This page will continuously update as I evaluate more prospects and write profiles.
Year: Redshirt Sophomore
The Good: Someone who knows the bare minimum about football can take one look at Anthony Richardson and say, “yup.” That’s how much Richardson looks the part, and his physical running style matches his size. Richardson is a true dual-threat QB; he’ll immediately become one of the league’s more lethal runners at the position and he can hum a 101 MPH fastball with such a quick release. He’s got the full package of mobility: scrambling, play extension, evading sacks, and throwing on rollouts. I was pleasantly surprised by Richardson’s intangibles given his “project” label. He’s willing to stand tall in the pocket, has a good sense of timing, and is smooth when given plays to work through progressions. He rarely puts the ball in harm’s way too, whether that’s because he throws the ball away or takes off running. When things are going right for Richardson – which isn’t that uncommon on tape – he has the look of the first overall pick.
The Bad: That said, I wouldn’t endorse taking Richardson with the first overall pick. I write it annually around this time of year that “raw” is my least favorite adjective to describe prospects, but it’s valid in Richardson’s case. He’s young, both literally at 21 years old on Draft Day and figuratively with only one season as a full-time college starter. You can tell that he’s green when he misses open throws, goes overboard with velocity, and struggles throwing to certain areas of the field; I think that could all sort itself out just with more reps. There are parts of his game that will require improvement with more than just patience. His mechanics are inconsistent; Richardson will unnecessarily drop his arm slot and lose accuracy – and he’s not particularly accurate to begin with. His pocket management needs work too, which is my biggest concern with Richardson as I continue to prioritize that skill more and more in my QB evaluation. He currently doesn’t do his offensive line many favors, as Richardson will routinely settle in unfavorable spots in the pocket, bail when he should step up and vice versa, and hold onto the ball when there is a hot read. Lastly, while I push back on this becoming a barometer of NFL readiness, Richardson didn’t give Florida much of a chance vs. Georgia in 2022 while CJ Stroud, Will Levis, and Bryce Young (twice) each handled themselves well against the Bulldogs.
The Bottom Line: I’m definitely a fan of Richardson, which candidly I didn’t expect given my general outlook on quarterbacks and the way that the Draft community is talking about him. Context is important for every prospect, and I think it’s especially important in Richardson’s case. I hated Florida’s scheme and playcalling in 2022, with Billy Napier and Rob Sale (offensive line coach of 2021 Giants) taking over from Dan Mullen. Their WRs were also mediocre and Richardson faced constant pressure around his tackles, which he was constantly sent into by the playcalls. I’m not totally excusing his 53.8% completion percentage, but Richardson really didn’t get much help. I don’t expect Richardson to ever contend for the completion percentage title in the NFL, but he should settle closer to 60% and, honestly, the frequency that he connects on splash plays make the incompletions worth it. I won’t be upset if Richardson begins 2023 as a backup, but I think he’d more capably survive as a rookie starter than others seem to think. Depending where he and others land in the Draft, I could see myself having some action on Richardson as a dark horse Rookie of the Year winner. His ability is truly special and I think his platform for archetypal QB play is high enough to justify an early gamble in the draft.
Grade: Mid First Round
Pro Comp: Cam Newton
Year: Redshirt Senior
The Good: Levis certainly has the intangibles in spades: size, athleticism, Hulk-like strength, psycho competitor, sells play action, etc. Sentences like that about prospects are usually followed with a quick “HOWEVER…” – and I do have many negatives to report about Levis – but I don’t want to undersell that Levis is legitimately uber toolsy for a quarterback and looks the part of a field general. He has a HUGE right arm; I tracked one flick-of-the-wrist throw that went 65 yards in the air. Levis has his fair share of throws to the sidelines on tape that generate “oooh ahhh” reactions, and he can split zone coverage with the best of them. When Levis makes a quick decision it’s usually quality, and that translates well to RPO game. Although I have a hunch that some of his displays of creativity on the field were premeditated or scripted, Levis still has flashed enough nuance to suggest that he’s a true QB and not merely a big-armed athlete being pigeonholed into the position.
The Bad: I expect things for Levis to go poorly through the air for his first 1-2 years in the NFL…if not longer than that. He’s generally inaccurate and, while whoever drafts him will surely get to immediate work on his footwork, I don’t think it’s wholly fixable with his release and chaotic approach to passing. He’s not natural at scanning the field and going through his progressions; that process usually comes along with pump fakes and/or flat-footedness in the pocket. His anticipation and timing aren’t good enough yet and that leads to some ugly decisions, particularly against zone. Levis also has a bizarre lack of feel at times, and that will translate to a high sack count with fumbles in the league. There isn’t much touch in his throwing arsenal either and I expected better deep ball results given his arm strength.
The Bottom Line: There is plenty of work ahead for Levis, though I wouldn’t label him a “project” in the sense that he’ll require time set aside with pro coaches just to get onto the field. Levis should be a 2023 Week 1 starter; he played in a pro-style offense at Kentucky and I have some confidence that he’ll pick up the playbook quickly. He should definitely land within an organization that is openly rebuilding though, and that team will have basically no alternative besides totally catering its offensive identity to Levis’ strengths. He has enough upside to be a good NFL starter in a West Coast offense with plenty of talent around him, but the floor is naturally quite low when you need to make qualifying statements like that about a kid who isn’t even in the league yet.
Grade: Late First Round / Early Second Round
Pro Comp: Blake Bortles
School: Ohio State
Year: Redshirt Sophomore
The Good: CJ Stroud is awesome, and there is a ton of proof in the tape despite him only turning 21 this past October. He made 24 starts in his Ohio State tenure, and in every one of them he’ll make at least one throw that wows you. Stroud throws with such impressive drive and can fit a pass into any window and drop a dime to anywhere on the field. He’s not a one-trick pony with a laser beam for a right arm either; Stroud is deadly accurate, can throw with finesse, and almost always gives his receivers a high-percentage chance to come down with the ball. I was blown away by Stroud’s poise and control of his offense. He does not fit the bill of recent Ohio State QBs whatsoever. While JT Barrett, Dwayne Haskins, and Justin Fields could attribute much statistical success to the OSU wideouts and Ryan Day’s scheme, Stroud is a smooth operator on his own. He’s calling out signals pre-snap and usually makes an accurate read on the defense before the play, and he’s fully capable of making adjustments on the fly too. Stroud knows how to use his eyes as a weapon and consistently throws with anticipation. I loved to see jumps in his game from 2021 to 2022. Pocket movement and active feet were immediate strengths for Stroud, but as a sophomore he added further mobility to his game by way of evading pressure and picking up first downs with his legs. He started to show more common flashes of creativity too. Stroud is the best passing prospect to hit the NFL Draft since Trevor Lawrence.
The Bad: He’s not particularly fast. Besides that, I don’t have much. Otherwise, I’d say that his top flaw at this point is trouble with disguised coverage and overcommitment to pre-snap reads, but honestly that’s the case for some of the NFL’s best QBs and generally gets better with reps. It’s important not to forget that Stroud is extremely young. I jotted down a few cons from his freshman tape: his motion was prolonged and his release was too pronounced, which both contributed to some misses. But then he mostly cleaned up his technique as a sophomore. Stroud was pretty purely a pocket passer during his freshman season but then, while that does remain his strength, Stroud started making plays outside of the pocket during this most recent season. Sometimes he’s a bit robotic in his decision making, but damn…I’m nitpicking at this point.
The Bottom Line: Clearly, I’m high on CJ Stroud. He has tremendous arm talent, good size, and seems to be a sharp kid and admirable leader. To wrap it up, I want to push back against two narratives. 1) Stroud was fortunate to become the starter at OSU with Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Jeremy Ruckert, and Nicholas Petit-Frere in his supporting cast. And then 4 of those 5 were drafted, and Smith-Njigba was injured for most of the season…and we’re not supposed to care? Marvin Harrison Jr. is amazing, I know. But Stroud was essentially the lone year-over-year holdover in that offense and didn’t miss a beat. 2) Is this praise an overreaction to the Peach Bowl against Georgia, where Stroud almost single-handedly took down a budding dynasty? No…I had this extremely high grade on him before concluding his evaluation with that game. If it did boost his stock, it went from a Top 5 pick to a Top 1 pick.
Grade: Top 5 Pick
Pro Comp: Justin Herbert
This is the first of many quick profiles that I’ll write for prospects that I analyze ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft. My feelings on prospects, as well as my Grade and Pro Comp, are subject to change as I watch and learn more about them in the Draft process…but these are my initial takeaways.
The Good: Young is an exciting prospect, and not only because he’s an escape artist in the pocket who can find a throwing lane from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage. Young is advanced at reading the field for his age, both pre-snap and as the live play breaks down. He absolutely shreds zone coverages and his general sense of timing is strong. I love that his eyes consistently start downfield, which allows him to anticipate and complete low-percentage throws. He’s quick to move through his progressions, and he almost never misses a throw to the short and intermediate levels of the field. Young is poised and extremely tough, and he handled himself well against most of the bigger and stronger defenses that he faced (including twice against 2021 Georgia).
The Bad: Young is so small that his size will make him a historical outlier, and he doesn’t have the thick build or speed of other small QBs taken near the top of the draft either. His arm strength is subpar too; he doesn’t consistently throw with drive and there isn’t much power behind it. Maybe I have heard one too many comparisons to Russell Wilson, but I expected better deep passing from Young. He has a fair share of underthrows and outright misses on deep balls. Young is self-aware of his physical limitations, but they are limitations nonetheless that do show up on tape. He has a few bad habits – holding onto the ball for too long, taking extra steps in his drops, etc. The magic moments are offset by plenty of avoidable sacks, which naturally could cause concern at his size.
The Bottom Line: Bryce Young’s size will dominate the narrative over the next few months, and as annoying as it will inevitably become…it’s fair. I foresee the typical talking point becoming something along the lines of “he’s a near perfect prospect aside from the fact that he’s 195 pounds,” but that’s just not true. Young has areas for improvement; fortunately, they are things that are largely fixable/learnable. Preferably, he begins 2023 on the bench. His arrow is pointing up after his 2022-23 season at Alabama, as weird as that sounds after he won the Heisman Trophy in 2021-2022. Young stepped up his game when it came to creation, all without sacrificing efficiency or accuracy. I’d like to see him end up in an offense that routinely gets him on the move and allows him to throw on the run, which is the most exciting element of his game to me. He’s not system-proof but he does have star potential.
Grade: Mid First Round
Pro Comp: Mark Brunell
This one is for all of my fellow sports fans who get preoccupied over your team’s draft, trade and free agency possibilities while your team is literally in season and in contention. If you can’t relate, either because your team sucks or you’re just cut from a more normal cloth of fandom, that’s fine because this is also just a good and fun exercise for general NFL writing and the timing makes sense. I’ve been meaning to do a blog version of this post for a while now, and chances are that I’ll run it back with a follow-up closer to the NFL Draft once the landscape has shifted.
Let’s start with The Locks: the teams who will absolutely have this quarterback as their 2023 Week 1 starter, no questions asked and no explanations necessary. (Barring legal developments*)
We’ll call this next bucket Expect the Same: the teams who should have their primary 2022 QB back under center for 2023 too, BUT it could play out differently.
This is a bit of a copout in that I don’t know how Purdy will play in the postseason and if/how that performance will impact Lance’s job status – which adds another unknown of Lance’s health after his brutal leg injury. This is more to say that I don’t think San Fran will make a serious push for Tom Brady. The rumors are out there given Brady’s hometown roots but Kyle Shanahan, as cocky as he may be, has basically ended all debate over whether his offense is a cheat code by turning Mr. Irrelevant into the league’s most efficient passer. It’s borderline insulting to say about Tom Brady, but the Niners might be better off spending that money elsewhere.
Fields’ 1,200 rushing yards and dismal supporting cast covered up that he still had a pretty bad sophomore season as a quarterback. He’s dynamic as hell and flashes the arm talent quite a bit, but his tendencies are brutal – particularly how long he holds onto the ball and takes hits and sacks. Still, at a minimum he should be treated like he’s entering only Year 2 as the Bears’ QB given that Matt Nagy flushed away his actual rookie year, and this QB rookie class doesn’t have a Trevor Lawrence type to give Chicago pause at the top of the draft. Should Fields have maxed out his time at Ohio State, he could have ended up QB1 in this class. The Bears have too many problems elsewhere.
Tua is an interesting case in that he’s clearly valued within the organization, whether that’s because of something as simple as the team’s record with him (8-5) vs. it without him (1-3), something more statistical like him leading the league in TD%, yards/attempt and passer rating, or something more analytical like him ranking second in the league behind only Patrick Mahomes in EPA/play. Still, with his three concussions this season on top of his relatively diminutive stature and the ugly throws that sometimes come along with it, it’s probably safe to assume that he doesn’t carry too much external value despite his accolades. Like I said, I do think Mike McDaniel and the Fins are happy with Tua for at least one more season. But if Lamar Jackson became available and interested, I’d get it if they picked up that phone call. (Read just a bit longer: I don’t think that will happen.)
Even if the Lions missed the playoffs, Goff undoubtedly was one of the biggest winners of the 2022 NFL season. His first season in Detroit was about as bad as it sounds for a team that didn’t win a game until Week 13 and his contract looked bad enough to capsize the entire Brad Holmes & Dan Campbell rebuild. But now, following a season where Goff – perhaps the biggest victim of QB analytics over the past decade – finished sixth in the league in EPA/play, his contract actually carries some trade value! I’ll plant a soft take here that I think the Lions are ready to push in the final chips remaining from the Matt Stafford trade and take advantage of the draft position gifted to them by the Rams’ terrible season. Even if they do move up and grab their QB of the future – say Bryce Young (even if I do think people are getting too ahead of themselves labeling him as the surefire 1.1) – I don’t think that would lead to an immediate trade of Goff. The Lions could probably land near what Indianapolis landed for Carson Wentz if they traded Goff this offseason, sure, but I get the sense that Detroit would opt against deflating their strong momentum with Goff under center and instead bet on another strong season from him – in which event they could still get a solid trade return for him with one year left on his deal in 2024.
Man…the past few weeks have not made this one any easier. Two months ago when Lamar was churning out wins with his arm and legs despite Baltimore never getting him a receiving corps or adapting a single element of their offensive philosophy since drafting him, it appeared that Lamar won the Cold War with Ravens ownership over a fully guaranteed contract extension. Aaaaand then he hurt his knee and missed the last five games of the regular season, and he’s about to miss the Ravens’ playoff game in Cincinnati too. So yeah, as much as I root for the players in contract talks, it’s hard not to at least understand where the Ravens are coming from. Still, Lamar is that good when he’s on the field that Baltimore is undoubtedly going to franchise tag him. Considering that he’ll earn that distinction – one that will net him over $45mil in 2023 – coming off arguably the least impressive season of his pro career, I don’t think Lamar will be too afraid to play on the tag…if it even comes down to that.
Putting Geno here might be unconventional given that he’s a looming free agent and won’t receive the QB franchise tag, but the vibes are just that strong following his first season in Seattle. The Seahawks were one of the most fun teams in the league and so much of that had to do with Geno, who was a legitimately good quarterback and leader for that team. No passer outside of maybe Joe Burrow was consistently threading more pinpoint passes than Geno across the season; his 5.7% completion percentage over expectation led the league by a good margin. He carries zero baggage in Seattle and feels like the perfect fit for that organization after Russell Wilson’s reign. I doubt Geno has any interest in leaving now that his career is finally on track, so it would be surprising if they couldn’t iron out a mutually beneficial deal early in the offseason.
Over half of the league is already accounted for now, which sounds boring – I know. Still, that leaves fourteen teams with potential new-look QB rooms for 2023. Enough delay on The Big Fish: the teams who will reel in a big-name, big-money, surefire starter according to this mid-January version of me – who you can retroactively praise for correctness but not criticize for incorrectness.
OHHHHH YEAH. Ol’ Tommy and Ol’ Billy getting the band back together for one last gig. Do I feel strongly about this prediction? No. But am I writing it for shock value? Also no. Assuming that Brady does keep playing and that he will not do so for the Buccaneers – which both sound increasingly likely by all reports – then I actually do think the Pats should rank atop the odds for his next team. I already covered the 49ers and Dolphins sticking with rookie deal QBs; both of them finished Top 7 in Offensive DVOA in 2022 and should expect similar results next year too. Miami signing Brady after losing a first round pick for tampering with him would also be…something. The Raiders are commonly rumored but I don’t totally see the appeal for Brady? He has an existing relationship with Josh McDaniels but I don’t exactly think they are connected at the hip, certainly not close enough to overcome the many concerns that Brady should have about the Raiders’ roster and organization. Their offensive line is bad and the defense truly might be the worst in the league – and that’s where we expect Brady to spend his possible farewell season?
The Patriots, on the other hand, have…
Also, Brady and Belichick apparently don’t harbor any ill will and maybe it’s just me but their divorce felt anticlimactic in the first place? The breakup had a clear winner and we got a mailed-in ESPN+ docuseries out of it…move on. Enough time has passed too where Bob Kraft should feel desperate, greedy and nostalgic enough to step in the middle and broker the peace. The on-field logic makes a ton of sense…and it just feels right.
This idea might come as more of a shock than the proposed Brady/Belichick reunion, especially since some of you reading this probably share my Giants fandom. But let’s acknowledge a few basics out of the gate. One, once the final second of clock ticks in the final playoff game for the Giants, Daniel Jones will be just as contractually tied to the team as I am. The team can, and likely will attempt in some capacity, to bring him back, but it’s 100% up to him on his next team. And two, the Packers trading Rodgers isn’t a stretch in the slightest. In fact, you might call it a likelihood after Green Bay missed the playoffs in a season where Rodgers played all 17 games – if his body language upon leaving Lambeau Field last Sunday night didn’t give that away. This Packers season illustrated that their title window with Rodgers probably closed as soon as they traded Davante Adams, so you know that Matt LaFleur is ready to get on with a mini-rebuild behind Jordan Love while he’s still cheap and under contract. Even though Green Bay just recently signed Rodgers to a mega-contract, trading him is possible because the convoluted structure of the deal intentionally gave them an out following this season. Still, it won’t be easy. For starters, Rodgers is due an outrageous amount of money over the next two years: nearly $60mil for 2023 and $50mil for 2024. And that’s not wonky NFL salary cap accounting; that’s hard cash he’s owed. Perhaps more difficult though is that Green Bay could be damn near financially choked if they try to trade Rodgers before June 1, as that’s when NFL rules allow teams to start pushing a portion of salary onto the following year’s cap. Unlike post-June 1 releases though, post-June 1 trades actually have to be processed after that date, so teams would need to sit out free agency and the NFL Draft for quarterbacks before landing Rodgers. There could obviously be a handshake agreement in place beforehand, sure, but that’s one EXPENSIVE handshake.
With all of that difficulty (hopefully) understood, there are only like two, maybe three, teams that 1) could afford Rodgers and 2) would want Rodgers that 3) would also be acceptable to Rodgers himself. This is the same Aaron Rodgers who heavily weighed retirement after winning the MVP and took an offseason ayahuasca journey, which according to him “isn’t over.” The Raiders are that “maybe” team, and I label them as such purely for the financials and before considering if Rodgers would even entertain wearing a new jersey for the first time in his career for Josh McDaniels. The Patriots are the other team who are well positioned to pull off a Rodgers trade, but I just gave them Tom Brady! So that leaves the New York Giants, who absolutely have the salary cap space and the actual spending cash, plus an awesome head coach who probably loses sleep at night because his offense isn’t more vertical. The required cost and patience to trade for Rodgers will certainly drop the asking price from the market standard, but considering this is the same person who won 2 of the last 3 MVPs I still think a first-round pick (2024) needs to be included – with maybe a couple of other picks. Also, the point has been made by anonymously sourced NFL executives on this subject that Green Bay might have to take back a veteran contract too given the amount of money in play and how late into the offseason the trade could technically take effect. And boy do the Giants have a contract that fits the bill! Leonard Williams is a really good player and a team leader but he is on the Giants’ books for an insurmountable $38mil for his final season of services in Big Blue. He’d just be on the hook for $18mil to Green Bay though, which is about right for him. All in all, by my rough calculations a post-June 1 trade involving Rodgers and Leo Williams would lose the Packers about $2mil in 2023 cap space (plus the delayed $24mil hit in 2024) and actually save the Giants about $2mil in 2023 cap space (granted with extended hits for Rodgers until 2026).
Alright, this one is more of a hot take. But let me explain! Carr, despite coming off his worst season in years, should have multiple suitors this offseason. It’s extremely rare for a low-30s QB who’s only one year removed from single-handedly leading a team into the playoffs to hit the market, and that’s Carr’s position. He has leverage too; Carr got himself a full no-trade clause as part of the extremely team-friendly “extension” that he signed ahead of this season in the event that the Raiders bailed on him which…yeah. Still, I don’t think Carr is sitting as pretty as it seems. The no-trade clause is great power for Carr, don’t get me wrong. The Raiders can have a deal agreed upon, then Carr can say he doesn’t want to play in that city and he won’t have to play in that city. Pretty sweet. But scroll up and down this post…Carr is getting ready to change teams along with some other dudes at quarterback. It sounds counterintuitive, but he might find it more advantageous to rework the terms of the existing contract he signed with the Raiders instead of starting from scratch with a new team. Like, if Carr agreed to convert $30mil of his 2023 base salary into signing bonus and the team fully guaranteed instead of partially guaranteed his 2024 salary, that would translate into a 3yr/$116mil contract with $75mil guaranteed. That’s comparable to what Matt Stafford signed for last offseason. I’m not sure Carr is topping that as a free agent? Also…the clock is ticking. Carr will be formally off the Raiders before February 15, when they are first scheduled to pay him next. This domino will fall and it will fall soon, so Carr can be picky but I’d advise that he isn’t too picky.
Still, why the hell am I forecasting the league’s biggest wasteland in recent years for Carr? Let’s start with some classic process of elimination with rumored contenders:
The Texans don’t get Carr just for winning this round of musical chairs though. As much of a joke as they have become lately, Houston does have a head coach vacancy and Picks 2 and 12 in the upcoming draft. They have Laremy Tunsil, Brandin Cooks, and Dameon Pierce. It’s a malleable organization at the moment and there could be worse building blocks already in place. David Carr, Derek’s older brother and the original Texan, has spoken positively about the family ownership, and that creepy preacher Jack Easterby is out of the building. It also doesn’t seem too unfair to assume that Carr might have a bit of a savior complex judging by some of the bold statements over the course of his career, so I can imagine a world where he might see himself as the only man for the job of bringing the Texans back to relevancy.
As for compensation, the 33rd overall pick (Pick 2 of Round 2) seems fair. It’s a valuable pick but nothing too crazy. Like, Washington just traded Pick 42 (and more!) for one season of Carson Wentz and their GM survived it. Why wouldn’t the Texans just draft a QB though? Well, this team could use personnel upgrades just about everywhere – especially on defense – and fortunately for them there are two transcendent defensive prospects in this class – Will Anderson of Alabama and Jalen Carter of Georgia. Also, while it is one of my greatest pet peeves in sports when fans collectively decide that it would be wiser for their team to wait a year to draft a QB because the “next year’s class looks better,” in this case for the Texans it actually makes sense. Not only is there a Heisman winner in that class, but Houston has multiple first round picks over the following two drafts so they can get aggressive for Caleb Williams or anyone else they choose.
I say this with all of my preconceived notions about Daniel Jones – of which there are many – put aside…he would be NUTS not to cash out after this season. Like, ignore the recent success stories of other athletes financially betting on themselves, Danny. Just take the money. Jones finally had a good season in 2022 but, barring a Cinderella run to the Super Bowl in the coming weeks – which I would approve – there likely won’t be a bidding war for DJ. He was efficient, largely avoided turnovers and churned out a lot of big plays with his arm and legs, but the rest of the league probably doesn’t share the same glossy look in its eyes for Danny as postseason-starved Giants fans. He ran for 708 yards, yes, but at the end of the day Jones still threw for 200 yards/game (25th in NFL), 6.8 yards/attempt (26th) and 15 TDs (21st). The Giants’ wide receivers and interior offensive line were terrible, I know, but Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka also designed a rather gimmicky offense filled with rollouts and open passes to the flats. I genuinely don’t mean to short-change that Jones is a legitimate dual-threat and a gamer, but when teams are deliberating over whether to give him a multi-year deal with a hefty guarantee, they should focus on his passing over his rushing – especially considering that Jones takes a ton of unnecessary hits and just played a full season for the first time in his career.
Still, IT JUST TAKES ONE TEAM. And, if this hunch is correct, Danny has a chance to get really lucky. No team has been more recently desperate to land a franchise QB than the Panthers. Just since 2020 Carolina has…
So yeah, it might behoove the Panthers to pony up for an established NFL QB who isn’t best described as a “buy low” or “damaged goods.” If they were to give a huge contract to Daniel Jones, could he become the next and possibly saddest bullet point in that list? Absolutely, but he’d also be the most promising of the bunch at the time of acquisition and Carolina’s options elsewhere this offseason aren’t spectacular. I’m not sure what QB, if any, would fall to them at Pick 9 in the draft, and they really aren’t in a position to sacrifice more of their future to trade up. The best thing that the Panthers have going for them is that their owner is stupid rich, so they can wow a free agent QB and get away with it. Jones, who was born and raised in Charlotte then went to Duke, should be open to playing for the Panthers. They have an ascendant offensive line, DJ Moore, and that 9th pick which could turn into a weapon like Bijan Robinson. The best contract comparison here might be Jimmy Garoppolo’s original deal with the 49ers, which looked massive on paper (5yr/$137.5mil) but wasn’t too egregious once the fine print revealed that it was heavily front-loaded and based in early guarantees. Let’s call it a 5yr/$140mil deal with a $50mil signing bonus – something Carolina could bail on after 2-3 years if it royally backfired. (For the record, I imagine the Giants’ offer to DJ will land more in the realm of 2-3 years at a $20-25mil AAV. So not even close.)
Like I teased earlier, this outcome feels too obvious – even if Mike LaFleur is no longer the playcaller for Gang Green. Woody Johnson is so involved yet delusional at the football level that he’ll likely make the push for the Jets to bring in a “winner” like Jimmy G while totally missing the connection between his winning history and the offensive system shared by the offensive coordinator that he just had fired. Still, this could work out for the Jets in the short term, and I say that as an observer who believes less in Garoppolo than most. Zach Wilson lowered the bar for Jets’ QB play beneath the MetLife Stadium turf, so they just need a professional in that building who can hit open receivers from the pocket. Garoppolo, somehow still only 31 years old, will likely seek out a contender or a near contender, and the Jets have the pieces in place along with a head coach that he knows well. Ryan Tannehill’s 4yr/$118mil deal with the Titans feels about right for Jimmy G too.
I’ll lead with the caveat that I have not started my proper NFL Draft evaluation cycle yet, so I am operating merely off narratives and limited viewings here regarding soon-to-be rookies. As noted earlier, I see the Lions as best positioned to land their choice of QB in this upcoming NFL Draft and I do buy that they’re willing to make such a move, so Bryce Young is penciled in to Detroit. With the assumption that Anthony Richardson of Florida will require patience and therefore won’t immediately start in the NFL, that leaves CJ Stroud of Ohio State and Will Levis of Kentucky as The Lottery Picks: the teams who will select their Week 1 starter with one of the earliest picks of the 2023 NFL Draft.
I have almost nothing to write about Stroud. Honestly, I only chose him over Levis because the idea of him throwing to Chris Olave again is fun. Instead, this portion of the post is dedicated to the proposal of the Saints trading Sean Payton to the Cardinals. The notion of trading the 3rd overall pick for a coach sounds absurd…and maybe it is! But with the exits of Kliff Kingsbury and Steve Keim only one year removed from both of them signing long-term extensions, it appears that the Cardinals have finally taken a look in the mirror and realize that they need help as an organization. And honestly, the price for Payton is probably worth it. The guy never finished below 7-9 in 15 seasons, and he went 13-3 in 4 of them. I was also astounded to see the track record of high draft picks traded for coaches:
I mean…those are all home runs, including one of the greatest trades in NFL history. The Cardinals also have the floating asset of DeAndre Hopkins which should return a first round pick, and Payton and his GM of choice are surely aware of that. (Also, it’s not THAT implausible that Will Anderson and Jalen Carter end up going 1-2 which would…suck for the Cardinals.)
Jim Irsay will submit the card for a rookie QB himself if Chris Ballard thinks about doing otherwise at the draft.
That leaves just The Stopgaps: the teams who, for a variety of reasons, might opt for less splashy yet intentional decisions at the QB position for 2023.
The Bucs will begin a well-earned rebuild after the Brady era, though it might start slowly after they won the NFC South almost by default. Every season there is at least one young, former top pick QB who is given a chance in new digs to restart his career. In 2022, we had both Mitchell Trubisky and Marcus Mariota. Yeah, it usually doesn’t work out, but Darnold fits the bill and he was legitimately good down the stretch for Carolina – including a 341 yard, 3 TD game in Tampa. He could heave 500 passes to Mike Evans and Chris Godwin for a decent enough product on the field.
Kyler Murray shouldn’t be ready for Week 1 after tearing his ACL, and it might be smart of the Cardinals’ next coach anyway to have Kyler take his time in recovery and maybe work on maturation during that time too. If that next coach is Sean Payton, he might opt to bring in a popular veteran option familiar with his offense. Bridgewater went 5-0 for the Saints in 2019.
Normally it’s the sign of a weak organization when they search for takeaways in meaningless games at the tail end of the season – and Washington isn’t exactly a model organization – but their Week 18 thrashing of a full-effort Cowboys team was the best product they’ve put on the field in years and Sam Howell was a huge part of that. It’s up in the air whether Dan Snyder will still own the team come Week 1 of the 2023 season, so the front office should get comfortable with what they already have and plan around that. Howell’s slide to Round 5 of the 2022 Draft remains one of the strangest draft outcomes in recent years; he’s flat-out better than that and deserves preferential treatment to that label. Taylor Heinicke just doesn’t have the talent to be a regular NFL starter but Washington would be foolish not to bring him back as a team-first, crowd-favorite backup.
Ridder looked fine across his four starts to end the Falcons’ season – not good enough to name him the 2023 Week 1 starter now but not bad enough to make a bold move for a veteran replacement. Ryan Tannehill is a perfect fit, and not just because of his working history with Arthur Smith. It’s probably unfair to list Tannehill among these other “stopgaps”; he’s still an above-average QB and he’s not that old (34). Still, if he’s good then he certainly isn’t great, and it’s a fair expectation for him to play closer to 12 than 16 games in a season at this point in his career. He has only one year remaining on his contract and while it’s not cheap ($27mil salary), Atlanta can afford it and Tennessee should be ready to move on from it. A trade without any dead money should only cost the Falcons like a Round 4 pick.
Time to see what the kid’s got and if Brian Gutekunst and Matt LaFleur truly made one of the worst picks in modern NFL Draft history. If Love craps out as a starter, in this scenario Green Bay would have an extra 2024 first round pick from trading Aaron Rodgers to replace him too.
Oh yeah, the whiny kid from Alabama. Forgot to write about him in the Tom Brady section! If New England does bring in an external option, Brady or someone else, then they should probably put Mac on the trade block with Bailey Zappe already on the depth chart as a younger and cheaper backup. Even if the Patriots’ offense was turned over from Josh McDaniels to an out-of-work defensive coordinator who fancies himself as a rocket scientist on the sidelines, that doesn’t fully excuse how poorly Mac played in 2022. He really struggles to convert splash plays and his efficiency – his calling card in college and as a rookie – plummeted too. He finished with a negatively rated EPA/play: 26th in the league and barely ahead of Taylor Heinicke. The truth of the matter though is that Mac’s play will probably settle somewhere closer to how it looked for him as a rookie, and a reunion with McDaniels would certainly help bring that back out in him. The Patriots historically aren’t greedy in asking prices for guys that they quit on; Mac might only cost a Round 3 pick.
