Stars to watch atop of Yankees’ to-do list

by NEW YORK DIGITAL NEWS



NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A vital offseason for the Yankees is about to get real.

The baseball world began to arrive at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center on Sunday for the winter meetings that typically spur action and finally begin to stoke the hot stove.

And the Yankees are expected to be right in the middle of the action, coming off a season that general manager Brian Cashman described as a “disaster.”

At the forefront of the buzz surrounding the Yankees is a potential trade for Juan Soto, even if their talks with the Padres had cooled off in the days leading up to the meetings because of San Diego’s high asking price.

But the Yankees are also involved at the top of the free-agent market — most notably Cody Bellinger and Yoshinobu Yamamoto — which could begin to move once two-way star Shohei Ohtani decides where he is headed.

On the Yankees’ shopping list, as laid out by Cashman at last month’s GM meetings, are a center fielder and left fielder — preferably left-handed hitting — along with reinforcing their pitching.

“We’re knocking on those doors, we’re having those conversations,” Cashman said a week before Thanksgiving.

“Hal Steinbrenner and his family have always run it the way that if there’s an opportunity that’s worth pushing through on, they’re always there to allow that to happen. It’s all about a team situation and how the collective all works together. We’ll see how this winter plays out, but we’re going to have conversations with the big ones and the small ones.”

Juan Soto hits a home run against the San Francisco Giants in the first inning at Oracle Park on September 26, 2023. Getty Images

There are different avenues the Yankees could take to check off those needs, but here are the main actors to watch this week:

Juan Soto

It’s not often that one of the game’s best hitters becomes available before hitting free agency.

But that appears to be the case with Soto, as the Padres need to slash payroll and the star outfielder is one year away from free agency.

The Yankees and Padres had been talking last week but, as of Sunday morning, had not spoken since the Padres requested a six-player package that included starter Michael King and top pitching prospect Drew Thorpe, The Post’s Jon Heyman reported.

The Yankees have some strong starting depth in the upper levels of their minor league system and the Padres need pitching, but it remains to be seen whether the teams can find a deal.

Other names that could be in play from the Yankees’ side are Clarke Schmidt, Randy Vasquez, Jhony Brito and Chase Hampton, among others.

The Padres could also try to include center fielder Trent Grisham in the deal to shed more payroll.

It’s possible the Padres wait to deal Soto until after Ohtani signs, thinking the teams that miss out on Ohtani would step up their pursuit of Soto.

Cody Bellinger

If the Yankees decide the price for Soto is too rich, they could turn to Bellinger, a lefty bat that would only cost them dollars (albeit a lot of them) and a future draft pick (because Bellinger declined a qualifying offer from the Cubs).

Cody Bellinger makes a catch during the third inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field. Getty Images
Yoshinobu Yamamoto delivers a pitch during the fifth inning of a World Baseball Classic game against Mexico. AP

There are some questions about Bellinger, who returned to form in 2023 after two rough seasons (that included injuries) but without the strong metrics (like hard-hit rate) that the Yankees typically look for.

The upside is that he can play a quality center field and then eventually move to first base later in the contract.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto

This one may not have a resolution this week, as Yamamoto is expected to meet with teams after the winter meetings, but the Yankees have heavily scouted the Japanese ace who is poised to land more than $200 million.

Adding Yamamoto behind Gerrit Cole would bolster the Yankees rotation and perhaps soften the blow if they are forced to deal King for Soto.

Etc.

Aaron Boone is scheduled to meet the media on Tuesday for the first time since the end of the season.

He has a new bench coach (Brad Ausmus) and hitting coach (James Rowson), along with votes of confidence from Hal Steinbrenner and Cashman, though he is once again entering the final year of his contract.



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