It feels a bit wrong writing about this at the beginning of April, but that is where we are at when it comes to the world of sports; unpredictability. The one thing we know for sure, however, is who will be off the books for the Yankees after the 2020 season, and they are some notable names.
Big Maple is set to make $12.5 million before coming off the books for the Yankees after the 2020 season. At 31 years old, his best years as a pitcher are likely behind him, and his days of improving are almost definitely passed. Last season Paxton was undoubtedly solid, posting a 3.82 ERA and a 29.4 K% in 150 innings pitched. His season also included a ten-game win streak from July 26 to September 2.
Expectations for 2020 were (are?) in the same neighborhood as his 2019 performance. I’d expect Paxton to again hover around a 3.85 ERA for 2020 while maintaining a similar strikeout clip with maybe a slight decrease. And as far as consistency goes, Paxton is one of the best. So in a contract year, one would think that he will continue to produce and maybe perform better than expected.
Beyond 2020, however, I am not so hopeful. As a 32-year-old, I’d assume a certain level of regression for Paxton that won’t be consistent with his ability to remain a better than 3.5 WAR player over the past four seasons. Paxton will still be solid as a 32 and 33-year-old, but he won’t be the same pitcher, and that is something for the Yankees to consider. Do they want to give a multi-year deal to a pitcher on the wrong side of 30? Probably not.
Even still, Paxton may benefit from the shortened season as he is fresh off back surgery to remove a cyst. With more time to recover and get right, Paxton might come back better than he would in a normal season.
Masa, much like James Paxton, is a starting pitcher on the wrong side of 30 entering free agency. Tanaka, though, will be less sought after on the open market than Paxton in all likelihood. Tanaka had a solid season in 2019, posting a 4.45 ERA and a 19.6% K%. But he’s not overly likely to get any better than he’s been. Also, you can usually tell what a player thinks of their own value when they decide to forego testing free agency.
Above is Tanaka’s three-year ZIPS projection starting with 2020. It’s hard to bring back a player that’s practically guaranteed to regress. However, it’s unlikely Tanaka will totally implode. Should the Yankees want to bring him back, I imagine it would be nowhere near the current $22 million. The mega signing of Gerrit Cole and the emergence of Luis Medina, Deivi Garcia, and Albert Abreu make doing that difficult.
D.J LeMahieu is fresh off by far his best year as a major leaguer, slashing .327/.375/.518 with 26 home runs 102 RBI a .375 wOBA and a 136 wRC+. All of that and a 5.4 WAR season was good enough to finish top 5 in American League MVP voting.
Sadly, D.J. is not signed to the Yankees forever, as his contract expires at the end of the 2020 season. In some ways, a shortened or all-out canceled season may be best for D.J.’s value. One has to think that he would regress in a 162 game 2020 season. After all, it’s difficult to maintain a .349 BABIP.
There is, however, a world where D.J.’s value could skyrocket. If games are played in 2020, D.J. could prove more value defensively. If Gleyber Torres does indeed struggle at shortstop, I would not be surprised to see the Yankees swap Torres and D.J. Not only would D.J. likely be a serviceable shortstop, but it would increase his value immensely on the market. If he is serviceable at the position, then he is a super-utility guy, and those are always valuable. A great hitter that can play any position in the infield is hard to come by. He is, though, going to be a 32-year-old free agent.
Wrapping it up
When it comes to the Yankees’ 2021 offseason, there are going to be some tough decisions to make. For starters, no pun intended, they will need to decide if they want to keep either Masahiro Tanaka or James Paxton. I can’t see them keeping both unless they get a good price point. I even see a world where they let both walk.
Aside from the pitchers, if games are played in 2020, D.J. will be in the spotlight. Coming off his best season as a major leaguer can lead to some disappointment the following season. I’d be surprised if the Yankees don’t do what it takes to keep him, though, especially if he runs into a stint at shortstop.