BBB Writers' offseason thoughts and season review
With the Yankees' season nearly a month over, the dust has finally settled and the offseason is in full swing. The Yankees had strong aspirations for the third consecutive year and came up short of their goal for the third straight year. With this being said, there is a lot to discuss and speculate, and here are a handful of our writers' takes on what happened in 2019 and what may go down in the 2019-2020 offseason as the Yankees strive to finally get back to the Fall Classic for the first time since 2009.
Mary Grace Donaldson
Even after the ending of the World Series and the 2019 MLB season, I cannot say that I have fully recovered from the fall of the Savages (who certainly weren’t the same ‘Savages in the Box’ that we watched in the regular season, and even during the ALDS). A comment I saw across Yankees Twitter read something along the lines of “#NextManUp was fun, but it didn’t take us far enough.”
So, who — or what — is to blame? Can the Yankees blame their season on injuries? Most of the team that got them to the postseason in the first place was, at some point during the course of the regular season, affected by the Yankees’ Injury Plague. Color commentators and analysts are fast to blame Brian Cashman (looking at you Sweeney Murti) and his failure to acquire an ace for the starting rotation prior to the trade deadline — forget about the offseason. Others look to pin the blame on a tired bullpen, and Aaron Boone has even been cited as a cause.
However, if this discussion is truly centering around what killed the Yankees in the ALCS, the answer to that question is not injuries, not even in the case of Giancarlo Stanton; they won without him all year, and while he certainly would have helped the lineup, his absence wasn’t what hindered it. It’s not Cashman’s apparent unwillingness to bring in a starting pitcher. It’s not even the bullpen — the Dellin Betances answer belongs in the injury discussion, and the rest of the bullpen, ultimately, looked good. Tommy Kahnle couldn’t have pitched better, Chad Green was unlucky enough to give up one bad pitch which changed the course of a pivotal game, and even Aroldis Chapman giving up the homer to Jose Altuve is not the answer.
The Yankees’ offense, in certain cases, died. Most notably: Edwin Encarnacion looked lost. Gary Sanchez had one big hit and seemed as though he could only strikeout during the rest of his at-bats. Didi Gregorius, while pivotal in the ALDS, cooled off in the ALCS, and his status with the Yankees in 2020 is certainly a question considering his free agency. There were other "cold cases," but these three feel like the most notable.
This loss stung more than the losses of 2015, 2017 and 2018. Winning Game One of the ALCS gave me so much hope. Removing Justin Verlander in a tied Game Two in the seventh inning gave me even more. The truth is that I knew it was over upon watching the Carlos Correa homer at 1am -- the way that the Yankees' offense was playing to that point, it would be very difficult to come back from a walk-off blow like that one was. However, I denied my gut. I gained momentum on the Gary homer, and with the Game Five win. My dad and I woke our neighbor's dog when DJ LeMahieu hit the homer heard around New York -- which made the loss hurt even more than it would have if the homer didn't happen.
Ultimately, the Yankees didn't give up easily. And I don't think I agree with Aaron Judge on the whole "the season was a failure" thing. But was it a disappointment? Absolutely -- even more than in years past. The biggest disappointment of all was an offense that overcame the hurdle of not hitting with RISP in 2018, only to revert back to those old 2018 patterns in the ALCS. If the Yankees' offense hit like the savages they were all season, and even in the ALDS, we'd have a very different narrative right now.
How can the Yankees change the narrative in 2020?
- While baseball philosophers discuss the notion that good pitching beats good hitting, and the answer could very well be Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg, the main problem in the ALCS wasn’t the pitching. I certainly would welcome either Cole or Strasburg with open arms; however, the focus on the coaching staff could also move to improving the pitchers who are already part of the Yankees’ staff. Matt Blake may have an entirely different approach than Larry Rothschild did, and that could be the medicine that the current pitchers need to get better.
- I’m not sure what a solution to the quiet offense during the ALCS is -- especially since it was apparent just how capable the offense was come mid-season, and in the ALDS. No one knows what the future holds for the Yankees’ free agents just yet -- but it is reasonable to assume that Encarnacion won’t be returning after the Yankees didn’t renew his club option, and they didn’t extend a qualifying offer to Gregorius. Moves that seem likely and helpful to the Yankees’ offense would be playing Luke Voit at 1B, moving Gleyber Torres to a permanent SS, moving LeMahieu to 2B, keeping Gio Urshela at 3B and, provided he’s healed, putting Miguel Andujar in the lineup at DH. Andujar’s offense is valuable as is Urshela’s, and playing Andujar at DH allows for both of them to contribute (and keeps Andujar out of a defensive role). Injuries weren’t the ultimate reason for the fall of the Yankees, but Andujar’s bat could have fired up the offense a bit. Of course, this scenario would only work in the absence of Encarnacion and Gregorius -- but the bats of Voit and Andujar could be part of the answer (as both were absent in the ALCS).
