While the Yankees’ biggest offseason move was the retention of one DJ LeMahieu, followed by a couple of rejuvenated starting pitchers, fans were forced to say goodbye to a handful of familiar, some beloved, faces. As a team with championship aspirations walking into 2021, most of the core that the Yankees have relied on over the past couple of seasons are still with the team. The Baby Bombers remain intact for now, but a handful of former friends will be touting new looks this year — and some have become foes.
A Yankee lifer while in MLB, it would have been undeniably weird watching Masahiro Tanaka pitch in America wearing anything other than pinstripes. Though the Yankees did retain their longest tenured player in Brett Gardner, their acquisitions of Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon left little room to bring back the second-longest tenured member of the team.
Now back in Japan, Masa returns to play for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of the NPB, the same team he began his career with. While his two-year deal is worth 900 million yen ($8.6 million), the greatest total in Japanese pro baseball history, it’s less than half of what he made in every season he was on the Yankees.
The Big Maple’s back on the team he began his career with, and the closest major league team to his native Ladner, British Columbia (a suburb of Vancouver). Despite significantly underwhelming expectations in New York due to balky knees and inconsistent command, it wasn’t all bad for Paxton’s time in pinstripes. That said, I hope he enjoys an earlier Fall break at season’s end than if he’d stayed in New York.
After missing the start of camp due to a bout with COVID-19, the quietly massive (he’s six foot six) 38-year-old lefty is back on the bump for the eighth team of his career, now sporting some grey pepper in his beard. On the Twins, he’s projected to slot behind fellow former Bomber Michael Pineda in the rotation’s fourth slot.
Otto’s nightmarish 2020 season affirmed Newton’s third law, providing an equal and opposite descent following his meteoric rise as a member of the Rockies. After being excluded from Aaron Boone’s circle of trust come playoff time and getting salary dumped in the offseason, he will now look to return to form with the team’s archrival.
Clearly depicted in the image above is not just the joy of playing for baseball’s preeminent favorite to win it all, but that of the regained ability to simply throw. After missing all but a single inning of last season to Tommy John surgery, Kahnle is still about six months away from a full-fledged return to the bump. When he does, however, it’ll be in royal blue, not navy.
After four big league seasons, all in New York, Jonathan Holder is the latest of a line of Yankee relievers to depart for Chicago (Adam Warren, David Robertson, and Aroldis Chapman). Perhaps one day, if he shows out in the Windy City, he’ll end up back in the Bronx like the rest of them.
Of no relation to Jonathan, the Phillies snatched up the Yankees’ 2015 first-rounder in the most recent Rule 5 Draft, and a month later, they flipped him to the Reds for cold, hard cash. Holder is a fielding whiz at shortstop, but with a career .595 OPS through five minor league seasons, the Reds are going to have to decide if it’s worth it to keep him on their big league roster; otherwise, they’ll have to return him to New York. Given that Cincinnati has no obvious shortstop, it’s possible.
The Yankees’ 2017 18th-round pick hasn’t seen time above Double-A, but seems excited to be projected as the Red Sox’s long man entering the 2021 season per FGDC. Only time will tell if Whitlock will be able to hold down the bottom rung of the fifth-worst bullpen in the majors by 2020 WAR.
Once a prized possession of the rebuilding Yankees, Greg Bird failed to maintain enough health or offensive consistency to grow into a viable big leaguer during his time with the Yankees despite his sweet, sweet left-handed swing. Now bearded and strangely serious, Bird fits perfectly within a Rockies team looking to slash costs and lose games, though he’ll need to fare better than his 4-for-27 showing in spring training to make much of an impact. Bird split 2020 between the Rangers’ and Phillies’ organizations, but he got hurt (again) and then also had to battle COVID in September, so he never played beyond exhibitions.
The original existential threat to Gary Sánchez’s starting spot, Romine has relocated twice since leaving the Yanks, now sporting an appropriately midwestern look after spending 2020 in Detroit. Though he was set to open the season as Willson Contreras’s backup, he may have to start the season on the shelf with a knee sprain.