Yankees’ second-most important free agent isn’t who you’re expecting


The New York Yankees’ lineup disappointed tremendously in the 2022 postseason, checking in with Deadball Era numbers thanks in part to Aaron Judge’s extreme struggles.

That didn’t change the narrative much heading into the offseason, however, as the prevailing wisdom remained that without Judge for a 162-game season, the lineup’s infrastructure would crumble, as would any semblance of team chemistry.

Fans united this week around the concept of change, but that change could come in many colors. If Judge stays, the Yankees must find a way to shed Josh Donaldson’s or Aaron Hicks’ money and supplement him. If Judge leaves, they must reinvest that money elsewhere in order to approach contention. If Aaron Boone stays (he will), Brian Cashman must be either dismissed or checked by an outside hire, considering just how much is riding on the way finances are allocated this offseason.

But lost in the shuffle is the possibility that in addition to Judge, the Yankees could be losing something rare: a piece of their infrastructure that both critics and acolytes agree is working.

Pitching coach Matt Blake, who breathed new life in to a wave of starters and relievers and set an undermanned offense up to win a postseason series, is also a free agent this winter. With all due respect to Anthony Rizzo and Jameson Taillon, his departure would be the second-most-impactful behind Judge’s.

Yankees can’t lose free agent pitching coach Matt Blake

If Judge re-signs, Rizzo likely follows. If Judge departs and Rizzo follows him, the offense is more than one offseason away from being rehabilitated.

If Blake leaves, too, then both sides of the ball will have been tossed hopelessly backwards in one offseason, the kind of dual-action blow most franchises take several years to recover from.

Sure, Blake’s teachings could continue to resonate long after he’s gone. But it’s never that easy. Wasn’t Dillon Lawson supposed to bring the minor leagues’ wildly successful offensive teachings to the big-league locker room? That didn’t work.

Of course, the Yankees have more spending power than most teams. Pitching brain drain and a star walking to San Francisco is no competition for a doubled budget and five or six prudent free agent additions. Blake is both an expert tutor and a money-saving tool, though. Why spend money on Edwin Diaz when Blake can teach Wandy Peralta, Jonathan Loaisiga and Clay Holmes how to pitch at an All-Star level? Why chase multiple top-of-market arms when you have someone fresh out of the Cleveland Guardians’ pitching factory to help rediscover a former top prospect’s zip and change-of-pace at a fraction of the cost of, say, Shane Bieber?

Losing Judge would be catastrophic (as would inking Judge and sitting on your hands for the rest of the offseason). Letting the rest of a failed offense flake off and die around him must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis (Rizzo good, but … there are healthier options).

Letting Blake walk to turn someone else’s operation around? Try explaining to the fan base why you decided to reverse the one clear gain your organization had made since the start of 2020.