Free agency is a good way to build a team without giving anything up.
By signing free agents, a team just parts with cold hard cash in exchange for a player they hope will increase their win total. If it doesn’t work out, that money just becomes a sunk cost, but it’s not hard for a Major League Baseball team to make that money back.
Trades, meanwhile, are more risky. Hitting big on a trade can change the entire trajectory of a franchise overnight, but it also carries the possibility of blowing up tremendously.
The Yankees find themselves in a position where they kind of need to take a big swing. This team could lose a substantial amount of its 2022 roster, and without bringing in some new blood, they could be staring at an uphill battle in the American League East. There’s no shortage of free agents who could help, but as Brian Cashman peruses the trade market, he should zero in on a few options.
Shohei Ohtani would take a Godfather offer, and the Yankees likely wouldn’t be able to pry Zac Gallen from the Diamondbacks without dealing Oswald Peraza or a similarly-valued prospect, but there are definitely some pitchers they should check in on.
PABLO LOPEZ AND LUCAS GIOLITO
The package for either of these guys probably starts with Gleyber Torres, by far the Yankees’ most interesting big-league trade chip. Getting Lopez away from the perpetually rebuilding Marlins would also probably take a blue chip prospect.
The Yankees have the players to make that happen, and Lopez is the type of reliable pitcher that significantly raises their floor. Plugging him into a rotation with Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes and Luis Severino means the Yankees, health provided, would be able to pitch their way at least into the Wild Card conversation no matter what happens to their offense. Lopez, who is just 26 and doesn’t reach unrestricted free agency until after the 2024 season, is also ripe for the type of extension that the Marlins tend to avoid.
Trading for Lopez and immediately giving him a long-term contract makes sense, and if Cashman really wants to go for a blockbuster, Jazz Chisholm Jr. could come over as well. That would certainly necessitate a top prospect or two heading to Miami along with Torres, but it would also make the Yankees better and eminently more watchable. The Yankees have a glut of middle infield prospects as well, making someone like 20-year-old shortstop Alexander Vargas potentially expendable in the right trade.
Giolito, meanwhile, is a 28-year-old who’s already finished in the top 11 of Cy Young voting three times. He’s also a free agent following the 2023 campaign who, in his own words, “sucked” in 2022. The entire baseball world knows there’s still a good pitcher somewhere in there, and the Yankees have had great success with pitching reclamation projects recently, but Giolito’s youth and recent track record as an elite starter will drive up the asking price. On the other hand, if the White Sox don’t think they can retain him after the season (or don’t want to), they should look to get something in return before he walks away for nothing.
If you’re the Yankees, would you ship Torres, Domingo German and Clarke Schmidt for Giolito, knowing you might only get one year from him? If Giolito indicates that he’d be open to signing long-term in the Bronx, they should pursue him even harder and perhaps dangle even more talent in front of the Chicago front office.
IAN HAPP AND BRYAN REYNOLDS
The best time to grab one of these guys would have been at last season’s trade deadline, but the second-best time is now.
Andrew Benintendi was the big deadline get instead, and he might have already played his last game in pinstripes now that he’s in the free agent pool. Happ doesn’t dive in until after 2023 and Reynolds still has two more arbitration years before he arrives on the open market in November 2025. That makes Reynolds the more intriguing choice, but also means he would take more to acquire. Since debuting in 2019, only ten outfielders have been worth more Wins Above Replacement than Reynolds, making him every fan’s pet trade request.
He and Happ — who are both switch hitters with plus speed — would slide nicely into left field should the Yankees turn their back on Benintendi. Then again, so would Brandon Nimmo or some of the other free agent outfielders, who the Yankees wouldn’t have to give up actual players to receive. But if they can’t lure any of the free agents, Happ and Reynolds are both coming off fantastic seasons and are currently employed by teams that have no chance of competing. That’s typically a solid recipe for a trade souffle.
SCOTT BARLOW AND GREGORY SOTO
One of the inexorable truths about baseball is that relief pitchers are the hardest players to project.
Because of that, industry thinking is to avoid giving deluxe contracts to relievers. Many of the top teams have instead elected to scour bullpens for potential diamonds in the rough, trade mid-level prospects for them and turn them into a glistening gem. The Yankees have done that with Michael King and Clay Holmes in recent years. While Soto, the Tigers’ All-Star closer each of the last two seasons, has more clout than King or Holmes did when the Yankees added them, Barlow fits the description for the type of arm the Yankees have sneakily poached.
Barlow, who throws his slider more than 40% of the time, has been a staple of the anonymous Royals’ bullpen for the last four years. The slider is what would attract any team to Barlow, but especially the Yankees who have become obsessed with that pitch type. Barlow’s slider held opponents to a .189 batting average and .306 slugging percentage last year, and his curveball posted even better numbers with less usage.
The Royals, who are rarely protecting late-inning leads, don’t have much use for an upper class reliever. Neither do the Tigers, although it’s hard to figure out what the Tigers think they are. Last offseason they went all in, picking up Javier Baez, Eduardo Rodriguez and Austin Meadows, and they still sputtered to a 66-96 record. If they’re ready to admit defeat, dealing Soto is a good place to start, and his blazing fastball-sinker combo could remind Yankee fans of Aroldis Chapman at his best without any of the off-field headaches that Chapman brought.