Remember last spring? 2022 was a different animal because the lockout prevented offseason signings and trades from Dec. 1 until March 10, but GM Brian Cashman blew up the Yankees’ roster right after workouts began. A blockbuster sent catcher Gary Sanchez and third baseman Gio Urshela to the Twins for third baseman Josh Donaldson and shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Two more spring training deals brought in reliever Miguel Castro from the Mets and catcher Jose Trevino, a supposed platoon who turned into an All-Star, from the Rangers.
There again could be major comings and goings between now and Opening Day for the Yankees, especially if Cashman can pry Bryan Reynolds from the Pirates, who still are demanding a humongous return for a rising star who has three seasons of team control.
Will the Yankees cave and meet the Pirates’ demands by giving up two of their very best prospects and maybe a couple other good ones to address the weakest link to the lineup, which currently is the same as it was last season with free agents Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo re-signed?
Probably not. That’s not Cashman’s style.
Will Pirates management give up on trying to hit a grand slam in a trade and take what it can get for a face of its always-rebuilding franchise who publicly has asked for a trade?
Don’t count on it, but how out-of-favor vet Aaron Hicks, jack-of-all-trades rookie Oswaldo Cabrera, out-of-options prospect Estevan Florial or anyone of the other in-house left field contenders look in spring training probably will factor in Cashman’s best and final offer … assuming someone else doesn’t swoop in and make a deal for Reynolds.
Cashman refused to cave last July in trade talks with the Reds, who wound up dealing ace Luis Castillo to the Mariners. The Yankees settled for giving up four of their top 30 prospects, including their highest-ranked pitcher, for the supposed next-best option. The Yanks held on to Anthony Volpe, Jasson Dominguez and Co., but Frankie Montas arrived hurt and offered nothing the rest of the way. Montas’ shoulder issue still will be an issue early on this year, too.
Realistically, it’ll probably be Reynolds or status quo for the Yankees in left field. There was just one good option on the free agent market, and it was off the board by mid-December when Cashman decided 2022 trade-deadline acquisition Andrew Benintendi, who landed a five-year, $75-million deal with the White Sox, was too expensive to bring back. Daulton Varsho was an intriguing trade option that piqued the Yankees’ interest, but the Diamondbacks’ best offer came from the Blue Jays, who acquired the 26-year-old rising star.
Regardless of whether the Yankees land Reynolds before spring training or even Opening Day, they still could pull off some major reshaping by finding takers for three veteran puzzle pieces that don’t seem to fit — Hicks, Donaldson and Kiner-Falefa.
Kiner-Falefa would be the easiest to trade because he’s making just $6 million this season, but the Yankees probably want to hang on to him as insurance in case rookie shortstop Oswald Peraza has a terrible spring and plays his way to starting 2023 back in Triple-A.
Also, IKF could have a role with the Yankees as a utility infielder if Donaldson departs via trade or outright release.
Trading Donaldson probably will be next to impossible. He’s up there in age at 37, he’s coming off two bad seasons in a row, he’s rubbed teammates wrong everywhere he’s gone and he’s owed $29 million this year ($21M salary, $8M buyout). No one is taking on much of that contract or giving up anything of substance in return.
Still, Cashman may decide to do what many think is the right thing and part ways if Donaldson. That could occur even if it means DFA-ing Donaldson and having to eat the whole $29 million, or most of it while kicking in a prospect for someone to take him on the very cheap.
The Yankees wouldn’t miss Donaldson even if they get nothing for him because they already have DJ LeMahieu to play third (with IFK and/or Cabrera filling in).
The Yankees also would love to find a taker for the often-injured and underachieving Hicks, who still has three years and $30.5 million remaining on a seven-year, $70M contract. But until and unless the Yankees add someone better in left field, Hicks is probably the favorite to open the season as the starter over Cabrera with Florial a backup plan unless he turns into late-spring trade bait, which is likely.
Second baseman Gleyber Torres could go in a trade, too, and the Yankees probably would get something good back in return, perhaps a standout high-leverage reliever and maybe even a regular left fielder. Yes, Torres has value, but the small-market clubs probably won’t be interested because he’s only two years away from free agency and will make about $10 million this year.
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But if Donaldson stays, Torres being moved would free up second base for LeMahieu this season and maybe Volpe in 2024, if the Yankees move their No. 1 prospect from short to second. After all, Volpe may be blocked at short by Peraza, who is superior fielder.
Volpe is untouchable, but would the Pirates bite on an offer for Reynolds that includes Peraza, fellow prospect Austin Wells and Torres (if the Yankees eat money)? Probably, but there’s no way Cashman would give up that much, even though his club would be better in 2023 and maybe beyond if Volpe takes over at short by 2024 and becomes an instant star.
A lot could happen between now and March 30 when the Yankees begin the season at Yankee Stadium against the Giants. Judge and Rizzo are back, the bullpen added a quality high-leverage arm in Tommy Kahnle and the rotation now is as good as any on paper with Carlos Rodon in the fold. But the Yankees have a glaring hole and a lot of dead weight that’s owed big money, so the pressure is on Cashman to turn his offseason grade from A to A+ for the sake of giving his club a better shot at ending its 13-year-old World Series drought in 2023.
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Randy Miller may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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