The New York Yankees had another disappointing early-round exit to finish off their 2020 season. This time around it was by the hands of their bitter American League East rivals Tampa Bay Rays in the Division Series.
With the Yankees come the highest expectations and anything short of winning it all is viewed as a failure. After signing their “white whale” Gerrit Cole last offseason, they failed to make the World Series for the 11th straight season.
The Yankees head into a very pivotal offseason after their biggest weaknesses were exposed in the postseason. The team’s biggest impending free agent is DJ LeMahieu, while Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton will also test the waters.
The Yankees have sent a qualifying offer to LeMahieu while they didn’t send one to either Paxton or Tanaka. Unless they accept team-friendly deals, Paxton and Tanaka are likely gone. Tanaka is the more likely of the two to return as Paxton is coming off an injury. Adding more pitching, in general, will be a huge focus as they look to add a second ace to complement Cole. If they are unable to retain LeMahieu, they will need to add another middle infielder similar to him. Even if they retain him, adding another contact bat could be an area of focus.
Keys to the Offseason
Add Bullpen Depth
The Yankees struggled with closing games out in the postseason and need to add some more pieces to shore up the middle and backend of the bullpen. A big area of focus will be adding more productive high leverage relievers. Tommy Kahnle elected free agency after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He is expected to miss most of the 2021 season and was a big missing piece for the bullpen in 2020. They picked up a two-year option on Zack Britton and could look to add a couple of minor relievers on the market or go all out for a major one.
Add more contact hitters
The Yankees did not hit very well with runners in scoring position and struck out too much in the postseason. That has been a big weakness that was exposed over the last few years. Holding onto LeMahieu would be huge for them to have a contact bat in their lineup. Outside him, they could look to add another hitter, maybe a left-handed or switch-hitting middle infielder or corner outfielder.
Add another ace
Outside of Cole, the Yankees don’t have an obvious number two starter. They will be getting Luis Severino back next season, but coming off Tommy John surgery the Yankees won’t be able to rely on him to be an ace. With one of Paxton and Tanaka not certain to be returning, they really need to add a certain front-end starter. There are a couple of guys on the free-agent market, most notably Trevor Bauer and Charlie Morton. The Rays declined the option on Morton which made him a free agent. If they cannot sign either of them, they could look to the second tier and maybe shore up enough to grab two mid-tier starters.
DJ LeMahieu, 32, Infielder
LeMahieu was the Yankees’ MVP in the 2020 season and is a top-three finalist in the American League for the award. On Thursday, he was announced as the silver slugger winner for second base after hitting .364 with 10 homers and a 1.011 OPS. After playing at a high level on a cheap two-year $24 million contract, he will be looking for somewhere around a four-year deal worth roughly $20 million per season. He could certainly wind up in the range of six years at an even higher AAV. All in all, the Yankees need his bat in their lineup to help balance out the power bats.
Trevor Bauer, 29, Starting Pitcher
Bauer had a phenomenal campaign in 2020 and is likely to take home the National League Cy Young award. While there has been a narrative that Bauer and Cole don’t get along, that seems way overstated. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter because they would both be going for the same goal of winning it all. Bauer would be the number two the Yankees need, while he will come at a high price. Even though he previously stated that he wanted to go year-to-year for the rest of his career, he said he would be open to a multi-year deal if the situation is right. No matter if it’s one year or multiple years, he will be looking for an AAV of $35 million and even upwards of $40 million.
Brad Hand, 30, Relief Pitcher
Hand had a great season and is a finalist for the AL Reliever of the Year award. He posted a 1.37 FIP and 0.77 WHIP while striking out 29 batters over 22 innings in 2020. The Indians placed Hand on waivers and he went unclaimed, so he is now a free agent after they declined his $10 million option and paid the $1 million buyout. Since no one claimed him, he will likely earn less than $10 million per season, maybe somewhere around $8 million. He is still an elite reliever and would be a great addition to the backend of the bullpen.
Michael Brantley, 33, Outfielder
The Yankees would really benefit from adding a lefty contact bat into their lineup. With the uncertainty that comes with the Yankees’ outfielders and their inability to stay healthy, adding Brantley would be a very good addition. A consistent hitter at the plate who fits at either corner outfield spot with plus defense. He is a pure hitter with plenty of pop in his bat. Brantley isn’t an all-or-nothing, boom-or-bust hitter. He finds ways to get on base and would benefit from the short porch at Yankee Stadium. He will likely look for a deal worth $10 million and would be miles better than the aging Brett Gardner.
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