Yankees: Projecting contracts for NYY free agents during Winter Meetings

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Now that we know more about the Yankees’ budget and the way MLB is treating contracts, we’ve got new projections for the team’s free agents.

Since the curtain fell on the 2020 Yankees season, most of their free agency calculus has remained the same.

Masahiro Tanaka is still more likely to return than James Paxton. DJ LeMahieu is still the team’s top priority, though far from a slam dunk to return. And Brett Gardner could be back, but not at the cost of his now-voided option.

But though we knew this offseason would be slow as molasses, the reality of situation has been even more snooze-worthy than we imagined. And since the final out of the World Series, we’ve gotten precious few reports about what the Yankees’ top free agents are actually seeking in compensation.

Our projections have changed somewhat, though, since that initial date, as we’ve seen the financial market play out a little bit — for example, when we first evaluated James Paxton, we had no idea that MLB would deem Brad Hand unworthy of $10 million. $10 million!

So, without further ado, let’s try to get our ducks in a row here. What will it cost the Yankees to bring back their most prominent free agents?

Projecting DJ LeMahieu’s Contract Details

4 years, $90 million

Nothing much seems to have changed on the DJ LeMahieu front over the first few weeks of the offseason, or the first 24-hour sprint of the Winter Meetings.

We know what he wants, and he’s going to want it until he either gets it, or bends. Five years. About $100 million. And it makes sense. And it might happen.

But at this point, I’m fairly confident the Yankees will not give LeMahieu five years of security through age 37. Not debating the merits of the act, but simply stating the most likely outcome. Seeing as both parties have the same priority, though, it’s starting to seem as if there will be a union at a slightly higher financial cost than the Yankees were originally comfortable with, but without a firm commitment to an extra year.

I wasn’t terribly confident in the Yankees extending themselves monetarily here either, until I heard Jack Curry detail the team’s pursuit of Gerrit Cole last offseason, a journey in which they apparently spent above their allotted budget once they’d decided Cole wasn’t getting away. I’m not sure I knew they, um, ever extended themselves past their internal projections.

Therefore, I bet they have LeMahieu pegged at four years and $80 million, and I bet they eventually climb to $90 million, potentially with an incentive-related fifth-year option.