It was a relatively quiet offseason by Yankees standards….apart from arguably the winter’s biggest trade.
Major League Signings
- Anthony Rizzo, 1B: Two years, $32MM (Rizzo can opt out after 2022 season)
- Tim Locastro, OF: One year, $900K
- 2022 spending: $16.9MM
- Total spending: $32.9MM
Trades & Claims
- Acquired 3B Josh Donaldson, SS Isiah Kiner-Falefa, C Ben Rortvedt from the Twins for C Gary Sanchez, IF Gio Urshela
- Acquired minor league SP Justin Lange from the Padres for 1B Luke Voit
- Acquired RP Miguel Castro from the Mets for RP Joely Rodriguez
- Acquired C Jose Trevino from the Rangers for RP Albert Abreu and minor league SP Robby Ahlstrom
- Acquired player to be named later/cash considerations from the Angels for IF/OF Tyler Wade
- Acquired minor league 1B T.J. Rumfield and SP Joel Valdez from Phillies for RP Nick Nelson and C Donny Sands
- Acquired RP David McKay from the Rays for cash considerations
- Claimed OF Jeisson Rosario off waivers from the Red Sox (later outrighted off 40-man roster)
Notable Minor League Signings
- Marwin Gonzalez (contract selected, $1.15MM guarantee), Ender Inciarte, Shelby Miller, Derek Dietrich, Jose Peraza, Greg Bird, Ronald Guzman, Rob Brantly, Jimmy Cordero, Ryan LaMarre, Phillip Evans, Ryan Weber, Manny Banuelos, David Freitas, Jose Mujica, Vinny Nittoli
- Sanchez, Urshela, Voit, Rodriguez, Abreu, Corey Kluber, Andrew Heaney, Clint Frazier, Rougned Odor, Greg Allen, Andrew Velazquez, Chris Gittens, Brett Gardner (still unsigned)
After very little activity in the pre-lockout period, the Yankees burst into action a few days after the transactions freeze was lifted, swinging a big five-player blockbuster with the Twins that checked a number of items off New York’s winter to-do list.
Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton almost single-handedly carried a surprisingly lackluster Yankees lineup in 2021, so the club decided to add some more pop at third base by bringing in former AL MVP Josh Donaldson. Gio Urshela had enjoyed some good success at the plate during his time in the Bronx, but since he was one of the several Yankee hitters coming off a down year, Donaldson provides a big upgrade on paper.
Donaldson isn’t without risk, especially given how New York has more than a few right-handed hitting veterans who also have checkered injury histories. But, the Yankees felt Donaldson was worth it, considering that the third baseman hasn’t shown much sign of slowing down even into his age-36 season. To underline their belief in Donaldson, the Yankees agreed to cover all of the $50MM owed to him through the 2023 season.
This expenditure was likely made possible because New York reset its luxury tax status in 2021, keeping payroll under the old $210MM threshold. As a result, the Yankees regained “first-timer” penalty status for any overage in 2022, and indeed the Bombers are already set to blow past the new thresholds. With the new collective bargaining agreement bringing changes to the Competitive Balance Tax structure, it seems as though New York’s lack of moves pre-lockout was borne of a desire to wait and see exactly what the new CBT rules would entail, before making any big financial commitments.
Some money also went back Minnesota’s way in the form of the 2022 contracts for Urshela and Gary Sanchez, who were both arbitration-eligible. Sanchez is in his final year of arb control, and after another subpar season for the catcher, the Yankees decided to drastically overhaul their personnel behind the plate.
Between incumbent Kyle Higashioka, former Twin Ben Rortvedt, and another trade pickup in former Ranger Jose Trevino, this sharp move toward a defense-first catching corps turns the page after years of criticism directed towards Sanchez’s glovework. These shortcomings behind the plate were usually secondary to the big numbers Sanchez posted with his bat, but as his hitting also declined over the last two years, he found himself on the bench during key late-season games.
There is some hope that the 24-year-old Rortvedt can still reach another level as a hitter, though he has yet to make his debut in the pinstripes after suffering an oblique strain in Spring Training. Rortvedt’s absence likely led to Trevino’s acquisition, and Trevino might be the odd man out once Rortvedt is healthy.
Defense was also the key part of the Yankees’ acquisition of Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who was targeted by the New York front office for much of the winter. It seemed as though the chase was over once the Twins landed IKF from the Rangers, except Kiner-Falefa was then flipped to the Yankees only hours after landing in Minnesota.
With Gleyber Torres moved over to second base near the end of last season, it left a big vacancy at the shortstop position. Yankees GM Brian Cashman summed up the situation in October, stating bluntly that “shortstop is an area of need. We have to address it.” It seemingly set the stage for a vintage Yankees splurge, and with so many superstar shortstops available in free agency, it seemed as though it was only a question of which of those big names would eventually land in the Bronx.
And indeed, the Yankees made a choice about their shortstop of the future — Anthony Volpe, or maybe Oswald Peraza. Since Peraza is slated to make his big league debut sometime this season and Volpe likely in 2023, New York ultimately opted to see what they have in the two highly-regarded prospects rather than sign a proven veteran to a pricey multi-year contract. This isn’t to say that the Yankees didn’t pay some attention to the shortstop market, but more in a cursory manner, in case a shorter-term possibility materialized.
