Huge news in the baseball world last night, as Rays’ ace Blake Snell was traded to the San Diego Padres. Snell is a 28-year-old former Cy Young winner in the middle of a team-friendly contract. I’m sure the players the Rays received in return for Snell will end up being productive. Tampa has a smart front office that is notorious for winning trades. In the immediate future, however, the loss of Snell is a huge blow for the Rays. It also presents an opportunity for the Yankees.
It’s no secret that the Yankees haven’t even been to the World Series since 2009, let alone won it all. The lasting memories of Yankee fandom for the past 10 years have mostly been painful. Cliff Lee dominating us in the playoffs. Jeter breaking his ankle in the ALCS. The retirements of the Core Four, and subsequent overpaying of disappointing veterans to replace them. There was a brief glimmer of hope in 2017 with next generation stars like Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino leading the Yankees to within a game of the Fall Classic. Unfortunately, that was followed up with an embarrassing loss to Boston in 2018. Finally, the last two seasons have been marred by injuries & Aroldis Chapman serving up season-ending home runs. (Not pinning the losses on Chapman, just the depressing memories that stick out in my brain).
The Yankees have had the talent in place to truly “go for it” ever since 2017. But 2021 is an especially great opportunity. Let me explain.
State of the AL
The Yankees need to bolster the pitching staff, and either re-sign DJ LeMahieu or find a suitable replacement. That being said, they may already have the best roster in the American League. Yes, there’s a lot of work to be done. But look at the state of the rest of the league:
The Rays just traded a Cy Young winner
The Blue Jays are short on pitching/maybe a year away
The Astros are still missing Verlander/likely letting Springer walk
This is the year to win the American League. Make the necessary moves, get it done
The Rays are now down two of their three best starters after trading Snell and allowing Charlie Morton leave in free agency. The Blue Jays are young and promising, but likely not ready to contend just yet. The Astros are missing their ace & letting their leadoff hitter walk. The Red Sox are still rebuilding.
The Yankees’ biggest competition in the AL as of right now is probably the White Sox. Their lineup ranked sixth in MLB in runs scored a year ago, and they traded for Lance Lynn to be the 1B to Lucas Giolito’s 1A in the rotation. But relatively speaking, the American League as a whole is weak right now. Brian Cashman and the Yankees have to take advantage of that. Don’t get complacent, be aggressive.
State of the Yankees’ roster
As I mentioned before, the Yankees have a great core in place. Have they come up short the past few seasons? Yes. But this is a team that’s come within one win of the pennant in 2017, and two wins away in 2019. They took the eventual AL-winning Rays to the brink in the 2020 ALDS. This team is closer to a title than people give them credit for.
So what’s to like about this roster? Well, for one thing, they have one of the best pitchers in baseball, Gerrit Cole. Cole is 30 and in the middle of his prime. The Yankees are paying him $36 million a season. They need to build around Cole at his best, not wait until the end of his contract when his production will likely dip.
Another reason 2021 is a great time to go for it is because of the Yankees’ player control situations for two of their stars. Judge has two years of team control left before he’ll need a new contract. Gleyber Torres is under the Yankees’ control for another four years. These players will eventually need to be paid (or not). Cashman needs to make the most of Judge & Torres being relatively cheap while he can.
In addition to Judge and Torres, there are a few other controllable assets on the Bombers’ roster. Chad Green has two years of control remaining. Gio Urshela is controlled through 2023. Luke Voit and Clint Frazier are under contract through 2024. Aaron Hicks and Luis Severino are on team-friendly contracts. At some point, Cashman will have to make decisions on some of these players. But for now, these are all somewhat cheap players who can help the Yankees a ton in the immediate future.
What does “go all-in” mean?
I’m not trying to say the Yankees should have a $300 million payroll. It isn’t happening, and it’s not necessary. But Cashman can not get complacent right now. The thought process shouldn’t be “well our opponents got worse, so we don’t have to add much to the roster.” He should be thinking “this is a great opportunity for us to get back to the World Series. Let’s do everything we can to get us there.” I’m sick of the same excuses we’ve heard for the past few seasons.
No more "injuries derailed the season" or "we tried trading for someone at the deadline, but they were asking for too much." Make the moves that get us over the hump and do it this offseason
I know LeMahieu has been the number one topic of conversation for Yankee fans this offseason, and for good reason. He’s been one of the most productive players in baseball since becoming a Yankee. However, a #2 starting pitcher behind Cole is still the team’s biggest need in my eyes.
How to fix the rotation
Severino has the potential to fill that void. Not to give a Cashman line, but a healthy Severino at his best is better than any pitcher the Yankees could acquire. He’s also only made five starts since 2018, and not someone who should be relied on for 2021. Severino should be the cherry on top of what the Yankees have in place when he returns this summer, not a guy they’re desperately waiting for.
Trevor Bauer is a guy that a lot of Yankee fans want, but I think a team gives him a 6/7 year deal, and I don’t think the Yankees are that team. The Reds’ Luis Castillo and the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks are my pipe-dream trade options. I would love to have either of them on this team. If there is any way to get them in a trade headlined by Clarke Schmidt, Cashman has to make that deal. Unfortunately, I think the prospect cost will be much steeper than just Schmidt.
More realistic options include the Pirates’ Jameson Taillon or Joe Musgrove, the Rockies’ German Marquez, or maybe the Diamondbacks’ Zac Gallen. Cashman needs to add a high-upside starter via trade like he did with James Paxton two offseasons ago. Then sign a veteran, whether it be bringing back Paxton or Masahiro Tanaka, or taking a chance on Corey Kluber or Jose Quintana. If they add two starters to what they already have in place, I’ll feel good about the rotation heading into 2021.
What to do with DJ
I do want DJ back, desperately. He’s one of my favorite Yankees, and he’s been huge for us the past two seasons. What I don’t want, however, is DJ being the only move the Yankees make this winter. The plan needs to be re-sign DJ and bring in pitching.
I’ve kicked around the idea of the Yankees allowing DJ to sign elsewhere and then trading for a shortstop, such as the Indians’ Francisco Lindor or the Rockies’ Trevor Story, and sliding Gleyber back to second. It would be easier to just re-sign DJ than do that, though. The more likely alternative to DJ is a stopgap shortstop such as Andrelton Simmons in 2021 and a run at Lindor, Story, or one of the other top free agent shortstops next winter. I don’t love that idea, but if it guarantees a huge upgrade to the pitching staff, I could get behind it.
I’ve rambled on far too long now, so if you’re still reading, I appreciate you. I’ll sum it up real quick. The Yankees have a great opportunity to win the pennant due to the week American League and the roster they already have in place. Cashman needs to act and put this team over the top. Add two starters, a reliever, and either re-sign DJ or replace him with someone effective. If not now, then when?
Tweet me @ncostanzo24 with what you think the Yankees should be doing to get over the proverbial hump in 2021.