There’s a new era in New York City. After the Mets’ blockbuster trade bringing in Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco, combined with reports of the Yankees balking on spending on star DJ LeMahieu, it seems like role reversal. Suddenly, the Steve Cohen-led Mets are the big fish in the New York market and the Yankees are on a budget. The biggest issue with the Yankees-LeMahieu negotiations is actually NOT the fact that the team hasn’t brought back the second baseman, but the fact that Hal Steinbrenner has pigeon-holed Brian Cashman.
Brian Cashman is one of the best GMs in sports. Yankee fans can continue to hate him and criticize him, but in his almost two decades at the mantle, New York has NEVER fallen below .500. That’s a downright amazing feat. He’s adapted as needed to the new era of analytical baseball and has continuously put together contenders, despite only one bringing home the trophy. Now, when you have one of the best GMs in sports, what you shouldn’t do is handcuff him. You should be letting him take advantage of a buyer’s market where teams are selling off elite players on big contracts for free. You should be letting him try to get Yu Darvish or Lindor and Carrasco for nothing. But, alas, Steinbrenner has tied Cashman’s hands. The billionaire owner of the second most valuable sports franchise in the world that consistently brings in a revenue over $700-million is, simply, letting fans down. If he’s so scared of not turning a profit, the solution is simple: sell the team – I’m certain he’ll turn a profit that way.
Now that my “Hal is Cheap” rant has finished, let’s move onto the baseball side of things. DJ LeMahieu is one of my favorite Yankees. I think he deserved the American League MVP over Jose Abreu (Jose Ramirez over both of them, though) this year. He’s been – bar none- their most valuable player the past two years (Aaron Judge has been better, but his injury issues hurt his value). He’s a star. But, when considering the budgetary constraints, the Yankees’ best chance of winning in 2021 may not include LeMahieu.
No one is going to argue that the Yankees’ biggest needs are on the offensive side. Sure, the team (including LeMahieu) was shut down by a dominant Rays staff, but in the end, the offense is, top-to-bottom, elite. Gleyber Torres is a bottom-three hitter in the lineup. They don’t really have any holes. While LeMahieu definitely adds a huge bonus with his consistently high contact rate and his knack for getting it over the short porch, he’s not a MUST get for the Yankees, and there’s an argument to be made that he’s not the best path forward.
I’ve laid out before what I believe the A+ Yankees offseason would be. Two starters – one a veteran through free agency (Corey Kluber, Chris Archer, James Paxton, José Quintana) and the other a young, controllable piece via trade (German Marquez, Joe Musgrove). At least one veteran reliever (Kirby Yates, Liam Hendriks, Brad Hand, Ken Giles) to bolster an increasingly shallow bullpen. Finally, one of Andrelton Simmons or DJ LeMahieu. Unfortunately, with the team on a budget, it seems like the only way for the Yankees to accomplish the pitching side of things would be to move on from LeMahieu, and the Yankees need the pitching.
The Andrelton Simmons step comes with a caveat. If the Yankees choose Simmons over LeMahieu, that must come with the intention of pursuing a superstar shortstop in next year’s stacked free-agent class. Gleyber Torres is not the shortstop of the future. It’s much too important of a position for someone of his defensive ineptitude to handle. Simmons, who himself is not too shabby as his historic defensive prowess has led to an fWAR over 5.0 in each of his last two full seasons of 2017/2018 (LeMahieu’s was 5.4 in 2019), must only be a bridge between Torres and a superstar. Simmons is too old to count on to remain dominant defensively four or five years down the road. So, if the Yankees are going to decide not to spend big on LeMahieu this winter, they must hand out a huge deal to one of Trevor Story, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Javier Baez, or, less likely, Francisco Lindor next year.
There is a path to a Yankees championship in 2021 with or without DJ LeMahieu. But the decision to let him go has to be baseball, not business, related. The window never closes on the Yankees, but they’re nearing the time that they’re going to have to shell out massive deals to their expiring stars like Aaron Judge and Luis Severino. The time is now. The Yankees just wrapped up their first decade in a century without a World Series appearance. For all of George Steinbrenner’s faults, he would never let money get in the way of contention – and neither should Hal. It’s time to bring the trophy back to The Bronx. Put up, or shut up.
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