As a result, it was Kiner-Falefa who stepped into the shortstop vacancy, not any of the All-Star names on the open market. (Ironically, the Yankees agreeing to cover Donaldson’s salary allowed the Twins to free up enough payroll to make a big shortstop add themselves, signing Carlos Correa.) While it has been only a month into the season and there will still be plenty of pressure on Volpe and Peraza considering who the Yankees passed up in their favor, it looks like Cashman may have made a canny decision. Kiner-Falefa has thus far performed exactly as expected in solidifying the defense at the shortstop position, and as an added bonus, his bat has also been solid.
Since the Yankees expected the rest of the lineup to generally be better in 2022, “solid” is more than fine for a defense-first player, since glovework was a bigger problem than hitting last season. The Yankees ranked 29th in Defensive Runs Saved (-41) and 25th in Outs Above Average (-23) in 2021, leaving plenty of room for improvement on the run-prevention front.
With the Mets spending tons of money and grabbing the headlines in the Big Apple, the Yankees’ more modest offseason took some criticism for being too conservative, especially considering all of the club’s weaknesses in 2021. However, Cashman may have taken the glass half-full approach — if fans and media were concerned about the flaws on a 92-win team, Cashman seems to have focused on a core talented enough to win 92 games despite those flaws.
This isn’t to say that some other splashy moves weren’t considered, as the Yankees made a contract offer to Justin Verlander, though only for one year. The Bombers were also linked to two of the biggest available first basemen, trade candidate Matt Olson and free agent Freddie Freeman.
In regards to first base, the Yankees again eschewed the big prospect cost of an Olson or the big financial cost of a Freeman signing, and instead brought back a familiar face. Anthony Rizzo was good but unspectacular after being acquired from the Cubs at the trade deadline, but New York liked the veteran’s contributions enough to bring him back on a two-year, $32MM deal. Technically, the contract may end up being only a one-year pact, as Rizzo can opt out after the season.
Rizzo was nothing less than one of baseball’s best hitters in April, providing an early answer to any critics still grumbling over missing out on Freeman or Olson. Some regression is probably inevitable since the 32-year-old is hitting at a career-best level, but Rizzo has shown he has plenty left in the tank after his Chicago tenure ended with a pair of only decent seasons.
Luke Voit was dealt to the Padres the day after Rizzo re-signed, as Voit was suddenly an expendable piece at first base. The trade wasn’t exactly a salary dump, as Voit’s $5.45MM salary for 2022 wasn’t exactly prohibitive, and pitching prospect Justin Lange has a live arm (if some notable control problems). Still, since Voit got off to a cold start with the Padres and is currently on the injured list with a biceps tendon injury, it looks like the Yankees made the right call in moving on.
The Bombers’ trade of Joely Rodriguez to the Mets for Miguel Castro is also looking like an early win for the Yankees, as Castro has pitched well while Rodriguez has struggled. The Castro swap may have been the Yankees’ most notable pitching move of the winter, as the club let Corey Kluber and Andrew Heaney walk in free agency but didn’t really do anything to replace them.
The Verlander pursuit indicates that the Yankees were open to upgrading the rotation, though only on their terms. Largely standing pat doesn’t seem to have much hampered the team, as the starting pitching and bullpen have both been very strong over the season’s first month. Circling back to the defensive improvements, tighter fielding has certainly helped the Yankees’ fleet of arms, but the club has gotten good results from just about every pitcher on the staff.
In fairness, it is very easy to examine New York’s offseason through rose-colored glasses, given how well the team has played to date. It’s safe to say the Yankees won’t keep up a .700 winning percentage for the entire year, but there is already plenty of indication that this team can contend for a World Series.
And, more moves are probably in store for the trade deadline. Cashman was aggressive in landing Rizzo and Joey Gallo last summer even when the club seemed more like fringe contenders, and when the Yankees were trying to stay under the CBT limit. Now, the Bombers are projected for a payroll north of $262MM, putting over the second tier of tax penalties but still under the third tier of $270MM. Cashman has shown that he can find success with either headline-grabbing moves or more modest acquisitions, so anything could be on the table for more transactions throughout the year.
Could that something even be an extension with Judge? The two sides didn’t reach agreement on a new deal prior to Opening Day, which was Judge’s preferred deadline for finalizing talks (like most players, Judge didn’t want negotiations to become distraction during the season). In something of a curious move, Cashman openly discussed the Yankees’ offer, saying that the slugger was offered a seven-year, $213.5MM deal covering the 2023-29 season.
While reports were somewhat mixed on Judge’s demands, there was some indication he was looking for a $36MM average annual value. It would be quite a commitment for a player who is already in his age-30 season, and yet Judge’s continued superstar numbers make a persuasive argument that he is worth that kind of money.
Since extensions are pretty rare in the Hal Steinbrenner era, it remains to be seen if even Judge is an exception to this more-or-less steadfast team policy. It could be that the two sides don’t re-engage in contract talks until after the season, making Judge’s status a lingering storyline over the coming months. The Yankees and Judge himself would probably prefer that the focus remains on the team’s performance, and should this end up being Judge’s last year in the Bronx, a World Series ring would be a fine way to cap off his stint in the pinstripes.