The Yankees aced their biggest test during this offseason marking period by making the Juan Soto trade. It doesn’t make them winter valedictorians – hello, Dodgers! – but it was a nice start to reshaping what was a sometimes-unwatchable mess last season when injuries, underperformance and some underpreparedness resulted in an 82-80 record and a sofa seat for the playoffs.
After a couple of grade references, you’ve probably figured out that this is a winter report card on what the Yanks accomplished (so far, anyway). More pop was essential after they averaged only 4.15 runs last year, better than only five teams, and Soto delivers that. After a period where they seemed to forget that lefty hitters can thrive in their home ballpark, the Yanks added Soto and two others for some needed balance.
They filled a rotation opening with a good pitcher in Marcus Stroman and, perhaps, are still lurking in the market for more arms, if prices drop.
Overall, we like the winter, we really do, and there’s some good grades. But as you might recall from your own days in academia, there’s some red pen involved, too.
The Juan Soto trade
We’d even add another plus sign, but we don’t want to seem ridiculous. Seriously, though, this was the major move the Yanks required. Yes, Soto is a free agent after the season, likely to test the market, and the deal cost, in part, Michael King, the talented pitcher who was set to move to the rotation. But how could anyone believe in the Yankees if they didn’t do something huge this winter?
Soto is a patient hitter who slugged a career-best 35 homers last year. He does not rely on pulling the ball – he’s too good for that – but you’d have to think Yankee Stadium’s dimensions could help him add to that total. He’ll routinely be on base to score on Aaron Judge homers, and his swagger will electrify a fan base that had grown grumpy. And maybe having Soto around for a fun summer will help him choose the Yanks as a free agent, too. Oh, and the Yankees also got Trent Grisham, a two-time Gold Glove winner in the outfield, in the trade.
Grisham, a lefty, hit 13 homers in 469 at-bats last year for the Padres, but he strikes out a lot and has batted only .191 over the past two seasons in more than 1,000 plate appearances. His defense could help, and he figures to enter games late in center field so the Yanks can shift Judge to a corner spot for the last few innings.
Signing Marcus Stroman
Stroman, 32, inked a two-year deal worth $37 million after going 10-9 with a 3.95 ERA (13 percent better than league average via ERA+) in 27 games (25 starts) for the Cubs. In two years in Chicago, the right-hander averaged just under 138 innings per season. After adding Soto in what should be an all-in 2024, some thought the Yankees would go top-of-the-market for a starter such as Blake Snell, but so far they have not.
Stroman offers consistency – from 2019-2023, he had a 3.38 ERA and averaged nearly 160 innings per year (he opted out of the 2020 pandemic season) – and a remarkable ability to generate ground balls. Last year, he had a 57.4 percent ground-ball rate, well above the MLB average of 42.3 percent. He just might be the most reliable Yankee starter this year behind ace Gerrit Cole.
What, no other big pitching move?
The Yanks have added some potential depth this winter in Luke Weaver, Cody Morris, and Cody Poteet. And maybe a youngster – Will Warren? Chase Hampton? Luis Gil? – emerges. But they sent four pitchers to San Diego as part of the Soto deal and three to Boston for Alex Verdugo, thinning out their reserves. Of the eight pitchers who made at least nine starts for them last year, four are no longer on the roster.
Carlos Rodon and Nestor Cortes were both hurt last season and weren’t great when they did pitch. What if they don’t regain their previous form? Shouldn’t the Yanks have done more, pitching-wise, in such a pivotal season? We know they tried for Yoshinobu Yamamoto, the Japanese ace, but he picked the Dodgers instead.
The Alex Verdugo trade
The Yanks got Verdugo from the Red Sox for Richard Fitts, Fordham’s Greg Weissert, and Nicholas Judice in a rare swap between rivals. The final grade will, of course, depend on what fanbase will get bragging rights when we see what the three new Sox accomplish and what the Yanks get from one year of Verdugo. It’s nice that he’s a lefty hitter. But it’s not great that he’s been just a smidge above MLB average the past two years, according to OPS+ (101). He did hit 76 doubles over that span, though.
Two Dodger deals
The famous coastal teams hooked up on two trades this winter, both of which could help the Yankees bullpen. In one, the Yanks sent former first-round pick Trey Sweeney west for lefty reliever Victor Gonzalez and infielder Jorbit Vivas. In the other, they swapped lefty Matt Gage and righty prospect Christian Zazueta for another southpaw, Caleb Ferguson.
Gonzalez has a 3.22 ERA in 89.1 career innings and has given up just five home runs in 93 MLB appearances. Taking only his relief appearances into account – he started eight times – Ferguson has a 2.58 ERA over the past two seasons, sixth-lowest among lefty relievers in MLB in that timeframe.
Estevan Florial's exit
With all the new outfielders, there was little chance for Florial to have any shot at the Yanks’ big league roster, so he was traded to Cleveland for Cody Morris, who could become a pitching asset. But the grade here stems from the feeling that Florial, a toolsy, left-handed hitting center fielder, never got a legit chance in the Bronx. Yeah, he has strikeout issues (30.6 percent in his limited MLB action) and his prospect status faded. But he never got a good chunk of time in pinstripes, either – he played in 48 games over four different seasons, but never had more than 71 plate appearances in any of them. He batted just .209 with a .609 OPS and one homer. In 2023, though, he had a .944 OPS and 28 homers in 101 Triple-A games. Now the Guardians can dream on him.