Based on Yankee’s General Manager Brian Cashman’s shrewd dealing and with spring training underway, I think it is safe to say that the 2019 New York Yankees have most of their pieces in place. Let’s break down the recent moves as well as potential roster issues as we move closer to opening day.
Assuming former center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury’s career in pinstripes has ended, he will have been paid $153 million to play in 520 games. An average of $300,000 a game during his four seasons. Nice work if you can get it.
Aaron Hicks emerged as the starting centerfielder in 2018 and played in 137 games with the club. He gave the Yanks some quality offensive production, batting .248 with 27 dingers and 79 RBI’s. His most impressive feat of the season came on May 19, 2018 when he hit two inside-the-park homers in the same game at Kansas City. Hicks joined Mickey Mantle as the only Yankee in the past 60 years with multiple inside-the-park homers in a single season.
On top of his quality offensive output, Hicks displayed a dazzling defensive performance last season. Game after game, series after series he showed his great range and electrifying arm. Former players and analysts alike believe Hicks has one of the strongest arms in all of baseball and after watching this guy for a full season, I must say I concur.
On Monday, Feb. 25, it was announced that Hicks had signed a super team-friendly 7-year, $70 million deal.
I absolutely love everything about this deal. With players like Didi Gregorius, Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge hitting free agency within this time period (2020, 2023 and 2023 respectively), Cashman is being proactive and locking in his long-term centerfielder for a huge discount. This will allow the Yankees to sign players like Didi, Sanchez and Judge to big contracts if they choose to do so.
I know there are fans out there worried about the longevity of a contract with a relatively unproven talent. Relax fellow fans, no need to be worried; Cashman knew exactly what he was doing.
If Hicks turns out to be the player Cashman thinks he can truly be, this deal would be a flat out steal. At his best, Hicks is a true five-tool player that could rival the likes of Mike Trout. Realistically, Hicks is not going to be the next Trout, however the price tag alone warrants the risk of this long-term deal.
If Hicks turns out to be a bust early in his contract with the Yankees, the combination of his talent and ridiculously low salary would be enough to prompt general managers to line up out the door for the Yankee centerfielder.
Rebuilding the Empire
Cashman isn’t focused on just signing a few key players this offseason; he’s focused on rebuilding the Evil Empire. On Feb. 15, Yankees up and coming ace Luis Severino signed a four-year, $40 million contract extension that includes a club option for a fifth season.
According to a report by Jon Heyman of MLB Network, the Yankees are also working on extending relief pitcher Dellin Betances and maybe even some others down the road: “We’ve been very vocal that we’ve engaged with a lot of players,” said Cashman.
Building a team from within isn’t easy, but done properly and it can lead to long-term success (see Houston Astros). Not only does it benefit the team financially as young stars like Judge and Sanchez are owed around the league minimum, it also creates a stable locker room culture that often translates to a winning environment.
Cashman is treating this team like Gene Michael did the ’90’s dynasty: building his core from within, supplementing it with a few key free agents all while staying away from crazy long term deals like Harper and Machado. One can only dream that this team goes on a run like the 90’s Yankees, but the way this offseason is going, it may not be so far fetched.
Who’s on First?
The two contenders for first base, Luke Voit and Greg Bird, had polarizing seasons in 2018.
Last season, Bird never got off the interstate as he finished the season below the Mendoza Line with a batting average of .199. He added 11 homers and 38 RBI’s but ended the season with more strikeouts (78) than hits (54) in 82 games played.
After Bird’s struggles, Voit stepped up big for the Yankees in the home stretch batting .333 with 14 homers and 33 RBI’s in only 39 games played.
Although early, both Voit and Bird are showing that they are all in to compete for the first base job. In two spring games thus far, Bird is 2-3 with a double and one walk. Voit is also 2-3 with one homer and four RBI’s.
I have never been a fan of Bird. He’s never healthy, takes too long to recover and comes back from an injury looking like a little leaguer. Voit on the other hand has done nothing but shine for the Yankee organization during his short stint in pinstripes. I hope that offensive production and the eye test alone are enough to convince Cashman to move on from Bird, but for some reason he still believes in him. I just hope and pray that Voit will jog out to first come opening day.
This has been a super successful offseason and one that hopefully continues to get better as the Yanks bring back more and more familiar faces. The Yankee culture is changing and for the better. Move over Machado and Harper and take your big contracts with you. I’ll take DJ LeMahieu and Hicks any day.