CARLSBAD, Calif. — The Yankees are in the never-say-never business — Giancarlo Stanton, for example, was not in their plans and then he was last offseason, when Shohei Ohtani so quickly slipped away and the Marlins were selling the NL MVP for what the Yankees perceived as considerably below his value.
But at the moment, the Yankees are fixated on adding two starters. Manny Machado is a back-burner item and Bryce Harper is currently not on their wish list.
If the Yankees do find their way to Machado, this offseason would have much in common with the ones that followed the 2008 and ‘13 seasons.
After their first non-playoff year since 1993, the Yanks aggressively added A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia in the 2008-09 offseason. As Mark Teixeira lingered in the marketplace, Brian Cashman advised the Steinbrenners that landing the first baseman would cement a championship contender. The owners approved, and Teixeira was signed for eight years at $180 million.
Following the Red Sox’s 2013 championship, the Yankees responded with free-agent buys of Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann. Still, their plan was to try to stay under the luxury tax. But again, Cashman advised that Masahiro Tanaka was a unique opportunity. So Hal Steinbrenner authorized the investment of $175 million between posting fee and contract to land the Japanese righty, which assured the Yankees would not reset their tax in 2014.
In both of those offseasons, the Yanks exceeded $400 million in total to meet the Steinbrenner mandate of having a championship opportunity. Could that happen again?
Job 1 was to retain Brett Gardner and Sabathia, which the Yanks did on reduced rates from 2018. Now, they are determined to add two starters, with the players most associated with them being Patrick Corbin and J.A. Happ. But the sense coming out of the GM meetings is that the market for both is going to be robust and that Corbin, in particular, will have the type of bidding that could get his price to $100 million — and perhaps much more than that.
The Yankees could pivot elsewhere with a different free agent such as Nathan Eovaldi or Charlie Morton or a trade for someone such as the Indians’ Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco.
However the Yankees proceed, the addition of two starters is likely to push them at least near the $206 million 2019 luxury-tax threshold. At that point, Steinbrenner will have to decide if this should be like, say, 2013, since the Red Sox have just won again.
The Yankees do want to obtain an infielder, preferably lefty or solid at shortstop to help endure the absence of Didi Gregorius, who will miss at least two months of 2019 after Tommy John surgery. They could, for example, do that with a one-year deal with a defensively sound free-agent shortstop such as Alcides Escobar, Freddy Galvis or Jordy Mercer, or perhaps a trade for someone like Toronto’s very available Aledmys Diaz.
Machado is neither lefty nor a superior defensive shortstop. But he is Manny Machado.
For now, the Yankees are comfortable with their outfield and do not view Harper as a first-base option, so he is currently not a factor. But the Yanks tried to land Machado in July before he went from the Orioles to the Dodgers.
He could play shortstop at the outset and then shift to third when Gregorius returns, which would free Miguel Andujar to move to first or be used as trade bait.
One factor that cannot be discounted in a pursuit is that Alex Rodriguez is an adviser to the owner and could be an advocate for a player who also grew up in Miami — and idolized A-Rod. Machado also would pick the Yankees above any team to join, if the money is there.
The Yankees believe the retention of Gardner and Sabathia helps keep a strong clubhouse culture that could absorb any player. However, it would not be difficult to find many who have been associated with Machado who say he is not swayed by peer pressure, and what was seen in October — lack of hustle, public comments that hustling was not his thing and at least borderline out-of-control and/or dirty play — will only be blessed if he gets $300 million-plus ($400 million-plus?) on a long-term deal.
There would not be unanimity in the Yankees ranks to sign Machado for that reason and also because there are many who believe Gregorius should be signed long term and that Andujar will grow to at least average defensively at third, and the combo would give the Yankees a high-end left side for years and that dollars should not be tied up in an area of strength.
Once the Yankees got out of Rodriguez’s 10-year contract following the 2017 season, they were initially thinking they did not want to add that kind of extended commitment again. But they failed on Ohtani and took on the 10 years left on Stanton. They did that, in part, because they figured assuming $243 million on Stanton (the total after removing Starlin Castro and the Marlins taking on $30 million to facilitate the trade) would keep them out of the Harper/Machado derby a year later.
And maybe it will as the Yankees strive to now stay away from two monster commitments and keep better roster and payroll flexibility. Their most likely path remains two starters and a temporary replacement for Gregorius. But these are the Yankees and you never say never, and as the 2008-09 and 2013-14 offseasons show, when there is something attractive that lingers in the market, the Yanks are not above changing plans.
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