It is fully the offseason, now. Rule 5 protections are due Wednesday (today, by the time you’re reading this), free agency is technically in full swing (the Braves scooped the two best relievers already), and teams are able to make moves.
The Yankees have some tough decisions to make. They have a bunch of prospects that are not currently on the 40-man roster that will need to be protected from the Rule 5 draft, meaning that some 40-man spots will need to be cleared in order for the team to preserve some prospects (Nestor Cortes, Greg Bird etc. may be on the chopping block) and they will risk losing some prospects. Most Rule 5 draftees get returned, but it is still a risk.
Having more of an immediate impact on the MLB roster, however, is the list of free agents from the 2019 roster. Most notably, Didi Gregorius, Dellin Betances, Austin Romine, and Brett Gardner, among others, are free agents right now. I’d love to have them all back, but the more I think about it, the more I don’t think that they will.
To begin, I think Gardner will be back. Feels like a foregone conclusion especially having already lost CC Sabathia to retirement and Aaron Hicks until around the All-Star Break to Tommy John surgery. They need his veteran leadership and they need him to play the outfield. Even without the juiced balls next season, his bat is (probably) still viable and his defense doesn’t seem to have downgraded with age. We could see it next year, but Gardner is a guy with whom I’d be willing to deal with some decline.
Dellin Betances is the next likeliest to return. Even though he is expected to be fully recovered from his torn Achilles in December, it may make sense to take a one-year deal to return and re-establish his value after a lost 2019. Plus he can finish out the rehab with the organization that he knows and trusts. Get creative with it and give an option for year two or something so both sides feel some security. That would be ideal. With that said, the more I think about it, the more I think Betances could get a normal offer from somebody. Not as much as he would have gotten a year ago, but he could still get a low-AAV multi-year deal from someone. I think it’s probably 50/50 that Betances returns, and that makes me sad. I want him to be a Yankee forever because I (a) like him a lot, personally, and (b) think he is really good at baseball! I’m mentally preparing myself for what might be, though.
On to the guys that I am more certain will not return. I do not think Didi Gregorius will be back. I think the Yankees would be down for a one-year deal worth something in the low teens and I think that, in a vacuum, Didi wants to return. However, I cannot help but think that even after a down year, someone will offer a three-year commitment (maybe even more). Somebody will be willing to give solid money to Gregorius. Quality shortstops rarely become free agents and even after a down year and with the 30-year-old mark approaching, Gregorius has value. Like Betances, it is not as much value as he had a year ago after the injury, but he has value.
The Reds have seemed to be the most connected to him early in the offseason, but other teams are for sure interested. If the Indians trade Lindor and want to sign Didi for relatively cheap to stay competitive, they can do that. The Dodgers seem interested in Lindor or Rendon so they’re clearly open to adding another quality infielder too if those don’t work out. Is that Didi? I don’t know. The Phillies have all of Didi’s old coaches and need another infielder. There’s a fit there and they play in a park that suits Didi’s swing. No ballpark fits Didi’s swing more than Yankee Stadium, but Citizens Bank Park is close. If I were to put odds on it, I would probably say there’s a 15-20 percent chance Didi is back, and I only go that high because he’s more valuable to the Yankees than any other team. I want Didi back, but it seems like he’s on the way out.
Lastly, Austin Romine is gone, I think. Kyle Higashioka is out of minor league options. He can’t be stashed in Triple-A anymore. He’s also 29 years old! He also has some fans in the organization. There is pop in his bat. Not enough to be a starter, but for a backup it is good. From what I can tell from people who know better than I do, both his offense and defense are on par with Romine and he comes at a demonstrably cheaper price. Besides, if some team is willing to give Romine a starting role or a lot of money, I want him to go get those opportunities, as a fan of his. Higgy is ready to be the full-time backup (largely because that’s the only choice). I’d expect the Yankees to sign a Triple-A depth option that they can keep there and use as the backup when the inevitable injury happens. I haven’t scoured the market enough to know who I’d expect them to get, but they’ll get someone in the Erik Kratz mold (if not Kratz himself).
I’m not quite sure what the point of all of this was. I guess it’s just to say that this is what I think will happen with the four key free agents. Don’t think any of these go against the most common speculation, but feel free to Tweet at me any stupid stuff I said here or didn’t think of.