Author: Derek Page 1 of 88

Corey Kluber and the difficulty to build a good rotation

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It only took a few months, but the Yankees finally made a couple of moves last week. Randy, Matt, and I broke things down on the podcast yesterday, but I have a couple of more thoughts I want to add today. Let’s get to them.

1. Corey Kluber’s potential is tantalizing, but I don’t like the gamble. I really don’t want to evaluate this deal with the luxury tax in mind, but Hal Steinbrenner has left little choice. As much as I disagree with the goal to keep payroll below $210 million, it looks inevitable. So, I have to question the front office utilizing $11 million on Kluber. Per Roster Resource, the Yankees are now at $207.4 million in payroll for luxury tax purposes after adding Kluber and DJ LeMahieu. That leaves little room for improvements to the major league roster barring a salary dump. I think we all would like the Yankees to add to the pitching staff, but at this point, free agency appears out of the question. 

As an alternative, I think I’d have preferred Jose Quintana. I know, I know, boring. But I’m much more confident in him staying healthy and taking the ball every fifth day. Quintana’s been as durable as they come: he made 31 starts or more annually from 2013 through 2019. In 2020, he cut his hand before the season began and later had his season end due to lat inflammation, but I’ll take that over Kluber’s recent health. He’s made just eight starts over the last two seasons, and ended 2020 with a shoulder injury. Quintana signed with the Angels for $8 million this week, by the way. A similar deal would have left more budget room.

Of course, I hope I’m really wrong about this. I mean, I get the appeal of Kluber. There’s a nonzero chance that the Yankees have two or three aces by season’s end! Kluber, along with Gerrit Cole and Luis Severino, looks pretty damn formidable on paper. That’s pretty exciting, not going to lie. In any case, I’m far from the authority on this and the front office surely has good reason to bring in Kluber, risks and all. Hell, it’s not even just the front office that apparently prefers Kluber. A couple of projection systems think much more highly of Kluber, in comparison to Quintana, than I do.

ZiPS

  • Kluber: 118.2 IP, 3.87 ERA, 3.93 FIP
  • Quintana: 126.2 IP, 4.76 ERA, 4.54 FIP

Steamer

  • Kluber: 153 IP, 4.04 ERA, 4.08 FIP
  • Quintana: 156 IP, 4.39 ERA, 4.54 FIP

Report: Yankees to sign Corey Kluber

After a totally dormant few months, the Yankees have made two significant moves in a single day. First it was DJ LeMahieu, now it’s Corey Kluber. Kluber gets a one year deal from the Yankees for $11 million. The Yanks will need to clear another spot on the 40-man roster once this deal is official.

The Yankees needed rotation help and already had a couple of organizational connections in Matt Blake and Eric Cressey, so this deal doesn’t come as a huge surprise. Still, it’s a gamble and eats away at most of what was left under the team’s self-imposed $210 million budget. Kluber, 35 in April, is now two years removed from his Cy Young form in Cleveland. Injuries have caused the righty to make just eight starts since 2018 (5.65 ERA).

We know what Kluber can do at his best. He won two American League Cy Young Awards for Cleveland and recorded a 3.16 ERA (135 ERA+) from 2014 through 2018. If he can get back to that form, or even find some semblance of it, this is a huge bargain for the Yankees. Whether or not he can do that coming off a significant shoulder injury isn’t certain, of course. Perhaps the team liked enough of what they saw in his showcase and had some additional insight from Cressey, who helped Kluber’s rehab this offseason.

Report: DJ LeMahieu finalizing agreement to return to the Yankees

Finally, some good news to wake up to. The staring contest between the Yankees and DJ LeMahieu is mercifully over.

The deal is for six years and $90 million, per reports by Pat Ragazzo and Jeff Passan. Clearly, the Yankees tacked on an extra year or two to bring down the average annual value. LeMahieu’s deal will count $15 million towards the team’s 2021 luxury tax payroll. That leaves the Yankees somewhere around $15 million under the initial $210 million tax threshold. Time to add pitching, folks.