There’s no sugarcoating the concern over Malik Willis losing out starts to Josh Dobbs after the Titans signed him off the street. He’s not even close to functioning as an NFL quarterback. All hope isn’t lost for Willis; it can take some time. Jalen Hurts is emerging into an all-time developmental success story, but he is the same guy who was once benched for Nate Sudfeld as a rookie. I loop in Hurts intentionally here too because the Eagles have charted the course for a quick yet thorough rebuild that the Titans should attempt to emulate. Minshew isn’t special but he could stabilize the Titans’ QB room as they approach the hard reset ahead.
Thank you, as always, for reading! Follow on Twitter @Real_Peej
Where else on the Internet will you find 90s movie quotes as a gateway to baseball statistics?
In my most recent blog that addressed the Yankees’ offseason, I outlined the two main issues plaguing their offense (and the team at large):
That got me thinking: who are the hitters that do both of those things well? And who among them is doing so under the radar? The following piece won’t necessarily center on the Yankees, rather hitters who deserve more quality results to match their quality swings. (And if the Yankees decide to target anyone among them, so be it!)
There are a few different ways to categorize bad discipline at the plate, whether that be impatience, chase rate, etc. In this particular case, the definition behind “poor swing decisions” will apply to the proportion of total swings to swings on pitches in the strike zone. Basically, are you swinging when it’s most advantageous to swing? This is a good barometer for plate discipline without any context, though the context here is that the Yankees swung at only two-thirds of pitches in the zone in 2022 – second worst in baseball ahead of only the Pirates. Here is that Top 10, converted into a plus statistic to make it more digestible. (As a refresher, a player with a 120+ rating is 20% above league average at that stat.)
For good measure, here are the Bottom 10 hitters in this department. Eh, let’s make Bottom 11 to include one specific guy who I may or may not tweet about incessantly.
336. Jose Trevino (NYY): 54
335. Francisco Mejia (TBR): 59
334. Jose Iglesias (COL, now FA): 59
333. Diego Castillo (PIT, now ARI): 61
332. Joey Wendle (MIA): 61
331. Javy Baez (DET): 62
330. David Fletcher (LAA): 63
329. Oneil Cruz (PIT): 64
328. Daniel Vogelbach (PIT/NYM): 66
327. Luis Garcia (WAS): 68
326. Isiah Kiner-Falefa (NYY): 69
No stat alone defines the worth of a hitter, this one included. To give a more well-rounded – yet still not totally comprehensive – definition behind swing value, let’s address that secondary issue of “lack of quality contact” mentioned earlier by incorporating Expected Batting Average. xBA isn’t an Epiblogue Original (™); it’s a Statcast metric that expands upon batting average with historical defensive outcomes, exit velocity, launch angle and Sprint Speed. The leaderboard is linked here, and for quick viewing here is the top of it:
With this data, next turned into another plus statistic, we can better answer the final question of: who is swinging at the optimal pitches AND who is doing the most with them? Like I said earlier, these results aren’t comprehensive; power is namely the outlier here. Still, power is probably the easiest tool within a hitting profile to peg, whether it be by home run count or the much-simpler “just look at him.” Also, xBA heavily weighs exit velocity so you’ll find sluggers like Alvarez and Judge ahead of slap-hitters like Arraez and David Fletcher despite similar actual batting averages. There is a fairly clear top tier once the plus statistics of swings-to-zone swings and xBA are combined, with the top two in a tier of their own:
Well, that’s an encouraging end result for this research if I’ve ever seen one! Basically a “who’s who” of the purest hitters in the game. Let’s dig deeper for hidden gems now that this methodology checks out. Below is the list of the 26 hitters who were at least 10% above league average when it came to both swings-to-zone swings and xBA. The names in bold are those who come as a surprise listed among the best hitters in the game, so I’ll go into a bit of detail on each.
Freddie Freeman, Yordan Alvarez, Corey Seager, Bryce Harper, Ronald Acuna Jr, Aaron Judge, George Springer, Andrew Benintendi, Jeff McNeil, Vinnie Pasquantino, Yandy Diaz, Shohei Ohtani, Ryan Mountcastle, Austin Riley, Bryan De La Cruz, Manny Machado, Max Kepler, Bo Bichette, Josh Bell, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Taylor Ward, Brendan Rodgers, Mike Trout, Justin Turner, Danny Jansen, Juan Soto
Vinnie Pasquantino’s inclusion within this threshold is remarkable. Pasquantino just completed his rookie season in Kansas City and this list is comprised almost entirely of veteran players; in fact, there are only two other players on this list who debuted since 2020. Pasquantino earned Top 100 prospect status behind his plus hit tool, but that he stepped right into MLB batter’s boxes and didn’t miss a beat is extremely rare. He also walked more than he struck out (1 of 8 hitters) and was on pace for 20 homers across a full season of at bats. It’s normally easy to poke holes in a rookie’s slash line when it looks like .295/.383/.450, but everything about it seems legit for Pasquantino. If you are betting on the next Freddie Freeman, look no further.
I’ve come to respect Ryan Mountcastle’s game as someone who watches a ton of AL East baseball, but his ranking here insinuates that bigger things may be ahead for him. If you tighten the parameters to 15% above league average for both stats, Mountcastle still qualifies as only 1 of 8 hitters among this rare company: Freeman, Seager, Harper, Judge, McNeil, Pasquantino, Ohtani. (He’s identical to Ohtani in both stats.) Unlike Pasquantino though, Mountcastle posted relatively normal base-level offensive production in 2022 with a .250/.305/.423 slash line, with a wRC+ slightly above average and rRC+ slightly below average. I’m bigly buying the breakout here though. Normally, Statcast’s “Expected Home Runs by Park” tool is more for fun than anything, but its disparities by ballpark are jarring in Mountcastle’s case. He hit 22 homers in 2022, though Statcast says that he would have hit forty in Cincinnati, 36 in Houston, 35 in Colorado, 32 in Anaheim, etc. Basically, he got totally screwed by the Orioles’ decision to push back the leftfield wall outside of the city limits. Video examples like this are plentiful. There isn’t much of a weakness in Mountcastle’s swing, he handles all pitches types, and he isn’t too slow. At only 25 years old in a blossoming Baltimore lineup, he might be on the cusp of becoming a .270 hitter with 35 home run power. That’s basically Austin Riley.
If there is one of these hitters who truly stunned me – someone who logs hours looking at baseball stats – by being here, it’s Bryan De La Cruz. I’ll be honest; I don’t know much about De La Cruz beyond the box score outside of a few live reps at nearby Nationals Park. He had a sneaky strong rookie season in 2021 but then had only underlying reasons for excitement in 2022, posting a pedestrian .252/.294/.432 slash line across a larger sample size. Data is data and De La Cruz’s is strong; he even put up a great Barrel% of 11.9% too. Considering his lack of pedigree and that he was a 26 year-old sophomore, I’m tempted to say that this is fluky. Still, De La Cruz is absolutely worth keeping an eye on going into 2023, and he’s just about the only Marlins hitter that can be said about.
The Red Sox have been crushed for their offseason, rightfully so for multiple reasons. I think their addition of Justin Turner was a shrewd move, though. Turner is a known commodity but his consistency within the Dodgers’ machine has been taken for granted. Turner is no longer the sneaky MVP candidate that he was in 2017-2018, but since 2019 he’s remained firmly above average at the plate with nearly identical results each year. His power is probably dwindling, which – duh, he’s old. But his decision to move to Fenway at the twilight of his career was smart, since the Green Monster will compensate for that fading power with an increase in pulled singles and doubles. I’d wager that Turner does a good Xander Bogaerts impression with his bat in 2023.
