Projecting the Yankees’ ideal off-season: Trades, signings, acquisitions

Ryan Garcia
aaron judge, yankees

The Yankees won 99 games and the American League East in 2022, but they ended up getting swept by the World Series Champion Astros in the ALCS. All of the memorable plays, triumphant victories, and unexpected heroes felt wiped away by just four games.

With the Yankees looking to improve their roster in a myriad of ways, we have to identify and then address those needs in the offseason. It’s a lot easier to just point and blame, but with the amount of public data available, we can reach conclusions based on objective results and not anecdotal evidence. With the young players on the verge of breaking into full-time roles as MLB regulars, the future is still bright for 2023. The 6’7 question still looms over this franchise, but this offseason should be (and has to be) a busy one in the Bronx because they have a real shot at the 2023 World Series.

Identifying What the Yankees Need:

Despite the ugly finish, the Yankees were a well-constructed roster at the passing of the trade deadline. They had a formidable top of the rotation with Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, Luis Severino, and Frankie Montas. Their lineup had gained necessary reinforcements in the steady Andrew Benintendi and a surprise addition in Harrison Bader, and their bullpen received a facelift with the additions of Scott Effross and Lou Trivino.

This team was loaded on paper, but they’d begin to lose key contributors to slumps or injury. While we can use hindsight to say there were different moves the Yankees could have made, we can’t say the deadline was bad process. Looking to 2023, let’s see how the Yankees project by position group in fWAR and evaluate their needs:

  • Catchers: 7th
  • First Base: 10th
  • Second Base: 5th
  • Third Base: 22nd
  • Shortstop: 9th
  • Left Field: 15th
  • Center Field: 12th
  • Right Field: 18th
  • Designated Hitter: 7th
  • Starting Pitching: 3rd
  • Relief Pitching: 13th

Projections aren’t perfect, but we can say the Yankees need to grab two outfielders, an infielder, and some pitching depth to shore up a bullpen that could use another reliable arm. To put it quite simply, the 2023 Yankees are a solid team, but as currently constructed, they’re a Wild Card team. Thankfully for the Yankees, a lot of their needs can be addressed in the offseason, and they have the resources to make virtually any moves they’d like to make.

Re-Sign Aaron Judge to a 9-year $330 Million Deal:

Aaron Judge is the best player the Yankees have had since prime Alex Rodriguez. He’s one of the best players in the game today, and he just wrapped up the single greatest offensive season since prime Barry Bonds. He broke the American League HR record (62) and will most likely win the AL MVP. The Yankees are a team that cannot survive in the outfield without a star player, and Aaron Judge is the best player on the market. He’s our homegrown superstar, and he should be compensated accordingly.

Let’s look at how Aaron Judge ranks among all MLB players in the last two seasons:

  • 16.9 fWAR (2nd)
  • 179 wRC+ (1st)
  • 101 HRs (1st)
  • 12.36 WPA (1st)
  • 1.016 OPS (1st)
  • .616 SLG (1st)
  • 22.0% Barrel% (1st)

Now many will rebut with the claim that it’s the years that concern them with Aaron Judge. However, I believe that some simple math can soothe those worries. All contracts are inherently a risk, but evaluating the 1 WAR = $8 million trend MLB teams have set in the market, we can find that with $330 million, Aaron Judge would have to accumulate ~41.5 WAR over nine seasons. Judge probably will provide the most value within the first five seasons of his contract, and those are the years that are crucial for this to work. Aaron Judge averaging 5.5 WAR in those first 5 seasons would mean he would be 14 WAR shy of the 41.5 benchmark, and over four seasons that’s a 3.5 WAR per season. Aaron Judge is projected to rocket past his 5.5 WAR pace at a 6.7 WAR for 2023 (per Steamer), and while he’ll probably become a DH during this contract, his raw power is arguably the best ever recorded. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at how Judge ranks among all Statcast Era players:

  • 1st in Exit Velocity (95.3 MPH)
  • 1st in Barrel Rate (20.5%)
  • 1st in Hard Hit% (56.7%)
  • 1st in HR/FB% (32.3%)
aaron judge, yankees
Oct 4, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (99) rounds the bases after hitting home run number sixty-two to break the American League home run record in the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Judge is the face of the New York Yankees, and it would be a terrible idea to try to “re-create his value” with other players on the market. He’s so unbelievably great, and he means just as much to the city and organization off the field as he does on it.

