Recapping & Grading the New York Yankees 2018 Offseason One Final Time
The 2018 MLB offseason has come and gone and the 2019 season of Major League Baseball is fast approaching. With that, it’s time to look back and see how well the New York Yankees did over the winter.
Baseball fans, our moment is almost here. We are less than a week away from Opening Day for the 2019 Major League Baseball season. And with that comes another season of New York Yankees baseball.
The Yankees are coming off an excellent, yet disappointing season in 2018. They finished the regular season with a record of 100-62, good enough for the first Wild Card in the American League and got to host the 2018 AL Wild Card game at Yankee Stadium, where they defeated the Oakland Athletics by a final score of 7-2. However, in the 2018 ALDS, the Yankees were defeated by their hated division rivals, the Boston Red Sox, three games to one. To pour even more salt into the wound, the Red Sox would go on to win the 2018 World Series.
So obviously, the Yankees are entering this season with a massive chip on their shoulders to overtake their long-time rivals as the best team in baseball. But now we have to ask the question; did they do enough this offseason to do just that?
Entering the winter with so many big free agents, the Yankees were linked to three of them. Those being Patrick Corbin, Manny Machado, and Bryce Harper. However, the Yankees did not sign one of those three. So because of that, should Yankee fans be unsatisfied with their team’s offseason?
It’s time to dive into the Yankees 2018 offseason and the moves they DID make to find out.
This past offseason, the Yankees had several of their key players hit free agency, as most teams do. The Yankees managed to resign most of their guys, but not all of them. Most notably, right-handed reliever David Robertson once again left the team, signing a two-year, $23 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. However, instead of dwelling on the guys who the Yankees didn’t sign, let’s focus on who the Yankees did sign, starting with their long time veterans.
The Yankees resigned their longest tenured player, outfielder Brett Gardner, to a one-year, $7.5 million contract. It’s hard to have a problem with bringing Gardy back. He’s a left handed hitter, which is something a righty dominant Yankee lineup needs. Furthermore, he’s consistently been one of the best defensive outfielders on the team, which is again, something the Yankees need. Last but not least, he is the veteran leader of a mostly young clubhouse. Even at 35 years of age, Brett Gardner can still impact the Yankees in a positive way.
The big issue with this signing is how much he’s making for his potential role. In an outfield featuring Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner is undeniably the fourth outfielder on the Yankees at best. Furthermore, with Jacoby Ellsbury and Clint Frazier potentially returning from injury, and the latter to hopefully get some consistent playing time, this could limit his playing time. Lastly, Gardner is coming off a down year at the plate, hitting just .236 for an OPS of .690. Down the stretch of the season last year, he essentially got benched for Andrew McCutchen. Paying $7.5 million for a player who could wind up spending half the season on the bench is just a little puzzling.
Nevertheless, Yankee fans should still be happy to have their long time outfielder back. Once again, there’s still so much Brett Gardner can still provide the Yankees, making this a decent move.
Along with resigning the veteran leader of their lineup in Gardner, the Yankees also resigned the veteran leader of their pitching staff, CC Sabathia. Sabathia and the Yankees agreed to a one-year, $10 million contract this past offseason. And coming into spring training, CC Sabathia announced that he will be retiring at season’s end, meaning this season will be quite the emotional farewell tour to the man who has provided a major presence to the Yankees pitching staff for the last decade.
Like Gardner, there’s the obvious veteran presence and leadership factor when it comes to resigning CC. However, unlike Gardner, Sabathia is expected to play a major role with the Yankees this season. With a starting rotation that features Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, and JA Happ, CC fits perfectly as the team’s fifth starter. He is coming off a very solid season where he pitched to a 3.65 ERA and a 1.314 WHIP in 153.0 innings pitched.
The one risk with this signing is the risk that Sabathia’s play falls off a cliff. The 38 year old left handed pitcher will turn 39 in July. When you resign a player of that age, you always run the risk that the player just might not have it anymore. Regardless, there’s minimal evidence that CC will suffer that fate in his farewell season. And you can bet that every time he takes the mound this season will be an emotional moment for Yankee fans, as they will say goodbye to one of their team’s best pitchers of this generation.
