It’s pretty obvious the New York Yankees are not going to spend big in free agency this winter. It’s mid January and despite big names like Yoenis Cespedes and Justin Upton still being out there, New York has demonstrated its overall game plan. With trades to acquire Nathan Eovaldi and Didi Gregorius last winter and Starlin Castro and Aroldis Chapman this winter, the Yankees are pretty adamant on hanging onto its top prospects and shedding the big contracts while getting younger in the interim and parting with secondary prospects in the process.
But the Yankees are not a finished product and not everything needs to be purchased at once when the money starts flowing, so if the Yankees did spend from now until pitchers and catchers report, where might there be interest?
Dexter Fowler: Why not Cespedes or Upton? Because we’re still under the belief the Yankees won’t splurge. and with Aaron Hicks already on the roster, it’s very unrealistic they would target Fowler. But in the event someone who missed out on Cespedes and Upton also had a starting pitcher surplus, it’s not crazy to think the Yankees could trade Brett Gardner, acquire a starting pitcher and then sign Fowler, who could be purchased for nearly the same salary as what was left on Gardner’s contract while offering a similar skillset. Essentially, they would have added a starter for very little surrendered.
Juan Uribe: The Yankees have considerable depth at shortstop and second base at the major and minor league levels. With three of their top 10 prospects at shortstop, and Didi Gregorius signed to an extended deal, the Yankees don’t need anyone at SS for a long time. With Castro in the mix at second base and Rob Refsnyder likely on the roster, the same can be said of second base. Greg Bird is in line to replace Mark Teixeira at first full time in 2017 and is proven enough not to warrant concern. Brian McCann is signed long-term at catcher with Gary Sanchez MLB ready just in case. The only position of any concern over the next half decade is really at third base, but Chase Headley is still signed for three more years, so a long-term investment wouldn’t make sense. If the Yankees want to improve at third in 2016 and hedge against another poor display on both sides of the game from Headley, they could sign Uribe to a one year deal.
Currently, Castro is tabbed as the backup third baseman, but he may also be the backup shortstop and if he were to get injured, or struggle a lot, or if anything happened to Dustin Ackley or Refsnyder, the Yankees can find themselves thin at the hot corner really quickly. Uribe is well past his prime, but he’s always shown he can hit, an issue which plagued the Yankees down the stretch last year, especially from the right side of the plate. Uribe is essentially a 36-year-old Castro, but with a more proven bat who would cost very little. The only issue would be whether the Yankees want to go with five bench spots or seven relievers and they have typically gone with the latter unless it meant an extra outfielder.
Doug Fister: It’s probably not the best time to tout Fister as a cure for the Yankees’ rotation concerns, but nevertheless Fister used to have a long track record of durability before only throwing 267 innings the past two seasons. Fister settled into a 4.19 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 2015 in just 103 innings, easily his worst season in the majors. Still just 31, it’s reasonable to think a healthy version could resort back to the sub 4 ERA arm he was in both the AL and NL capable of adding at least 150 reliable innings to a rotation in need of durability and depth. It’s not an ideal fit since he would essentially be the seventh starter (unless Nova was traded) and comes with the same health concerns as the others, but if the market fell enough? I would take Fister’s upside over Nova in a walk year, especially on a one or two year deal.
Tommy Hunter: Maybe the most realistic of options. Hunter was a stalwart in the AL East with the Orioles before struggling after a trade to the Cubs. Still just 28, Hunter can give innings out of a bullpen and could be brought in to compete with Bryan Mitchell and Nova for a MLB roster spot. It makes sense from a few angles. The Yankees have the best bullpen trio in baseball but then a large amount of unknown after it. Though there is a lot of upside, having a veteran like Hunter could add stability to the underbelly of the bullpen. By bringing in Hunter as a known reliever, it could allow the Yankees to keep Nova, Mitchell or possibly both pitchers in the minors in the event of injury.
It would also allow the Yankees to better monitor Luis Severino’s innings’ limit and provide enough MLB caliber depth where the Yankees’ main weakness outside of right-handed power, could be limited to a degree with so many options. Hunter would be the cheaper, more durable solution than Fister, pushing a starter from the bullpen instead of just adding an extra starter.