Every winter, teams attack hot stove season with lists of both needs and wants.
Contenders and wannabe contenders make sure to fill gaping roster holes, the kind created by free-agency defections and injuries. Those are the needs. Wants can involve a bit of daydreaming. Turning a great lineup into a terrifying one. Upgrading a great rotation into an unhittable one. Imagining a superstar free agent or trade piece taking the podium for the first time in your team's uniform.
Few teams have been as successful so far this offseason in addressing their needs as the Yankees have. After blazing to a 100-win season on the strength of a loaded offense, a deep bullpen and a top-heavy rotation, that top half of the rotation came unglued when it mattered most. Luis Severino looked like a Cy Young candidate in the first half of the season before collapsing to a 5.57 ERA in the second half, followed by a horrific ALDS start against the eventual champion Red Sox in which he got torched for six runs in three innings.
- 2018 Result: 100-62, second place in AL East
- Key free agents: Andrew McCutchen, Lance Lynn, David Robertson, Zach Britton, Neil Walker, Adeiny Hechavarria
- Needs: Shortstop, Relief pitching
Though the Yankees didn't seem to overwork their ace by any traditional measure, that kind of in-season deterioration can't help but make a franchise nervous. Given that Severino's supporting cast included an ancient CC Sabathia, the highly flammable Sonny Gray, and a pair of free agents, reinforcements were sorely needed.
So they went out and got them. In James Paxton, the Yankees acquired one of the best left-handers in the game, a pitcher who's dealt with a litany of injuries during his career, but is capable of masterful work when he's upright. Then on Thursday, they on a two-year, $34 million contract, with a vesting option for a third year. In Paxton and Happ, the Yanks acquired two of the most prolific strikeout pitchers in the league who also happen to be southpaws, a big advantage given the big, honking danger that is Yankee Stadium's short porch in right field.
Sure, the Yanks could have gone bigger and outbid the Nationals for top free agent Patrick Corbin. But this is also a franchise that's watched as other big contracts have become big albatrosses over time (Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Jacoby Ellsbury to name just a few recent ones); given that pitchers are even riskier than position players, avoiding Corbin, a pitcher who already has one Tommy John surgery under his belt, might turn out to be a wise move.
And of course, the Yankees aren't done. They're going to fill the bullpen voids likely to be left if and when Zach Britton and David Robertson sign with other teams, thus keeping intact a bullpen that's been one of the best in baseball even before the start of this fun Baby Bombers era. They're also going to fill the void left when Didi Gregorius suffered an injury that required Tommy John surgery and will keep him sidelined until next summer. Whether that's plugging in a one-year solution at short or acquiring a second baseman to move 2018 breakout rookie Gleyber Torres to short for a little while, there are plenty of viable options in both cases.
Thing is, needs and wants might very well converge between now and the start of next season. The Yankees are reportedly one of the most interested parties in Manny Machado. The All-Star slugger has played both short and third base in the majors, giving the Yanks some flexibility. They could make Machado the opening day shortstop, then move him to third base when Gregorius returns. That would clear the way for New York to flip another 2018 breakout player, third baseman Miguel Andujar, elsewhere to fill other needs (and wants). Given that Gregorius has rated as a below-average defensive shortstop in the past three years and Machado's said to prefer playing at short, Gregorius could also be the one who moves to another infield position. However the fallout were to play out, paying top dollar for a superstar in his mid-20s while also addressing the lineup's biggest immediate hole would be a perfect convergence of need and want.
Of course that's not all that could go down over the next few weeks. The Yankees have been discussed as a possible destination for Mets ace Noah Syndergaard, a splashy move on paper even if the latest buzz pegs that kind of pickup as a long shot. J.T. Realmuto has emerged as the best all-around catcher in the game and also the most available, so the Yankees could try to upgrade a position that's covered by one of the most powerful right-handed hitters in the game ... who also happens to be a highly suspect defender behind the dish.
And then there's the potential coup de grace, Bryce Harper. The Yankees moved quickly to shore up their outfield for next season, re-signing Brett Gardner to spend a 15th season in the organization. While Gardner remains a solid on-base threat at the top of the lineup as well as the longest-tenured Yankee, he's also not anything close to a strong enough reason to pass on an opportunity to sign a potential generational player like Harper, the rare free agent who at age 26 may well have his best years still to come.
Watching the Red Sox celebrate couldn't have gone over well in the Yankees' executive offices, or their owners' box. Shepherding Severino, Sanchez, Torres, Aaron Judge, and other Baby Bombers to the majors, complementing them with a force of nature like Giancarlo Stanton, and falling short in the postseason had to feel hollow for a team that's ceded divisional supremacy to its arch rivals.
Look for the Yankees to quickly address their last couple of needs...and very possibly swing for the fences on its wants too.