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American League Preview: Despite a really weird off-season, the Yankees (if healthy!) are still quite good

The New York Yankees didn’t operate like the New York Yankees this winter.

Generally, it’s a foregone conclusion that the Yanks are going to open their wallets and sign one of the best players on the free-agent market any given off-season, especially after the team has a disappointing result in the post-season, as they did last fall when they got shoved aside by the Red Sox in the Wild-Card Game.

A couple of years ago, it seemed inevitable that the Yankees would go out and sign Gerrit Cole, the top pitcher on the market. And that’s exactly what they did. Last winter, they were in the mix for all of the top names, but their big splash was re-signing DJ LeMahieu after a pair of MVP-calibre seasons.

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This winter, Carlos Correa was the player that Yankee fans were photoshopping into pinstripes, manifesting it as an automatic that Houston’s star shortstop would come to New York. The team had a gaping need at short and Correa would fill that void, because of course he would, it’s the Yankees were talkin’ about here!

Well…

What happened over the off-season…

It was The Year of the Shortstop, featuring Correa, Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, and Javier Baez on the open market, and the Yankees wound up with Isiah Kiner-Falefa.

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The Texas Rangers threw $600 million combined at Seager and Semien to build a new middle infield, Baez signed with the up-and-coming Detroit Tigers right before the start of the lockout back in December, and then, after a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was reached, Story signed with New York’s biggest rival and Correa wound up with the small-market Minnesota Twins.

Winding up with none of those aforementioned shortstops certainly wasn’t in any Yankee fan’s off-season blueprints, and the situation that ultimately led to New York’s prize instead becoming a Twin was something that nobody could have imagined.

The Yanks pulled the trigger on a deal with Minnesota, sending Gio Urshela and Gary Sanchez to the Twins in exchange for Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Ben Rortvedt. That’s an oft-injured 36-year-old slugger being added to a group that’s already being held together by duct tape, a middle infielder who has never produced an OPS over .700, and a young catcher who projects to be a backup at the big league level.

With the money saved in this trade, the Twins went out and signed Carlos Correa to a deal that would have made all kinds of sense for the Yankees, a team with some hot middle infield prospects who are a year or two away. If the Yanks didn’t want to have Anthony Volpe or Oswald Peraza blocked by a free-agent signing on a 10-year deal, Correa’s three-year, $105.3 million deal, which features opt-outs after both 2022 and 2023, would have been ideal.

New York’s biggest splash in free agency came when they re-signed Anthony Rizzo to a two-year, $32 million deal. The next-most-notable move they made in free agency, I shit you not, was signing Greg Bird to a minor-league deal worth $1 million after he showed well at Blue Jays camp but didn’t crack the 40-man.

After years of dealing with the Yankees’ methodology being to spend freely and dominate, it’s wild to see this now be their approach…

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Outlook for 2022…

Now, New York’s off-season might have been a bit of a laugher, especially given what we’ve come to expect from the financial juggernauts, but they’re certainly far from a bad team. In fact, they are, unfortunately, quite good. Or, well, they can be, if things go right.

FanGraphs has projected the Yankees to have the highest WAR of any team in baseball…

But the thing with these projections, as I mentioned on Tuesday when I talked about the Rays, is that they assume that each team is going to go through the season without any injuries, and the Yankees have their fair share of injury-prone players on their roster.

The talk that Aaron Judge is injury-prone is probably a bit overblown, but Donaldson is 36 years old, and, as we know, has trouble staying on the field, it seems Giancarlo Stanton has never been fully healthy in a season since he was acquired from the Miami Marlins, Aaron Hicks has been struggling for a few years and missed most of last season due to a wrist injury, and a key part of their projected rotation, Luis Severino, has tossed 18 innings in the Majors over the past three years.

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If there’s ever a team that’s going to inexplicably have everything go right, it’s probably the Yankees, if we’re being honest, but I have a hard time seeing this group matching their projections over a 162-game marathon given how fragile the roster looks on paper.

Again, they’re still a good team, one that will almost certainly make the playoffs in the expanded six-time field. But the Yankees just don’t feel like the Yankees right now. They just don’t have that threatening powerhouse feel.


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