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On the Yankees’ directionless winter

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Aside from their two primary goals, the Yankees’ moves this offseason have lacked vision.

American League Division Series Game 2: New York Yankees v. Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

In a surprising twist, the Yankees have been one of the busier teams over the last two weeks. First they re-signed DJ LeMahieu to a six-year pact. Shortly after, they propped up the starting rotation with two flyers — first signing Corey Kluber to a one-year deal before trading four prospects to the Pirates for Jameson Taillon. Finally, on Monday they traded Adam Ottavino to the Red Sox.

On the surface, this would seem like a shrewd bit of business: bringing back the team’s MVP, securing two high-ceiling starting pitchers, and freeing the payroll of an onerous contract. However when you zoom out, the bigger, more troubling picture emerges. Beyond re-signing LeMahieu and staying below the $210 million CBT threshold, the offseason game plan has been pretty directionless.

Brian Cashman made it crystal clear that all other offseason business would be put on hold until they had their answer one way or the other from LeMahieu’s camp. This was unwise on multiple levels. While they waited on the LeMahieu decision, several potentially impactful options came off the free agent and trade boards. They also wasted precious time to formulate and refine a battle plan for the rest of the winter and contingencies for when new opportunities or obstacles may appear.

The only thing more obvious than the team’s pursuit to keep LeMahieu in pinstripes was their desire to duck below the luxury tax to reset their overage rates. Whether or not you accept this ultimate goal, it seemed logical that with said framework in place, a procedure would be drawn up laying out how to accomplish the self-imposed budgetary restraint while simultaneously filling areas of need on the roster. Instead, it feels like they have been flying by the seat of their pants, adding and subtracting players in an almost haphazard fashion, and the lack of a more structured plan has maybe cost them the opportunity of adding more reliable players than Kluber and Taillon to the roster.

Poll

Do you support Yankees ownership’s apparent goal of ducking below the luxury tax threshold?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    Yes
    (366 votes)
  • 68%
    No
    (779 votes)
1145 votes total Vote Now

This sort of disorganized approach to roster construction has characterized the Yankees’ offseason. Adding Kluber and Taillon amounts to applying a patchwork of Band-Aids to a wounded pitching staff, when what it really needs is a deliberate, surgical operation to stitch up the holes. Instead of spending a little more for dependable producers, they have been picking up spare pieces along the way with money found between the seat cushions.

The same could be said for Ottavino’s offloading. Don’t get me wrong, I was quite pleasantly surprised that the Yankees found a team willing to eat the majority of his contract, something I never thought possible. And while it is more likely than not that he will return to being an effective reliever, I do feel that money is better spent elsewhere.

That does not assuage the feeling that the trade runs distinctly contrary to the Yankees’ history. Make no mistake, it was purely a salary dump, and laid bare the true intentions of the offseason: to arbitrarily limit spending. It also felt spur-of-the-moment. It’s like it finally dawned on Cashman for the first time: “Oh wait, I can’t go into the season with this rotation. How do I squeeze more payroll space?”

Let us engage in a bit of a thought experiment. Had the Yankees possessed greater foresight and vision at the beginning of this winter, rather than heading in with the vague outlines of a strategy, I would argue they could have fielded a more reliable roster.

When the offseason began, the Yankees had roughly $35 million to play with before entering the first luxury tax bracket. Knowing that they would need as much money as possible to keep DJ and address the rotation, the first piece of business should have been shipping off Ottavino’s contract. Assuming they could have pulled off the same trade as was just completed, this would have left them with around $44 million for LeMahieu and a couple pitchers.

Well, LeMahieu ended up eating $16 million of that payroll space, leaving the Yankees with $28 million in this theoretical scenario. As it happens, MLB Trade Rumors predicts a $13 million AAV contract for both Masahiro Tanaka and Jake Odorizzi. So when all is said and done, you are looking at the trio of LeMahieu, Tanaka, and Odorizzi versus the reality of LeMahieu, Kluber, and Taillon.

Interestingly, Steamer projects roughly similar production from the theoretical vs. actual starting duos acquired. They project 4.6 fWAR across 315 innings for Tanaka and Odorizzi, compared to 4.5 fWAR across 289 innings for Kluber and Taillon. However, given Tanaka and Odorizzi have combined for 8.3 fWAR across 402.2 innings over the last two seasons while Kluber and Taillon have totaled 1.4 fWAR over 74 innings in the same span tells the full story. Kluber is coming off a teres major tear while Taillon is rehabbing back from his second Tommy John surgery, so it is easy to see which duo has a higher floor and therefore is more dependable going forward.

The Yankees entered the wilderness of this offseason with a map but no compass. They had the hazy beginnings of a plan centered around re-signing DJ and avoiding the tax, but never developed a stable route to reach their destination. Instead the offseason has resembled a ramshackle assortment of bargain buys and impulse sales, and this could very well come around to haunt the Yankees in the coming season.

Poll

How would you grade the Jameson Taillon trade?

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    A
    (247 votes)
  • 48%
    B
    (617 votes)
  • 26%
    C
    (338 votes)
  • 3%
    D
    (49 votes)
  • 2%
    F
    (27 votes)
1278 votes total Vote Now

Poll

How would you grade the Adam Ottavino trade?

This poll is closed

  • 31%
    A
    (374 votes)
  • 26%
    B
    (319 votes)
  • 22%
    C
    (267 votes)
  • 12%
    D
    (146 votes)
  • 7%
    F
    (90 votes)
1196 votes total Vote Now

Poll

How would you grade the Yankees’ offseason moves as a whole?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    A
    (95 votes)
  • 39%
    B
    (485 votes)
  • 34%
    C
    (416 votes)
  • 14%
    D
    (181 votes)
  • 3%
    F
    (45 votes)
1222 votes total Vote Now