This last group is more of a bucket of guys that I have covered in detail across a variety of my blogs this offseason: Max Kepler, Josh Bell, Danny Jansen and Brendan Rodgers. Still, despite having already written about him more than the others, I chose to put Rodgers’ name in bold because I didn’t expect to see him here. I knew that Bell and Jansen are underrated and that Kepler is a god of underlying stats, but I’d previously praised Rodgers for other reasons: defense, offensive production compared to other second baseman, opposite field power, etc. But to see him here too among other flat-out hitters, positional and ballpark factors stripped away? Please save this man from the Colorado Rockies. Time to meme:
New Year, New Positive PJ that only writes about the good in players. Nah, not really. But still, I’ll condense this section of red flags within the swing data to a lightning round:
Thank you, as always, for reading! Follow on Twitter @Real_Peej
The Yankees are just about batting 1.000 so far this offseason with Aaron Judge opting to return and Carlos Rodon heading eastbound following a dominant season in San Francisco. It’s a pet peeve of sports fandom to read “winners and losers” columns with the listed winners inevitably being those who spent the most; like, I certainly would not consider the Padres as winners for giving Xander Bogaerts an 11-year contract. In the case of the Yankees, however, they appear to have crushed it as much as a team possibly can in guaranteeing over half a billion dollars to two players. They withstood the hometown push from the Giants and the financial push from the Padres to keep Judge, who presumably will become the team’s first captain since Derek Jeter. A nine-year commitment to a 31 year-old with Judge’s body might not end gracefully, but that’s a pretty obvious concession. If Judge performs at even an All Star level or close to it, let alone an MVP level, over the next five years, then this deal will have been worth it. Giancarlo Stanton’s contract expires following the 2027 season and by that time Judge should either 1) be a Frank Thomas type of mid-30s hitter who has taken a physical toll but still controls the plate or 2) a player like Stanton currently, with low batting averages and high strikeouts but enough power and hard contact to offset becoming an offensive liability. Also, and I say this with enough self-awareness, a luxury of being the Yankees is the ability to withstand a player or two who doesn’t perform to the standard of his contract. As for Rodon, it’s hard not to look at his 6yr/$162mil contract and insinuate that Brian Cashman won a staring contest versus Scott Boras. That’s certainly not a meager amount of money, but it’s great business in this ultra player-rich market for one of the select few arms in baseball who can qualify as a true ace right now. And if that sounds like an overreaction for Rodon, it’s not. Here are his ranks among the 49 pitchers who have thrown 300+ innings over 2021-2022:
ERA: 4th (2.67)
K%: 1st (33.9%)
K-BB%: 4th (26.8%)
Batting Average Against: 2nd (.196)
FIP: 1st (2.42)
Rodon has been in complete control since his return from Tommy John surgery, and that complete control is ballpark-neutral and has occurred across time in both leagues. He has a lengthy injury history, yes, but honestly what pitchers don’t at this point – especially those who hit free agency? Pairing the oft-unhittable Rodon with Gerrit Cole’s consistency atop the rotation is an absolute worthy gamble by the Yankees, and it came with a price tag closer to the one Madison Bumgarner was paid by the Diamondbacks than what Stephen Strasburg was paid by the Nationals.
Alas, Judge and Rodon are done deals for the Yankees; the question is what happens next? As much as the Yankees’ offseason is worth celebrating through the first few weeks, the team really hasn’t addressed any of the issues that derailed them last season. Judge is back and that should not be taken for granted, but he is the incumbent Yankees rightfielder; he only would have impacted the status quo with a departure. Rodon’s arrival is a massive shake-up, yes, but his signing is more of a luxury than a necessity. The Yankees arguably had the best starting pitching in baseball across the 2022 regular season and it fared quite well in October too. Only Jameson Taillon is gone from that staff, so depth was not an issue. Therefore, roster holes and weaknesses remain; here’s how I’d rank them by importance:
No position has plagued the recent Yankees like left field. Ever since Brett Gardner’s glory days, the Yankees have tried a washed-up Gardner, Clint Frazier, Mike Tauchman, Joey Gallo, Miguel Andujar, and Aaron Hicks out there; nothing worked even a little bit. The midseason trade for Andrew Benintendi was seemingly going to plug the hole for at least the remainder of the 2022 season, but he broke his wrist and his impact prior to injury was overrated. Oswaldo Cabrera handled himself fairly well at the position but he needs to be a true utility man for the Yankees, not an Opening Day starter at a specific position – let alone one that’s not the most natural to him. The Yankees are long overdue to move beyond stopgaps. An available free agent like David Peralta could be decent for the 2023 Yankees, and for what it’s worth I can envision the team actually signing him, but I’d just really like them to aim higher. Signing Michael Conforto to even a one-year deal would be too much of an experiment for my liking. Jurickson Profar is the only true LF option still on the market who should command a multi-year contract, but I have enough reservations about him too to also hope that the Yankees try to do better. The time has come to address the left field vacancy with one meaningful and lasting acquisition.
There are actually a few good candidates who are the subject of trade rumors, though teams always overvalue their own assets and the Yankees aren’t the only contender seeking to add a corner outfielder. Bryan Reynolds is the best option and has already requested a trade, but the asking price from the Pirates is reportedly laughable. The Yankees aren’t going to trade Anthony Volpe for anyone and after him the farm system is relatively thin at the top. If Reynolds is eventually traded, a team with several blue-chip prospects like the Dodgers is better suited to pull it off. I have almost zero interest in trading for Ian Happ despite his 3.5 WAR season in 2022. I have a hard time envisioning him topping that production and his downside is rather large. The Yankees cannot afford to repeat the Joey Gallo disaster and Happ, who the Cubs surprisingly held onto at the last trade deadline, would likely cost a significant package of prospects to pry him from Chicago. Max Kepler is intriguing with his lefty pull power and bright red Statcast page, and he should be traded this offseason now that the Twins signed Gallo. As he enters his Age 30 season though, you just have to wonder why he’s perennially a guy that we ask ourselves, “why isn’t he better?” In 2022 he even flattened out his swing and cut down on strikeouts in the process – all the way down to a 14.8% K rate – yet his expected stats remained far superior to his standard stats. The appeal is obvious; he’s an exceptional athlete, very good defensively in right field and has a 36 homer season under his belt. I just think the Yankees would be forcing things if they penciled in Kepler as their everyday leftfielder. I think he’s a better fit for a team like the Phillies who could use a RF upgrade in Bryce Harper’s absence.
That brings us to the Diamondbacks who, after Corbin Carroll – arguably the top prospect in baseball – have three other young and exciting outfielders: Daulton Varsho, Alek Thomas and Jake McCarthy. A team finalizing its rebuild like Arizona might opt to keep all of the young talent they can get but I expect them to make a bigger push for 2023 than recent years, and their recent trade for another outfielder in Kyle Lewis has turned their trade talks from a presumption into an expectation. Varsho’s trade value is likely astronomical and I’d be content with the Yankees deciding that his price is too high. I get the appeal and I’m sure GMs from the Rays’ school of thought drool over him; he’s an elite outfield glove who’s versatile enough to play catcher and also hit 27 homers from the left side of the plate. He also batted .235 with a .302 OBP in this “breakout” season and, unlike Thomas and McCarthy, is about to enter his arbitration eligibility. Debate between Thomas and McCarthy is fascinating. I figure that the Diamondbacks will lean in the direction of protecting Thomas, and I’d understand that. He struggled as a rookie in 2022 but has much more pedigree than McCarthy and will still be only 22 years old by next Opening Day. Arizona shouldn’t panic over Thomas’ debut season, but they also shouldn’t ignore that he was abused by MLB fastballs and had poor chase and walk rates as a result. That matters to me, and it triggers something I fall back on a lot when I’m researching for the NFL Draft. “Upside” is generally associated with raw athleticism in sports yet, while applicable in select cases, the more appropriate and more common way to judge upside is to weigh how capable a player is of repeating his top production. I say all of this to say that McCarthy, despite ranking lower than Thomas on every prospect list, might actually have the higher upside between the two. He batted .283/.342/.427 as a rookie across 354 PA, and that was following a 165 PA sample size in Triple-A where he slashed an obscene .369/.457/.596. He doesn’t hit the ball particularly hard or barrel with regularity so he’ll have his detractors for that, but McCarthy might just be a damn ballplayer. And his Statcast page isn’t exactly an analytical graveyard. McCarthy’s speed is in the jaw-dropping tier; it’s a small club of players who have reached sprint speeds of 30.0+ feet/second. Most of them are slap-hitters, yet McCarthy hit a ball 451 feet last year. It’s an even smaller club when you limit who has done so from 2020-2022 with an average exit velocity that tops McCarthy’s in 2022: Trea Turner (2020-2022), Byron Buxton (2020-2021), and Bobby Witt Jr. (2022). That’s the entire list. When you ease the parameters a bit you also get qualifiers like Adam Engel and Adalberto Mondesi who never matched their tools with production, so there could be reason for worry that McCarthy ends up more like them as his sample size grows larger. But I’m skeptical of that. Engel has never hit above .242 in his four seasons with 200+ PA and Mondesi barely topped a .300 OBP only once; McCarthy flew past both of those markers in 2022. It might not be a perfect comparison but I could see McCarthy developing into an awesome player like Charlie Blackmon, while Thomas is less likely to “bust” but also could become a merely solid pro. I’d rather the Yankees target McCarthy in a vacuum, and I think he’d be cheaper to obtain anyway. Here’s the proposed trade framework courtesy of BaseballTradeValues.com:
This one is a banger with multiple well-known names included. Along with McCarthy, I have the Yankees acquiring Joe Mantiply from the Diamondbacks. I have to imagine that Brian Cashman is feeling quite rosy about the state of his roster following the Judge and Rodon signings, but he’s probably itching to add another lefty reliever. Wandy Peralta is good but almost too good for strictly lefty-on-lefty usage, and Lucas Luetge is likely out-of-favor with this regime after he was left off the ALCS roster. There are actually a few good lefty relievers still available on the free agent market, like Andrew Chafin and Matt Moore. But I’d take Mantiply over them, and he remains on a minimum salary through the upcoming season. A 32 year-old soft-tossing southpaw isn’t particularly exciting, but Mantiply had the second lowest xFIP among lefty relievers versus lefty hitters (2.11) in 2022. He’s a weapon and one that the Yankees are familiar with; he made one appearance in pinstripes in 2019.
The package going back to Arizona brings us to the aforementioned Achilles’ heel of bad contracts, in this case the worst of the bunch belonging to Josh Donaldson. Re-litigating the trade with the Twins that brought Donaldson to the Yankees alongside Isiah Kiner-Falefa is a waste of space here; it obviously didn’t work out and Brian Cashman placed the burden on himself to rid the team of the final year on Donaldson’s contract worth $27mil ($21mil salary for 2023 with a $6mil buyout for 2024). It will be extremely difficult to dump Donaldson but, unlike Aaron Hicks, the Yankees need to trade him. Things soured so badly with Donaldson in the lineup and clubhouse towards the end of the season that he could potentially derail the 2023 season if he stuck around. There will be a limited list of takers for Donaldson’s – let’s call it “brash” – personality, and that’s with the Yankees inevitably paying down a majority of the remaining money owed to him. Still, Donaldson’s glove at the hot corner remains tremendous; he finished sixth and eighth, respectively, in Outs Above Average and Defensive Runs Saved among all third basemen in 2022. It doesn’t take a front office analyst to observe that Donaldson is falling off a cliff with his bat – though his underlying metrics do also support that. Donaldson did stay healthy across 2022 and his standard stats were fine enough though to make it possible to trade him at a fraction of his cost for the receiving team, either by the Yankees taking back a different bad contract or beefing up the package with valuable assets. There are a couple of scenarios where Donaldson could be the everyday 2023 third baseman for a team that also dumps a contract on the Yankees: the Giants and Brandon Crawford, White Sox and Yoan Moncada, Royals and Hunter Dozier, etc. But taking back another bad contract is besides the point here. Alternatively, one could argue that a defense-oriented team like Arizona, who topped the league in Outs Above Average as a team by a healthy margin but had negative results at third base from Josh Rojas, could make more sense as the recipient of Donaldson. I would agree with that claim and would rather the Yankees shed themselves of dead weight on the active roster once and for all anyway – even if that means dealing away good players from areas of strength.
In this case, I have the Yankees trading Jonathan Loaisiga to the Diamondbacks. I’ll clarify this at the top: I do not expect the Yankees to actually trade Loaisiga. Brian Cashman collects relievers like Infinity Stones, and Johnny Lasagna is one of the elite relievers in the game when he’s on. But if you want to acquire a player like McCarthy who’s under team control through 2028, you’re gonna have to crack some eggs. And the truth of the matter is that the Yankees have stockpiled enough bat-cracking setup men, especially righties, to make at least one of them expendable. Clay Holmes is the frontrunner to close games and isn’t going anywhere, and Wandy Peralta has proved himself worthy of getting any batter out at any point in a game. The Yankees also just signed Tommy Kahnle to a two-year deal, traded for Lou Trivino at the last trade deadline, claimed Junior Fernandez off waivers in November…you get it, they’re deep – and that’s without mention of Ron Marinaccio’s 2.05 ERA in 40 games as a rookie. The Diamondbacks might have the worst projected bullpen in baseball at the moment, so Loaisiga would immediately become their best reliever and likely closer. But the Yankees would be able to sustain his loss, particularly with Michael King set to return in 2023 and Scott Effross in 2024. Loaisiga is only under contract for two more seasons too. I also have the Yankees including Clarke Schmidt and Everson Pereira in this package to meet the value for McCarthy and Mantiply. I feel like I’ve written about Schmidt’s trade eligibility multiple times now, but it feels even likelier now that the Yankees won the sweepstakes for Rodon. Schmidt would crack Arizona’s rotation right away. Pereira is one of the Yankees’ more talented kids and is a fringe guy on Top 100 Prospects lists, but McCarthy would ideally hold down an outfield spot across from Aaron Judge for a half-decade and Pereira is a level below Jasson Dominguez and Spencer Jones when it comes to Yankees’ outfield prospects. Arizona, who needs right-handed power now and presumably will in two years too, should value an outfield prospect who isn’t quite big-league ready yet with their current logjam.
The other egregiously bad contract on the Yankees belongs to Aaron Hicks, who still has 3yr/$30mil remaining on his deal. Nobody is taking that on in full for this version of Hicks, whose inconsistency and power outage at the plate has become too much to stomach for the Yankees. If the team eats half of his due money though, I think they could find a taker. He’s a switch-hitting veteran who gets on base at an elite clip; his 13.7% walk rate finished 12th in MLB. Defensively, his days in centerfield are numbered but he finished fourth among all LFs in Defensive Runs Saved in 2022 and still has the arm for right field too. Still, Brian Cashman shouldn’t wait by the phone for teams to inquire about a paid-down Hicks; he’s more of the “sure, we’ll take him too” type. The Yankees are likely desperate to trade Hicks before this season as he’ll earn his 10-and-5 Rights to veto any trade during the 2023 season, so every player in the organization should be subject to a pros and cons list for joint inclusion in a trade package with Hicks.
When I go through that exercise, I land on Gleyber Torres as the Yankee it makes most sense to trade now. It would understandably sting most of the fanbase to trade Gleyber, especially since he’s coming off his best season since 2019. He was great defensively following his return to second base, and he rediscovered the pop he lost from 2020-2021 en route to 24 homers. In the Relative Runs Created stat that I coined, Gleyber’s rRC+ of 139 was actually identical to that of Bryce Harper. Still, I think it’s important to remember the conversation surrounding Gleyber from one year ago to date, when it was subject to heavy debate over whether the Yankees could trade Gleyber for anything. Now that Torres has reestablished value, it could be a timely decision to trade him as he only gets more expensive. Also, while Gleyber’s strong exit velocity metrics suggest he wasn’t overly lucky in 2022, he did post an expected batting average of just .244 – placing him firmly in the 30th percentile among qualified hitters. When people complain about the Yankees as a team that strikes out too much and is overly reliant on the longball, frankly I’m not too sure what they’re talking about since that hasn’t really been the case since 2019. The Yankees are close to league-average when it comes to contact and strikeouts nowadays; the real problem – well, one of them – is the lack of quality contact on a regular basis, of which the hot-and-cold Torres has been a contributor.
