By Chris Melore
Major League Baseball’s offseason has officially started and all 30 teams are preparing for the annual spending spree, better known as free agency.
For the Yankees, a 100-win season came to a quick and embarrassing end against their archrivals, the Boston Red Sox. New York was brought down in October by its inability to put men on base and an average pitching staff that lacked a dominating ace.
The following is the Yankees’ version of Black Friday, what they need to shop for this offseason to become champs again:
A CLUTCH CONTACT HITTER
The Yanks desperately needs a dynamic hitter who can put the ball in play without fail. A lefty bat would also be the preferred choice here as their lineup has become extremely right-handed over the last two seasons.
The free agent hitter who best fits the Yankees’ needs this winter is not Manny Machado; it’s Daniel Murphy.
The Mets’ 2015 postseason hero took his game to a different level after signing a three-year deal with the Nationals. In his first two seasons in Washington, Murphy exploded offensively, hitting a combined .334 with a league-leading 90 doubles.
Though his 2018 campaign was limited to 91 games due to knee surgery, his steady bat helped stabilize the Chicago Cubs lineup following a midseason trade.
Murphy’s amazing bat control is the perfect medicine for a Yankees lineup that has become filled with all-or-nothing sluggers. The 33-year-old has never struck out more than 95 times in a season, and in his 10-year career, he’s only fanned 614 times.
To understand how low that total is, New York’s outfield of Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner, Andrew McCutchen, and Clint Frazier combined to strike out 616 times in 2018.
On defense, Murphy would fill in nicely at second base while Gleyber Torres shifts to shortstop to spell Didi Gregorius, who likely won’t return until the summer due to Tommy John surgery.
Murphy has also spent time at first base and could give Luke Voit, assuming he is the starter next season, the occasional day off.
TIME TO GO ALL-IN ON PITCHING
Much has been made of the Yankees’ farm system since veterans Carlos Beltran, Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller were traded in 2016. But there’s one problem with having so many high-end prospects — they can’t all play in the Bronx at once.
New York needs to force the issue with teams looking at a rebuild.
San Francisco, which started shedding payroll in 2018, has the perfect front-line ace to target: Madison Bumgarner.
The 29-year-old left-hander is already a postseason legend. He’s won three World Series titles and has twice pitched a shutout in the NL wild-card game.
The Giants’ ace is entering the final year of his contract ($12 million) and will be in line for a huge payday in 2020. The Yankees have the prospects to land Bumgarner and the cash to lock him up before he hits free agency.
Frazier? Justus Sheffield? Chance Adams? Estevan Florial? They should all be on the table to convince San Fran it’s time to sell its ace.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has repeatedly come up short in his pursuit of big-name starting pitchers in recent years, opting instead to target cost-effective and controllable young arms, with mixed results. The Bombers were mentioned prominently as potential landing spots for some of the best starters in the game, including Chris Sale, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Max Scherzer. The addition of just one of them might have changed the entire dynamic over the last two seasons.
Sale and Verlander are now wearing World Series rings with the teams that were willing to do what was necessary to acquire them. Cole is a big part of a killer rotation in Houston and Scherzer has been nothing short of a monster for Washington. Needless to say, Cashman cannot fail for a third straight offseason to get what is the Yankees’ biggest need.
That said, the free agent pitching market is very thin. With the exception of Arizona lefty Patrick Corbin, the number of available front-end starters is arguably zero.
Corbin is coming off an all-star season which featured a career-high 246 strikeouts in 200 innings. The 29-year-old native of Clay, New York, missed the entire 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery.
Since then, he’s slowly built himself back into a quality starter, as evidenced by his 3.15 ERA in 2018.
Based on his age, Corbin is a better option than an injury-prone Dallas Keuchel or 36-year-old J.A. Happ, but Corbin cannot be the only big pitching move this winter. It’s possible Cashman tries to sign Corbin and Happ.
But they can do even better than that.
SHOPPING FOR ALTERNATIVES
According to reports, the Cleveland Indians are ready to move on from their high-paid talent. Two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber has been a dominant workhorse for the last five years and has a team-friendly contract through 2021. It would take the same kind of prospects a Bumgarner deal would require, but Kluber is worth it.
On the free agent market, one-time Yankee Nathan Eovaldi boosted his stock with a stellar postseason run. He posted a 3.33 ERA after being acquired by the Red Sox from Tampa Bay in July. Signing the 28-year-old right-hander would be a smart gamble for the Bombers, but he shouldn’t be thought of as more than mid-rotation depth.
REINFORCE THE PEN
Trusted relievers David Robertson and Zach Britton are both free agents and the Yankees will need to re-up with at least one of them or find help elsewhere.
If Robertson, who is 33, and Britton (30) choose to take closer jobs in other cities, New York could turn to younger free agent flamethrowers like Kelvin Herrera or ex-Met Jeurys Familia. Both will be 29 on Opening Day, have closer experience, and pitched well in 2018.
Murphy is the perfect answer to fix the Yankees lineup, but Mike Moustakas would be a very good runner-up prize.
The 30-year-old third baseman is another lefty hitter with pop who doesn’t strike out. Moustakas isn’t the pure hitter that Murphy is, but the slugger would likely top 30 homers playing in the Bronx.
He’s also an excellent defender, which could allow the Yankees to move breakout rookie Miguel Andujar to a less-demanding position, like left field or first base.
MONEY IS NO OPTION
Whatever the Yankees do this winter, payroll can’t be used as an excuse for inactivity.
New York made it publicly known its goal in 2017 and 2018 was to get under the luxury tax threshold and reset its penalty number — a goal that was achieved. Now the Yankees are clear to spend over $206 million in 2019 and be treated as a first-time offender.
The front office has been preparing its finances for a pre-2019 season spending spree for quite some time. Fans are now expecting big and expensive gifts under their Christmas trees.
Picking the right gifts will fix the Yankees’ flaws and go a long way toward ending their 10-year World Series drought.
Read more columns by Chris Melore