The Death Star Is Heating Up

It had been a while.

Fans of the New York Yankees could likely have been excused for snoozing through an offseason that until Friday, provided next to zero action in the Bronx. Their proverbial little brothers across the East River, on the other hand, made headlines with Steve Cohen’s acquisition of the team, ushering in a new era for the Mets, and subsequently traded for one of the biggest stars in baseball in Fransisco Lindor while the Yankees remained locked in trench warfare with this offseason’s ‘white whale’.

And then in one swift motion, resembling the ninjas of Japanese folklore to whom GM Brian Cashman can attribute his nickname, the Yankees struck. On January 15, the Yankees landed a one-two punch and signed DJ LeMahieu to a six-year, $90 million contract, and Corey Kluber to a one-year $11 million deal.

True to form, the Yankees managed to—in twelve hours—display two of the biggest strengths of the organization. With LeMahieu, they displayed the business acumen that has allowed them to run cost-efficiently when needed, by refusing to bet against themselves and pay him more than what he’s worth. The fact that the Yankees are only paying DJ LeMahieu $3m/yr more than they were on his original contract, even after he put up two seasons in which he finished 4th and 3rd in MVP voting, is a testament to the iron will displayed by Cash and co. The Yankees front office employs a cautious approach that may cause them to miss out on certain free agents (read: Patrick Corbin, 2018), but ensures that any contract they sign is as team-friendly as possible. DJ now remains a Yankee for the remainder of his career and is likely satisfied with his new contract knowing he probably wasn’t going to be up for another huge payday at 37 had he taken a 4-year-deal elsewhere.

With Kluber, they displayed their willingness to flex their financial muscles and outbid other suitors when necessary. The signing—while almost infinitely smaller in both magnitude and cost than the Cole deal one year ago—bears striking resemblance to its aforementioned predecessor. Hal Steinbrenner has stated the Yankees’ approach to be one where every tool is used in the toolbox, including the ‘big hammer’, which they won’t be afraid to pull out. They demonstrated that once again by beating out a rumored 15+ teams in negotiations for the former two-time Cy Young award winner.

But that doesn’t mean their offseason is done. The Yankees know there’s room for improvement, and the fans are itching to see another upgrade to the rotation and/or the bullpen. And it does seem the Yankees intend to boost the squad, seemingly by trade, considering that it’s 5 days since the DJ/Kluber signings were announced and not one player has been DFA’d to clear a roster spot for the two players. That might just mean they don’t know who to cut yet… or it could mean they’re looking to clear roster spots by moving players elsewhere.

Four pitchers oft mentioned as trade targets for the Yankees include the Pirates’ Jameson Taillon (after Joe Musgrove was already traded), the Rockies’ German Marquez, the Brewers’ Brandon Woodruff, and the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks.

It remains to be seen which one is the most likely to be traded, but the Yankees would be seriously better with the addition of any of them, especially Woodruff or Hendricks. Brandon Woodruff is an extremely underrated pitcher with a strikeout rate (K/9 above 11+) that makes him perfect for the Yankees. Kyle ‘The Professor’ Hendricks possesses a pristine postseason resume, along with a reputation for being an extremely cerebral pitcher that is extremely useful for any young pitchers wanting to improve their repertoire. That, on top of the fact that he just posted a 2.89 ERA with a 3.55 FIP and a well-above-average 4 SIERA in 2020, one of the best seasons of his career.

The Yankees’ bullpen also remains largely under-improved thus far, with little being done to upgrade it besides a couple minor depth signings. Perhaps the Yankees believe strongly in the likes of Adam Warren, Jhoulys Chacin, etc., or they’re looking to take a shot towards Brad Hand, David Robertson, Ken Giles, or other relief pitchers with similar pitched ball profiles; either strong roundball or strikeout rates are keys to being effective as members of a Yankee pitching staff. Even having missed out on this offseason’s top free-agent reliever Liam Hendriks (who knows if he was on their list anyway), there remain options for the front office to explore to augment a bullpen that currently only sports Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, and Chad Green as reliable relievers.

With under six weeks left to go until Spring Training begins, it’ll be interesting to see if, and how, the Yankees perceive and patch up some of the relative weaknesses remaining on the team.

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