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  • Writer's pictureAndy Singer

SSTN Mailbag: Plan B After Yamamoto...

The Mighty Casey has struck out.  The Yankees targeted Yamamoto, took their shot, and missed.  As most of you are well aware, I really wanted Yamamoto.  To be fair, I think that the Yankees also made it clear that they wanted Yamamoto.  I have much more to say about Yamamoto’s decision from a baseball perspective, but the emotional end of the chase is where I’ll start.  For once, I don’t blame the Yankees for this loss.  Some will blame the Yankees for not putting their best foot forward, but I don’t buy it.  Yamamoto picked the Dodgers over the Yankees, but none of us know if that has anything to do with the notion of prestige on either side of the equation.


If the early reporting holds up, the Yankees offered Yamamoto a higher annual salary than the Dodgers, $30 million per year over 10 years.  They did put their best foot forward.  The Dodgers gave Yamamoto multiple opt-outs, and the whispers are that Yamamoto really did want to play on a team with another Japanese player.  Yamamoto’s deal with the Dodgers beats Cole’s contract by $1 million in total value.  Given that fact, I understand the Yankees not pushing to that point; on some level, it would be a slap in the face to Cole to beat his deal by $1 million when he’s been a rock-steady ace for the Yankees, particularly coming off of a Cy Young season.


Now matter the reason, Yamamoto won’t be in New York, and I’m sad because I really do think Yamamoto is as good as advertised.  Time for Plan B.


On another note, I want to wish all of you a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season.  I remain honored that you choose to read both our blog and this Mailbag every week.  Happy holidays to you and yours.  I hope you get to spend the holidays the way I will – with good food, good drinks, and better people.


As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to  In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll discuss the implications of the Yamamoto signing and the Yankees’ Plan B!  Let’s get at it:


Luis asks: Let’s say that the Yankees don’t win the Yamamoto sweepstakes. How should the Yankees respond? Is it still worth going over the last luxury tax bracket? Do they sign more starters and/or go with a super bullpen again? Or do trades make more sense?


I really didn’t want to contemplate a Plan B for the Yankees’ pursuit of Yamamoto, but here we are.  The short answer to the luxury tax question: yes, the Yankees should absolutely be willing to go over the last luxury tax tier.  They have a nearly-shut window with this core of players, and after the acquisition of 2 outfielders on one-year deals, they have to keep spending to make an elite roster.  The Yankees have the money to spend well in excess of the final luxury tax threshold and still make a profit that would make even the most ardent capitalist blush.  I’ve officially hit the point where I’m sick of hearing about the luxury tax threshold.  If the player makes sense, the Yankees should spend.


As for Plan B: I think we’re about to witness an explosion of wheeling and dealing.  At least 6 teams were very seriously involved in the Yamamoto sweepstakes, and I expect that most of those teams will be looking for good starting pitching to fill out their rosters.  I don’t view Yamamoto’s contract in a context that links it to the contracts the other good starters on the market (namely Jordan Montgomery and Blake Snell).  Neither of those guys were going to sign before Yamamoto signed his deal, as any agent worth his/her salt would want to really understand what kind of budget their prospective teams are working with, but by the same token, no one thinks Monty or Snell are in the same category as Yamamoto as a pitcher.  I don’t think their deals will be appreciably different in a post-Yamamoto landscape, but maybe their agents are smarter than I am.


The big question is how the Yankees handle their starting rotation.  I think that it’s pretty clear that the Yankees need more than one starting pitcher this off-season.  The potential exists that Nestor or Rodon can return to form next season and be appropriate Robins to Cole’s Batman.  In fact, I’d bet pretty hard that at least one of the two gets back to being an excellent #2 for 160-ish innings.  However, the Yankees need good innings to fill beyond that, and getting someone who they can pencil in for 170+ innings is paramount.  The key debate among Yankee fans right now is the relative merits of a trade versus a free agent signing.  Let’s have some fun with my favorite exercise:


Player A: 94 GS, 3.48 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 3.6 K/BB

Player B: 93 GS, 2.94 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 4.48 K/BB


As you can see, no fancy stats here, just the bottom line.  The above are each player’ statistics from 2021-2023.  They have made a nearly identical number of starts.  Both have been well above league average performance, though Player B has been an order of magnitude better in every aspect.  The choice appears easy.


