The 2019 New York Yankees starting rotation is starting to come into focus, as the team has agreed with veteran left-hander J.A. Happ on a two-year, $34-million deal that would bring him back to the Bronx. The deal also contains a vesting option for the 2021 season based on innings pitched.
Happ came to the Yankees in exchange for infielder Brandon Drury and outfielder Billy McKinney ahead of the 2018 Trade Deadline. He pitched lights-out for 11 starts in pinstripes, going 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA (4.21 FIP) as the team captured their second consecutive home-field spot in the Wild Card game.
“He was a performer; took the ball every five days,” Cashman said. “He was a competitor, came as advertised, a real pro. He had a veteran presence within that clubhouse, knew exactly what was necessary and brought it every five days in the most competitive division in all of baseball and the world. He checks all the boxes on that side of it.”
The playoffs were a different animal, though. Happ made just one start, lasting two innings and allowing five earned runs in Game 1 of the American League Division Series in Boston. The big blow in that game was a three-run home run by J.D. Martinez.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic had reported earlier in the day that the two sides were in agreement on a deal with three guaranteed years, though he walked that report back to say they were simply gaining momentum.
Happ had also been courted by the Houston Astros and Philadelphia Phillies, both teams he has pitched for in the past. The Phillies were hesitant to give Happ more than two guaranteed years, and it appears his recent familiarity with the Bronx plus the prospect of the vesting option prompted his return.
The Yankees may not be done in their pursuit of a starting pitcher, as injuries and ineffectiveness typically rear their ugly heads over the course of a 162-game season. They learned that the hard way when Jordan Montgomery went down for 18 months after just six starts because of Tommy John surgery in 2018.
The team wound up getting 24 starts from Chance Adams, Luis Cessa, Domingo Germán and Jonathan Loáisiga combined, and the team went 12-12 in those games. Sonny Gray, who was acquired to anchor the top of the rotation, started in 12 Yankees losses and was demoted to the bullpen in favor of Lance Lynn after August 1.
“It doesn’t mean we would be out of the market altogether. Obviously the Paxton acquisition gave us the ability to be a lot more disciplined and patient,” Cashman said. “If we pull down another one it will put us in a much stronger position to feel better about the rotation. But that doesn’t preclude us to being open-minded about any options that develop over time.”
With the acquisition of James Paxton and agreement with Happ, the Yankees find their starting rotation in exponentially better shape than last year.
Just as most on the East Coast were winding down for the night, baseball’s Hot Stove heated up in a huge way from the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal reported that the Yankees, Mets and Marlins had discussed a three-way deal where the Mets would acquire star catcher J.T. Realmuto from Miami, and in turn would send a starting pitcher like Noah Syndergaard to the Bronx.
Nothing was imminent, and SNY’s Andy Martino did report “there are ’10 other scenarios’ Mets are considering” in a trade for Realmuto. The Mets have been especially active on the trade market, and have been looking to upgrade the catcher position for a while now. Should they be unable to land Realmuto, they’re expected to pivot to free-agent Yasmani Grandal.
Jon Heyman of Fancred was the first to suggest that the Yankees, who insisted Gary Sánchez was their catcher for 2019, were connected to Realmuto for the sake of facilitating a three-way trade. The obvious advantage for the Yankees would be the chance to acquire a marquee starter like Syndergaard at a slight discount should they assist with the acquisition of Realmuto.
Martino also noted that the Yankees were “interested in Mets pitching, not necessarily limited to Syndergaard”. Other appealing pitchers include Jacob deGrom (of course, that’s unlikely), Steven Matz (under control for years but often injured) and Zack Wheeler (rental). The only named mentioned by reporters last night was that of Syndergaard, though the Yankees had scouted Wheeler at the 2018 Trade Deadline.
I’d expect the Yankees top chips like Miguel Andújar, Estevan Florial and more to be on the table if someone of Syndergaard’s quality is being discussed. Andújar is only being moved for someone that good. If talks were to pivot to someone like Matz or Wheeler, I’d be taking both Andújar and Florial off the table. Max Wildstein of Gotham Sports Network mentioned Chance Adams, Clint Frazier, Sonny Gray, Mike King and Jonathan Loáisiga as possibilities to be moved.
Martino said the Yankees were “pushing hard” to make a deal, though it’s unclear where the three teams left talks. The push for Realmuto will be intense, and it’s unclear if the Mets (and the three-team scenario with the Yankees) is the package they’ll accept.
The prizes of the 2018–19 free agent class have been connected to the New York Yankees for what feels like an eternity. But, according to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, only one of them is a fit in the Bronx: infielder Manny Machado.
“At no time all winter have I said that I’m looking for an outfielder,” Cashman told reporters from the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. “The [Bryce] Harper stuff, I’m surprised you’re still asking.”
One thing he is looking for is a replacement on the left side of the infield for shortstop Didi Gregorius, Who is expected to miss at least the first half of the 2019 season recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Machado, of course, is capable of playing both third base and shortstop at an elite level.
“I’ve had several conversations with Dan Lozano about Manny Machado,” Cashman said. “We are definitely focused in the marketplace on those areas of need. He obviously is available and solves that area of need. I’m not going to deny we’ve had a conversation or two.”
Jon Heyman of Fancred has indicated that the Yankees would go after Machado if he were willing to except a slightly shorter contract with a total value less than $300 million. The Yankees will be one of a few teams Machado meets on a tour of their cities. Two other teams that will meet with the 26-year-old are the Chicago White Sox and Philadelphia Phillies.
The Yankees lost out on lefty Patrick Corbin because they would not stretch their offer to six years. Neither would the Phillies, but Washington did. That’s how it goes sometimes. With the Winter Meetings coming up this weekend, let’s look into what storylines have been involving the Yankees recently:
Brewers, Padres Still Pushing for Sonny Gray
Brian Cashman said recently that as many as 11 teams have enquired about Sonny Gray. Most recently, it’s been the Milwaukee Brewers and San Diego Padres who are in contact with the Yankees. Those are the two teams Jon Morosi of MLB.com mentioned in tweets Tuesday. The Yanks could look to deal Gray soon as they look to clear his projected $9.1 million arbitration salary from the payroll. The narrative continues to be that the Yankees want their starting pitching figured out by the Winter Meetings, so we’ll see if Cashman gets anything done before the weekend.
Yanks, Happ One Year Apart in Early Talks
As the Yankees look to finalize that starting rotation now that Patrick Corbin and Nathan Eovaldi are off the market, they’re said to be in contact about the return of J.A. Happ. Max Wildstein of Gotham Sports Network reports that the Yankees want Happ back on a two-year deal, while Happ is looking for a three-year contract. The Phillies are reportedly interested in a reunion with Happ as well. Jon Heyman also reported that Happ was the team’s “next pitching target”.
Yankees Will Meet With Bryce Harper
Despite the consistent narrative that the Yankees have had minimal interest in Bryce Harper, Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan has indicated that the Bombers “are among upward of a dozen teams that have traveled or plan to travel to Nevada to meet with Harper”. Of course, Nevada also plays host to the Winter Meetings, which start Sunday at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
Passan continues about Harper’s fit in the Bronx:
The Yankees are a wild card, or as much as a team with the highest revenues in the game can be a wild card for a player who may receive the largest contract in American sports history. Harper grew up a Yankees fan, always dreaming of playing in pinstripes, and no matter their ultimate interest, meeting with him was, at very least, an exercise in due diligence for a New York team playing extra coy with Harper’s actual appeal.
There have been reports that the Yankees have discussed Harper internally as a solution at first base, a position where he has yet to appear professionally. The more obvious fit for Harper in New York would be in left field, where he’s logged 1,596 innings since his 2012 debut. This, in turn, would push Brett Gardner into a more useful fourth outfielder role. Acquiring Harper would all but mandate moving a portion of Jacoby Ellsbury‘s contract to another team.
Yankees Re-Engage Indians About Starters
Max Wildstein of Gotham Sports Network is reporting that the Yankees have circled back with Cleveland about starting pitchers Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco in trade talks. He did note, however, that each pitcher has a very high asking price at the moment. Wildstein had reported earlier in the offseason that the Yankees balked at the asking price where Cleveland had wanted top lefty Justus Sheffield (since traded to Seattle) and top outfielder Estevan Florial in a deal for Carrasco. There doesn’t appear to be any momentum in current talks.
Kikuchi Posted to MLB; Must Sign by Jan. 2
Though not nearly as hyped up as Shohei Ohtani was last offseason, Japanese lefty Yusei Kikuchi was posted by the Seibu Lions. All 30 MLB teams can negotiate with the 27-year-old, and he must agree to a contract before January 2. The lefty owns a stellar 2.58 ERA over his last four seasons, while averaging 24 starts per season. He’s projected to have the upside of a No. 3 or 4 starter in an MLB rotation. The Yankees have scouted Kikuchi and have also discussed his free agency, according to Hal Steinbrenner. Kikuchi will be represented by Scott Boras.
Yanks Interested in Joakim Soria
Brian Cashman told reporters earlier this winter that his plan includes signing two relievers, and they apparently have interest in 34-year-old right-hander Joakim Soria. According to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com, the Yankees are joined by the Angels, Braves, Diamondbacks and Reds in their pursuit of the veteran. Soria made 40 appearances with the White Sox before a midseason deal sent him to the Brewers. He finished with a 3.12 ERA in 60⅔ innings.
The Yankees got dealt their first loss of the offseason Tuesday, as top starting pitcher Patrick Corbin agreed with the Washington Nationals on a 6-year, $140 million contract.
Jon Heyman of Fancred and Billy Witz of the New York Times indicated that the Yankees offer went 5-years, $100 million. Heyman further indicated that the Philadelphia Phillies, the third finalist for Corbin, offered a 5-year deal as well. The finances, however, are unknown at this moment.
By trading for fellow lefty James Paxton, Brian Cashman put the Yankees in a position where they did not have to overpay for Corbin. Per Mark Feinsand of MLB.com, they’ll pivot to pursuing the following “Plan B” pitchers: Nathan Eovaldi, J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn. They’re all former Yankees, and they’re all radically different pitchers with distinct contractual demands. The narrative is that the Yankees want the rotation wrapped up by the beginning of the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas this coming weekend, so look for some activity there.
