Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Yankees Officially Re-Sign LeMahieu & Add Ace Kluber

Yankee Stadium. Photo by Jason Schott.

The Yankees announced last week that they would be re-signing their top hitter, infielder DJ LeMahieu, and that they were signing free agent pitcher Corey Kluber, winner of multiple Cy Young Awards. Both deals were made official on Wednesday afternoon, just days after the Yankees acquired starting pitcher Jameson Taillon from the Pirates.

LeMahieu was arguably the most coveted free agent in baseball, and he is returning on a six-year deal worth $90 million. The 32-year-old second baseman is coming off a career year, in which he won the American League batting title with a Major-League leading .364 batting average. This was his second battle title, as he took the crown in the National League in 2016, while he was with Colorado and had a NL-leading .348 batting average. He became the first player in the Live Ball Era and the second player in Major League history to win the batting title in both leagues, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. You have to go back to the turn of the 20th century to find the first, Ed Delananty, NL in 1899 and AL in 1902.

In Yankee history, he became the ninth player (10th time) to win the AL batting title and the fourth Yankee to lead the Majors in batting average, joining the illustrious club of Mickey Mantle (.353 BA in 1956), Joe DiMaggio (.381 in 1939), and Lou Gehrig (.363 in 1934). His .364 batting average was the highest since DiMaggio in 1939.

Additionally, LeMahieu placed third in MVP voting, and won the American League Silver Slugger Award at second base after hitting .364 BA/.421 on-base percentage/.590 slugging percentage, (71 hitsin 195 at-bats) with 10 home runs and 27 RBI in the shortened season.

LeMahieu came to the Yankees in 2019 from the Colorado Rockies with very little fanfare, but the reputation as a solid hitter. Ironically, there was someone else, relief pitcher Adam Ottavino, acquired from Colorado in the same offseason with much bigger hype who did not meet expectations and was dispatched to Boston on Monday.

In his two seasons with the Yankees, he leads the Majors with a .336 batting average and ranks second with both a .384 average with runners in scoring position (61-for-159) and a .380 average against left-handed pitchers. He also ranks 11th in on-base percentage with a .386 mark.

In 2019, LeMahieu hit .327 with 26 home runs and 102 RBI, and a .375 on-base perentage. He placed fourth in MVP voting that season.

Interesting to note is that LeMahieu has hit 11 leadoff home runs, including six in 2019 and a MLB-leading five in 2020. He is the fourth Yankee in franchise history to have at least five leadoff HRs in back-to-back seasons, along with Rickey Henderson (three straight from 1985-87), Chuck Knoblauch (1998-99), and Alfonso Soriano (2002-03).

Kluber signed a one-year, $11 million contract to join the Yankees after spending last season with the Texas Rangers. 

The 34-year-old right-hander, who is liely to be slotted into the starting rotation in the second slot after Gerrit Cole, is most known for his success with the Cleveland Indians.

One of just 21 pitchers in Major League Baseball history to win the Cy Young Award multiple times, he earned the honor in the American League in 2014 and 2017. In 2014, he went 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA (235.2 innings pitched, 64 earned runs) and a career-high 269 strikeouts (second in the AL). He tied for the AL lead in wins (fourth in the majors) and was third in the AL in ERA (seventh in MLB). In 2017, he was even better, going 18-4 with a 2.25 ERA (203.2 IP, 51 ER), and 256 strikeouts in 29 starts, including a career-high five complete games. He led the Majors in ERA, tied for the Major-League lead in wins, ranked third in strikeouts (second in the AL), and was sixth in inning pitched (fourth in the AL).

Kluber made just one start in 2020, as he threw one scoreless inning before being removed with tightness behind his right shoulder that was later diagnosed as a Grade 2 tear of the teres major muscle in his right shoulder, causing him to miss the rest of the shortened season. His 2019 season, his last in Cleveland, ended prematurely as well, when he suffered a broken right forearm after being hit by a line drive on May 1, 2019 at Miami.

In his 10-year career, Kluber has a record of 98-58 with a 3.16 ERA, which ranks third among active pitchers (at least 1,250 IP), behind only Clayton Kershaw (2.43) and Chris Sale (3.03).

The three-time American League All-Star (2016-18) threw at least 200 innings in five consecutive years from 2014-18, joining Max Scherzer as the only pair to reach that touchstone.

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