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This holiday season, Brian Cashman is the regifter.
For if you are a Yankees fan, you better have liked the 2020 fell-short-again Yankees. Because Plan A is to put a bow on it and give it to you again.
On back-to-back days, Tuesday and Wednesday, Aaron Boone and Cashman made it clear that re-signing DJ LeMahieu is the priority. They said it in such a way to suggest the Yankees are going to find a way back to their best player, so public were they with their desire that it would look terrible now if they do not reunite.
But the way the Yankees are proceeding with the budget likely laid out by Hal Steinbrenner, that would essentially formulate the 2021 Yankees. Maybe there will be enough left to shoehorn in Masahiro Tanaka (though likely not) and probably Brett Gardner, too. But that is pretty much putting the band back together that couldn’t outdo the Rays in the AL East or Division Series in 2020.
What Cashman is proposing is last year’s Yankees were a championship-caliber squad that did not play up to that level. That it could be basically run back with Luis Severino and Domingo German stepping into voids left by J.A. Happ, James Paxton and perhaps Tanaka and that the end result can be a virus-free parade up the Canyon of Heroes next November.
As Cashman told reporters during a Zoom conference: “We already enter this process with a strong group;” “There are not an extensive amount of weaknesses;” and “I have a very strong nucleus in place and a roster that is almost full that we are proud of.”
Cashman conceded the 2020 team did not play consistently, but that its two-game sweep against the Indians in the first round exhibited what those Yankees were capable of when “firing on all cylinders.” But the Central Division teams in each league exposed themselves as playoff frauds, having gotten there mainly by emerging from mediocrity fostered by a regionalized, short-season schedule. So two games against the Indians is no bellwether.
Additionally, Cashman again mentioned pitching injuries to Paxton, Severino and Tommy Kahnle, and admitted to daydreaming that if the season were 100 games what might have happened with Paxton back from injury and German from a domestic abuse suspension. Except what probably would have occurred is more Yankee injuries with those extra 40 games — injury being the most consistent part of the team the past two years.
Plus, the Yanks must stop talking about pitching injuries as an alibi. The Rays had more pitching injuries with a payroll one-third of the Yankees. Yonny Chirinos was as good as Paxton in 2019 and made two fewer starts (three) than Paxton in 2020. Add up Jose Alvarado, Jalen Beeks, Oliver Drake, Andrew Kittredge, Brendan McKay, Colin Poche and Chaz Roe and there is at least Severino and Kahnle.
“I thought last year’s team was really talented and we didn’t maximize that talent,” Cashman said. “That’s on me.”
Cashman has not diminished his belief in that talent, keeping Gary Sanchez, still projecting Gleyber Torres at shortstop and building an offseason strategy around retaining LeMahieu.
“Our intent is to find a way to make it happen,” Cashman said.
Cashman would not reveal Steinbrenner’s budget, but it is pretty obvious the Yankees are not going over the $210 million luxury-tax threshold. That left the GM conceding, “We are not dipping toes in various waters until [the LeMahieu situation] declares itself.” Translation: The Yanks have about $30 million-$35 million to spend on what Cashman forecasted will still be the largest payroll in the majors. Thus, it is hard to move forward on other items until the Yanks know for sure they are keeping LeMahieu and, if so, for how much annually?
Cashman called it a “last resort” to create a deadline with LeMahieu so that other alternatives do not vanish. It is a slow-moving market. But, for example, Lance Lynn already has come off the board in a trade. Japan ace Tomoyuki Sugano must be signed by Jan. 7 before his posting period ends. Jake Odorizzi is likely nearing a decision.
So potentially less expensive options to Tanaka are coming and going and rotation experience, depth and innings are huge issues. Gerrit Cole gives the Yankees an ace. And Cashman talks about how good the rotation could be with health and upside from Severino, German, Deivi Garcia and Jordan Montgomery — with Michael King, Nick Nelson and Miguel Yajure in support.
There will be alternatives in January, February and even March. The Yanks will jump into the secondary market and try to find the next Chad Green or Gio Urshela. But the sooner the Yanks can resolve LeMahieu, the more considerations they have to either augment around him or replace him. For now, “The strong desire is for LeMahieu to return and play second,” Cashman said.
The plan for now is to basically go back to the future — the 2020 Yankees becoming the 2021 version. Is the regift a present or a booby prize?
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