It is impossible to locate a voice inside of baseball that doesn’t believe the Yankees have to bring free agent DJ LeMahieu back to The Bronx.
The popular refrain is: “How many times in sports does a team improve by losing its best player?’’
Yet here is something to contemplate: With the possibility of the Yankees looking to get under the $210 million luxury tax threshold after losing more money than any other team in 2020, aren’t the Yankees the same team if they bring Masahiro Tanaka and LeMahieu back and don’t do anything else?
The answer could rest on Domingo German’s skinny shoulders, even though Hal Steinbrenner wasn’t sure as recently as mid-October whether the 28-year-old right-hander was guaranteed to be a Yankee in 2021.
Provided Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks stay on the field — which is far from a lock — there would be enough offense with LeMahieu at second. Tanaka would fall in behind ace Gerrit Cole and in front of Jordan Montgomery, who has appeared in 18 big league games in the past three seasons and is still developing.
With Luis Severino not expected back from Tommy John surgery until June or July, there would be two openings in the rotation.
“They are getting German back and I think that has been kind of an out-of-sight-out-of-mind situation. He is not a No. 1 or No. 2, more like a 3 ½ to a 4, and that’s important to have,’’ an NL talent evaluator said of the 6-foot-2, 180-pound German, who missed all of this past 60-game season due to being suspended for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy in 2019. “They lost [J.A.] Happ and he was pretty good late in the year.’’
That the Yankees’ chances of getting past the defending AL East champion Rays might hinge on German is frightening. Yes, he won 18 games in 2019 when he pitched in 27 games (24 starts). But the suspension wasn’t the only situation that clouded his commitment to baseball. In late February, German was working out at the Yankees’ complex in his native Dominican Republic when he was involved in a frightening dune buggy accident in San Pedro de Macoris. Then on July 18, German announced he was leaving baseball, but reversed field the next day.
Is that the type of player the Yankees can heavily lean on?
After the season ended, Steinbrenner said he wanted to meet with German to gauge his level of regret regarding the domestic violence situation and to determine whether he has turned his life around.
Beyond that, there is no guarantee German can win 18 games again. He is pitching for Toros del Este in the Dominican Winter League and has been good in two outings, but that is a long way from getting big league hitters out.
Roster Resource estimates the Yankees’ 2021 payroll at $175 million now. Figure LeMahieu, who led the big leagues with a .364 average and the AL with a 1.011 OPS to bag a free-agent contract in the $20 million-per-year range. Add Tanaka at $14 million and the Yankees are at $209 million. Not bringing Tanaka back is a money-saving option, but that only increases the need to count more heavily on German, who has more experience than other options Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt.