The Yankees reached the playoffs but had another unsatisfying postseason, losing to the arch-rival Red Sox in the AL wild card game. Some new faces will inevitably join the roster, but the possibility exists for a larger overhaul as the Yankees reload for a deeper run into October.
- Gerrit Cole, SP: $252MM through 2028 (Cole can opt out after 2024 season, or Yankees can overwrite opt-out by adding a $36MM salary for 2029)
- Giancarlo Stanton, OF: $189MM through 2027 (includes $10MM buyout of $25MM club option for 2028 — Marlins will cover $10MM of Stanton’s contract each season from 2026-28)
- DJ LeMahieu, IF: $75MM through 2026
- Aaron Hicks, OF: $41MM through 2025 (includes $1MM buyout of $12.5MM club option for 2026)
- Aroldis Chapman, RP: $16MM through 2022
- Rougned Odor, 2B/3B: $15MM through 2022 (includes $3MM buyout of $13.5MM club option for 2023 — Rangers covering all of Odor’s salary minus the MLB minimum for 2022)
- Zack Britton, RP: $14MM through 2022
- Luis Severino, SP: $13.75MM through 2022 (includes $2.75MM buyout of $15MM club option for 2023)
Arbitration-Eligible Players (projections from MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Jameson Taillon – $4.7MM
- Joey Gallo – $10.2MM
- Gary Sanchez – $7.9MM
- Aaron Judge – $17.1MM
- Chad Green – $4.1MM
- Wandy Peralta – $1.7MM
- Jordan Montgomery – $4.8MM
- Gio Urshela – $6.2MM
- Luke Voit – $5.4MM
- Gleyber Torres – $5.9MM
- Clint Frazier – $2.4MM
- Miguel Andujar – $1.7MM
- Tyler Wade – $700K
- Clay Holmes – $1.0MM
- Jonathan Loaisiga – $1.7MM
- Domingo German – $2.1MM
- Lucas Luetge – $1.1MM
- Tim Locastro – $700K
- Kyle Higashioka – $1.2MM
- Non-tender candidates: Locastro, Wade
- Brett Gardner, OF: $2.3MM player option — Yankees have a $7.15MM club option ($1.15MM buyout) if Gardner declines his player option
- Joely Rodriguez, RP: $3MM club option for 2022 ($500K buyout, paid by Rangers if Yankees decline the option)
- Darren O’Day, RP: $1.4MM player option for 2022 ($700K buyout — Yankees have a $3.15MM club option if O’Day declines his player option)
“At times it looked unstoppable, but many other times unwatchable” is how GM Brian Cashman summed up his team, which won 92 games in baseball’s toughest division and yet still seemed like underachievers in the eyes of many Bronx fans. The Yankees rarely seemed fully locked in for much of the season, but there was still enough talent on the roster to tread water through the hard times until the team could again get on a hot streak.
The high talent ceiling also came with a pretty low floor, however, which stood out in a division where the Rays, Red Sox, and Blue Jays seemed to squeeze more out of all 26 roster spots. Injuries played a part in the Yankees’ lack of depth, though that depth shortage was also something of a self-created problem, as New York made every roster move with an eye towards staying under the $210MM Competitive Balance Tax threshold.
Exceeding the threshold for a third straight season would’ve put the Yankees in line for the maximum repeater penalty (a 50% tax on every dollar spent over $210MM), and that was a price that the team was simply not willing to pay. With this in mind, the Yankees still did well to acquire the likes of Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo in midseason trades while staying under the CBT threshold, yet the idea of the big-budget Yankees operating under self-imposed spending restrictions didn’t sit well in the Big Apple.
The Yankees also dipped under the tax line in 2018 in order to reset their penalty status, and then were back to their usual higher-spending selves in both 2019 and 2020. On paper, this could mean the Bronx Bombers will be ready and willing to throw some cash around this winter, particularly since the CBT rules could be changed altogether depending on how baseball’s next collective bargaining agreement shakes out.
That said, between the guaranteed contracts on the books and the team’s large arbitration class, the Yankees are already in luxury tax territory before the offseason even officially begins — Cot’s Baseball Contracts and Roster Roster Resource estimate the Yankees’ current 2022 CBT number as roughly in the range of $221.1MM to $223.7MM. If ownership and the front office don’t overly care about blowing past the tax line once, this might not be an issue (and again, we don’t know what the tax threshold will be in 2022, or if the CBT will continue to exist in its current form). But, given how the Yankees have been operating with some level of financial restraint in the Hal Steinbrennner era, a full-on acquisition frenzy may not be all that likely.
This isn’t to say the Yankees couldn’t carve out some room by trading or even non-tendering some of those arbitration-eligible players. Miguel Andujar and Clint Frazier seem more like spare parts than future cornerstones at this point, and Luke Voit’s stock has dropped after an injury-plagued 2021 season. Or, if not the arb-eligibles, could someone like Luis Severino be dealt to a team in need of pitching, if the Yankees are ready to move on after three years of injury woes for the right-hander? Packaging one or two of these players together into one trade would be a creative way to address another roster need, repurpose some salary, or perhaps just clear some payroll space for a bigger signing down the road.
If getting rid of such players doesn’t sound feasible, Cashman has already indicated that he wants a more athletic, defensively-capable roster next year, with hitters less prone to strikeouts. This doesn’t bode well for the likes of Voit, and if another starting infielder is acquired and Gio Urshela assumes a super-sub infield role, having both Rougned Odor and Tyler Wade as light-hitting backup infielders suddenly becomes redundant.
Figuring out which incumbents will remain on the roster is tricky since quite a few regulars struggled in 2022, yet it can be assumed that Urshela, Gleyber Torres, and DJ LeMahieu aren’t going anywhere. This trio is currently penciled in for starting infield roles (with Voit getting some time at first base or DH), leaving a big hole at shortstop that Cashman has already identified as a need.
The 2021-22 free agent market is loaded with premium shortstops. Any of Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Javier Baez, or Trevor Story would cost a hefty sum, yet any would also provide a marked improvement over Torres’ shaky shortstop defense and his average offensive output over the last two seasons. The Yankees are hoping that moving Torres back to second base will help him rebound from a pair of subpar years, and since Torres is only entering his age-25 season, it is too early for the Yankees to give up on a player who has shown such potential in the past.
Getting a new veteran mentor as a double-play partner would also surely help Torres’ development, and give the Yankees some stability in the middle infield — if Torres struggles again in 2022, he might become an expendable part in a year’s time. The presence of top shortstop prospects Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza must also be considered, whether as candidates to move to other positions, or as shortstops of the future that the Yankees wouldn’t want to block by adding a star veteran on a long-term contract.
With this in mind, it’s possible the Yankees would choose to spend their money on other areas and instead only acquire a shorter-term option to play shortstop. Trading for a player like Paul DeJong or old friend Didi Gregorius, for example, would provide New York some flexibility for the future, even if such a move would seem like a stopgap measure for a team trying to win immediately. The Yankees could try to have it both ways, and sign one of the big shortstops this winter and then explore a possible position change (i.e. Seager to third base or Semien to second base) should Volpe and/or Peraza force the issue in a couple of seasons.
New York also might not stop at just one new infielder. LeMahieu and Urshela are versatile enough that the Yankees could explore adding help at first or third base. For the hot corner, that might mean looking into a Matt Chapman trade, or maybe the team could try to sign both Corey and Kyle Seager for an all-in-the-family left side of the infield. At first base, Rizzo provided unspectacular but decent production after being acquired from the Cubs at the trade deadline, and as a left-handed hitter with lots of contact skills, he fits multiple needs for the Yankees. Rizzo’s old Chicago teammate Kris Bryant might be an even more ideal fit as a player who could be moved around the diamond, yet Bryant’s asking price could be over $200MM, and possibly beyond the Yankees’ comfort zone if they’re also splurging on a shortstop. Even Rizzo might be pricier than the Yankees are willing to spend on the first base position, especially since Voit is still on hand.
The outfield seems pretty set, with Gallo and Aaron Judge flanking returning center fielder Aaron Hicks, while Giancarlo Stanton will probably mostly serve as the DH but also get some time in the corners. The Yankees aren’t likely to exercise their $7.15MM club option on Brett Gardner, but if Gardner either picks up his own player option or another deal is worked out between the two sides, it’s probably safe to just assume the longtime regular will return for yet another season in the Bronx. Andujar, Frazier, and Estevan Florial also factor into the depth picture depending on how many return in 2022.
As with the infield, though, there are some questions within these ostensibly settled positions. Hicks has been bothered by injuries throughout his career, and wrist surgery limited him to a career-low 32 games last season. Gallo’s Yankees tenure didn’t get off to a great start, as he struck out a whopping 88 times in 228 plate appearances while batting only .160/.303/.404 with 13 home runs. Gallo is another arbitration-eligible player the Yankees could potentially look to deal, though his value is lower now than it was when New York got him from the Rangers at the trade deadline, and Gallo’s ability to play center field provides useful versatility if Hicks is injured again.
There weren’t many concerns about Judge in 2021, which was a boon after the slugger played in only 242 of a possible 384 games in 2018-20 due to injuries. Judge has always been a dangerous bat when healthy, and with 633 PA to work with last year, he hit 39 home runs to go along with a .287/.373/.544 slash line. Judge is entering his final arbitration year, and while the Yankees have a pretty solid policy against contract extensions, one would expect they’d at least have some talks with Judge in Spring Training about signing a long-term deal.
Catcher is perhaps the biggest conundrum position the Yankees face, as there are equal cases to be made for retaining or parting ways with Gary Sanchez. After a rough 2020 season, Sanchez rebounded to post roughly league-average offense last year, which is solid from the catcher’s position. However, Sanchez also had another high strikeout rate, and his longstanding defensive issues behind the plate again saw him lose playing time to Kyle Higashioka down the stretch.
