What to watch for this Yankees offseason

November 2nd, 2021

NEW YORK -- The Yankees’ offseason plan is unfolding, with stability in the manager’s office and turnover in the coaches’ room. Following a 92-win regular season campaign that ended after a single postseason contest, general manager Brian Cashman recognizes that changes are also necessary on the active roster.

“We went backward in categories that certainly we didn’t see coming or expect,” Cashman said recently, noting that he had forecast the offense and bullpen to be areas of strength. “Hopefully, there will be some legitimate choices to reconfigure in certain categories. If we can, I’ll be in a better position to provide Aaron Boone with a more flexible roster he can go to war with.”

It has been a dozen years since the Yankees celebrated the 27th World Series championship in franchise history. Also of concern in an American League East that has called “the best division in baseball,” the Bombers have been crowned as champs just once (2019) over the last nine seasons. Their initial objective, as Boone has said each year, must be to finish in first place.

“I would expect, next spring when we’re pulling out of Tampa and headed north,” Boone said, “that is rightfully our expectation.”

Which players are potential free agents?

First baseman and right-hander headline the Yanks’ potential free-agent class. Rizzo and Kluber can become free agents after the World Series, and it’s not clear what the club intends to do with either player.

Rizzo earned $16.5 million last season and reportedly turned down a five-year, $75 million extension from the Cubs. Rizzo’s left-handed bat adds balance and he fits the bill of what Cashman desires as far as an athletic contact hitter, but if his asking price has not budged, does he fit into a crowded infield that already has and as viable options at first base?

Kluber earned $11 million last year, a pinstriped debut that included the Yanks’ first no-hitter since David Cone’s 1999 perfect game, but he was limited to 16 starts by a right shoulder injury. You could argue that Kluber still fits into the rotation, but his recent health history is concerning.

Which players have contractual options?

Outfielder headed into the offseason intending to speak with his family about the future. Gardner has a player option for ’22 worth $2.3 million; should he decline, the Yankees can retain him for $7.15 million or buy out their longest-tenured player for $1.15 million. It seems far-fetched to imagine a scenario where Gardner would shun New York and choose to finish his career in a different uniform.

Left-hander ($3 million club option, $500,000 buyout) and right-hander ($1.4 million player option, $3.15 million club option or $700,000 buyout) also have decisions upcoming. The Yankees must settle those situations five days after the World Series.

Are any players likely to receive qualifying offers?

The 2021-22 qualifying offer is set at $18.4 million, representing the average salary of the game’s 125 highest-paid players. Rizzo would present an interesting case to garner that one-year contract proposal, but he is not eligible after being traded during the season.

Which players are eligible for salary arbitration?

The Yankees have a star-studded group of arbitration eligible players, headlined by Judge, who earned $10.175 million this past season and is in his final year before a potential run at free agency. Judge is in line for a significant raise after leading the club in runs (89), homers (39), RBIs (98), walks (75), the three slash line categories (.287/.373/.544) and tying for the team lead in doubles (24). MLB Trade Rumors projects Judge will earn $17.1 million next season.

In all, the Yankees have 19 players eligible for arbitration this winter, tying the Rays for the most in baseball. The others: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , and .

Will the Yankees be active in free agency? What kind of help do they need? Who might they target?

Cashman has said that shortstop is an “obvious” need for the Yanks this winter, following their September decision to abandon the idea of Torres as their shortstop of the present and future.

There is a loaded free-agent class at shortstop, including Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Trevor Story. Still, it’s fair to wonder if the Yankees might prefer a stopgap solution with prospects Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza rising quickly. Volpe and Peraza are both forecast to reach the Majors in 2023.

Cashman spoke less about the Bombers’ starting pitching in his end-of-season press availability, which felt thin behind for much of the season. With Kluber eligible for free agency, the current setup figures to be some arrangement of Cole--Montgomery--TBD.

The free-agent-pitching crop includes Max Scherzer, Robbie Ray, Kevin Gausman (whom the Yankees nearly acquired at the Trade Deadline in 2020), Marcus Stroman, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and Noah Syndergaard.

Who might be a non-tender candidate?

Andújar, Frazier, Locastro and Sánchez could all prompt discussion in organizational meetings. Injuries have limited Andújar to 78 big league games since 2018, when he finished second to Shohei Ohtani in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. Frazier’s outlook is unclear as he continues to battle the dizziness and fogginess that effectively ended his season in June.

Locastro is recovering from ACL surgery on his right knee and could be a victim of a roster crunch. Last offseason, there was an internal debate about non-tendering Sánchez rather than issue the catcher a raise to $6.35 million; those voices are sure to be heard again coming off a season in which Sánchez slashed .204/.307/.423 with 23 homers and 54 RBIs in 117 games. The non-tender deadline is Dec. 2 at 8 p.m. ET.

Who might be a trade candidate?

An infield logjam must be cleared, given the Yanks’ decision to shift Torres to second base this past September -- especially if Rizzo returns. With LeMahieu locked into a long-term deal, Torres, Urshela and Voit all could merit consideration on the trade market; Cashman shopped Voit before the Trade Deadline but was unable to find an acceptable match.

It would not be surprising to see the Yankees discuss moving Sánchez, though they would then need to acquire a catcher. Andújar could be appealing to teams, though this would represent a sell-low point in his career. Remember that , Frazier, Andújar, O’Day, Voit, Locastro and must all be returned from the injured list to the 40-man roster, so there will be moves to make.

Who needs to be added to the 40-man roster this winter to avoid the Rule 5 Draft?

Seven of the Yankees’ top 30 prospects, per MLB Pipeline, are among those who must be added or risk exposure -- a group that includes outfielder Everson Pereira (No. 13), infielder Oswaldo Cabrera (No. 16), catcher Josh Breaux (No. 18), outfielder Brandon Lockridge (No. 19), right-hander Randy Vasquez (No. 20), right-hander Matt Sauer (No. 27) and catcher Donny Sands (No. 28).

When must all of this be set?

Teams must reinstate players from the 60-day IL by five days after the conclusion of the World Series. The deadline to protect prospects from the Rule 5 draft is Dec. 1. These deadlines will happen as scheduled because they are covered by the current collective bargaining agreement, which expires on Dec. 1.

Anything else?

Now that Boone has signed a three-year contract extension, Cashman and his staff must fill vacancies on their coaching staff. The Yankees are in the market for hitting coaches, with Marcus Thames and P.J. Pilittere having been informed that their contracts would not be renewed. They also need a new third-base coach, with Phil Nevin let go as well.

The General Managers Meetings will take place from Nov. 8-11 in Carlsbad, Calif. The Winter Meetings are currently scheduled for Dec. 6-9 in Orlando, Fla. The international signing period closes on Dec. 15.