Nolan Arenado returns to the dugout after striking out with bases loaded in the first inning of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.

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Murti: Arenado Would Be Great Fallback Plan For Yankees

Might NY Look To Trade Market If They Lose Out On Harper, Machado?

Sweeny Murti
December 20, 2018 - 5:33 pm

Since free agency began in the 1970’s, the Yankees have been major players for the game’s biggest stars, especially in what they consider a championship window.  

They signed Reggie Jackson after a pennant-winning season in 1976.  They courted Barry Bonds and Greg Maddux (but failed to land either one) when they sensed a tide turning after the 1992 season. They signed Mike Mussina after winning three straight World Series, then Jason Giambi a year later.  And they blew out the bank to sign CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mark Teixeira to give their Core Four another shot at a ring after the 2008 season.  

Now here we are at another turning point for the Yankees franchise.  They have won 200 games in the last two seasons (including playoffs), but haven’t been to the World Series since 2009.  If the Yankees miss again in 2019 they will fail to win a pennant during an entire decade for the first time since 1910-19. 

So free agency now presents them with two generational talents hitting the market at 26-years-old, potentially able to provide almost a decade’s worth of dominant, All-Star caliber production.  And what are the Yankees doing?  They are competing for Manny Machado with the Phillies and White Sox, while showing virtually no interest in Bryce Harper.

MORE: Happ On Machado Possibly Joining Yankees: 'Obviously, You'd Welcome That'

It has been assumed for years that the Yankees made their goal of getting under the payroll tax threshold in 2018 at least in part so they could pursue one or even both of these superstar free agents.  Yet as we sit here just days away from Christmas, one question keeps popping into my head.

What if the Yankees don’t land either one?

After all, the Yankees have been beaten out before while drawing a line in the sand — just a few weeks ago with Patrick Corbin and the Nationals.  And there was Robinson Cano and the Mariners five years ago.

Brian Cashman often sounds like Ross Geller trying to get his couch up the stairs when he says he has to “PIVOT” as players come off the board and force a shift in strategy.  But where could he “PIVOT” if say, Machado signed with the Phillies and Harper with the Dodgers?

As I thought about that this week, my attention shifted to next year’s free agent class where one name jumped out — Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado.

Already a six-time Gold Glove winner and four-time Silver Slugger, Arenado is entering his final season of arbitration with Colorado and will hit free agency next winter entering his age 29 season.  So he is slightly older than Machado or Harper, but will still have a number of prime years ahead of him.

Both Harper and Machado are among the most talented players we’ve seen in a long time, yet there is some trepidation about handing either one a contract for over $300 million dollars.  Machado has been tagged with a scarlet letter because of his “Johnny Hustle” comments and Harper has been labeled as surly and underachieving.

Arenado is a player who doesn’t have strong negatives attached to him. He ranks with Mike Trout among the best two-way players in the sport and is as close to a perfect player as you will find in free agency.  As one scout told me, “He is Colorado’s Aaron Judge.  If I’m giving someone $300 million to play third base it would be Arenado, not Machado.”

Arenado was a second-round pick by the Rockies in 2009 out of El Toro High School in Lake Forest, California — which also produced Yankees catcher Austin Romine and A’s third baseman Matt Chapman.  I had heard speculation that Arenado would prefer to play on the West Coast, but two people this week told me Arenado absolutely wants to play for the Yankees and has in fact told them that.

MORE: Yankees Could Be Eyeing Tulowitzki As Fallback Plan For Machado

Arenado is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to make a record $26.1 million in his final year of arbitration. While the Rockies could attempt to re-sign him long term, their payroll might not be able to take that hit and there could be a trade market for Arenado right now.  And that’s where the Yankees — assuming they have whiffed on both Harper and Machado — could come into play.  

While the Yankees can’t be eager to trade Miguel Andujar, who is still earning less than $1 million per year and was arguably their best offensive player last season, he could be the chip the Yankees need to surrender to get the steadier glove and more potent bat in Arenado.  While the Yankees are a bit thinner in prospects after trades and promotions the last two years, a package of Andujar, Jonathan Loaisiga and one other pitching prospect could be enough to get Arenado for his walk year.  And if he really wants to be a Yankee, that big free agent contract can be hammered out anytime before next offseason.

Sure, the Yankees could just wait for Arenado to hit the open market next winter, but that championship window I talked about is in play.  It’s times like this the Yankees get aggressive, not passive.

And if the Yankees follow through with inferred plans to keep Didi Gregorius, who is also eligible for free agency next winter, then the Yankees could have an infield that includes Arenado, Gregorius and Gleyber Torres. And while they have far from any certainty at first base with the Luke Voit/Greg Bird combo, there is an argument to be made for trying to shift Andujar to first base.  It wouldn’t be unprecedented to move a player across the diamond like that — Teixeira as a Texas Ranger comes to mind—but there is a bit more risk involved there for a player like Andujar, who to this point simply doesn’t seem to have adapted to the speed of the big league game on defense. But it would be unlikely the Yankees could pry Arenado from the Rockies for a package that didn’t include the high-ceiling bat of Andujar.

So, are the Yankees a better team with Arenado or Andujar?  Or are they better off just signing Harper or Machado now while they are there for the taking?  One of these guys has to end up a Yankee, right?

If the Yankees really are “a fully operational Death Star” as Brian Cashman proclaimed at the Winter Meetings, then there is no way they are walking away empty handed at this crucial juncture for a franchise now in it’s third-longest World Series drought in almost a hundred years.

Follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN