To date, this has been an inactive offseason for the New York Yankees. They added depth outfielder Greg Allen in a minor trade with the Padres last week and that's about it. Allen is the only player the Yankees have added to their 40-man roster from outside the organization this winter. Minor-league signings like Jhoulys Chacin and Andrew Velazquez are their only other moves.
The inactive offseason is largely by design. The Yankees are planning to cut payroll amid the pandemic -- team officials have not given a set 2021 payroll figure but the expectation is they will duck under the $210 million luxury tax threshold -- and their No. 1 priority is re-signing DJ LeMahieu. That's understandable. LeMahieu is a great player and fits their needs perfectly.
On multiple occasions last month GM Brian Cashman admitted the Yankees are waiting on LeMahieu's decision before moving on to other offseason business. Here's what he said during a YES Network interview on Dec. 10:
"Like always, we'll come up with what the best options are, but we're gonna exhaust his option first, which is to try to keep him here," Cashman said. "He loves playing in New York. He loves playing for the New York Yankees. There's a lot of things in our favor, but it ultimately comes down to the financial opportunity we provide compared to the financial opportunity others are providing. That's the big unknown."
A few days later Cashman held a conference call with reporters, including James Wagner of the New York Times, and said "anything that's come off the board before today came off the board because I'm willing to wait to hopefully find a way to navigate a negotiation successfully with DJ LeMahieu." Clearly, LeMahieu is the top priority.
. Soon thereafter it was reported and have interest in him. Seems to me the Yankees leaked LeMahieu's asking price to scare other teams away, and LeMahieu's camp responded by saying an AL East rival and fellow big-market team are interested to get the Yankees back to the table. That was the last update on contract talks.
My hunch is the Yankees have the largest offer on the table and they know it, and they're waiting for LeMahieu to say yes. Why bid against yourself? LeMahieu, meanwhile, maybe be searching around for a better offer, or at least an offer he can take back to the Yankees and get them to up the ante. This isn't a unique free agent negotiation in that regard. This is how these things work. The two sides use the media and other teams as leverage.
The thing is, it's now mid-January and spring training is only five weeks away, and the Yankees still have multiple needs to address. They have one viable major-league middle infielder (Gleyber Torres) and their No. 2 starter is Jordan Montgomery. Luis Severino is expected back from Tommy John surgery at midseason, though you never quite know what you're going to get so soon after elbow reconstruction, and New York needs rotation help behind him. Their depth chart:
- RHP Gerrit Cole (amazing)
- RHP Luis Severino (expected back at midseason)
- LHP Jordan Montgomery (5.11 ERA in 2020)
- RHP Domingo German (missed 2020 while serving a domestic violence suspension)
- RHP Deivi Garcia (top prospect who figures to have a workload limit in 2021)
- RHP Clarke Schmidt (top prospect who figures to have a workload limit in 2021)
- RHP Jhoulys Chacin (6.06 ERA the last two years)
- RHP Michael King (7.76 ERA in 2020)
You're the Yankees and you fancy yourself a World Series contender. You can do better than that. No, let me rephrase: you have to do better than that. The bullpen is strong is the lineup is so good that they will cover for a lot of rotation shortcomings during the long 162-game regular season. In a short postseason series though, that rotation leaves an awful lot to be desired.
The offseason has moved so slowly in general that waiting out LeMahieu made sense. There was no need to rush into anything. Things are starting to heat up though, and within the last three weeks or so the Yankees missed out on a Yu Darvish salary dump trade, and Carlos Carrasco and Francisco Lindor quasi-salary dump trade, and Tomoyuki Sugano's free agency. We could even include Lance Lynn here, though that trade happened back in early December. Everything else happened more recently.
(I don't think Blake Snell was ever a realistic option for the Yankees give the whole AL East rivalry with the Rays. Charlie Morton probably wasn't an option either given his stated desire to play close to the family home in Florida.)
That's four quality starting pitchers, all of whom would've ranked as New York's best behind Cole, as well as a superstar middle infielder who would have more than adequately replaced LeMahieu. The Yankees should have been in on every single one of those players, and, to be fair, they reportedly inquired about Lindor. They're just committed to seeing things through with LeMahieu, so talks never got serious. The Yankees didn't spend much time exploring Lindor as an alternative to LeMahieu.
The Yankees are about $35 million under the $210 million luxury tax threshold at the moment. If they re-sign LeMahieu -- I think a reunion is by far the most likely outcome -- he'll eat up at least $20 million of that, maybe even as much as $25 million. That doesn't leave much for pitching, be it a reunion with Masahiro Tanaka or something else. It certainly takes them out of the running for Trevor Bauer, .
Waiting out LeMahieu and his $20-something-million a year contract presumably took the Yankees out of the mix for Darvish all together, meaning they didn't even consider pursuing a trade (Darvish is owed $59 million the next three years). Chances are the same is true with Sugano, who reportedly wanted Yusei Kikuchi money (four years at $14 million per year) . The commitment to LeMahieu means the Yankees couldn't even consider Darvish or Sugano, financially.
The market has several appealing options behind LeMahieu and the pricey Bauer. On the mound, there's Tanaka and Jake Odorizzi, as well as brand-name reclamation projections like Corey Kluber and former Yankee James Paxton. Joe Musgrove stands out as a trade candidate. On the infield, the Yankees could pivot to Marcus Semien, Andrelton Simmons, Kolten Wong, or former Yankee Didi Gregorius should LeMahieu wind up elsewhere. The Yankees haven't missed out on that much.
The Yankees have missed out on several players because of their commitment to LeMahieu though -- Lindor is extremely likely to be the best non-LeMahieu infielder available to the Yankees at any point this offseason, and Carrasco, Darvish, and Lynn (and Snell) figure to be the best starters traded -- and the longer they wait for LeMahieu, the more they risk losing out on other quality players who would improve their roster and thus their chances of winning the 2021 World Series.
At some point the Yankees are either going to have to get LeMahieu signed or begin seriously exploring other options, and that point can't be too far away because the hot stove is heating up and spring training is drawing near. For a big-market contender, the Yankees have a lot of needs this offseason, particularly in the rotation. They're not a LeMahieu away from being World Series favorites. They shouldn't let one player dominate their offseason much longer.
For now, the Yankees are content to wait out LeMahieu, even if means missing out on other opportunities. Patience has served them well in the past -- the Yankees did not sign LeMahieu the first time until Jan. 14, 2019, a few days after re-signing Zack Britton and a few days before signing Adam Ottavino -- and the slow-moving free agent means good players are still available. They can't wait forever though. The market is heating up and their needs are numerous.