Life moves on. The failure of the 2019 Playoffs still stings but as long as the sun keeps rising, there is work to do.
The Yankees move into the 2020 offseason with more question marks than they had going into the 2019 offseason. There are decisions to be made on pending free agents as well as the potential opt out of Aroldis Chapman.
The first free agent decision the Yankees need to make is Didi Gregorious. The man who replaced Derek Jeter is also the man who kept the fans from missing Derek Jeter. Didi is an excellent defensive shortstop who developed as a hitter during his tenure with the Yankees. Didi is a good but not great hitter who is prone to slumps. He had an abysmal stretch in 2018 that was concerning. His 2019 was okay, certainly not impressive. We’ve seen Didi match his slumps with some tremendous hot streaks but that never happened in 2019. Didi is certainly a fan favorite, most fans will want to see him resigned. Fortunately the Yankees aren’t the Mets and don’t make rash decisions based on fan pressure. Didi needs to be carefully examined because despite the positives, there are flaws.
Didi is an excellent fielder but a poor base runner. He gets thrown out taking an extra base far too much for my liking.
Didi is a left-handed bat who can provide some pop, especially when playing at home. He also falls into slumps where he looks completely lost at the plate.
He is a fan favorite and a clubhouse leader. The Yankees are loaded with fan favorites and have a good share of clubhouse leaders.
Didi has hit some clutch home runs over his five seasons as a Yankee. Over the span of two ALCS appearances, he has a batting average and on-base percentage of .235.
This leads to a tough decision on Brian Cashman and the front office. The Yankees have Gleyber Torres as a potential SS, add in LeMahieu and Urshela at 2B and 3B, there isn’t necessarily a need for Sir Didi. I also suspect that Didi maybe wasn’t fully recovered from his offseason Tommy John surgery. It’s so rare to even see a player return in such a short time span, even as a position player. Combine that with the down year that he had and one would speculate that maybe Didi was never playing at 100% this season.
If I were in Cashman’s shoes, I would make Didi a qualifying offer. This gives Didi a 1 year deal worth over $17 million. It also provides an opportunity for a healthy Didi Gregorious to come in 2020 with a chance to prove himself. He can prove to be a more consistent hitter. He can prove that he can hit in the ALCS and hopefully the World Series. I think that is a fair compromise. Didi hasn’t earned a long term deal, a qualifying offer gives him a mulligan on the 2019 season and maybe we see the best Didi Gregorious in this contract year.
Centerfield also needs to be addressed this offseason. Aaron Hicks is out until at least July/August while he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Hicks has earned his reputation with Yankees fans. Hicks is highly talented and highly injury prone. The short term answer is to resign Brett Gardner to play centerfield while Hicks recovers. The long term answer is to start looking for a long term centerfielder. Hicks is signed to a 7 year deal, he’s going to be around for a while but if he can’t stay healthy then he needs to be moved to left field and another centerfield option needs to be brought in or promoted from within. We’ve been hearing the name Estevan Florial for years but have yet to see him in New York, I don’t think he is a realistic option. With no great centerfield options on the free agent market, Cashman needs to start looking for options.
If a centerfielder can’t be found this offseason, then there are a few options. I love Clint Frazier, if he spends the offseason working on his fielding then he should be the starting left fielder for the Yankees. That leaves Brett Gardner, Cameron Maybin, and Mike Tauchman as the centerfield options while Aaron Hicks recovers. Gardner has been a great Yankee and is regarded as a great clubhouse influence. Maybin is very highly talented and a few years younger than Gardner. He seemed to thrive with the Yankees. He was in a low pressure situation, he wasn’t expected to live up to his draft position, he could just be a cog in the machine. Mike Tauchman was a surprise! Tauchman was en fuego in July and August before his calf strain ended his season. Is that the real Mike Tauchman? Can he play at that level for an entire season?
There are a lot of aspects to consider when making a decision on centerfield. A platoon of Gardner, Frazier, and Tauchman patrolling left field and centerfield seems like the best option unless Cashman can make a move for an everyday centerfielder.
I’ve mentioned Clint Frazier, time to address the never ending trade rumors. I think this kid is a stud. There are a couple of guys in the lineup who have failed to come up with big hits in the postseason the past few years. Clint Frazier is the type of guy who excels in a big spot. Clint Frazier has postseason hero written all over him. For reasons I don’t understand, Frazier has been used as trade bait the past few years. The Yankees need to hold on to this kid and give him a chance to show what he can do, especially in the playoffs.
Miguel Andujar is a real trade candidate this season. There is no place for him in the lineup. I really liked Andujar. He was a doubles machine which will translate to home runs as he continues to develop. He’s another stud hitter. There hasn’t been much chatter on any of the places I get my sports news about how the trade market might develop so I’m flying in the dark with my trade speculations. The Yankees can always use pitching but pitching isn’t always available. If Didi Gregorius does resign, there is absolutely no room for Andujar. If he does get moved, and it isn’t for pitching, I would be okay with trading him for prospects. If the Yankees can’t fill a need on the roster then reloading the farm system is the next best option when dealing Andujar.
