Yankees offseason checklist (2017-2018)

The Yankees come into this offseason ahead of the curve. The team wildly defied expectations in 2017 behind an MVP-caliber season by Aaron Judge and a Cy Young-caliber season from Luis Severino. The 91-win Yankees season concluded with a game seven loss in the ALCS to the eventual World Champion Houston Astros. From there, the Yankees wasted no time with their surprising that manager Joe Girardi would not return as the Yankee manager in 2018. With that, it is clear that Brian Cashman has full control of the New York Yankees, and they will look toward making some minor upgrades to field another competitive team in 2018. Unlike this past season, the Yankees will enter next year as one of the favorites in the American League, so many of the decisions made this offseason will factor into how this team can compete for a World Series in 2018, while also looking at the bigger picture of building a dynasty that is ready to begin in 2019 and run into the 2020's. Let's take a look at some items that should be on Cashman's checklist as we head into this offseason.

Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

1. Sign Shohei Otani
First and foremost, the Yankees must prioritize signing the two-way star, the "Japanese Babe Ruth," Shohei Otani. The 23-year-old has the upside of a top-line starter, while he also has the potential to hit in the middle of a team's order for years to come. Last season, I said the Yankees needed to prioritize signing Aroldis Chapman, and they did just that. This offseason, signing Otani makes too much sense for it to not happen.

First off, Cashman loves Otani. During the middle of the season while the Yankees were in a division race, Cashman made a trip to watch Otani play in Japan, and I'm sure he saw what most scouts have been raving about. Although Otani battled some injuries for the first time in his career dealing with a left thigh strain that mostly limited him to hitting, Otani was able to slash .332/.403/.540 (.942 OPS) with eight homers, 31 RBIs, and 16 doubles in 65 games at the dish. On the mound, Otani went just 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and 10.3 K/9. In his career as a hitter, Otani has hit .286/.358/.500 with 48 bombs, 166 RBIs, and 70 doubles in 403 games. As a pitcher, Otani has been even better going 42-12 with a 2.69 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 10.3 K/9.
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Otani has a fluent motion as a pitcher that should allow him to remain mostly healthy, and he has solid hitting mechanics that indicate his hitting should translate nicely to the major leagues. At 6'4" and 215 pounds, Otani has the build of both a front-line starter and middle of the order hitter. As a pitcher, Otani has a fastball that routinely sits in the mid-to-upper 90's that has topped out at 102 MPH, and he also mixes in a split, curveball, and slider, drawing comparisons to Justin Verlander and Stephen Strasburg. As a left-handed hitter, Otani has been compared to Paul O'Neill or Curtis Granderson with a ton of homers, low-to-mid batting average, if he is not hitting every day, and solid OBP with an impressive amount of walks and significant amount of strikeouts. 
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Point being, the Yankees have to get this guy. Due to the new CBA, Otani will not fetch a six-figure contract. Yet, the Nippon Ham Fighters are almost certainly posting him, and the Yankees can offer the second highest dollar figure signing bonus of any club at $3.25-million, which is just behind the Rangers $3.535-million mark. Otani will essentially get to chose where he wants to play with money not being much of a factor, so the Yankees will immediately become one of the favorites. It's obvious that Cashman has been preparing to sign him, so the Yankees must capitalize here to further solidify the roster into being a perennial contender. 

2. Hire a manager prepared to lead this team to a dynasty
After the surprising news that Joe Girardi would not be back to manage the Yankees going forward, there became a significant number of questions regarding who would step to the plate and manage the Yankees next season. With no obvious candidates right off the bat, the Yankees are faced with a myriad of options. Already, the Yankees have interviewed the in-house candidate Rob Thomson, as well as the unexpected out of house candidate Eric Wedge. The Yankees are also expected to interview Aaron Boone, Jerry Hairston Jr., Hensley Meulens, and Chris Woodward. There are also some dark horse candidates in former Yankees Carlos Beltran, David Cone, John Flaherty, and even Alex Rodriguez. Finally, Yankees current Triple-A manager Al Pedrique may jump into that mix.
Photo Credit: Getty Images

When the Yankees elected to not bring Joe Torre back after 2007, Cashman and the Yankees interviewed just three candidates: Girardi, Don Mattingly, and Tony Pena. They were the three obvious candidates that came to mind. But this year is different.

