They say spring is the time of baseball optimism – freshly-cut grass on a ballfield bathed in Florida sunshine, a new season looming and all that. But big winter moves also breed good feelings, so keep that in mind as you read our offseason grades on how the Yankees re-tooled for 2023.
We love some of these transactions, especially the high-ticket items. Inaction in some areas (yes, we’re grading that, too) is somewhat less appealing. Could they have added a starting left fielder via trade or free agency? You bet. And they should have.
The Yankees won 99 games last year and won the AL East Division title and then got annihilated in the AL Championship Series by – who else? – the Houston Astros. They then faced a major off-season, what with 62-homer man Aaron Judge hitting free agency.
How’d they do? Read on for our winter report card (so far) on the Yankees:
This transaction is the equivalent of that breezy course you take in school to pump up the ol’ GPA. The Yankees had to re-sign their signature player. Judge was coming off a magical season that captivated much of the baseball world, winning the AL MVP Award after leading MLB in runs, homers, RBI (tied with Pete Alonso), on-base percentage, slugging, OPS, OPS-plus and total bases. It would have been a monumental organizational failure, all the way up to Hal Steinbrenner, had the Yanks not made this nine-year, $360-million deal.
Judge will be 31 in April, so there’s risk at the back end of this deal. But the Giants and Padres were willing to give him the equivalent contract and perhaps more, so if the Yanks wanted him, this was the going rate. And, even though there’s other talent on the roster, the Yankees needed to retain their mega-star. No offense to anyone else in pinstripes, but that much-hyped spot in the stands isn’t called “Gleyber’s Gardens.” The Yankees simply would not have been as relevant or interesting without Judge and he wanted to return. Easy one. We’ll throw in a plus for immediately naming him team captain, too.
Signing Carlos Rodón
Tucking this lefty ace in behind Gerrit Cole was a savvy move for the Yanks, who, if all goes well, will boast a terrific rotation that could present major problems for opponents in a playoff series. Carlos Rodón, who signed for $162 million over six years, has some health history that might prompt unease. But he’s made 55 starts over the past two seasons and notched a 2.67 ERA while striking out 422 batters in 310.2 innings.
At 30 years old, he was always going to get the longest deal of any of the elite starters in this year’s market. Rodón was terrific in San Francisco in 2022, going 14-8 with a 2.88 ERA and leading MLB starters with 12 strikeouts per nine innings. He’s got a hard-nosed mound swagger that might help the Yanks. And he’s 2-0 with a 1.55 ERA in seven career starts against the Astros.
Signing Tommy Kahnle
Tommy Kahnle, who owns a nifty changeup, inked a two-year deal for $11.5 million to rejoin the Yankees’ bullpen. It’s his third stint in the organization for Kahnle, who returned to the Majors last season with the Dodgers after recovering from Tommy John surgery. He had a 2.84 ERA with Los Angeles in 13 games, allowing five hits and three walks in 12.2 innings while striking out 14. The 33-year-old righty adds another reliable arm to the club’s relief corps, though useful reliever Lucas Luetge was designated for assignment when the Yanks added Kahnle to their 40-man roster.
Adding Omar Minaya and Brian Sabean to the front office
Regardless of all the hand-wringing over the Yankees’ failure to win the World Series since – horrors! – way, way back in 2009, the club’s executive group generally has done a good job. The Yankees are always in the postseason mix, having made the playoffs six straight years, including three berths in the ALCS. Have they broken through? Obviously not and that’s something GM Brian Cashman and his lieutenants have to bear. But adding two former GMs with scouting backgrounds can only help and maybe it’ll quiet the cacophony about how the Yankees are too reliant on analytics.
Re-signing Anthony Rizzo
Another must. Anthony Rizzo is a vital lefty bat in a lineup with too few of them, especially considering the ballpark they play in. He’s a vacuum at first, which is crucial to their infield defense, and smashed 32 homers last year. Worried about his .224 batting average? Let’s see how it looks this year with the new shift restrictions in place. He seems to genuinely enjoy being a Yankee and adds camaraderie, no small thing. Worth a two-year, $34-million deal, no doubt.
No left field acquisition
Sure, the starting left fielder could already be on the roster – Aaron Hicks or Oswaldo Cabrera or (crazy thought) lefty-swinging Estevan Florial, a former top prospect who’s gotten limited MLB chances. And Giancarlo Stanton, who enjoys playing the outfield, probably figures in somewhere, too, though he should mostly DH. But a team with dreams this lofty should’ve brought in a boffo player, especially since there was such room for improvement over last season, when Yankee left fielders were 21st in OPS and 24th in batting average. Free agent Andrew Benintendi might’ve worked well, but he took a $75-million deal over five years with the Chicago White Sox instead of trying the Bronx again. Maybe the Yankees will still get someone. They need lefty bats and they could use a player whose game centers around putting the ball in play and getting on base.
Trade market duds
The Yankees haven’t found takers for Hicks or Josh Donaldson and may not. Donaldson’s fate may be tied to DJ LeMahieu’s health – the Yanks would probably be better if DJLM is the everyday third baseman over Donaldson, who capped a disappointing offensive season last year by cratering in the playoffs (.172 average, 16 strikeouts in 29 at-bats). The Yanks likely would have to eat salary on any potential Donaldson trade, though maybe they could partially do that by taking back another team’s problem contract that could morph into a left-field option. Not making a trade here and keeping the roster clogged, which potentially impacts some of the Yankees’ interesting prospects, isn’t going to garner a good mark here.