The Yankees came to an agreement extending Aroldis Chapman for another year, avoiding him exercising his opt out clause. This was a great move, the bullpen anchored the Yankees during the 2019 regular season. The bullpen can be a huge asset in the postseason as long as the Yankees still get some length out of their starters preventing the bullpen from getting exposed, but that is a column for another day. Chapman has a beautiful delivery, fluid and natural, it doesn’t look like he puts excessive stress on his arm. I would have been comfortable if he was extended for two more years so the one year extension is fantastic.
Now it is time to address starting pitching. I don’t think that starting pitching was the reason the Yankees lost in the ALCS, I put the blame on the bats going cold. Houston did not hit very well in the ALCS either. Tanaka, Paxton, and Severino pitched well, the real issue was that the Yankees did not let their starters get any real length and the bullpen was overused. Part of the starting pitching issue will be that the Yankees need to trust their starters in the postseason. They need a solid 6 or 7 innings out of their starters before going to the bullpen. That is one starting pitching issue that needs to be addressed, having some trust in the starting pitching.
Additionally, they still need at least one more starting pitcher, if not two since we don’t know when we’ll see Domingo German pitching again. The first choice is Gerrit Cole. Cole is coming off a Cy Young caliber year. Signing Cole strengthens the Yankees while weakening the Astros. It’s a move the Yankees really need to make. The Yankees have been hesitant to overpay in free agency the past few years, Gerrit Cole should be the exception.
The Yankees passed on Patrick Corbin last offseason and he was a major factor in the Nationals World Series victory. That could have and should have been our guy. Cashman didn’t want to give Corbin a 6th year on his deal. That would be a credible excuse had he not given J.A. Happ a 3 year deal!! I would rather have had 4 or 5 solid years of Corbin with 1 or 2 down years at the end of the deal than 3 years worth of down years with J.A. Happ. Brian Cashman has made some terrible decisions regarding starting pitching during his tenure, signing Gerrit Cole can help change that narrative.
I mentioned the Yankees potentially needing a second starting pitcher. I see two free agent options. The first being Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg had a great postseason and that type of experience would fit in perfectly with what the Yankees want to accomplish. I hope the Yankees make a run at Strasburg but I’m not convinced he wants to leave DC. Strasburg exercising his opt out seems more like a ploy to get more years and money out of the Nationals. That leaves option 2, Zack Wheeler. Wheeler isn’t an ace starting pitcher but I do think he is a solid back end of the rotation guy who we know can handle pitching in New York. There would not be the acclimation period that we often see with free agent pitchers since he has already pitched in the pressure cooker of New York. Sometimes pitching for the Mets is even more pressure than pitching for the Yankees since so much goes wrong with the Mets and there is always so much controversy. With the Yankees Wheeler can just slide in under the radar as a 4th or 5th starter. If the money is right Wheeler could be a solid addition to the rotation.
I know a lot of fans want Madison Bumgarner. He would be a great piece for the postseason but I don’t think he would be a major factor in the regular season. That arms has thrown a lot of pitches and there would be an adjustment coming from the NL West and their pitcher friendly ballparks to coming to the AL East with our smaller, hitter friendly ballparks. Expect Bumgarner to stay with the Giants or sign with either the Padres or Phillies.
Lastly, we have to address the albatross in the room, the much despised Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton isn’t going anywhere this offseason. His trade value is next to nothing and the Yankees have no leverage in a deal since Stanton has a full no trade clause and could dictate where he wants to go. He’s not getting traded. Enda story.
What do the Yankees do about Stanton? He’s probably going to spend the majority of his time as a DH to help keep him healthy which is what they need from him this upcoming season, stay healthy. He seems to draw an A-Rod level of anger from Yankees fans though I don’t think that is fair. A-Rod did a lot of dumb things as a Yankee to embarass the franchise and irk the fans. Stanton is more business and professional. The only thing A-Rod and Stanton have is common is their contracts, their personalities are completely different. We fans need to lay off Stanton this year. That isn’t what we usually do as Yankees fans but we need him to produce so we need him to be comfortable. The way to make him comfortable is to be supportive. It’s not in our nature but it’s what we need to do. Stanton is going to be around for a long time, he’s not getting traded and he’s definitely not opting out of his contract in a year since there is no way he gets another contract like the one he has. We’re stuck with him so now we need to find a way to make it work. There were a few seasons there where we made A-Rod’s life a living hell every time he stepped on the field. That was the wrong approach, it did not make A-Rod play better, if anything it made him play worse. I admit that I was part of the booing on quite a few occasions myself which makes me realize we can’t do the same thing with Stanton. If Stanton strikes out 5 times in one game, boo him after the 5th strikeout, he’ll deserve it. If Stanton strikes out in the second inning, just leave him alone and cheer for him his next at bat. It’s not what we usually do as Yankees fans but it’s what we have to do this season to give him the chance to play to his potential.
There’s my take, now it’s time for Cashman to do what I say.
Here’s a great article from our Boston sports writer – The Toughest Sport to Play