After four seasons of drama and rumors about Sanchez’s status, the Yankees might be open to moving on, as Cashman didn’t even confirm that Sanchez would be the starting catcher in 2022. The catching position is thin enough that Sanchez wouldn’t be non-tendered, yet by that same logic, the lack of obvious available upgrades could mean the Bombers might just hang onto Sanchez for his final year of team control. If Sanchez were dealt, a one-year stopgap signing of a familiar face like Austin Romine or Robinson Chirinos could team with Higashioka until the Yankees figure out a longer-term answer.
With so many hitters underwhelming in 2021, the irony is that the Yankees ended up being carried by their pitching last year, even though there was plenty of uncertainty about their mix of arms heading into Opening Day. While many of those pitchers will be returning, the Yankees now face the challenge of seeing if they can duplicate or better that performance, and some reinforcements may be required.
Gerrit Cole and Jordan Montgomery have rotation spots locked up, with Severino, Domingo German, and Nestor Cortes Jr. penciled into the other three spots. Severino’s health is always a question, German pitched only 98 1/3 innings due to shoulder problems, and while Cortes’ emergence was a fun storyline, his lack of a track record leaves some doubt about whether he can be as effective in 2022. Jameson Taillon will start at some point, though his recovery from ankle surgery will keep him sidelined until roughly the end of March, so he’ll need time to ramp up after missing virtually all of Spring Training.
This group could be augmented by younger arms, as Luis Gil, Clarke Schmidt, and Deivi Garcia all made starts last season and will likely be competing with Cortes and maybe even German for rotation spots come Spring Training. There is promise but not much experience on hand, so obtaining one more solid veteran pitcher would help the Yankees breathe a little easier. A reunion with Corey Kluber might be the simplest option, though Kluber had another lengthy injured-list absence in 2021 and can’t be relied upon as a stable eater of innings.
Plenty of interesting candidates exist on the free agent pitching market, and any number of these hurlers would have interest in joining a perpetual contender like the Yankees. Again, the club’s overall spending plans will determine what types of pitchers will be on the radar. If New York goes big to land a star position player or two, a mid-tier rotation arm might be the preference. Or, if the Yankees went for shorter-term options around the diamond, they could invest at the top of the pitching market, perhaps signing Robbie Ray away from the Blue Jays or bringing Marcus Stroman from Queens to the Bronx.
For a less-obvious but still familiar option, a reunion with Masahiro Tanaka also can’t be ruled out. After signing with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles last winter, Tanaka hinted at a potential return to both MLB and to the Yankees specifically, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see Tanaka back in the pinstripes now that the Yankees have more flexibility under the luxury tax threshold.
If signing a new starter results in a surplus of rotation candidates, that’s a pretty nice problem to have, as New York could then use those extra arms to bolster the bullpen. The Yankees got good production from most members of the relief corps last season, but heading into 2022, the team’s two highest-paid relievers are issues. Zack Britton will miss most or even all of next season after undergoing elbow surgery, while Aroldis Chapman wasn’t his usual dominant self in 2021. Chapman struggled to contain home runs for the second consecutive year, and he had one of the worst walk rates (15.6%) of any pitcher in baseball.
Chapman’s struggles don’t necessarily auger a change in the closer role, as his numbers were still pretty good overall. However, the Yankees might give a right-hander like Chad Green or Jonathan Loaisiga more looks in save situations against right-handed batters, or if a new reliever is acquired on a low-cost deal, it could be someone with past closing experience. On the contract option front, New York is likely to exercise its club option on Joely Rodriguez, while Darren O’Day will probably exercise his player option in the wake of an injury-shortened season.
Finally, the Yankees already took care of some major offseason business when they signed Aaron Boone to a new three-year contract (with a club option for 2025). While Boone’s old deal was up after this season, it never seemed like there was too much chance of a managerial change, as Cashman and Steinbrenner both expressed their support for Boone at multiple points during the year.
Boone has yet to lead the Yankees to a pennant in his four years as manager, and the team’s 2009 World Series title remains its only trip to the Fall Classic in the last 18 seasons. This (relative) lack of postseason success has led to a lot of impatience within the fanbase, especially since the Yankees were perceived as being more concerned about avoiding a luxury tax bill than making a full-fledged push to win.
On the other hand, the acquisitions of Rizzo, Gallo, and an under-the-radar steal of a pickup in Clay Holmes showed that Cashman could still make quality additions within a budget, and big spending doesn’t necessarily always equal playoff success. Cashman is on record as acknowledging the faults of his 2021 team and said “we will be open-minded to everything and anything on this roster” in terms of correcting these shortcomings. Whether this manifests itself in the form of some more creative trades, mid-tier signings, or a good old-fashioned Yankees spending spree remains to be seen, but the 2021-22 offseason could be a busy one in the Bronx.