Re-Sign Anthony Rizzo to a 2 Year $36 Million Deal:

Anthony Rizzo could also take the Qualifying Offer (which I would be more than happy with), but instead of assuming that outcome, I’ll say he’s going to try to get a second year on his deal. Anthony Rizzo is a steady option for the Yankees at 1B, and it allows DJ LeMahieu to slot in as the starting 3B for Opening Day. While 3B is projected to be worse than 1B, that’s due to the fact that the Yankees are projected to allocate more playing time to Josh Donaldson at 3B and DJLM at 1B, so you can see how this would rearrange with Rizzo in the equation.

Anthony Rizzo is a candidate to improve without the shift in 2023, and while I don’t believe he’ll hit over 30 HRs in under 550 PAs again, I do believe it’s possible we see a higher BA and, thus a higher OBP from Rizzo in 2023 to balance out a lower SLG. A key stat to look at here in evaluating power output is Isolated Power, a stat that is calculated simply with (SLG – BA), and Anthony Rizzo was 6th amongst qualified hitters in 2022 at .256. Furthermore, Rizzo was one of just three batters to record an ISO above .250 and strike out less than 20% of the time. The other two hitters? Yordan Alvarez and Mookie Betts.

anthony rizzo, yankees
Oct 18, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo (48) during game five of the NLDS for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

As a left-handed veteran bat, Rizzo is just a perfect fit for this lineup as their 3 hitter in 2023. The defense is a concern because it has regressed since coming to the Bronx, but it got progressively better in his OAA in 2022, and perhaps there’s more to his defense than the defensive metrics. He’s a leader for the clubhouse, and the Yankees really don’t have many alternatives for him at this price point, nor do they have a young player ready to take over at the position on Opening Day.

Sign Justin Verlander to a 2 Year $73 Million Deal

Justin Verlander is one of the best pitchers of our generation, and for the third time, the Yankees have an opportunity to bring him to the Bronx. It’ll be difficult to get him out of Houston’s reach, but perhaps giving him nearly $37 million a season would be enough to entice the soon-to-be 40-year-old. Many are skeptical of bringing in an older pitcher to the fold, but his 2022 was as encouraging as it gets for his success in the next few years. When you look at the trends during the season, Verlander got better as he pitched, a positive sign for someone who came back from TJS and also is going to be under a microscope for any signs of regression.

  • First Half
    • 1.89 ERA
    • 25.6% K%
    • 0.91 HR/9
    • 3.33 xFIP
  • Second Half
    • 1.51 ERA
    • 31.6% K%
    • 0.14 HR/9
    • 3.07 xFIP

Justin Verlander throws a lot of strikes, generates a ton of strikeouts, and has elite command that allows him to prevent runs at an elite level. Steamer projects Verlander as the 8th best pitcher in WAR for 2023, and this is a pitcher who’d join a rotation with Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, Luis Severino, and Frankie Montas. The Yankees would have arguably the best rotation in franchise history and would be a candidate to set the record for fWAR from a starting rotation, something that would allow this team to steamroll opponents in the postseason.

justin verlander, yankees, mets
Oct 19, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) reacts after striking out Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (not pictured) to end the sixth inning in game one of the ALCS for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest component to this is taking Verlander from the Astros. You’re weaking the top team in the AL, and you’re getting better because of it. If you want a move that helps close the gap, Justin Verlander to the Yankees would be that move.

Sign Masataka Yoshida to a 3-year $50 Million Deal

Masataka Yoshida is one of the best players in the Nippon Baseball League over in Japan, and I absolutely adore his batted ball profile. I did a much deeper dive on Yoshida in a different article you can read here, but he has elite contact skills that the Yankees could definitely use. FanGraphs has him as a 70-grade hit tool guy with 80 bat control and with a Swinging Strike% under 6%, Yoshida just knows how to hit. He hit .335 with a 201 wRC+ and over 20 HRs in 2022, combining elite contact and solid power tools together to be one of the two best hitters in Japan. It’s hard to argue against bringing in a high-contact left-handed hitter with solid power, especially considering LF is a position of need for the Yankees.

He’s a recent NPB Champion as well, and he hit a crucial walkoff HR in that series to help the Orix Buffaloes overcome an 0-2 deficit in the series. If the Yankees want to ensure they’ll have enough contact to boot with their power in the middle of the lineup, Yoshida is one of the top contact options on the market. There are few hitters in the world who can combine that contact with solid power, and it’s imperative the Yankees pounce on a chance to bring in someone who can from the left-handed side.

masataka yoshida, yankees
Aug 4, 2021; Yokohama, Japan; Team Japan outfielder Masataka Yoshida (34) steals second base ahead of the throw to Team South Korea infielder Jaegyun Hwang (10) in a baseball semifinal match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Yokohama Baseball Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees have a total bill of $107.8 million so far for the payroll, which would put the Yankees payroll over $300 million. This means we have to make payroll cuts because that’s just not a realistic number.

Trading Gleyber Torres to the Seattle Mariners

The Seattle Mariners currently have Dylan Moore and Abraham Toro as their 2B for 2023, and that’s just not going to cut it. They could go out and try to sign a big-time shortstop and move JP Crawford to 2B, but if they wanted to invest in other positions, they could trade for Gleyber Torres. At just $9 million, Torres provides a low-cost option for the Mariners, who happens to also be very young. They could extend him if they want, but they’re getting a massive upgrade at the 2B position. In return, the Yankees should look to bolster their bullpen and grab a good prospect as well. Here’s a trade package that could work for both sides:

  • SEA Receives
    • Gleyber Torres
  • NYY Receives
    • Matthew Festa
    • Adam Macko (#8 Prospect)

Matthew Festa is a 29-year-old reliever who’s been a career MiLB arm until 2022, where his ERA (4.17) was lackluster, but the peripherals were elite. His xFIP was a 3.47, and his SIERA was a 2.97, and this is due to his strong 21.0% K-BB%.

Festa has a wicked sweeping slider that generates a ton of swings and misses, and his release point generates a flat Vertical Approach Angle (VAA) for his fastball, giving it some added deception at the top of the strike zone despite a pedestrian 92.6 MPH average velocity.

He would slot in the Yankee bullpen towards the backend, and it bolsters a unit that could use a bit of a facelift. Festa posted a Stuff+ of 113.5, which is as elite as it gets. He had a massive HR problem (1.67 HR/9), but I don’t think a 16.9% HR/FB rate on such high volume is going to occur again. Steamer has him at a 3.74 ERA, which would be a nice bounceback for the talented RHP. The prize of this deal is LHP Adam Macko, who’s had his pro career riddled with injury but still flashes tons of talent.

Adam Macko has a career 35% K% in the Minor Leagues, but with a 12.5% BB% there are concerns about his command. He’s still got great stuff, and there’s a lot of hope for Macko to be an impact arm at the MLB level at some point in his career. I think he profiles more as a reliever with his command issues, but perhaps in that role, the velocity sits in the mid-90s with his good secondaries. The Yankees improve their farm and their bullpen, all while offloading about $9 million.

Cutting Costs Around the Roster

Let’s start evaluating the team we currently have assembled:

  • Lineup
    • M. Yoshida LF
    • A. Judge RF
    • A. Rizzo 1B
    • G. Stanton DH
    • J. Donaldson 3B
    • D. LeMahieu 2B
    • H. Bader CF
    • O. Peraza SS
    • J. Trevino C
  • Bench
    • K. Higashioka C
    • I. Kiner-Falefa UTL
    • A. Hicks OF
    • O. Cabrera UTL
  • Rotation
    • G. Cole
    • J. Verlander
    • N. Cortes
    • L. Severino
    • F. Montas
  • Bullpen
    • M. Festa
    • C. Schmidt
    • R. Marinaccio
    • L. Trivino
    • W. Peralta
    • C. Holmes
    • M. King
    • J. Loaisiga

Here are the players without MiLB options who were left off the MLB roster:

  • Deivi Garcia
  • Lucas Luetge
  • Estevan Florial
  • Albert Abreu
  • Domingo German

The Yankees have to move off the more expensive players on the roster who are expendable, thankfully, many of these players could have trade suitors.

Trade Josh Donaldson and Deivi Garcia to Washington: The Nationals projected 3B is Carter Kieboom, who not only has a career -2.1 fWAR in just 106 games but is also coming off TJS. Their options at the position are limited, and Josh Donaldson, alongside $12 million and Deivi Garcia, allows the Nationals to have a veteran 3B with upside at just $13 million for 2023. It also gives them a chance to trade him and get a prospect at the deadline, and Deivi Garcia is an arm who’s flashed some serious upside with his velocity gains. Worst case scenario is Donaldson is still mediocre, and Deivi Garcia doesn’t pan out, it’s just a one year commitment anyways.

josh donaldson, yankees
Aug 17, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees designated hitter Josh Donaldson (28) react after being hit in the arm by a pitch during the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Trade Aaron Hicks and Albert Abreu to Chicago (AL): The White Sox currently have Oscar Colas slotted to play RF in 2023, and while his power is truly elite, he struck out nearly 40% of the time in AAA. They could try to give him some more time in AAA before calling him up, but even if they do, Eloy Jimenez, as the full-time LF with his injury issues, can spell disaster for this ballclub defensively. Aaron Hicks provides switch-hitting and a projected wRC+ over 100. With his strong defense in the corner outfield, the White Sox could look at him as a cost-controlled outfielder who stabilizes the outfield as their youngsters in Colas, Jimenez, and Robert try to stay healthy. Pay about a third of that contract, and you’ll shed $6.7 million of payroll and throw in Albert Abreu, and the White Sox get to improve their bullpen and outfield for under $7 million.

aaron hicks, yankees
Jul 21, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; New York Yankees left fielder Aaron Hicks (31) reacts after crossing home plate to score a run against the Houston Astros during the ninth inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Trade Kyle Higashioka and Lucas Luetge to San Francisco: Depth Charts has the Giants as the 2nd worst catching team in baseball for 2023, and if they fail to net Sean Murphy or Willson Contreras, Kyle Higashioka isn’t a bad consolation prize. His elite defense and occasional HR power helped him post a 1.7 fWAR in just 83 games behind the dish, and the Yankees probably could use another infielder to round out their bench with the amount of veteran infielders they’ll be trading ahead of the 2023 season. Jason Vosler is a solid UTL player who has a career 100 wRC+ as a left-handed bat with versatility. He’s almost 29, and the Giants are looking to add a big-time shortstop, so he could become expendable.

lucas luetge, yankees
Jul 22, 2022; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Lucas Luetge (63) throws fifth inning pitch against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Trade Domingo German to Texas: The Texas Rangers are one of the worst pitching teams in the sport, and they could use a backend rotation arm to stabilize a rotation looking to add a top-flight arm in the offseason. If they add an ace-caliber pitcher and retain Martin Perez, they’ll have a strong top of the rotation, but outside of Jon Gray, it’s really not looking good. Dane Dunning is a solid arm, but who’s their 5? Wel,l that’s where Domingo German can provide the Rangers with a low-cost league average starter who’s shown flashes of being maybe a sub-4 ERA guy. The Yankees would have the flexibility to get rid of German and save some money, especially since, with Justin Verlander, they’d made Clarke Schmidt the 6th starter. They also recently added Jhony Brito to the 40-Man Roster, and he pitched to the tune of a 3.31 ERA in AAA this season. In return, getting an arm, they can option up and down like Yerry Rodriguez, who has a blistering fastball could net great results.

domingo german, yankees
Aug 22, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Domingo German (55) pitches in the first inning against the New York Mets at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Non-tender IKF: How much of a market is there for a player who’s not going to post a wRC+ over 90? He’s a good defender, sure, but we just saw Joey Wendle get an option of $6.6 million declined, why would any team willingly pay IKF ~$6 million in 2023? It’s easy to non-tender him, you save money, and you don’t have to negotiate any trades.

