams with stable organizations like the Yankees plan ahead. Therefore, their plan for this year becomes tied to the one they have for next year and the year after that. In doing so, it has probably not escaped the attention of Brian Cashman that “the gettin’ is now” because the Class of 2020 is old, thin, and the return is going to be very expensive.
In fact, 34, 37, 36, 34, 31, 35, 36. 33, 37, and 40 represent the ages of Top 10 free agents next year as rated by MLB, and based on salary. Among that group is Justin Verlander, Cole Hamels, Rick Porcello, Paul Goldschmidt (age 32), and Donaldson again. With the exception perhaps of Goldschmidt (and what happens at first base with Greg Bird and Luke Voit this season), it does seem likely the Yankees will be interested in opening the checkbook for any of these players.
Plus, the Yankees will have internal decisions of their own to make next year when Didi Gregorius, Dellin Betances, and Austin Romine join the Class of 2020 as free agents. Brett Gardner and CC Sabathia, both on one-year deals come up for re-election too.
Looking even further ahead though, The Big One comes up in 2021 when Mike Trout reaches free agent status. More than Machado, more than Harper, this is the guy the Yankees will want. Planning ahead, Cashman will be facing the free agency of James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka the same year.
With all this in mind, perhaps these are the reasons why the Yankees have made an abrupt U-Turn, leaning more on the side of trades than free agent signings. Again, it’s all part of the planning within the Yankees organization. Which is why the team is willing to part with prospects in return for a Sonny Gray last year, and James Paxton this year.
If the Cleveland Indians are unloading Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco the Yankees will be in the mix with offers. And if the Giants are going to part ways with the face of their franchise, Madison Bumgarner, why shouldn’t Brian Cashman at least check into it. After all, there isn’t much else (Corbin excepted) in the free agent pitching market, and the pickings next year are mostly crumbs.
Fittingly, the focus of the Yankees at the moment remains on strengthening the team for the upcoming season. At the same time though, the organization’s master plan has to include a peek at what lies ahead for the next year or two as things relate to the free agent market.
And if the Yankees determine as I did that next year’s crop is flimsy and old, they could decide to make a moderate splash this year, skip a year, and then go for the Babe Ruth of the 21st Century, Mike Trout, in 2021. It should be fun watching how this plays out.
Written by Steve Contursi, Editor, Reflections On Baseball
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