The Yankees have an opportunity to make a single move that sets in motion a series of cascading actions that strengthen the team for 2022.
To the delight of fans, the Yankees are on the precipice of an offseason that will recall memories of days when they opened the treasury to buy, sell, and cajole to do whatever it takes to win Championships.
Whether by accident or design, three years of austerity demanded by Hal Steinbrenner are over. The result is that the Yankees are in a position now to exceed the luxury tax limit while suffering the smallest penalty permitted by Major League Baseball for doing so.
The new collective bargaining agreement may alter those projections up or down a bit. Still, unless the luxury tax is done away with altogether (not likely), the Yankees have the basis for forming a plan for the upcoming season.
In essence, the Yankees have reset the clock, and as a first-time over the limit team, they are subject to the lowest penalty currently set at 20%.
In precise terms, this means if their 2022 payroll ends up at $250 million with a threshold of $220 million, the Yankees will pay MLB $6 million in taxes, which by Yankees standards is chump change considering they spend $10 million for a supply of baseball each year.
Again, with the assumption that the Yankees and Hal Steinbrenner are ready to bull their way through the free agent and trade markets to remake the team for 2022 and reap the rewards of their previous austerity, here’s a plan that can work for the team.
Yankees: Signing Rizzo Sets The Ball In Motion
Retaining Rizzo, a left-handed bat and sure-in-the-field defender makes perfect sense for the Yankees. But the implications of signing Rizzo go far beyond the attributes of this one player.
In fact, the addition of Rizzo sets in motion the ability of the Yankees to solidify their entire infield for 2022.
Yankees: Giving LeMahieu A Permanent Home
With Rizzo penciled in at first base, the opportunity arises for DJ LeMahieu to be the Yankees’ regular second baseman.
LeMahieu will play the 2022 season at age 33. He has a full no-trade clause, and he is tied to the Yankees through the 2026 season when he will be 37.
Known for his versatility, LeMahieu played 89 games for the Yankees at second base last year and split another 94 games between first and third base.
Although his 2021 season was good enough to rate him as a finalist for a Silver Slugger award at second base, without argument, his production fell far below what he and the Yankees signed him to a new contract last offseason.
Thirty-three is not old by baseball standards for an infielder. Still, it’s getting close, and the Yankees can serve themselves and LeMahieu better by avoiding the need for him to wonder where he’ll be playing on any given day, a job better suited to Tyler Wade (26).
Cascading Moves Continue With Gleyber Torres
Due to a significant decline in production from his 2019 season, the Yankees are faced with a decision on Gleyber Torres – trade him while his value is still relatively high – or keep him hoping his regression is only a hiccup.
The Yankees have seemingly and universally concluded that Torres is not, and may never be, a major league shortstop. Hence, the move to second base last year.
But with LeMahieu as their regular baseman (now), the weight of the Yankees decision is all but removed, and the team is free to include him in a trade that, paired with Gary Sanchez, can bring a prominent and proven major league starting pitcher to the team.
Free Agent Shortstops – Who’s The Fairest Of Them All
Assuming the Yankees will wisely not take Gio Urshela up on his offer to be the team’s regular shortstop, choosing instead to keep his Gold Glove-caliber defense at third base, the Yankees are free to rove among the talented Class of 2022 Free-Agent Shortstops.
Scanning the list, Carlos Correa is the most talented and most coveted player, who is on display in this year’s World Series for the Astros.
But is Correa a “good fit” for the Yankees, and if he isn’t, then who is a better fit?
I’ll defer to the Yankees’ baseball people on this, except to point out that Corey Seager‘s left-handed bat helps to solve the Yankees overload of right-handed bats in their lineup.
As a mainstay in the Dodgers lineup since 2016, Seager has a winning pedigree reinforced by a career .297 batting average and a .870 OPS that is more than 100 points over the major league average (2021).
Yankees: Filling In The Pieces
With these additions and subtraction (including Luke Voit as expendable also), the Yankees now have a complete and vastly improved infield, but there is more work to be done.
“Losing” Gary Sanchez leaves the Yankees with Kyle Higashioka, an excellent backup catcher for any team but a player who falls short as a regular catcher.
While the 2022 free agent catchers list is not as prominent as the one for shortstops, one name keeps surfacing as a player worthy of consideration by the Yankees.
Yan Gomes has played in the big leagues since 2012 with stints covering four teams, the most recent of which is the Oakland A’s.
When he was with Cleveland in 2017 as an All-Star, Gomes’s main attributes were his durability and steadiness in the field and with the bat.
Moreover, Gomes is ranked as the fourth-best catcher in runners caught stealing percentage in 2021, and his expected $7 million salaries for 2022 is the same as the Yankees will pay for Sanchez if he is not non-tendered or traded.
Getting Closer To The Goal…
The combination of these moves put the Yankees well on their way, but starting pitching and center field remain a cause for concern.
While the Yankees remain hopeful that Aaron Hicks is healthy enough to earn some of the $70 million the team gave him two years ago, there is no guarantee the injury-laden Hicks can achieve that.
The experiment with Clint Frazier should be over, and he’ll likely be bundled in a trade.
The prospect of Joey Gallo‘s 200 strikeouts in an already strikeout and double-play prone lineup is scary,
Moreover, Gallo’s public objection to being labeled “quirky” gives cause to wonder if he is a permanent fit with the Yankees and playing in a media-intense city.
Releasing Cashman From Those Battleship Chains
Brian Cashman has taken the brunt of criticism for not objecting to Hal Steinbrenner’s fiscally conservative ways over the past few seasons.
In what will probably be his final season in his current position with the Yankees, it appears possible that Steinbrenner will turn him loose for the last hurrah as the team strives to attain that elusive 28th title.
The entire premise of this article surrounds the idea that Steinbrenner will, in fact, do just that – if only because he too senses that Yankees fans have had enough – and if he doesn’t appear in different stripes, fans will turn on him and the team in a New York minute.
Or at least, here’s hoping so…