The Yankees have an easy path back to World Series contention

mlb: san diego padres at chicago white sox, yankees, juan soto
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees saw their 2023 season fall by the wayside due to a number of injuries and inconsistencies. Overpriced players failed to carry their weight, notably Giancarlo Stanton, DJ LeMahieu, and Josh Donaldson.

Several others struggled to get going or turned in disappointing results, but the Yankees have a clear path back to World Series contention; it will just require the front office to be aggressive this off-season and acquire young and durable talent.

General manager Brian Cashman has invested heavily in aging players over the past few years, specifically ones that have long histories of injury. There are a few exciting opportunities for the Yankees this off-season, with star Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto leading the way as a potential free-agent acquisition.

There is expected to be significant competition for Yamamoto on the open market, with the New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, and San Francisco Giants all reportedly having interest.

At 25 years old, Yamamoto has pitched three consecutive seasons with a minimum of 170 innings, fitting the fill perfectly for what the Yankees need in their rotation. With Gerrit Cole getting older, Yamamoto could eventually emerge as the team’s ace, but the Yankees will certainly have to pay for it. However, with a team that has a $280 million payroll, simply spending money to improve the roster should be an easy decision, especially if it means keeping their prospects.

The Yankees Have Plenty of Money to Spend

Currently, the Yankees have a projected total payroll of $249.8 million, but that is expected to lower considerably, with the Yankees likely moving on from several players in arbitration. In addition, Tommy Kahnle and Anthony Rizzo will be off the team in 2025, saving them over $23 million in salary space.

A starting rotation that has Cole, Carlos Rodon, and Yamamoto would certainly go a long way toward solving some of the team’s bigger issues. Yamamoto pitched 164 innings in the JPPL this past season, hosting a 1.21 ERA, including 117 hits allowed, 22 earned runs, two homers, and 169 strikeouts. There is no question he has the talent to be a top arm in the future, but the Mets have a strong bid for his services, considering they have Kodai Senga on the roster, who shares the same agent with Yamamoto.

The Yankees’ strategy shouldn’t only be about starting pitchers, though. The club desperately needs more bats in the lineup. Ideally, they add a player who can help supplement the potential loss of Aaron Judge at any given moment, and the easy target is Juan Soto.

Soto, who is 25 years old and one of the best hitters in the game, would fit like a glove in Yankee Stadium. As a lefty, he could capitalize on the short right porch, hitting 35+ homers per season without fail. This past campaign, Soto played all 162 games for the Padres, hitting .275 with a .410 OBP, including 35 homers, 109 RBIs, an 18.6% walk rate, and an 18.2% strikeout rate. He’s never had a season with an on-base rate below 40% and has a career 154 wRC+, 54% better than the average player.

The Yankees Would Need to Give Prospects For Juan Soto

Acquiring Soto would be a bit more difficult since the Yankees need to give prospects in return. However, he’s preparing to hit free agency in 2025, and the Padres reportedly hold the Yankees farm system in high regard. Cashman could float a few pitching prospects and even a major league talent to help convince the Padres, a team that likely won’t be able to pay Soto long-term anyway. Flipping him now for future assets would be a beneficial move long-term for San Diego, but there may be competition to acquire Soto, and the Yankees would have to ink him to a mega contract to make it worthwhile.

However, a lineup that consists of Judge, Soto, and many other quality bats would certainly give the team plenty of firepower to get back in the World Series conversation. In addition, they will begin to lean on several young players to keep costs down at other starting positions, notably shortstop, catcher, and centerfield, when Jasson Dominguez returns.

They can afford to spend big at other spots, given the low cost of their prospects, so being aggressive this off-season shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, if owner Hal Steinbrenner wants to commit to the promise he made Judge when he signed him to a nine-year, $360 million deal, he shouldn’t hold back from improving the roster considerably coming off one of the team’s worst seasons in over a decade.

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