As we approach Christmas Eve, people are starting to write down their holiday wish lists. Yankees fans, of course, are no exception.
And since we are in the spirit of asking Santa for a PlayStation 5, the end of the pandemic, or even some family time, why can’t Yankees fans do the same? They, too, have needs and want things!
They say they can’t stand each other. It’s unclear if it’s actually true, but as rumor has it, Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole have some beef dating back to their days in UCLA. The former has adamantly denied those claims, but that’s to be expected, as his market would be affected if he eliminated the Yankees as a potential landing spot.
But even if it is true, the Pinstripes sure wish they could sign Bauer, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner. Even if they don’t have the resources to pull off a deal — they do, but they don’t appear too inclined to spend some money this offseason after last year’s commitment to Cole — they surely want to add him to a rotation that could badly use some star-power besides his former UCLA teammate.
Even if landing Bauer seems unrealistic at this point, New York could add at least one or two more starters via free agency or trade. Lots of names are available: Corey Kluber, Jake Odorizzi, Chris Archer, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, Garrett Richards, Jose Quintana, Adam Wainwright, Carlos Rodon, Taijuan Walker, and others can be had for money. Meanwhile, Zack Wheeler, Joe Musgrove, Sonny Gray, and Luis Castillo are potential trade targets.
Considering the team always has among the highest payrolls in all of baseball, why not start huge with this big-ticket Yankees Christmas wish?
That’s not too much to ask, is it? Putting together a reliable, trustworthy, and deep bullpen is definitely on the Yankees’ Christmas wish list. Not so long ago, the Bombers could afford to pick from the likes of David Robertson, Dellin Betances, Jonathan Holder, Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton, Tommy Kahnle, Aroldis Chapman, and Chad Green in high-leverage situations.
Robertson and Betances are long gone, Holder was non-tendered just a couple of weeks ago, Kahnle is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, and Ottavino is a shell of his former self.
The lack of depth in the Yankees’ bullpen was evident in the playoff series against the Tampa Bay Rays this year. Only Green, Britton and Chapman were capable of getting the big outs, and a contending team can’t have only three reliable guys in the back of the bullpen. FanGraphs rated New York’s relievers 16th out of 30 MLB teams in 2020 with a mark of 4.52 in Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP).
The free agency pool is filled with reliable arms, most notably Archie Bradley, Liam Hendriks, Kirby Yates, Andrew Chafin, Mark Melancon, Blake Treinen, Brad Hand, and several others. The Yankees' Christmas wishes are sure to revolve around quality relievers.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Rays are capable of turning a career minor-league stalwart with pedestrian numbers into a reliable MLB contributor. They have done it several times, and it’s because they have elite analytics and player development departments.
If they are wise, the Yankees should be asking for some player development magic in their Christmas letters. They have glaring needs in their rotation and bullpen, yet they haven’t been able to consistently produce major leaguers at the same rate as the Dodgers and Rays.
The Rays acquired Nick Anderson and Peter Fairbanks via trades and, thanks to their player development staff, turned them in what they are today. John Curtiss was a cheap free agent signing, and the organization also developed Diego Castillo, Josh Fleming and Jose Alvarado.
Why can’t the Yankees do the same? Perhaps the aforementioned penchant for a high payroll is to blame. In any event, New York would do well to broaden its analytics horizons in 2021 and beyond.
The Yankees lost to the Houston Astros in that painful American League Championship Series back in 2017, only to suffer the same fate in 2019.
It’s not just about getting eliminated at the hands of a similarly great team. For the Yankees, facing the Astros has become personal. Ever since the sign-stealing scandal details were leaked, every New York fan wants to see their team defeat Houston in the playoffs.
I’m sure the feeling is the same the other way around. If the Yankees were writing a letter to Santa Claus, then beating the Astros in the postseason would surely appear as one of the petitions.
DJ LeMahieu has led the Yankees in fWAR (Fangraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement) in the two seasons he has been in the Big Apple. The numbers say that the infielder has been the Bombers’ most valuable player in 2019 and 2020.
“Re-signing DJ LeMahieu” is high on the Yankees' Christmas wish list because with him, life is way easier. He makes hitting look simple, even if he doesn’t take too many walks and is getting up there in age. Despite a small sample size of 50 games this past season, LeMahieu made a massive impact, with a slash line of .364/.421/.590.
Right now, the Yankees want him to take a four-year deal rather than the five-year contract he reportedly desires, per NJ.com’s Bob Klapisch. Both sides should eventually sort things out, but time is ticking, and general manager Brian Cashman has made it clear that he doesn’t plan on addressing other needs before knowing if the team will be able to field LeMahieu at his regular second base spot in 2021.
Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are two of the best hitters in the Yankees. You can make a strong argument that they are first- and second-best in the club when it comes to offensive prowess.
However, they haven’t been able to stay healthy in the last three seasons. Judge has played 242 out of 384 possible games from 2018 to 2020, and Stanton’s name has only been in the lineup 199 times in that span. If both men are healthy for most of the 2021 campaign, the Yankees’ offense will be virtually unstoppable. But it’s easier said than done.
“Health” should be on any baseball fan’s holiday wish list, but it’s especially salient to New York’s situation with Judge and Stanton. Regardless of what happens with the club’s pitching, having both sluggers for almost every game next year will be a Yankees' Christmas dream come true.