The Yankees won 100 games in the regular season and two in the postseason. As a wild-card team, they needed to win 10 more postseason games to bring World Series trophy No. 28 to the Bronx.
So how do they get those extra 10 wins in 2019?
Simple: They go on the most historic free-agent spending spree in baseball history.
How historic? We’re going to lay out a realistic plan for the Yankees to spend a cool billion dollars this offseason. Hey, if you want the hardware, sometimes you have to pony up.
“We know what our objective is and we know what kind of team the fans expect to take that field Opening Day,” owner Hal Steinbrenner said on Friday on “The Michael Kay Show” on ESPN 98.7. “That’s what we’re going to try to deliver.”
Then get out the checkbook, Hal. You own the New York Yankees. You can afford it. Your fans pay through the nose to watch this team. They cram into a ballpark that is so expensive to visit, it might as well be gold-plated. They watch the YES Network in record numbers. They love this team and its young stars, the disappointing ALDS result notwithstanding.
Just win, baby? Sure. But first, just spend, baby.
First off, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Sign ’em both.
With dozens of moves over the last few years, the Yankees under Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman have gotten under the luxury tax threshold for the first time since the payroll penalty was instituted in 2003. They did it with this offseason in mind because the Yankees’ penalty if they go over the threshold next season resets from 50 percent to 20 percent.
This free-agent class includes two once-in-a-generation talents in the prime of their careers. Machado turned 26 on July 6. Harper turns 26 on Tuesday.
Hall of Fame-caliber players do not hit the free-agent market at that age. The last was Alex Rodriguez, who was 25 when he signed a 10-year, $252-million contract with the Texas Rangers before the 2001 season.
The Yankees might have to pay about three times that much — $750 million — to land both Machado and Harper. They have it. How about $375 million each for the next 12 seasons? That’s an average of more than $31 million per season per player. Nice work if you can get it.
Speaking on ESPN about whether he’s willing to dive deep into the free-agent market this offseason, Steinbrenner said: “We’re going to leave no stone unturned. You’ve heard me say that a million times. We’re going to look at every single person out on that free-agent market once we’ve figured out where our weaknesses are and where we want to focus on, and we’re just going to go player-by-player.”
If you’re wondering where Harper and Machado would fit in the lineup, don’t wonder too long. Talent makes its own room.
Harper takes over leftfield from Brett Gardner, who saves the Yankees $10.5 million when he is allowed to leave as a free agent. The Yankees already were lacking in lefthanded-hitting thunder before Friday’s shocking news that Didi Gregorius will need Tommy John surgery. Harper, in an off year, hit 34 homers and drove in 100 runs for the Nationals.
That Gregorius news creates a need for Harper and actually could help the Yankees land Machado, who prefers playing shortstop to third base. The Yankees will go into the offseason knowing they can’t count on anything more than a mid- to late-summer return from Gregorius, who will be a free agent after next season. If and when he returns, the Yankees can plug him in at short and shift Machado to third and use Miguel Andujar as a first baseman/DH.
Andujar, a wondrous offensive talent, is such a butcher at the hot corner that he didn’t even play in Game 4 of the ALDS with the season on the line.
If the Yankees really want to get radical and save money to pay the two free-agent studs, they can trade away $325-million man Giancarlo Stanton.
Let’s face it: Stanton never seemed comfortable in his first season in pinstripes. He gets mad props for staying in the lineup on a bad hamstring when Aaron Judge was hurt, but there’s something lacking in Stanton’s overall presence. His final at-bat of the season was putrid.
In the ninth-inning rally in Tuesday night’s ALDS finale, Stanton was the only Yankee who had a bad at-bat. He predictably struck out on four pitches against Craig Kimbrel. If waving at sliders in the dirt in a clutch situation were an Olympic sport, Stanton would have a gold medal. Something tells us he might approve a trade to a less pressurized market, with the Yankees getting some prospects or an arm or two.
Remember, the Dodgers, Cardinals and Giants all made pitches to get Stanton from the Marlins. If that contract can be traded once, it can be traded again.
Full disclosure alert: I thought the Stanton trade was gluttonous when the Yankees made it. It was great for the box office and TV ratings, but adding a righthanded-hitting slugger was redundant when the trade was made and is even more so now that Andujar and Gleyber Torres blossomed as rookies to join Judge.
The Yankees went to Game 7 of the ALCS last year without Stanton. They made it to Game 4 of the ALDS with him. They can do better without him.
Stanton’s need for DH at-bats took away an avenue the Yankees could have used for Andujar and especially Gary Sanchez, a singular offensive talent who, in my opinion, is in danger of getting severely diminished by the mental and physical challenges of catching.
Why grind a bat like that into the dust when Sanchez is never going to be more than an average catcher? Austin Romine can handle the bulk of the catching or the Yankees can add Matt Wieters or Wilson Ramos in free agency.
Here’s a projected 2019 lineup: Aaron Hicks CF, Judge RF, Harper LF, Machado SS, Sanchez DH, Andujar 3B, Luke Voit 1B, Torres 2B, Romine C.
Steinbrenner and Cashman can figure out how to make the money work. Or we can do it for them.
Going into the offseason, key Yankees free agents include CC Sabathia, J.A. Happ, Lance Lynn, David Robertson, Zach Britton, Andrew McCutchen and Gardner (assuming his $12.5-million option with a $2-million buyout is declined).
Forget about the guys the Yankees added midseason in trade. If you delete Stanton, Gardner, Sabathia and Robertson from the 2019 payroll, that’s a nearly $60-million savings based on their current salaries. That would easily cover the combined 2019 salaries of Machado and Harper, give or take a few million.
The Yankees also are going to have to spend for the rotation, as the only starters who are signed for next season are Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka (and Sonny Gray, ha ha). Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances will anchor the bullpen.
Good news! The free-agent market has attractive pitchers, too, such as Houston’s Dallas Keuchel, Arizona’s Patrick Corbin (who is dying to be a Yankee) and former Yankees reliever Andrew Miller. And there’s nothing that says the Yankees can’t bring back Happ, Sabathia, Robertson or Britton if the price is right.
So let’s say the Yankees shell out a total of $250 million for a bunch of new (or returning) arms. There’s your one billion dollars.
And there’s your best chance to wipe out the horror of seeing the Red Sox celebrate twice at Yankee Stadium — once when they clinched the AL East title Sept. 20 and again Tuesday when they played “New York, New York” in their clubhouse as an obvious revenge troll job to Judge’s Fenway Park boombox hijinks after the Yankees’ Game 2 win.
Watching the Red Sox celebrate twice has to sting, like getting champagne in your eyes. If the Yankees want to feel that burn in 2019, they’ve got to go big. They’ve already gone home.
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Antlhony Rieber’s fantasy lineup for the 2019 Yankees:
Aaron Hicks CF
Aaron Judge RF
Bryce Harper LF
Manny Machado SS
Gary Sanchez DH
Miguel Andujar 3B
Luke Voit 1B
Gleyber Torres 2B
Austin Romine C.