Why the Yankees could disappoint in 2021 free agency

New York Yankees, Brian Cashman
Dec 11, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman reacts as outfielder Giancarlo Stanton (not pictured) is introduced at a press conference at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees have a number of players hitting free agency this off-season, including three starting pitchers and star infielder DJ LeMahieu. Replacing the production of James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, and JA Happ will be difficult, but it can be done with a more cost-effective strategy.

Managing partner Hal Steinbrenner stated after the Yankees were knocked out of the playoffs that his team had lost more money than any organization in baseball this year. They had an MLB-high payroll of $109 million over the 60-game schedule.

Compared to a team like the Tampa Bay Rays, who paid SP Charlie Morton $15 million, as their highest player on the payroll, the Yankees are coughing up $36 million to Gerrit Cole alone. To put that into perspective, Cole is earning more per season than the entire Tampa squad.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, they have to be more careful with their money and can’t be as flexible as in years past. They are the biggest market baseball team and haven’t reached the World Series in over 10 years, despite dumping boatloads of cash, literally, into high profile players in the league.

Losing significant revenue also comes with consequences, meaning GM Brian Cashman will not have the green light in free agency to pursue that “white whale” player. I expect this free agency to be more about signing value players that can serve a one-year purpose while the Yankees recoup their lost revenue during the 2021 season.

They already retained relief pitcher Zack Britton, picking up his club-option for 2022, which will pay him $14 million in 2021 on a great value deal. Britton finished the 2019 season with a 1.89 ERA striking out 16 batters over nine innings. He also racked up eight saves in the process.

However, fans are waiting for the big DJ LeMahieu news, and it might not be as sweet as some expected. His value has skyrocketed so much that some are predicting he will make upwards of $23 million per season. The Yankees surely don’t want to unload that type of cash right now after such a tumultuous year, but letting him go would be catastrophic to the infield and the top of their batting order.

The Yankees are saving $52 million with the departure of Paxton, Tanaka, and Happ, and I expect they will use some of that money to sign a number two pitcher behind Cole and retain LeMahieu. That would allow them to break even this off-season, as they are preparing to gain back Luis Severino and Domingo German in 2021.