The 2020 MLB season is over. Teams will be assessing their rosters and preparing for a 2021 World Series push. The New York Yankees finished second in the AL East. Unfortunately, it is not where the organization thought it would be. Once again, injuries and slumps plagued the Yankees and they exited the playoffs early yet again.
The Yankees free agent targets will help upgrade for next year’s team as several key players are have expiring contracts, too. However, the COVID-shortened season has affected every team’s budget. The Yankees, along with every other MLB franchise, suffered major revenue losses. As a result, free agency could look very different this offseason despite there being several big names on the market. The Yankees, specifically, could operate on a budget. With that said, here’s a look at several 2021 free agent targets the Bronx Bombers should consider going after.
J.T. Realmuto will be the biggest free agent in 2021 regardless of position. The 30-year old Philadelphia Phillies catcher had another solid year batting .266 with 11 home runs and 32 RBI. While the Yankees do have Gary Sanchez, it is becoming clear that he may not be a long-term solution. He continues to battle with prolonged slumps and his defense behind the plate remains a huge concern. Sanchez did finish with ten home runs, but he only batted .147 with only a .253 OBP. Sanchez slumped so poorly, that Yankees manager Aaron Boone benched him in favor of Kyle Higashioka in the playoffs.
Unfortunately, Realmuto is going to be expensive and the Yankees will have priorities other than a starting catcher. Sanchez will not be a free agent until 2023 and is two years younger than Realmuto. The Yankees have not made a decision on Sanchez’s future, but he will play in the Dominican winter league. That being said, another catcher is not out of the question in case the Yankees do decide to move on from Sanchez. Higashioka is serviceable, but he has yet to show prolonged big league success.
One option includes signing free agent catcher James McCann. The Chicago White Sox and 2019 All-Star had a very solid 2020. He hit .289 with seven home runs and 15 RBI in 31 games. Also, he will be much cheaper than Realmuto. The Yankees can give McCann a shot at a starting job, which he has certainly earned with his performance the last two seasons. If nothing else, a platoon of McCann and Higashioka would give the Yankees a formidable catching duo.
Masahiro Tanaka is a free agent. He struggled at the end of the season, but finished 3-3 in ten starts. However, he has been solid in his Yankees career despite not being spectacular. Before this postseason, Tanaka’s numbers were off the charts. In his first seven playoff starts, Tanaka’s ERA is 1.32 over 41 innings, and he had never allowed more than two earned runs in any start. Despite those impressive numbers, the 2020 postseason wasn’t nearly as kind. Tanaka managed to pitch only eight innings in two starts and posted a 12.38 ERA. Those numbers could give the Yankees pause when/if they decide to make Tanaka a free agent offer. James Paxton and J.A. Happ will be free agents, as well. However, their future is a bit more up in the air and neither will likely be re-signed.
An interesting free agent addition the Yankees could pursue is Taijuan Walker. Walker, who only started four games between 2018-2109, was traded to division rival Toronto Blue Jays this season. It was reported that the Yankees were interested in acquiring the right-hander before the deadline, so it is very likely that Walker finds himself being courted by the Bombers in the offseason. He finished with a 4-3 record and 50 strikeouts to only 19 walks. He is the type of low-risk, high-reward signing Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is famous for.
Without a doubt, re-signing DJ LeMahieu is priority number one for the Yankees. Since his signing ahead of 2019, LeMahieu has been the MVP for the Yanks. He won the AL batting title with a .364 average in 2020, becoming the first player in the modern era to win a batting title in both leagues, and has played every infield position except shortstop. He is a previous Gold Glove award winner, league MVP candidate, and he has been the most consistent of the Yankee hitters for two seasons. Despite being 32-years old, LeMahieu has shown no signs of slowing down. The team extended a qualifying offer, but Brian Cashman would be wise to lock up the infielder for the remainder of his career.
Regardless of what the Yankees failed to accomplish this year, their eyes have to be on next year and beyond. After another injury-plagued season, their biggest priority will be getting players healthy. With that being said, several positions, especially pitching, will need to be addressed. After signing Gerrit Cole to a mega nine-year, $324 million deal last year, the Yankees most likely will not be in the market for huge contracts this offseason. However, upgrades can still be made with the most important being keeping LeMahieu in pinstripes.
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