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Around the Empire: Yankees news - 12/28/20

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Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro passes away at 81; seven thoughts on a slow offseason; why the Yankees are being patient this winter; Aaron Boone among “lame-duck” managers in 2021

Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony Photo by Tomasso DeRosa/Getty Images

ESPN | ESPN News Services: Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Niekro passed away Saturday night following a long bout with cancer at the age of 81. Nicknamed “Knucksie,” Niekro pitched in the Major Leagues for 24 seasons, including two — his age 45 and 46 seasons — with the New York Yankees. In that time, he notched 318 wins and 3,342 strikeouts, both the most among knuckleballers in baseball history, leading to his election to the 1997 Hall of Fame class. Niekro earned his 300th career win while with the Yankees in ‘85.

This has been a rough year for Hall of Famers: with the passing of Niekro, 2020 now has seen seven pass away (Lou Brock, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan and Tom Seaver), the most in a calendar year.

NJ.com | Brendan Kuty: In an offseason that can be described as “slow,” “sluggish,” or just plain “dull,” it’s still possible to gleam a few things from the inaction. Kuty lists seven things that he’s noticed so far this winter, including how the DJ LeMahieu negotiations seem to be a game of chicken, that Domingo Germán has struggled in the winter leagues while Miguel Andújar has excelled, and that, in his opinion, Brett Gardner should be back. Most importantly, however, Kuty notes that the offseason will continue to be slow until we have a timeline for the start of the regular season and how the season will look (e.g., attendance policies), as neither teams nor players will be incentivized to make deals until those details are in place and some semblance of the 2021 baseball landscape can be seen.

New York Post | Dan Martin: Many have been concerned by Brian Cashman’s statements that he’s prepared to lose out on free agents while waiting on LeMahieu’s free agent decisions, but that may not necessarily be a bad thing. No matter how the LeMahieu saga plays out, the Yankees were almost certainly not going to be players for top-of-the-market players like Trevor Bauer, J.T. Realmuto, and George Springer, the only players guaranteed to get good contracts this winter. The second and third tiers of the market, however — in which Brett Gardner and Masahiro Tanaka reside, along with possible shortstop targets Andrelton Simmons, Marcus Semien, and Didi Gregorius — are likely to be left hanging in the wind, as teams appear to be trying to cut payroll following alleged losses in the 2020 season. With markets not developing due to the uncertainty, patience might just be the way to go this winter.

MLB Trade Rumors | Mark Polishuk: Mark Polishuk lists the managers and front office executives on contracts that will expire after the 2021 season, and that includes Yankees skipper Aaron Boone. Despite Brian Cashman’s assurances and Boone’s success over his first three seasons — which saw him post a 236-148 record with two 100+ win campaigns — the lack of news regarding an extension will certainly draw media attention to Boone’s current lame-duck status.

Twitter | Jeff Passan: A late-night, last-second addition to our news links: the Tampa Bay Rays have traded ace Blake Snell to the San Diego Padres for top pitching prospect Luis Patiño, catcher Francisco Mejía, pitcher pitcher Cole Wilcox, and catcher Blake Hunt. This will definitely make the Rays a weaker team in 2021, but how it will affect them long-term remains to be seen.