Ranking Yankees’ top free agent targets after re-signing Anthony Rizzo
After a disappointing 2022 campaign, the Yankees need to retool.
With the American League continuously getting better, and the gap between the Yankees and Houston Astros seemingly growing larger every year, New York may have to employ a strategy they haven’t done in quite some time — spend in free agency.
And yea, the Yankees payroll has stayed around the $200 million mark for years but this offseason feels like the franchise is at a crossroads. While they wait for their up-and-coming prospects to make it to the big leagues and contribute on a regular basis, they have to shore up the holes in their lineup and in their pitching staff.
The Yankees have a lot of free agents who played somewhere else last season they can sign, but they also have to consider bringing back some of their own free agents. Especially one MVP.
With Anthony Rizzo re-signed (more on him below), here are the top free agents the Yankees should target this offseason…
10. Kenley Jansen, RHP
While not the dominant closer of seasons past, Jansen still had a great year for the Atlanta Braves.
The 35-year-old was 41-of-48 in save opportunities in 2022 — second only to Cleveland’s Emmanuel Clase’s 42 saves — while boasting a solid 3.38 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. His demeanor is perfectly suited for the pressure cooker of New York, and has plenty of postseason experience.
Jansen has converted 20 of 24 save opportunities in his postseason career with a minuscule .148 BAA.
With question marks surrounding Clay Holmes after a subpar second half, Jansen could be a perfect one-year contract pitcher. He can not only alleviate the pressures of saving games from Holmes but would give manager Aaron Boone another deadly arm in the bullpen.
Jansen has had some health issues in recent years, but if he’s healthy he can be the stud closer the Yankees needed in the postseason. Jansen is at the number 10 spot on this list because closer is not the team’s most pressing need. They can roll the dice with Holmes again or find some bullpen help at the trade deadline, but if they want to be legitimate, having that knockout closer for the ninth inning will do it and that’s what Jansen gives you.
9. Andrew Benintendi
Benintendi was the second-biggest name New York acquired at the 2022 trade deadline. And Benintendi’s tenure with the Yanks can be summed up by what could have been.
After a very slow start in pinstripes, Benintendi was beginning to get out of his funk. While he didn’t play up to the .320 average he had while with the Royals, a full season in a familiar setting would benefit both parties.
The Yankees need a left fielder and a leadoff hitter, Benintendi can do both. We saw what happened with New York in the postseason without a player who can leadoff every game and it was a mess. Bring Benintendi back to give the Yankees a contact-focused speedster who is a plus-defender.
8. Carlos Rodon
Rodon is coming off back-to-back All-Star seasons and proved his 2021 campaign with the White Sox wasn’t a fluke.
With the Giants this season, Rodon pitched to a 2.88 ERA and a 12.0 SO9. He also struck out 237 batters, and picked up 14 wins, both career highs, while playing for a bad team. Rodon could easily slide into the No. 2 starter role behind Gerrit Cole, something the Yankees desperately need after Frankie Montas’ putrid performance since being traded to the Bronx.
While grabbing a No. 2 starter is important, the market for them is a bit shallow and will be expensive. Rodon is No. 8 on this list because we feel there are other targets who would perform better in pinstripes. But if Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner want to not pay as much, then they can “settle” for Rodon.
7. Anthony Rizzo
*On Nov. 15, Rizzo agreed to a two-year extension with a club option for a third season*
Rizzo was more important to the Yankees than what his numbers said. His leadership and experience brought a sense of legitimacy to a team that has not experienced World Series glory since 2009.
It didn’t hurt that he’s hit well too.
In two seasons with the Yankees, Rizzo has hit 40 home runs and driven in 96 runs while batting .230 — which is about what the average left-handed power hitter hits for these days. In 2022, Rizzo had his best season in pinstripes smashing 32 home runs and 75 RBI while being that left-handed protection in the lineup for Aaron Judge.
And that doesn’t take into account the Gold Glove-level defense that he brings at first base. It seemed like a no-brainer, but it was crucial to bring back a player who has excelled already in this city and can continue to be that leader in the clubhouse, especially if prospects make it to the show.
6. Willson Contreras
The catcher’s spot became a black hole in the Yankees lineup in the second half of the season. After Kyle Higashioka failed to take the starting catcher’s position in the first month of the season, Jose Trevino was acquired and became an All-Star in 2022.