After the Yankees missed out on Patrick Corbin, the top pitcher on the free agent market, the Yankees had to pivot to a different plan. As it turns out, that plan was to bring back J.A. Happ. The Yankees acquired Happ at last season’s trade deadline, trading infielder Brandon Drury and Minor League outfielder Billy McKinney to the Toronto Blue Jays for the veteran left handed pitcher. And this past offseason, New York signed him to a two-year, $34 million contract with a vesting option for the 2021 season.
J.A. Happ proved to be an excellent accusation for the Bombers down the stretch of last season. In 11 starts, he had a record of 7-0 and pitched 63.2 innings to a 2.69 ERA, a 1.052 WHIP, and threw 63 strikeouts. Going into the offseason, many considered resigning J.A. Happ to be the safe route for the Yankees in free agency starting pitching wise. And they’re not wrong, as he has proven that he can pitch in New York. Plus, he’s been a stud in the postseason for the vast majority of his career. There’s very little risk that comes with signing Happ.
The issue with J.A. Happ is the same with Sabathia; his age. Happ is 36 years of age and will turn 37 in October. Now while that’s not necessarily alarming, it’s still a little concerning, as your guess is good as mine as to how much Happ has left in the tank. If he falls off a cliff this season, the Yankees are stuck with another bad contract. Furthermore, in his one postseason start against the Boston Red Sox in game one of the 2018 ALDS, he was awful. He pitched just two innings and gave up five runs, all earned. It’s likely that Happ will be good, but will he be good enough to pitch with the best of the best come October?
Regardless, resigning J.A. Happ is still a great move for the Yankees, as it gives them some much needed depth in their rotation. He’s still a very good major league pitcher and fits perfectly into the Yankees rotation as the fourth starter when he would probably be the third starter on several other Major League teams.
Along with improving their starting rotation, another offseason goal for the Yankees was to make sure their bullpen is still the best in the majors. And resigning Zach Britton is without a doubt a big part in doing just that. New York acquired the left handed reliever last year in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees sent minor league pitchers Dillon Tate, Cody Carroll, and Josh Rodgers to the Orloles in exchange for Zach Britton. And this winter, the Bronx Bombers signed Britton to a three-year, $39 million contract with a fourth-year option that can be exercised after the second year.
Zach Britton’s time with the Yankees did not get off to a good start. In his first 12 games since he was traded to New York, he pitched just 11.1 innings to a 5.56 ERA. However, he was just coming off a shoulder injury and slowly starting to get his stuff back. And eventually his stuff did end up coming back to him. In his next 13 games to finish out the regular season, he pitched 13.2 innings to an ERA of 0.66.
This is one of those signings where it’s hard to find a negative, as the Yankees get back a guy who could arguably be the best reliever in their bullpen next to Aroldis Chapman. While Britton was primarily the closer in Baltimore, he’s proven he can pitch in other roles out of the bullpen as well. Britton isn’t exactly young, as he turned 31 this past December. But there’s no evidence to suggest that’s his days as a top reliever in baseball are nearing it’s end anytime soon. Overall, an excellent signing that will help keep the Bombers bullpen in tip top shape.
Free Agent Signings
Along with all the players the Yankees resigned, they also did their fair share of digging into the rest of the free agency pool as well. Despite not getting the big three prizes of the offseason, those being Patrick Corbin, Manny Machado, or Bryce Harper, New York still did land some pretty nice fish from this years free agency class. And what better place to start off than right where left off; the bullpen.
While resigning Briton was a huge boost for the Yankees bullpen, it wasn’t enough. They still needed a right hander to replace David Robertson. The Yankees got just that when they signed Adam Ottavino to a three-year, $27 million contract. After his rookie year with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2010, Ottavino spent his next seven season, from 2012 to 2018 to be exact, with the Colorado Rockies. Ottavino is coming off a career season, pitching to a 2.43 ERA, a 0.991 WHIP, and threw 112 strikeouts in 77.2 innings pitched in 75 games in 2018.