The 2019 season ended in perhaps the most gut-wrenching way possible, and a third consecutive early exit from the postseason for a team with World Series aspirations definitely leaves a sour taste in many fans’ mouths. For a team that battled through as much adversity as this squad did this past season, it felt like we might have caught lightning in a bottle when everyone got healthy for October, but lack of clutch hitting, and a complete no-show from guys like Edwin Encarnacion was ultimately too much to overcome.
All the talk around the MLB Trade Deadline was that the Yankees needed another starter. Fans’ displeasure that they ultimately didn’t was only further triggered when the Houston Astros acquired Zack Greinke seconds before the deadline. The narrative across social media was that the ALCS was already decided and that we had no shot. What played out, however, despite the end result, couldn’t have been further from the truth, as it was the offense, not pitching, that was the team’s Achilles' heel. A clutch hit in one or two spots and the entire series might have played out differently.
Looking forward to 2020, the Yankees have some big-name players who will hit free agency - namely Didi Gregorius, Dellin Betances & Brett Gardner. Edwin Encarnacion’s 2020 option was not picked up, CC Sabathia heads into retirement, and backup catcher Austin Romine is a free agent as well. The Yankees hope to get a full healthy season from Luis Severino to anchor the starting rotation, but you cannot underestimate the impact an addition of either Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg would be. However, as Brian Cashman has shown in recent years, the trade market is an avenue to add impact pitching as well. It cannot be understated how the big acquisition of last offseason - James Paxton - outdueled eventual AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander in ALCS Game 5.
On the other side of the ball, the Yankees hope to get Miguel Andujar back in 2020 off his labrum surgery, will look to Giancarlo Stanton to return to health, as well as rely on Mike Tauchman more in the first few months of the season with Aaron Hicks undergoing Tommy John Surgery at the conclusion of the 2019 playoffs. Hicks is expected to be out until at least June.
The first big question for GM Brian Cashman comes this Wednesday with the deadline to protect Rule Five Draft eligible prospects. Among them are top SP phenom Deivi Garcia. Next up is free agency which usually heats up at the Winter Meetings. Clear needs for this team right now are in the starting rotation and in the outfield, but don’t be surprised to see Cashman look to bolster the bullpen (perhaps bringing back Betances?) as well as look to an impact first baseman, which would allow American League MVP fourth-place finisher DJ LeMahieu to slide back to his natural second base position. If the team is ready to part ways with Gregorius, Gleyber Torres would slot in as the everyday shortstop for the 2020 season.
I still believe in the vision Cashman has for this team, and if not for some help, the Yankees may very well have won two of the last three American League pennants. The structure of the 2020 roster may still be unclear, but the Yankees have been on the right path the last three seasons and I have no reason not to believe they’ll field another squad next season capable of winning it all. Whether they are ultimately able to do so, is a story for another day.
As Andrew and Mary have already outlined above, the Yankees for the third consecutive year have felt short of a World Series berth with a very talented roster and high expectations. Despite regular-season dominance, they still have not been able to get over that hump and play for a chance at a Fall Classic victory. With all of this being said, it’s clear there needs to be some shake-ups.
The Yankees first order business was rearranging their coaching staff. The infamous Larry Rothschild was relieved of his duties, to the delight of many fans, in favor of a young director of pitching development from Cleveland, Matt Blake. Blake has worked with most of the young Cleveland pitchers who usually get called up and fit right into the league, so hopefully his philosophies will be able to resonate with the Yankees’ staff. I think this addition will fly under the radar in comparison to some big marquee signings or trades that may occur. Blake is a part of this new age of coaches that rely heavily on technology and data to improve performance. Blake said another one of his goals is to improve the health of the Yankees staff, who was decimated by injuries last season. Carlos Mendoza is also a very well respected coach and should be a good addition as Boone’s bench coach.
On the field, the Yankees have a lot of decisions to make. Pieces of their young core are starting to hit free agency as both Dellin Betances and Didi Gregorius are free agents. Yankee veterans Brett Gardner and Austin Romine are also on the block. The last big free agent is Edwin Encarnacion, who had flashes of excellence during the season, but his playoff “performance” will likely result in the Yankees letting him go elsewhere. Cameron Maybin is also a free agent, and at the very least, I can picture the Yankees offering him a minor-league contract, if he does not receive interest from the rest of the league.
