The 2019 MLB offseason has consisted of a whole lot of talk and rumors, but not a lot of action. Marquee free agents Manny Machado and Bryce Harper have yet to find a new home, and pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel also remain unsigned. However, one team that has made moves thus far has been the Yankees. After trading for James Paxton, the Bronx Bombers added two hitters in DJ LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitzki to begin free agency, and have now signed reliever Adam Ottavino to add to an already filthy bullpen. If you couldn’t tell by the title of this article, there is a common theme between all three of these guys. All of them previously played for the Colorado Rockies. LeMahieu and Ottavino were with the organization last year, while Tulowitzki was one of the most beloved to ever wear the purple and black. So I thought I’d take a look at the new editions that once called Coors Field home, and what we can expect in the year to come.
I’ll start with the first signing of the offseason. Tulo was released by the Blue Jays and signed by the Yankees for the veteran’s minimum. The Blue Jays still owe him around $40 million, so the Yankees are getting a steal here. Tulo hasn’t played at his 5x all-star caliber level since 2013 or 2014, but if the Yankees get any value out of him it will be considered a win. Dating for as far back as I can remember, people thought Tulo would be next in line after Jeter to take over the shortstop role in the Bronx. Now at age 34 and riddled by injuries, it’s a bit of a different situation. Although he will mostly be backing up Gleyber Torres at short, Tulo could see a decent amount of play in the absence of Didi Gregorius.
The interesting part about the Tulo signing is just how much playing time he will see. Baseball Reference projects Tulowitzki to have 226 plate appearances with a triple slash of .244/.307/.405 with 8 HR and 27 RBIs. On the other end, Fangraph’s Steamer projections, usually seen as the more reliable of the two, has Tulowitzki getting 363 plate appearances and slashing .253/.313/.427 with 14 homers and 43 RBIs. Fangraphs seems the more optimistic of the two sites, and I tend to agree. Tulo can be a nice addition to the Yankees and was a low-risk signing attached to low expectations. If he can get healthy enough to play in a backup role, the Yankees could be looking at a solid piece for a playoff team. Championships are won by those small additions (think of Steve Pearce with the Red Sox last year), and the Yankees know how to get value out of their players. (Also yes, I realize Tulo was on the Blue Jays most recently. The picture goes with the theme).
Perhaps my favorite signing thus far for the Yankees has been DJ LeMahieu. The Yankees told LeMahieu to bring several gloves to spring training, and the two-time all-star and three-time Gold Glove winner was happy to oblige. My only concern is how much of a utility guy is LaMahieu really going to be? He’s played 7,460 out of 7,772 career innings at second base. The remaining innings were split between first (13 innings), shortstop (4), and third base (245). The Yankees need a lot of help at both corner positions, with major red flags in Miguel Andujar at third and Luke Voit manning first base. LeMahieu is more than capable of learning, but his home is at second base, where he could very easily be the starter for New York. That would slide Gleyber Torres to his more natural position of shortstop and LeMahieu would most likely start until Gregorius returns to the lineup.
But it’s more than just defense from the 30-year-old. In his career, LeMahieu has slashed .298/.350/.406. Perhaps most impressive is his ability to put the ball in play, something the Yankees lacked several times last season. LeMahieu has a career 15.2 K%. Compare that to someone like Aaron Judge, who hovers at 31.6%. LeMahieu also has opposite field power that will play out well at Yankee Stadium. Last year was a career-high 15 home runs for LeMahieu, and I predict he will surpass this number given starter at-bats in 2019. To back that prediction up with numbers, LeMahieu more than doubled his launch angle from 2.7 in 2017 to 5.7 in 2018. The Yankees love to smoke the ball, and LeMahieu will fit in with a career 43% hard hit percentage. In his career, he has hit 35% of balls to the opposite field, which will bode well in Yankee Stadium. LeMahieu’s numbers suggest Yankee Stadium could be an even bigger boost in numbers than Coors Field.
Signing Adam Ottavino was just cruel and unusual punishment on the Yankees part. With the 3 year, $27 million deal, the Yankees bolstered an already great bullpen. Ottavino is a bit of a late bloomer, with 2018 being his best season at age 32. In that year, Ottovino had a 2.43 ERA in 77.2 IP, a 193 ERA+, and a 0.991 WHIP. A 12.98 K/9 was also a career high to pair with an impressive 0.58 HR/9 even with Coors as a home field. Ottavino does it primarily with a nasty slider, which he uses more than any other pitch (46.4%). It remains to be seen if Gary Sanchez will be able to catch that nasty slider, but the Yankees found another solid piece for their pen. The last question is which role with Aaron Boone use Ottavino in with such a loaded bullpen? It’s certainly a great problem to have. My only small concern for Ottavino is how many innings he’ll be able to handle. If he hovers around 70-80, he should be okay. But with more workload, Ottavino does get a little worse. He has a career 1.62 ERA before the All-Star break, but that jumps to 3.51 following the break.
Moving from Coors Field to Yankee Stadium shouldn’t be a huge problem for any former Rockies. Coors ranked 2nd in the MLB in runs and home runs. Yankee Stadium wasn’t far behind, ranking 6th in both categories. Ottavino was able to combat Coors with his nasty slider and was great at keeping the ball in the ballpark. Maybe the final missing piece for the Colorado Bombers would be adding star third baseman Nolan Arenado in a trade or signing him this offseason. They could certainly use his defense at the hot corner.
Overall, I believe all three signings could make a big impact on the 2019 Yankees season. Ottavino will be a big help in the bullpen, and LaMahieu will be effective in the field and in the batter’s box. Tulowitzki was a low risk that could potentially be a high reward. Even without a big signing like Machado or Harper thus far, the Yankees have done a great job filling the holes within their roster.