MLB Hot Stove: Four things on the Yankees' to-do list the rest of the offseason
The Yankees have a new manager and won't sign Shohei Ohtani. Now they can move on to other matters
Wednesday afternoon, the New York Yankees officially introduced new manager Aaron Boone with a press conference at Yankee Stadium. That happened three days after the Yankees learned Japanese ace-slash-slugger Shohei Ohtani would not sign with them given his preference for non-East Coast teams. .
Hiring a new manager and pursuing Ohtani were the two biggest items on New York's agenda coming into the offseason. Those two situations are now resolved. They have a new manager and they won't sign Ohtani. Now the Yankees can move forward with the rest of their offseason to-do list which, by Yankees standards, is relatively short. GM Brian Cashman will tinker with the roster but an overhaul is not needed.
"We are certainly going to be active in the free agent market," said owner Hal Steinbrenner following Boone's introductory press conference. "The Winter Meetings are imminent and we will be active in the free agent market. We will leave no stone unturned, and where we think we need improvement, we're going to do our best, as we always do, to make it happen."
The Yankees are planning to get under the $197 million luxury tax threshold next season, which would save the team millions, and that'll limit their spending this winter. My back of the envelope calculation has the team with a $165 million or so payroll right now, using the arbitration projections at MLB Trade Rumors. Keep in mind the Yankees need to leave some payroll space open for midseason call-ups and additions. They can't spend right up to the $197 million threshold just yet.
So, with Boone on board and Ohtani signing elsewhere, let's break down what the Yankees still have to do this offseason, with pitchers and catchers a little more than two months away from reporting to Tampa for spring training.
Build a coaching staff
The Yankees have a new manager. They do not have a coaching staff, however. Longtime pitching coach Larry Rothschild will return to the team next season. That much we know.
The Yankees still need a bench coach, a hitting coach (likely an assistant hitting coach as well), first and third base coaches, and a bullpen coach. Plus any other miscellaneous coaches the team would like to hire in this age of rapidly growing coaching staffs. It would stand to reason Boone and the Yankees would like a bench coach with prior managerial experience given Boone's lack of experience, but apparently that is not a priority.
"Experience is certainly a factor and something that should be of value, but it's not the be-all, end-all for me," said Boone. "I want smart sitting next to me. I want confident sitting next to me. I want a guy who can walk out into that room and, as I talk about relationships I expect to have with my players, I expect that even to be moreso with my coaching staff. I want smart guys capable of connecting and impacting players. Whether that is guys with all kinds of experience or little experience, I am not concerned about that."
Cashman said building the coaching staff could take "a couple of weeks," so similar to their managerial search, the Yankees don't seem to be in much of a rush to get this done. There are very few coaching positions open around baseball. The Yankees know they don't have much competition for coaching personnel and can be patient and thorough with their search, and make sure they're hiring the right people.
Add another starting pitcher (maybe two)
Coming into the offseason it was clear the Yankees needed to add at least one starting pitcher this offseason. Had they landed Ohtani, I'm almost certain they would've acquired another starter as well, and gone with a six-man rotation in 2018, allowing them to ease Ohtani into things. That he would've made the league minimum would've been a huge help to the luxury tax plan.
As things stand, the Yankees' rotation depth chart looks something like this:
That's a strong top four with unproven commodities in the 5-6 spots. For what it's worth, the Yankees are planning to bring Chad Green, who dominated as a setup man this season, to spring training as a starting pitcher, and giving him a chance to win a rotation spot.
Green's overwhelming dominance in relief -- he ranked tenth among all relievers with +2.7 WAR this year despite not being called up until May 8 -- suggests he will return to the bullpen next season. He's way too good in that role. Still, Green came up through the minors as a starter, and there's no harm in seeing how he handles the role in spring training. It's much easier to come in a starter and go back to reliever than coming in as a reliever and moving to starter.
Anyway, the Yankees have an obvious need for another starting pitcher, and the easiest solution would be re-signing CC Sabathia. Sabathia has made it clear he wants to stay with the Yankees -- "This is my home. I want to see this thing through. I want to come back here and finish things off. This is where I want to be," -- and the Yankees recently touched base with his representatives.
Sabathia is no longer the pitcher he was in his prime, but he's reinvented himself as a finesse pitcher these last few years, throwing 328 1/3 innings with a 3.81 ERA (116 ERA+) from 2016-17. Considering he is now 37 and likely to come on a luxury tax friendly low-cost one-year contract, re-signing Sabathia seems like a no-brainer for the Yankees. They know him and he knows them. Easy peasy. it's a perfect fit.
