If you’re reading this, most likely you’re a Yankees fan. This isn’t a breaking news story or even a story discussing an actual piece of news. Nothing has actually happened as it pertains to the Yankees and free agent Swiss army knife Ben Zobrist. I’ve gathered you here mostly to discuss the reports that are out there, which say that the Yankees won’t be signing Zobrist this offseason and that it’s likely they won’t even be around for the last round of bidding.
According to Dan Martin and Ken Davidoff of the New York Post, citing industry sources, “the Yankees aren’t willing to spend as much as Zobrist likely will receive.” Joel Sherman, also of the Post, listed the Yankees as one of the teams he expects to be the most aggressive this offseason, though he anticipates the moves will come through trades rather than free agency. Sherman states that the Yankees want to get younger and have better athletes and defenders and also add long-term starting pitching pieces.
Essentially, the Yankees strategy doesn’t seem to have changed much from last offseason when the team traded veteran Martin Prado for Nathan Eovaldi and acquired Didi Gregorius in a three-team trade. Unless the Yankees completely change course, signing Ben Zobrist at age 35 for somewhere around $15 million per season simply isn’t in their playbook. Even though the Yankees have a gaping hole at second base, one of the many positions Zobrist can play, and that he’s a switch-hitter coming off a .295 TAv season and excelled down the stretch and in the playoffs with the World Champion Kansas City Royals and wouldn’t require the loss of a draft pick, he still doesn’t fit.
Sherman also notes that the Yankees trade for Aaron Hicks has made Brett Gardner “expendable” and that Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran “can be had.” The trade for Hicks shows that these reports aren’t smokescreens while the Yankees gear up for a run at the major free agents. In Hicks the Yankees acquired a tremendous defensive outfielder with more upside than John Ryan Murphy, who was expendable given the club’s depth at catcher.
Still, the Yankees aren’t going to make trades just to spin their wheels, the goal in every offseason is, of course, to upgrade the team. If Beltran is being made available, the Yankees are still going to need someone to play right field and perhaps Gardner becomes less “expendable” at that point. If Andrew Miller is traded it’s not going to be for a package of prospects like the ones the San Diego Padres received in exchange for Craig Kimbrel and someone will have to replace Miller in the bullpen. The return Brian Cashman receives in these potential trades will be of utmost importance because it doesn’t appear that the Yankees want to move Gardner for cheaper, possibly young pieces just to go out on the free agent market and spend big for another veteran. That kind of robbing Peter to pay Paul is how teams get in trouble, like when the Detroit Tigers traded Doug Fister for Robbie Ray to clear money to sign Joe Nathan.
While every team has a budget, and the Yankees budget is large, it hasn’t increased in recent years despite the new stadium and lucrative television contracts. Despite the fact that they have plenty of money coming off the books next offseason when they shed the contracts of Beltran and Mark Teixeira, they don’t appear interested in back-loading a big contract for a veteran this winter, when the free agent crop is plentiful compared to next year’s projected class.
Despite returning nearly everyone from a team that would’ve won at least 90 games if not for injuries down the stretch, the Yankees have needs at second base and in the rotation. It remains to be seen how exactly they’ll go about filling those needs, but Cashman is going to have to be just as if not more creative than he was last winter in pulling off trades because it appears that the club is no longer interested in catching a big old fish in free agency.
(Photo: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports)