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Brett Gardner and the Yankees Agree to Another Reunion

The Gardy Party will keep going for at least one more year. Earlier in the day, Jon Heyman and Mark Feinsand reported talks had once again resumed between the outfielder and the Yankees. It seemed inevitable that the two sides would be able to land on an agreement. A few hours after the initial reports, the Yankees and Brett agreed to a deal. Here are the details:

The options allow the Yankees to lower the salary cap luxury tax hit for the 2021 season. As we all know, the team’s main offseason goal was to field a championship-caliber team while staying under the $210 million threshold. Their most recent deals bring in solid veterans while allowing themselves some wiggle room to potentially add pieces at the deadline. The Justin Wilson and Darren O’Day contracts have similar option structures. We’re not thrilled with the decision to stay under the luxury tax number, but credit to GM Brian Cashman for finding savvy ways to build out the contracts while acquiring good talent.

We all know what we’re getting with Gardner. He will bring plus defense in left and center, provide some thump from the left side, and continue his role as a clubhouse leader. There really is no downside to bringing him back for that money at this point in the offseason.

The bigger question now is bench construction. A few days ago, Aaron Boone said publicly that Clint Frazier is his starting left fielder. I don’t see any reason why Gardner’s return would change that. Brett was a late offseason addition and took a pay cut. His best value comes as a fourth outfielder who most likely pushes Mike Tauchman off the Opening Day roster. With spring training soon to hit full swing, we can currently project the Yankees four-man bench as Brett Gardner, Kyle Higashioka, Tyler Wade (whoo hoo!), and one of Jay Bruce or Derek Dietrich. There is a chance Robinson Chirinos could take Higgy’s spot, but he may start as AAA catch depth, for now, a la Eric Kratz.

The bench looks much better than it did even a week ago. Brett Gardner’s return plays a pretty big part in that.

Report: Yankees have deal with Darren O’Day, pending physical

Just a couple of days after shipping out Adam Ottavino, the Yankees have nabbed a replacement. I think everyone was anticipating a bullpen addition at some point soon, just not Darren O’Day. Rather, someone like Trevor Rosenthal or Shane Greene, who we briefly discussed on the latest podcast episode.

Earlier this offseason, Atlanta rejected its $3.5 million option to retain O’Day for 2021. Now, O’Day gets $2.5 million for one season from the Yanks. That’s a remarkably cheap deal for a guy with the fifth-lowest ERA since 2008, minimum 500 innings. Impressive as that stat is, he’s still limited in that he’s a righty specialist thanks to his sidewinding motion. That makes him slide right into the role that Ottavino vacated. Righties have a .193/.262/.287 line against O’Day all-time.

O’Day, 38 years of age, had some of his best years with Baltimore but just finished a strong campaign with Atlanta. In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the righty had a 1.10 ERA in 16.1 innings pitched plus a terrific 32.8 percent strikeout rate.

The Yankees have two 40-man spots open, but they will need to open up one more for O’Day since the DJ LeMahieu and Corey Kluber signings aren’t official yet.

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.

Free agent profiles: Infield depth

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Did you realize that the triumvirate of Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada, and Jordy Mercer accumulated 170 plate appearances in 2020? That was nearly a third of the team’s total plate appearances at second base and shortstop. Both DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres spent some time on the injured list which quickly exposed the Yankees’ lack of depth up the middle.

This problem was something we clamored about last winter when Didi Gregorius departed. It’s something the team needs to address this offseason even after re-signing DJ LeMahieu or acquiring a shortstop like Francisco Lindor.

Here’s how this should play out. If LeMahieu returns, the Yankees still need to bring in another infielder capable of playing shortstop. Going another year of Wade/Estrada just isn’t going to cut it. If it’s Lindor (or another shortstop), Torres can act as the reserve shortstop when he’s not at second base. That doesn’t mean the team should rest on their laurels, though. In fact, it might make it easier to obtain a bench infielder upgrade since said target wouldn’t have to be able to play shortstop (though it’d still be nice).

With that in mind, let’s get into a few options that the Yankees should look into this winter.

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