The Yankees have parked the Brinks truck.
According to NJ.com’s Brendan Kuty, the Yankees and DJ LeMahieu remain far, far apart in contract talks, to the tune of $25 million — that’s a gap that seems insurmountable, really, even if the Yankees have the finances to bridge it.
Others have reported that LeMahieu is considering “other options” more seriously with the two sides so far apart. The Blue Jays, Dodgers and Mets have been three suitors mentioned in talks.
It’s unsurprising that this is coming to pass, really: This has been the M.O. for the Yankees for some time. While they’ve still spent money, they’ve also been very selective as to who’s getting checks in recent years, a far cry from the George Steinbrenner Era. They’ve also maintained that they’ve lost more money than any team in 2020, which is … well, make of that what you will.
But the negotiations between the Yankees and LeMahieu, one of the most prominent free agents of the offseason, isn’t a couple of million dollars or the length of the deal on the table that’s separating the two, and the Yankees are up against the $210 million luxury tax — meaning they’ll think long and hard before adding more payroll. That’s been the operating procedure in recent years.
Should the Yankees re-sign LeMahieu? Yes, absolutely, 100 percent, no doubt, they should. This isn’t an argument against signing one of the AL’s better players of the past two seasons — just trying to help educate why getting ink on paper is that simple.
Letting LeMahieu walk would be a curious move for New York, but there are some pretty big reasons why the Yankees, at least on the surface, likely won’t re-sign him.
Position-player spending hasn’t been their thing recently
When you look at the contracts handed out by the Yankees in recent years, most of that money has been allocated to pitching and bullpen help. LeMahieu, who came to the Yankees on a team-friendly two-year, $24 million deal, is one of the lone free-agent signings that the Yankees have made to bolster their lineup.
Coming off the Giancarlo Stanton trade, the Yankees haven’t really made the effort to sign position-player talent, and that’s because, well, they haven’t needed to, when you consider the influx of young talent they’ve brought up through the farm.
They’ve offered up some short-term deals (LeMahieu, Brett Gardner) and even inked a team-friendly long-term extension (Aaron Hicks). Aside from that, though, they’ve relied heavily on youth and controllable contracts throughout the lineup: Aaron Judge, Clint Frazier, Gleyber Torres (he’s 24 now), Gio Urshela and Luke Voit are all arbitration-eligible, meaning free agency isn’t a “threat” just yet. But it will be.
Attaching another long-term, big-money deal to LeMahieu would certainly help their lineup — 2.5 fWAR in 2020 (50 games) and 5.4 fWAR in 2019 — especially in an offense that could definitely use more contact. LeMahieu’s 9.7 percent K-rate was the lowest on the team in 2020.
Contract extensions looming
Aaron Judge is at the top of the list here. Though he has another two years of arbitration before hitting the free-agent market, Judge has become the voice and face of the Yankees and one of the preeminent players in baseball when healthy. That “when healthy” part is key here — injuries have played a part into Judge’s past few seasons, but Yankees fans would likely revolt should Judge not at least be considered for a long-term deal.
There’s also the Gary Sánchez dilemma: It certainly feels like the 2021 season is definitely, finally, the absolute last chance for Sánchez to prove that he’s an everyday catcher for the Yankees. Should he show out, he could earn himself a deal. If not, then he might be traded or released. But catchers with 30-homer power aren’t something you find just anywhere.
There’s also the question of a potential trade: Could the Yankees swing a deal for Francisco Lindor and offer him big money, the money that could have been allocated to DJ LeMahieu? ESPN’s Jeff Passan pretty much shot down the idea that the Yankees could end up with Lindor recently, meaning don’t get your hopes up heading into Christmas week. Brian Cashman and the Yankees have surprised in the past, though, so keep that door open — just in case.
Pitching, pitching, pitching
With Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton coming off the books, the Yankees are — once again — facing a big question of starting pitching heading into 2021.
The Yankees have big money devoted to Gerrit Cole, Aroldis Chapman, Adam Ottavino and Zack Britton, all key components to their pitching staff, but the team will likely have to dip at least a little bit into the free-agent or trade market to alleviate some of the pressure that the rotation might face in the coming season.
They’ve targeted cost-efficient starting pitching in recent years (James Paxton, Sonny Gray) and that seems to be their trend moving forward. Outside of Cole and the return of Luis Severino, the Yankees will likely fill out their rotation with three, young, cost-controlled starters. They have a few viable in-house options for those spots: top prospects Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt are two names to watch, with Jordan Montgomery likely filling a spot as a lefty starter.
Does passing on LeMahieu mean New York will go out and spend for Trevor Bauer or swing an unexpected trade for a starter? Nah, probably not. But if the Yankees are serious about wanting to contend for a championship and keep the window open, they’re going to have to spend somewhere, and the rotation is where.
Pitching has been the question for them in recent years, and it shouldn’t really be an either-or proposition — they’re the New York stinkin’ Yankees — but if that’s what it comes down to, it’s not as black and white for LeMahieu as you may think.
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