General manager Brian Cashman glanced repeatedly at the magnetic depth chart bolted into the wall across from his Yankee Stadium desk on Wednesday afternoon, rattling off the names of players expected to comprise the Yankees' 2021 roster. Second base remains vacant, but there is no question about their intended target.
Cashman reiterated the Yankees’ strong interest in retaining DJ LeMahieu, the reigning American League batting champion and the team’s Most Valuable Player for two straight years. Moving the needle with the 32-year-old LeMahieu is atop Cashman’s to-do list as baseball conducts its first virtual Winter Meetings.
“I promise you that we’re working on it,” Cashman said. “He’s a priority; he’s this winter’s priority. The overall priority is to make sure that we somehow find a way to field a team that can push through and ultimately represent the American League in a World Series and find a way to win it.”
Discussions have continued with LeMahieu’s agent, Joel Wolfe, as well as the representatives for the Yankees’ other free agents. Published reports this week suggested that LeMahieu and the Yanks may be more than $25 million apart, with LeMahieu seeking a five-year deal in the $100 million range.
Outfielder Brett Gardner and right-hander Masahiro Tanaka are also on the club’s radar, according to Cashman, who has spoken to their representatives -- Joe Bick and Casey Close, respectively. Cashman acknowledged that LeMahieu’s unsettled situation is “driving the bus” within the Yankees’ offices.
“Clearly, he’s put himself in a great position and has a lot of opportunities, I’m sure,” Cashman said. “I think he’s going to be doing the best thing for him and his family, with the hopes of staying here, but at the same time having to evaluate the landscape. We’re trying to navigate our current commitments as well.”
It is not clear how much the Yankees intend to spend this offseason, one year after they landed ace right-hander Gerrit Cole with a nine-year, $324 million contract, then said that they lost more money than any other team due to the pandemic-shortened 60-game regular season.
But managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner typically puts dollars back into the payroll when players become free agents, such as LeMahieu, Gardner, Tanaka and others have.
“I feel confident that we will again have the highest payroll,” Cashman said. “Our commitment to fielding a tremendous team is always still going to be intact.”
Starting pitching is an area of interest for the Yankees, who would like to supplement the rotation behind Cole. Tanaka, left-hander James Paxton and left-hander J.A. Happ are all free agents. The Yanks have also dabbled with the relief market, expressing interest in right-hander Ryne Stanek, a former Rays reliever who spent the past two seasons with the Marlins.
“Of course, I would like to add, if I can,” Cashman said.
Cashman said that he views Gary Sánchez as the front-runner to serve as the Yankees’ starting catcher in 2021, coming off a disappointing offensive season in which he lost playing time to backup Kyle Higashioka.
“Going into Spring Training, I think he would be the heir apparent, even though the season ended the way it did,” Cashman said of Sánchez, who is currently playing in the Dominican Winter League. “We’re going to bet on him returning to form as the All-Star-caliber player he was prior to the 2020 season.”
Cashman also said that he is not interested in trading first baseman Luke Voit, a move that has been suggested as an avenue to free LeMahieu to play first base while permitting Gleyber Torres to move from shortstop to second base.
“[LeMahieu’s] best position is second base, without a doubt,” Cashman said. “My plan, if we sign [LeMahieu], is to play him at second base. His true value is at second, which takes advantage of the defense and the offensive profile he brings for that position. That’s our interest.”