Okay it’s January and here’s where we are as the winter hot stove resumed. Some free agents left on the market, though not in the magnitude of Ohtani and Yamamoto. The Dodgers are clearly the offseason winners, and they may not be done.
Six weeks to spring training so surely there will be free agents taken off the market and a cluster of trades. But here in New York it has been slow, except of course the Yankees trade for Juan Soto. Pitcher Luis Severino and Gold Glove winning outfielder Harrison Bader signed one-year contracts with the Mets, joining that long list of former Yankees that crossed town.
The latest move from David Stearns, their new head of baseball operations, did not score more points with his fan base in claiming infielder Diego Castillo off waivers from the Diamondbacks. Not a blockbuster for sure, though Castillo comes at minimal expense and appeared in one game last year. He may not fit into their equation with the veteran Joey Wendle, also signed to a one-year contract and known as one of the few MLB players to not wear batting gloves.
Bader, though, makes the Mets outfield better and defensively there is an upgrade. The emphasis of Stearns is to keep the Mets in contention and build to something bigger next year. An outfield of injury prone Starling Marte in right, Bader in center, and Brandon Nimmo in left looks good but it has to be determined.
With a need for rotation help, the Mets acquired 30-year old righthander Adrian Houser from the Brewers. The familiarity with Stearns during their tenures in Milwaukee, Houser was one of many “Plan B” options as the Mets lost their bidding for Yamamoto.
Back to the Mets in a moment. With Soto, the Yankees, as I mentioned above, also have an upgrade with their trade for Alex Verdugo. Both hitters provide left handed presence in a lineup that was sorely lacking in that department. However, the Yankees also need to upgrade a pitching rotation to solidify who follows Gerrit Cole. The task is to make the right choice among the options still available among the free agents that remain on the market.
Regardless, GM Brian Cashman and Stearns are still in the hunt. The agenda in my opinion is not complete. The Yankees and Mets philosophy is contending in 2024, though qualifying as favorites to play deep baseball in October, they are not.
The Yankees are not scoring points either, agreeing to a one-year deal with 29-year old Cody Poteet, who last pitched in the majors for the Marlins in 2022 and spent last year rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Though, claiming 25-year old outfielder Bubba Thompson off waivers from the Reds is not considered a blockbuster and could be a needed utility player off the bench. Thompson batted .170 with 10 runs, four doubles. a triple, four RBI and four steals in 37 games with the World Series champion Rangers in 2023 and claimed by the Reds in October.
Obviously, though, the Yankees will need to invest in pitching. The Soto trade cost them as Cashman dealt an influx of arms to get the outfielder. Michael King leaves a major void in their rotation and Soto who is in a walk year, has no guarantee for a return to the Bronx in 2025. Need I remind you, Cashman has failed and dealt many pitching prospects in trades that were failures.
So both teams are in that contingency plan, especially losing out in acquiring Yamamoto. Take your pick and continue to hear the names because the free-agent market is still stocked with pitchers and position players. The business will pick up more with spring training not too far off the distance.
As reported from many colleagues, usually the sources are accurate and on the same page, Stearns and Cashman will be budget conscious and do what is best, Also the lure of signing a free agent has become as difficult as winning a World Series.
I see names of pitchers Jordan Montgomery, Blake Snell, Josh Hader, pitchers who could fit into a plan for the Yankees or Mets based on their needs. Position players include Cody Bellinger, Matt Chapman, Teoscar Hernadez. And the Mets could take a chance and reunite with Justin Turner or offer a viable contract to J.D. Martinez to fill a need for their designated hitter spot.
Again, it’s based on needs and most likely one-year deals for some. We are seeing Stearns go with that strategy, signings that are not a major risk, while trying to remain a viable contender. The Yankees, though, need another big splash or two and are reportedly in play for Smell, the two-time CY Young Award winner.
There is a contingency plan in lefthander Shota Imanaga, though not in the league with Yamomoto (2,96 ERA, 2.50 in past three years) and could be slotted into a third or fourth starter for the Yankees or number two for the Mets. Scouts are impressed with his strikeout to walk ratio, Reportedly the Giants, Red Sox, Cubs, and Angels are in the running. The 30-year old Imanaga is seeking a five-year $75 million contract. A reasonable offer that resembles the deal for the Mets’ Kodai Senga but like Yamomoto, has not thrown a pitch in the Major Leagues.
Take your pick of what is available. The Mets reunion with right handed reliever David Robertson and re-up with Adam Ottavino? Or another former Yankee, Wandy Peralta, who would be a nice addition to set up a returning Edwin Diaz. I don’t see a pitch for Aroldis Chapman, The Yankees would benefit with right Handers Hector Neris, Phil Maton, or left hander Matt Moore.
Relief pitching is definitely a commodity and a need. I can’t say what is in store the next month or so, but we know there are needs. The Yankees and Mets are not finished with their agenda so this will be interesting.
You can be a GM today and they will tell you what a great role it is but you’re on pins and needles, more so this time of year as rosters are being constructed. Nevertheless, it makes for more interesting offseason baseball activity.
Rich Mancuso: X (Formerly Twitter) @Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso