Four moves Yankees should make in MLB offseason: Pursue Juan Soto trade, sign Yoshinobu Yamamoto

0
7

The 2023-24 MLB offseason is underway and, we finally saw the first significant move Sunday as the Phillies brought back righty Aaron Nola on a $172 million deal. More notable trades and free agent signings will come soon enough now that the non-tender deadline has passed. Here are our top 50 free agents and also our top 25 trade candidates. Thus far zero of those 75 players have changed teams this winter.
Speaking as a baseball fan, the offseason is the best time to put on your GM hat and play fantasy baseball. My favorite team should trade for this guy, sign that guy, so on and so forth We have limited information as outsiders, so the offseason master plans in our head tend to look foolish with time, but that won’t stop us. Playing pretend GM is half the fun of being a sports fan.
Despite knowing better, we are going to play GM here at CBS Sports, and map out an offseason plan for the New York Yankees now, and other teams in the coming days. With that in mind, here are four moves the Yankees should make this winter.
1. Sign Yamamoto
Yes, the Yankees desperately need to improve an offense that finished 25th in runs and 24th in OPS, but they have needs on the pitching side too. You can’t just ignore one thing because something else stands out as a greater need, and there’s no order of operations here. You can address your second biggest need before your first. It’s OK.
Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto is the best free agent pitcher available this offseason because he is only 25, he has high-end power stuff, he’s only 25, there’s no draft pick compensation attached, and he’s 25. Did I mention he’s only 25? That’s important. Rarely does a player this young and this talented become available for nothing but money. Once a decade, maybe.
GM Brian Cashman muddied the waters a bit when he called Giancarlo Stanton injury-prone, prompting agent Joel Wolfe to caution “foreign and domestic” players about joining the Yankees. Wolfe, of course, also represents Yamamoto. Ultimately, money has a way of smoothing things over. If the Yankees make Yamamoto the biggest offer, they’ll get him.
The Yankees have Gerrit Cole, the unanimous AL Cy Young winner, and that’s a great guy to build your rotation around. The rest of the rotation carries risk, however. Carlos Rodón was hurt and bad in his first year with the Yankees, Nestor Cortes is coming off a pair of rotator cuff injuries, and Clarke Schmidt set a new career high in innings in 2023 (by a lot).
Yamamoto carries risk himself — as dominant as he’s been in Japan, you just never know how he’ll handle MLB until he gets here — but he is a high-end arm with a chance to pitch at or near the front of the rotation, and again, he’s only 25! Yankees chairman Hal Steinbrenner said he wants to get younger this offseason. Yamamoto would fit a youth movement perfectly.
Masahiro Tanaka’s seven-year, $155 million contract with the Yankees is the only relevant benchmark for Yamamoto. Yu Darvish could only negotiate with the Texas Rangers given the blind bid posting system when he came to MLB. Because of his age, Shohei Ohtani was subject to the international bonus rules when he came over. Kodai Senga is roughly six years older than Yamamoto.
Like Yamamoto, Tanaka came to MLB at age 25, and he was the best pitcher in Japan at the time. But that was a decade ago now. Offer Yamamoto seven years and $155 million and you might finish fifth in the voting. My guess is the bidding starts at seven years, teams will realize it’ll take eight to get it done, and a desperate teams puts a ninth year on the table to seal the deal.
For any team, not just the Yankees, Yamamoto would improve their 2024 odds while giving them a long-term rotation building block with significant upside. The Yankees must improve their offense, clearly, but pitchers as good and as young as Yamamoto do not become available every offseason. You have to sign them while you can. This is where they should flex their financial muscles.
2. Bring in a big lefty outfield bat
The Yankees need two outfielders this offseason, both a left fielder and center fielder, and they badly need a left-handed bat to diversify the offense. It’s astonishing a team that plays in Yankee Stadium, with its short right field porch, has built a lineup that is so right-handed heavy. Look how many plate appearances the Yankees have gotten from left-handed hitters in recent years:
The Astros make their lack of lefty bats work because their two primary left-handed hitters are Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, two of the best hitters in the game (from either side of the plate). New York’s leader in left-handed plate appearances since 2021 is Anthony Rizzo. After him it’s guys like Aaron Hicks, Joey Gallo, Rougned Odor, and Jake Bauers. That’s not going to cut it.
Bringing in a left-handed hitter is a must this offseason and it needs to be a quality left-handed hitter, not just any lefty. The obvious name here then is San Diego Padres outfielder Juan Soto, who is an obvious trade candidate given San Diego’s intent to cut payroll and need to bring in young talent, particularly pitching. A Soto trade clears money and provides an influx of young talent.
The Yankees match up well for a Soto trade. First and foremost, they’re one of the few teams able and/or willing to absorb his projected $30-plus million salary next year. Because Soto is a year away from free agency, his market is limited to contenders, and that market is further limited because a trade with the NL West rival Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants is unlikely.
And second, the Yankees are deep in upper level pitching prospects, which is San Diego’s greatest need. Double-A righties Chase Hampton and Drew Thorpe are consensus top-100 prospects. Triple-A righties Clayton Beeter and Will Warren are very close to MLB ready. The Yankees could put Schmidt and fellow big leaguer Michael King on the table as well.
I’m not saying the Yankees should package all those pitchers to get one year of Soto. I’m just saying they have enough upper-level arms to at least get their foot in the door and start a conversation. And you can see how signing Yamamoto would help with a Soto trade, right? Sign Yamamoto and it suddenly becomes a lot easier to trade, say, King and Hampton, or Schmidt and Thorpe, etc.
