Yankees: Two Must-Haves Two-Maybes And One No-Way In Hell 2021 Plan

DJ LeMahieu, Yankees MVP Candidate (Photo: Newsday)

The Yankees are separated from the 2021 World Series by the thin edge of a razor blade. Tweaking the roster with key moves is the challenge.

It’s a given the Yankees roster will have a different look on Opening Day of the 2021 season than the one they had upon returning home from the ALDS.

The Yankees brain trust will soon be assembling to receive the annual scouting reports on the entire 40-man roster. Input from the team’s analytics personnel will dominate the discussion, including evaluations drawn from the list of this year’s Class Of 2021 Free Agents.

In an oddity this year, the Yankees have several players who will become free agents five days after the World Series conclusion that begins tonight.

DJ LeMahieu, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, and J. A. Happ will no longer appear on the Yankees roster when that day arrives.

Three moves are imperative between those four players and the remaining Yankees roster subject to subtraction, and anything after that is up for debate and not integral outcomes to support an improved team.

The Must-Have’s

One is a no-brainer, and the other is subject to debate. No one position player is more important than DJ LeMahieu, and for that reason, the Yankees need to knock down walls to re-sign him.

DJ LeMahieu - Yankees MVP 2019 (Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post)
DJ LeMahieu – Yankees MVP 2019 (Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post)

The Yankees can skirt the issue of LeMahieu’s pending free agency by making him a qualifying offer, which this year is expected to be $18.9 million for one year of service.

Of the four Yankees free-agents, only LeMahieu can be tendered a qualifying offer as he has never been offered one.

Though not provided with a specific number, Yankees GM Brian Cashman has already been directed by Hal Steinbrenner to keep the team payroll under the luxury tax number, TBD.

In that light, the Yankees can claim victory if LeMahieu accepts the offer that amounts to a rise of almost seven million dollars from his 2020 $12 million salaries, but still far removed from the $20 million+ LeMahieu is expected to command on the open market.

In any event, LeMahieu has to be Cashman’s “White Whale” of the offseason, about the effort made by the Yankees to haul in Gerrit Cole last year.

Masahiro Tanaka Yankees Mr. Consistency (Photo: Forbes)
Masahiro Tanaka Yankees Mr. Consistency (Photo: Forbes)

Assuming the Yankees make little or no effort to retain Paxton and Happ, Tanaka, in my view, represents the second of the two must-haves for 2021.

Tanaka represents balance in the Yankees rotation behind Cole as a veteran who has maintained consistency, though not greatness, during his tenure with the team.

If indeed, and hopefully, the Yankees are set on promoting both Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt to the rotation for a full schedule of starts, with Jordan Montgomery as a placeholder for the fifth spot, Tanaka has to be there to stabilize the rotation.

Moneywise, Tanaka is not the type to hold up the Yankees bank. He’s mainly about pitching, which he sees as art still worthy of his efforts to achieve perfection.

In that light, the Yankees’ legitimate offer could fall in the range of $12-14 million per season for two years. That’s right, two years because this guy (conceivably) can pitch forever.

Yankees 2021 Roster – Adding By Subtracting

At the risk of beating a dead horse, Gary Sanchez must be subtracted from the team.

Gary Sanchez: Looking high for an answer (Sportscasting)
Gary Sanchez: Looking high for an answer (Sportscasting)

No amount of praise for his “hard work and dedication” from Aaron Boone can erase the paltry numbers he’s put up for the last two seasons.

And no one can tell me Sanchez’s teammates don’t feel the same as they watch from the dugout as he flails at another strike three or allows a ball to skip through his legs instead of bouncing off his chest protector.

It’s an unwritten rule in baseball that one player doesn’t knock another, and Sanchez has sought refuge there for far too long.

It’ll be a sad day in Yankeeland if Brett Gardner isn’t brought back for a swan song to end what has been a brilliant, though not overwhelming career, with the only team he has known.

But that’s the thing about Brett Gardner. He doesn’t bowl you over with batting titles and home runs. Gardner’s game is about the intangibles that can’t be measured – simply by having that prestigious and well-deserved corner locker in the Yankees clubhouse.

However, Gardner is considered here mainly for the Yankees outfield’s impact if he is offered another year.

Mentored by Gardner, Clint Frazier has written his name on left field, and for once, he has the support of both Boone and Cashman. All grown-up now, Frazier has impressed, and the Yankees want to see what the “quickest bat on the team” can do over a full season.

The impact falls on Mike Tauchman, who stumbled this year following an exemplary 2019 season.

Given the health unknowns of Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, and Aaron Judge, and the inability to predict how many games the trio will appear in over the course of what is hoped to be – a full 162 game schedule – Tauchman can make the team by default.

Yankees: The State Of The Bullpen

Bullpen artists appear to be everywhere in baseball today. They come out of the woodwork, making an impact at the major league level.

Zack Britton, New York Yankees (Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Zack Britton, New York Yankees (Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

For the Yankees, their number one priority has to be figuring out a way to retain Zack Britton, even while dealing with a complicated contract.

As the Yankees union player rep, Britton has earned the respect of Yankees management and his constituents for his ability to communicate and share vital information.

Filling in for a COVID restricted Aroldis Chapman at the beginning of 2020, Britton excelled as the Yankees closer before returning to his more familiar role as a set-up man.

Given that Chapman has suffered from “homerunistis” in the last two postseasons, Britton must be retained, even if only as insurance against Chapman.

Yankees: There’s Still That One Big Hole To Fill

Without Gary Sanchez, the Yankees need a bonafide major league catcher. Kyle Higashioka took over the catching duties throughout the playoffs when Sanchez was (finally) benched. He performed admirably, even to the point of contributing some offense to a studdering Yankees team.

Alas, Higashioka is not a front-line catcher and is more suited to his role as a backup.

The big bish in the free-agent pond among catchers is J. T. Realmuto.

Given Steinbrenner’s marching orders to Brian Cashman, and what is bound to be a sweepstake reaching the epic proportion of the ones we’ve seen with Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, Realmuto becomes a Cole-like project for Cashman to work on.

Recalling last year when the Yankees sent a small traveling party to meet with Cole at his home in California with a bottle of previously researched favorite wine of Gerrit and his wife, the Yankees will need the same effort in courting Realmuto.

Realmuto has kept his intentions and inclinations close to his and his agent Wasserman’s vest.

It’s up to Cashman to break the ice with a dotted line signature before he can judiciously unload Gary Sanchez.

Yankees In A Tricky Spot

If the Yankees put basically the same team out there that ended the 2020 season next year, they would still be among the favorites to win it all in 2021.

But teams rarely stand pat during the offseason, and there is always the instinct to improve. A magical combination of addition and subtract is always the prime ingredient in a recipe that never comes out the same as predicted, even when followed meticulously.

Right or wrong, Hal Steinbrenner has proclaimed the Yankees lost more money this year than other teams in baseball.

Please give it to him because that’s how the team will be run this year, and it is up to Brian Cashman to meet those expectations.

There’s a way to do it, and hopefully, the suggestions beforehand will add to the discussion as to how #28 can be realized.


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Author: stevecontursi

I am an amateur writer with a passion for baseball and all things Yankees and Mets.