The Yankees sat out the free agent market entirely last offseason, but after missing the playoffs this year and the departure of Mark Teixeira providing financial flexibility there is a decent chance that the Yankees will test the market this year.
The biggest question marks in the Yankees lineup headed into 2017 are at first base, where they have to replace Teixeira, right field and DH. They are expected to let younger players battle it out for two of those positions, Greg Bird and Tyler Austin will battle for first base, and Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks and Austin will compete for time in field.
DH could also be filled internally with Brian McCann, but his numbers play up better at DH. With McCann more valuable as a catcher on another team than with the Yankees as a DH, it seems likely that the Yankees will explore the possibility of trading McCann and signing someone else as their DH. Even if they fail to trade McCann, the Yankees could look for another bat to platoon with him as McCann hit just .218/.317/.345 against lefties last year.
The rotation has a couple of holes as it’s currently just three deep with Mashiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia. Another spot could be filled internally with Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, Chad Green or Bryan Mitchell, even Adam Warren, but they’ll likely explore the market for other options. As for the bullpen, the Yankees have already made it known that they will be aggressive in adding a Aroldis Chapman type. They’ll probably add a few middle relievers too. Cashman likes to try out multiple no-name relievers hoping that one has a big year so expect them to sign three or four guys under that scenario.
Prior to making any trades, the Yankees are headed into the offseason looking for at least one starter, multiple relievers both high and low end, and possibly a DH/1B type. An outfielder isn’t off the table, but would probably require GM Brian Cashman to trade either Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury.
With all of that in mind here are the top 10 free agents that the Yankees could target this offseason:
- Yoenis Cespedes, OF – MLBTradeRumors.com projected salary: Five years, $125 million. This one is definitely the most unlikely on the list, but I wanted to have a little fun with this, and besides, he would look great in the lineup behind Gary Sanchez. This one would require a trade of either Ellsbury or Gardner. Cespedes has averaged a .277/.326/.506 line over the last three years.
- Aroldis Chapman, RHRP – MLBTradeRumors.com projected salary: Five years, $90 million. If the Yankees make a big splash this offseason this is most likely where it will happen. Chapman is in his prime and won’t cost a free agent draft pick. With money to invest, they could go hard after Chapman. He has averaged a 1.72 ERA, 15.7 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 over his last three seasons.
- Kenley Jansen, RHRP – MLBTradeRumors projected salary: Five years, $85 million. The Yankees no. 2 target on the closer market. Jansen will cost a draft pick, and at 29 is a year older than Chapman, but if the Yankees miss out on Chapman this is clearly the place to turn. Jansen averaged a 2.32 ERA, 13.8 K/9 and a 1.8 BB/9.
- Jeremy Hellickson, RHSP – MLBTradeRumors projected salary: Four years, $60 million. This is potentially the best pitcher in a very thin free agent market. Hellickson was once the rookie of the year, but had three mediocre seasons before he turned it around this year with a 3.71 ERA. Over his last three seasons, he’s averaged a 4.18 ERA, a 7.4 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9.
- Mark Melancon, RHRP – MLBTradeRumors projected salary: Four years, $52 million. This is Plan C for the bullpen, but more realistically he could be Plan A1 or B1 as there is a chance that the Yankees could go big and add Melancon and either Chapman or Jansen. This former Yankee has averaged a 1.93 ERA, an 8.1 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9 over his last three seasons.
- Jose Bautista, RF/DH – MLBTradeRumors projected salary: Three years, $51 million. Here’s another longshot, but he definitely fits as he could provide insurance at first, third, and right field while serving as the primary DH. Problem is that he’s 36 and his numbers have declined each of the last three years. He hit just .234/.366/.452 (still better than McCann) last year. Three year average: .259/.383/.508.
- Rich Hill, LHSP – MLBTradeRumors projected salary: Three years, $50 million. Hill was briefly out of baseball in 2015, but came back strong with the Red Sox and then had another big season this year. As a starter, he is a bit of a gamble, but it could pay off as the former Yankee had a 2.00 ERA with a 10.7 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 over his last two years.
- Jason Hammel, RHSP – MLBTradeRumors projected salary: Three years $42 million. Another veteran starter, Hammell has never managed to reach 200 innings pitched in 11 seasons as a starter. He’s not terrible though with a 3.68 ERA, an 8.3 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 over his last three seasons.
- Mike Napoli, DH – MLBTradeRumors projected salary: Two years, $28 million. Here’s a definite candidate for the DH spot. A shoddy injury history, but he has real power. He might have to agree to a one-year deal for the Yankees to sign him. Napoli from 2014-2016: .237/.343/.435.
- Carlos Beltran, DH – MLBTradeRumors projected salary: One year, $14 million. Going into his age 40 season, Beltran is a bit of a risk, he did slow down as the year went on, but .295/.337/.513 is still damn impressive overall. If the Yankees deal McCann, they’ll be a great fit for Beltran on a one-year deal. Three year average: .271/.327/.468.