There is no more important decision this offseason for the Yankees than what they do at shortstop, which will almost certainly involve a major free-agent signing.
But before that happens, the Yankees have some significant moves to make — and that starts before Friday, MLB’s deadline to add minor leaguers to the 40-man roster or risk losing them to the Rule 5 draft, currently scheduled for Dec. 10 after the winter meetings.
Since the Yankees’ 40-man roster is full thanks to the re-signing left-hander Joely Rodriguez and bringing up catcher Donny Sands, they’ll have to do some maneuvering in order to protect some of their prospects — a list that could include catcher Josh Breaux, outfielder Everson Pereira, infielder Oswaldo Cabrera and pitcher Randy Vasquez — among others.
And that could lead to some early-offseason activity, even with a lockout expected after the current collective bargaining agreement expires on Dec. 2.
With the Yankees interested in trade targets like Oakland first baseman Matt Olson and the A’s looking for prospects in return, a match could be made quickly.
The Yankees pulled off a similar deal three years ago, when they acquired left-hander James Paxton from the Mariners, in exchange for three minor leaguers, including Justus Sheffield.
They could look to move Clint Frazier or Miguel Andujar, but their trade value is severely diminished from where it was earlier in their careers, which have both been sidetracked by injuries.
And they’ll have to decide what to do with Luke Voit, coming off an injury-marred season, but just one year removed from leading the majors in home runs during the COVID-shortened 2020 season.
Right-handers Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt, once jewels of the Yankee farm system, fell off in 2021. Garcia’s decline was due to a rough season spent mostly at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Schmidt was waylaid by an elbow injury that kept him out for much of the season.
General manager Brian Cashman is looking to remake the Yankees’ roster, trying to find more athleticism and balance in a right-handed heavy offense.
And because of the regression of both Garcia and Schmidt, the Yankees can’t count on either contributing to next year’s rotation, which is another reason they remain interested in adding an arm, likely in free agency.
As of now, the Yankees infield is muddled, with no clear-cut first baseman, Gleyber Torres likely at second, Gio Urshela at third and no real shortstop — with DJ LeMahieu possibly back in more of a utility role the Yankees saw him as a fit for when he initially signed to play in The Bronx.
But a star shortstop would change all that, as would a trade for Olson or bringing back Anthony Rizzo on a new deal to play first. And as long as Voit is in the organization, he has proven he can hit and Cashman said at the GM meetings last week that Voit’s left knee was healthy.
So while the wait is on for free-agent options at short such as Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Marcus Semien and others, the Yankees’ face-lift figures to begin even before that addition.