Yankees’ offseason to-do list has many items, but Aaron Judge is No. 1: Bowden – The Athletic

The Athletic

The yankees were swept away by the Astros in the American League Championship Series and woke up Monday morning to the harsh reality that they have a lot of work to do this winter if they hope to close the significant gap with Houston.

General manager Brian Cashman’s biggest offseason priority is no secret: re-signing Aaron Judge to a long-term contract after the all-world right fielder just completed arguably the best offensive season in baseball history. Judge made a bet on himself by turning down the Yankees’ seven-year, $213.5 million offer in spring training and now stands to make about $100 million more in free agency. He will be the highest position player in special class of free agent. Will he come back?

Other key decisions await. Antonio Rizzo is expected to opt out of a $16 million player option for 2023, so first base needs to be addressed. The Yankees are expected to practice righty Luis Severinothe $15 million team option, but will they look to further strengthen the rotation? They will clear payroll in the bullpen next year with Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton and Chad Green off contract, but how do they bolster their diminished support corps? Other impending free agents who are expected to leave include left fielder Andres Benintendi and a right-hand starter Jameson Taillonalthough New York could try to re-sign one or both of them.

In addition, this offseason the Yankees need to improve their traffic on the bases at the top of the lineup, clarify what they want to do on the left side of the field (third base, shortstop, left field), and find a closer who can. dominate the ninth inning like Chapman ever did.

Let’s take a look at each position, discuss the state of the organization and suggest some moves the Yankees could make this offseason to improve their team.

Starting a rotation

The rotation is pretty much set for 2023 with an ace Gerrit Coleleft handed Nestor CortesSeverino, Frankie Montas and Sunday German all under team control. The Yankees have other options, including Clarke Schmidt, but they could use more starting pitching depth, preferably another lefty. The soon-to-be free agent southpaw that screams Yankees to me is Charles Rodonwho had a banner season with San Francisco. As the cliché goes, you can never have too much starting pitching, and Rodón would be a game changer for them. I estimate he will get a four-year, $107 million deal on the market, so it would require a significant commitment from the Yankees. However, I think it’s more likely that they put their financial resources into re-signing Judge, addressing the back end of the bullpen and adding top players.

Bullpen


Edwin Diaz (Jeff Hanisch)

The Yankees’ biggest downfall this season has been the rash of injuries in the bullpen, from Green to Britto to Michael King to Ron Marinaccio to Luis Gil, not to mention Chapman’s passing. The administration acquired mid-season replacements, including Lou Trivino in business with Oakland and Scott Effross in agreement with the Cubs. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Effross, too, suffered an injury and underwent Tommy John surgery, which will keep him out for all of next season at least.

The Yankees have a solid bullpen, led by righties Clay Holmes and Jonathan Loisigaand leftists Wanda Peralta and Lucas Luetgebut they need an impact closer that can miss bats. Edwin Diaz, arguably the best in baseball to fit that description, will be a free agent, and he’s a perfect fit for the Yankees (along with many other teams). Díaz converted 32 of 35 save opportunities, posted a 1.31 ERA and was worth 3.2 WAR, according to Baseball Reference. He proved he can handle the pressure of pitching in New York. With Chapman, Britton and Green off the books in 2023, the Yankees should have the means to pry Díaz from the Mets. By my early estimate, it will take four years, $72 million to get him.

infield

The Yankees have more questions than answers when it comes to what their infield will look like next season.

They would like to retain Rizzo, who hit 32 home runs, reached base at a nearly 34 percent clip and played well-above-average defense at first base. Rizzo has a $16 million option and would like to return, but he would have to get a raise in salary. He is great for New York, and the arrival change restrictions should help improve his batting average and on-base percentage, making him even more valuable.

Gleyber Torres looked much more comfortable this year after moving to second base from shortstop, and he delivered a 4.1 bWAR season with 24 home runs, 10 stolen bases and a 114 OPS+. At shortstop, the Yankees favor their talented youngsters, with Oswald Peraza the early front-runner to win the job in 2023, although it is expected that top prospect Anthony Volpe will eventually be the everyday shortstop, possibly as early as late next summer. Third base is a concern. One more guaranteed year left Josh Donaldsonthe contract, but he will turn 37 in December and has declined to the point where he is no longer a starter. DJ LeMahieu missed the postseason with a foot injury, but he should recover this winter and I expect him to come to spring training as the starting third baseman.

