Even in a slow-moving offseason, it is baseball and it is New York, so there is action and attention. So here is a deeper dive into a few stories from the past week:
- General manager Brian Cashman reiterated that DJ LeMahieu is the Yankees’ priority and that he believes strongly in the 2020 group. So that translates into doubling down for 2021 on a team that in a shortened season fell to the Rays in the AL East and Division Series.
On paper, the 2020 Yankees were the AL East’s most talented and they almost certainly will be again in 2021.
Still, it has been well detailed how inexperienced and uncertain the group of starters is behind Gerrit Cole. There is upside with Deivi Garcia, Domingo German, Michael King, Jordan Montgomery, Clarke Schmidt and Luis Severino. But the downside is a lack of track record for reliable work for a team with championship goals.
If the Yankees re-sign LeMahieu, expect them to find a starting pitcher in free agency or trade for less than $10 million in 2021. If they don’t sign LeMahieu, the Yankees can apply more money to the area, but will then also have to address the middle infield.
Cashman said if LeMahieu returns, he would play second. That means sticking with Gleyber Torres at short and Luke Voit at first. Still, even an in-shape Torres is going to be, at best, an ordinary shortstop. The Yankees are looking at ordinary or worse up the middle with Torres, Gary Sanchez at catcher and Aaron Hicks in center.
- They also are pretty much committing again to a lineup oversaturated with righty hitters, with only the switch-hitting Hicks currently projected to play regularly and hit from the left side. The Yankees’ righties have hit right-handed pitching well — an .842 OPS last year (fourth in the majors) and .836 OPS in 2019 (second). All the Yankees’ major righty hitters — LeMahieu, Sanchez, Torres, Voit, Cint Frazier, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gio Urshela — had at least a .795 OPS plus versus righty pitching over the past two seasons combined.
That would support the Yankees’ sentiment to avoid adding an inferior lefty hitter just for diversity if the righties are productive versus righties. The concern is about making the picture too easy for teams with good righty pitching.
The Yankees faced only one team in regionalized play last year with an ERA among the 14 best in the majors, and they hit just .213 with a .683 OPS against the Rays — which was actually lower than Tampa Bay gave up otherwise. The Yankees were 2-8 versus the Rays in the regular season then lost the best-of-five Division Series to Tampa Bay.
Last season, the Yankees also hit .266 with 67 homers in 31 home games and .226 with 27 homers in 29 road games. It is historically counterintuitive because the Yankees used to feast with power at home via lefty might. But the Yankees’ current righties near universally use the short porch to pad their homer totals.
The Yankees have shown this offense will get them to the playoffs. But they are designed for more than that. It is difficult to increase postseason chances too much because the short series increases randomness. Nevertheless, a more diverse offense and a more rock-solid defense would make the Yankees a harder out.
- The Mets signed James McCann to a four-year, $40.6 million pact, and one reason why, expressed by team president Sandy Alderson, was: “We can afford to wait to fill some [holes], but we can’t afford to wait to fill all of them.”
That should sound familiar to this franchise and position. Two offseasons ago — under the Wilpons and GM Brodie Van Wagenen — the Mets tried to trade for J.T. Realmuto or sign Yasmani Grandal. They couldn’t find a match with the Marlins for Realmuto. Grandal wanted better than the four-year, $60 million Mets bid. So because they were concerned about waiting on catching and potentially not getting one of the catchers they wanted and missing out on other opportunities, the Mets pivoted to their third choice: Wilson Ramos.
Ultimately, Grandal’s price dropped to a one-year, $18.25 million pact with the Brewers, but not until mid-January.
This time, with Alderson as team president and Steve Cohen’s deep pockets, the Mets could not find a match with free agent Realmuto, the best catcher in the game. Alderson said signing McCann — who was Grandal’s backup with the White Sox — was “not a compromise pick.”
You can find non-Mets executives who believe if given a non-complicated, cost-neutral choice in which they could only have held onto one catcher, the White Sox would have picked McCann over Grandal — in part because McCann became ace Lucas Giolito’s personal catcher. But you will find way more who feel the Mets grossly overpaid for a backup catcher since McCann — with all of his improvements the past two years — has no track record that he can consistently hit righty pitching or sustain overall excellence with a No. 1 catcher’s workload.
Cohen’s money was theoretically supposed to take the Mets out of accepting secondary choices. But the marketplace — including timing — impacts even the super rich. The Mets believe in the person and the analytics on McCann from the past two seasons and paid high-end starter money (the offseason began with an expectation that McCann would fall into the two-year, $18 million range). It is now fascinating whether they received that high-end starter or a better-packaged Ramos.
- Here is something else Alderson said when addressing whether the Mets would trade for a third baseman, such as Colorado’s Nolan Arenado: “If you’re talking about defensively, our third-base situation is probably a little bit up in the air. Is it as glaring a need as like a third or fourth starter? I don’t think so.”
What you could read there is that Alderson still does not think third base is a priority as he continues to state he would rather buy solutions than trade assets for them anyway. But in a Freudian slip, did Alderson also indicate the Mets are not pursuing Trevor Bauer?
I guess, in theory, the Mets could address their No. 3-4 starter by signing Bauer and pushing Marcus Stroman, David Peterson and Seth Lugo down lower into the rotation. More likely, however, is the Mets’ priority for a big spend is center fielder George Springer, and they will then sign a No. 3-4 starter in the Jake Odorizzi or Masahiro Tanaka mode.