However, what if I told you that each of the above statistical measures backed up for Player B in every year of this evaluation?  What if you saw that Player B had his walk rate, strikeout rate, and run prevention statistics degrade in each year of this evaluation, while Player A was stable, or slightly better year-over-year?


Most of us would agree that knowing the above, the two pitchers are very close in terms of bottom-line performance, at least as far as realistic expectations moving forward.


Player A is Jordan Montgomery.  Player B is Corbin Burnes.  Monty can be acquired for cash.  Burnes will require that the Yankees further gut their upper-minors and young MLB depth.  Don’t get me wrong, I really like Corbin Burnes in a vacuum, but when compared to Monty, I’m not sure it’s worth emptying the farm for 1 year of Burnes.


Let’s also dispel one very common misconception while we’re here.  The common media narrative tells us that Monty was traded by the Yankees, and the Cardinals immediately changed his pitch mix to unlock a better pitcher.  It’s a fun narrative!  Really compelling stuff…except it doesn’t pass the sniff test.  Check this out:

Monty did increase his sinker usage over the last couple of years, but it wasn’t at the expense of his off-speed pitches or breaking balls, generally.  Monty drastically decreased his cutter usage and modestly dropped his 4-seam usage.  The narrative that Monty used an anti-fastball approach with the Yankees is absolutely false, and resolutely disproven by the above chart.  If we look at individual pitches, Monty changes his mix within the 3 primary groups constantly.  In a previous generation, we’d call him a crafty lefty, and that’s what crafty lefties do over time: they constantly change.  However, Monty's general pitch mix has largely remained the same since Monty returned from TJS.


Montgomery is as consistent a starting pitcher as we know in modern baseball.  I have maintained since he was a prospect that he had all the makings of a good #3 starter.  Prior to his initial trade from the Yankees, most people disagreed, but have since seen the light.  The word is that Monty is very open to a return to the Yankees, and I think it makes a lot of sense.  I think the Yankees should bring Monty home; he’s a good pitcher, and all reports have indicated that he was very popular in the clubhouse.  Bringing back Monty is step 1.


Step 2 is to add depth.  I think the Yankees should be looking to get Clarke Schmidt back into the bullpen in the Mike King role, where I think he’s best suited.  As a 1-3 inning pitcher (and a guy who can make a spot start on occasion), I think Schmidt will thrive and be more valuable than he is as a replaceable 5th starter.  All of you will hate me for this, but I’d go grab Frankie Montas.  Player Development staff down in Tampa raved about Montas’ commitment to mentoring the young guys down there, and his rehab starts showed that the stuff that makes Montas a tantalizing talent remains.  Can he pitch more than 160 innings in 2024?  I’m not sure, but I’m skeptical of the guys remaining on the trade market as well.  I’d sign Montas to a 1-year “prove-it” deal, let him show us the guy that posted a 3.37 ERA in 180+ innings in 2021, and wait to see what shakes free at the trade deadline.


Beyond that, I think that the Yankees need to go out and acquire a premium arm or two for the bullpen.  Go sign Jordan Hicks, and let all of the other good bullpen arms the Yankees have already slot in beneath him.  I think the bullpen has the chance to be really good, but supplementing it with a big-time fireballer would solidify the bullpen’s spot as a top-5 bullpen in baseball.  Luis Gil should return this year, and is well-suited to be a premium bullpen arm.


Two starting pitchers and a bullpen arm will almost certainly cost less than Yamamoto and a bullpen arm would have, but I actually think the Yankees can still make a well-rounded, championship-caliber pitching staff even without Yamamoto.

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Start Spreading the News is the place for some of the very best analysis and insight focusing primarily on the New York Yankees.

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