Behind the scenes, the Yankees’ front office is telling people in the game that they don’t plan to be players in the top free agent shortstop market it’s expected to include. Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, Trea Turner and Dansby Swanson. They say they will move forward with their young infielders, and that they prefer to spend their money on Judge, pitching and hitters. Bottom line: I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees’ Opening Day infield is Rizzo at first, Torres at second, Peraza at short and LeMahieu at third.

Outfield


Andrew Benintendi (Jeff Curry/USA Today)

Signing Judge to a long-term contract is the top priority, but it won’t be easy after he slashed .311/.425/.686 and led the league in so many categories, including 1.111 OPS, 391 total bases, 133. runs, 62 home runs, 131 RBIs and 111 walks. It will require a commitment of more than $300 million for Judge, the front-runner to win the American League MVP, to finish his career as a Yankee.

Beyond Judge, the biggest question in the starting lineup is what the Yankees will do in left field. They like a newcomer Oswaldo Cabrera, who impressed during a 44-game stint this season, bringing plenty of energy and versatility to the lineup, but he may be best positioned as a super-utility player coming off the bench. The Yankees need to fill left field with a top-of-the-order hitter who can create traffic for their middle-of-the-order power bats. Trying to re-sign Benintendi makes a lot of sense as he hit .304 with a .373 OBP. His left-handed bat would also bring important balance to the Yankees’ lineup. Another possibility at left is an impending free agent Brandon Nimmo, who was worth 5.0 bWAR this season with 16 home runs, a .367 OBP and a 130 OPS+. He played center field for the Mets but is better suited to left field. Nimmo is a left-handed hitter.

New York doesn’t have to worry about center field with Harrison Bader under team control until 2023. A Gold Glove defender, Bader put together an impressive postseason and has already become a fan favorite in the Bronx.

Catcher

The Yankees are placed at catcher with Jose Trevino and Kyle Higashioka under team control for three and two years, respectively. Trevino is arguably the best pitch framer in the sport. He contributed offensively by hitting .248 with 11 home runs and made his first All-Star team. Higashioka hit .227 with 10 home runs, but he hit nearly .300 in the second half of the season. Trevino and Higashioka are well-respected by Yankees pitchers, who rave about their ability to call a game.

Designated hitter

Giancarlo Stanton will be the designated hitter as his $325 million contract, signed in 2014 with the Marlins, runs through 2027. He hit 31 home runs this season while battling an Achilles injury but also posted a career-low 113 OPS+. Improved health and the duty limitations should help Stanton put up better numbers next season.

For the Yankees fans dreaming of a trade for Shohei Ohtani … well, it’s not happening. However, if Ohtani becomes a free agent after the 2023 season, who knows? Stanton, if he is healthy, could move to an outfield corner.

The bottom line

Straightening the Astros load this winter is probably unrealistic for the Yankees. They have a ways to go, and re-singing Judge alone won’t do it. Is there a way through checkbook baseball for the Yankees to take such a leap this offseason – yes, but it would require something along the lines of re-promoting Judge, signing Rodón (or another elite starter), inking Díaz, landing Turner (or another star shortstop ) and getting a left fielder for the top of the lineup that can provide traffic on the basepaths. But I don’t see all this happening.

So, let’s regroup. Here’s my checklist for what the Yankees’ top offseason priorities should be:

1. Sign Judge to a long-term contract.
2. Pursue Díaz in free agency, strengthen the back of the bullpen.
3. Follow Rodón in free agency.
4. Target Benintendi or Nimmo in free agency to play left field.
5. Re-sign Rizzo to address first base.
6. Heal the rest of the team.

Yes, the Yankees have big areas to deal with this winter, but coming off a 99-win season and a trip to the ALCS, they also have a strong foundation to build on for 2023 if they can bring Judge back.

(Top photo by Aaron Judge: Elsa/Getty Images)

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