Corbin had never pitched for anyone but the small-market Diamondbacks in the NL West. His slider was among the most effective pitches in the majors, yet there was worry should that pitch dim in effectiveness or hitters became more attuned to laying off it. Corbin was just a few years removed from Tommy John surgery and a 5.15 ERA, and only in his 2018 walk year did he perform more like a top-of-the-rotation starter.
There was a lot to like and in a different day perhaps the Yankees would have ignored what gave them hesitation and provided whatever it took to get a deal done. But the Yanks felt they were stretching to go from four to five years in a potential offer, and so when agent John Courtright told them he could get six years, this version of the Yanks essentially said there was nothing more to discuss.
The Nationals had been aggressive late in their negotiations with Corbin. They added that extra year (and probably some extra money) and that’s what secured the lefty. He’ll be due $23,333,333 annually through the 2024 season. That will make Corbin the 11th highest-paid pitcher for 2019, with his Nationals teammates Stephen Strasburg ($38,333,334) and Max Scherzer ($37,405,562) placing first and second, respectively.
Gary Sánchez is not going anywhere. Despite rumors that the Yankees had talked to the Miami Marlins about flipping him for fellow backstop J.T. Realmuto, Brian Cashman insisted those ideas were “completely false”.
“We’re not talking Gary Sánchez with anybody, although I’ve been asked,” Cashman said to Jack Curry in an interview to be broadcast on YES Network on Monday. “By the teams that have asked, poll the people who have connections to those teams and they’d say we asked and were told that they aren’t moving Gary Sánchez.”
The Yankees certainly aren’t giving up on their 26-year-old catcher despite a disastrous 2018 that saw him bat just .186/.291/.406 (89 wRC+), lead the league in passed balls with 18 and place fifth with 45 wild pitches allowed. But, Sánchez was hampered by a groin injury that forced him to miss time on two separate occasions, and he had surgery on his balky left shoulder that could have caused him to alter his swing mechanics to manage pain.
“Without question, [the shoulder injury] was definitely a factor in irritating him this year,” Cashman said. “Obviously more so that we expected, since he had to have surgery. We look forward to him coming back and being what we saw a little in the postseason, and what we saw from him in the previous years.”
Those previous years have been incredibly productive, with Sánchez hitting .284/.354/.568 (142 wRC+) in 175 games running from 2016 to 2017. He became a lightning rod for criticism when he was thrown out at first base after a fielding miscue in Tampa Bay, and it appeared Sánchez was not hustling. It turns out he had been nursing a groin injury for weeks, and aggravated it while attempting to sprint to first base.
Sánchez did come out and hit two home runs off David Price in game two of the ALDS, which ended up being the only game the Yankees won in that series. The Yankees hope that the surgery and offseason rest will allow Sánchez to come to Tampa ready to prove his doubters wrong.
All pre-arbitration and arbitration eligible players were tendered contracts by the Yankees by the 8 p.m. ET deadline Friday.
The team and players did not have to reach specific figures by that deadline, but the Yankees were required to at least extend an offer. Players and teams must have exchanged arbitration figures by Jan. 11, 2019, and then hearings will run from Feb. 1 to Feb. 20. Players who are not yet eligible for arbitration (less than three years service time) typically agree to their 1-year split-level deals in early-March. The Yankees agreed to deals with all of their arbitration eligible players ahead of the deadline last year.
Here’s everyone eligible for arbitration this year with their 2018 salary and 2019 projection from MLB Trade Rumors:
- RHP Dellin Betances
- 2018 salary: $5.1 million
- 2019 projection: $6.4 million
- 1B Greg Bird
- 2018 salary: $582K
- 2019 projection: $1.5 million
- RHP Sonny Gray
- 2018 salary: $6.5 million
- 2019 projection: $9.1 million
- SS Didi Gregorius
- 2018 salary: $8.25 million
- 2019 projection: $12.4 million
- CF Aaron Hicks
- 2018 salary: $2.825 million
- 2019 projection: $6.2 million
- RHP Tommy Kahnle
- 2018 salary: $1.3125 million
- 2019 projection: $1.5 million
- LHP James Paxton
- 2018 salary: $4.9 million
- 2019 projection: $9 million
- C Austin Romine
- 2018 salary: $1.1 million
- 2019 projection: $2 million
- RHP Luis Severino
- 2018 salary: $604.975K
- 2019 projection: $5.1 million
The two players closest to being non-tendered, in my opinion, were Gray and Gregorius. Gray was awful in 2018, and Brian Cashman is determined to trade him this offseason. Didi Gregorius is set to miss at least the first half of 2019, though the Yankees could work with him on a myriad of contract options as this is his final year of arbitration.
Everyone else, with the exception of the guaranteed contracts for Aroldis Chapman, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, CC Sabathia, Giancarlo Stanton and Masahiro Tanaka, has less than three years of service time and will have their split-level deals revealed later on. They get paid one salary for MLB service and a much smaller one for the minor leagues.