Yankees Offseason Checklist

Cashman via Jim McIsaac
We’re new nearly a month into the offseason and other than acquiring OF Aaron Hicks from the Twins for backup catcher John Ryan Murphy, the offseason has been rather quiet for the New York Yankees as well as most of baseball. As a team, there aren’t many glaring holes on the Yankees roster and the argument can be made that the Yankees are faced with a good problem: they have too many serviceable players. But that doesn’t mean they won’t make any more moves.

Other than second base, the Yankees infield has no question marks going into next season. The same can be said about the outfield and the designated hitter position, but the Yankees are in a position with some wiggle room there. The Yankees will return 7 potential starting pitchers and the bullpen has an abundance of potential arms, but it could use some bolstering. So overall, the Yankees are one of the few teams entering the 2015-2016 offseason with no obvious needs. However, here are 5 things that Hal Steinbrenner Brian Cashman and the Yankees must have on their checklist this winter.

5. Bolster the Bullpen
We’ve written quite a few articles on how/why the Yankees should do this but I’ll reiterate it anyway. The Yankees bullpen in 2015 was initially considered one of the strong suits of the team with the back end including Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances. Despite most games being shortened to 7 innings, the bridge to DnA was shaky at times with inconsistencies from Chasen Shreve, Adam Warren and the revolving door of minor league relievers thrown onto the big league stage. For that reason, the Yankees must refrain from dealing Miller while finding a way to acquire a reliever although bolstering the bullpen should be the item of least importance on this checklist.

The trade market for relief pitching heated up a little over two weeks ago with Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman finding their names in the rumor mill. To the dismay of many Yankee fans (including myself), the Yankees lost out in their pursuit of Craig Kimbrel as he was dealt to the Boston Red Sox. With Kimbrel setting the market for dominant closers and Chapman likely having more trade value than Kimbrel, the likelihood of the Yankees acquiring the Reds fireballer isn’t very high. However, that shouldn’t stop the Yankees from looking into names such as Tyler Clippard, Joakim Soria, and Darren O’Day as well as other potential relievers on the free agent or trade market.

4. Sign Justin Upton
On the Yankees unofficial offseason checklist, this one is the most unlikely. Upton is coming off a season in which he hit 26 homers and drove in 81 runs in a pitcher friendly Petco Park. As a guy who has shown consistent middle of the order pop, Upton will likely get a contract well over $120 million across at least 5 years being that he is still just 28 years old.

Additionally, signing Upton isn’t a necessity, but rather a luxury, and a good one at that. The Yankees lacked consistent right-handed power aside from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira (in the event he was hitting righty) so signing Upton will fill that void for 2016 and beyond. Granted, in order to sign Upton, the Yankees would surely have to move an outfielder in the process.
Upton via Getty Images and USA Today Sports.
3. Trade Ivan Nova
Let’s face it, Ivan Nova’s time in pinstripes is all but over. This is a guy whose return from Tommy John Surgery was highly anticipated and despite his spectacular first start where he went 6.2 innings allowing 3 hits and no runs, Nova failed miserably in keeping that momentum going. Nova finished the season going 6-11 with a 5.07 ERA and only 63 strikeouts across 94 innings. His struggles prompted the Yankees to officially demoting him to the bullpen before injuries threw him right back into the mix.

A change of scenery is in order for the not so “Super Nova” and the Yankees can get a decent return for the guy. Clearly, no team will offer more than a C+ or B- prospect for him but the Yankees could deal him to get younger or to give them more flexibility in what is looking like a crowded mix of starting pitchers for 2016.

2. Trade Brett Gardner
Gardner’s name has been in heated trade talks with teams such as the Mariners and Indians with the Royals, Mets and Orioles all potentially jumping in the Gardy sweepstakes. Allow me to preface this by saying that I like Brett Gardner. I really do, but he makes it so difficult to love him. Although he plays the game hard, he’s a poor baserunner when you consider his speed and he traditionally collapses in the second half. Where Brett Gardner was an All-Star before the break hitting .306 with an OBP of .377, Gardner completely fell off hitting just .206 with an OBP of .300 after the All-Star Break. Gardner also swiped 15 bags before the break compared to just 5 after the break.

Despite his second half struggles, Gardner is a valuable piece to have and a guy that a lot of teams would like to have. That is why the Yankees can probably get a middle to high-ceiling starting pitcher for Gardy including potentially packaging prospects with him and pulling off a substantial deal with a club. Although I cannot say for sure that Gardner will be dealt this offseason, if I were a betting man, my money says Brett Gardner has played his final game in Yankee pinstripes.
Gardy via Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
1.      Acquire a starting pitcher
Allow me to begin with which starting pitchers will be looking for spots in the rotation in 2016 assuming the Yankees do trade Ivan Nova. Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Luis Severino, CC Sabathia and Nathan Eovaldi are the likely candidates to fill the rotation. The rumors have it that Adam Warren also wants another shot at being a starting pitcher. Sure, why not? An argument can be made that Warren was the team’s most consistent starter before the break in 2015.

Clearly, the Yankees have an abundance of arms vying for 5 rotation spots: 7 if you include Nova and 8 if you include Bryan Mitchell (although he will not get a spot in the rotation unless a couple guys go down with injuries). Despite this, the uncertainties of this rotation are immense. Pineda, Tanaka and Eovaldi all showed flashes of dominance, then couldn’t get past the fourth inning in the next start. CC was just bad all season until his last few starts, but he’s also coming out of rehab for alcoholism. Ironically, the youngest of the group, Severino, may be the only guy fans can consistently count on. Nevertheless, inconsistency and uncertainty is a reoccurring motif for this rotation which is why this should be the Yankees top priority this offseason.

What this rotation needs is a consistent high-end starter. Technically, Tanaka is the “ace” of the staff but by no means is he an ace. And yes, Severino could potentially take the reins and become a legitimate ace in 2016 but at just age 22 on Opening Day, time will tell. 
Severino via USATSI
On the trade market, the Yankees could potentially spin off a deal with the Cleveland Indians including players such as Brett Gardner and prospects for either Danny Salazar or Carlos Carrasco. A similar package could be thrown San Diego's way for Tyson Ross and James Paxton from Seattle is another name that Cashman could target. The Yankees have been in contact with the Indians in particular as well as the Mariners so if the Yankees take to the trade market to acquire a starter, look for Salazar or Carrasco coming to the Bronx in a deal including Gardy, thus checking two items off the checklist.
Salazar via Jason Miller/Getty Images
If the Yankees look to the free agent market and want to be the big spenders once again (and this is the year to spend big if Hal decides to do it), Zack Greinke and Johnny Cueto are all available. By no means am I advocating Cashman run out and dish out a mega deal to any of the three (because it will likely take around $150 million if not more for either of these two) but that would be the route to take if the Yankees intend to make a splash in the free agent market.

However, fans should not expect Cashman to legitimately pursue any of the big three pitchers currently on the market. The next tier of free agent starters includes Wei-Yen Chen, Jeff Samardzija, Hisashi Iwakuma, Scott Kazmir and Mat Latos. If Cashman signs any one of these 5 guys to a multi-year deal all worth less than $80 million, my gut tells me it will be Samardzija. In the event Cashman wants to sign a starter to a one year deal, keep an eye out for Alfredo Simon, Doug Fister or John Lackey. None of these three will solve the Yankees issues in the rotation, but it’s something to be on the lookout for.

Lastly, and I know it sounds crazy (because it is), but if you love a comeback story, don’t rule out Brian Cashman signing Cliff Lee. The Yankees have pursued him for a few years on the free agent and trade market and it got to the point where we all just knew he was being traded to the Bronx in 2010. Clearly, this never happened and Lee is now pondering retirement but just maybe, Cashman signs him to a cheap and expendable one-year deal (similar to Chris Capunao's deal he had in 2015) hoping to get whatever is left out of his arm.

Summation
This article may be overwhelming with the vast amount of names mentioned throughout, but as a team entering the offseason without extreme needs, Brian Cashman has the ability to get creative. We all know he can be unpredictable at times (for better or worse) but the flexibility he has in the 2015-2016 offseason is something we haven’t seen in a while so he can take any route he decides will best benefit the organization. Although the suggestions mentioned in this article are not bound to happen, these are a few options that Cashman has to inquire about before Spring Training in 2016.

Article by: Chad Raines
Follow me on twitter @Chad_Rain
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