The Yankees are having one heck of an offseason. Last night, they agreed to a six-year, $162 million contract with lefthander Carlos Rodón, giving them the best rotation in the American League, if not in all of baseball. And they did so in addition to re-signing both Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo, giving them the three players they most needed to sign.
Indeed, New York is better now than it was last season—Rodón is a major upgrade over Jameson Taillon, who signed with the Cubs last week during the winter meetings—when it won 99 games, finished first in the AL East and came four wins short of the AL pennant (although the gap certainly felt wider than that). That said, general manager Brian Cashman still has more work to do over the next two months before spring training begins.
The Yankees, as Tom Verducci wrote last night, signed Rodón with the expectation that “he can not only help them get to the postseason but also through it.” This is true; they needed another ace with the swing-and-miss stuff that is so crucial for winning in the playoffs. And yet, their biggest problem in their AL Championship Series loss to the Astros was their inability to score.
Yes, it’s true that some of the Yankees’ offensive struggles during the ALCS could be attributed to poor luck against an elite pitching staff. Judge finished 1-for-16 in the series, but he just missed extra-base hits on three of his flyouts; the expected batting averages on those ropes: .810, .910 and .960. Judge’s first true slump of the year happened just as Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres also went cold, and while DJ LeMahieu was out with nagging toe inflammation and Matt Carpenter was coming back prematurely from his aforementioned broken foot. Meaning, at the worst possible time, five of New York’s best hitters last season were simultaneously either struggling or hurt.
However, the combination of injuries and ineffectiveness was not an anomaly for the 2022 Yankees. Rather, with the exception of Judge, this was the story of the second half of their season. These players are more than capable of staying healthy and producing more consistently next year, but it would be foolish to expect them to be relatively injury- and scuffle-free. Their infield depth is fine: in addition to Torres, top prospect Oswald Peraza, Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and LeMahieu, assuming he’s healthy to start the season, the Yankees also have Oswaldo Cabrera—whose primary position is middle infield, even though he played mostly outfield after his callup last season—and top prospect Anthony Volpe, who will have a shot to make the major-league roster out of spring training. On the flip side, their options in the outfield are limited. You could make the case that Judge and Harrison Bader are their only two true starting outfielders, depending on how you evaluate Cabrera. Stanton has not played more than 72 games in the outfield since he joined the Yankees, and Aaron Hicks is at best a fourth or fifth outfielder. Also, their lineup is still too right-handed, which makes them susceptible to righty power pitchers with nasty sliders. If nothing else, they should add one more lefty bat, preferably one who plays the outfield. But who? And how?
Well, they are the Yankees; the natural response is to say they should look to free agency and open up their checkbooks. The dilemma, though, is they’ve already added $92.75 million to next season’s luxury tax payroll, which, according to Roster Resource, is currently at an estimated $292.8 million. For simplicity’s sake, let’s round this up to $293 million, which is the fourth and final competitive balance tax threshold.
They exceeded the first threshold last year, so as repeat offenders, they face a 30% tax penalty on the first $20 million they spend over the lowest CBT threshold, a 42% tax on the next $20 million and a 75% tax on the next $20 million. If they add any more payroll, they would exceed the final threshold, which would trigger a 90% penalty.
Instead of looking at the current pool of free agents, the Yankees could try to trade for a player like that Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds, who reportedly requested a trade earlier this month. Pittsburgh has said it doesn’t want to deal Reynolds, so it would likely take a haul of prospects to get him. New York, though, does have the prospects to get him, and he’s one of the few players who’d be worth it because he’s under club control for the next three seasons. The Diamondbacks also have a quartet of young, talented left-hitting outfielders—Dalton Varsho, Jake McCarthy, Alek Thomas and Corbin Carroll—are open to trading one of them, with Carroll reportedly being the only one who’s off limits. Arizona would probably ask for less than Pittsburgh would for Reynolds.
The Yankees can also afford to wait until the trade deadline, when their needs and those of other teams become more clear. Maybe Cody Bellinger is finally healthy and looks more like the player he was in his first three seasons, and maybe the Cubs are out of contention by the All-Star break. Or, maybe the Giants fall into a distant third behind the Dodgers and Padres in the West, without much of a shot at a wild-card spot, and make Joc Pederson available.
They’ve had an excellent offseason so far. Before the end of next season, they need to do more.
We’ve got some breaking news this afternoon involving two left-handed hitting outfielders and former Yankees. Joey Gallo has reportedly agreed to a one-year, $11 million deal with the Twinsand Andrew Benintendi has reportedly signed with the White Sox for five years and $75 million.
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1. THE OPENER
“It’s halfway through December. Do you know where your free agents are?”
That incredible lede is courtesy of Emma Baccellieri, writing in her column about the unexpectedly dizzying pace of free agency this offseason. She takes a look at why things have developed so quickly and what it means for the rest of the winter.
Making Sense of a Surprisingly Frenetic MLB Free Agency by Emma Baccellieri
A lot has happened since the last newsletter. Let’s get you caught up on some of our best stories:
Yankees Splurge for Carlos Rodón, Hoping He’s Their Missing Piece by Tom Verducci
It’s World Series or bust for New York after doling out the third most expensive contract to a lefthander in history.
A Four-Step Guide for the Dodgers to Resurrect Noah Syndergaard by Tom Verducci
The former All-Star passed on a bigger deal so he could turn around his career with Los Angeles, the best organization at reviving veteran starting pitchers.
Carlos Correa Is Exactly Who the Giants Need by Stephanie Apstein
Missing out on Aaron Judge could end up being a blessing for San Francisco.
‘Make Me Laugh, Make Me Cry’: You Need to Know Joe Donnelly by Tom Verducci
The longtime Newsday baseball writer charged through life as an indefatigable force of will. Tom Verducci says goodbye to his friend and mentor.
Breaking Down the Strange, Three-Way Sean Murphy Trade by Emma Baccellieri
The Brewers somehow wound up as the big winners in a trade primarily involving the Braves and A’s.
Blue Jays Add Chris Bassitt to Improve Their Shaky Rotation by Tom Verducci
Toronto added one of the best available starting pitchers in an attempt to close the gap with the Yankees in the AL East.
3. WORTH NOTING from Nick Selbe
Aaron Judge receives (and deserves) a ton of credit for betting on himself this season, turning down a reported seven-year, $213.5 million deal in April before signing a nine-year, $360 million deal to stay in New York this winter. But Carlos Rodón is worth mentioning in that same vein, and it’s a marvel to see how substantially his circumstances have shifted compared to just two years ago.
Rodón, the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft, was by no means a bust through his first four up-and-down big league seasons. But he underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2019 and was limited to just 7 ⅔ innings in ’20. He was actually non-tendered that December, eventually re-signing with the White Sox on a one-year, $3 million deal.
That turned into a boon for Chicago, as Rodón broke out in 2021 to become one of the best pitchers in the league. After failing to land a long-term contract last winter, he went the short-term route, taking a two-year, $44 million deal from San Francisco with an opt-out clause after the first year. Now, he’s set up through his mid-30s with the third-richest contract by average annual value for a pitcher this offseason. Now that they’ve joined forces, perhaps he and Judge can revel in their big payoffs deep into October.
4. TRIVIA from Matt Martell
Previous Question: Trea Turner is the third shortstop to hit at least 100 home runs and steal at least 200 bases over his first eight seasons. Who are the other two?
Answer: Hanley Ramírez (158 HR, 237 SB) and Jimmy Rollins (114 HR, 248 SB)
Question: Aaron Judge was one of four free agents this offseason who have won both the MVP and Rookie of the Year awards in their careers. Who are the other three?
5. THE CLOSER from Nick Selbe
With the addition of Rodón to a group that already boasts Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, Luis Severino and Frankie Montas, the Yankees have a strong claim to the best rotation in the American League. But who’s fighting for second? The Astros are still well-positioned even after losing Justin Verlander, and the Mariners are in contention, too, with a full season of Luis Castillo on the team. With Bassitt in tow, the Blue Jays could elevate to that conversation if José Berríos can bounce back. But don’t sleep on it Angels, either—their starters ranked second in the AL last year in FanGraphs WAR (15.3) and fourth in ERA (3.67) and have added All-Star Tyler Anderson. Will it be enough to get them back to the playoffs? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
That’s all from us today. We’ll be back in your inbox next week. In the meantime, share this newsletter with your friends and family, and tell them to sign up at SI.com/newsletters. If you have any questions or comments, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.