The sale of the New York Mets to billionaire Steve Cohen has drastically changed the baseball landscape in New York City.
With financial resources available to Cohen’s club, the Mets will clearly challenge the Yankees for supremacy in the nation’s largest baseball market.
The Mets could easily force the Yankees to spend more on team payroll than the Yankees wish.
The Yankees front office has to determine a correct path for future success, while avoiding the dreaded MLB luxury tax of $210M.
The Yankees face significant roster challenges as they enter the offseason. The stakes are higher than ever with the potential of more competitive Mets teams competing for some of the same free agents.
The Yankees last won a World Championship in 2009. That must seem like an eternity for Yankee fans. It was the same year New Yorkers marveled at Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landing his US Airways Flight No.1549 safely on the Hudson River.
The Yankees have made the MLB playoffs a remarkable 56 times in 107 seasons. They last missed the playoffs in 2016.
2020 was the first year of right-hander Gerrit Cole’s 9-year, $324M contract. Cole was specifically targeted to pitch in high pressure games, hopefully taking his club to a World Series Championship.
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While the dust has long settled on the team’s dramatic 2020 Division Series loss, difficult decisions await.
Starting Pitching Issues:
Without question, the biggest weakness of the 2020 edition of the Yankees was a lack of starting pitching depth. Severe season ending injuries could not be totally.overcome. The Yankees were forced to scramble to find enough quality pitchers to navigate a reduced schedule of regular season games. The issue was compounded in the playoffs, when consecutive games were played with little rest.
Potential starting right-hander Luis Severino’s season ended with Tommy John surgery in February, 2020. He also had a bone chip removed during the operation. Hopefully, he will return to the rotation when the 2021 season begins. However, there is no guarantee Severino will be ready. The normal recovery time for Tommy John surgery is 12 to 18 months.
Severino is signed to a contract through the 2022 season, and the club will want to be careful with his future. It remains to be seen how much impact his surgery has had on Severino’s ability.
Also in February, left-hander James Paxton underwent a microscopic lumbar discectomy to remove a peridical cyst. But as if that injury wasn’t bad enough, after returning to the rotation and making five starts, Paxton suffered a strain in his left forearm, ending his season.
Paxton is now a free agent and it remains to be seen if the Yankees will offer a contract. However, reports indicate Paxton is generating interest from pitching starved clubs.
The Yankees finished the season with a rotation of Cole, lefty J.A. Happ, Masahiro Tanaka, lefty Jordan Montgomery and rookie Deivi Garcia.
Cole just turned 30 and has looked dominant as a true All Star quality right-hander.
Tanaka has been inconsistent, sometimes pitching like a star and at other times getting lit up like a theatre marquee on Times Square. He has also been pitching with a torn elbow tendon that can further deteriorate at any time. Tanaka is now a free agent, and the Yankees may or may not wish to retain his services. Losing him would leave another void in their rotation.
Montgomery will be 28 next season. He shows promise as a back end of the rotation lefty. The knee-buckling breaking balls of 21-year-old Deivi Garcia form the cornerstone for his career. But Garcia lacks experience and is still learning to navigate major league lineups. He is likely in the plans for the coming season.
Right-hander Domingo German missed the 2020 season while serving a suspension for domestic violence. He is a possible rotation candidate for next year.
The Yankees may turn to prospect Clarke Schmidt or other pitchers currently in development to complete their starting rotation. That path would be the least expensive, but it brings risk.
The free agent starting pitching market is very thin, making matters difficult for teams like the Yankees who are looking to bolster their rotations.
Free agent right-handerTrevor Bauer could be an outstanding acquisition. A quality pitcher, Bauer just won the NL Cy Young Award and is in demand. He has stated he wants to pitch for a winner. Bauer may also be on the Mets wish list, providing a financial challenge for the Yankees if they want Bauer’s services.
Corey Kluber is on the free agent market, but he has been injured. Left-hander Cole Hamels may spark some interest, but he turns 37 in December.
Right-hander Charlie Morton just turned 37. He’s a solid pitcher, and the Tampa Bay Rays would like to get him back. But the Yankees (or even the Mets) might be able to convince him to sign with a New York club on a short-term deal.
Free agent left-handers Mike Minor or Jose Quintana could interest the Yankees.
Minor had a tough year pitching for the Texas Rangers, regressing after a good 2019 season.
Quintana, most recently with the Chicago Cubs, has shown inconsistency as a starter. He missed the season after cutting his finger badly enough to require surgery.
Right-hander Jake Odorizzi found a home in Minnesota after being traded to the Twins in 2018. He was injured this year and made only three starts. If he is healthy, maybe the Yankees look to sign Odorizzi as a free agent.
While the bullpen has depth, it wouldn’t hurt for the Yankees to add a piece or two to the pen.
Offensive Decisions For The Yankees:
2020 American League batting champion DJ LeMahieu is a free agent. He has completed a two-year $24M Yankees contract and is now available on the open market. The Yankees have a decision to make regarding their stellar second baseman.
LeMahieu declined the Yankees qualifying offer of $18.9M. Mets second baseman Robinson Cano has been suspended 162 games for PED use. Might the Mets swoop in and sign LeMahieu? Once again, the Mets might impact the Yankees plans and a bidding war might be brewing.
The Yankees declined a $10M team option on spark plug outfielder Brett Gardner. He received a $2.5M buyout. Gardner has been a steady, reliable, and competent team player for years. Team chemistry may not be the same if Gardner leaves. The Yankees may try to sign Gardner at a reduced amount.
Given the fact Gerrit Cole has another 8 years on his contract with an average annual value of $36M, and Giancarlo Stanton is signed thru 2028 with an average annual value of $25M, the Yankees have financial commitments that form the nucleus for future spending. Should they choose to keep Aroldis Chapman, he will be paid an average of $17.5M for two more seasons. They may they try to trade Chapman’s contract to get financial wiggle room.
Other Pending Yankee Issues:
Catcher Gary Sanchez is set to enter his third and final year of arbitration following his one-year $5M salary. it has been reported the Yankees may wish to move beyond Sanchez. Defensively challenged behind the plate and with reduced offensive production, Sanchez may have permanently lost his job to less expensive and credible Kyle Higashioka.
Gleyber Torres has had his defensive hiccups at shortstop. After the 2021 season, Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa and Trevor Story will become free agents. Perhaps the Yankees will trade for one of those All Star quality shortstops now and hope to sign him to a long-term contract. Again, the Mets may be a team that wishes to sign one of those impactful free agent shortstops.
Miguel Andujar has declined on both sides of the ball. He lost his starting third base job to Gio Urshela long ago. Andujar was tested in left field, but he never really claimed the role with either a big bat or an acceptable glove. The Yankees may choose to keep Andujar or try to include him for a pitcher, a shortstop or even a second baseman.
Clint Frazier has shown power from the right side of the plate. Frazier is a defensive liability in the outfield, his natural defensive role. When he’s in the lineup against left-handed pitching, he adds another explosive bat to an already powerful offense. Frazier might fetch a solid player in trade.
The Yankees seem set at third base with Urshela, in right field with powerful Aaron Judge, in center with Aaron Hicks and at first base with Luke Voit. Giancarlo Stanton remains as a designated hitter.
The Yankees must add starting pitching depth. Trading some of their prospects or controllable players may help fetch a quality starter.
The Yankees have to determine if they wish to pursue any of their own free agents, including All Star second baseman DJ LeMahieu.
The Yankees will be faced with increasing pressure to compete for New York City supremacy with new Mets owner Steve Cohen, while also trying to avoid the MLB Luxury Tax.
Without question, the abilities of Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman are being challenged and tested this offseason. Especially with Steve Cohen now owning the Mets.
Source: Forbes – Business