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Yankees Offseason Recap: Will Low Risk, High Reward Approach Pay Off?

Unlike the typical "Yankee Way", The Yankees didn't make any big splashes this offseason. Will that come back to haunt them come October?
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Spring training’s only a few weeks away, so let’s take a look at how the New York Yankees handled the off-season, and how they look heading into the 2021 season.

Over the last couple years, team owner Hal Steinbrenner has insisted the team’s payroll try and stay under the luxury tax. This leaves General Manager Brian Cashman with limited wiggle room in terms of pursuing top free agents every year.

For a large-market team like New York, and considering their track record in past decades regarding big-name signings, this is definitely something older fans may not be used to.

Signing Gerrit Cole last winter was the only big deal the Yankees made, and this winter consisted of more of the same. The Yankees made one big signing, following it up with a few “low risk, high reward” deals for cheap to keep the team stay under the luxury tax.

Will it work? That remains to be seen. First, let’s look at the deals the Yankees made this off-season.

Top Priority Accomplished

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When previewing the Yankees off-season needs, re-signing infielder DJ Lemahieu was considered the top priority. Nothing else mattered until the Yankees made a decision on Lemahieu.

Well, they made a decision. Lemahieu isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

After a long winter of waiting for fans, the Yankees re-signed Lemahieu to a six year, $90 million deal to keep him in pinstripes long-term.

Fans, including myself, began to worry a deal would never be made considering how much time went by. Alas, Cashman came through, as he often does.

At the end of the day, New York wasn’t letting him sign anywhere else, and Lemahieu didn’t want to play anywhere else. The two got an inevitable deal done.

Yankee fans can now sit back and enjoy watching DJ Lemahieu slap baseballs all over Yankee stadium for years to come.

Everyone Loves a Revival Story

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The next big deal the Yankees made was signing free agent starting pitcher Corey Kluber. New York and Kluber agreed to a one year, $11 million deal.

This is ultimately a chance for Kluber to revive his career, similar to the way Justin Verlander did with the Houston Astros. And that’s exactly what the Yankees are hoping for.

New York didn’t sign Kluber to be the two-time CY Young winner right out of the gate. His 2020 season ended due to injury after pitching only one inning, and he’s only pitched eight starts in the last two seasons.

The hope here is for Kluber, as the season progresses, to start finding that itch again. Find his former self, and string together some dominant performances during the dog-days of summer and into September.

On a team like the Yankees, how you pitch late in the summer and in October is what matters most anyway.

If Kluber can find his old form, or something very close to it come October, the Yankees will have a legitimate #2 starter behind Gerrit Cole in the playoffs.

“Cole Train” Brings in A Friend


The next pitching move the Yankees made was completing a trade for Pittsburgh Pirates starter Jameson Taillon.

Former teammate and longtime friend of Gerrit Cole, Taillon comes to New York for practically nothing asset wise and only holds a $2.5 million salary. The salary is key here, as it gave New York room to continue making moves.

Reports said Cole vouched for his friend, and convinced Taillon New York is the place he needs to be. And if the history of players the Pirates traded since 2017 is on their side, the Yankees might’ve just got a stud.

What will most likely concern Yankees fans, however, is Taillon’s injury history. He did not pitch at all last year as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Taillon, still only 29, has now had two Tommy John surgeries in his career, often a red flag for pitchers.

This is definitely an intriguing move for New York, and it will be interesting to watch Taillon all season. He’s been throwing lately, and his pitches look good. His friendship with Cole will only speak positives too.

Hopefully Taillon finds a home here with the Yankees and stays in the rotation alongside Cole for seasons to come.

Ottavino Out, O’Day In

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In a surprising move, the Yankees traded reliever Adam Ottavino to the rival Boston Red Sox, the first trade between the two since 2014.

Sending Ottavino to Boston freed up another $9 million for the Yankees, and fans were curious what they would do with it.

Longtime Yankee outfielder Brett Gardner is still unsigned even to this day, and trading Ottavino leaves a hole in the bullpen.

That’s where Darren O’Day comes in. The Yankees signed the former Orioles and Braves reliever to a one year, $2.45 million deal.

O’Day is famous for his unique side-arm style of throwing, and it can be deadly when he’s on. O’Day has a 2.51 ERA across 13 years in the MLB. Even at age 37, O’Day was as reliable as you could wish for.

In the 2020 season, O’Day pitched in 19 appearances across the 60-game season for the Atlanta Braves. He posted a 1.10 ERA in 16 innings and struck out 22 batters.

If all goes well, O’Day will be a more reliable version of Ottavino come the postseason, something the Yankees desperately need more of in the bullpen.

Tommy Kahnle is now an LA Dodger, and the Yankees just overall need guys who can shut the game down after the starters are pulled.

Hopefully O’Day can be one of those guys for New York.

Rest of Team

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If you haven’t noticed, Masahiro Tanaka’s name has not been mentioned so far in this article.

The Yankees decided to not bring back Tanaka, and instead of signing with another MLB team, Tanaka is headed back to Japan to play for his former team.

James Paxton was also not re-signed. So essentially, the Yankees swapped Tanaka and Paxton for Kluber and Taillon. Considering Paxton’s time spend on the IL while with New York, Taillon might actually be an upgrade considering his age, price and upside.

In terms of the lineup, bringing back Lemahieu was really the only news. Gardner has not been brought back yet, an early indicator that it’s officially Clint Frazier’s time in left field.

Another question mark on this team is starting pitcher Luis Severino. Severino has been on the IL for most of the last two seasons, and at this point all fans can hope for is for him to remain healthy once he’s back. He’s still recovering from Tommy John surgery and won’t be back until June or July.

Lineup Outlook

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As all Yankees fans know, it’s way too early to start picturing things considering the team’s injury woes the last two years.

However, let’s dream a little bit. Let’s dream everyone’s healthy Opening Day, and all season for that matter. In terms of the starting lineup for Manager Aaron Boone, nothing much has changed personnel wise.

The potential Opening Day lineup should look something like this:

  1. DJ Lemahieu 2B
  2. Aaron Judge RF
  3. Aaron Hicks CF
  4. Giancarlo Stanton DH
  5. Luke Voit 1B
  6. Gleyber Torres SS
  7. Gio Urshela 3B
  8. Gary Sanchez/Kyle Higashioka C
  9. Clint Frazier LF

The Yankees catching situation is still very unclear.

Sanchez lost his starting job by the end of last season, and Gerrit Cole prefers to pitch to Higashioka as it is. Sanchez will be given his chance to prove himself early on, but he will most likely be on thinner ice compared to recent years.

If the Yankees stay healthy, that lineup is deadly. It can be re-ordered so many different ways to the point where there’s no bottom to it.

Rotation Outlook

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Unlike the lineup, the starting rotation will look very different compared to last year.

Assuming all are in good health, the rotation as of opening day will look something along the lines of:

  • Gerrit Cole
  • Corey Kluber
  • Jordan Montgomery
  • Jameson Taillon
  • Deivi Garcia
  • Mike King/Clarke Schmidt

At this point in time, there’s no point trying to figure out who’s going to be in what spot after Cole. The Yankees don’t have an elite 1-2 punch like other contenders, but they definitely have talent in the rotation. Guys just have to find their roles.

Severino will be back at some point, and the Yankees will be winning games like usual throughout the season. For the pitching, it really just comes down to these guys being ready for October.

Will they be? Can the team stay healthy? Will Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton play full seasons for the first time in years? Will Severino return to Cy Young form?

There’s plenty of questions regarding this upcoming season for the New York Yankees. That being said, there’s no reason to think the team still won’t be a top contender. They have one of the deadliest lineups in baseball, and one of the top pitchers in Cole.

As far as the off-season goes, it was definitely an interesting approach for a large market team to take. Guess we’ll just have to sit back and see if it pays off.

Author

  • Thomas Senerchia

    Lifelong sports fan fulfilling a childhood dream. I'll talk sports all day. Passion and hot takes are my thing... there's always a story. Yankees. NY Giants. Knicks. Texas Longhorns.  Yes... being a Knicks fan is rough, but my time will come (hopefully). Senior at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

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