The Yankees leaped forward with DJ’s signing. Now it’s time to fill in those all-important smaller pieces that make for a title-winning team.
The Yankees put most of their eggs in one basket and came out with DJ LeMahieu in tow as this year’s version of Gerrit Cole, the team’s white whale Brian Cashman had to have.
With that piece of business done, the Yankees can turn their attention to filling holes and upgrading their roster with role players to fill out the team.
More than likely, from this point forward, this will come about through addition by subtraction, meaning players will be sacrificed in trades to acquire the missing talent.
Yankees Strategy For The Moment
While the Yankees can continue to shop the free-agent market for what they need, they no longer are free to add players like LeMahieu and Corey Kluber without subtracting players from their roster.
With an ever-present eye on their current team payroll, and the need to satisfy Yankees managing partner Hal Steinbrenner’s “wish” to stay under this year’s tax threshold of $210 million, the road only gets tougher for Brian Cashman, not easier.
Although Kluber holds promise, there is still a need to add another proven major league starter before tapping the “kids” in the Yankees system to move up faster than desired.
Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt, and Michael King all can pitch at the major league level this year. Still, following last season’s reduction in innings pitched due to all minor league games’ cancelation, the Yankees prefer to have them stretch out with Double-A or Triple-A teams to begin the 2021 season.
Masahiro Tanaka and Jake Odorizzi are both ideals for the job(s). However, unless the Yankees can convince them to come down from their salary expectations (Tanaka is still in the $15 million range), it’s likely the Yankees will be hunting elsewhere, though not by choice.
Taijuan Walker, for instance, has spent most of his offseason proclaiming his love for the Yankees and desire to wear the pinstripes.
Walker arguably posted the best season of his career in the shortened 2020 campaign, splitting time between the Mariners and Blue Jays and posting a 2.70 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 53.1 innings pitched.
More enticing, though, is Luis Castillo, who reportedly is on the block by the Cincinnati Reds, who are paying dearly for their failed all-out effort last year to make some noise.
Don’t laugh, but also on the Reds roster is the very available Sonny Gray, who pitched well enough for most of the 2020 season to compete for a Cy Young.
Yankees: It’s Not Only About Pitching Though…
Beyond pitching, which is always the Yankee’s bugaboo, there are other decisions regarding player personnel that demand Cashman’s attention.
First and foremost is the Gleyber Torres enigma. With LeMahieu on board and cast as the regular second baseman, this means Torres is once again relegated to be the Yankees shortstop.
An outcome that sends shivers down the spine of front office personnel as they seek to predict the future.
Still young, what was expected to be a meteoric rise to major league talent’s top echelons is no longer that simple for Torres.
Torres is under the gun to prove himself as (at least) an adequate major league shortstop following a dismal season last year, especially defensively.
Whether it’s a wish and a prayer or not, the mantra from the Yankees camp regarding Torres goes something like, “Hey, you can’t take the shortened 2020 season as a modicum for the future’.
Okay, but in the meantime, that means the Yankees are full bore on Torres, or they are candidates in the mix for once-discarded (ouch!) Didi Gregorious or possibly someone like Andrelton Simmons, who remarkably has still not signed with a team.
Yankees: What Addition By Subtraction Really Means
Inconceivable as it may seem at first glance, does this mean the Yankees will entertain trading Torres, a player with sill sky-high potential, for “that” starting pitcher the team sorely needs, proceeding then to sign Gregorius or Simmons to fill a temporary gap at shortstop?
Temporary, because next year’s ridiculous Class of 2022 Free-Agent Shortstops is tailormade for the Yankees knocking heads for talents like Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Javier Baez, and Trevor Story that easily offsets the loss of Torres and whatever heights he may (or may not) achieve.
Normally, Clint Frazier‘s name would be capturing headlines about future trades by the Yankees.
But this year appears to be different, and based on Frazier’s improved defense in the outfield (nominated for a Gold Glove in 2020?), the left-field position appears to be his, regardless of whether or not the Yankees retain Brett Gardner.
With Gio Urshela‘s claim to third base solidified, Miguel Andujar becomes expendable and worthy as a magnet, perhaps along with Torres, to obtain a mid-to-upper level starting pitcher.
Thrust into limbo is Luke Voit, who made the mistake of putting together an outstanding 2020 season, thereby increasing his value beyond proportions the Yankees even dreamed of when they traded for him from the St. Louis Cardinals.
Putting the puzzle pieces together, the Yankees, in the absence of Voit, who has been traded, move LeMahieu over to first base, Torres back to second where he belongs, and a TBD shortstop to fill the void until next season.
What Happens When Aaron Boone Weighs In
Any one of these moves is possible and perhaps even desirable, depending on your opinion.
But despite the hoard of pitching talent the Yankees have in their farm system, there is a decided lack of position players ready to make their mark in the major leagues anytime soon.
This is why, for example, the Yankees continue to hold tight to the wish and a prayer that somehow, someway, Gary Sanchez will see the light, reappearing as the Thunder God of his rookie season, despite his inadequacies behind the plate the Yankees are (apparently) are willing to live with.
Lastly, it’s a fair question to ask if Tyler Wade is the best the Yankees can do as the “all-around team handyman”?
Having lived through and seen what the pedigree has produced productivity in players like Randy Velarde, Homer Bush, and Ronald Torreyes, shouldn’t Brian Cashman insist that Aaron Boone‘s love affair with Wade. (.170 BA, .288 OBP) be declared flamed out?
Yankees: Filling In The Pieces Easier Said Than Done
For reasons I can’t explain given the Yankee’s evaluation as the most valuable franchise in the major leagues, why a million here and a million there should be any consequence, none of it matters.
Having recently stayed under the cap, the tax on overtures is fifty cents on a dollar. So, for example, if Tanaka’s signing at, let’s say, $39 million over three years, puts the Yankees over the limit by the ten of the $13 million average yearly salary – the hit on the Yankees this year is $5 million.
I don’t operate the Yankees, and regrettably, neither do you. It’s not my money, nor is it yours.
But like LeMahieu, where there’s a will, there’s always a way. Like the Yankees, Manipulation clearly did with DJ, is not a crime when both sides come together and are in agreement on whatever is decided.
The Player’s Union (MLBPA) may have something to say about LeMahieu’s contract structure when it is finalized, given the spread of total money over extended years. Still, the facts are he represents himself and his family – so all that matters is his signature in ink on a piece of paper that enables him to play a game he loves – while he can.
Putting The Yankees 2021 Season In Perspective
With the signing of LeMahieu, the Yankees have accomplished the heavy-lifting portion of their self-defined offseason mission.
But the tale of the tape shows an incomplete and unbalanced Yankees roster.
In a watered-down AL East due to the Red Sox and Tampa Bay Ray’s ongoing rebuilding efforts and luke-warm noise from a wannabe Toronto team, the Yankees should be able to put the 2021 season on cruise-control to win the division.
But will that mean another brief and aborted appearance in the playoffs, or will the composition of this team have all the ingredients necessary to go all the way?
As we have seen, there is work to be done as the 2021 season moves forward. Additionally, subtraction remains the only practical way to strengthen the roster and remain under the luxury tax limit.
I can’t wait to see how Brian Cashman handles and the composition of the Yankees team on August 1…