Last spring training, the New York Yankees were nothing more than a possible Wild Card team. At that point, eventual American League Most Valuable Player runner-up Aaron Judge did not have a guaranteed roster spot, Gary Sanchez was still seen as a prospect who went on an incredible tear for two months, and Chris Carter was expected to be the starting first baseman in replacement for the injured Greg Bird.
After 91 wins and a loss in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, the Yankees appear to be a serious contender for not only the American League Pennant, but for the World Series.
The Yankees will enter 2018 with a new manager in Aaron Boone and a credible cast of characters. That said, the Yankees team that lost Game 7 in Houston will look considerably differently come Opening Day, both on the field and in the dugout. New York will have some major competition in both the Astros and Boston Red Sox.
There are several moves the Yankees need to make to come out on top versus those teams; here they are.
1. Offer CC Sabathia a one-year, $3 million contract with incentives for a total of $7 million
This is an idea that many Yankee fans will scoff at. In the last four years of his seven-year contract, Sabathia made $23 million per year. It seems irrational that he would take a contract like this. Right now, this is what Sabathia is worth. Last season, he was not remotely worth what he was being paid. Sabathia averaged 5.5 innings over 27 starts last season with a 3.69 ERA. Is that worth $23 million to you? Justin Verlander earned $28 million last season, not much more than Sabathia. It goes without saying, no need to look at an information sheet, Verlander was better last year.
If Sabathia feels “disrespected” by the offer like Robinson Cano did several years ago by the Yankees, he can leave. The Yankees have guys in their minor league system like Chance Adams who could be ready for the majors next season. Chad Green, who is currently on the major league team, could also fill a starting pitching spot. Sabathia is simply not worth that much money anymore. If he is not happy with that contract, they should politely make sure the door does not hit him on the way out.
2. Trade Starlin Castro
In just two seasons, Castro has made a stellar name for himself in the Bronx. For his Yankee career, Castro has 37 home runs, 133 runs batted in, and has hit .285. On top his on-field performance, he has also become a great presence and representative of the organization. Castro appears on several New York area commercials, including this one with shortstop Didi Gregorius, and has been seen at several charity events on the Yankees behalf.
Despite the success both on and off the field, Castro has a major issue: Gleyber Torres. Torres is the top prospect in all of baseball and is right behind Castro, waiting for playing time. At just 20 years old, Torres’ upside is beyond what anyone can see. Trading Castro will hurt team morale for a little, but it is a decision that simply has to happen. If Torres needs more time in the minor leagues when the season starts, Ronald Torreyes and Tyler Wade could play second base. Even though the Yankees second baseman will not be as productive as Castro for several months, Torres will quickly put all of those issues to rest.
3. Trade or Cut Jacoby Ellsbury
The New York outfield has been cluttered for several years. Since Brett Gardner was signed to a long-term contract extension after the 2014 season, there has not been enough playing time for everyone. After being signed as a free agent the same year as Gardner, but to a much more lucrative contract, Ellsubry has done anything but live up to his $153 million cost. At this point, with Judge, Clint Frazier, Gardner, and Aaron Hicks in the outfield, Ellsbury has no place for playing time. By trading him, the Yankees would probably have to pay most of the salary. That said, most of the remaining salary is still better than all of it. The Yankees would also, as limited as it may be, get a return on their terrible contract.
In a seemingly more likely situation, the Yankees will not find a trade partner and still have Ellsbury with no suitors. Although it will hurt the pockets of the Steinbrenner family, New York should cut Ellsbury and eat the remaining salary. Not only would it clear the next Yankee manager, Aaron Boone, of locker room rift in regards to his playing time, it will clear up a roster spot for another player and allow Hicks to assume a more prominent role.
4. Do Not Give a Large Contract to a Starting Pitcher
If there is anything the Yankees have learned since the turn of the century, it better be a lesson in giving out $100+ million contracts. They showed progress several years ago by not giving one to Cano, but they also had a bad history of these types of deals. Most notably, Alex Rodriguez, Sabathia towards the end of the deal, and now Ellsbury. The 10-year, $181 million contract given to Derek Jeter was the only deal of six or more years that worked out for the Yankees.
Whatever they do, no matter how much restraint it takes, the Yankees need to forbid themselves from even considering high profile pitchers like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish. For the Yankees, who will have to pay Ellsbury the last three years plus a possible team option, staying away from these high profile pitchers is a good decision. Of course, no one can predict how well these pitchers will be playing at the end of their contract, so the Yankees have to trust the team and farm system they have, and not make a decision now that might pay off five or more years down the road.
5. Attempt to Sign Shohei Ohtani
Nicknamed “The Japenese Babe Ruth” for his ability to pitch and hit, Shohei Ohtani is the hottest free agent in recent baseball history. At just 23-years of age, Ohtani still has his best years ahead of him, and that is saying something. In the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization, Ohtani hit .332 with eight home runs and sixteen doubles in a mere 200 at-bats last season. On top that, he posses a deadly pitching ability; in 2016, Ohtani pitched 140 innings to a 1.86 ERA. The Yankees can offer him the second richest contract behind the Texas Rangers, but for New York, it is not an overly rich contract. They would likely have to use all of their international signing money at $3.5 million. They could also offer him more money with incentives down the road.
Ohtani is a player the Yankees, along with every team, can use in many ways. No matter the amount of money Ohtani would demand down the road, it is a no-brainer for the Yankees to attempt to sign him.
The Yankees have a devastating bullpen, a future MVP in right field, and a young infield core currently including Castro, Gregorius, Torres, and Bird. That said, the Yankees will have a young manager in Aaron Boone on Opening Day. This is a situation that cannot be understated, but should not be overstated. Whoever is hired will be competent in managing a major league team.
That said, New York media is not known as the friendliest in the country, and little issues that come up throughout the season might hurt Boone. In any case, New York is looking to make a leap over the Red Sox in the division, and maybe even Astros for the pennant and World Series crown.