Photo Credit: Chuck Solomon

The Yankees will field another young team in 2018 that now has that much-needed postseason experience. Will they turn to a guy who knows this team well like Pedrique, Thomson or a guy like Flaherty, or will the Yankees go with a guy with some pedigree who has been on championship contending staffs like Wedge, Meulens or someone else? There are no obvious candidates, and Cashman must be careful here. There is no guarantee the next Yankee manager will be around for potential Yankee championship runs late in this decade into the 2020's, but they have to hire a guy who will continue developing the Yankee youth while setting this team up to make those runs in the future.

3. Get rid of Jacoby Ellsbury
The Yankees began realizing the logjam they had in the outfield this season, but with injuries to Clint Frazier and others, it was not a glaring problem. However, it will become a problem in 2018 if the Yankees are unable to do something about the albatross contract of Jacoby Ellsbury.

Cashman already went on record saying that he envisions the outfield next season being comprised of Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, and Aaron Judge, which would relegate Ellsbury to being the highest paid fourth outfielder in the MLB. Cashman went on to confirm that this essentially shows that Clint Frazier will be blocked unless they find a solution.
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Getting rid of Ellsbury will not be easy. He is owed roughly $68 million over the next three seasons with a 2021 option that includes a $5-million buyout. Hal Steinbrenner is surely looking to maximize the return on his investment in Ellsbury, so simply designating him for assignment and cutting him like the Red Sox did with Pablo Sandoval may not be possible. Moreover, trading him will be difficult. Not only will it be tough to move that contract, but Ellsbury also has a full no-trade clause, so he would have to approve any deal. And there is no guarantee that the Yankees could even get a deal done in the first place. At least not without eating a portion of that contract. 

With that in mind, it is clear that the Yankees need to do...something. It is going to require much thought from Cashman, and there is no doubt he has every option on the table. Ellsbury did have a productive month of September hitting .337/.426/.477 with eight doubles, two triples, and steal steals. It does not appear that the Yankees will have an "everyday DH" in 2018, so it is possible the Yankees hold onto him and rotate the four or five outfielders on the roster on a daily basis, though that is not an ideal scenario.
Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

Not only should the Yankees consider trading Ellsbury, but they should also consider trading Starlin Castro and Dellin Betances. For Castro, he had a productive season, but with Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, Tyler Wade, and others coming up through the system and being on the cusp of being big league regulars, Castro will eventually block some of these prospects. Castro is still young, he will be 28 before next year's opening day and he is coming off a productive .300/.338/.454 season giving him plenty of value this offseason. As for Betances, it is clear that the dominant righty completely lost his control across the course of the season and he became one of the least trusted relievers the Yankees had in the postseason. The Yankees could look to trading both of these players which ties into the sixth item on the checklist, but the Yankees must start exploring options for Ellsbury first.

4. Resign CC Sabathia
If anyone would have told me that CC Sabathia would be handed the ball in game seven of the 2017 ALCS at the beginning of the season, I would have laughed in their face. But that is exactly what it came down to, and it was clear that Sabathia was the team's most trusted arm late in the season among a rotation that included Cy Young hopeful Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and deadline acquisition Sonny Gray. 
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Sabathia, 37, was the stopper for the Yankees all season going 14-5 with a 3.69 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and .246 BAA. It is clear that he has officially figured out the transition from being a power pitcher to being a pitcher who can locate and rely on movement to get outs. It is also clear that Sabathia wants to be back, potentially even finishing his career in New York. The Yankees owe it to him to offering him a one or two year deal, and it helps that he could help round out a solid Yankee rotation in 2018.

5. Extend Didi Gregorius
Ever since coming to New York and filling the shoes of Derek Jeter, Didi Gregorius has not stopped improving. The slick fielding shortstop's numbers at the plate have improved each season he's been in the Bronx, and he became a force for the Yankees in the middle of the order this year. Not only did Gregorius post a career high slash line of .287/.318/.478 (.796 OPS), he also posted career highs with 25 home runs, 87 RBIs, and 3.6 WAR, all while missing the first month of the season for an injury suffered in the World Baseball Classic.
Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus | Getty Images

Gregorius hit some huge home runs for the Yankees in the postseason, including his three-run shot in the first inning of the Wild Card Game that tied the game. He also posted a two-homer performance off Corey Kluber in game five of the ALDS which propelled the Yankees to a major upset of the World Series favorite Cleveland Indians. In the field, Gregorius had just nine errors and a .983 fielding percentage. Gregorius made just over $5-million this season, a figure that will continue increasing through arbitration. While Chase Headley and Castro's days in pinstripes appear to be limited, Gregorius is proving that he is here to stay even with Torres, Andujar, and other prospects ready to make an impact in the bigs. The Yankees should ink the 27-year-old to a multi-year extension two years before he is set to hit the free agent market.
Photo Credit: J. Conrad Williams Jr. | Newsday

6. Get under the $197-million luxury tax and thus, continuing the youth movement
Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner has once again been very public that this year is the year that the Yankees will get under the $197-million luxury tax. The Yankees finally got the contracts of Alex Rodriguez and Sabathia off the books, which has already lowered their payroll by about $50-million.
Photo Credit: Don Emmert | Getty Images

The Yankees projected payroll after arbitration is $155,950,000, which does not give Cashman much wiggle room this offseason regarding free agency. Aside from potentially signing Sabathia and Otani, the Yankees may make most of their moves on the trade market, which should not be viewed as negative. The Yankees still have Headley and Castro under contract for next year, both of whom may be viewed as trade assets to free up salary and make room for the prospects.

Cashman already claimed that Torres will have the opportunity to make the MLB roster on opening day, as he will not deny anyone of that possibility. I've already talked about Andujar, Wade, and Clint Frazier, but the Yankees would also love to get them seasoned to further their development as significant contributors to the future of the franchise.
Photo Credit: Frank Jansky | Getty Images

With the historic 2019 free agent class that includes Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Charlie Blackmon, and potentially Clayton Kershaw, the Yankees would love to continue shedding salary to make a few splashes next winter. Cashman is sure to be mindful that every move he makes this offseason has major implications for next year's offseason, so shedding salary while remaining competitive should be a priority for the Yankees front office this winter.

Overall, the Yankees have a lot to look forward to once again this offseason. The availability and affordability of Otani gives intrigue that the Yankees will make a major free agent splash, while also being mindful of the payroll implications going forward. The Yankees are in a territory there is no way they anticipated they would be in going into 2018. The club was one win away from a World Series appearance this year, so Cashman will look to continue building on that, while also setting this team up for many championship runs over the next couple seasons. It is a very exciting time to be a Yankee fan, and if the Yankees can accomplish most of the things on this checklist, they could be back to being the Evil Empire of the late 90's sooner rather than later.

Article by: Chad Raines


  1. I don't think they will extend DiDi this year because of the tax implications unless they feel that they can extend him for a Average salary less that what he will get in Arbitration. He is expected to get 9 million in Arb.

    1. It'll certainly be interesting. $9 million in arbitration is kind of steep, but as a middle infielder he's certainly earned that. If they could work a 5-year deal or something of that nature I think it's something worth considering.

    2. Didi will get extended - its the timing of it (after 2018) that needs to be managed.

  2. Definitely feel that an upgrade to the BUC should be in any Yankees checklist for the off-season. It would be criminal to have Romine on the roster next year. The guy is virtually useless on both sides. We have a ton of depth in the minors and plenty of cash in free agency. I really wish that Cashman would use the 40 man consolidation and deal for a quality BUC, then drop Romine. Kill three birds with one stone. 1. Get rid of Romine. 2. Get a better backup catcher. 3. Move some of the guys we can't protect for the Rule 5 to improve the 25. Make it happen, Cash!

    1. There are a few interesting guys available, too. Most look to Avila, who is really not a viable option. Too many $'s there, for Hal. I kinda like Montero. Once a top flight catcher, overall, he could be a great help in mentoring Gary Sanchez. Plus, he's got a little pop in his stick, a plus for the short RF porch.

  3. They should be able to shed Ellsbury if they eat 30-50% of the contract.

    30% = 20M > 6.7M/yr for 3 years
    35% = 24M > 8M/yr for 3 years
    40% = 27M > 9M/yr for 3 years
    45% = 31M > 10.3M/yr for 3 years
    50% = 34M > 11.3M/yr for 3 years

    1. Still a very good defensive CF'er, imo, better than Aaron Hicks. Ellsbury is probably still the better overall player today. Of course, he is overpaid, although not his fault. If he can stay healthy for the whole season, he could have more value at the end of that season than Hicks. I see Hicks reverting to his 4th or 5th OF'er, more of what he's always been. If you look at his 2nd half stats, he looked like the guy wearing a Minnesota jersey.


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