Yankees Thoughts: Busiest Week of Offseason

The Yankees made two trades, finished two contracts and let a great Yankee leave

A lot has happened this week. It was easily the busiest week for the Yankees this offseason.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. I wrote all there is to write about the Yankees’ approach to the imaginery salary cap and said all there is to say about the team’s decision to cut payroll by $50 million this offseason for the second time in three years, and here it is for the last time. It’s sad, disappointing, frustrating, annoying and embarrassing, but it is what it is at this point. Hal Steinbrenner would rather save a homestand’s worth of hot dogs than do everything he can to win the World Series for the first time in 12 years.

2. The Yankees dumped Adam Ottavino’s salary on the Red Sox. But not all of it. The Yankees will pay Ottavino $850,000 in 2021 to pitch for their hated rival and to pitch against them. The Yankees will play the Red Sox 19 times (if the season goes as planned) or 12 percent of their season. Not only did the Yankees essentially give Ottavino to the Red Sox, they also attached a prospect to him. So when the Red Sox are buried in the standings at the trade deadline, they can then move Ottavino, who’s an impending free agent, as a rental and acquire even more prospects. The Yankees not only made the Red Sox better and set up their own right-handed heavy lineup to fail against Ottavino, they are also helping the Red Sox expedite their rebuild. When the prospects the Red Sox obtain for Ottavino in July become cornerstones for them and haunt the Yankees for the next decade, Steinbrenner’s fear of the luxury tax will be to blame.

3. The Yankees traded away Ottavino and then turned around and signed Darren O’Day, who does what Ottavino does from a different arm angle. The 38-year-old side-winder is as tough ones right-handed hitters out of the bullpen as anyone in the league, but what attracted the Yankees to O’Day was his price: around $2 million.

4. Why did it have to be O’Day instead of Ottavino? Why couldn’t it be both. Two years ago, the Yankees were going to go into the 2019 season with six elite relief options: Ottavino, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, Dellin Betances, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapaman. Unfortunately, Betances got hurt and they never got to experience the full “super” bullpen, but they still had five elite relievers for 2019. Then they let Betances walk and sign with the Mets, and they had five options for 2020. Then Kahnle got hurt, and they had four for 2020. Then Ottavino fell out of Aaron Boone’s bullpen circle of trust, and they had three. They Kahnle leave and sign with the Dodgers and traded Ottavino to keep it at three for 2021. Adding O’Day gives them four again, but that’s still not enough. After O’Day, there’s Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga, Michael King and Nick Nelson. The bullpen is top heavy and old. Britton is 33. Chapman will be 33 next month, and O’Day is 38. The Yankees need to be adding to their bullpen like they did with O’Day, not subtracting from it like they did by moving Ottavino. The illusion of the luxury tax is preventing the Yankees from putting together the best possible roster.

5. Thankfully, DJ LeMahieu finally signed. The delay was waiting for a 40-man roster spot, but now the Yankees have their best player back. (I wish Aaron Judge were still considered to be the team’s best player, but you have to actually play to be the team’s best player, and not just half the season.) I lost a lot of sleep, staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night, wondering if the Yankees were going to let LeMahieu walk, so I’m glad his contract is finalized.

6. The Yankees also traded for Jamseon Taillon to bolster their rotation. On paper and when healthy, the Yankees have a great rotation: Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino, Corey Kluber, Jameson Taillon and Jordan Montgomery. But “on paper and when healthy” can’t be a thing for the Yankees. A year ago right now, the Yankees’ rotation “on paper and when healthy” was Cole, Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ with Montgomery as insurance. How did that turn out?

7. Taillon gives the Yankees another unknown. This is the Yankees’ potential rotation at full strength:

Cole: Nothing wrong (knock on all of the wood)
Severino (unavailable until midseason): Five starts and 20 1/3 innings since start of 2019
Kluber: Eight starts and 36 2/3 innings since start of 2019
Taillon: Seven starts and 37 1/3 innings since start of 2019
Montgomery: 12 starts and 52 innings since start of 2019
Deivi Garcia: Seven career starts and 35 1/3 innings (including his “start” in Game 2 of the ALDS)
Clarke Schmidt: One career start and 6 1/3 innings

Severino is coming back from Tommy John surgery, which was preceded by a lat issue, which was preceded by a shoulder issue. Kluber is coming back from a shoulder injury. Taillon is coming back from his second Tommy John surgery. Montgomery is 52 innings removed from Tommy John surgery.

8. Taillon does give the Yankees’ depth. Before the Kluber signing and Taillon trade, Montgomery was the No. 2 starter. Now he’ll be the No. 4 to start the season if everyone stays healthy (knock on all of the wood again) and the No. 5 when Severino hopefully returns (knock on all of the wood again). Garcia and Schmidt go from getting rotation spots on Opening Day like Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy did in 2008 to insurance options in the event of injury (knock on all of the wood again) or underperformance.

9. Unfortunately, Masahiro Tanaka won’t be returning to the Yankees. The seven-year Yankee is returning home to pitch for the Rakuten Golden Eagles. I think Tanaka only wanted to remain in North America if it were with the Yankees. He probably said he wanted $X and if he didn’t get it, he would just go home and pitch, and the Yankees’ desire to not go past $210 million meant he wouldn’t get what he wanted. I wanted Tanaka back, but the non-existant salary cap ended his time with the team. (I will have more on Tanaka in a separate blog.)

10. The 59-day gauntlet that is January and February is about halfway over, and that means there’s less than three weeks until scheduled spring training. Less than three weeks! I’m afraid to get too excited for the return of baseball because I still think the league and the owners will do everything they can to delay the start of the season. If they don’t, there will be baseball in no time. That makes me happy.

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