Bryce, Manny, Corbin and more: Laying out a Yankees' winter spending spree
It’s been a miserable, wretched nine seasons in the Bronx. No World Series titles for the New York Yankees. No World Series appearances. The Yankees haven’t finished in first place since 2012. That’s six seasons in a row without a division title, which hasn’t happened since the halcyon days of the rotation that featured Jeff Johnson, Tim Leary, Wade Taylor and Dave Eiland.
How bad has it been? The Orioles were the laughingstock of baseball after losing 115 games in 2018. The Orioles have won a division title more recently than the Yankees.
Sure, the Yankees have won three wild cards in recent seasons. Congratulations. Do you think Yankees fans loaded up on “2015 American League Wild Card” caps and T-shirts? Meanwhile, Red Sox fans are walking around in 2013 World Series Champions caps and 2018 World Series Champions T-shirts. The humiliation.
So it’s time – time for the most Yankees offseason ever. In fact, the Yankees haven’t been to a World Series since George Steinbrenner passed away in 2010. Hal and Hank Steinbrenner need to summon the spirit of their father and go big, ignore the luxury tax, do whatever it takes. As Boss Steinbrenner once said, “Winning is the most important thing in my life, after breathing. Breathing first, winning next.”
In Yankeeland, that means winning the World Series. A decade without a World Series would be unacceptable. Brian Cashman is certainly aware of this. He knows 100 wins and a Division Series loss isn’t good enough. Here’s his quote from the other day: “I don’t think it really matters what we wind up doing, as long as we do well enough that we become the best team in baseball. We’re capable of being big-game hunters. We’ve reset our luxury tax.”
Big-game hunters. The best team in baseball.
Those are words that should sound sweeter than the cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery to Yankees fans. Enough of this second-place crap. So here’s what the Yankees are going to do this offseason:
Move No. 1: Sign Manny Machado. At the start of the offseason, Brian Cashman said the team’s three biggest needs were “starting pitcher, starting pitcher and middle infield.” The injury to Didi Gregorius — he had Tommy John surgery and will miss a large chunk of the season – creates an opening at shortstop, although Gleyber Torres’ ability to play second or short gives the Yankees flexibility to move on either position.
Sure, Machado comes with some controversy. But there’s nothing controversial about his production with four straight 30-homer seasons. Yes, there would also be some concern about the defense on the left side of the infield with Machado and Miguel Andújar, but note that Machado’s defensive metrics at shortstop were vastly improved after his trade from the Orioles (minus-18 Defensive Runs Saved) to the Dodgers (plus-8 DRS). With better positioning and a quality pitching staff, he should be fine at shortstop, at least for a few seasons. Andújar is young enough to improve.
That leaves Gregorius without a position when he returns. The Yankees can let all that sort itself when he returns. They could also non-tender him – he’s due about $13 million in arbitration – although it’s unlikely Machado would sign before the November 30 non-tender date. Still, if the Yankees want to save $13 and are convinced they can land Machado, they may let Gregorius go (he’s a free agent after 2019 anyway).
Move No. 2: Sign Patrick Corbin. He’s the best pitcher in free agency, or at least the pitcher coming off the best season after a monster 2018 with the Diamondbacks in which he posted a 3.15 ERA with 246 strikeouts in 200 innings. Corbin’s strikeout rate was seventh among qualified starters and his swing-and-miss rate was tied with Cy Young winner Blake Snell for highest in the majors. For good measure, he grew up in the Syracuse area rooting for the Yankees.
Move No. 3: Trade for James Paxton. When was the last time the Yankees had a power lefty in the rotation? I guess you have to go back to the first years of CC Sabathia’s tenure. Paxton had the second-highest fastball velocity among left-handed starters at 95.4 mph, behind only Snell. He had a no-hitter, a 16-strikeout game and the fifth-highest K rate in the majors at 32.2 percent (minimum 100 innings). He has two years left of team control and would likely cost the Yankees top pitching prospect Justus Sheffield, but bringing Big Maple to the Big Apple feels like a perfect fit for Yankee Stadium.
P.S. Paxton is due to make an estimated $8.5 million in arbitration – the same projected figure for Sonny Gray. Now, Gray obviously had trouble pitching in New York with a 6.98 at home and 3.17 ERA, but that road ERA suggests he has some trade value. The Yankees can acquire Paxton and dump Gray without a change in the payroll.
Move No. 4: Sign Daniel Murphy. The Yankees gave 311 plate appearances to Greg Bird in 2018 and he hit .199 with .672 OPS. They also gave 398 PAs to Neil Walker and he hit .219 with a .664 OPS. That’s essentially a full-time player that added up to a whole lot of nothing. It’s time to move on from Bird – maybe he’s part of the Paxton trade – and Murphy is a perfect fit at first base, a left-handed bat who doesn’t strike out much, can pull the ball to right field for some cheap Yankee Stadium home runs and fill in at second base.
Murphy’s numbers were down a bit last season compared to the previous two, but remember that he had offseason knee surgery and didn’t play his first game until June 12 and hit .191 through his first 20 games. After that, he hit .327/.363/.504.
Move No. 5: Sign Bryce Harper. That’s right, in this scenario, Hal and Hank dig deep into that big bank vault of cash. Come on, we know Harper doesn’t want to sign with the Giants (right field will kill his power numbers). The Dodgers haven’t shown any inclination to sign the big free agents. The Cubs are pretty maxed out with their payroll. Philadelphia? I don’t know, I just don’t see Harper going there over the Yankees if the Yankees are interested.
From a pure baseball standpoint, even in an off year Harper drew 130 walks, hit 34 home runs and posted a .393 OBP. That left-handed bat would look exquisite between Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Too many corner outfielders? Not really. Brett Gardner slides to the fourth outfielder role and Stanton can still serve as the primary DH while spelling Judge and Harper in the outfield. Hey, Scott Boras even said Harper can play first base.
This wouldn’t be overpaying Alex Rodriguez for the decline phase of his career or shelling out for an overrated Jacoby Ellsbury (by the way, he’s still around, but we’ll pretend he’s not). Signing Harper and Machado brings in two players in the prime of their careers. Getting those two would be like signing Reggie in ’77 or trading for David Cone in ’95 or acquiring Roger Clemens in ’99 . Tickets to Yankee Stadium would suddenly be hotter than “Hamilton.” Sign those two and you’ll prevent all those new Amazon employees coming to New York from buying Mets season tickets.
All this gives the Yankees this lineup:
CF Aaron Hicks
RF Aaron Judge
LF Bryce Harper
DH Giancarlo Stanton
SS Manny Machado
1B Daniel Murphy / Luke Voit
Bench – Gardner, Austin Romine, Ronald Torreyes (and Gregorius when he returns)
Backups: Jordan Montgomery, Jonathan Loaisiga, Luis Cessa, Domingo German
And the bullpen:
Loaisiga and others
Could all this actually happen? Sure, if the Yankees are willing to soar past the $206 million tax threshold. Hey, they had a $244 million payroll a couple years ago. Plus, know that the Steinbrenner-led group that purchased the franchise in 1973 paid just $8.8 million for the franchise. It’s now worth an estimated $4 billion according to Forbes. Hal and Hank are sitting on billions if they ever want to sell the franchise. So they can afford a little tax even if that eats into their annual operating profit.
Will all this actually happen? I guess it depends on how much the brothers like breathing.