On Monday, after making a puzzling trade to acquire Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Ben Rortvedt for Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela, Brian Cashman spoke about the odd deal.
“We appreciate what Gio has done,” Cashman said to Meredith Marakovits. “But he’s not Josh Donaldson.”
Despite choosing to trade for Kiner-Falefa rather than sign Corey Seager, Carlos Correa or Trevor Story, and despite not adding a single starting pitcher, and despite not trading for Matt Olson or participating in the Athletics’ firesale in any capacity, the Yankees still had a chance to semi-save their disastrous offseason by bringing Freddie Freeman to the Bronx. Instead, they chose to sign Anthony Rizzo to a two-year deal.
I appreciate what Anthony Rizzo has done, but he’s not Freddie Freeman. He’s not close to being Freeman.
In terms of age, Freeman is 13 months younger. In terms of career, Freeman has posted a 43.1 WAR to Rizzo’s 36.8. In terms of postseason performance, Freeman has hit .290/.393/.523 in 42 games and Rizzo has hit .207/.283/.387 in 40 games. In terms of recent production, Freeman is coming off a 4.7 WAR season and Rizzo a 1.7.
In 2021, Freeman hit .300/.393/.503 with 31 home runs, led the league in runs scored (120), won his third straight Silver Slugger, was an All-Star for the third straight time, and finished in the Top 9 in NL MVP voting for the fourth time in four years (a year after winning the award). Rizzo posted his worst full-season OPS (.783) since his first full season in the majors (2013). He hit a career-low 21 home runs, drove in a career-worst 61 runs and had the second-worst on-base and slugging percentages of his career. As a Yankee, Rizzo hit .249/.340/.428, homered in his first two games on July 30 and July 31 and then hit two home runs over the next six weeks.
The Yankees reset their luxury tax penalty prior to this offseason and there was the hope they would use the reset to their advantage. They could go to the “marketplace” (Cashman’s favorite word) with their financial might and all it would cost them to make impressive roster upgrades would be money. Money. That’s it. The resource they make more of than the league’s other 29 teams.
Instead of using their financial power to bring in the “legitimate options” (a phrase Cashman used at his mid-October, end-of-the-season press conference), the Yankees have traded for a light-hitting stopgap shortstop, acquired a 36-year-old former superstar third baseman who has played 135 games in just two of the last five years and is owed $48 million, created the worst starting catching tandem in the majors and now signed a 32-year-old first baseman who’s coming off his worst full season since his first full season nine years ago. In each of these moves, the Yankees had the option to use the free-agent marketplace to their advantage and plug holes created by their past poor roster construction. In each move, they failed to do so.
The Yankees could have signed Seager, Correa or Story to be their everyday shortstop. Signing any of the three would have instantly made the Yankees better and would have pleased a fanbase that has watched the team half-ass its way to building rosters, resulting in early-postseason exits in three of the last four years. By signing one of the star shortstops in the best shortstop free-agent class of all time, the Yankees then would have been able to keep both Urshela and Sanchez and used the $48 million they now owe to Donaldson toward paying their new shortstop. A Seager-Urshela, Correa-Urshela or Story-Urshela left side of the infield and Sanchez at catcher is a much better situation than Kiner-Falefa and Donaldson at short and third and Kyle Higashioka and Rortvedt behind the plate. The Yankees instead chose to make the deal with the Twins, a deal that makes them worse, and you would have to lie to yourself in a way that Aaron Boone lies daily to Yankees fans to think the Yankees got better after Sunday night’s trade.
After watching the Braves trade for Olson, the Yankees were left with signing either Freeman or Rizzo to play first (since they have tried to trade Luke Voit for a full calendar year). Once again, rather than using their financial strength as a strength, they passed up the top-shelf choice for a good, but not great option. Rather than reinvigorate the fanbase and show that while the front office is committed to either Oswald Peraza or Anthony Volpe as their future shortstop, they still mean business when it comes to other positions. Now the Yankees are out on Freeman. Just like they are out on Seager, Correa and Story (just like they were out on other free-agent stars in their prime like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado). Just like they have been out on the starting pitching market as a whole this offseason.
Rizzo isn’t an upgrade and doesn’t bring change to the Yankees’ roster that was the preseason favorite to win the American League and ended up finishing fifth in the AL and third in their own division and played nine innings of postseason baseball. He was part of that roster. A Yankees team that failed miserably to meet expectations in 2021 has exchanged Sanchez and Urshela for Kiner-Falefa, Donaldson and Rortvedt for 2022.
The Yankees didn’t use their luxury-tax reset to build the best possible roster. They haven’t upgraded the roster with the “legitimate options” Cashman referred to in October. They have taken a roster that wasn’t good enough to reach the postseason until the final at-bat of the regular season and wasn’t good enough to win a postseason game and they have made it worse.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!