Unrestricted free agents
Masahiro Tanaka – starting pitcher
So here we are, six years after the New York Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka away from Japan with a seven-year deal worth $155M of guaranteed money. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
The two-time All-Star has not only been a great regular season pitcher but knows how to turn it up when the pressure’s on. Tanaka boasts a 1.76 postseason ERA, covering 46 innings over eight October starts. Additionally, the 31-year-old has bounced back from adversity multiple times to justify the organization’s trust in him.
Tanaka came back from both an injury suffered early in his MLB career, as well as a down regular 2017 season, just to show up that same October and be lights out. He pitched 20 innings in his three starts during the 2017 postseason allowing a miserly two runs.
He’s a fan favorite, and he’s done all that the team has asked of him and more. The Yankees will be doing all they can to bring him back in 2021.
James Paxton – starting pitcher
The “Big Maple” hasn’t necessarily been all the New York Yankees were hoping for in his short tenure with the team. But James Paxton hasn’t been bad either. The Bombers need starting pitching depth, heading into next year. If the season does happen this year and he shows the same “Ace” level value as he did in 2017, his contract value may go up. As of right now, Paxton hasn’t earned more than his 2020, $12.5M salary.
That means if there is no baseball this year, he shouldn’t cost more than $12.5M, especially since the big lefty will be an unproven commodity after back surgery in February of 2020. Should a team offer him more than his current salary, it’s not going to be the Yankees. They’ll take that money and try to cash in on the next big-time free agency robbery.
DJ LeMahieu – infield
There isn’t anything negative Yankees fans can say about DJ LeMahieu. Somehow, the Bombers ended up much happier that they have him over, Manny Machado. “The Machine” outperformed Machado by a mile in 2020 and quite frankly should have been the American League MVP last year.
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He was so much more than just his .327 batting average (36 points higher than AL MVP Mike Trout). The impact LeMahieu had on his team, particularly with both his defensive versatility and leadership, helped lead an army of injured players to the ALCS. His story would have been all the sweeter had his team not lost to the one that was involved in the biggest cheating scandal in sports history.
Due to his exceptional 2019 season, and the likelihood he will continue to perform, if there is baseball in 2020, LeMahieu will cost much more than the $12M he’s being paid for this year.
The New York Yankees won’t let him go anywhere else unless he slumps very badly this year. If there is no season, or there is one and he continues to perform at an elite level (which is pretty promising at this point), then Cashman will find a way to have him back in pinstripes in 2021.
Next winter isn’t one a Yankees fan should fear, as these guys will most likely be back, or enough of them will be back, to have another championship-caliber roster in 2021. The uncertainty does go to show, however, that the front office will have plenty of work to do with their internal players before adding more talent in free agency.