Yankees news/rumors: Tomoyuki Sugano to the Bronx? Corey Kluber could be the perfect fit, Tanaka the safe route

Tomoyuki Sugano, New York Yankees
Mar 21, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Japan pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano (11) throws a pitch during the first inning against United States during the 2017 World Baseball Classic at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Money, money, money that is what the New York Yankees are focusing on this off-season. With the winter meetings underway, reports have confirmed that the Yankees are prioritizing the signing of DJ LeMahieu, as most predicted months ago.

When the season ended, LeMahieu and a possible extension were already in the works, but both sides have hit a snag as DJ desires a five-year deal, and the Yankees want to keep it at four years if possible.

They’re already on the hook for multiple long-term contracts, and adding a 32-year-old to that algorithm doesn’t conjure good results. However, LeMahieu is as safe as it gets regarding a big investment, considering his dominance the past two seasons and ability to play multiple positions in the infield.

Aside from DJ, the Yankees desperately need starting pitching and will be looking around the league for valuable assets. One player who could make sense is Tomoyuki Sugano of the Yomiuri Giants. Sugano was posted by the Giants of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league. His 30-day posting period will run through Jan. 7 at 5 PM ET.

Some might recall a dominant performance by Sugano in the 2017 World Baseball Classic, where he allowed an unearned run, picking up six strikeouts and one walk over six innings.

“I can’t tell you, for me, tonight, how impressed I was with their pitcher,” field manager Jim Leyland said at the time (link via MLB.com’s Joe Trezza). “I mean, I thought he was really good. Located on the ball on the outside corners, fastball. Threw 3-0 sliders. That’s pretty impressive.” Leyland plainly called Sugano a “big league pitcher” after that game. (Those interested can check out all 81 of Sugano’s pitches from that game in this YouTube clip.)

In 2020, Sugano pitched in 20 games, recording a stellar 1.97 ERA, 131 strikeouts, and 0.888 WHIP over 137.1 innings. His incredible campaign is worthy of international appeal, and the Yankees are known for their desire to bring over quality players.

He could be the perfect fit behind Gerrit Cole, the Yankees’ ace who dominated in his first season on a nine-year contract. However, he can’t carry the entire load during the postseason and needs support behind him. Acquiring Sugano would inject a quality pitcher into the rotation, but he’s unproven in the MLB and would be a risk with massive upside. The question is: Is it a risk worth taking?

The New York Yankees will likely go cheaper:

Considering Masahiro Tanaka earned $23 million for similar statistics last season, taking a flier on Sugano could be a good move. Tanaka is another name the Yankees have been connected to as a potential re-signing, and while he has posted consistent numbers with the Yankees, he simply doesn’t have that extra gear that makes him a dominant number two.

During the postseason this year, Tanaka was thrashed in both appearances, giving up a total of 11 runs over eight innings. With that type of playoff performance, the Yankees need to seriously consider moving on from the Japanese native.

Alternatively, they could look to an alternative supplement like Corey Kluber, who last had a full season in 2018. He’s only pitched 36.2 innings since posting a 2.89 ERA, 9.29 strikeouts per nine, and 5.5 WAR season in 2018.

Kluber offers a much more financially stable player the Yankees can take a chance on, and as a free agent, they wouldn’t have to part with any significant assets. Sign in Kluber would be very similar to the deal this truck with James Paxton, an injury-prone arm that holds solid value and healthy. Considering Kluber hasn’t pitched a full season in over two years, this could be a win-win move for GM Brian Cashman, and at 34 years old, there’s little question that Corey has some juice left in his arm.