The Yankees got to sleep in today after last night’s unthinkable AL Division Series clincher against the heavily favored Cleveland Indians. While the Yankees quickly turn their focus to the ALCS and the Houston Astros, let’s keep our focus on the ALDS for a bit and the impact it could have for 2018. In particular, Todd Frazier aka “The Toddfather” and CC Sabathia, both of whom will be free agents after this postseason.
While the box score shows 4.1 innings pitched, CC Sabathia pitched a gem in the ALDS finale. Sabathia was handed an early lead and he held on with a Crazy Glue-like grip. He not only shut the Indians down, he did it in a dominant fashion with nine strikeouts. The bullpen, Didi Gregorius, and Brett Gardner did the rest. For Sabathia, it added a chapter to his personal book on how to pitch.
Just like the addition of another big CC, Clarence Clemons, helped jolt Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band to major stardom, the Yankees’ fortunes turned back around when Sabathia joined the Bombers before the 2009 season. The move paid immediate dividends as the one-time Cy Young winner was a huge factor in the Yankees winning their 27th world championship that season.
Sabathia, a hellacious competitor, won 19 games his first year in New York and became the ace of the pitching staff. After a few seasons in pinstripes, the 6’7″ left-hander began showing some signs of age, wear and tear, and the effect of throwing over 200+ innings in multiple seasons. A private battle with alcoholism also had an effect on his game.
In particular, Sabathia’s prized left arm and knees began to betray him. He made just eight starts in 2014 and struggled to make up for the lost velocity on his fastball. Though he can no longer throw 200 innings in a season, Sabathia made 30 starts last year and 27 this past season. Most of all, though he doesn’t always have the control he needs, Sabathia’s presence on the mound is as strong as it ever was. His 14 victories (in 19 decisions) this year gave him 120 wins in his nine years in New York and a 62.2% winning percentage during that period.
The Yankees’ starting rotation next year figures to be Masahiro Tanaka (if he doesn’t opt out of his contract), Luis Severino, Sonny Gray and Jordan Montgomery. The final spot could come from a number of options. The prime free agent pitchers this offseason are Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, and Japanese star Shohei Otani will be posting to play for a Major League team. While it’s an unlikely scenario, Sabathia might accept a one-year (with possible option), low money deal to be a back-end-of-the-rotation starter for the Yankees.
Options outside of the Yankees could include a return to Cleveland or Milwaukee, or, since he grew up in the Bay Area, Sabathia could sign with the A’s or Giants. The Mets could even play a factor if CC wants to stay in the Metropolitan area. It’s always possible CC could opt for retirement as well.
Todd Frazier is not the hitter he once was. As his power increased, when he was a member of the Cincinnati Reds, his strikeouts also rose and his batting average and on-base percentage dropped. Prior to his trade to the Yankees, Frazier was scuffling at the plate while a member of the Chicago White Sox. (For more on Frazier, click here to see the Bronx Pinstripes column I wrote during Spring Training comparing the White Sox’ Frazier, to the Yankees’ Chris Carter).
His 27 home runs this season represented a downturn after he blasted 35 and 40 the previous two seasons. He also played in the least amount of games (147) since 2012. Frazier also had a career-worst WAR – 1.8 with Chicago and 1.6 with the Yankees. Frazier is still good with the glove and a clubhouse leader, and like Sabathia, a fierce competitor. Though it doesn’t show the statistics, Frazier’s glove and hustle helped the Yankees to their ALDS win (and, of course, his thumbs-down rally symbol).
Despite the falling numbers, Frazier made $12M this season and will now enter free agency for the first time. He’ll be looking for a multi-year deal with a bump in pay. Would the Yankees be interested, in say, a three-year, $45M contract (with a possible optional 4th year)?
Incumbent third baseman Chase Headley has clearly fallen out of favor, as evidenced by his decreased playing time during the regular and postseason. With one year and $13M left on Headley’s ill-advised four-year deal, he should not be difficult to move, though the Yankees will have to send a chunk of cash with him.
Possibly the biggest factor involving third base is someone by the name of Manny Machado. Though he got off to a terrible start, the Orioles’ third baseman managed to hit 33 home runs and drove in 95 runs thanks to a second-half surge. You would expect his offense to return to its 2015-2016 form next year. Defensively he’s still as spectacular as ever. Machado becomes a free agent after the 2018 season. If the Yankees have any kind of interest in trying to sign him, they aren’t going to sign another third baseman to a long-term deal.
Another name that might impact the hot corner next year is Gleyber Torres. The Yankees’ top prospect, and prior to this season rated as either the #1 or #2 prospect in all if baseball, was predominately a shortstop when he was a member of the Chicago Cubs’ organization. Since his acquisition for Aroldis Chapman last year, Torres has seen time at second base and third base. Unfortunately, a torn UCL in his non-throwing shoulder caused him to undergo Tommy John surgery and limited him to only 55 games this season.
While Torres’ progress was slowed by the injury, he could still have an impact in the Yankees infield in 2018. But, where would he play? Shortstop Didi Gregorius, who should receive some AL MVP votes this year, is controlled by the Yankees through 2019. The Yankees should try to sign the 27-year old “Sir Didi” to a long-term deal that would extend beyond 2020.
Second baseman Starlin Castro is signed through 2019 at a fairly reasonable rate ($22.7M distributed over two years) and there is a team option/buyout of $16M/$1M that won’t get picked up by the Bombers. It would not be surprising to see Castro dealt sometime before the start of the 2019 season. The Yankees might also have some interest in Mike Moustakas, a free agent who is coming off a 38 home run season for the Royals and would enjoy the short porch in Yankee Stadium’s right field.
As far as Frazier’s status, there is the slimmest of likelihoods that the Yankees would sign him to a free-agent deal. The Yankees should, however, make him a one-year qualifying offer. The Toms River, NJ native will, of course, turn it down but the Yankees will get a draft pick when he signs elsewhere. Among the possible destinations for Frazier next season are the Mets, Indians, Giants, Angels, and Cardinals.
Can You Bet on Dellin?
With Aroldis Chapman entrenched as the team’s closer, there is a logjam of right-handed setup men in the Yankees’ bullpen. David Robertson, Dellin Betances, Chad Green, and Tommy Kahnle gave Joe Girardi an amazing compilation of talent to choose from. And Girardi threw them into games in a number of different situations. Pitchers are creatures of habit, so although all accepted (or semi-accepted) their roles this year, would they all be happy next year being used in the same manner?
The return of Robertson, who earned his Major League chops with the Yankees from 2008-2014, was a mutual blessing. “D-Rob” filled numerous roles, including closing, setup, middle, and semi-long relief, for the Yankees after his reacquisition (with Kahnle) from the White Sox. He allowed just four earned runs in 30 appearances after the trade and struck out 13.1 batters/9 IP.
Green had a breakout season, throwing 1-3 innings at a time. He struck out 103 batters (13.4/9 IP) and walked just 17. After a mediocre August, Kahnle turned things around with a dynamite September and saved the fourth game of the ALDS. He struck out 12.4 batters/9 IP after having struck out 15 batters/9 IP prior to the trade. Having a glut of talent could also mean Green returns to his original starting role.
Last but not least is Betances, who was having another All-Star season until he wasn’t. While there were times when Betances showed rust from not pitching enough, his September/October struggles with control have been baffling. After he walked both batters he faced in the fourth game of the ALDS, it’s clear that Girardi cannot count on Betances despite his triple-digit fastball and nasty off-speed stuff.
In spite of his control issues, Betances would be the most likely candidate to be traded, especially after you recall his (and his agent’s) nasty exchange with Yankees’ president Randy Levine after Betances lost his salary arbitration case last Winter. Betances should also bring back some good talent since whichever team he plays for will have him under control through the 2019 season.
For now, all we can do is wait and speculate, and be fully immersed in the ALCS.