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Aaron Judge and Carlos Rodon are Yankees. Now What?

The Yankees are just about batting 1.000 so far this offseason with Aaron Judge opting to return and Carlos Rodon heading eastbound following a dominant season in San Francisco. It’s a pet peeve of sports fandom to read “winners and losers” columns with the listed winners inevitably being those who spent the most; like, I certainly would not consider the Padres as winners for giving Xander Bogaerts an 11-year contract. In the case of the Yankees, however, they appear to have crushed it as much as a team possibly can in guaranteeing over half a billion dollars to two players. They withstood the hometown push from the Giants and the financial push from the Padres to keep Judge, who presumably will become the team’s first captain since Derek Jeter. A nine-year commitment to a 31 year-old with Judge’s body might not end gracefully, but that’s a pretty obvious concession. If Judge performs at even an All Star level or close to it, let alone an MVP level, over the next five years, then this deal will have been worth it. Giancarlo Stanton’s contract expires following the 2027 season and by that time Judge should either 1) be a Frank Thomas type of mid-30s hitter who has taken a physical toll but still controls the plate or 2) a player like Stanton currently, with low batting averages and high strikeouts but enough power and hard contact to offset becoming an offensive liability. Also, and I say this with enough self-awareness, a luxury of being the Yankees is the ability to withstand a player or two who doesn’t perform to the standard of his contract. As for Rodon, it’s hard not to look at his 6yr/$162mil contract and insinuate that Brian Cashman won a staring contest versus Scott Boras. That’s certainly not a meager amount of money, but it’s great business in this ultra player-rich market for one of the select few arms in baseball who can qualify as a true ace right now. And if that sounds like an overreaction for Rodon, it’s not. Here are his ranks among the 49 pitchers who have thrown 300+ innings over 2021-2022:

ERA: 4th (2.67)

K%: 1st (33.9%)

K-BB%: 4th (26.8%)

Batting Average Against: 2nd (.196)

FIP: 1st (2.42)

Rodon has been in complete control since his return from Tommy John surgery, and that complete control is ballpark-neutral and has occurred across time in both leagues. He has a lengthy injury history, yes, but honestly what pitchers don’t at this point – especially those who hit free agency? Pairing the oft-unhittable Rodon with Gerrit Cole’s consistency atop the rotation is an absolute worthy gamble by the Yankees, and it came with a price tag closer to the one Madison Bumgarner was paid by the Diamondbacks than what Stephen Strasburg was paid by the Nationals.

Alas, Judge and Rodon are done deals for the Yankees; the question is what happens next? As much as the Yankees’ offseason is worth celebrating through the first few weeks, the team really hasn’t addressed any of the issues that derailed them last season. Judge is back and that should not be taken for granted, but he is the incumbent Yankees rightfielder; he only would have impacted the status quo with a departure. Rodon’s arrival is a massive shake-up, yes, but his signing is more of a luxury than a necessity. The Yankees arguably had the best starting pitching in baseball across the 2022 regular season and it fared quite well in October too. Only Jameson Taillon is gone from that staff, so depth was not an issue. Therefore, roster holes and weaknesses remain; here’s how I’d rank them by importance:

  1. Left Field
  2. Bad Contracts
  3. Prospects
  4. Outfield Depth

No position has plagued the recent Yankees like left field. Ever since Brett Gardner’s glory days, the Yankees have tried a washed-up Gardner, Clint Frazier, Mike Tauchman, Joey Gallo, Miguel Andujar, and Aaron Hicks out there; nothing worked even a little bit. The midseason trade for Andrew Benintendi was seemingly going to plug the hole for at least the remainder of the 2022 season, but he broke his wrist and his impact prior to injury was overrated. Oswaldo Cabrera handled himself fairly well at the position but he needs to be a true utility man for the Yankees, not an Opening Day starter at a specific position – let alone one that’s not the most natural to him. The Yankees are long overdue to move beyond stopgaps. An available free agent like David Peralta could be decent for the 2023 Yankees, and for what it’s worth I can envision the team actually signing him, but I’d just really like them to aim higher. Signing Michael Conforto to even a one-year deal would be too much of an experiment for my liking. Jurickson Profar is the only true LF option still on the market who should command a multi-year contract, but I have enough reservations about him too to also hope that the Yankees try to do better. The time has come to address the left field vacancy with one meaningful and lasting acquisition.

There are actually a few good candidates who are the subject of trade rumors, though teams always overvalue their own assets and the Yankees aren’t the only contender seeking to add a corner outfielder. Bryan Reynolds is the best option and has already requested a trade, but the asking price from the Pirates is reportedly laughable. The Yankees aren’t going to trade Anthony Volpe for anyone and after him the farm system is relatively thin at the top. If Reynolds is eventually traded, a team with several blue-chip prospects like the Dodgers is better suited to pull it off. I have almost zero interest in trading for Ian Happ despite his 3.5 WAR season in 2022. I have a hard time envisioning him topping that production and his downside is rather large. The Yankees cannot afford to repeat the Joey Gallo disaster and Happ, who the Cubs surprisingly held onto at the last trade deadline, would likely cost a significant package of prospects to pry him from Chicago. Max Kepler is intriguing with his lefty pull power and bright red Statcast page, and he should be traded this offseason now that the Twins signed Gallo. As he enters his Age 30 season though, you just have to wonder why he’s perennially a guy that we ask ourselves, “why isn’t he better?” In 2022 he even flattened out his swing and cut down on strikeouts in the process – all the way down to a 14.8% K rate – yet his expected stats remained far superior to his standard stats. The appeal is obvious; he’s an exceptional athlete, very good defensively in right field and has a 36 homer season under his belt. I just think the Yankees would be forcing things if they penciled in Kepler as their everyday leftfielder. I think he’s a better fit for a team like the Phillies who could use a RF upgrade in Bryce Harper’s absence.

That brings us to the Diamondbacks who, after Corbin Carroll – arguably the top prospect in baseball – have three other young and exciting outfielders: Daulton Varsho, Alek Thomas and Jake McCarthy. A team finalizing its rebuild like Arizona might opt to keep all of the young talent they can get but I expect them to make a bigger push for 2023 than recent years, and their recent trade for another outfielder in Kyle Lewis has turned their trade talks from a presumption into an expectation. Varsho’s trade value is likely astronomical and I’d be content with the Yankees deciding that his price is too high. I get the appeal and I’m sure GMs from the Rays’ school of thought drool over him; he’s an elite outfield glove who’s versatile enough to play catcher and also hit 27 homers from the left side of the plate. He also batted .235 with a .302 OBP in this “breakout” season and, unlike Thomas and McCarthy, is about to enter his arbitration eligibility. Debate between Thomas and McCarthy is fascinating. I figure that the Diamondbacks will lean in the direction of protecting Thomas, and I’d understand that. He struggled as a rookie in 2022 but has much more pedigree than McCarthy and will still be only 22 years old by next Opening Day. Arizona shouldn’t panic over Thomas’ debut season, but they also shouldn’t ignore that he was abused by MLB fastballs and had poor chase and walk rates as a result. That matters to me, and it triggers something I fall back on a lot when I’m researching for the NFL Draft. “Upside” is generally associated with raw athleticism in sports yet, while applicable in select cases, the more appropriate and more common way to judge upside is to weigh how capable a player is of repeating his top production. I say all of this to say that McCarthy, despite ranking lower than Thomas on every prospect list, might actually have the higher upside between the two. He batted .283/.342/.427 as a rookie across 354 PA, and that was following a 165 PA sample size in Triple-A where he slashed an obscene .369/.457/.596. He doesn’t hit the ball particularly hard or barrel with regularity so he’ll have his detractors for that, but McCarthy might just be a damn ballplayer. And his Statcast page isn’t exactly an analytical graveyard. McCarthy’s speed is in the jaw-dropping tier; it’s a small club of players who have reached sprint speeds of 30.0+ feet/second. Most of them are slap-hitters, yet McCarthy hit a ball 451 feet last year. It’s an even smaller club when you limit who has done so from 2020-2022 with an average exit velocity that tops McCarthy’s in 2022: Trea Turner (2020-2022), Byron Buxton (2020-2021), and Bobby Witt Jr. (2022). That’s the entire list. When you ease the parameters a bit you also get qualifiers like Adam Engel and Adalberto Mondesi who never matched their tools with production, so there could be reason for worry that McCarthy ends up more like them as his sample size grows larger. But I’m skeptical of that. Engel has never hit above .242 in his four seasons with 200+ PA and Mondesi barely topped a .300 OBP only once; McCarthy flew past both of those markers in 2022. It might not be a perfect comparison but I could see McCarthy developing into an awesome player like Charlie Blackmon, while Thomas is less likely to “bust” but also could become a merely solid pro. I’d rather the Yankees target McCarthy in a vacuum, and I think he’d be cheaper to obtain anyway. Here’s the proposed trade framework courtesy of BaseballTradeValues.com:

This one is a banger with multiple well-known names included. Along with McCarthy, I have the Yankees acquiring Joe Mantiply from the Diamondbacks. I have to imagine that Brian Cashman is feeling quite rosy about the state of his roster following the Judge and Rodon signings, but he’s probably itching to add another lefty reliever. Wandy Peralta is good but almost too good for strictly lefty-on-lefty usage, and Lucas Luetge is likely out-of-favor with this regime after he was left off the ALCS roster. There are actually a few good lefty relievers still available on the free agent market, like Andrew Chafin and Matt Moore. But I’d take Mantiply over them, and he remains on a minimum salary through the upcoming season. A 32 year-old soft-tossing southpaw isn’t particularly exciting, but Mantiply had the second lowest xFIP among lefty relievers versus lefty hitters (2.11) in 2022. He’s a weapon and one that the Yankees are familiar with; he made one appearance in pinstripes in 2019.

The package going back to Arizona brings us to the aforementioned Achilles’ heel of bad contracts, in this case the worst of the bunch belonging to Josh Donaldson. Re-litigating the trade with the Twins that brought Donaldson to the Yankees alongside Isiah Kiner-Falefa is a waste of space here; it obviously didn’t work out and Brian Cashman placed the burden on himself to rid the team of the final year on Donaldson’s contract worth $27mil ($21mil salary for 2023 with a $6mil buyout for 2024). It will be extremely difficult to dump Donaldson but, unlike Aaron Hicks, the Yankees need to trade him. Things soured so badly with Donaldson in the lineup and clubhouse towards the end of the season that he could potentially derail the 2023 season if he stuck around. There will be a limited list of takers for Donaldson’s – let’s call it “brash” – personality, and that’s with the Yankees inevitably paying down a majority of the remaining money owed to him. Still, Donaldson’s glove at the hot corner remains tremendous; he finished sixth and eighth, respectively, in Outs Above Average and Defensive Runs Saved among all third basemen in 2022. It doesn’t take a front office analyst to observe that Donaldson is falling off a cliff with his bat – though his underlying metrics do also support that. Donaldson did stay healthy across 2022 and his standard stats were fine enough though to make it possible to trade him at a fraction of his cost for the receiving team, either by the Yankees taking back a different bad contract or beefing up the package with valuable assets. There are a couple of scenarios where Donaldson could be the everyday 2023 third baseman for a team that also dumps a contract on the Yankees: the Giants and Brandon Crawford, White Sox and Yoan Moncada, Royals and Hunter Dozier, etc. But taking back another bad contract is besides the point here. Alternatively, one could argue that a defense-oriented team like Arizona, who topped the league in Outs Above Average as a team by a healthy margin but had negative results at third base from Josh Rojas, could make more sense as the recipient of Donaldson. I would agree with that claim and would rather the Yankees shed themselves of dead weight on the active roster once and for all anyway – even if that means dealing away good players from areas of strength.

In this case, I have the Yankees trading Jonathan Loaisiga to the Diamondbacks. I’ll clarify this at the top: I do not expect the Yankees to actually trade Loaisiga. Brian Cashman collects relievers like Infinity Stones, and Johnny Lasagna is one of the elite relievers in the game when he’s on. But if you want to acquire a player like McCarthy who’s under team control through 2028, you’re gonna have to crack some eggs. And the truth of the matter is that the Yankees have stockpiled enough bat-cracking setup men, especially righties, to make at least one of them expendable. Clay Holmes is the frontrunner to close games and isn’t going anywhere, and Wandy Peralta has proved himself worthy of getting any batter out at any point in a game. The Yankees also just signed Tommy Kahnle to a two-year deal, traded for Lou Trivino at the last trade deadline, claimed Junior Fernandez off waivers in November…you get it, they’re deep – and that’s without mention of Ron Marinaccio’s 2.05 ERA in 40 games as a rookie. The Diamondbacks might have the worst projected bullpen in baseball at the moment, so Loaisiga would immediately become their best reliever and likely closer. But the Yankees would be able to sustain his loss, particularly with Michael King set to return in 2023 and Scott Effross in 2024. Loaisiga is only under contract for two more seasons too. I also have the Yankees including Clarke Schmidt and Everson Pereira in this package to meet the value for McCarthy and Mantiply. I feel like I’ve written about Schmidt’s trade eligibility multiple times now, but it feels even likelier now that the Yankees won the sweepstakes for Rodon. Schmidt would crack Arizona’s rotation right away. Pereira is one of the Yankees’ more talented kids and is a fringe guy on Top 100 Prospects lists, but McCarthy would ideally hold down an outfield spot across from Aaron Judge for a half-decade and Pereira is a level below Jasson Dominguez and Spencer Jones when it comes to Yankees’ outfield prospects. Arizona, who needs right-handed power now and presumably will in two years too, should value an outfield prospect who isn’t quite big-league ready yet with their current logjam.

The other egregiously bad contract on the Yankees belongs to Aaron Hicks, who still has 3yr/$30mil remaining on his deal. Nobody is taking that on in full for this version of Hicks, whose inconsistency and power outage at the plate has become too much to stomach for the Yankees. If the team eats half of his due money though, I think they could find a taker. He’s a switch-hitting veteran who gets on base at an elite clip; his 13.7% walk rate finished 12th in MLB. Defensively, his days in centerfield are numbered but he finished fourth among all LFs in Defensive Runs Saved in 2022 and still has the arm for right field too. Still, Brian Cashman shouldn’t wait by the phone for teams to inquire about a paid-down Hicks; he’s more of the “sure, we’ll take him too” type. The Yankees are likely desperate to trade Hicks before this season as he’ll earn his 10-and-5 Rights to veto any trade during the 2023 season, so every player in the organization should be subject to a pros and cons list for joint inclusion in a trade package with Hicks. 

When I go through that exercise, I land on Gleyber Torres as the Yankee it makes most sense to trade now. It would understandably sting most of the fanbase to trade Gleyber, especially since he’s coming off his best season since 2019. He was great defensively following his return to second base, and he rediscovered the pop he lost from 2020-2021 en route to 24 homers. In the Relative Runs Created stat that I coined, Gleyber’s rRC+ of 139 was actually identical to that of Bryce Harper. Still, I think it’s important to remember the conversation surrounding Gleyber from one year ago to date, when it was subject to heavy debate over whether the Yankees could trade Gleyber for anything. Now that Torres has reestablished value, it could be a timely decision to trade him as he only gets more expensive. Also, while Gleyber’s strong exit velocity metrics suggest he wasn’t overly lucky in 2022, he did post an expected batting average of just .244 – placing him firmly in the 30th percentile among qualified hitters. When people complain about the Yankees as a team that strikes out too much and is overly reliant on the longball, frankly I’m not too sure what they’re talking about since that hasn’t really been the case since 2019. The Yankees are close to league-average when it comes to contact and strikeouts nowadays; the real problem – well, one of them – is the lack of quality contact on a regular basis, of which the hot-and-cold Torres has been a contributor.  

The online reception to the Yankees trading a borderline All Star in Gleyber Torres for a prospect at the Single-A level would be…chilly, to say the least. However, this type of move typically favors the team planning for the long haul, and in this case it would be advantageous to deal with the Angels. They are just about as all-in on the upcoming season as a team can be, with it likely being Shohei Ohtani’s final season in Anaheim. They have been aggressive this offseason in acquiring good players on fairly high but short-term salaries, like Hunter Renfroe and Gio Urshela. Torres has two years left on his contract but he still fits that description. The Angels also have Mickey Moniak slated as their Opening Day OF4, so Hicks would likely play quite often for them. Edgar Quero was named the 2022 Minor Leaguer of the Year for the Angels, slashing .312/.435/.530 from both sides of the plate as a catcher. They traded for Logan O’Hoppe last year though, who figures to be the centerpiece of their impending rebuild. The Yankees, meanwhile, have extremely little to point to when it comes to catchers in their farm system. Austin Wells is a top prospect but a catcher in name only, and Antonio Gomez is a great defensive prospect whose bat is light years away from being major league ready. Quero would become the best bet as the Yankees’ catcher of the future.

To quickly wrap up trade proposals, I have the Yankees moving on from Lucas Luetge and Isiah Kiner-Falefa via trade. Luetge has real value; he was the top pitcher in limiting hard hit balls in all of baseball last season (23.5% of balls in play). You’ll regularly find a few Brewers pitchers atop the soft contact leaderboard, and Luetge could do a good impression of the recently departed Brent Suter for Milwaukee. The Yankees opted to avoid arbitration with IKF and instead retain him for $6mil, because Brian Cashman apparently can’t let anyone walk for nothing. It’s honestly not that big of a deal but it was still a dumb decision, as it will be difficult to trade him and it’s likely that will be the team’s intent once Anthony Volpe joins the club – hopefully right out of Spring Training. In that event, I could see Pittsburgh being open to IKF with the second highest team strikeout rate in baseball and the Oneil Cruz experiment at shortstop unlikely to last long. The Yankees will probably have to eat money to trade IKF with similar options available in free agency.

  • After the Hunter Renfroe trade and the Rule 5 Draft, Milwaukee currently has a whopping eleven starting pitchers on their 40-man roster, all between the ages of 25-30. The Yankees, meanwhile, have six pitchers who fit that description – including Clarke Schmidt. NYY’s Triple-A pitching depth has been gutted over the past 365 days and reinforcements are needed. Ethan Small, who was Milwaukee’s first round pick in 2019, has his arrow pointing down after a second consecutive season of sky-high walk rates in the high minors. Now 25, his best-case outcome is likely that of a back-end rotation arm, and Milwaukee has other more promising options in its system for that role now.
  • Nobody is going to trade a true prospect, meaning one without need for 40-man roster protection yet, to the Yankees for IKF. Looking through Pittsburgh’s farm, a realistic ask for one cheap season of IKF’s services could be Jared Triolo, a glove-first third baseman who’s blocked at the big league level by Ke’Bryan Hayes basically forever.

On to free agency! With an enormous amount of money allocated to Judge and Rodon in recent days, in addition to the depth chart being mostly fleshed out, any final additions in free agency will be less splashy and more low-key depth moves. Earlier I acknowledged that the lack of consistent quality contact is a big problem for the Yankee lineup, and that’s true. However, the biggest offensive issue that the Yankees must address is the team’s collective poor swing decisions, as evidenced by the Yankees ranking second-to-last in percentage of swings at pitches in the zone (66.2%, ahead of only the Pirates). The Aaron Boone Yankees have always been extremely patient at the plate, and that has led to some good outcomes like high walk rates and opposing pitch counts. It’s just gone way too far; the approach has become patient to a fault. If you look at the leaderboard for total swings compared to swings in the zone, right near the bottom of it is a bunch of Yankees. Jose Trevino is dead last, IKF is in the Bottom 10, and in the Bottom 30 are both DJ LeMahieu and Harrison Bader. Almost worse than that, there isn’t a single Yankee who ranked in the Top 40 in the league in 2022. They need a presence, even a bat off the bench, who can be counted on to take hacks at mistake pitches. I don’t think the Yankees are going to get Kyle Tucker – who tops that list – but coming in at 22nd out of 358 hitters is Brian Anderson, formerly of the Marlins. Anderson has lost plenty of shine since he produced back-to-back quality seasons for Miami from 2018-2019, culminating in a surprising decision to DFA him this offseason. Anderson has dealt with nagging back and shoulder injuries and his availability and production have dipped as a result, but cutting him at 29 years old has more to do with the Marlins’ financial woes than him as a player. There is still plenty to like here, including that plate discipline as well as an above-average barrel rate and true 3B/RF versatility. I think it’s fair to estimate that Anderson just had a down year in 2022, and some team will give him what the Marlins were too cheap to do. If it’s the Yankees, he would give them stability at third base with DJ LeMahieu’s toe injury and a strong bat off the bench that could get even stronger in a part-time role.

Wrapping it up, I’m calling for the Yankees to sign AJ Pollock as their primary backup outfielder; FanGraphs’ crowdsource results pegs him for a 1yr/$8mil deal. Pollock is past his prime but still does some things very well at 35 years old. One, he annihilates fastballs and handles heavy heat well too; his slash line of .302/.375/.492 against pitchers throwing 95+ MPH puts him in the 90th percentile. He also kept up his career trend of absolutely destroying left-handed pitching in 2022 despite an otherwise down season, with a .935 OPS and 161 wRC+ against southpaws. In theory it would be preferable for the Yankees to add a lefty hitter as their fourth outfielder, but beggars can’t be choosers and they should prioritize filling the roster with players with unique skill sets rather than trying to fit a square peg into that left-handed round hole. Also, for what it’s worth, Anthony Rizzo, Oswaldo Cabrera, and now Jake McCarthy would give the Yankees three regular lefties at the plate, and Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have reverse-leaning splits too.

So there you have it! Summing up all of these moves, we end with seven additions – four on the active roster, three in the minor leagues – and eight subtractions from the 40-man roster. This flurry of transactions would save the Yankees roughly $13mil in 2023 and at least $16mil across 2024-2025. I’m not in the business of keeping extra money in Hal Steinbrenner’s bank account, but the Yankees could either allocate that surplus for trade deadline acquisitions or look to extend a key player or two before Opening Day; Wandy Peralta and Harrison Bader are entering contract years. Even with that reduced payroll, I believe this would leave the Yankee organization in a better place for 2023 and beyond.

Thank you, as always, for reading! Follow on Twitter @Real_Peej

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