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Offseason checklist: Yankees' needs and moves

@BryanHoch
December 19, 2019

NEW YORK -- The Yankees won 103 games in the regular season, celebrating their first American League East title in seven years, but it has been a full decade since the sport's winningest franchise was able to call itself a World Series participant. Finding a way to be the last

NEW YORK -- The Yankees won 103 games in the regular season, celebrating their first American League East title in seven years, but it has been a full decade since the sport's winningest franchise was able to call itself a World Series participant. Finding a way to be the last team standing will once again be the goal for 2020.

"The fan base doesn't care about anything as much as the final verdict, which is a world championship," general manager Brian Cashman said. "That becomes the exclamation point and the end-all, be-all."

So what are the Yanks' biggest needs entering 2020, and what moves have they made to address them? (For one thing, they signed Gerrit Cole to the richest contract ever issued to a free agent pitcher.) MLB.com is keeping track here. As the offseason continues, be sure to check back for updates.

BIGGEST NEEDS

Backup infielder

With Didi Gregorius having relocated to Philadelphia, the Yankees project to enter the new year with Gleyber Torres as the starting shortstop and DJ LeMahieu at second base. The Yankees would thus have interest in someone who could back up in the middle of the infield -- free agent Joe Panik has been floated as an option, with the added bonus of being a left-handed hitter. Otherwise, Thairo Estrada and Tyler Wade are in-house options.

Bullpen help

The Yankees believe that their power bullpen will again be a strength in 2020, especially after extending Aroldis Chapman’s contract by a year, but they have shown interest in adding to that stable of relievers. The Brewers’ Josh Hader and the Royals’ Tim Hill have been among the names connected to the Bombers, who appear set to part ways with free agent Dellin Betances.

Backup catcher

Austin Romine’s time in pinstripes has concluded, with the veteran having relocated to the Tigers. Kyle Higashioka is the in-house candidate to serve as Gary Sánchez’s backup, though the Yankees are believed to have shown interest in Martín Maldonado, who served as Cole’s personal catcher down the stretch last year with the Astros.

MOVES MADE

Dec. 12: The Gardy party continues
Having made his Major League debut in 2008, Brett Gardner is the longest-tenured Yankees player and the only remaining Bomber to wear pinstripes at the original Yankee Stadium. That marriage will continue for at least another year, as Gardner and the Yankees agreed to a one-year, $12.5 million contract. Gardner received a $2 million signing bonus and will be paid an $8 million salary for '20. New York holds a $10 million option for the '21 season, with a $2.5 million buyout.

Dec. 10: Hooking their ‘great white whale’
The Yankees landed their top free-agent target of the offseason, securing right-hander Gerrit Cole with a nine-year, $324 million contract that highlighted the Winter Meetings. The 29-year-old Cole, who had been previously drafted by the Yanks in 2008 and was the subject of trade talks in the winter of '17-18, was introduced in a Dec. 18 Yankee Stadium news conference. His arrival immediately made the club World Series favorites heading into '20.

Nov. 20: Roster space cleared
The big headlines were devoted to Jacoby Ellsbury, whose seven-year, $153 million contract with the Yankees did not live up to expectations. Ellsbury was released with one year remaining on his deal, which appeared at the time to put the Yankees on the hook for the last $26 million of a pact that was signed prior to the 2014 season.

However, the Yankees reportedly plan to contest that, converting Ellsbury's contract to a non-guaranteed deal in hopes of avoiding some -- if not all -- of that payout. Additionally, the Yankees designated first baseman Greg Bird and left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr. for assignment; Cortes was subsequently traded to the Mariners for international signing bonus pool money.

The moves were necessary in order to clear space on the 40-man roster to protect seven prospects from the upcoming Rule 5 Draft: outfielder Estevan Florial and right-handers Deivi Garcia, Luis Gil, Brooks Kriske, Luis Medina, Nick Nelson and Miguel Yajure.

Oct. 30: Yankees buy out Encarnación
As expected, the Yankees declined a $20 million club option on first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnación, instead paying a $5 million buyout. Encarnación hit .249 with 13 homers and 37 RBIs after being acquired from the Mariners in June, but the 36-year-old struggled in October, managing five hits in 31 at-bats (.161). The departure could provide more DH opportunities for Giancarlo Stanton.

Oct. 28: Rothschild dismissed as pitching coach
The Yankees will have a new pitching coach in 2020, with Larry Rothschild having been removed from a role in which he had served since 2011. The Yanks are looking to increase their usage of analytics and technology after adding Sam Briend as their organizational pitching coordinator this past summer. Two college pitching coaches -- Chris Fetter of the University of Michigan and Matt Hobbs of the University of Arkansas -- were among the early candidates.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook.