John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
In trying to predict what the Yankees might do this offseason, only one question really matters for a team that is loaded in so many areas:
Are they ready to open the vault for the best pitcher in baseball at the moment?
I believe they are, even if it's partly as a response to public pressure to win another championship. Other than that, it looms as a fairly quiet winter for a team coming off back-to-back 100-win seasons.
So with that in mind, here are my Five (somewhat) Bold Predictions for the team in the Bronx:
1) Yanks Sign Gerrit Cole
The Yankees are quietly putting out the word that they're not getting their hopes up, indicating a belief that Cole is serious about wanting to play in Southern California, as people who know him have said. But I'm not buying it.
I think Brian Cashman is lying in the weeds on this one, ready to outbid the LA teams and whoever else for the 29-year old righthander. I believe the GM will remind Hal Steinbrenner that a similar mega-deal for CC Sabathia, another guy who supposedly only wanted to play on the west coast, paid immediate dividends in 2009, the last time the Yankees won a championship.
And no matter what Cole may be telling friends about wanting to be out west, I believe he's just cocky - even arrogant - enough to want to be the guy to put the Yankees over the hump, especially after falling short of a winning a title with the Astros.
He also gives off the vibe of wanting to set records with his contract and go to the highest bidder. You saw how he acted after Game 7 of the World Series, immediately putting on the Boras Corp. cap and at first rebuffing a PR person trying to get him to talk to the media, saying he was no longer an Astros' employee.
So it may take awhile, with agent Scott Boras sure to milk the Cole free agency for all it's worth, but in the end it's hard to see the Yankees drawing a firm line on negotiations, as they did with Patrick Corbin and as they did in trade talks with the Pirates for Cole two years ago.
Even Patient Hal must be getting tired of just coming close.
2) Yanks Let Didi Gregorius Walk
This is partly a byproduct of spending big on Cole, as the Yankees then would be looking to save some money on a shortstop whose best years may be behind him as he turns 30 in Feburary. Maybe the after-effects of Tommy John surgery were to blame for his .718 OPS over 82 games, but Gregorius wasn't the same offensive player.
As much as the Yanks could use another left-handed bat, they could easily adapt to life without Didi, moving Gleyber Torres to short, while freeing up second base for D.J. LeMahieu.
That would still leave them with flexibility at the corners, with Gio Urshela at third, perhaps allowing Miguel Andujar to move to first base, depending partly on how he recovers from shoulder surgery, while having Luke Voit and Mike Ford as first base options as well.
3) Cashman Trades Clint Frazier
Even with Aaron Hicks likely to miss at least most of the first half of the season due to Tommy John surgery, there's still no obvious outfield spot for Frazier, assuming the Yankees bring back Brett Gardner for another year to hold down center along with Mike Tauchman.
They don't want Giancarlo Stanton clogging up the DH spot on a full-time basis, which means he'll get some time in left field if he can stay healthy, and they might bring back Cameron Maybin in a reserve role.
So it sure seems like the time to trade Frazier, and I'd have to believe Cashman would try to do it for young starting pitching as he tries to build depth in the Yankees' area of need.
A couple of scouts suggested the Padres have enough young pitching to perhaps give up a prospect for Frazier, hoping he could become an impact hitter for them as they build toward contention.
Would Frazier be enough to pry away Luis Patino, a 20-year old right-hander that scouts consider one of the Padres' top pitching prospects? Patino, who is 30th in the MLBPipeline.com Top 100 prospect rankings, is at least a year away from the big leagues after a dominant season in high Class-A and a taste of Double-A, but is said to have high-ceiling stuff, including a 95-98 mph fastball, that should play at the big-league level.
If the Padres want more than Frazier, perhaps the Yankees could entice them by adding someone like Albert Abreu, a pitching prospect of their own whose star has fallen the last couple of years due to injuries and inconsistency.
4) Yanks Hire A Rocket Scientist As New Pitching Coach
Ok, that's an exaggeration, but the Yankees' quest to keep up with the Analytics Kings (otherwise known as the Astros) seems to be leading them to break barriers in search of newer, even more data-driven methods to improve performance.
In this case, they appear to be following the lead of the Twins, who before this season turned to the college ranks to hire a pitching coach with a Masters degree in kinesiology and a background in biomechanics.
In fact, Wes Johnson left the University of Arkansas to become the first pitching coach ever to move directly from college to the Majors, and his analytics-based style helped the Twins' pitchers post a 4.18 team ERA, a dramatic improvement from 2018 and the best such number in the team's 10 years at Target Field.
Apparently Cashman wants one of those. He fired Larry Rothschild this week and, according to reports, has interviewed two highly-regarded college pitching coaches, Chris Fetters from Michigan and Matt Hobbs, who replaced Johnson at Arkansas.
This came after Cashman hired Sam Briend from Driveline Baseball last June, a so-called "data-driven player performance training program," as the Yankees' new director of pitching development.
The Analytics Wars are baseball's new arms race.