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Yankees Mailbag: Rotation expectations, Bellinger and Freeman, and LeMahieu’s role

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The Yankees mailbag arrives to discuss the early hot stove and expectations for some of the Yankees’ current members.

MLB: New York Yankees at Chicago White Sox Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Good afternoon everyone, it’s time for another edition of the mailbag. From here on out, the mailbag will be running every two weeks, due to a slower amount of information trickling in and a lack of action going on. Without further ado, let’s open up the mailbag for more of your Yankees questions. Remember to send in your questions for our (bi)weekly call by e-mail to pinstripealleyblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

The Gregorius B.I.G. asks: So, the rotation ended up surprising most of the fanbase and performing close to projections. Is there anything we can learn from 2021 about how we set expectations?

Perhaps, in the sense that there’s a lot of unexpected results that develop throughout the year. The Yankees did get surprisingly good results out of their rotation, but they also dealt with a wave of injuries that was the other side of the coin that they gambled on when they built this rotation. Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon did perform well when they were healthy, but injuries sapped Taillon’s availability towards the end of the year and Kluber was gone for most of the summer. Montgomery’s development and Néstor Cortes Jr.’s emergence as a reliable arm were revelations, and buoyed a lot of the risk that they took in building the pitching staff. There’s only so much that you can prepare for before April arrives, and making it through the next six months largely relies on your depth and ability to adapt.

The Idiot that said, “Harper is coming” asks: There are serious questions about whether the Dodgers will pick up Cody Bellinger’s final year of arbitration. If they don’t, should the Yankees be interested?

Bellinger has had a tough stretch in the regular season, but did turn it on enough in the postseason to inspire belief that he’s made it through the nagging injuries that have plagued him through this past year. His arbitration might mark him with a high price tag, but I find it hard to believe the Dodgers would outright cut bait with him rather than play out one more year, or at least try to trade him.

Should he get released though, I don’t see why the Yankees shouldn’t be interested. At the right price Bellinger offers much higher upside than Brett Gardner as a fourth outfielder should he not be his former MVP self, and could easily challenge Aaron Hicks for the starting spot if he does resemble his younger form. I can’t imagine what the bidding would look like, hence why I don’t believe he would get dropped in the first place, but there wouldn’t be any reason not to check in if Bellinger was available.

Larry S. asks: If Freeman becomes available, should the Yankees try to sign him, and use Andrew Velazquez at SS until their prospects are ready?

If it requires this specific scenario, then no this isn’t something the Yankees should pursue. Freddie Freeman is an elite talent, and while Velazquez’s cameo in the 2021 season was endearing, he isn’t the type of player that should be starting for a contender. Considering the level of talent at shortstop that is available this offseason, that has to be the focus no matter what — if Freeman could be acquired on top of that then sure, but it would be hard to pry the Atlanta icon away from his team after they just won the title.

Also, this became irrelevant right before publishing time because Andrew Valazquez is no longer a Yankee. Huh.

Michael W. asks: If, as is widely expected, the Yankees sign a shortstop this season, where does that leave DJ LeMahieu?

Either at first base or finally fulfilling the super utility role that he was originally signed for. LeMahieu’s status depends on the fallout from the Rizzo-Voit situation — if the Yankees re-sign Rizzo then we have out answer, but if Rizzo walks then the door is open for LeMahieu to either outright start at first or take a significant amount of the reps there. Voit’s status is probably the most unclear at the moment, since his injuries derailed what could’ve been a solid season from him and his playing time receded towards the end of the year even when he was available. That being said, there’s only one real role he can fill, so if he’s on the roster expect him to play at first at least part-time (since the Giancarlo Stanton outfield experiment continues to be a mysterious one).