Are you tired of discussing the Yankees’ offseason?
Why did they sign DJ LeMahieu over Manny Machado? Are they really going to pass on Bryce Harper? The arguments have been exhausting, even with the clear merit to the discussion.
While the Yankees have passed on the generation talents, they’ve filled the obvious holes in their roster going into the offseason. They needed three starters, two relievers and a stopgap at shortstop. With James Paxton, Adam Ottavino, Troy Tulowitzki and the re-signings of CC Sabathia, J.A. Happ and Zach Britton, they’ve done just that. Add in LeMahieu as insurance for the entire infield, and the Yankees have addressed their immediate issues while going over the luxury tax.
Is that enough? We’re not going to know for a while. There’s plenty of injury and performance risk in their winter acquisitions and I’d be lying if I said that Harper or Machado wouldn’t alleviate much of those concerns.
When you look at the Yankees’ competitors, their offseason improves immensely. The Bombers don’t deserve a gold medal for doing the perceived minimum to upgrade its roster, but the other American League contenders certainly deserve demerits.
The Red Sox won last offseason with the signing of J.D. Martinez and that led directly to a World Series title in the fall. You can try and rest on your laurels after a season like that. The Red Sox have done just that.
Boston re-signed Nate Eovaldi and Steve Pearce and … I’m at a loss here. Maintaining a good roster is one step to an offseason, but the Red Sox have allowed their bullpen to atrophy, seeing Joe Kelly leave (less of a concern) and Craig Kimbrel sit on the market, leaving a giant question mark at the back-end of the bullpen. With a handful of low-risk relief signings (Brian Ellington, Jenrry Mejia, Dan Runzler, Colten Brewer and Zach Putnam), they’re bound to hit on someone, but that doesn’t replace the Kimbrel-sized hole in their bullpen.
With about $240 million in committed salary, Boston sits right near the third tier of the luxury tax and appears ready to forego further improvements to stay under. Unlike the 2018 Astros, which added Gerrit Cole to a World Series champion, they’ve taken a clear step sideways.
The 2019 Astros also look to have taken a step sideways. Their big offseason move was to add Michael Brantley, which was undeniably smart. He shores up left field, a revolving door for Houston at times, and gives them a lefty bat with plenty of contact at the top of their lineup. Combine that with some more health on their infield and the Astros’ offense should take a step forward.
However, they’ve also seen Charlie Morton leave while Dallas Keuchel and Marwin Gonzalez are likely following him out the door late in this offseason. Add in Lance McCullers’s Tommy John surgery and they’re experiencing significant turnover in their rotation. Wade Miley is … fine. But four of Houston’s five starters will be free agents after the season and the fifth starter has all of 27 2/3 MLB innings under his belt, including the postseason.
Houston’s young talent in the pipeline gives them a wild card for this upcoming season. Top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley should be ready for a call-up by midseason and could supplement the rotation. With a bullpen that may need a deadline upgrade, they have the MiLB players to pick that up via trade.
Beyond those two teams, it’s not like there’s a clear elite contender to rise up. The Indians have done nothing but hemorrhage talent from their roster, seeing multiple relievers, Brantley and Edwin Encarnacion leave with Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers as the only additions thus far.
The Athletics remain injury-riddled in the rotation with their bullpen losing their veteran reinforcements from the 2018 deadline. The Angels didn’t address their rotation or lineup holes in any significant way. The Twins … meh.
Tampa Bay represents the only other competitor to improve by bringing in Morton, though it remains to be seen if they can recreate the opener’s success in 2019. The Rays also boast a top-five farm system to tap into for MLB talent or trades if they compete yet again.
All of this is to say Yankees have had a strong offseason by comparison with other teams standing pat or letting holes open up. Did they bridge eight wins with the Red Sox and close the talent gap with the Astros? That’s up for interpretation, but they seem neck-and-neck at worst. Fangraphs projections have the Yankees at 96 wins, ahead of Houston and just one game behind Boston. Furthermore, Paxton has been the best outside acquisition of any AL contender and Ottavino likely sits in third behind Brantley.
No one signing would guarantee a division title or a World Series title. Still, the Yankees have spent much less than they can and there are perfect complements to the team’s core available in free agency. However, the Yankees aren’t the only team failing to jump at the opportunity and while that could change at the drop of a hat, the American League’s collective inactivity gives the Yankees a leg up in early February.