Do the Yankees have another November surprise in them?
While Major League Baseball’s Hot Stove League generally proceeds at a slow boil, a stark contrast to the NBA’s frenetic offseason — the difference lies in the salary cap that exists in basketball but not in baseball — the Yankees have made the November (and early December) transaction a vital weapon in their repertoire. Many of those transactions had seeds planted or even hatched during the general managers’ meetings, which begin Monday in Scottdale, Ariz.
General manager Brian Cashman and his deputies surely will meet with agents such as Scott Boras (Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel, Hyun-jin Ryu and Stephen Strasburg) and B.B. Abbott (Zack Wheeler) to discuss the free agents they represent, yet those big-money pursuits typically last into the winter meetings and beyond.
If the Yankees uphold their recent tradition, they’ll find areas in which to be aggressive, either in the trade market or with lower-cost free agents, to provide themselves with leverage in the deeper waters.
They already checked a big box by extending closer Aroldis Chapman to prevent him from opting out of his contract. Their remaining obvious areas of need are in their pitching staff (starters and relievers), shortstop and center field.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Yankees reach common ground shortly with their old pal Brett Gardner, a free agent for the first time, to return and help fill the void left by Aaron Hicks’ Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. A re-up with their own shortstop, Didi Gregorius, also a free agent, would take longer, since the Yankees don’t appear to be inclined to give the 29-year-old the sort of pricey, multi-year commitment Gregorius desires.
Hence the possibility of trades. Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor ranks as the big catch, and the Reds could trade Freddy Galvis if they make a run at Gregorius, whom they originally signed out of Curacao. On the pitching front, the Yankees expressed interest in the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard last winter and surely will do so again, although Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen is on record that Syndergaard will be on his team in 2020. Royals closer Ian Kennedy, drafted by the Yankees in 2006, likely will be available as Kansas City rebuilds.
Last year, when the meetings were held in Carlsbad, Calif., the Yankees laid the groundwork for the Nov. 19 trade that sent southpaw James Paxton from Seattle to The Bronx, strengthening the front end of the Yankees’ starting rotation. That, along with the re-signing of CC Sabathia during the meetings, placed them ahead of the pack as they aspired to land two starting pitchers — although they wound up losing out to the Nationals on free agent Patrick Corbin and re-signed J.A. Happ instead.
Hicks, a terrific pickup, joined the Yankees via a trade with the Twins on Nov. 11, 2015, in the middle of those GM meetings. The prior year, on Nov. 12, 2014, the Yankees dealt catcher Francisco Cervelli to the Pirates for lefty reliever Justin Wilson, who contributed significantly in 2015 and then got flipped to the Tigers the next December for the extremely valuable Chad Green, as well as Luis Cessa.
And the Yankees acquired Gregorius from Arizona as part of a three-team trade (with Detroit as the third club) on Dec. 5, 2014, before the winter meetings began.
Another similar transaction would help the Yankees close the gap with the Astros. Even better, though, would be a savvy November trade, followed by a large December/January expenditure on a free-agent arm.
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