How many big-ticket items will the Yankees pursue?
It is nearly upon us: the long-speculated on mega-winter of 2018-19 in which huge stars such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are free agents. Managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner made it a mandate years ago for general manager Brian Cashman to get the club under the $197-million luxury tax threshold, and it was mission accomplished this year. Though it can’t be ruled out, it should not be assumed Steinbrenner got under the threshold so he could blow past it by bestowing, say, a $300-million-plus contract on Machado or Harper. The more likely big-ticket expenditure is a pitcher, with Arizona lefty Patrick Corbin a certain target.
For starters, who’s pitching?
The Yankees will look to add to their rotation, an annual pursuit for Cashman. As the axiom goes, “You can never have enough starting pitching,” and the Yankees don’t have all that much they know for certain will be in the 2019 rotation. So far it’s just Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka. Sonny Gray is arbitration-eligible, but his demotion from the rotation doesn’t bode well for 2019. Top pitching prospects Justus Sheffield and Chance Adams didn’t do enough this season to earn anything but the opportunity to compete for rotation spots in the spring, and Jordan Montgomery will miss at least the first half of next season recovering from Tommy John surgery. CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ are free agents.
The end of Gardy?
Brett Gardner, drafted by the Yankees in 2005, might have played his final game in pinstripes. Gardner, 35, never got it going at the plate this season, though he still showed for the most part he remains a solid, and sometimes spectacular, defender. And there is no one more respected in the clubhouse (he and Sabathia share that billing). Still, the Yankees have a $12.5-million option on Gardner for next season, with a $2-million buyout, and could choose to go in a younger, less expensive direction. If prospect Clint Frazier gets past the concussion symptoms that plagued him all season, he could be an option. Although Yankees fans don’t want to hear it, Jacoby Ellsbury still has two years left on his $153-million deal.
The word at first?
Luke Voit took over for a slumping Greg Bird in late August and was a revelation, hitting 14 homers, including 10 in September. But the Yankees will ask themselves if Voit, a diamond-in-the-rough find by their analytics department, is the long-term answer at the position. Should they give the once-touted Bird another chance or look outside the organization for insurance? Cashman, while calling Bird’s season a “head-scratcher,” said at the start of the postseason he hadn’t given up on Bird, once an organizational prospect on the same level as Aaron Judge and Luis Severino.
How does the 2019 bullpen shape up?
The Yankees already had one of the most potent bullpens in history before adding Zach Britton at the trade deadline. But as Cashman likes to say, “bullpens are volatile,” so there are no guarantees for next season, especially with stalwarts David Robertson and Britton being free agents. It’s possible one will be back, but likely not both, and it all depends on the price tags. The bullpen doesn’t rank with the rotation as a priority, but it is likely to be addressed.