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Top Free Agents Still Available, But The Yankees Have Been Busy Shoppers

The Philadelphia Phillies promise to bust every piggy bank at Citizens Bank Park to improve their team. There is corroborating evidence: the signings of outfielder Andrew McCutchen ($50 million), reliever David Robertson ($23 million), the pursuit of Bryce Harper and the admission from ownership that the team is prepared to spend “crazy money.”

The Chicago White Sox have joined the friends and family plan. Here is the proof: the acquisitions of Manny Machado’s brother-in-law, first baseman Yonder Alonso, and Machado’s best friend, outfielder Jon Jay, to whet Machado’s whistle before reportedly offering him a seven-year, $175 million deal.

New York Yankees

(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Still, there is little doubt the New York Yankees have caused the biggest splash in the free agent pool with a number of signings that have echoed throughout MLB.

The Yankees won 100 games last season yet finished eight behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL East. Of course, this relegated the Bronx Bombers to a Wild Card roll, which ultimately led to their elimination in the Divisional Series to the Sox, the eventual World Series champion.

This apparently has made the Yankees envious and angry because they’ve hit free agency like it was a pinata, spreading cash around for a fortunate few.

Just the other day, the Yankees came to terms with reliever Adam Ottavino on a three-year, $27 million deal that seems to add another layer of steel to what’s already a seemingly impenetrable bullpen.

Not only did he strike out 112 hitters in 77 2/3 innings last season – fourth among MLB relievers – he held them to a .158 batting average and had a .243 ERA average. Ottavino is also the guy who said recently that if he could time travel, he’d whiff The Babe every single time he faced him.

“I had an argument with a coach in Triple-A about Babe Ruth’s effectiveness in today’s game,” Ottavino told MLB.com. “I said, ‘Babe Ruth, with that swing, swinging that bat, I got him hitting .140 with eight homers.’ … I’m like, ‘I would strike Babe Ruth out every time.’

“I’m not trying to disrespect him, you know, rest in peace, you know, shout out to Babe Ruth. But it was a different game. I mean, the guy ate hot dogs and drank beer and did whatever he did. It was just a different game.”

Here’s something else to remember about Ottavino. He is the only MLB pitcher in history to wear No. 0. Every other single-digit uniform number with the Yankees is retired (quiz in the morning). Will the Yankees allow him to retain it?

In and of itself, the signing of Ottavino away from the Colorado Rockies would signal a major boost for any bullpen. In New York, he is simply an accouterment. That Yankees already have Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Chad Green, and Jonathan Holder. And on Jan. 6, the re-signed their own free agent, Zach Britton, for three years and $39 million.

In 2018, the Yankees bullpen became the first in the MLB history to strike out more than 30 percent of hitters faced. Look at these numbers for pitchers who threw at least 50 innings: Chapman (16.3 Ks per nine innings), Betances (15.5) and Ottavino (13.0).

The Yankees were assailed in 2018 for a perceived lack of quality starting pitchers. While that need has been specifically addressed with the acquisition of lefty James Paxton, the organization is also armed well enough to play Tampa Bay Rays ball, a game that begins with a relief pitcher and slowly winds its way to the ninth inning by maximizing the bullpen.

Then, there is the Yankees infield. The team is bracing to play until at least the summer without shortstop Didi Gregorius, who had Tommy John surgery in October 2018. This is no small loss. He hit a career-high 27 homers last season with 86 RBIs in just 134 games.

While they are also shopping for Machado to play short or third, they have added depth to the infield by signing Troy Tulowitzki and second baseman D.J. LeMahieu (two years, $24 million). The Yanks are only obligated to play Tulo the MLB minimum next season (Toronto pays the remaining $38 million).

Aside from fattening up a really good team, all these signings have come at an additional cost. Unless players are pared between now and the start of spring training, it looks like the Yankees will have spent more than the $206 million salary threshold. That means they will be obligated to pay MLB a luxury tax, although how much is yet to the determined.

But’s what’s money to the Bronx Bombers? According to the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), the Yankees dished $319.6 million in penalties from 2003-17.

However, of additional interest is how the archrival Red Sox have and will react to these machinations.

The Red Sox, whose projected payroll this season is already $240 million, bought themselves a championship last season by paying just under $12 million in luxury tax. This offseason has been comparatively muted. They lost free agent reliever Joe Kelly to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but have shown little interest in re-signing free agent Craig Kimbrel, also rumored to be on the Phillies to-do list.

“Sometimes you need to evaluate where you are going to spend,” team president Dave Dombrowski told the media prior to the Boston Baseball Writers Dinner. “We decided to keep back the rest of the club’s core. We like our team a great deal and we think some of the guys internally can do the job. Can we get better? Perhaps. We’ll see what takes place in that regard.”

Before the end of the year, they did re-sign World Series heroes pitcher Nathan Eovaldi  (four years, $67.5 million) and outfielder Steve Pearce (one year, $6.25 million).