The Yankees fell short for the 11th straight season on Friday night.
And while the Rays and Astros will vie for AL supremacy, the Bombers are left to pick up the pieces as the offseason begins.
They’ve been able to field an annual contender replete with skill and talent, but haven’t been able to get over the hump in the past four Octobers.
Here’s a breakdown of what is to come from Brian Cashman and the rest of the front office:
Gary Sanchez’s Future/Catching Situation: The biggest story of the postseason was Sanchez losing his starting catching job to reserve Kyle Higashioka. He’s always been a liability on defense, but Sanchez got sent to the bench because of his inability to hit. The Yankees could finally look to cut ties with a player they’ve defended for years. If so, JT Realmuto – who looks headed out of Philadelphia with the team looking to re-route its money into starting pitching — is the obvious prize on the market, but James McCann could also make sense as a cheaper option to platoon with Higashioka. The Rays just beat the Yankees with the lesser-known platoon of Mike Zunino and Michael Perez, so it is possible.
Trevor Bauer Market/Starting Pitching Depth: Gerrit Cole proved his worth as a $324 million ace, getting his Yankee legacy off on the right foot with a gutsy effort in Game 5. But behind Cole, there are a bunch of question marks. Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton are set to be free agents, while Luis Severino will be returning from Tommy John surgery. It’s certainly possible the Yankees could elect to extend the one-year, $18.9 million qualifying offer to both Tanaka and Paxton. But with a need for another legit, top-of-the-rotation starter to compliment Cole, it’s definitely worth finding out whether Trevor Bauer would take a one-year deal in the $30 million range. The Yankees have plenty of Nos. 3-5 options in Deivi Garcia, Jordan Montgomery, Clarke Schmidt, Domingo German (coming off his suspension) and Michael King. But many of those guys are young and presumably on innings limits once the 162-game marathon returns. As always, depth is key.
Francisco Lindor Pursuit/Infield Athleticism: Look, it’s entirely possible the Yankees just stick with what they had this season: Luke Voit at first, DJ LeMahieu at second, Gleyber Torres at short and Gio Urshela at third. Batting title winner LeMahieu, of course, should be the top priority to re-sign, a lock to get a significant raise from the $12 million he made in 2020. But this alignment is porous defensively. Voit and Torres (at short) are below-average, while LeMahieu (valuable because of his versatility) is adequate. A much better alignment would be LeMahieu at first, Torres at second, TBD at short and Urshela at third. Lindor makes the most sense as an impact bat and lefty hitter who could break up a righty-dominant, homer/strikeout-heavy, lineup. He’d also cost significant prospect/MLB capital and dollars, plus he’ll be a free agent after next season. But at the very least, it’s worth a call to Cleveland. Andrelton Simmons could be an interesting option as well on a short-term deal. Tyler Wade fits the defensive/lefty/cheap side, but hasn’t shown he can hit.
Brett Gardner’s Future/Outfield Plans: If you are on the Yankees and happen to play outfield, there’s a real possibility you could get 500-plus at-bats – even if you’re 11th on the depth chart. Cornerstone Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks are entrenched in right and center, though both have been injury-prone. Clint Frazier may finally take over everyday duties in left, though Gardner got the majority of playing time there in October. The team has a $10 million on the 37-year-old, and another season would make sense at a reduced rate given Gardner’s leadership, defense, lefty bat and ability to play center. Giancarlo Stanton, set to opt into the final seven years, $218 million left on his deal, should probably remain at DH – which takes away that possibility for MLB home run leader Voit and others — most of the time given his own injury history. Mike Tauchman remains in reserve, though it would be nice if the Yankees could find a Michael Brantley-type lefty impact bat who doesn’t strike out much. It’s worth wondering if they’ll try to find a lefty corner outfield bat as they look for more balance and contact. Miguel Andujar’s future is uncertain, so he could be a trade chip to address another area of need.
Rebuilding The Bullpen: The Yankees need to rebuild their own stable of guys who throw 98. Once the strength of the team, it became a liability in October. Even Aaron Boone’s trustworthy trio of Chad Green, Zack Britton ($13 million player option) and Aroldis Chapman all faltered in high-leverage situations in October. Tommy Kahnle (Tommy John surgery) was missed, while Adam Ottavino fell out of favor and desperately needs to bounce back. Chapman, in particular, has come up small in several big spots – even after adding a splitter to his arsenal. Jonathan Loaisiga proved ineffective, but it would be big if he could take the next step toward consistency. There are veteran power closers like Liam Hendriks and Alex Colome on the market. Can’t have enough of them — especially with Chapman failing to lock things down. Regardless, relievers are volatile so depth in this area is highly important. Scouting and analytics need to play a big role in trying to uncover the next hidden gem.
Analyze This: The Game 2 collaboration plan was a disaster. JA Happ, who is on the way out, never bought into it. The Yankees tried to out-Ray the Rays. The decision-making process was flawed. The front office needs to ask itself whether it has become too reliant on analytics as it pertains to in-game decisions and dealing with human feelings and emotions. There are a lot of smart people behind the scenes — their advance scouting gameplans against Shane Bieber and Blake Snell were impeccable — yet their process has failed to produce a championship for the last 11 years. With purse-strings tighter because of the pandemic and many players receiving raises in arbitration, creativity is a must. The Bombers need to continue unearthing the likes of Urshela, Voit, Tauchman and LeMahieu. They continue to build quality rosters, but need to finally get over the hump.