For the Orioles to get back to the playoffs, they will have to stand up to the Yankees.
The Baltimore Orioles play in the toughest division in baseball and reaching the postseason will require going toe to toe with the New York Yankees. As we continue to cover the Birds’ offseason moves and priorities, I will be keeping track of what the rest of the AL East is up to. Today the focus is on the reigning division champion Yankees.
The Evil Empire has not been the dominating force in the last decade like they were for much of the previous 90 years, but they are still an annual contender. The Yankees finished with the second-best record in the American League and reached the ALCS, which only qualifies as a disappointing season to them and the Dodgers. But now the Yanks are in a very difficult position despite their endless resources. In recent years, Brian Cashman has been far more reluctant to hand out massive contracts despite his endless pursuit of another World Series title. Orioles fans can understand that contradiction, but the Yankees are the biggest team in the world and don’t need to be thrifty with every single transaction. Fans in the Bronx long for the days of George’s Yankees, when the owner would empty out his pockets to sign every pricey free agent. But these are Hal’s Yankees now, and the living Steinbrenner can’t or won’t pay up for every available star.
The Yankees and Orioles are Wading in Similar Waters
While Mike Elias has the green light to increase the Orioles’ payroll, Cashman has to toe the line to some extent. The Yankees do, of course, pay the competitive balance tax, but their 2022 CBT payroll of $259M is far below what the Hollywood Dodgers and Wall Street Mets spend. The two rivals might have some similar targets. Both are looking to shore up their position player group in the infield and outfield and have great farm systems to deal from. The Yanks don’t need an ace like the Orioles do, but they could both pursue mid-rotation arms.
Cashman faces the toughest decision of any executive this winter: should he resign Aaron Judge? The tall righty is the top free agent available and will get at least $300M. There are very strong arguments for why the Yankees must bring him back and for why it’s time to move on. Judge has been the face of the franchise for six years and just set the AL record for home runs. Judge’s struggles aside, in the playoffs we saw how lifeless the Yankees lineup can be, scoring just nine runs in the ALCS sweep. If #99 walks, the front office will have to scramble to find other outfield options, and there aren’t many good ones.
On the flip side, given how many holes the Yankees have to fill, signing Judge would completely hamstring their ability to do much else. Beyond centerfield, New York needs a first baseman and has to figure out who plays shortstop. Resigning Anthony Rizzo is a natural fit, but there wouldn’t be room to shore up the pitching staff. Ideally, they want to dump the salaries of Aaron Hicks and Josh Donaldson but finding interested clubs will be quite the challenge.
I can assure you that the Orioles won’t be the team to take on either contract. During the depths of the rebuild, I advocated for the O’s to “buy” prospects by taking on big contracts, but they did not do that. Now that the team is contending, the strategy would be counterproductive. Baltimore already has an elite defender at third base, and Hicks is close to unplayable on the grass and at the plate.
Most insiders are predicting Judge will stay in the Bronx, and I would guess Cashman ultimately will offer him a fair contract. But that doesn’t mean he will make the best offer. With plenty of payroll space and a local connection, I think the Giants ensure their offer is the best one. It is certainly possible Judge choose to remain with his only team, but I am betting he goes back home to Northern California. The Yankees front office must be preparing Plans B and C in case their superstar leaves town. Brandon Nimmo will likely resign with the Mets, so Cashman will have to turn to the trade market.
The Orioles and Yankees are Both Calling Kim Ng
There is one player that many Orioles fans are craving, and the Yankees are known to have an interest in him. New York nearly traded for Pablo Lopez at the deadline, but they backed out when Miami’s demands increased. The Marlins asked for Oswald Peraza in addition to Gleyber Torres, and Cashman balked at the price, even with Miguel Rojas coming along with Lopez. Perhaps the affair soured future talks between the two sides, but Cashman is probably trying again this winter. If the Orioles are motivated enough to trade for Lopez, they have clear competition.
This is where Elias should pull off some gamesmanship. If he really wants Lopez, he has plenty of prospects to pull off a trade. But if the front office is only lukewarm on the Marlins righty, they can pretend to show more interest to drive up the price. With plenty of pitching options available, they can pivot to someone like Jose Quintana while the Yankees or a third team overpay for Lopez.
As it stands in mid-November, the Yankees have more resources and a better roster than the Orioles. But the two franchises are headed in different directions, and how they use talent and financial capital could determine the 2023 AL East.