Before MLB's owners locked out the players when the collective bargaining agreement expired on Dec. 1, triggering baseball's first work stoppage since the 1994-95 strike, we were treated to a hot stove frenzy that saw 25 of the top 50 free agents sign in what felt like a matter of hours. In reality, it happened over the course of a week, but still, it was chaotic and fun.
The most surprising part of the free agent frenzy is not the frenzy itself. It's that the New York Yankees sat out completely. Well, no, not completely. They did re-sign serviceable lefty reliever Joely Rodríguez. Otherwise that's it. New York has not added a single new player to its 40-man roster from outside the organization this offseason. It has been a quiet winter in the Bronx.
"As a team and as an organization, we must grow, evolve and improve. We need to get better. Period," chairman Hal Steinbrenner said in a statement after the Yankees re-signed manager Aaron Boone. That has not happened yet. Other teams have taken steps to "grow, evolve and improve," but not the Yankees. They basically sat out the first half of this divided offseason.
CBS Sports HQ Newsletter
Your Ultimate Guide to Every Day in Sports
We bring sports news that matters to your inbox, to help you stay informed and get a winning edge.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
The offseason is not over, of course. We have no idea when it will start back up, nor do we know how much time teams will have between the end of the lockout and the start of spring training, but the offseason is not over. The Yankees can still make moves to "grow, evolve and improve" before reporting to camp. Here are three things they can do to salvage their offseason.
1. Don't skimp on shortstop
Within the last 12 months Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Trea Turner, Marcus Semien (twice), and Javier Báez (twice) have all changed teams, and Carlos Correa and Trevor Story are poised to do the same after the lockout. Yet the Yankees are after Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Andrelton Simmons? Really? Simmons is no longer a championship caliber player and Kiner-Falefa is just fine.
It could be the Yankees are posturing and will come in with a Godfather offer for Correa soon after the lockout. It's possible. The thing is, when the Yankees set their sights on an elite free agent, they don't play around. They made a huge offer early and let other teams know what's what. They did it with CC Sabathia and Gerrit Cole. They haven't done it with Correa (or any shortstop).
Story's throwing issues and down 2021 season in general make him a riskier investment than Correa, who is more than two full years younger than Story. It's always easy to come up with reasons to not sign a player. In Correa's case, they can all be easily refuted. Let's go through it point/counterpoint style:
Point: Correa has had two below average offensive seasons in the last four years (99 OPS+ in 2018 and 93 OPS+ in 2020).
Counterpoint: Correa has been at least 24 percent better than average in the other five seasons of his career (at least 31 percent better in four of the other five seasons), and he's a Platinum Glove caliber defender too. Those 2018 and 2020 seasons are the exceptions, not the rule.
Point: The Yankees have two top 100 shortstop prospects they don't want to block in Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza.
Counterpoint: Prospects are suspects until proven otherwise. Peraza and Volpe could always be used as trade chips to address other needs, plus there are three non-first base infield positions. Why couldn't the Yankees have Correa at third, Peraza at short, and Volpe at second in a few years? Seems pretty great to me.
Point: Sign Correa to a massive contract now and the Yankees wouldn't be able to afford to re-sign Aaron Judge when he becomes a free agent next offseason.
Counterpoint: Lol yes they would. Signing Correa and then not re-signing Judge would be Steinbrenner's fault, not Correa's.
Point: There's bad blood from the sign-stealing scandal.
Counterpoint: To the Yankees I say: get over yourselves. The Yankees have been embroiled in plenty of cheating scandals over the years (possibly even their own sign-stealing scandal) and it would be hypocritical to draw the line here, just because they got beat by the sign-stealing Astros in 2017. Fans would get over it quick too. Fans are willing to overlook a lot -- A LOT -- as long as the player helps the team win, and Correa does a ton to make his team better.
The upcoming free-agent shortstop classes are not great. Turner will be two and a half years older than Correa is right now when he hits the market next winter, and others like Dansby Swanson (2022-23 offseason), Amed Rosario (2023-24), and Willy Adames (2024-25) are good but not truly great. Want a high-end shortstop in his 20s? Correa will be your last shot at one for a while.
"Shortstop is an area of need. We have to address it," GM Brian Cashman said in October. The Yankees could either sign Correa, one of the two or three best players at a premium position, or they could sign/trade for a lesser player and not win as many games in an extremely competitive AL East division that featured three other 90-win teams in 2021. I know what I'd do.
2. Focus on left field, not center field
At the GM Meetings last month Cashman reiterated the Yankees want to address shortstop and "maybe center field," according to Ken Davidoff of the New York Post. Incumbent center fielder Aaron Hicks missed most of the season following wrist surgery, and his replacement, stalwart Brett Gardner, is now 38 and a free agent. At minimum, adding a good fourth outfielder is necessary.
This is a bad offseason to need a center fielder. Starling Marte was by far the best free agent center fielder, and he's already signed with the crosstown Mets. The next best free agent center fielders were guys who have played some center even though it's not their natural position, like Chris Taylor and Mark Canha. Taylor (Dodgers) and Canha (Mets) have already signed as well.
Here are the best available free agent center fielders according to FanGraphs projected 2022 WAR:
- Odúbel Herrera: 1.0 WAR
- Brett Gardner: 0.7 WAR
- Kevin Pillar: 0.3 WAR
- Several at 0.1 WAR
The ideal center field addition would be Bryan Reynolds, though the Pirates will understandably have a high asking price, so high he might not be attainable. The same applies to Orioles center fielder Cedric Mullins, which would bring the added hurdle of an intradivision trade. Reynolds or Mullins would be perfect for the Yankees. Acquiring either would cost a ton though.
Given the center field market, I say forget about it and focus instead on left field. New York's best center field option is already on the roster and it's not Hicks. It's Joey Gallo, the reigning two-time AL Gold Glove winner in right field. Gallo played center earlier in his career with the Rangers and Scott Boras would love love love Gallo playing center during his contract year.
Gallo turned only 28 last month and he's a gifted defender with range and a cannon arm. Put him in center and it opens a world of outfield possibilities rather than limiting the Yankees to center fielders only. Look at the list of available free agent corner outfielders, again according to FanGraphs projected 2022 WAR:
- Kyle Schwarber: 2.6 WAR
- Michael Conforto: 2.5 WAR
- Tommy Pham: 2.2 WAR
- Nick Castellanos: 2.1 WAR
- Several over 1.0 WAR
Wouldn't you rather have one of those guys in left and Gallo in center than Gallo in left and one of the free agent center fielders? I know I would. Heck, Judge is a center field candidate too. He played 23 games in center this past season, so he and Gallo (and Hicks) could share the workload. I don't think the Yankees absolutely need a center fielder. I think they have good options already.
I'm a Conforto fan and I think he'd love hitting in Yankee Stadium. Schwarber would make sense as well given his lefty pop. We could even look at the corner outfield trade market. The Reds are purging payroll, so is Jesse Winker available? The Twins have listened to offers for Max Kepler in the past. Why not ask the Giants about Mike Yastrzemski? Worst case is they say no.
Point is, I believe the Yankees are better off sticking with their in-house center fielders and exploring the corner outfield market, which offers more appealing options than the current center field market. Gallo is plenty good enough to play center for a year and Judge (and Hicks) provide enough depth. I wouldn't get caught up in looking for a center field and center field only.
3. Give the A's a call
It did not happen before the lockout, but all signs point to the Athletics slashing payroll and trading away several (all?) top players before the start of next season. And any time a team makes good players available because they're motivated by money, the Yankees should be there waiting with open arms. Money is their single greatest resource and they should use it aggressively.
Look at Oakland's roster and you'll find several players who would appeal to the Yankees. Consider:
- 1B Matt Olson: An ideal fit as a lefty hitter with power and good defense. Also under control through 2023.
- 3B Matt Chapman: Not sure third base is a priority for New York, but you have to at least ask.
- RHP Chris Bassitt: Workhorse righty who can provide innings behind Cole.
- LHP Sean Manaea: Lefty changeup specialist, which is becoming New York's pitch of choice.
- RHP Frankie Montas: Power bat-misser under control through 2023 (Bassitt and Manaea are one-year rentals).
- CF Ramón Laureano: If the Yankees must have a center fielder, here's a pretty good one.
- UTIL Tony Kemp: High energy, high contact lefty who can play second base and the outfield.
You don't have to try too hard to see the Yankees and Athletics hooking up for a blockbuster that sends, say, Olson and Montas and Kemp to New York in exchange for a prospect package that is lighter than you'd expect given the A's payroll-slashing priority. Teams will straight up give good players away if you take on money. Look at the Lindor trade or the Braves at this year's deadline.
The Yankees can still address first base via free agency, either by going big (Freddie Freeman) or going modest (Anthony Rizzo). They can not do the same with the rotation. Every top starter except Carlos Rodón has signed, meaning a trade will be required, and the A's have three arbitration-eligible pitchers to peddle in Bassitt, Manaea, and Montas. They're obvious trade partners.
Even after sitting on the sidelines prior to the lockout, the Yankees can still have an A+ offseason. What other grade could you give it if they show up to spring training with Correa at short, Olson at first, Montas in the rotation, and Joc Pederson in left (with Joey Gallo in center)? The timing of it all may not be what we expected, but you can see the path to a great offseason.
That said, the Yankees will have a lot of work to do whenever the lockout ends and a short period of time to do it. Indications are they won't pay big for Correa, and swinging a trade for those A's guys is easier said than done. I know this much: New York's window to win a title during what we'll call the Aaron Judge era is closing. They need a lot of help, and there's still time to get it.