With the Yankees not offering Gregorius a qualifying offer, I believe it is very possible the Yankees move on from Jeter’s heir, and slide Gleyber Torres over to short and let LeMahieu man second base. This would allow the Yankees to deploy Luke Voit or possibly even the soon to be healthy Miguel Andujar at first base. However, the Yankees love Gregorius’ left-handed bat, slick defense, and personality in the clubhouse, and if his play can ascend back to his pre-Tommy John days, there is no reason the Yankees would not want him back. It will come down to how much other teams offer him and how much the Yankees believe he can step it back up.
I believe Gardner is basically a lock to return, with his career year in 2019 and Aaron Hicks’ status unclear due to Tommy John Surgery. Gardner is a lifelong Yankee, who understands his role, and I think competing for playing time actually was part of the reason we saw a boost in his game last season. Betances is another guy I think there’s no reason the Yankees should not resign, but similarly to Gregorius, it comes down to what the competition offers. If another team like the Mets, who have been rumored to be into him, decides to offer him closer-like money, it will be hard for the Yankees to justify matching that.
Outside of the organization, it will come down to the aces. Pitching was not the downfall of the Yankees in the playoffs, but having a dominant ace to pair up with Paxton, Severino, and Tanaka would put the Yankees rotation amongst the league’s best. This will allow the team to win more ball games where they potentially have a night-off on offense. Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg immediately pop-out as the top options, and I think Cashman has learned his lesson on passing up on aces.
Overall, I think the Yankees will focus on bringing back their own players first, outside of Encarnacion. Then, they will shift gears to the big market aces, but do not rule out a major trade. The Yankees still have a lot of potential trade pieces who are major league ready and deep in the minors and could swing a deal for most anyone available. Offensively, I do not see a ton of new pieces added, unless the Yankees use some of their current offensive players as trade bait, such as, Voit, Urshela, Andujar, and Frazier. This team still has the World Series core we have been raving about for the past few seasons, but it will be up to Brian Cashman to figure out the last few missing pieces to finally bring home a title. With fans getting impatient and players not getting any younger, I think Cashman will not be messing around this offseason.
The Yankees 2019 season was not a disappointment, but it did end bitterly. Yankee fans have been ready for another run at a title since they nearly made the World Series in 2017. While the ending to the past two seasons hasn’t been what we’ve hoped for, the Yankees are still in a great position to contend for a championship now and in the years to come. I could see this offseason going a few different ways. I expect Brian Cashman to be aggressive in his pursuit of upgrades this offseason. He has already made clear that he is not subject to any payroll restrictions this offseason and confirmed that the team will be in on star FAs Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. While the Yankees have a core in place and could bring back mostly the same roster, the roster does have a lot of potential for change and Cashman appears ready to wield the Yankees’ considerable assets to pursue it.
Long-time Yankees Brett Gardner and Dellin Betances are free agents and could depart depending on the market. With Aaron Hicks’ injury, it remains likely that Gardy will stay but you never know. Keeping Betances would further shore up an already deep and talented group. While many positions appear set at a glance, the positional flexibility of several players gives the team options this winter.
The elephant in the room this winter is what the Yankees will elect to do with Didi Gregorius. While he is coming off of a down season and serious injury, Didi has matured into a heck of a player and a locker room leader. Price will be a factor but I'm sure the team would like to bring him back. They did not extend the qualifying offer so either they work something out or Didi will be playing elsewhere next season. DJ LeMehieu can cover almost the whole infield and bailed the Yankees out throughout the season. Having him would help absorb a Didi departure as Gleyber Torres could move to short and you would have a Gold Glover to slot in at second.
The Yankees have questions to be answered at their corner infield slots as Luke Voit and Miguel Andujar are coming off of injuries. The emergence of Gio Urshela was a good story last season but the Yankees may elect to pursue a more proven option at either spot. Andujar and Clint Frazier have been floated a lot in trade rumors and these players, in addition to some prospects, could be used to fill a need via a trade. It’s usually foolish to try and speculate what trades the Yankees will look to make as the Yankees rarely leak, but Cashman has the ammo if he wants to make a move.
While it wasn’t the primary cause of their coming up short this postseason, all eyes will again be on the starting rotation this winter. While their starters performed admirably this season, the Yankees do need to shore up their rotation and adding an ace level pitcher would go a long way towards doing that as well as taking some work off of a talented but arguably overworked bullpen. While there are other moves throughout the roster that could be made, improving the rotation is the one that most fans would like to see. Cashman has brought in effective pitchers like James Paxton and JA Happ in recent years but he hasn’t yet found that ace to lead the group. Hopefully he will this offseason.