Unfortunately, Trevino’s numbers came back down to earth. He hit just .244 with four home runs and 16 RBI in the second half, and it seemed that he was an automatic out every time he came to the plate.
Willson Contreras is the best free agent catcher on the market, and would easily boost productivity from that spot. In 2022, Contreras hit for more home runs (22 to 11) and more RBI (55 to 43).
Contreras is entering his age 31 season and is only a year older when the Phillies signed J.T. Realmuto to a five-year, $115 million deal. Now, Contreras doesn’t have the bat Realmuto does, but he’s not far off and could definitely be the answer the Yankees have been looking for in their backstop for years.
5. Jacob deGrom
Yea, this one may be a long shot. While it looks like deGrom will either return to the Mets or sign with the Rangers/Braves, the Yankees should make an offer to fill that coveted No. 2 starter role.
deGrom will command a lot of money, and his health issues are something to be wary of, but when he’s on, he’s on as evidenced this season. In just 11 starts, deGrom struck out 102 batters and pitched to a respectable 3.08 ERA. If it wasn’t for a few bad starts at the end of the season, that number would be lower.
Along with his prodigious numbers, deGrom brings postseason experience and knows how to handle the New York media, a common theme on this list. Just imagine a Cole and deGrom pairing similar to what the Mets enjoyed this season with him and Scherzer.
4 Carlos Correa
There are four top free agent shortstops this offseason and Carlos Correa is in the top two. In just his age 29 season, Correa continues to be one of the top shortstops in the majors. After a few seasons of injuries, the past two have been great for the Puerto Rican native.
In 2021, Correa hit .279 with 26 home runs and 92 RBI for the Astros. He was an All-Star, a Gold Glover and was fifth in MVP voting. He went to Minnesota on a short deal and nearly duplicated those numbers, hitting .291 with 22 home runs and 64 RBI.
Correa seems like the perfect fit for the Yankees as he’s shown he would accept a short deal, giving the Yankees another bridge to Anthony Volpe, and can play either second or third base if they can somehow get out from underneath Josh Donaldson’s contract — or just eat it.
If the Yankees can convince him to do a deal similar to the one he signed with the Twins — where he had opt outs in the first two seasons of his three-year deal — he would fit perfectly in the Bronx. Fans would just have to overlook his Derek Jeter slander.
3. Trea Turner
If Correa is in the top two of free agent shortstops this offseason, Trea Turner is number one. While both shortstops offer many of the same talents in terms of offense, defense and running bases, Turner just feels like a more complete player.
This season, Turner hit .298/.343/.466 and was an All-Star. He won his first Silver Slugger Award this year and has remained healthy throughout his eight-year career, something Correa cannot say.
What makes Turner desirable is his ability to play multiple positions. While he’s played most of his games at short (707) he has experience at second (91) and even in the outfield (45). With holes in the outfield and at shortstop, the Yankees could move Turner to one of those positions while they wait for one of their prospects to be ready to man shortstop.
2. Justin Verlander
Verlander has always been on the Yankees’ radar. Last offseason, the Yanks offered him $25 million and feels like the missing piece the Yankees have been looking for in their rotation. While he’s older than deGrom and Rodon — Verlander is entering his age 40 season — he’s still one of the best in the game.
He’s the front-runner for the AL Cy Young award and pitched to an 18-4 record and a minuscule 1.75 ERA and 0.829 WHIP.
With the Yankees offering Verlander a contract last year, the interest is there. It’ll be up to both sides if they can come to an agreement on an amount. Verlander could command a contract similar to what 38-year-old Scherzer got in AAV ($43.3 million) from the Mets, but if no one is willing to risk it on a 40-year-old, that price may drop and the Yankees should pounce.
1. Aaron Judge
Was there any other choice? Judge is the most important player to the franchise since Jeter and the Yankees need to bring him back. Sure, he’s entering his age 31 season and will never have the season he just had, but man what a season it was.
Judge dominated the AL in just about every offensive category and is now in the record books after hitting the historic No. 62, all while wearing pinstripes. It should also be noted how much he carried this team when injuries began to pile up and they entered that August swoon that almost cost them the division.
Judge is the AL MVP and will be the team’s MVP for years to come if they can re-sign him. He should be the team’s top priority and whether he signs or not will shape what the Yankees do the rest of the offseason.
It’ll also leave way too many question marks that can be avoided if they just pay the man.
Source: Yahoo Sports