Yankees Words for Wednesday
By Patrick Gunn
The Yankees have done very little since my last post here in December 2020. DJ LeMahieu is still a free agent and is now speaking with other suitors as the Bombers are failing to meet his demands. Liam Hendriks has been signed by the White Sox, and the Mets are now outshining their crosstown rivals by getting Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco.
All of this is to say that the Yankees are driving 25 miles per hour on a highway. They need to rev up their engines and start making some decisions. Their starting rotation features Gerrit Cole and a group of question marks and inexperienced starters, their bullpen depth is the thinnest it has been in years, and there are still questions about the Yankees’ middle infield situation.
Yet, the Yankees still have the same core that keeps them in the loop as potential World Series Champions. The Bombers have a surplus of front-end talent, lineup depth, and even some talented pitchers who can get them to the promised land. What the Yankees need is just a spark, whether that comes from within or from free agency.
That spark may come from finally making a decision on the middle infield situation. It’s clear to me that the Yankees are waiting on LeMahieu to compromise with them before they address their pitching staff.
I’ve seen fans on both sides of the aisle online and here argue about whether or not LeMahieu should stay. Personally, I feel like it is always a good idea to keep a top-10 hitter in baseball on your roster after he carried your lineup at points while adding a new dimension to a strikeout-happy lineup and playing solid defense.
With that said, the Yankees have options. Letting LeMahieu go opens up second base for Gleyber Torres. They could splurge on a free agent at shortstop in Marcus Semien, Andrelton Simmons, or Didi Gregorius. LeMahieu is a better hitter than all of those players, but he is also 32 and a five-year engagement with a player in his mid-30s is always risky.
An option I’ve seen floating around Twitter from some pundits, including Mike Petriello, is to trade for Trevor Story of the Rockies. He is 28 years old, has only a year left on his contract with the potential to be locked up, and has an OPS+ of 122 over the past three seasons while playing above-average defense at short.
Yes, he plays in Colorado, but so did LeMahieu and he adjusted to the Bronx. The main issue with Story is that he’s another high-strikeout, high-power righty in a lineup full of such hitters. I’d probably prefer the Yankees keep LeMahieu over giving up core prospects for Story, but the Yankees should do their homework in that department.
Whatever direction they go, the Yankees need to make a decision soon so that they can address their pitching depth. They have talented arms, yes, but a rotation with Cole, Luis Severino, Jordan Montgomery, maybe Domingo German, Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt, and Michael King is not very exciting.
German has not pitched in MLB in over a year and needs to prove that he’s a changed man after his domestic abuse suspension. Even looking at his performance, German had a 4.72 FIP in 2019 thanks to a horrible home run rate of 1.7 HR/9. He has talent, but he has a lot of work to do to earn his spot back.
Severino has only made five starts including the postseason over the past two years because of injuries and Tommy John. When healthy, Severino is an ace, but he needs to stay on the field, and it may take him time to acclimate himself to the majors.
Montgomery just made a return from Tommy John to mixed results. His 3.87 FIP compared to his 5.11 ERA suggests that he has room to grow, but Monty only averaged 4.4 innings per start last season while giving up 1.4 home runs per nine innings. The fact that he was healthy is important, but he still has to prove he can be a consistent starter.
The rest of the Yankees’ options are young, mostly unproven arms. Garcia impressed at times last season but it’s hard to read too much into six starts. Ditto Schmidt and King. The Yankees need at least one established innings-eater to support their bullpen. That could come from a reunion with Masahiro Tanaka or another free agent like Taijuan Walker, or through a trade, but the Yankees need depth for their rotation.
This is without going into the Yankees’ need for bullpen arms behind Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Chad Green, and Adam Ottavino. The Bombers have young hard throwers who could help like Jonathan Loaisiga and Nick Nelson but signing an established arm would help their cause.
I may be sounding too critical because the Yankees have the pieces to make another run. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Torres, Gio Urshela, Aaron Hicks, Clint Frazier, and Luke Voit already give the Yankees a potent lineup, and that’s not accounting for a comeback season from Gary Sanchez. Gerrit Cole is a true ace, and the back of the Yankees’ bullpen is still strong.
I guess I’m just frustrated that the Yankees have the means to improve their roster at the margins and all they have done so far is acquire Greg Allen and sign several vets to minor league deals. Those moves could pay dividends, but they are not the game-changing pieces that push the Yankees past, say, the White Sox or even the Astros. The Yankees need to accomplish something this offseason to improve their roster and they need to do it fast.