NEW YORK – Brian Cashman knows the New York Yankees are taking big risks by adding pitchers Corey Kluber and Jameson Tallion, who have combined to pitch one inning during the past two seasons, and letting go of Masahiro Tanaka.
“Ultimately, gaining two for — current theory — the price of one is maybe a better strategy,” the New York general manager said Friday.
After losing to the eventual AL champion Tampa Bay Rays in a five-game Division Series, the Yankees allowed Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ to become free agents, signed Kluber to an $11 million, one-year contract and acquired Taillon from Pittsburgh for four prospects.
To drop payroll below the $210 million luxury tax threshold, Cashman traded right-hander Adam Ottavino to rival Boston, saving $7.15 million.
“The last thing I wanted to do was put him in the hands of our competitors, but ultimately I’m not afraid to do business with anybody if it serves whatever our purposes have to be, and so yeah, that was a payroll flexibility maneuver,” Cashman said.
New York is replacing Ottavino with side-arming right-hander Darren O'Day, who has a pending $2.5 million deal. The Yankees’ other major offseason move was re-signing AL batting champion D.J. LeMahieu to a $90 million, six-year contract.
“He’s obviously understated and quiet. There’s no question he is one of the leaders and somebody that so many people in our clubhouse not only want to look to but look up to,” manager Aaron Boone said.
New York enters spring training with a projected rotation of Gerrit Cole, Deivi García, left-hander Jordan Montgomery, Kluber and Taillon.
Kluber and Taillon are among four big pitching questions. Kluber, a right-hander who turns 35 in April, is a two-time AL Cy Young Award winner but has pitched one inning since he was hit on the right forearm on May 1, 2019, by a comebacker. He tore a muscle in his right shoulder last July 26, ending his season after one inning.
Taillon, a 29-year-old righty, has not pitched since May 1, 2019, and is coming back from Tommy John surgery.
“We understand some of the risk that comes with it but we’re also incredibly excited about what we think they could be. And I think if it goes well then that’s the expectation, at their best these are guys that you can turn to in a postseason situation and match up against other great pitchers,” Boone said. “The ceiling is high for them. I think it’s absolutely the right way to go for us, even though there, of course, are some risks there.”
Luis Severino, limited to three regular-season appearances since 2018, is expected back in late summer, according to Cashman, as he recovers from Tommy John surgery last Feb 27. Domingo Germán will be at spring training after missing last season while serving a suspension under baseball’s domestic violence policy, and the Yankees plan to speak with him at training camp.
Cashman talked early in the offseason with Tanaka’s agent, Casey Close, but ultimately decided not to attempt to re-sign the 32-year-old, who is rejoining his former team in Japan. New York may attempt to re-sign 37-year-old outfielder Brett Gardner, the longest-tenured Yankees player.
“He’s been a great Yankee. And so we’ll see how things transpire here over the coming weeks, but obviously he’s still on the board,” Cashman said.
Boone was with Ottavino at Yankee Stadium on Monday. The reliever was throwing when he learned he had been dealt to Boston.
“That was a little weird,” Boone said. “He’s going to be tough against us, especially with a lot of our righties.”
New York’s projected lineup includes switch-hitting center fielder Aaron Hicks along with eight right-handed batters. Cashman has inquired about obtaining a left-handed hitter.
“We have not found a match that has made enough sense for us to downgrade from the talent level in a certain position,” he said.
Boone is confident catcher Gary Sánchez will rebound from his third straight subpar season. He hit a career-worst .147 with 10 homers and 24 RBIs along with 64 strikeouts in 156 at-bats, then was benched for five of seven postseason games in favor of Kyle Higashioka.
Sánchez played winter ball in the Dominican Republic.
“I know he’s looking forward to proving last year was a fluke. And we look forward to him justifying our commitment,” Boone said.
Sánchez was bothered by his lack of postseason playing time.
“If we’re able to advance, he probably would have been my Game 1 starter in the Championship Series,” Boone said. “Gary and I have had conversations since then, but also prior to, and my relationship with Gary is a strong one.”
Third baseman Gio Urshela is expected to be ready for opening day. He is recovering from surgery on Dec. 3 to remove a bone chip from his right elbow.
“I know he’s already hitting off a tee and taking ground balls and throwing,” Boone said.
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