The MLB lockout has left a bad taste in the mouths of every baseball fan. Fans of the New York Yankees, however, received a double dose. Leading up to the anticipated lockout, a free agent frenzy ensued among several clubs. As many appealing targets went off the board, the Yankees surprisingly stood pat. It’s possible that they didn’t plan on pursuing any of these players, and they wanted to survey the post-lockout landscape before making any moves. Even so, seeing them inactive as other teams improved drastically was frustrating for fans to see. Once the lockout ends, the Yankees will need to make a strong push in free agency. If they don’t make major additions, the landscape in the AL East and beyond looks treacherous.
Yankees Quiet in Free Agency Pre-Lockout
Right before the lockout began in early December, a number of players rumored to be in the Yankees’ crosshairs signed elsewhere. One of New York’s most glaring holes is at shortstop, and Corey Seager was seen as a possible target. A lefty bat with decent power for a shortstop, he would’ve been a fantastic fit for Yankee Stadium. Instead, he signed a 10-year deal with the Texas Rangers. Another potential shortstop option, Javier Baez, signed with the Detroit Tigers for six years. On the pitching front, Max Scherzer signed a three-year deal with the New York Mets, and the Yankees were never a significant part of the conversation.
The Yankees remaining idle during a busy signing period is certainly an unusual sight. In the days of George Steinbrenner, especially later in his tenure, offseason spending sprees became routine. If American League rivals made any major offseason moves, the Bronx faithful could rest assured that the Yankees would eventually counter. Luckily, this period of inactivity by the Yankees came early in the offseason. Many big names are off the board, but plenty of intriguing options remain. Once the lockout ends, the pressure will be on the Yankees to sign at least one high-profile free agent. Otherwise, the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox appear poised to outpace the Yanks once again, and the Toronto Blue Jays are hot on their tail.
Potential Free Agency Additions for Yanks
Although it’s unusual for the Yankees to have done very little at this point in the offseason, it’s hard to believe that will remain the case. Assuming they eventually make their move, which positions will they address, and who might they eventually sign?
New York’s biggest need is at shortstop. Gleyber Torres was a major defensive liability last season, so much so that he had to shift back to second. Seager, a career shortstop, is no longer available. The same goes for Marcus Semien, who likely could have slotted in there if necessary. However, at least two noteworthy options remain. One is Trevor Story, who is quite possibly the best power-hitting shortstop in the game. The other is Carlos Correa, who is two years younger than Story, and his superior defense probably gives him more upside overall. However, he could be a controversial addition for Yankees fans. The bad blood still lingers from the Houston Astros cheating scandal, and Correa was near the center of it. If Correa signs with New York, how quickly the fanbase forgives and forgets will largely depend on his performance.
Another open question for the Yankees is at first base. Will they go with Luke Voit next year, try to re-sign Anthony Rizzo, or go after the big fish in Freddie Freeman? Voit has exceeded every expectation in his Yankee tenure, but questions remain about his ability to stay on the field. Rizzo was serviceable after his deadline acquisition last season, with eight homers and a .768 OPS in 49 games. He appeared to be a two-month rental, but he remains an option as long as the Yankees are willing to sign him long-term. Freeman is the most tempting of these options. Fresh off a title, a former MVP, a Gold Glove and multiple Silver Sluggers on his shelf, what’s not to love? The only caveat is his potentially heavy price tag. If this detracts from the Yanks’ ability to address other key areas, he may not be worth it.
The Bombers could also stand to improve the back end of their bullpen. Aroldis Chapman became more of a question mark last season than ever before. The same goes for Chad Green. It wouldn’t be insane to replace Chapman (Kenley Jansen, perhaps?), but it seems unlikely. Middle relief help, maybe someone who can also close if Chapman falters, is more likely to arrive.
Hot stove speculation during MLB offseasons is always an inexact science. The Yankees could sign more than one of these players, or none at all. Either way, it is clear the Yankees have regressed since dominating the AL East in 2019. If that trend is to end, they cannot afford to sit back as other teams bolster their rosters. A conscious effort is needed to analyze both what has gone wrong the last two years and how to correct it. Once free agency restarts, the pressure will be on Brian Cashman to make sure the Yankees return to the championship conversation.