LeMahieu, 32, put up MVP-caliber numbers in his first two seasons with the Yankees. The infielder hit .336/.386/.536 (146 wRC+) and racked up 7.8 fWAR. He’s been money in the clutch, too. Losing him would have been a pretty big blow, but the Yankees clearly made it priority number one to retain him, even if it took until mid-January to wrap up.

Today’s news comes on the heels of weeks of negotiating through the media. I wouldn’t say things were contentious, but I also wouldn’t say it was pleasant. Back in December, reports indicated that the two sides were as much as $25 million apart in negotiations. Other teams, namely the Dodgers, were in the mix. The Mets lurked. Even the Blue Jays, consistently in second place in all free agent negotiations and trade talks, were an option. Most recently, there was a story about LeMahieu’s frustration with the slow pace of negotiations with the Yankees. Perhaps that was the final push the Yankees needed to get something done.

The Yankees have a full 40-man roster, so a corresponding move will have to be made once the deal is official. Mike Ford and Albert Abreu seem like prime candidates to get the boot.

More details surely to come. We’ll update this post as information trickles in. A happy Friday, indeed.

A refresher on the Yankees’ offseason status

Sigh.

It may be a new year, but it’s been more of the same for the Yankees in the early going. Apologies to Greg Allen, but nothing of note has happened with this team this winter. We’re still waiting for the verdict with DJ LeMahieu and all of the other needs on the roster. So with that in mind, let’s get back up to speed with where the Yankees stand. I have some notes on LeMahieu and those negotiations’ implications, the Allen trade, and the organization’s payroll and roster status.

It all hinges on DJ LeMahieu

One thing we’ve heard a lot this winter: the Yankees want DJ LeMahieu back and won’t do anything else of significance until that’s resolved. At some point there will be a resolution…right?

This very well could be a tactic to force the Yankees’ hand, but Yahoo’s Tim Brown reports that LeMahieu is dismayed with the Yankees’ pursuit. So am I! There’s apparently been no traction as the Yankees play a game of chicken with LeMahieu’s camp. The most recent report on negotiations was that the two sides were $25 million apart last month, though the difference there was really a matter of years for the deal.

If not the Yankees, the two most likely suitors for LeMahieu are the Dodgers and Blue Jays. LeMahieu would replace Justin Turner in LA, and that team seems like the biggest threat from the Yankees’ perspective. I know the Jays are on the up, but I have a hard time believing they’d win out. We still don’t know if they will actually have a home in Toronto next year due to COVID-19, for one. Two, they seem to come in “second place” whenever a big name player goes elsewhere. So they don’t really scare me, at least not yet.

Yankees trade target: Luis Castillo

How quickly things have changed for the Reds. Just one year after pushing the chips in toward contention, Cincinnati is signaling a step back. The team has already let go or traded a few key players, including Archie Bradley and Raisel Iglesias, and now appear to be heading toward even more significant subtractions. Ex-Yankee Sonny Gray came up in trade rumors a few weeks ago, but now, 28 year-old righty Luis Castillo is on the block. The cost to acquire him will be exorbitant, but surely the Yankees will ask anyway given the need for rotational help.

Background & Performance

Castillo’s been involved in three trades already in his young career. San Francisco originally signed him as an international amateur free agent in 2012, traded him to the Marlins two years later. Then, at the trade deadline in 2016, Miami included Castillo in a package to San Diego, only to have him sent back to the Marlins later. Colin Rea, a player acquired by Miami in the deal, got hurt immediately which resulted in Rea and Castillo going back to their original clubs. Finally, the Marlins sent Castillo packing for good in January of 2017 in a deal to the Reds.

The Reds summoned Castillo to the big leagues mid-2017 and haven’t looked back since. He’s made 90 starts for the Reds in his career and owns a stellar 3.62 ERA (124 ERA+) along with terrific peripherals. He strikes out a ton of batters (27 percent), has a pedestrian walk rate (8.6 percent), and keeps the ball on the ground (52.9 percent). His stuff is electric and the underlying Statcast metrics are terrific, too:

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