Yankees’ lack of impending free agents creates 2022 intrigue

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Here are the players on the Yankees’ 40-man roster who can be unrestricted free agents after this season:

Corey Kluber.

End of list.

The Yankees control every non-Kluber beyond this year, giving them power over just how much of this team they will want back in 2022. Perhaps the answer to how many revolves around just how successful they are in 2021. Hal Steinbrenner mandated a significant drop in payroll this season, to below the $210 million luxury-tax threshold following what he claimed were the largest losses in the sport due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is uncertain if there even will be a luxury tax going forward, with MLB and the union having to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement — the current one expires Dec. 1. Still, with or without one, the best way to compel Steinbrenner to enlarge the payroll and keep this group intact is to at least get to the World Series for the first time since 2009, if not win it. That also would go a long way to assuring the return of the organization’s highest-profile free-agent-to-be, manager Aaron Boone.

In syrupy Zoom conference after Zoom conference, Yankees players offer admiration and respect for each other. Here is a chance, if the love-fest is real, to make a statement on coming back at least close to en masse a year from now.

For the Yankees may lack large-scale free agents like this past offseason with DJ LeMahieu, Brett Gardner, J.A. Happ, James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka. But they have a slew of players whose future in pinstripes is uncertain:

The looming walk year

Chad Green, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Jameson Taillon are all due to become first-time free agents after the 2022 season.

In the not too distant past, the Yanks expected to build their everyday lineup around Judge, Sanchez and Greg Bird. Bird fizzled physically and in performance, and to some degree the same has been true for Judge and Sanchez. Can that duo stay off the injured list and play at a high level? If so, they likely can see their combined salaries double from this year’s $17.1 million for 2022. And the Yanks would have to consider whether to go long term, particularly with Judge.

But more injuries for Judge, and more strikeouts and passed balls for Sanchez will change the equation. The Yanks already considered non-tendering Sanchez this past offseason. That would be in play again with another poor year. And as much as Judge has felt like the next of the career-long Yankees, having Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton on big long-term deals will make the organization even more judicious about handing out the next one.

Yankees Aaron Judge Gary Sanchez
Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge (l.) and catcher Gary Sanchez (r.) can both be free agents after the 2022 season.
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg (2)

Is Taillon a trustworthy No. 2-3 starter or the latest Javier Vazquez? Zach Britton and Aroldis Chapman also are free agents after 2022, albeit with expiring multiyear deals rather than exploring the process for the first time. Either way, with Green, it means a lot of relievers who can walk out the door simultaneously.

The continuing righty debate

The Yanks stuck with their near all-righty lineup for yet another season, saying they did not want to add inferior players just for diversity. So that meant seeing again if Gleyber Torres can handle shortstop, not trading Luke Voit at arguably the top of his value and giving Clint Frazier a chance as the starting left fielder. Each will be second-year arbitration eligible after this season, so beginning to move up the pay scale. Are they keepers or not?

The starting carousel

The Yanks want to believe they are on the verge of getting high-end performance from internal candidates such as Domingo German, back from a domestic abuse-related suspension; Luis Severino, back from Tommy John surgery; Deivi Garcia; Jordan Montgomery; Clarke Schmidt and Michael King, with perhaps a bunch of power arms percolating behind them and ready to use a minor league season to show they are near.

So this can be an area that at least short term provides relatively low-cost options behind Gerrit Cole or forces the Yankees to retain someone like Kluber or find another starter or two in trades and/or free agency.

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