Soto is pretty much exactly what the Yankees need on offense. He’s a left-handed batter with power and patience, who has shown he can star on the game’s biggest stage (Soto hit .333/.428/.741 in the 2019 World Series with the Washington Nationals), and he brings a certain swagger and intensity to his at-bats that the Yankees seem to lack these days. New York’s offense is a pushover.
The only reason to be against a Soto trade is the fact he’s a year from free agency and very unlikely to sign a long-term extension without first exploring the market. Given the state of the Yankees, you needn’t try hard to see them trading a big package for Soto, getting a great year out of him in 2024 and missing the postseason anyway, then losing him to free agency next offseason.
That’s thinking too far ahead, I believe. Cole turned 33 in September and Aaron Judge will turn 32 in April. Those two only have so many prime years remaining, and going from their disastrous left field situation this year (.668 OPS and minus-1.6 WAR) to Soto is the single biggest upgrade the Yankees can make this offseason, realistically. It is an enormous upgrade.
The Yankees are not going to turn themselves into World Series contenders by taking small bites. A series of moderate upgrades will only take them so far. At some point they’ll have to take a big swing, and Soto is the biggest swing they can make this offseason. He fits their offensive needs very well and, in theory, they have the young pitching to entice the Padres.
And hey, the Yankees could always re-sign Soto after next season. They can certainly afford him, and a trade for him now gives the Yankees a season to sell Soto on the organization. And you know what? Maybe Soto comes to New York and hates it. That can be valuable information too. Better to know that now than when you blindly give him $400 million next offseason.
Long story short, the Yankees desperately need an impact left-handed hitter this offseason, and the perfect fit is on the trade market in Soto. He would significantly improve New York’s World Series odds in 2024 and put them in the best position to make the most of Cole’s and Judge’s remaining peak years.
3. Add a second lefty bat
Soto would be an excellent start to the offseason, offensively, though the Yankees would still need another lefty bat in addition to him. They need more than one lefty this winter. The lineup is so right-handed and so vulnerable to high-velocity righties in the late innings. Cashman & Co. have done a poor job balancing the lineup in recent years and doing so this offseason is a must.
Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, and Alex Verdugo are all trade candidates who make some level of sense for the Yankees (though bet against a trade with the Boston Red Sox, as always). The free agent market as some options as well (listed alphabetically):
OF Cody Bellinger: An obvious fit for the center field-needy Yankees, though the Yankees value exit velocity as an evaluation tool, and Bellinger ranks toward the bottom of the league in hard-hit ability. Bellinger seems more like an alternative to Soto than someone the Yankees would spend the money to pair with Soto.
3B Jeimer Candelario: New York’s third basemen managed a .655 OPS and plus-0.2 WAR this offseason. They could give young Oswald Peraza a long look there in 2024, though breaking in a young prospect doesn’t always align with improving your World Series odds. Candelario’s switch-hitting power bat would fit well at the hot corner.
OF Kevin Kiermaier: Kiermaier might be the player the Yankees are most likely to bring in from outside the organization this winter. They need a center fielder and a lefty bat, and Kiermaier is a center fielder and a lefty bat. He’s also very familiar with the AL East. He’s a bottom of the order guy more than a difference-maker, but he fits.
OF Jung Hoo Lee: Lee, a 25-year-old star in Korea, provides elite bat-to-ball ability. We’re talking tippy top of the line contact rates, something the Yankees could use. There is some concern about his extreme ground ball rates and ability to stay in center long-term, but he is a potential fit for the Yankees given his youth and left-handedness.
DH Shohei Ohtani: We have to mention Ohtani, right? Ohtani is the coolest and most talented player in the world and the Yankees should always be in on players like that. Do you think his swing will work in Yankee Stadium?
The issue here is not roster fit. The Yankees have Stanton locked in at DH, but if you can sign Ohtani, you sign him, and make the rest of the pieces fit in around him. The issue is Ohtani’s stated desire to play for a contender. The Yankees just went 82-80 and finished in fourth place. Does he view them as a contender? I don’t know.
There are other lefty bats in free agency who could make sense for the Yankees (Michael Brantley, Joc Pederson, etc.), but those five guys above are the most notable ones. I’m not going to pick a specific name here and say “he’s the guy.” In this section, I’m just going to note the Yankees need multiple quality lefty bats this offseason. It is imperative for their contention hopes.
4. Improve depth
When Cashman noted Stanton is injury-prone, he inadvertently brought attention to his own failure to build adequate depth. The Yankees gave over 900 plate appearances to Bauers, Willie Calhoun, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Billy McKinney this season and they combined for a .662 OPS. More worrisome is the performance of New York’s rookie-eligible hitters:
Yankees MLB rank Plate appearances 1,003 13th Batting average .203 30th On-base percentage .274 27th Slugging percentage .360 18th
The Yankees gave rookies a lot of plate appearances this season, and other than Jasson Domínguez’s great week, they didn’t hit at all. Anthony Volpe was handpicked for the shortstop job and he hit .209/.283/.383 in 601 plate appearances. The Yankees passed on Carlos Correa and Corey Seager and Trea Turner and all those great free agent shortstops, and this is the end result.
You build depth by making shrewd trades and free-agent signings, and by developing players internally. The Yankees have not had an everyday position player come up through their system since Gleyber Torres in 2018 and it’s a problem. It’s something that must be addressed not just for the sake of the 2024 Yankees, but for the franchise long-term. The Yankees need more from their system.
Bottom line, the Yankees must improve their depth this offseason and raise their own internal replacement level. It’s easier said than done, finding quality players who can be stashed in Triple-A or on the bench is difficult, but the Yankees have to do a better job of it than they did this year, and really the last few years. Big names like Yamamoto and Soto will get all the headlines this offseason, but quality depth is often the separator between contenders and pretenders.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here