The New York Yankees seem to be making tangible progress on Aaron Judge, their most prominent free agent. But, if Hal Steinbrenner halted the team’s momentum right now and cut off all free agent spending, right field would only be one of two tremendous trouble spots.
Judge revolutionized the Yankees lineup upon arrival in 2017, but pitching coach Matt Blake did the very same for the team’s pitching infrastructure after the 2019 season. Perhaps the ethos was already in place, but the team’s pitching educators needed a steady and innovative hand guiding their process, and Blake brought over the right amount of secret sauce from Cleveland.
His contract expired after the 2022 season, and while there was no doubt the Yankees would’ve loved to bring him back in an ideal world, the baseball world isn’t always ideal.
Former Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson shocked observers by bolting for the same job at LSU midway through the ’22 season, which led many to believe that similar reverse leaps would be possible in the months to come, as colleges learned they could potentially overwhelm major league salaries. When the details of the Johnson transaction leaked, it was clear this move was about more than money, but the worry remained: could someone upend Blake’s year-end process with the offer of the century?
According to Brian Cashman this past week — who still isn’t under contract himself — he doesn’t see it happening. The leader of the Yankees front office claimed that only assistant hitting coach Hensley Meulens would be departing from the staff this offseason, pending a last-minute quake. That means that New York’s second-most important free agent is in line to maintain his position.
Yankees coaching staff: Brian Cashman believes Yankees retain Matt Blake
Let’s get that buttoned up … probably? Cashman being buttoned up is a clear back burner priority in comparison, especially since it’s clear he plans to engage with Judge sans-contract. It’s also clear Hal Steinbrenner intends to take the reins in that process himself.
Cashman sold Blake’s return as something approximating a payroll formality last week, and ideally that remains true as the two sides get into the nitty gritty.
Under Blake’s leadership, the Yankees’ minor league system has redoubled their efforts at creating a sustainable pitching development infrastructure, resulting in weapons like Ken Waldichuk, Hayden Wesneski, and Will Warren. It’s not a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all methodology. Clearly, the Yankees can add velocity and build out changeups among the pitchers they target.
Blake has also worked his magic on numerous high-variance relievers, from Clay Holmes to Jonathan Loaisiga, and turned Nestor Cortes from roster fodder into a rotation stalwart. The Yankees shouldn’t let Blake’s presence prevent them from chasing more established names, but hopefully, they’re able to count on his continued existence in order to elevate imported talent and keep the minor-league pipeline stable.
So far, so good.