New York Yankees: 5 best free agency signings of the decade

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Masahiro Tanaka, DJ LeMahieu, Gerrit Cole

The New York Yankees signing of Gerrit Cole is a great move, but where does it rank among the team’s all-time signings of the decade?

Josh Benjamin

Christmas has come early for the New York Yankees in the form of Gerrit Cole.

The Bronx Bombers are instant World Series favorites after inking the star righty to a nine-year contract worth $324 million. For a number of fans, it was a move that had to be made.

For others, however, it was the Yankees’ return to their big-spending ways. Indeed it was. Cole is the Yankees’ most marquee signing since CC Sabathia back in 2009. Adding the big lefty led to a World Series, so perhaps adding Cole will yield the same results.

But let’s talk about free agency. The Yankees certainly reinvented the wheel in terms of it. After all, George Steinbrenner set the precedent for investing money in the team. He made Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson the highest-paid players in baseball at one point.

Similarly, the Yankees made Cole the highest-paid pitcher in MLB in signing him, a move of seismic proportions.

This being said, a new decade will soon be upon us and with it will come more big Yankees spending.

Thus, let’s look back at the previous decade and see how Cole and the other huge signings stack up.

No. 5: Rafael Soriano

2011 is right about when the Yankees really started prioritizing a strong bullpen. In fact, it’s what made signing Soriano all the more puzzling. Mariano Rivera was locked into the closer’s role and still great. Soriano, meanwhile, led the AL with 45 saves for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010.

Despite that, Soriano inked a three-year, $35 million contract to be Rivera’s setup man. The catch was he could opt out after either of the first two years.

It proved to be a fruitful signing. Rivera tore his ACL in 2012 and after David Robertson struggled as the closer, Soriano stepped in and notched 42 saves. Talk about next man up!

Soriano then opted out of his contract and signed with the Washington Nationals. His time in New York was short, but he proved able to fill Rivera’s huge shoes as the Yankees clinched the AL East.

No. 4: Hiroki Kuroda

The Yankees’ rotation had a hole in it after A.J. Burnett was traded after the 2011 season. It also didn’t help that Michael Pineda, who had just been acquired from the Seattle Mariners, would miss two years with shoulder trouble.

Enter Hiroki Kuroda, the Japanese elder statesman who made his mark in MLB as an innings eater for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He signed a one-year, $11 million deal with the Yankees, followed by two more before going back to the Hiroshima Carp in 2015.

Kuroda would go 38-33 as the Yankees’ age finally caught up with them, but he still posted a respectable 3.44 ERA. He also pitched three shutouts in pinstripes and owned a 3.95 ERA against the hated Boston Red Sox.

He was a low key signing, but Hiroki Kuroda was quietly strong for the Yankees over three years.

No. 3: Masahiro Tanaka

Even after missing the playoffs in 2013, the Yankees pursued key free agents in the offseason. The grandest signing was that of Masahiro Tanaka, who the Yankees signed to a seven-year, $155 million contract. In even more big spending, the Yankees also paid the Rakuten Golden Eagles a $20 million posting fee for the rights to Tanaka.

This has proven to be money well spent. Tanaka has struggled with some injuries and is prone to giving up home runs, but has been overall solid for New York. His splitter is devastating when it’s on and he just seems to get better as the season goes on.

Most important of all, Tanaka owns a 1.76 career postseason ERA. If New York wins the World Series in 2020, signing Tanaka looks even better.

No. 2: Gerrit Cole

Gerrit Cole hasn’t even pitched an inning in a Yankees uniform yet, and he’s already one of the team’s best signings of the decade. New York opened up its deep coffers this winter to make Cole the highest-paid pitcher in baseball.

And given how Cole came off at his introductory press conference, the man is ready. He grew up a Yankees fan and has been preparing for this moment his whole life. He went 20-5 with a 2.50 ERA for the Houston Astros in 2019, struck out an MLB-best 326 hitters in just 212.1 innings, and still lost the AL Cy Young Award.

But it’s alright. It just means he’ll win one as a Yankee.

No. 1: DJ LeMahieu

Let’s be honest, folks. The New York Yankees should not have won 103 games last season. The ridiculous amount of injuries had the team looking worse off than Wile E. Coyote after a day chasing the Roadrunner.

But thanks to the injuries, DJ LeMahieu received his time to shine. He inked a two-year, $24 million deal with the Yankees last offseason despite New York’s infield being fairly set. Manager Aaron Boone even said he viewed LeMahieu as a backup first baseman at the start of Spring Training.

Fast forward to today, and LeMahieu is set to be a fixture in the 2020 lineup. He primarily served as the leadoff hitter and hit .327 with a career-high 26 home runs and 102 RBI. The worst part is despite all his efforts, he wasn’t even a finalist for American League MVP.

But the fact remains that without LeMahieu’s excellent contact hitting, the Yankees may not have even sniffed the playoffs. Players like him who just play the game smart and don’t try to do too much have a way of bringing stability with them.

Make no mistake, fans. DJ LeMahieu hasn’t been in New York long, but what he’s done for the team in such a short time and at such a great price speaks volumes of his overall value.

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