What you see is what you get. That's essentially what Brian Cashman said a week ago, assessing the odds of the Yankees standing pat for the remainder of the offseason at 99.9% (EJ wrote about this last week). It's probably not a playoff team, but it's not too far out of contention. Sitting in the high 70s or low 80s in the win forecast is usually the worst place for a team to be, as not only is such a team not good enough to make the playoffs, but also not poor enough to obtain a high draft pick. This Yankees club is a different case, as there are a plethora of intriguing young players at the major and minor league levels that signify a bright future. What if, though, the Yankees' eschewed its long-term strategy and instead went all-in on 2017?
Let's travel to an alternate universe. One where everything that occurred through the end of the 2016 season remains the same with the exception of the Yankees' plans for the offseason. In this world, instead of patiently waiting for the accumulated prospects to blossom, the front office is ready to harvest its crops on the trade market. And that luxury tax? Who cares! Forget tapering the payroll, the Steinbrenners are now willing to cut blank checks to any free agents they desire. Further, they're also willing to eat money on certain existing contracts, to an extent. No, I'm not talking as much as Jacoby Ellsbury's contract, but others are certainly in play. It's time for a lavish and extravagant shopping spree.
Below are five transactions that happened in this fantasy world. After highlighting each trade or signing, I've provided a before and after look at the Fangraphs' Steamer Depth Charts in order to assess how much of an upgrade each move would be. Without further ado:
1. Trade for Chris Sale
Gleyber Torres? Sure. Clint Frazier? OK. Aaron Judge? Fine. Blake Rutherford? Fair enough. Justus Sheffield? Take him. Maybe it doesn't cost quite that much, or maybe it costs more than that. But in this universe, Cashman trades whatever it takes to get Sale. Fortunately, the farm system is deep enough that there's still quite a bit left over.
With Sale, the Yankees go from this...
Approximately a 2.5 win upgrade. Maybe more if you're pessimistic about guys like Luis Severino in Chad Green, as I noted in my last piece on Jose Quintana. Of course, the Yankees starting point win projection would be lower under such an assumption.
2. Trade for Brian Dozier
With whatever prospects the Yankees have remaining, the organization grabs Dozier from Minnesota. After this deal and Sale already acquired, the Yankees' top ten prospects would probably all be gone. But who cares? The time to win is now.
What happens to Starlin Castro? Since money is no object, the Steinbrenners eat the majority of his salary in a separate trade. They decide to give up on a player who had shown promise in Chicago and replace him with the slugging second baseman in Dozier.
Adding Dozier and subtracting Castro brings the Yankees from this...
Almost a two win boost. Playoffs, here we come!
3. Sign Yoenis Cespedes
With Aaron Judge undoubtedly included in one of the previous two trades, it's time to find his replacement. And no, Aaron Hicks is not going to step in. If you're a fan of the trope "When George was alive...", it's your lucky day. Like father like son, Hal wants to spend big to get the biggest name, and Cespedes is that guy.
Using Judge as a piece to get Sale or Dozier and replacing him with Cespedes changes the right field forecast from this...
Only about a win better. It's something, though. And really, this is an upgrade over Hicks more than Judge, since the latter was used to acquire either Sale or Dozier.
4. Sign Kenley Jansen (in addition to Aroldis Chapman)
Another year, another elite bullpen trio. Jansen would take Andrew Miller's spot, who was one of the big three entering 2016. This, of course, is in addition to the Chapman signing the Yankees made in reality.
Signing Jansen while eliminating replacement level innings thrown by Richard Bleier, Domingo German, Dietrich Enns, and "The Others" changes the Yankees' bullpen estimate from this...
Best bullpen in baseball? Best bullpen in baseball. But we're not done, yet.
5. Sign Justin Turner
Chase Headley's a nice player, but Turner is better. Like what happened with Castro, the Yankees eat the remainder of Headley's contract in another swap.
Dumping Headley and signing Turner improves the hot corner from this...
Tack on another 1.5 WAR.
Before we get to the finished product...
If you've made it this far, you've probably noticed or questioned a few things. First, let me just say that this isn't supposed to be completely realistic. Nonetheless, I'll try to explain a couple of working assumptions.
One might be how the Sale and Dozier trades were pulled off without including some or all of Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, or Luis Severino. It's an assumption I'm making that the Yankees would be able to pull off those deals without trading those pieces. Sanchez is by far the most valuable of this trio, and I'm labeling him untouchable. Severino's (disappointing 2016) and Bird's (shoulder) trade values are down, so I'm going forward with the idea that they won't be as useful in acquiring Sale or Dozier as those down on the farm. I'm not saying the front office wouldn't part with Bird or Severino to make the trades I've hypothesized, but rather, I'm assuming they can get done without them (and Sanchez). I mean, the farm system is arguably the best in the sport, right? The other options should be able to get these deals done.
Additionally, one might also wonder why I passed on making a change at designated hitter. After taking a look at other free agent options, like Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, it turns out that neither are significant upgrades over Matt Holliday and Bird in terms of WAR. So I'm assuming that the Yankees sign Holliday, just like real life. Saves me some time.
The Projected Results
These five moves add 6.8 WAR to the Yankees' projection, which is less than I had anticipated before starting this piece. That pulls the Yankees up to at least a 90-win squad, perhaps more when considering the shift in power by taking Sale away from the Red Sox. Ultimately, this is a surefire playoff team, which is precisely what this world's Yankees organization is going for. Assuming good health, here's how the 25-man roster would ideally shake out:
C: Gary Sanchez/Austin Romine
1B/DH: Greg Bird/Matt Holliday/Tyler Austin
2B: Brian Dozier/Ronald Torreyes
3B: Justin Turner/Ronald Torreyes
SS: Did Gregorius/Ronald Torreyes
OF: Brett Gardner/Jacoby Ellsbury/Yoenis Cespedes/Aaron Hicks/Tyler Austin
SP: Chris Sale/Masahiro Tanaka/Michael Pineda/CC Sabathia/Luis Severino
RP: Aroldis Chapman/Dellin Betances/Kenley Jansen/Tyler Clippard/Adam Warren/Tommy Layne/Scranton Shuttle Reliever
That's a pretty fun looking team. A handful of excellent right-handed hitters, a lethal bullpen, and an elite one-two punch at the top of the pitching staff. Perhaps the rotation could still use a little help at the back-end and the lineup could use some lefty power, but nonetheless, this universe's squad is a strong one.
The organization's future is weakened, but not totally crushed. Sale's friendly contract and the young core of Sanchez, Gregorius, and Bird is still promising. The farm system may go from near the top to the bottom of the league's best, but there are still young assets at the Major League level.
Is all of this realistic? Well, no, because none of this happened. But could it have? The trades probably could have happened, given the organization's lush young talent. What's most unrealistic in this scenario is the free-spending in free agency and willingness to eat dead money.
The point of this wasn't to be completely realistic. It was intended to be fun. It's a loosely plausible look at what could have been. In another sense, it helps illustrate just how far the Yankees, as presently constructed, are from being a playoff team. That isn't to say that they have no chance, as the team's current projected win total isn't far out of the playoff picture. It's just not likely. Even though we've grown accustomed to the organization's World Series or bust mantra, we can still enjoy the 2017 club despite it being an underdog.