The Yankees may not have huge holes to fill, but they will be active during the offseason.
They are in the market for a starting pitcher, and would benefit from adding a DH as well, but with some ability for others to occasionally man the role.
Signing Japanese star Shohei Otani could solve the vacancies all alone. A perfect fit rarely sits in front of a team, but Otani seems to be a peg that would slide smoothly into two holes. The kicker - as if the Yankees would need one - is that Otani will come at an incredible bargain as the team strives to stay below the 2018 competitive balance tax.
The Yankees embark on the offseason needing to fill one, maybe two, rotation spots. We recently set forth potential plans for New York, which touched on the Yankees having three certain starters lined up for next season - Sonny Gray, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka. Jordan Montgomery could be the fourth starter, but the Yankees may look to sign both CC Sabathia and Otani. This adds a strong layer of depth that is always needed for the 162-game regular season.
Otani is a bonafide two-way player. Like any free agent, he comes with caveats, but the notion of playing on both sides of the ball is one that will supersede the others. While Otani is not insisting on being both a pitcher and hitter, he stated in a news conference Saturday that he would like to continue to do so, but understands the difficulties once he begins play with an MLB club.
"I don't know if it will be possible," Otani said. "But I want to hear what teams over there say and what kind of situations might be available. Until that process has started, I can't say how it might work out."
For the Yankees (truly any team), Otani's versatility would be a strong advantage. He could slot into one of the rotation spots and perform as the designated hitter for at least three of the four days in between starts. To believe that Otani will be able to handle the rigors of a longer MLB season, with less recuperation time after a start than he is used to in Japan and DH each of the rest days is highly unlikely.
However, that works out well for the Yankees as they may be playing with a crowded outfield scenario once again in 2018, regardless of whether the team is able to trade one of their "extra" players. With Jacoby Ellsbury, Clint Frazier, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks and Aaron Judge all looking for at-bats, even if one of them is traded, there will be four outfielders needing regular reps.
Surely, the Yankees would be able to use one of the extra outfielders as a DH for at least one of the days Otani is either pitching or resting.
Further, the Yankees will not put catcher Gary Sanchez behind the plate for 130-plus games. Despite any improvement in his catching abilities that might arise during the offseason, keeping Sanchez's energy at its highest will come with as much time as a DH as possible.
Finally, if Otani is to play on both sides of the ball, he ensures the club the ability to play with a four-man bench and eight relievers. To explain, if the Yankees carried 13 pitchers total (five starters and eight relievers, again with Otani included in that mix), that would leave 12 spots for position players. The Yanks would not need to employ a DH, because Otani would handle the role most often, along with the scenario already presented for the other two days of a rotation cycle.
That allows the Yankees four bench spots - one for a utility infielder, one for a backup catcher, one for the fourth outfielder and the final slot can be a revolving player. In that last spot, the club could swap a hitter based on the string of days of handedness of the opposing club's pitching staff.
Theoretically, that final spot could be reserved for yet another pitcher if the Yankees are experiencing a period in the season where some innings are needed. Simply put, Otani's ability to play both sides of the ball would provide the Yankees with a significant roster advantage over other teams.
Of course, there is a chance that Otani is unable to fulfill the role of a two-way player. It is possible that as he acclimates to the game he shows more from area than the other. That would not become an issue as the Yankees' depth would certainly allow them to use Otani in the role that suits him best at the time.
If it is decided Otani works best as a pitcher only, then the Yankees have plenty of choices for a DH and can still rotate outfielders and provide Sanchez rest. If Otani demonstrates he's a better hitter, then the Yankees can dig into Triple-A - we're talking about the Chance Adams' of the organization - (it's also the reason that re-signing Sabathia makes sense).
Otani is believed to have elite potential on both sides of the ball. If he continues to thrive as a two-way player, he provides a directly distinct advantage and he indirectly aids the Yankees in extending the roster. Should Otani evolve into a one-sided player and attain the success he did in Japan, the Yankees will not be complaining as he would fill a need, doing so at an inexpensive price with his prime seasons yet to come.