As great as Ottavino is however, there are a couple of concerns. First and foremost, Ottavino is getting up there in age, as he turned 33 this past November. Second and more importantly, his season prior to last season was awful. In 63 games in 2017, Ottavino pitched to a 5.06 ERA and a 1.631 WHIP in just 53.1 innings pitched, as he was dealing with right shoulder inflammation early in the season. It’s only a matter of time before injuries like that fully catch up to a pitcher. All of this gives a bit of concern as to whether or not Ottavino can be an effective pitcher for the Yankees throughout his contract.
Despite this, Adam Ottavino is still a great signing for the Yankees. Once again, it fills the void Robertson left behind. Similar to how the Yankees lineup is righty dominant, their bullpen is mostly lefty dominant, and you want a couple of right handers in there to balance things out. Expect Ottavino to do that and more this season.
Not long after the 2018 season ended, it was announced that shortstop Didi Gregorious needed Tommy John Surgery, and will miss a significant portion of the 2019 season. This is a big blow for the Yankees, and Didi is not only one of the few lefty bats in the lineup, but one of leaders in the clubhouse and one of the most clutch players on the team. So heading into the winter, Brian Cashman and company knew they needed to find someone to fill in the void for that period of time.
Then out of nowhere, the Yankees decided that the answer to their problem was shortstop Troy Tulowitski, signing him to a league-minimum one-year, $555,000 contract. The past couple of years have not been kind to Tulowitski, as not only has his play diminished, he’s struggled to stay on the field. He missed the entire 2018 season and only played 66 games in 2017 where he posted a slash line of .249/.300/.378 for an OPS of just .678. The situation with Troy got so bad that the Toronto Blue Jays ultimately decided to release him. However, when the Yankees saw Tulowitski work out this winter, they were extremely impressed, and ultimately decided to bring him on to be their starting shortstop until Didi gets back.
The big problem with the Tulowitski signing is, similar to Brett Gardner, his projected role, a starting shortstop. I’m perfectly fine with having Troy on the roster in a platoon or bench role, especially with how little he’s making. However, it’s very puzzling to me that the Yankees would have a player who’s skills have diminished so greatly be an everyday player in their lineup. This could potentially take away playing time from guys like Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, and DJ LeMahieu. Now granted, there is the chance that Tulowitski shocks the baseball world and ends up resurrecting career. But how realistic is that?
Regardless, Troy Tulowitski is still a decent signing simply based on the fact that it’s low-risk, high-reward. If it doesn’t work out, the Yankees can release him and it ends up costing them the minimum. If it does, you add even more depth into your infield. However, projecting him to be the starting shortstop until Didi gets back it just a bit confusing.
Despite the Troy Tulowitski signing, the Yankees were not done yet with padding up their infield. Having Tulowitski as the starting shortstop without a safety net is obviously too big of a risk. This is when my personal favorite move of the Yankees offseason happened. New York ended up signing former Colorado Rockies infield DJ LeMahieu to a two-year, $24 million contract.
Why is DJ LeMahieu such an amazing signing for the Yankees? It’s very simple. He provides two things that the Yankees desperately need. The first one is defense. The Yankees infield defense struggled majorly, as Gleyber Torres and especially Miguel Andujar, both struggled in the field as rookies. DJ LeMahieu is a three-time gold glove winning infielder, and can play anywhere in the infield.
Second and more importantly is that it addresses the biggest problem the Yankees lineup had last season, a lack of contact hitting. The Yankees offense set a major league record 267 home runs as a team last season, and finished second in runs scored with 851. However, they were just 16th in total hits with 1374, and struck out 1421 times, the ninth most in the league. Basically, New York could only score by hitting home runs, and it ended up biting them in the end. Multiple times in the ALDS, especially in games one and four, the Yankee had chances to tie or even take the lead. But unless they hit a home run, they didn’t end up scoring any runs.
This is something that the Yankees need to change if they wanted to make a run at winning their 28th World Series, as you cannot win with a one-dimensional offense like that in any sport. Luckily for Yankees fans though, DJ LeMahieu is going to help them do just that. He has proven to be one of the best contact hitters in the major leagues. Since the 2015 season, he has a career batting average of .309, and struck out just 90 times per 145 games each season. Most of all, in 2016, he won the National League batting title, hitting .348 on the season.
To be honest, aside from the whole Coors Field effect, there’s not a single negative to this signing, as the Yankees got the exact postion player they needed. A guy who had gold glove caliber defense and batting title offense. DJ LeMahieu checks both of those boxes, making this an excellent move by Brian Cashman and company.
Along with free agency and resigning players, making trades is a key part of any offseason or general manager’s work in general. And with one of the better farm systems in baseball, many expected the Yankees to be very active in trade talks this offseason. Well as it turns out, the Yankees only made one trade this offseason, so let’s dive right into the first move the Yankees made this offseason.
The first big time move of the Yankees offseason was trading for Seattle Mariners ace James Paxton. New York sent their top ranked prospect, left-handed pitcher Justus Sheffield, along with outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams and right-handed pitcher Erik Swanson to Seattle in exchange for the hard-throwing left-hander. Paxton will make just over $8.5 million this year before his fourth arbitration year in 2020.
Out of all the players the Yankees brought in this offseason, James Paxton has the most upside by far. In 2017, he pitched to a 2.98 ERA, a 1.103 WHIP, and threw 156 strikeouts. In 2018, his ERA rose to 3.76, but his WHIP went down to 1.098 and he threw 208 total strikeouts. Most of all, as we mentioned before, he’s one of the hardest throwers in baseball. His average fastball velocity last season was 95.9 mph, tenth among all pitchers with at least 160 innings pitched. When he’s on the mound, he is an ace-quality starting pitcher.
That said, that leads to one of the big concerns with Paxton; can he stay on the mound? Paxton as struggled to stay healthy throughout his career. He’s only pitched for at least 20 games or 100 innings in a season only three times in his career. He pitched 20 games and 121.0 innings in 2016, 24 games and 136.0 innings in 2017, as well as 28 games and 160.1 innings in 2018. Thankfully, Paxton seems to be trending upward in terms of staying healthy, and none of his injuries have been to his throwing side so there’s reason for optimism in this regard.
Another concern with James Paxton is how prone his is to giving up home runs and hard hit balls. In 2018, he had a hard-hit rate of 42.1 percent and a barrel rate of 9.4 percent, both in the bottom two percent of the MLB. Furthermore, his average exit velocity allowed was 89.4 mph, in the bottom four percent. Lastly, he gave up a career-high 23 home runs. Paxton’s vulnerability to the hard hit ball can prove to be problematic in a hitters ballpark like Yankee Stadium.
Despite the concerns, acquiring James Paxton was still an excellent move by Brian Cashman and the Yankees front office. While it hurts to give up a prospect with as much potential as Justus Sheffield, you ultimately have to give up goods to get goods. Adding a pitcher with as much upside as James Paxton to the Yankee rotation was exactly what the Yankees needed to do this offseason, and they did it.
To briefly summarize the Yankees offseason, as Brian Cashman would say, it was more about being smart and savy than being splashy. The Yankees could’ve made big splashes this offseason by signing Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. They could’ve gotten the best pitcher on the open market in Patrick Corbin. But they didn’t. Instead, they spend the money that they felt they needed to spend.
If I were forced to critizice the Yankees for a move they didn’t make, it would be for not trading for a true ace to really push the rotation over the top. Throughout the offseason, they’re were rumors that the Indians would be looking to trade Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer, that the Giants would be shopping Madison Bumgarner, and that the Mets would be shopping Noah Syndergaard. Of course, the Yankees did not acquire any of them this offseason.
However, while the Yankees haven’t traded for any of those ace pitchers I just mentioned, no other team has ether. You cannot criticize an organization for not making a trade for a player if no one else has traded for him yet. Furthermore, there’s always the chance the Yankees can make that kind of splash at the trade deadline this year if they feel like they need too. We’re just going to have to wait and see.
Regardless, the New York Yankees had an excellent offseason, as they made a team that won 100 games the previous year even better. They’ve improved in all the areas they needed to improve in. The rotation has gotten better with James Paxton and J.A. Happ. The bullpen remains arguably the best in baseball with Zach Britton and Adam Ottavino. And DJ LeMahieu not only improves the Yankees infield defense, but will bring new life to a previously one-dimensional offense. All in all, this is the type of offseason that should put the Bronx Bombers over the top and en route to winning their 28th World Series championship in 2019.
New York Yankees 2018 Offseason Grade: A-
New Jersey Jackals Beat Writer
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