For the first time in quite a few offseasons, the Yankees and Red Sox were overwhelmingly responsible for the biggest headlines during the annual winter meetings.
The Red Sox clearly are going all-in for 2017, as evidenced by the acquisitions of ace lefthander Chris Sale, reliever Tyler Thornburg and first baseman Mitch Moreland.
The Yankees? They agreed to terms with Aroldis Chapman on the richest contract ever for a reliever — $86 million over five years — which demonstrated that they plan to be competitive for a wild-card spot at the very least. Nonetheless, they are staying the course charted for the franchise by managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner.
It’s a course that includes building around cost-controlled youth, which he hopes will help the Yankees finally get under the luxury-tax threshold, perhaps as early as 2018.
“I think we’re trying to be as careful in our decision-making process as we possibly can as we straddle that line of trying to be as good as we can be in ’17 and hopefully even better than that in ’18 going forward,” general manager Brian Cashman said. “I think every decision we’re trying to make is with that in mind.”
The Yankees have signed two free agents this offseason, Chapman and Matt Holliday (one year, $13 million) to be the DH. Neither cost them a draft pick, of paramount importance to Cashman.
“[Those are] players that we’ve gravitated to to try and secure for this franchise in the near term,” Cashman said. “We’re avoiding losing our 16th pick in the draft right now and we thought that was important so we could continue adding and building.”
That building process began en masse before the Aug. 1 trade deadline last season when Chapman, Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran were traded for high-end prospects who quickly made the Yankees’ farm system one of the best in the sport.
But Cashman said that process is never-ending. Although he currently doesn’t believe the Yankees are one player away from title contention, he might feel that way next offseason and want to pull off the kind of go-for-it deal the Red Sox did. And that takes big-time prospects.
“I think we had a great trade deadline that has sped up the process for us in terms of the future,” Cashman said. “I think we’ve taken so far the necessary steps in the present that will ensure that future is still on track, but I also think we’ve taken the necessary steps this winter that makes the present better at the same time.”
So while a system flush with hyped talent such as Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, Blake Rutherford, James Kaprielian and Jorge Mateo is impressive, clubs can never have enough prospects.
“Their projections lead to an exciting possibility, but this game’s difficult,” Cashman said. “There’s no guarantees. That’s why you collect as much as you can collect and then the game itself will separate the men from the boys and the best teams from the worst. We feel we’re on a trajectory to be joining some of the best teams in the game and we’re taking the necessary steps to get there, and hopefully the payoff is going to come on the back end.”
As for a payoff in 2017, Cashman still has work to do, but he’ll likely have to pursue the trade route to address those areas of need (think perhaps another reliever, a starter and another bat). The vast majority of the budget given him by Steinbrenner was used to re-sign Chapman, which the owner pushed for. The Chapman deal won’t become official until the lefthander passes a physical, which looks as if it will take place on Monday.
“We have more needs,” Cashman said. “The ability to execute as many things as possible is going to shrink if we conclude this [Chapman signing] because obviously we won’t have really that much to play with financially.”
The rotation has nothing but questions beyond Masahiro Tanaka, but the free-agent market is super-weak and teams aren’t parting with reliable starters on the cheap.
“I’d love to, but it’s just hard to get,” Cashman said. “So we’re going to go with what we’ve got and I don’t anticipate adding any starting pitching. I’d love to if I could, but I doubt it’s realistic.”