Would the Yankees go out and add another starter on top of Sabathia, someone who allows them to ease up on Severino and Montgomery given their large workloads in 2017? I'm sure the Yankees will look into it. They do appear to have enough payroll space to land another starter. Enough for someone like Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn? Possibly. A lower cost free agent like Jhoulys Chacin or Jaime Garcia could also work.
Point is, the Yankees definitely need at least one starting pitcher this offseason, and re-signing Sabathia would be the easiest and most straightforward move. Signing Ohtani and re-signing Sabathia would've been ideal, but that's not possible now, so Cashman and his staff will have to improvise.
Spend their international money
Over the last several months the Yankees swung a series of trades to add international bonus money to help with their pursuit of Ohtani. They had $3.5 million to offer Ohtani, second most behind the Rangers ($3.535 million), and now that $3.5 million is burning a hole in their pocket. It'll be used in some way shape or form.
With Ohtani no longer an option, the Yankees have already shifted gears and begun looking at other international prospects they could sign with that $3.5 million.
Martinez recently defected from Cuba and Severino is one of the 13 prospects the Braves recently lost as part of the penalties for their international impropriety. Also, Ben Badler of Baseball America recently connected the Yankees to Venezuelan outfielder Raimfer Salinas, Venezuelan catcher Antonio Cabello, and Dominican shortstop Osleivis Basabe. MLB.com ranks Salinas and Cabello as two of the best available international prospects.
The Yankees could use that $3.5 million to sign any or all of Martinez, Severino, Salinas, Cabello, and Basabe. They also have the option of trading that $3.5 million. That's what the Twins are doing with their leftover international money after losing out on Ohtani. They traded bonus money to the Mariners and Angels, two teams still in the Ohtani race, . The Yankees can use that money to sign prospects or as a trade chip, or a little of both. They have to do something with it thought. It won't roll over to next year, so it's use or lose it, and I'd bet the farm on the Yankees using it.
Figure out the outfield situation
At the moment the Yankees have five outfielders for three spots. Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks joined AL Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge in the starting outfield throughout the postseason, and those three are expected to be the starting outfield going into next season. Jacoby Ellsbury, even with his massive contract, has been relegated to fourth outfielder's duty as a result of his poor performance.
The Yankees also have top outfield prospect Clint Frazier, who came over from the Indians in the Andrew Miller trade last year. He made his MLB debut this summer and had a tough time overall, hitting .231/.268/.448 in 142 plate appearances, but he also showed some of the tools that landed him high on the various top 100 prospect lists coming into the season, specifically his top of the line bat speed.
Give Cashman a truth serum, and I think he'd tell you he wants to go into next season with Gardner, Hicks, Judge, and Frazier rotating between the three outfield spots and DH. The Yankees would love to unload Ellsbury just to clear playing time for Frazier, though they'd be thrilled to save some money as well. As of now though, the team has not asked Ellsbury about the possibility of waiving his no-trade clause. NJ.com's Brendan Kuty spoke to Cashman about it at the GM Meetings last month:
"I have not had any dialogue with Scott (Boras), haven't even approached Scott, I guess it's a similar situation. I think in both cases in (Brian) McCann's case (last offseason) as well as if there is going to be something for consideration with Jacoby I would make sure I would stay ahead of it and have to include anybody in the process on their side of it to make sure it's handled the proper way.
"They have a full no-trade for a reason, and I would walk through that process with the highest level of communication and respect because of it. I haven't connected with Scott at all, but I know he's here somewhere, and I'll make sure I'll get a chance to talk to him before I leave just generally about everything Scott Boras related for the winter, and I'm sure we'll also talk about Jacoby as well.
The Yankees owe Ellsbury approximately $21.1 million each year from 2018-20 before they can buy out his $21 million club option for 2021 for $5 million. It's $68.3 million total and that money is a sunk cost. The Yankees have to pay Ellsbury no matter what. If they can find a trade partner and perhaps save $5 million a season, it would be worth it given the luxury tax plan and the need to get Frazier into the lineup regularly.
At the same time, the Yankees need to work with Ellsbury given his no-trade clause, and it seems unlikely he would accept a trade to a non-contender. In fact, Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reported recently that Ellsbury "doesn't want to be dealt from the Yankees," which would obvious complicate things. Sending Frazier back to Triple-A wouldn't be the end of the world, but clearly, the Yankees want to find a way to get him at-bats next year. Trading Ellsbury would be the best way to do that.
As things stand, the Yankees are set on the position player side of things (aside from having too many outfielders) and in the bullpen. They do need another starter for sure, plus add general depth, otherwise the biggest items on their offseason to-do list involve building Boone's coaching staff and using that international money somehow. With Ohtani off the table, this could turn into a low key offseason for the Yankees very quickly.
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