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Checking in on the AL East: New York Yankees

Where do the Yankees stand during this offseason freeze?

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MLB: New York Yankees-Workouts Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s now been about six weeks that we’ve been in a standstill in this offseason, with the players and owners still seemingly far apart as they try to hammer out a new CBA. In the meantime, we’ve been examining the Boston Red Sox from all angles to figure out what lies ahead on the other side of the lockout, but what about the rest of the American League East? For this week, we’ll be looking at where the rest of the division stands this winter, going over what they got done before the lockout, and what questions they have to answer when things pick back up. We’ll go in reverse order of the 2021 standings, today looking at the New York Yankees.

What happened in 2021?

2021 was ultimately a disappointing season for the Yankees, who entered the year with so much talent and expectations to match but failed to live up to the hype. At some points during this past year, they looked utterly unbeatable but at others seemed as helpless as a major-league team can. The 2021 Yankees were just as likely to win six in a row as they were to lose six in a row.

A couple of blockbuster trade deadline moves for Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo helped propel a late August surge into playoff and division contention, but it ultimately wasn’t enough to overcome the Rays, who handily won the division by eight games. A Rizzo walk-off in game 162 over those very same Rays earned them a postseason berth, but their playoff run was short-lived.

Their season ended with a loss in the Wild Card game to the Red Sox. Boston forced Aaron Boone to pull his $324 million ace in the second inning and, behind a pair of home runs from Xander Bogearts and Kyle Schwarber and 5 ⅓ innings of one-run pitching from Nathan Eovaldi, Boston sent New York packing by way of a 6-2 win at Fenway.

Who did they lose before the lockout?

New York released Clint Fraizer (LF) in November. Frazier was supposed to be a budding star, a well-rounded player that they could plug in left field for years to come. Instead, Frazier followed up a promising 2020 season with career lows in average and slugging. He signed a one-year deal with the Cubs in December.

New York released Rougned Odor (2B) on the same day as they did Frazier. He played 102 games last season and made 89 starts, all as a middle infielder. He gave New York depth and played serviceable defense on the whole, but wasn’t much of an offensive threat. He will be with the Orioles on a one-year contract this spring.

Tyler Wade (2B), a utility infielder that played in more than 100 games but made only 145 plate appearances, was traded to the Angels for a player to be named later and cash in November.

Free agency is where the Yankees likely take their worst licks. Rizzo (1B), in addition to Corey Kluber (RHP), Brett Gardner (OF) and Darren O’Day (RHP) all opted for free agency prior to the lockout. While Rizzo and Gardner have yet to sign anywhere, Kluber — a solid middle-rotation starter in 2021 — signed for one year and $8 million with the Rays on Dec. 1. O’Day will also not return after agreeing to a deal with Atlanta, where he played the 2019 season.

Who did they add this winter?

New York hasn’t done much outside of the attrition mentioned above. Linsey Adler of the Athletic said in mid-December that she thinks the Yankees are waiting to see how the CBA unfolds before really getting the ball rolling on their major offseason moves.

They did, however, re-sign reliever Joely Rodriguez (LHP), who was a pleasant surprise out of the Yankee bullpen this season. He was an add-on to the Gallo trade over the summer but ended up posting a sub-3.00 ERA in 21 appearances for New York. He re-signed with the club on a one-year, $2 million deal before the lockout hit.

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What to expect post-lockout

The Yankees will be players in the Seiya Suzuki sweepstakes this winter, as they typically are anytime there’s a big time free agent on the market. They’ll be competing with the usual suspects — Boston, San Diego and the Dodgers — in addition to Tampa Bay and Toronto. But what they’re willing and able to offer Suzuki will hinge upon what else they need to fill on the roster and how much they spend elsewhere. They would likely need to be confident Suzuki can handle center field between Aaron Judge and Gallo to make that signing.

Rizzo’s powerful lefty swing would thrive hitting into Yankee Stadium’s short right field and an experienced glove at first is just what the doctor ordered for that defense. But Jim Bowman reported in November that the Yankees are waiting to see if Freddie Freeman or Matt Olsen are available before moving on to Rizzo.

Pitching is also a desperate need for the Yankees, who are suddenly thin in the rotation after losing Kluber. Any pieces added to the bullpen will likely be complementary ones meant to support Aroldis Chapman and company, who ranked second in wins in relief and inherited runners scored in the AL. But outside of Gerrit Cole, New York’s starting rotation, which tallied just 51 quality starts last season, will need a lift.

The Yankees could also listen to trade offers for Gary Sanchez (C), but not before his successor behind the dish is lined up. I’m not sure Kyle Higashioka is that guy, at least at the moment, so they would probably have to explore a pretty dry catcher market.