isiah kiner-falefa, yankees
Oct 23, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa (12) hits a double in the second inning against the Houston Astros during game four of the ALCS for the 2022 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Including the Gleyber Torres deal from before, this frees up $41.1 million for 2023, bringing our previous Free Agency bill down from $107.8 million to $66.8 million. With the post-arbitration bill being roughly $196 million, this brings the payroll to $262.8 million, which slots the Yankees under the 3rd tier for the Luxury Tax ($273 million). With the financials situated, let’s put the final touches on this team for 2023 and see the final product.

Finalized Roster and Final Thoughts

Estevan Florial slots in for Aaron Hicks, Oswaldo Cabrera slots in for Josh Donaldson, Jason Vosler grabs a bench spot, and Ben Rortvedt slots in for Kyle Higashioka, but that leaves one more spot open. The Yankees could probably give an small deal to a solid infielder like Josh Harrison (who had a $5.5 million option declined) and posted a 98 wRC+, and played strong 2B/3B while not really costing much. It’ll probably add $3 million to the payroll, and it keeps them under that 3rd tier.

  • Lineup
    • M. Yoshida LF (N/A)
    • A. Judge RF (158)
    • A. Rizzo 1B (120)
    • G. Stanton DH (132)
    • D. LeMahieu 3B (119)
    • O. Cabrera 2B (106)
    • H. Bader CF (104)
    • O. Peraza SS (104)
    • J. Trevino C (90)
  • Bench
    • B. Rortvedt C (80)
    • J. Harrison UTL (95)
    • J. Vosler UTL (94)
    • E. Florial OF (94)
  • Rotation
    • G. Cole (3.17)
    • J. Verlander (3.50)
    • N. Cortes (3.90)
    • L. Severino (3.55)
    • F. Montas (3.76)
  • Bullpen
    • M. Festa (3.74)
    • C. Schmidt (3.94)
    • R. Marinaccio (3.82)
    • L. Trivino (3.84)
    • W. Peralta (3.60)
    • C. Holmes (3.13)
    • M. King (3.24)
    • J. Loaisiga (3.47)

What stands out here is that not a single pitcher in this pitching staff is projected for an ERA higher than 3.94. The talent, experience and sheer depth in a pitching staff like this one would be unparalleled across the league, and that’s not discussing the 40-Man arms they have at their disposal. Whether it’s Stephen Ridings, Greg Weissert, Jimmy Cordero, or Matt Krook, this team has plenty of depth. Brito and Schmidt would be the 6th and 7th starter options. Yerry Rodriguez, in the Texas hypothetical would also be an excellent depth piece to shuttle up and down in case of injury. It speaks volumes about the organization that they can lose key arms to free agency, injury, or trade and replace/improve.

stephen ridings, yankees
Aug 15, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Stephen Ridings (70) throws a pitch against the Chicago White Sox during the eighth inning at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

As for the lineup, Jose Trevino is the only below-average starter on the team. The bench lacks a real offensive threat, with a lot of the options being league-average bats. Anthony Volpe coming up would move an infielder to the bench, allowing the Yankees to have an even deeper position player pool. This offense would finish in the top 5 in Runs Scored, but they’d also be a great defensive unit. Yoshida is the only player I question defensively, everyone else there is going to contend for a Gold Glove one way or another. The team is also faster, with Bader and Peraza being 20+ SB threats and Cabrera having good base-stealing abilities as well. It’s got plenty of strong hit tool guys and plenty of HR power, and that’s a formula for postseason success.

oswaldo cabrera, yankees
Sep 24, 2022; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees left fielder Oswaldo Cabrera (95) hits a two-run home run in the fourth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Luxury Tax payroll is lower than it was to end the 2022 season, the team is better than it was in 2022, and they’re built to last as well. I recognize the inherent risks and flaws with your LF having no MLB experience, your pitching acquisition being 40, and a massive roster turnover, but these are the calculated risks you take because if they pan out, you might just have a World Series in the Bronx.