Cashman himself said that it is going to be difficult to improve on a 103 win team. As disappointing as it was to lose, they did still have a very successful year and are set up to make another deep run next year. Cashman has everything he needs at his fingertips. We could see a similar-looking roster or one that looks very different, either way, I expect the Yankees to go into next season as serious contenders.
As said several times above, the Yankees season yet again ended in disappointing fashion as the club lost in six games in the ALCS to a team that seems to maybe a familiar foe for the foreseeable future, the Houston Astros. After seeing hitting in Game 1 of a Yankees shutout in Minute Maid Park that had carried over from a sweep in the ALDS against the Minnesota Twins, they went silent for the remaining five.
After losing the next three games straight, two being in Yankee Stadium; it looked as if the season was coming to an end. This marked the first decade since the 1910s that the Yankees have not taken home an American League pennant and were not seen in the World Series.
Before Yankees general manager Brian Cashman looks to make a splash in free agency, I see him looking to keep several key free agents in house. The team has names like Didi Gregorius, Dellin Betances, Brett Gardner, Austin Romine, and after opting to not pick up his club option, Edwin Encarnación hitting the open market to discover their worth. Though he only made an appearance in one game this season, I believe the Yankees attempt to keep Betances to continue to arguably have the strongest bullpen in baseball.
The only other player I see returning from this list is veteran Brett Gardner, who if resigned, will be the only remaining player from the 2009 World Series team with the heartbreaking retirement of CC Sabathia. Though Didi has become a fan favorite in New York, it would not make sense to pursue him on a multi-year deal, which is interest he is drawing from other teams, with the production he showed in his 82 games this season following his Tommy John surgery and the personnel the club already has for the infield, especially with the return of Miguel Andùjar.
When it comes to players to pursue outside of the Yankees own, the obvious answer is help with the starting rotation. After failing to land a pitcher during the MLB Trade Deadline and the Astros pulling off a last-minute deal for Diamondbacks star Zach Greinke. That was fans’ first reveal of frustration about what ultimately happened in the ALCS. I see Cashman pushing hard for the two top starting pitchers in this free agency class, that being Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. If not able to land either of them, the option to move Zack Wheeler a borough over presents itself along with bringing in a player the Yankees considered trading for at the deadline, Madison Bumgarner.
After a third playoff season in a row has been plundered, I will be looking for the Yankees to make a big splash this offseason. Following Brian Cashman’s statements at GM meetings, it seems like there will be no restraints on the luxury tax for him this year. While starting pitching didn’t turn out to be the problem that many expected it to be in the postseason, improvements can, and hopefully will, be made this offseason. Cashman has confirmed that the team will be in on two of the premier free agents, starting pitchers Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. What we learned from October is that dominant starting pitching can hide a lot of other problems that teams have, and acquiring one of these two dominant pitchers will be a key pursuit of the Bombers’ offseason.
In addition to improvements in the starting pitching, the Yankees will have a slate of players that they will look into bringing back for this upcoming season. Of the expiring contracts, I expect to see Brett Gardner and Dellin Betances return to the Yankees, both on one-year deals. On the other hand, I expect the Yankees to end up moving on from Austin Romine, Cameron Maybin, Edwin Encarnacion, and, the most upsetting, Didi Gregorius. I think that all of them will easily be able to find new jobs, however none of them really have a role on the squad in the coming years. Romine has performed well in his role as the backup to Gary Sanchez the last few years, but I expect a team to give the guy a chance as their starting catcher and you wouldn’t be able to fault him should he want to take the opportunity. As well, Maybin and Encarnacion played pivotal roles in the Yankees 2019 season, but we also got a good look at the guys who will be filling their role for the coming years, being Mike Tauchman as the Yankees’ fourth outfielder and Mike Ford as the backup first baseman to Luke Voit. In the DH spot, I hope to see Miggy Andujar replace Edwin while Gio Urshela remains the starting third baseman. Which brings me to the final departure, Didi Gregorius. While Didi has been one of the undisputed leaders of this team, and has done an incredible job doing the impossible of replacing Derek Jeter, we’ve reached the point where Didi no longer fits in the team’s plans. The best move for this coming season as well as the future would be to slide Gleyber into the hole at starting shortstop and moving DJ LeMahieu to the everyday second baseman.
Overall, I don’t think that the Yankees need to make too many changes this offseason, as they had an incredibly successful 103-win season while sending the most players to the IL in the history of the MLB. I think that essentially running it back would be the best way to go about the offseason, while making a splash for a big name starting pitcher to replace CC in the rotation and finally giving the Yankees the dominant ace that they’ve needed for three years.