The Yankees last season finished just two games over .500 (82-80) which resulted in their worst record since 1992. While it isn’t all doom-and-gloom for the franchise, it’s clear that they need to have a big offseason to re-structure their offense. Pitching is an issue that’s overlooked as well, as their lack of reliability in the rotation left wins on the table, and it ties back to the common theme of injuries that seem to plague this team.
With my annual offseason plan, I seek to improve the offense and pitching staff while maintaining a vision of getting younger and more athletic. They’re not too far off from where they need to be, but this offseason plan could draw them closer to their goal of a World Series title.
Making the Much-Needed Trade For Juan Soto
The first move I have the Yankees making is landing superstar outfielder Juan Soto. Rumors are flying around about how the Yankees are interested in Juan Soto and everyone in the media is aware of the fact that the team needs to go out and get him. Hal Steinbrenner mentioned that he wanted the team to get younger, so why not go out and acquire a 150 wRC+ hitter who just turned 25?
Only eight hitters have more home runs (160) than Juan Soto does through their age-24 season, and that’s with the COVID-shortened 2020 season. It’s clear that the Yankees need left-handed power, as the team finished in the bottom five in dingers from left-handed hitters (55) and had a worse wRC+ from their left-handed hitters than the Oakland Athletics. Yes, the team that is purposely trying to lose games found more production from their lefties than a team that plays 81 games at a ballpark where right field is 314 feet.
If you’re concerned about the defense in left field or the base running, remember that Juan Soto accumulated 5.5 fWAR this past season and has nearly 30 WAR before taking a single at-bat as a 25-year-old. There isn’t a single reason why the Yankees shouldn’t trade for Juan Soto, especially when the Padres are in dire need of pitching. Barring the shocking return of Blake Snell or Josh Hader, they’re going to lose some serious firepower in their rotation, as five of their seven pitchers who accumulated 1.0 fWAR or more have hit the open market.
That’s over 600 innings of work that San Diego could lose, and with their financial struggles, the Yankees could leverage their surplus of pitching talent. It’s not as if San Diego is terrible either, they’re projected to be right in the mix for the third Wild Card spot in a vulnerable National League. Stars like Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Joe Musgrove can still guide the team to a winning record, and their ability to draft and scout amateur talent is still there as well.
The Yankees are going to need to center a deal around affordable and effective pitching that the Padres can leverage in a Major League role for 2024, and I think they’re more than capable. First, we’ll look at the trio of Clarke Schmidt, Michael King, and Nestor Cortes, who are all low-cost starters who can help the Friars. Schmidt has the most control and costs the least to acquire, King possesses the most upside, and Cortes has the best track record as a starter in this league with his 2022 season.
Add on the young duo of Jhony Brito and Randy Vasquez, and the MLB pitching staff possesses plenty of enticing talent for San Diego. Chase Hampton, the Yankees #1 prospect looks like almost a lock to be included in a deal of this magnitude, and he’d likely be the headliner. For one year of Juan Soto, it likely won’t cost a generational haul to land him, so this is a deal that I believe could get it done.
- Nestor Cortes
- Chase Hampton
- Everson Pereira
- Randy Vasquez
Everson Pereira and Chase Hampton are two top-100 prospects whom the Yankees could headline the deal with, adding a middle-of-the-rotation arm in Nestor Cortes for the Padres as well. Randy Vasquez adds more MLB depth to their bullpen, and as a whole, the Padres get two pitchers, a starting left fielder, and a starter for 2025 and beyond while clearing $30 million to go spend elsewhere.
The Yankees acquire Juan Soto and cement that they’ll have the best offensive duo in the sport with Aaron Judge and Juan Soto.
Yankees Find Their Centerfielder in Korean Superstar
The Yankees want to get younger, so here’s another 25-year-old left-handed outfielder to solve the Yankees’ troubles in centerfield. Yes, this is a multi-year commitment, and that does put Jasson Dominguez’s playing time into question, but he’s returning from Tommy John Surgery. Now, Jung-Hoo Lee is easily the most volatile player on this list, and that’s because he’s coming from the KBO.
Baseball America equates the competition in the KBO to Double-A, but Lee was the best player in the circuit over the past three seasons. With a 162 wRC+ over his past three seasons, he has a ridiculous hit tool with incredible bat control that allows him to run really high averages and really low strikeout rates. His best season was 2022, where he launched 23 home runs and had a career-high .575 SLG%, and while his numbers slid in 2023, it can be attributed to an ankle injury that came right as he began heating up.
Lee is going to need to do some adjusting when he comes state-side, and while the Yankees have never tapped into the Korean market, this could be their first crack at it. The Yankees desperately need somebody to fill in at centerfield, and the skillset aligns with what the Yankees are looking for. His passiveness at the plate and strong contact skills could help him run high walk rates, but as he makes adjustments at the plate he’ll have eight hitters ahead of him in the order.
After running a 5.9% strikeout rate with a 3.2% swinging strike rate this past season, Lee is set to be the best hitter to enter the posting system from Korea. Sure, the Yankees shouldn’t really be taking risks, but I think this would be a safe one to take. The question isn’t whether Lee can put bat on ball or work walks, and if he’s doing both of those things he’ll translate his skills nicely. Steamer projects a 108 wRC+ for Lee, and the team could get a steal here.
The question that the Yankees should ask is about the defense in centerfield, and he has won some Gold Gloves out there, but how do you quantify KBO defense? If you’re going to acquire Juan Soto, who isn’t a great defender in left field, how exactly are you sure that Lee is going to hold his own out there?
If he’s able to be a plus defender out there, not a great one, just good, the team is going to love his presence in the lineup and on the field. He also has some strong speed that could be utilized to provide base running value, and overall he shouldn’t cost enough to dismay the Yankees from taking the risk. Personally, I think that a five-year $60 million deal would work, with the fourth season being a player option and the fifth a mutual one.
I think he’ll give you a 95 wRC+ in year one with a solid glove in centerfield with the upside to go out and be even more. The ideal scenario is obviously playing to his 108 OPS+ projection, but I think it’s a pretty liberal projection. If he can hold his own in centerfield, the Yankees should be all over this. Jung-Hoo Lee, welcome to the New York Yankees.
Solidifying the Yankees’ Offense With Switch-Hitting Infielder
The New York Yankees could stick with Oswald Peraza at 3B, but Jeimer Candelario provides a switch-hitter who can hold his own at the hot corner as well. Following a disappointing 2022 season, he put up a 117 wRC+ with a 3.3 fWAR, hitting a career-high 22 home runs while hitting 39 doubles as well, ranking in the top 10 in all of baseball. One of the Yankees’ biggest issues last season was their lack of left-handed hitting as stated above, and so we’re adding a third left-handed option to the lineup.
Canderlario would fit the Yankees like a glove, and he would be the perfect addition to the middle of the Yankees’ lineup, especially given how his swing would play at Yankee Stadium. He would have 102 HRs instead of 88 had he played at Yankee Stadium, and I think that he could be a 20+ HR bat in the Bronx while maintaining his ability to hit for a solid average and work some walks.
His contact skills are solid, and while his overall approach at the plate is pretty average, it’s the lack of a true poor skill that makes his profile enticing. The Yankees could probably get a hitter who can get them around a 110 wRC+ and help deepen their lineup, something they lacked this past season. It’s a move that gives them an unrelenting lineup, and with the trio of offensive pieces added to their offense, this is what they could run out to open 2024:
- Gleyber Torres 2B
- Juan Soto LF
- Aaron Judge RF
- Anthony Rizzo 1B
- Jeimer Candelario 3B
- Giancarlo Stanton DH
- Austin Wells C
- Anthony Volpe SS
- Jung-Hoo Lee CF
With four starters no older than 25 in that lineup, they’re a younger and more dynamic team that can compete for multiple titles if the team can remain competitive going forward. With four left-handed hitters and a switch-hitter, it would easily be the most left-handed the Yankees have been in a while, and the team could remedy their issues against right-handed pitchers from 2023.
The Yankees are in need of a complementary bat such as Jeimer Candelario’s somebody that fits that profile perfectly. FanGraphs has him signing a three-year $36 million deal, and I believe that’s a bit light, so let’s call it three years at $45 million for his final contract. What’s left to ask is, what are the Yankees going to do with Oswald Peraza?
Adding a Final Piece to the Yankees’ Rotation
The Yankees acquiring Shota Imanaga would do a couple of things for them, but most notably it would add some much-needed swings and misses to their rotation. When trading Nestor Cortes in the Juan Soto package, the Yankees lost a high-whiff left-handed starter, so I aimed to add another to the Yankees’ rotation. Imanaga led the NPB in strikeout rate (29.2%) and has an incredible ability to throw strikes reliably as well.
Posting a 2.80 ERA and 2.38 xFIP this past season, Imanaga proved to be one of the best starting pitchers in the NPB< and his showing in the World Baseball Classic was also impressive. He led the tournament in Stuff+ and displayed an incredible pitch mix that should play better in the United States where whiffs are more prominent. He uses his four-seam fastball 51.2% of the time, and it averages 91.8 MPH with great vertical movement that allows it to work well up in the zone.
His slider (15.6%) has strong sweeping movement and it was his second-most used pitch, with plenty of horizontal movement that makes it a strong swing-and-miss pitch as well against left-handed batters. Right behind it in usage is the changeup (14.9%) which relies on strong dropping action to create a vertical separation tunnel off of his four-seamer, which can cause plenty of issues for right-handed hitters.
You’ll also see a slow curveball (7.8%) that averaged 71.9 MPH this past season and can generate plenty of called strikes to throw hitters off. His cutter, which he used 9.9% less this past season, clocks in at 86.7 MPH, and while I’m unsure if the Yankees would tweak his usage of the pitch, that is worth noting. The pitch mix here is extremely deep, and it’s something that could allow for the 30-year-old left-hander to really take off when he comes over to the United States.
Shota Imanaga showed off multiple four-seam fastballs with over 20 inches of Induced Vertical Break, and that’s a feat that most pitchers can’t even imagine reaching. If the Yankees add Imanaga to their rotation in this hypothetical, they could get a pitcher at middle-of-the-rotation value with top-of-the-rotation production, and he’d slot in as their fourth starter for the 2024 season. The international market this season is robust, and the Yankees should 100% take advantage.
ZiPS projects Imanaga for 138.2 IP with a 3.44 ERA and 3.1 WAR, and if they get that outcome with the projected numbers that Cole-Rodon-King-Schmidt has for 2024, the team should be in great shape. It’s certainly a risk to trade Nestor Cortes, who has proven himself at the Major League level, to then go ahead and rely on Imanaga to be a top starter, but given Cortes and King have expiring contracts after the 2025 season, a choice between the two had to be made eventually.
I think he’ll sign for what Kodai Senga did last season, so the Yankees will be giving him a five-year $75 million deal that comes with a third-year player option so he can re-enter the market if he wants to get more money after the 2026 season.
Rounding Out the Yankees’ Bullpen
The Miami Marlins need a shortstop and the New York Yankees need a left-handed reliever, so let’s make a trade. Sure, trading an infielder for a reliever seems like poor value, but the team would get something they desperately need and their bullpen could use some longer-term options. They have plenty of pitching in the system, but a lot of it is right-handed, and given that Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loaisiga, and Tommy Kahnle are entering their walk years, Andrew Nardi could stabilize their bullpen.
With five years of control remaining, the 25-year-old southpaw racked up 73 strikeouts in 57.1 innings this past season thanks to a fastball-slider combination that can be devastating. His 2.67 ERA and 3.18 SIERA are really encouraging, and I believe that some tweaks he made last season could take his game to another level in 2024. His four-seam fastball is absolutely dominant, and while being a two-pitch pitcher makes you vulnerable to predictability, if you’re stuff is great it doesn’t matter as much.
He showed a great ability to suppress damage contact (.320 xwOBACON) while striking out 30.8% of batters faced, and with a 112 Stuff+, and that’s thanks to his lower-slot release with strong backspin on the four-seam fastball. His stuff is top-notch, and considering the Yankees’ lack of left-handed relievers, he’s an excellent fit. Nardi held left-handed hitters to a .158 average while performing well when facing right-handed hitters as well, and a swap including Oswald Peraza and Kyle Higashioka could make a ton of sense.
Kyle Higashioka has been the 14th-most valuable catcher in baseball according to fWAR (3.4) since the start of the 2022 season and has always been a reliable defensive option for the Yankees. He’s somebody who’d greatly help the Miami Marlins, who were absolutely putrid at that position, alongside Oswald Peraza who would help the Marlins at shortstop. Nardi alone wouldn’t equal the value of both Peraza and Higashioka, so I’ll also have the Yankees getting Dane Myers to play all three outfield spots and hit vs LHP
Dane Myers is one of the fastest players in the game, ranking in the 89th Percentile in Sprint Speed and having solid power tools as well. His arm is great, averaging 90.6 MPH on his throws, and the ability to generate solid contact matters here as well. He’d be the Yankees’ fourth outfielder, and instead of getting Manuel Margot to handle that role who has dealt with injuries and has declining defense, take the cheaper and potentially higher-upside option in Myers.
As a whole, this deal saves the Yankees some cash and gives them a high-leverage option and a fourth outfielder.
Final Roster and Thoughts for the Yankees
Looking at where the Yankees stand right now, they’re projected for a .528 winning percentage, which would be their worst-projected record entering a season from FanGraphs since 2017. The Yankees, who in this scenario have added six total players, create massive roster turnover and I believe improve dramatically because of it. First and foremost, the team’s addition of Juan Soto would clearly be a massive upgrade over a left field unit that collected just 0.1 fWAR in 2023.
Jeimer Candelario and Jung-Hoo Lee should shore up their lineup as well, adding much-needed offense at two positions where they struggled offensively in 2023. On the pitching front, Andrew Nardi and Shota Imanaga should give a nice lift to a pitching staff that finished ninth in ERA (3.97) despite a ton of injuries. When looking at the final roster, it’s hard to argue that this wouldn’t be a contender in the American League.
For the starting lineup, here’s what we have (with their projected WAR via FanGraphs):
- Gleyber Torres (3.9)
- Juan Soto (6.4)
- Aaron Judge (6.2)
- Anthony Rizzo (1.4)
- Giancarlo Stanton (0.9)
- Jeimer Candelario (1.8)
- Austin Wells (1.2)
- Anthony Volpe (2.8)
- Jung-Hoo Lee (2.2)
If you have three players projected for an above 2 WAR with two of FanGraphs’ three-best projected players, you’re in a pretty good spot all around. The bench consists of Jose Trevino (1.9), DJ LeMahieu (2.2), Oswaldo Cabrera (0.6), and Dane Myers (0.0), which accumulates for 31.5 projected fWAR, which would have been the fourth-best mark in Major League Baseball. Running a top-five position player group in the league would certainly be a massive swing in terms of wins, as the Yankees registered just 14.7 fWAR last season from their position players.
As for the pitching staff, the team’s area of strength grows even stronger, but the rotation is where the team needed a lift and they certainly get it with Shota Imanaga:
- Gerrit Cole (3.6)
- Carlos Rodon (3.1)
- Shota Imanaga (3.1)
- Michael King (1.9)
- Clarke Schmidt (1.5)’
The rotation collecting 13.2 fWAR from that group of five starters would already slot the Yankees as the seventh-best rotation in the league, and that would be a strong outcome for this unit. It’s clear that their identity even through years of mediocre offenses has been the bullpen, and a unit with Luis Gil, Jhony Brito, Scott Effross, Tommy Kahnle, Jonathan Loaisiga, Andrew Nardi, Ian Hamilton, and Clay Holmes will certainly be one of the most formidable in baseball.
For the entire pitching staff in the projected Opening Day roster, they have a 3.79 projected ERA, which would be in the top five in all of baseball as well. With the return of Jasson Dominguez and the development of arms like Will Warren, Clayton Beeter, and Richard Fitts who can aid the team, I believe I’ve put together a pretty strong roster. Looking at the final totals, it’s looking like a team that absolutely could win a World Series.
- Projected wRC+: 117.9
- Projected ERA: 3.79
This is weighted for innings pitched and plate appearances (based on projections), but obviously doesn’t factor in scenarios in which the team has to use a player not on the 26-man Roster. Still, even if you get roughly a 3.90 ERA and 110 wRC+, that’s still a fantastic outcome for the team. The Yankees won’t follow this plan step-by-step, they have a better grasp on the market than myself, but if they’re able to pull this sort of offseason off, they’ll certainly position themselves to win the American League East once more.