Stop reading if you’ve seen this before: it’s the middle of January, free agent signings have been minimal, and the only action has been from a few teams. This feels like a regular occurrence now.
The two teams that have spent the most money so far this 2020-21 offseason are the New York Mets and San Diego Padres, two teams who haven’t won a world series in decades. Major League Baseball’s two most historical and wealthiest teams, the New York Yankees, among so many others have seamlessly done nothing, unless you consider bringing in Greg Allen to the Bronx as significant.
The one issue Yankees fans have with their club is the constant confusion on what their plans are.
The Bronx Bombers have been on the doorstep to the World Series each of the last few seasons; they’ve made the playoffs each of the last four years, ending their season in the ALCS in two of them.
Last season, the Yankees had an above-average offense with a mediocre pitching staff, it was no secret. The two biggest weaknesses for the Yankees were consistent hitting and starting pitching. Their most consistent and best hitter and three of their starting pitchers are currently free agents. The team has major holes to fill.
D.J. LeMahieu won the batting title after hitting an outstanding .364 average with an American League best 1.011 OPS in 50 games. His top three finish in the MVP voting proved his worth to the 33-27 Yankees in 2020. If the small sample size doesn’t please you, would his .327/.375/.518 slash line in 145 games in 2019 satisfy you?
To no surprise, the Yankees top priority should be bringing back their best overall hitter the last two seasons. But, to this point, they have only frustrated the star infielder due to slow negotiations, as Yahoo Sports reported.
When making an argument on whether or not the Yankees should bring back LeMahieu, it should be a short conversation. If fans don’t want to bring back an aging infielder because of money, it’s a fair point. But, this isn’t just any “aging infielder.” LeMahieu was one of the best pure hitters in baseball the last two years, as he was the one stable piece in the inconsistent Yankees lineup; the Yankees need to bring him back to stabilize their powerful, but free-swinging lineup.
While contract signings have stalled, the Yankees seem to do nothing else. If you’re not talking to your best overall player, who are you talking to?
Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ are all free agents after pitching in a depleted Yankees starting rotation, one who only includes Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montogomery, Devi Garcia, Luis Severino (off of Tommy John Surgery), and possibly Domingo German, who has not pitched since Sept. 2019.
The Yankees have a serious problem in their rotation. Their staff was one of the few reasons the team from the Bronx couldn’t get past the Championship Series.
Yu Darvish, Lance Lynn, Blake Snell and Carlos Carrasco are all off the trade block after already being moved, with Charlie Morton, Robbie Ray and Mike Minor being off the board after being signed. Who are the Yankees going to go after?
Sorry Yankee fans, but when you’re deciding who you should raid the Yankee social media accounts with, it shouldn’t be Didi Gregorius, those days are over. Gregorius is a major plus in the clubhouse and his .827 OPS was incredibly solid in 2020, but his exit velocity was in the two percentile, along with his hard hitting percentage being among the worst in baseball. Marcus Semien took a step back in 2020 and Andrelton Simmons, while he would be a perfect fit in the Bronx as a defensive shortstop and can produce if in a well-protected lineup, is still a step-back from LeMahieu.
For the Yankees pitching situation, they need to find a diamond in the rough this offseason.
If the Yankees are looking for a breakout candidate in 2021, trading for Pittsburgh Pirates SP Joe Musgrove could be an avenue to explore.
Musgrove only pitched in eight games in 2020, but struck out 55 in his 39.2 innings. He had one of the best strikeout percentages in all of baseball and his exit velocity was atop of the charts in comparison to other pitchers. His spin rate on both his fastball and curveball is above-average, as signs point to Musgrove breaking out if in the right situation in 2021.
(Joe Musgrove’s 2020 Percentile Rankings/Graphic via Baseball Savant)
While looking for pieces like Musgrove, the Yankees also need to acquire veteran arms to stabilize the rotation. Jake Odorizzi might make sense for the Yankees.
Odorizzi struggled mightily in his 13.2 innings this season, but in 2019 had many metrics that suggested he would be an undervalued prize in the 2021 offseason. His strikeout percentage was well above average in 2019, as was his whiff percentage. The Yankees might provide Odorizzi the chance to compete in the postseason, as he seems like a strong bounce-back candidate in 2021.
As the offseason has continued to stall, the Yankees still have been stagnant. If they want to win a World Series before they have to make gigantic financial commitments to Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, and company, they need to get serious and begin to sign free agent pitchers and bring back LeMahieu before he leaves for more money.