The Yankees are faced with plenty of questions heading into the off-season, following their ALCS sweep at the hands of the Astros. The team has already said they’re planning to keep Aaron Boone as manager next season, but the makeup of the roster Boone oversees could see some significant change. The free agency of outfielder superstar Aaron Judge will justifiably dominate the headlines over the coming months, but there’s a plenty of other storylines in the Bronx that’ll be interesting to follow.
The Yankees have eleven pending free agents, although it seems likely they’ll pick up Luis Severino’s $15MM team option and drop that number to ten. Among them are Jameson Taillon and Andrew Benintendi. Both have indicated they’re open to a return to the Yankees, per Bryan Hoch of MLB.com. That they’ve said that is not a great surprise, as most pending free agents say they’re open or willing to discussing a return to their previous team, but it is interesting to consider in the case of Benintendi and Taillon as there’s a feasible pathway to the Yankees re-signing both.
Taillon was acquired from the Pirates prior to the 2021 season for minor leaguers Roansy Contreras, Maikol Escotto, Miguel Yajure and Canaan Smith-Njigba. Taillon is no stranger to injuries, he’s had Tommy John surgery twice as well as a hernia surgery back in 2015. He’s also a cancer survivor, having undergone testicular cancer surgery in 2017. His second Tommy John caused him to miss the 2020 season, and the Yankees managed his workload accordingly in 2021, so while he made 29 starts he only threw 144 1/3 innings. He ramped up in 2022 though, and tossed 177 1/3 innings of 3.91 ERA ball. Taillon’s never been a big strikeout pitcher, and he punched out roughly a fifth of batters this season, but he displayed an excellent control, walking batters just 4.4% of the time. He is a little susceptible to the long ball, but on the whole Taillon is a reliable mid-rotation arm that could help a lot of teams moving forward.
One of those teams could be the Yankees. Gerrit Cole and Nestor Cortes will be back at the top of the rotation, while a returning Luis Severino should round out the first three spots. After that, there’s a few question marks. Domingo German threw 72 1/3 innings of 3.61 ERA ball, although his FIP sat at 4.44 and his fastball velocity declined slightly in 2022. Mid-season trade acquisition from Oakland Frankie Montas struggled in eight starts before going on the IL for the rest of the regular season, he returned in the playoffs but only threw one inning. Montas has a sound track record as a mid-rotation arm, but pitched to a 6.35 ERA in New York. He experienced a sharp decline in strikeouts, just 17.8% with the Yankees down 8% from the first half of the season in Oakland, while his walk rate jumped slightly. The Yankees could conceivably turn to both German and Montas to round out their rotation but given the question marks over both, the reliability of Taillon to solidify the backend of the rotation could hold plenty of appeal to Brian Cashman’s front office.
Benintendi was brought over from the Royals at the deadline, with the Yankees sending minor leaguers Chandler Champlain, T.J. Sikkema and Beck Way the other way. The 28-year-old was in the conversation for the batting title in Kansas City, slashing .320/387/.398. He got off to a slow start (two hits in his first 25 ABs) but found his groove eventually and hit .303 for the rest of the campaign. He missed almost all of September, however, with a broken hamate bone and failed to return for the playoffs. The Yankees acquired Benintendi as a lefty-hitting contact bat to balance out their slugger-heavy lineup, as well as offer strong defense in left. When fit, he provided exactly that and should have no shortage of multi-year offers in free agency.
Of course, the top priority in the outfield for the Yankees is Aaron Judge, but the team would do well to bring back Benintendi in left. The team used ten different players in left in 2022, with none playing in more than 55 games there. Aaron Hicks got the bulk of the playing time, but put up underwhelming numbers and at 33 is showing signs of decline. The team turned to rookie Oswaldo Cabrera down the stretch, and got solid results despite the fact he’d come up through the minor leagues as an infielder. He hit .247/.312/.429 in 44 games and impressed defensively. Depending on other moves, the team may prefer to keep Cabrera as a utility-man on the bench and bring back Benintendi as the team’s everyday left-fielder.
Meanwhile, Jim Bowden of The Athletic reports that the Yankees are indicating they won’t be shopping for a top shortstop this winter. That’s no surprise, as the club opted to trade for Isiah Kiner-Falefa instead of go after Carlos Correa and Corey Seager last winter. While Kiner-Falefa drew the ire of the fanbase, that move was made with a view to eventually having one of the Yankees’ top prospects Oswald Peraza or Anthony Volpe take over long-term. Peraza impressed in a handful of appearances in September, and made the playoff roster, and it seems likely the Yankees’ 2023 opening day shortstop will come from that trio.