Yankees Winter Meetings Update: Masahiro Tanaka a goner, Yanks ‘not certain’ they will land DJ LeMahieu

New York Yankees, Masahiro Tanaka
USA Today

Starting pitching remains a major need for the New York Yankees, and the possibility of bringing back Masahiro Tanaka has been floated in recent days.

Tanaka has been a relatively consistent pitcher for the Yankees but simply doesn’t represent a number two behind Gerrit Cole, as the rotation has severely lacked a dominant pitcher in the playoffs. In 2020, Masahiro finished with a 3.56 ERA, 8.25 strikeout per nine, and 1.17 WHIP. He has gone up and down with his ERA the past few seasons, reaching a high of 4.74 in 2017 and 4.45 and 2019. He is a better suited three or four spot rotation man, and considering they were paying him $23 million in 2020 for his services, it is doubtful the Yankees elect to bring him back.

Michael Kay on YES stated that with the amount DJ LeMahieu is expected to command in free agency, retaining Tanaka is a pipe-dream.

“And from what I’ve heard, if they get LeMahieu — it’s going to cost money — that might be the last big guy they get. So if everybody thinks it’s a fait accompli that Tanaka is coming back, I would really, really not hold my breath.”

“If they get (LeMahieu), I think Tanaka is gone,” Kay said. “That’s just my guess because I don’t think the money is going to be there to get Tanaka.

“If they get LeMahieu, it’s going to cost about $20 million (per season) and the days of Tanaka could be over. The Yankees will go with their young pitchers, or they could get somebody on a bargain-basement deal with all the free agents out there.”

Realistically, if the Yankees can’t afford to keep LeMahieu and Tanaka, they’re going to have trouble supplementing some of their losses this off-season. Expect them to look for basement level pitchers and rely on youth options in 2021.

One pitcher I would keep an eye on is Corey Kluber, who only pitched about 36 innings the past two seasons due to injuries.

Reportedly he is 100% and ready to go but won’t be commanding significant money. His hopes will likely be to land on a contending team like the Yankees on a one-year deal to prove he is still capable of pitching at a high-level. This will give him the opportunity to earn more on our extension or long-term contract, so he could be a suitable fit.

General manager Brian Cashman has taken similar avenues before, notably with James Paxton, who has been injured throughout his career and missed most of the 2020 season with a forearm flexor strain.

With LeMahieu expected to garner a minimum of $20 million per season, the Yankees don’t have much money to work with at all, so they will have to take some shortcuts and cheaper alternatives than they might usually experience. Just last year, they committed to $36 million per season with Cole on a nine-year deal, so expect to see plenty of one-year contracts and supplemental pieces. Pitching remains a serious issue, and I don’t expect it to get remarkably better.