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Yankees Mailbag: Yamamoto and secondary options, Judge’s foot, and Ohtani details

The first dominoes of the offseason have fallen, but where do the Yankees go from here?

World Baseball Classic Semifinals: Mexico v Japan Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

Good afternoon everyone, it’s time to dive back into the mailbag and answer some of your questions. Remember to send in your questions for our bi-weekly call by e-mail to pinstripealleyblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

SEYanksAndCards88 asks: What is the New York Yankees Plan B, if they get outbid for Yoshinobu Yamamoto? And would they pivot towards pursuing starting pitchers on the free agent market?

So, as Peter wrote the other day, the Yankees are more than a Yamamoto away from a complete rotation. They should be and likely are involved in a bunch of names outside of the Japanese ace, but obviously the lion’s share of their remaining budget is dedicated towards the potential megadeal that he will command. Should they lose out in the bidding war, then that money could be freed up for other top arms — if Hal Steinbrenner is serious about going all-in in general rather than getting fixated on a big name.

Assuming that’s the case, the best case in my opinion would be a reunion with Jordan Montgomery. The left-hander has only continued to excel since getting traded from the Yankees, first with the Cardinals and then going over to the eventual-champion Rangers midseason last year. He was a major part of their playoff push (something the Yanks didn’t envision him being capable of) and an overall highly-consistent pitcher — something the team desperately needs around Gerrit Cole. Blake Snell may command a bigger contract coming off of a Cy Young season, but I find him to be a lot riskier of a bet to make based on his high walk rates and prior inconsistent seasons. Whatever route they go, and whether they land Yamamoto or not, the rotation was an area of need heading into the offseason and the depth has only taken a hit from the Soto deal. They’ll need to augment it with at least several moves.

OLDY MOLDY asks: Any news on Judge’s foot? Can he handle 50 to 100 games in center?

Last week we got this short update from Brian Cashman on Judge, saying that his toe is “a resolved issue” as far as the team is concerned, and that they were confident they could slot him back into center field. It’s been tough of late to trust medical updates from the organization as they’re ongoing, but a clean bill of health should be encouraging enough to hope that we’ll see a fully restored Judge as soon as the season starts.

The question of just how many games Judge will start in center is an interesting one — so long as he’s good enough to start, I think they’ll stick with him going out there — but how many he’ll finish is almost a more interesting one. Trent Grisham is going to find his playing time somehow in this outfield arrangement (a Giancarlo Stanton IL stint to open up DH is a near-lock), but the easiest way seems to be as a late-inning defensive replacement. The likeliest candidate to pull out of the game is Alex Verdugo, but on occasion it might also be Judge or Juan Soto, depending on how Aaron Boone wants to rest his guys.

thor14 asks: Should clubs be allowed to have large sums of salary deferred to manipulate the luxury tax. Can MLB step in and negate this?

So not only will MLB not step in for the Shohei Ohtani deal, it is specifically allowed under the CBA. I will admit that I’ve had some mixed emotions over this contract: the initial reaction to seeing that he’s earning just $2 million of his $70 million upfront feels like a poor financial decision, well beyond the desire to compete and enable the team to sign more players. However, its ultimately Shohei’s preference and if he values it that highly, then its his right to negotiate this way — and he is the one who proposed the model, not only to the Dodgers but most of the teams that bid for him. Ohtani’s a unique athlete, not only for his status on the field as a pitcher and hitter but also for the endorsement deals he earns as the most iconic player from Japan, putting him in a position where he can accept a wild deal like this without feeling too hurt by the decision to forego the upfront payments.

This is also apparently a ruling that has been in the books for a while — Max Scherzer’s contract with the Nationals had some major deferrals and similarly earned a discount on the luxury tax. My concern with it, though, is that it feels like the ruling double-dips in favor of the franchise. The team is already getting away with paying a player money worth well below what the initial value is if they can defer the money, so also adjusting the luxury tax hit feels like the contract’s numbers are more of a mirage than anything. Ohtani’s deal is on paper an untouchable record, setting a massive AAV and total value that no other player could compete with without also developing into a two-way superstar. In actuality, the real value of this deal is slightly above the waterline that Ohtani’s former teammate Mike Trout set.