After winning a spot in the Wild Card last season, the New York Yankees handily defeated the Oakland Athletics to push them ahead to the American League Divisional Series. The Yankees pushed the eventual World Series champion Boston Red Sox to four games, ultimately giving up 25 runs in a series that the Bronx Bombers only put up eight.
So what’s next?
Bullpen additions and organizational depth additions.
With the established luxury tax threshold of $206 million in place for the 2019 season, the Yankees are right around $15 million underneath that mark, leaving room for spring training or potential July trade deadline additions to push them towards the playoffs once again.
Second base, shortstop, and rotational depth were all addressed for Aaron Boone’s squad, as D.J. LeMahieu, Troy Tulowitzki, James Paxton and C.C. Sabathia were all signed or brought back this offseason. LeMahieu, coming to the Big Apple on a two-year, $24 million deal, was not signed until Jan. 11, decently late for someone in the top five of their position group.
LeMahieu will help stabilize the rotating door at second, which was manned by Gleyber Torres, among others, throughout 2018. Coming from the Rockies, the former batting champ will look to bounce back from a few off years in Colorado and look to regain his offensive prowess after having a .276/.321/.428 season.
Tulowitzki has been the steal of the offseason throughout the league, as the Toronto Blue Jays, fed up with his lack of performance on a huge deal, cut him loose and ate the remaining $20+ million on his deal. The Yankees scooped him up, and due to still being paid by their AL East rivals, only have him on a veteran’s minimum deal.
If Tulowitzki can play anywhere close to what made him a household name in Colorado, he could form a dangerous offensive up-the-middle duo with his former Rockies teammate, while bringing defensive competency to the table for a 34-year-old.
Paxton and Sabathia were brought in/back after posting solid numbers last season, with Sabathia coming back for his 11th season in pinstripes.
In Seattle, Paxton went 11-6 with a 3.76 ERA in 160.1 innings pitched, equating out to 28 starts, his third consecutive campaign of 20 or more starts. He comes to New York on a cheaper deal, only owed $8.75 million over the course of this season.
Sabathia put up a 3.65 ERA in 29 starts, going 9-7 on the year. While facing health concerns with his heart over the offseason, he has never wavered in his willingness to pitch for the Yankees this year. He has not been cleared to return yet, but hopefully, his health returns to normal and can be ready to participate in Spring Training.
Concerning needed additions, Boone needs another bullpen arm at his disposal to use in high-leverage situations. While Craig Kimbrel is out of the team’s pay range, another former Rockies pitcher could join his former teammates in pinstripes.
The team has been linked to closer Adam Ottavino, who has the potential to slide into a setup role in front of Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen pecking order. While this technically would be a role demotion for Ottavino, the money could speak more for him than his new role.
Other bullpen additions that would help the team include former sinker-balling Red Sox reliever Carson Smith, former Brewers southpaws Dan Jennings and Xavier Cedeno, or a reunion with Justin Wilson, just to name a few. Under-the-radar additions are what will help save the team money while pushing them over the top in 2019.
Organizational depth pieces will fall into place during spring training or when the free agent scramble begins, whichever comes first. With the past few seasons being tough on bigger-name free agents, they have been forced to take less money and shorter deals due to the stingier nature of franchises who are becoming more money conscious.
A Gordon Beckham, Hunter Pence, or Robbie Grossman would fit into that mold, as they may be small, cheap pieces available towards the end of the offseason that could be valuable bench pickups for the team.
Because the franchise loves its money spending ways, being under the luxury tax threshold is nothing short of a miracle. Brian Cashman and company have done a great job consolidating finances, making smarter decisions, and not splurging every time a big-name player becomes available.
With this being said, there still is a big contract on the roster that needs to be gotten rid of, Jacoby Ellsbury. As he gets older, the money increases and the deal gets worse, as he is under contract for three more seasons, all the way until his year-37 season of 2021.
Towards last season’s trade deadline and again towards the beginning of the offseason, there have been discussions about the team trying to attach prospects/young players/draft selections in a salary dump situation. What makes this even more interesting is the team’s farm system, ranked as high as sixth during last season. The eventual graduation of Gleyber Torres and Justus Sheffield will lower this number, but there are prospects that can be attached to Ellsbury’s deal to make any team (Royals, Reds, Rays, etc.) more interested in taking on salary.
This strategy has been used once already this offseason, as the Dodgers and Reds matched up on a salary dump, with Cincy taking on Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, Matt Kemp, UT Kyle Farmer, and cash. Los Angeles received Homer Bailey and his $28-million deal, along with Jeter Downs (great name) and Josiah Gray, with Downs and Gray both ranked in the Reds’ top 20 prospects (seventh and 20th, respectively).
With the Yankees not talking with Manny Machado and not having a spot for Bryce Harper to play, the team has played the offseason smart to this point, investing in smaller but important pieces with the hope that they will help carry the team until it is time to add the few final bigger pieces to the squad in time to make a playoff run.