Yankees Can Have Fruitful Offseason Without Halting Youth Movement

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistNovember 4, 2016

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

The offseason has arrived. For the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians, that means taking a moment to reflect on an epic seven-game World Series. For the Cubs in particular, it means getting used to the moniker "world champion" for the first time in 108 years.

For 28 other teams, it's time to get to work.

Among those 28 teams, no franchise is more fascinating than the New York Yankees.

Consider: The Yankees began the 2016 season with a veteran roster. They were creaky, but they had a shot to contend in the noisy, wide-open American League East.

Then, at the trade deadline, they did the unthinkable. They sold, which counts as an "s-word" in the Bronx.

New York shipped out uber-relievers Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman and proven postseason slugger Carlos Beltran, among others.

In the process, the Yanks restocked the farm. In fact, when the deadline dust settled, they had the No. 1 minor league system in baseball, per Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter

Then a funny thing happened. The Yankees called up some of those youngstersmost notably catcher Gary Sanchez—and they started winning.

Rookie catcher Gary Sanchez led a youth movement in the Bronx.
Rookie catcher Gary Sanchez led a youth movement in the Bronx.Mike Stobe/Getty Images

New York went 33-25 in the season's final two months and stayed mathematically alive in the wild-card race until the final day of September. 

"We were very excited in the clubhouse," Sanchez recently told me.

Yankees fans should be excited too. Yes, it stung to watch Chapman and especially Miller blaze through the postseason. 

New York's future is bright, however. After years of trudging on the fringes of relevance, an honest-to-goodness resurgence is underway. 

Of course, these being the Yankees, the timetable is always accelerated. This fanbase and the entire city have no patience for a protracted rebuild. They need to have a fruitful offseason aimed at winning now.

Here's the good news: There is a way to do that without slamming the brakes on the youth movement or undoing the gains of last season. The Yankees can spend strategically, sprinkle in some trades and lower-level signings and set themselves up for 2017 and beyond.

As general manager Brian Cashman—the architect of this summer's sell-off—limbers up his phone-dialing fingers, let's examine a few key moves he and his brain trust should consider.


Sign a Bullpen Stud

While the 2016-17 free-agent class is weak overall, it features some elite relievers.

The most obvious name is Chapman, whom the Yankees acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in late December before flipping him to the Cubs in July.

Chapman served his 30-game domestic violence suspension while with the Yankees and wound up pitching just 31.1 innings in pinstripes. During that time, he racked up 44 strikeouts and locked down 20 saves.

The fire-balling lefty would rejoin right-hander Dellin Betances to form a stalwart back end of the bullpen. If Chapman spurns New York, the Yankees could set their sights on the likes of Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon.

Aroldis Chapman was his usual dominant self during his stint in New York.
Aroldis Chapman was his usual dominant self during his stint in New York.Jason Miller/Getty Images

The demand figures to be high and the price tag steep for any of those names. But the Indians just showed the world how far a team can ride a couple of shutdown late-inning studs, and it's a formula the Yankees employed with success last season before jettisoning Chapman and Miller.


Dangle Brian McCann and Brett Gardner

The Yankees didn't sell everyone at the 2016 deadline; there are still veteran pieces with trade potential on the roster.

That includes catcher Brian McCann, who is slated to serve as an $18 million backup to Sanchez. 

The 32-year-old lefty-swinging catcher is down from his All-Star peak, but he hit 20 home runs last season and was the third-best pitch-framer in the American League, per StatCorner

The Atlanta Braves are a possible fit. McCann has a full no-trade clause, but he'd likely waive it to start for his former club as it opens its new ballpark this spring.

There were rumblings of a McCann-to-Atlanta deal this past season, but "the Yankees' fondness for Braves right-hander Mike Foltynewicz likely killed more serious talks," per George A. King III of the New York Post.

Instead, New York could target 26-year-old outfielder Ender Inciarte, who missed time to injury but hit .291 with seven triples and 16 stolen bases.

The New York Post's Joel Sherman highlighted the Houston Astros as another potential McCann suitor, noting that the 'Stros could lose their lefty-hitting catcher, Jason Castro, to free agency.

An unnamed executive told Sherman that the Yankees can "probably get something desirable back [for McCann], especially if they eat about $6 million annually of the $18 million he is owed in 2017 and '18."

Outfielder Brett Gardner is owed $12.5 million in 2017 and $11.5 million in 2018 with a $12.5 million team option for 2019. He's 33 and coming off a down year that saw him hit just seven home runs with a .713 OPS.

The Yankees could attempt to move outfielder Brett Gardner for a starting pitcher.
The Yankees could attempt to move outfielder Brett Gardner for a starting pitcher.Mike Stobe/Getty Images

New York was listening on Gardner at the 2016 deadline but got "no serious takers," per Jon Heyman of Today's Knuckleball. In a thin market for free-agent hitters, however, he'll garner interest.

The Yankees outfield is already fairly crowded with more young talent on the way. If the team moved McCann for Inciarte, Gardner would become even more expendable.

New York shouldn't give him up for the sake of it, but if the team could flip him for some starting-rotation depth, it should pounce.

McCann and Gardner are steadying forces in the clubhouse. In July, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal called them "practically the team's co-captains." There's value in keeping guys like that around on a young team, even if their playing time is diminished.

That puts the Yankees in a strong position: They can listen to offers, but they don't have to sell any pieces out of desperation.


Sign a Starting Pitcher

No aces are available in free agency this winter, even if the Yankees are looking for one. 

And a trade for a top name like the Chicago White Sox's Chris Sale would gut the farm.

New York already has Masahiro Tanaka, who quietly put together a stellar season, posting a 3.07 ERA in 199.2 innings, his highest total since coming over from Japan in 2014.

Michael Pineda has bat-missing stuff and led AL qualifiers with 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings. He also struggled with command and consistency and posted an unsightly 4.82 ERA.

After that, it's veteran CC Sabathia and a hodgepodge that includes Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa, Chad Green and Luis Severino.

Again, the Yankees won't find a Cy Young candidate to add to this mix via free agency. But they could nab a serviceable back-end arm or reclamation project from a group that includes Doug Fister, Andrew Cashner and Jeremy Hellickson, to name-drop three plausible if not entirely sexy options.

Andrew Cashner is one of several flawed-yet-intriguing starting pitchers available in a weak free-agent class.
Andrew Cashner is one of several flawed-yet-intriguing starting pitchers available in a weak free-agent class.Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Trading for a second-tier starter could be the better route, but with so few impact free-agent arms, the expected return could be steep for anyone of value.

The good thing about most of this winter's free-agent pitchers is they won't command huge commitments in years and dollars.

New York could patch a hole now while it waits for top pitching prospect Justus Sheffield (ETA 2018) and for the ludicrously loaded free-agent trove of 2018-19, when some of the top pitchers and hitters in the game may be ripe for the picking.


Let the Kids Play

Whether or not they trade more veterans, the Yankees should hand ample playing time to their emerging young core.

Sanchez is a no-brainer after posting a 1.032 OPS with 20 homers in 53 games and gunning down 41 percent of would-be base stealers.

Aaron Judge hit just .179 in 27 games with the Yankees, but he's a physical specimen with big-time power and should be given regular reps in right field.

Greg Bird had an eye-opening debut in 2015 but missed all of last season while recovering from shoulder surgery. Now, the 23-year-old should be back to take over at first base. 

Outfielder Clint Frazier—who came over from Cleveland in the Andrew Miller trade and is the Yanks' No. 1 prospect, per MLB.comcould also see the big leagues at some point in 2017.

Aaron Judge hit just .179 for the Yankees last season but has game-changing pop.
Aaron Judge hit just .179 for the Yankees last season but has game-changing pop.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Letting young players play isn't exactly an offseason goal. The point, however, is that New York should remember the lesson of last season: Going young doesn't mean abandoning all hope of contending. 

The Boston Red Sox are likewise flush with young talent and are the defending division champs. The Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays, last year's wild-card teams, are losing key pieces but will be in the mix. The AL East, though, remains open. The Yankees are well-positioned. 

There will be slumps and rough patches as opposing pitchers adjust to these kids and they're forced to adjust back. 

The Yankees have the talent, however, to win now with an eye on the future—which is the phrase that should be stamped above the door to Cashman's office. 


All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise specified. All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and MLB.com unless otherwise noted.


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