It is no secret that re-signing DJ LeMahieu is the New York Yankees’ top priority. The general consensus on the Yankees hot stove and around MLB is that they will bring the MVP finalist back into pinstripes for the foreseeable future.
First baseman Luke Voit took it a step further during his Tuesday appearance on MLB Network’s High Heat.
“If I was a gambling man, I’d want to put money on DJ coming back,” Voit said. “I think he wants to be back.”
However, sometimes the most obvious bets still don’t hit, and reports indicate that the Yankees’ first offer to LeMahieu was ‘underwhelming.’ Although this does not mean they will not ultimately end up with their second baseman, it is no surprise that reports leaked Wednesday of the organization engaging the Pittsburgh Pirates in talks for first baseman Josh Bell and right-handed pitcher Jameson Taillon.
This could be the start of how they pivot if the fear that LeMahieu lands somewhere else becomes a reality, but Brian Cashman cannot stop there if that is the case.
Heard today from a couple sources that the Pirates and Yankees have had conversations involving Jameson Taillon and Josh Bell. Unsure on seriousness or scope, but it’s an interesting match.
— Jason Mackey (@JMackeyPG) December 9, 2020
Taillon and Bell Potential
Although neither player will be a free agent until 2023, they both have their own question marks.
Taillon has not pitched since 2019 after undergoing his second Tommy John surgery. Additionally, he has made 30 starts in a season once. When healthy, he is a solid, young starting pitcher. His career record is 29-24 with a 3.67 ERA and 1.247 WHIP. Some of his underlying numbers also show promise, including a career walk rate of 6% that sits in the above-average-to-great classification. Additionally, he showed impressive fastball velocity and curveball spin in 2019 before getting injured.
Still though, the Yankees already have a high-upside, injury-prone starting pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery in Luis Severino. Therefore, it is a definite risk to add a second one given the Yankees’ current lack of starting pitching depth.
As a switch hitter, Bell would add balance to a Yankees lineup loaded with right-handed hitters. He is coming off a bad season, and this proceeds an All-Star 2019 campaign where he had a breakout first half but struggled in the second half. The overall numbers were .277/.367/.569 with 37 home runs in 2019, but his slashline fell to .226/.305/.364 in 2020. He hit eight home runs in the abbreviated season, but his strikeout rate spiked while his walk rate dipped.
Bell’s underlying numbers also show more promise. Despite the struggles, his 2020 exit velocity was in the 87th percentile of all MLB players. Additionally, his walk rate, barrel rate, and hard hit rate were still average to above average. In 2019, his exit velocity was in the top five percent of MLB. When he makes contact, he hits the ball hard. His issue in 2020 was swinging and missing, something he did on one-third of his attempts.
In Taillon and Bell, the Yankees would get two young, promising players, but they will be taking a risk on their health and hoping their underlying numbers translate into better production.
Looking at Their Fit
Should Brian Cashman and his team feel the duo is worth the risk, they can’t stop there. The big questions come with Bell’s place on the team. Although his bat fits in the lineup, he does not fit positionally with Voit coming off a career year and Giancarlo Stanton set to be the designated hitter for the long term.
The Yankees hot stove has also contained early rumors that Voit could be available on the trade market although they have not gained much traction. Acquiring Bell could spark new discussions with the reigning home run champion to improve other aspects of the roster.
Shortstop Francisco Lindor and left fielder Michael Brantley are two names that Buster Olney of ESPN has linked the Yankees to as possible fits. Both players posses bat-to-ball skills that equal or surpass that of LeMahieu. The switch-hitting Lindor adds a blend of power, pure hitting, and defensive abilities. The left-handed Brantley brings a similar offensive skill set as LeMahieu.
The Cleveland Indians have posted below-league-average run totals in back-to-back seasons, and they lost first baseman Carlos Santana to the Kansas City Royals in free agency. Additionally, their offensive production in the outfield has been an issue dating back to 2019. With Voit coming off his big year and Clint Frazier proving his ability to play every day, it is possible that Cashman could look to package the two, who are both under team control until 2025, to land LeMahieu’s replacement. Gleyber Torres would move back to second base in this situation.
Frazier’s replacement in left field comes from signing Brantley.
Stopping at the acquisition of Taillon and Bell only adds more question marks. While this is all pure speculation, it is a scenario along these lines that makes the potential move make sense.
This scenario adds two switch hitters and a left-handed hitter to the Yankees’ barrage of right-handed bats as well as a starting pitcher. It also improves their defense at shortstop, where Torres struggled in 2020. Bell replaces Voit as a power threat in the lineup, Brantley and Lindor replace LeMahieu as high-contact bats, and Lindor also replaces LeMahieu as an MVP-caliber presence in the lineup while upgrading their defense at a premium position.
The biggest concern, however, is that the Yankees would enter 2021 without their two best hitters from 2020.
There is no way of knowing for sure what Brian Cashman is thinking. The early rumors on the Yankees hot stove make this a plausible pivot if they do not re-sign LeMahieu. However, it also contains a ton of moving parts, further increasing the difficulty it happens as speculated.
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