Yankees poised to strike at Winter Meetings

November 27th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Bryan Hoch’s Yankees Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Thirty-seven days passed with little comment from Yankees management after Everson Pereira struck out swinging for the final out of the club’s 2023 season, the young outfielder’s walk back toward the dugout setting into motion a crucial offseason.

During that period, managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner ordered an intensive three-day session at the club’s player development complex in Tampa, Fla., tasking general manager Brian Cashman and his baseball operations staff with identifying the issues that produced just 82 victories and the club’s lowest winning percentage since 1992.

With the Winter Meetings set to take place in Nashville in a week, Steinbrenner and Cashman say that the Yankees are poised to strike.

“We're going to be active, as we always are, in the free-agent market/trade market,” Steinbrenner said recently. “As always, [when] money comes off the payroll, my family does everything we can to put it back in. That’s not going to be any different this year.”

The 2023 Yankees lacked in several areas, but not spending, where their $278 million payroll ranked second in the Majors. The club has just $173.5 million committed for 2024 (much of it to players like Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole, Giancarlo Stanton and Carlos Rodón), suggesting that there should be significant dollars to spend this winter.

“I do believe that a team shouldn't need a $300 million payroll. Nobody has yet; the Rangers didn't, the Astros didn't last year,” Steinbrenner said. “What you need is a good mix of veteran players and, equally important, a good mix of young players.”

In an offseason where Shohei Ohtani’s next destination promises to be a blockbuster storyline, the Yankees appear to be setting their sights elsewhere.

Cashman flew overseas in September to scout Yoshinobu Yamamoto, a standout right-hander who has been called Japan’s answer to Pedro Martinez. The Yanks’ opinion couldn’t have dimmed by their in-person experience, as the 25-year-old pitched a no-hitter for his Orix Buffaloes. Insiders believe that Yamamoto will score a commitment exceeding $200 million.

“I’ve heard,” manager Aaron Boone said, “he’s really good.”

Yamamoto would be a prize, but the Yankees sorely need offense, coming off a year in which they finished 25th in the Majors with 673 runs scored. Cashman has outlined that he is in the market for two outfielders to play alongside Judge, preferably left-handed hitters.

Cody Bellinger is a top free-agent choice, coming off a resurgent campaign in which he slashed .307/.356/.525 with 26 homers and 97 RBIs for the Cubs. He has the Yankee pedigree, as his father Clay played three seasons for the Bombers from 1999-2001. Bellinger could also play some first base, with Anthony Rizzo set to become a free agent after 2024.

Some decision-makers have concerns about Bellinger’s analytics -- particularly a 31.4 hard-hit percentage in 2023 that ranked in MLB’s 10th percentile, per Statcast.

With rumors that the Padres could move Juan Soto, the Yankees have been in contact, gauging their chances of obtaining the tantalizing 25-year-old. Soto’s arrival would instantly change any lingering sourness in the Bronx, coming off a year in which he slashed .275/.410/.519 with 35 homers and 109 RBIs.

But could the Yankees convince Soto to stay put? Soto can be a free agent after 2024, and with agent Scott Boras primed to bring the superstar to the open market, Soto’s asking price figures to be astronomical after turning down a 15-year, $440 million extension from the Nationals in July 2022.

Other bats that could be added include switch-hitting third baseman Jeimer Candelario, Korean outfielder Jung-Hoo Lee and veteran outfielder Kevin Kiermaier. There are also in-house candidates to make the squad, such as catching prospect Austin Wells.

“You're going to see, we're going to get a bit younger,” Steinbrenner said. “You're going to see one or more of the guys you saw in September on the Opening Day roster. That's the hope. I don't know how many of them, but we are going to get younger. They're going to get their chances, just as [Anthony] Volpe got his chance to and did very good.”

On the pitching front, the Yankees are also known to have discussed potential reunions with left-hander Jordan Montgomery and right-hander Frankie Montas. Trades are also in play; Cashman recently noted that “a lot of teams” are showing interest in the club’s catching depth, with six backstops currently on the 40-man roster.

Cashman said he will not hesitate to bring any attractive proposals to Steinbrenner’s desk.

“If there's some opportunities worth pushing through on, they're always there to allow that to happen,” Cashman said. “It's really all about a team situation and how the collective all works together. So we'll see how this winter plays out, but we're going to have conversations with the big ones and the small ones.”