The New York Yankees’ offseason is just about over. Pitchers and catchers report to George M. Steinbrenner Field for spring training Wednesday.
General manager Brian Cashman’s mission was to improve the roster so that fans don’t have to sit through a second straight playoff-less October.
How did it go? The Athletic’s Yankees writers Brendan Kuty and Chris Kirschner hand out their grades.
Most spring training camps are set to open next week. And even though multiple top-tier free agents are still on the market, most teams are done making significant changes.
How was your club’s dead period?
Our writers have MLB offseason grades ⤵️https://t.co/NvMAzpeCUv
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) February 8, 2024
Harrison Bader, CF; Jhony Brito, RHP; Domingo Germán, RHP; Kyle Higashioka, C; Isiah Kiner-Falefa, UTIL; Michael King, RHP; Keynan Middleton, RHP; Frankie Montas, RHP; Wandy Peralta, LHP; Luis Severino, RHP; Randy Vásquez, RHP
Kirschner’s grade: A-
In November, Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner spoke vaguely about big changes that were coming after calling the 2023 season unacceptable. To his credit, those changes came.
The Yankees have a better roster now than when their season ended four months ago. They traded King, Drew Thorpe, Vásquez, Brito and Higashioka to the San Diego Padres for Soto, a generational talent who’s a year younger than Oswaldo Cabrera and 16 days younger than pitching prospect Clayton Beeter. There’s significant risk in trading the amount of talent the Yankees did for Soto, who will become a free agent next offseason and almost certainly will not sign a long-term extension before the season ends. But the Yankees have all of the resources to re-sign him, no matter the cost. If they don’t, anything less than a World Series title this season would be a colossal failure.
As part of the Soto deal, the Yankees also acquired Grisham, who’s projected to be the team’s fourth outfielder. Since 2019, Grisham’s 17 outs above average in center field ranks as the fourth-most behind Victor Robles, Kevin Kiermaier and Michael A. Taylor. Grisham offers quality outfield depth that the Yankees didn’t have last season.
Verdugo’s addition seems underrated. The Yankees gave up Greg Weissert, Richard Fitts and Nicholas Judice, three pitchers who did not factor into the team’s 2024 plans. Verdugo will primarily play left field for the Yankees, a position that was an abomination last season, tied for last in defensive runs saved. Even if Verdugo stays around league average as a hitter — which he’s been for three straight years — it’s better than what the Yankees had in left field most nights. Plus, his defense alone is an immense upgrade.
Signing Stroman to a two-year, $37 million contract was also a quality move for the Yankees, considering the value. He has the 26th-highest AAV for any starting pitcher. If Stroman pitches to career norms, it’s another upgrade from what the Yankees had last season.
The Yankees upgraded the roster in impactful ways this offseason. They still would benefit by adding another front-of-the-rotation starter to minimize the risk that’s still present with Carlos Rodón, Nestor Cortes and Clarke Schmidt. They also get dinged by missing out on Yoshinobu Yamamoto, whom they courted heavily.
They didn’t have a Los Angeles Dodgers-esque offseason but they achieved most of their goals, and there’s still time to upgrade more.
Kuty’s grade: B+
You’re right, Chris. There’s still time left. Just because the offseason has all but ended and spring training is about to begin doesn’t mean that Cashman is finished making moves. And that’s a good thing for the Yankees — and for my grade. Because I’m conflicted.
I feel like the Yankees had a strong offseason and their roster is much better. I also feel like they have some of the same major concerns that haunted them last year.
I’m not a talent evaluator, but those I’ve spoken with point to the Yankees’ habit of getting hurt, and their stars are now another year older. The reigning American League East-champion Baltimore Orioles just added ace Corbin Burnes to a rotation that already had Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez, while the Yankees’ rotation has plenty of question marks. And it’s anybody’s guess as to whether Giancarlo Stanton can turn back the clock and stay on the field enough to be a middle-of-the-order threat.
But the positives outweigh the negatives, I believe. The Yankees made some great moves.
Soto isn’t just one of the best left-handed hitters in the game, but he’s the box-office draw the Yankees needed to excite a fan base worried that the championship window for the team’s core is nearing its close. Giving up King in the Soto trade will hurt. As for the other pieces given up? The Yankees have a history of developing quality (if not top-shelf) arms and backup catchers.
Not landing Yamamoto was a gut punch at the time for the Yankees, but it’s clear the Japanese star wanted the Southern California palm trees and to play with Shohei Ohtani as much as he wanted the money. Can’t force a player to sign with you, and I’ll play devil’s advocate: He’s never thrown a pitch in the majors.
Adding Stroman might be an under-the-radar big move, and not just because he’s historically been a good pitcher or because he’ll be motivated to play for his favorite childhood team. Notice that lefties Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery are both still unsigned. In terms of talent, they may have been the only true upgrades over Stroman — though that’s far from a foregone conclusion — and no other team has been willing to match their price tags yet.
And even league-average production from Verdugo will be worlds better than what the Yankees got from Aaron Hicks, Cabrera, etc. in left field last year. The Yankees have been targeting Verdugo’s high-contact, tough-out, strong-defense skill set for years and believe they could maximize his potential.
Plus, they have a lot of players entering walk years, including Soto, Verdugo, Gleyber Torres, Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loáisiga, Caleb Ferguson and Tommy Kahnle. Gerrit Cole could opt out of his contract, but the Yankees can cancel the move by opting him into the 10th year of his deal. The Yankees hold a team option on Anthony Rizzo for 2025. Those are a lot of players who could have extra incentive to perform.
And the Yankees’ front office, which didn’t trade away any of the club’s absolute best prospects, still has maneuverability should it need to make more trades.
(Top photo of Juan Soto: Matt Thomas / San Diego Padres / Getty Images)