Call this The Case of the Missing 40 Percent.
As the Yankees stand now, still in the first inning of this Hot Stove season unlike any other, they must replace 40 percent of their 2020 starts, probably for less than half of what they were prepared to pay for that ($52.5 million) last year before the novel coronavirus struck. Almost certainly for less than the $36 million they’ve committed to Gerrit Cole for 2021.
Masahiro Tanaka (pre-pandemic 2020 salary of $23 million) made 10 starts for the Yankees this past season, J.A. Happ ($17 million) nine and James Paxton ($12.5 million) five. Add those up and you get 24 starts out of the Yankees’ 60 games. That trio, all part of the free-agent pool now, teamed for a 4.05 ERA, considerably better than the cumulative American League starting pitchers’ ERA of 4.52.
Yes, now that the Yankees enter a winter with an undisputed ace for the first time in a long time, they must construct his supporting cast on (relatively) limited funds. And don’t forget that Luis Severino, who underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in late February, will be making $10.75 million. His return by the All-Star break should be considered a victory.
Perhaps you’ve figured out by now that a Trevor Bauer hookup with the Yankees looks quite unlikely because of the dollars he should get somewhere before we even dive into his unique, social-media-heavy personality and his frenemy-ship with his former UCLA teammate Cole. So let’s look into the three obvious, non-Bauer avenues to building this 40 percent.
1. Free agency. Of the Yankees’ three own free agents, only Tanaka appears a viable option to return. I say go ahead and re-sign him … on the condition that you can’t convince Charlie Morton to come aboard. Morton, 37, is nearly five years older than Tanaka, yet I’d argue he possesses superior upside for next season.
Nevertheless, Morton hasn’t hid how much he loves the Tampa Bay area, where his family lives year-round. If he re-ups with the Rays, then the Yankees should roll the dice on Tanaka’s character and track record while recognizing that his 2020 — during which he took his family back to Japan during the shutdown, then suffered a concussion within minutes of spring training 2.0 starting, and still turned out adequate until the rough October — proved especially challenging for him. Possibly cheaper options include Jake Odorizzi and long-ago Yankees minor leaguer Jose Quintana.
2. Trades. This goes hand-in-hand with the DJ LeMahieu/Gleyber Torres/Luke Voit puzzle. If the Yankees re-sign the free agent LeMahieu, wouldn’t it make sense to play LeMahieu at first base and Torres at second and find a new shortstop? Voit could bring back a young, high-end starting pitcher in a trade. So could Torres, if the Yankees played LeMahieu at second with Voit at first. If LeMahieu signs elsewhere, then Miguel Andujar could be the trade chip, obviously bringing back a lesser return than would Voit or Torres.
The dollars they dole out (or don’t) for a free agent pitcher will factor into how experienced/expensive an arm they’d get in such a trade. Of the three young pitchers The Post’s Joel Sherman (our top talent scout) suggested in his annual “How to fix the Yankees” column, the Diamondbacks’ Zac Gallen and the Marlins’ Pablo Lopez are not yet arbitration-eligible, while the Rockies’ German Marquez will make $7.8 million next year, $11.3 million in 2022 and $15.3 million in 2023 — no small commitment.
3. Internal. It would stun if the Yankees, having exported three significant starting pitchers, imported more than two. They’ll count on more starts from their returning arms. There’s Severino. There’s Domingo German, assuming Hal Steinbrenner lets him back from his suspension for domestic violence. Then there is the very promising Deivi Garcia, the highly encouraging Clarke Schmidt and the interesting Michael King.
The more successful the Yankees are at finding the 40 percent to join Cole and Jordan Montgomery (whose 3.87 FIP projects a better 2021), the closer to 100 percent their chances of a title will become. The search is on.