Only once in major league history has a lineup boasted not one, but two 50-homer players, and it's one of the most famous in history: the 1961 Yankees, for whom Roger Maris set a single-season record with 61 while Mickey Mantle, who battled him for the league lead until being felled late in the year by an abscess in his hip, hit 54. Now the 2018 Yankees have a chance to join that company thanks to the acquisition of NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, who clubbed a major league-high 59 homers last year and will pair with AL Rookie of the Year and MVP runner-up Aaron Judge, who mashed 52 homers. How exactly new manager Aaron Boone will fit this gargantuan pair—Stanton is 6' 6" and 245 pounds, Judge 6' 7" and 282 pounds—into the lineup remains to be seen, but obviously the trade carries major ramifications for the roster.
Suffice it to say that the deal gives the Yankees significant flexibility with regards to the lineup they field, but requires some amount of financial relief if they're to get below the $197 million luxury tax threshold in order to reset their marginal tax rate (described by managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner as “an objective if not an edict”). Via the Athletic's Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees are taking on $265 million of the $295 million remaining on Stanton's deal, which runs through 2027 with a $25 million option and $10 million buyout for 2028, Stanton's age-38 season. According to the New York Post’s Joel Sherman, that $30 million of relief is only if Stanton does not exercise his opt-out clause after the 2020 season. The good news for the Yankees is that the average annual value of Stanton's 13-year, $325 million deal is "only" $25 million, and with the Marlins' share taken into account, that figure drops to $22.7 million according to Sherman. The AAV is the figure used for luxury tax purposes.
The deal is still pending physicals on both sides, but the only major league player heading to the Marlins is second baseman Starlin Castro. He was limited to 112 games in 2017 due to a recurrent right hamstring strain, so the physical is hardly trivial, but assuming the deal goes through, the Yankees obviously have a vacancy at the keystone. Castro is scheduled to make $10 million in 2018 and $11 million in 2019 with a $16 million club option and a $1 million buyout for 2020. From a luxury tax standpoint, the average annual salary of his seven-year, $60 million contract is just $8.57 million, so he only affords the team so much relief in that department. The two prospects reportedly heading to Miami, going-on-22-year-old righty Jorge Guzman and 18-year-old shortstop Jose Devers, are as described by an anonymous scout with knowledge of the trade, "younger Class A prospects, not the top tier." Guzman finished the season at Low A Staten Island while Devers split his year between the Dominican Summer League and the Rookie Gulf Coast League.
I'll get back to the infield situation, but first, the outfield logjam. Stanton and Judge are both rightfielders, and very good ones. The former was 10 runs above average in 2017 according to Defensive Runs Saved, and has been seven runs above average per 1,200 innings (roughly 135 games) during his career. The latter was nine runs above average in 2017 and is six above average per 1,200 innings. At the major league level, the only outfield time outside of rightfield for either was a single inning Stanton spent in centerfield in 2011; in the minors, he played 46 games there in 2008-09, and six in leftfield, five of them in 2010. Judge played 11 games in center in 2015-16, and seven games in left in the latter year. If both are staying in the outfield on a full-time basis, one of them is heading for relatively unfamiliar territory.
Neither of the pair is going to wind up in centerfield, and shifting to leftfield is a nontrivial matter given Yankee Stadium's asymmetry. While the distances down the foul lines are comparable—318 to leftfield, 314 to right—the distance to left-center is 393 feet, versus just 366 to right-center, meaning that that the team's leftfielder must cover much more ground. Hence the Yankees' use of centerfield-capable Brett Gardner in left for most of the past eight seasons, particularly after free agent Jacoby Ellsbury signed with the team in the winter of 2013-14. Stanton's long history of leg injuries, including 2012 right knee surgery, a '13 right hamstring strain and a '16 left groin strain, almost surely precludes his shift.
The path of least resistance is to plug Stanton in at the designated hitter spot, which is currently vacant, as Matt Holliday, who made 89 starts there last year, is a free agent; most of the other 73 starts went to players taking a half-day off from defensive duties, including catcher Gary Sanchez (18), third baseman Chase Headley (14), Judge (10), Gardner and first baseman Tyler Austin (five apiece). This again is nontrivial, as keeping the slugging Sanchez's bat in the lineup while giving him a break from the tools of ignorance has to be part of the plan, and he's got just four professional innings under his belt at first base, three of them with the Yankees last year. He's probably going to have to do more work there, at the expense of Greg Bird, whose late-season resurgence after nearly two years lost to injuries reaffirmed his place in the team's plans.
At some point, one of the big men—more likely Judge—will have to play a bit of leftfield, and quite possibly, he'll be slotted there regularly, which could make Gardner expendable. The 34-year-old Gardner is currently the team's longest-tenured player, having debuted on June 30, 2008. He's coming off a career-high 21 homers, and while his .264/.350/.428 batting line only equates to a 104 OPS+, his speed (23 steals in 28 attempts) and defense (+20 DRS, his best showing since 2011 and good enough to earn him a Fielding Bible award as the majors' best leftfielder) give him outstanding peripheral value. His 4.9 WAR (Baseball-Reference version) was his highest total since 2010, but he's been a very consistent player, averaging 4.0 WAR from 2013-17. He's wildly underpaid, with an $11 million salary for 2018 and a $12.5 million club option with a $2 million buyout for 2019; his AAV for luxury tax purposes is higher, at $13 million (via a four-year, $52 million deal). All of which is to say that he's a desirable trade piece if general manager Brian Cashman needs to move him, though the early indications are that he's staying.
That would leave 28-year-old switch-hitter Aaron Hicks, who was limited to just 88 games last year due to a pair of oblique strains (one on each side), as the everyday centerfielder; last month Cashman said his intent was for Hicks to be an everyday player. When healthy, Hicks had a breakout year, hitting .266/.372/.475 with 15 homers and 10 steals in 361 PA, with 15 DRS (12 in centerfield) in his limited time.
Whether the outfield is then Judge-Hicks-Stanton or (more likely) Gardner-Hicks-Judge, with Stanton as DH, that leaves two other outifelders in limbo, namely Ellsbury and prospect Clint Frazier. The 34-year-old Ellsbury has been a disappointment in the first four years of his seven-year, $153 million deal with the Yankees. In 2017, he hit .264/.348/.402 with seven homers and 22 steals; his 97 OPS+ was his best mark since 2014, but his -3 DRS in center was his worst mark since that same season, and his 1.7 WAR was his lowest in his four years in pinstripes. Granted, he was limited to 112 games due to a bruised never in his left elbow and a concussion. In November, Cashman said that the plan was for Ellsbury to continue as the team's fourth outfielder; he's an expensive one, owed a minimum of $68.4 million including a $5 million buyout of his $21 million 2021 option. If Cashman wants to trade him, it's difficult to imagine the team not eating the vast majority of his remaining salary, but even a few million dollars of relief could help when it comes to the threshold.
What could sweeten any trade that the Yankees would make in that regard is the inclusion of Frazier. Acquired from the Indians in the 2016 Andrew Miller deal, the 23-year-old redhead played 39 games with the Yankees, hitting .231/.268/.448 with four homers in 142 PA. That was something of a disappointment, particularly given that he didn't light up Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (.256/.344/.473) either, but he was pressed into big league duty ahead of schedule due to the simultaneous Ellsbury and Hicks injuries. He's no longer officially a rookie or a prospect, having exceeded the 130 at-bat threshold, but he ranked 49th on Baseball America's midseason list before passing that point. He also doesn't appear to be a centerfielder any longer, having played just three games there since the trade, all at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2016. No matter, as he still represents six years of club control, and unless the Yankees are going to have him cool his heels at Triple A or unload Ellsbury and use him as the fourth outfielder — which could hamper him developmentally, since he still needs regular at-bats — he could be used to fetch a starting pitcher in trade.
As for the infield, the most obvious move would be to slot top prospect Gleyber Torres at second base, but the 20-year-old is coming off Tommy John surgery on right elbow, which ended his season on June 17. Last month, Cashman said he would be given a chance to win the starting third base job in spring training, but with Headley still under contract, there's neither an urgency or a vacancy there. A natural shortstop, Torres is blocked at the position by Didi Gregorius, who’s coming off a career-best 3.7 WAR and still has two year of arbitration eligibility remaining. Torres played 10 games at second base before the injury and could just as easily fit there as Castro’s replacement. If he needs more time in the minors to shake of the rust, utilitymen Ronald Torreyes, who made 43 starts at second in Castro’s absence, or Tyler Wade, who made the other 11 there, can keep the spot warm until Torres is ready.
As for the batting order, that’s a relatively trivial concern. Lefties Bird and Gregorius will be split up among righties Judge, Stanton and Sanchez, with the flexibility offered by the switch-hitting Hicks and Headley of use as well. In the grand scheme, it’s a problem for the spring, not the winter.
So, from among Gardner, Ellsbury and Frazier, Cashman has pieces to move and probably some salary to cut if the Yankees are to get below the luxury tax threshold, though the free agent departures of Holliday (who made $13 million in 2017), Todd Frazier ($12 million), Jaime Garcia ($12 million), and even Alex Rodriguez ($21 million in the final year of his mega-deal) help. They also probably need at least one more starting pitcher to join Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, Sonny Gray and Jordan Montgomery, unless the team is confident that Chad Greene or Bryan Mitchell can fill the role; the return of CC Sabathia, at an AAV much lower than his $24.4 million, is possible if the team doesn’t trade for one.
The good news for the Yankees — as if the rest of the American League needed to hear it regarding a financial behemoth that missed a trip to the World Series by a single game in what was supposed to be a rebuiding year — is that one way or another, they’re dealing from strength. As YES announcer Ken Singleton would say, "Look out!"