As the rebuilding plan continues to take shape in the Bronx, you can see that if even some of their many top prospects deliver on their potential, the Yankees should have a championship-caliber ballclub in place before too long.
That is, if they come up with an ace somewhere.
Indeed, for all of the excitement about the young players they’ve assembled, they seem to be a bit light on front-line pitching, and chances are they’re going to need to acquire a No. 1 starter along the way if they’re going to win championships.
Which brings us to the ballyhooed free-agent winter of 2018-19. For all the speculation about the Yankees signing either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, that free-agent class may hold the final pitching piece to their puzzle.
Matt Harvey? Dallas Keuchel? Garrett Richards? They could all be in play, but by then the Yankees, with their payroll under the luxury-tax threshold, may be thinking bigger than that.
Clayton Kershaw, after all, has an opt-out that winter and at that point, going into his age-31 season, he’ll have only two more years remaining on his contract. And so while he’ll be earning $34 million a year, if he’s healthy Kershaw almost certainly would invoke the opt-out in search of a long-term deal rather than waiting until he’s 33.
Of course, it seems hard to believe the Dodgers, with all of their money, would allow him to leave at any price.
But what if he still hasn’t won a championship by then? What if he has another hiccup or two in the postseason? That could weigh heavily on both sides.
And if the Yankees are sitting there, ready to pay him $40 million a year for five years, well, it’s not out of the question.
Clayton Kershaw to the Yankees in a couple seasons isn’t out of the question.
(Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
At the very least, it’s intriguing to consider such possibilities. As it is, that free-agent class, with so many heavyweights potentially available, continues to be the center of so much speculation around baseball, and all the more so after the Yankees’ sell-off aligned their rebuild with that winter.
And so, as I did a year ago, I thought it would be fun to project what both the Yankees and Mets would look like after that winter.
Much has changed since then. I was sure Jose Fernandez, who would have been in that free-agent class as well, was going to be a Yankee, but obviously his tragic boating-accident death took that out of the equation.
And where I had Harper coming to the Bronx, I’d now say Machado might be more likely, in part because of a bigger need at third base than the outfield.
As for the Mets, I had them trading Harvey for Corey Seager this winter, but then Harvey got hurt again and Seager blossomed into an untouchable.
So, again, just for fun, let’s have another go at projecting the 2019 lineups:
It’s going to be fascinating to see which of the highly-touted young players reach their potential, which don’t, and which ones GM Brian Cashman decides to package in a Chris Sale-like trade — if such a possibility becomes his best option to acquire an ace.
But if enough of them do live up to the hype, it would give the Yankees several low-cost assets, allowing them to spend freely again on stars after the contracts for Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia come off the books next winter.
With that in mind, I think they’ll sign two free-agent stars from that class. Alas, as monumental as it would be to lure Kershaw from L.A., it’s hard to imagine the Dodgers, with all of their money, would let that happen.
STARTING ROTATION: Harvey, Masahiro Tanaka, James Kaprielian, Justus Sheffield, Luis Severino.
LATE-INNING BULLPEN: Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman.
LINEUP: Jorge Mateo, CF; Manny Machado, 3B; Greg Bird, 1B; Gary Sanchez, C; Gleyber Torres, 2B; Blake Rutherford, RF; Clint Frazier, LF; Aaron Judge, DH; Didi Gregorius, SS.
Yep, Harvey, going into his age-30 season, turns out to be the best option for the Yankees. That would be rather monumental as well, jumping from one side of town to the other; you think?
Also, look who’s back in the pen: Miller is in that free-agent class as well, as is Dellin Betances, and the Yanks decide that even going into his age-34 season, Miller’s more cost-efficient than locking up Betances long-term.
As for the offense, I think the Yankees believe Mateo, with his tremendous speed, will be a better center fielder than shortstop, and by then Jacoby Ellsbury will be done as a center fielder — though he’ll still have two years left on his albatross-contract.
Machado would be a perfect fit at third, except it might make the Yankees a bit too right-handed offensively. So maybe they’ll end up spending $400 million on Harper instead. Either way it could make for quite the dynamic lineup if the likes of Torres, Frazier and Rutherford are as good as the Yankees believe.
No doubt they’ll be disappointed if they haven’t won a World Series by then, having splurged on Yoenis Cespedes for that four-year, $110 million deal as he heads into his age 31-season.
Either way it could dictate at least some of their decision-making, especially with their pitching. The ideal time to trade Harvey, in terms of getting equal value, would have been this winter, but his injury last year essentially eliminated that option.
So, if Harvey bounces back with a strong 2017 season, I think it would be more likely the Mets end up keeping him, trying to get the most out of him before he reaches free agency, especially if they’re still trying to win their first championship since 1986.
Either way they’re probably not meeting his price as a free agent. So…
STARTING ROTATION: Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Thomas Szapucki, Seth Lugo.
LATE-INNING BULLPEN: Zack Wheeler, Jeurys Familia.
LINEUP: A.J. Pollock, CF; T.J. Rivera, 2B; Michael Conforto, RF; Yoenis Cespedes, LF; Dom Smith/Peter Alonso, 1B; Jose Reyes, 3B; Amed Rosario, SS; Thomas Nido, C.
(Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
Even with Harvey gone, the Mets should have plenty of pitching. In addition to Lugo and Robert Gsellman emerging last season as legitimate options in the starting rotation, the team’s decision-makers are very high on Szapucki, a 20-year-old lefthander who dominated at the lower minor-league levels last season.
They also liked what they saw during a brief stint in Brooklyn from last summer’s 1st-round draft pick, Justin Dunn.
All of that depth could convince the Mets to convert Wheeler to a full-time reliever, where his stuff could help him team with Familia (also a free agent that winter), or even replace him as closer if Familia’s occasional control problems from last season continue to be an issue.
As for the lineup, the Mets will be loaded with home-grown, cost-controlled players, which should allow them to spend in free agency on someone like Pollock to finally solve their center field problem, assuming he bounces back from the elbow injury that knocked him out most of last season.
Maybe Travis d’Arnaud or Kevin Plawecki will still meet the expectations the Mets have for them, but I think it’s more likely their catcher in 2019 will be Nido, a breakout prospect in 2016 who led the Class A Florida State League in hitting at .320 and threw out 42% of basestealers.
Also, I have to believe injuries will have forced David Wright into retirement by then, even though he would still have two more years on his contract. Reyes loves being a Met so if his legs age well, he could still be at third base.
Otherwise, well, Josh Donaldson figures to be in that already-famous free-agent class that winter as well.
You never know. If the Mets are still chasing a championship at that point, perhaps anything could happen. Especially with the Yankees expected by then to start throwing their wallet around again.
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News