Welcome to 2018. In exactly six weeks, pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa to begin preparing for one of the most highly anticipated Yankees seasons of my lifetime. I can’t wait. Until then, here are some miscellaneous thoughts as we begin the new year.
1. In order, I’d say the Yankees’ biggest needs right now are another infielder, another starter, and a new backup catcher. (I’ve more or less given up on the new backup catcher idea.) As much as I like infield prospects like Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar and Tyler Wade, I have a really hard time believing the Yankees will go into the new season with two rookies on the infield. Or one rookie and Ronald Torreyes. The CC Sabathia re-signing gives the club five starters, so they don’t need another pitcher, but they do need another infielder in my opinion. Not a big name guy or an expensive free agent or anything like that. Just a capable veteran infielder who can hold down the fort until the kids force their way into the lineup, then be cast aside into a bench role or even off the roster once the kids take over permanently. A stopgap, basically. Even two stopgaps wouldn’t be a bad idea, luxury tax payroll space permitting.
2. You’re going to hate me for this, but looking over the list of available free agent infielders, I can’t help but think a Stephen Drew reunion could be in the cards. The Yankees have had a thing for him for a while now — have you been checking out the monthly MLBTR Archive posts? they’ve been connected to Drew for years — and the fact they have a new manager could equal something of a fresh start. Drew spent the last two seasons as a bench player with the Nationals, hitting .261/.325/.458 (103 wRC+) overall and playing the three non-first base infield positions, and playing them well. The batting line is deceptive — Drew hit .266/.339/.524 (124 wRC+) in 2016 and .253/.302/.358 (70 wRC+) in 2017 — though the Yankees theoretically have enough offense to career a zero at the bottom of the lineup. All they need is someone to play second or third base, and catch everything behind their ground ball heavy rotation until Torres or Andujar or whoever is ready. Drew can do that. He won’t be expensive, he can play a position(s) of need, and he’d be a left-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium. I dunno, the chances of a reunion seem annoyingly high to me.
3. We should start hearing about some minor league contract signings soon. People complain about the signing, complain when the player gets called up, then complain when he gets designated for assignment because he got that big hit that one time. Seen it a million times. As deep as the farm system is right now, there are always roster gaps to be filled. Erik Kratz is already back for catching depth. An infielder and a veteran innings pitcher are likely as well. I’m not sure there will be much more than that. Maybe the Yankees bring in two or three veteran hanger-on infielders on minor league contracts and let them compete for one Triple-A roster spot in camp. Wouldn’t be the first time they’ve done that. In the past, these minor league depth signings were always important because you knew the Yankees would probably need to call on these guys at some point. Now? Now when the Yankees have a need, they have actual prospects to call up. Calling up Clint Frazier as an injury replacement is much more fun than calling up Thomas Neal or Zelous Wheeler.
4. Clearly, the Yankees want another starting pitcher. They’ve been connected to Gerrit Cole for weeks and at some point they made trade offers for Michael Fulmer and Chris Archer. They’re not just looking for depth here. They’re aiming high. There’s never a bad time to add a quality young starter, though I think they are motivated by four things. One, the Yankees know success can be fleeting and they want to do everything possible to win in 2018. Two, they have some physical/workload related concerns about their current starters after a deep postseason run in 2017, and want protection. Three, they’d rather get the starter now and avoid a potential bidding war at the trade deadline, when prices can get out of hand. And four, they have more prospects than they know what to do with, and they want to cash some in as trade chips before the bloom starts to come off the rose, if you catch my drift. The Sabathia re-signing means the Yankees are not desperate though, so they can wait out the Pirates for Cole or the Tigers for Fulmer until they get a deal they like. And if they a deal doesn’t fall into place, that’s okay. They have five starters ready to go. Point is, I think the Yankees very much want another starter, and I think the plan is to wait and wait and wait until they can get that starter on their terms.
5. Things are shaping up beautifully for the Yankees to get a bargain free agent later in the offseason. Maybe that means Neil Walker or Howie Kendrick (or Todd Frazier?) instead of Drew! The free agent market is not moving at all. I blame three things. One, the free agent class generally stinks. Two, the game’s two biggest spenders (Yankees and Dodgers) aren’t spending because they’re trying to get under the luxury tax threshold. And three, every team wants a bargain, and they’re all waiting. It seems these days every front office values players similarly and they all have the same roster building approach. At some point free agents are going to sign. J.D. Martinez and Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta are still going to get paid. The second tier guys like Walker and Kendrick figure to be most effected, and that could allow the Yankees to make a nice late signing. Something like last year’s Chris Carter signing, only better. I definitely think that is part of the plan right now. Wait out the slow as hell market and see who is stuck looking for a job in the days leading up to Spring Training.