The online reception to the Yankees trading a borderline All Star in Gleyber Torres for a prospect at the Single-A level would be…chilly, to say the least. However, this type of move typically favors the team planning for the long haul, and in this case it would be advantageous to deal with the Angels. They are just about as all-in on the upcoming season as a team can be, with it likely being Shohei Ohtani’s final season in Anaheim. They have been aggressive this offseason in acquiring good players on fairly high but short-term salaries, like Hunter Renfroe and Gio Urshela. Torres has two years left on his contract but he still fits that description. The Angels also have Mickey Moniak slated as their Opening Day OF4, so Hicks would likely play quite often for them. Edgar Quero was named the 2022 Minor Leaguer of the Year for the Angels, slashing .312/.435/.530 from both sides of the plate as a catcher. They traded for Logan O’Hoppe last year though, who figures to be the centerpiece of their impending rebuild. The Yankees, meanwhile, have extremely little to point to when it comes to catchers in their farm system. Austin Wells is a top prospect but a catcher in name only, and Antonio Gomez is a great defensive prospect whose bat is light years away from being major league ready. Quero would become the best bet as the Yankees’ catcher of the future.
To quickly wrap up trade proposals, I have the Yankees moving on from Lucas Luetge and Isiah Kiner-Falefa via trade. Luetge has real value; he was the top pitcher in limiting hard hit balls in all of baseball last season (23.5% of balls in play). You’ll regularly find a few Brewers pitchers atop the soft contact leaderboard, and Luetge could do a good impression of the recently departed Brent Suter for Milwaukee. The Yankees opted to avoid arbitration with IKF and instead retain him for $6mil, because Brian Cashman apparently can’t let anyone walk for nothing. It’s honestly not that big of a deal but it was still a dumb decision, as it will be difficult to trade him and it’s likely that will be the team’s intent once Anthony Volpe joins the club – hopefully right out of Spring Training. In that event, I could see Pittsburgh being open to IKF with the second highest team strikeout rate in baseball and the Oneil Cruz experiment at shortstop unlikely to last long. The Yankees will probably have to eat money to trade IKF with similar options available in free agency.
On to free agency! With an enormous amount of money allocated to Judge and Rodon in recent days, in addition to the depth chart being mostly fleshed out, any final additions in free agency will be less splashy and more low-key depth moves. Earlier I acknowledged that the lack of consistent quality contact is a big problem for the Yankee lineup, and that’s true. However, the biggest offensive issue that the Yankees must address is the team’s collective poor swing decisions, as evidenced by the Yankees ranking second-to-last in percentage of swings at pitches in the zone (66.2%, ahead of only the Pirates). The Aaron Boone Yankees have always been extremely patient at the plate, and that has led to some good outcomes like high walk rates and opposing pitch counts. It’s just gone way too far; the approach has become patient to a fault. If you look at the leaderboard for total swings compared to swings in the zone, right near the bottom of it is a bunch of Yankees. Jose Trevino is dead last, IKF is in the Bottom 10, and in the Bottom 30 are both DJ LeMahieu and Harrison Bader. Almost worse than that, there isn’t a single Yankee who ranked in the Top 40 in the league in 2022. They need a presence, even a bat off the bench, who can be counted on to take hacks at mistake pitches. I don’t think the Yankees are going to get Kyle Tucker – who tops that list – but coming in at 22nd out of 358 hitters is Brian Anderson, formerly of the Marlins. Anderson has lost plenty of shine since he produced back-to-back quality seasons for Miami from 2018-2019, culminating in a surprising decision to DFA him this offseason. Anderson has dealt with nagging back and shoulder injuries and his availability and production have dipped as a result, but cutting him at 29 years old has more to do with the Marlins’ financial woes than him as a player. There is still plenty to like here, including that plate discipline as well as an above-average barrel rate and true 3B/RF versatility. I think it’s fair to estimate that Anderson just had a down year in 2022, and some team will give him what the Marlins were too cheap to do. If it’s the Yankees, he would give them stability at third base with DJ LeMahieu’s toe injury and a strong bat off the bench that could get even stronger in a part-time role.
Wrapping it up, I’m calling for the Yankees to sign AJ Pollock as their primary backup outfielder; FanGraphs’ crowdsource results pegs him for a 1yr/$8mil deal. Pollock is past his prime but still does some things very well at 35 years old. One, he annihilates fastballs and handles heavy heat well too; his slash line of .302/.375/.492 against pitchers throwing 95+ MPH puts him in the 90th percentile. He also kept up his career trend of absolutely destroying left-handed pitching in 2022 despite an otherwise down season, with a .935 OPS and 161 wRC+ against southpaws. In theory it would be preferable for the Yankees to add a lefty hitter as their fourth outfielder, but beggars can’t be choosers and they should prioritize filling the roster with players with unique skill sets rather than trying to fit a square peg into that left-handed round hole. Also, for what it’s worth, Anthony Rizzo, Oswaldo Cabrera, and now Jake McCarthy would give the Yankees three regular lefties at the plate, and Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton have reverse-leaning splits too.
So there you have it! Summing up all of these moves, we end with seven additions – four on the active roster, three in the minor leagues – and eight subtractions from the 40-man roster. This flurry of transactions would save the Yankees roughly $13mil in 2023 and at least $16mil across 2024-2025. I’m not in the business of keeping extra money in Hal Steinbrenner’s bank account, but the Yankees could either allocate that surplus for trade deadline acquisitions or look to extend a key player or two before Opening Day; Wandy Peralta and Harrison Bader are entering contract years. Even with that reduced payroll, I believe this would leave the Yankee organization in a better place for 2023 and beyond.
Thank you, as always, for reading! Follow on Twitter @Real_Peej
Baseball has hundreds of stats to measure players’ value and performance, and on top of that we’ve added an “x” or another variable on top of those stats in recent years to measure how players should be valued and should have performed. It’s all good information, yes, but it’s a lot to keep track of – even for the most engaged fans in baseball analytics. Despite this overload of readily available information, it’s a common occurrence in the baseball community – from the broadcast booth to the nerdiest of comment sections – to observe a hitter’s stats through a different lens because of his position then summarize with nothing more than a euphemism along the lines of “that’s good/bad for a [position].” We know that it’s different when Alejandro Kirk bats .285 with 14 HRs as a catcher than when Gio Urshela does the same (13 HRs) as a third baseman. But for the sport with the best marriage of the eye test and data in player evaluation, why just leave it at that?
Now, I’m not claiming to be the first person to take the proverbial swing at adjusting performance at the plate for defensive position, but I do know that it’s not currently part of the baseball zeitgeist and that the two main sources behind the WAR stat (Baseball Reference and FanGraphs) weigh positional value for historical scale and purely defense, respectively. In theory it absolutely makes better sense to focus on positional adjustment for players’ time spent literally playing those positions, but I think keeping this realignment strictly to glovework tells only part of the story. Positionless roster construction has been the rage across sports for years now, with NBA players who take the ball up the court being taller than those playing center and NFL linebackers being the same size as safeties. Baseball wasn’t left out of this movement of homogeneity either. The Ben Zobrist utility types became the muses of GMs around the league while managers exponentially emphasized defense shifts that warped the diamond far from Abner Doubleday’s 150 year-old model. I say all of this to say that it’s time to recalibrate the scales of pure positioning. Look no further than the 2022 Red Sox, who played outfielders at first base and first basemen at third base and third basemen in the corner outfield and corner outfielders in centerfield. Boston remained among the league’s elite offenses but finished near the basement of defensive team performance along the likes of the Pirates and Nationals – and that was with Xander Bogaerts and Trevor Story playing great defense up-the-middle. Even if the best answer is somewhere in the middle of the great Moneyball scene where Billy Beane and Ron Washington differ on whether playing first base is hard, the truth of the matter is this: playing YOUR position matters, as does playing it well, and we aren’t collectively too smart to admit what the game had correct for 100+ years.
So now that we’ve established that it’s legitimate to evaluate players by their designated positions, that opens the door for us to quantify offensive performance by designated position too. I didn’t want to give credence to the ~40 innings Mookie Betts plays at second base and other similar instances around the league because that’s against the point of this exercise, so I limited positional eligibility and statistical inclusion to 50+ plate appearances (PA) per position. So, in the example of Betts, who had 24 PA while listed as a second baseman in the box score, he’s only a rightfielder according to this stat. Still, this parameter provides 981 qualifiers across 496 players. A true utilityman like Wilmer Flores, who took 100+ PA at 1B/2B/3B/DH, accounts for 4 of those 981 listings. It’s not 100% conclusive but it’s a significant dataset.
The wRC (Weighted Runs Created) stat, used to create the popular wRC+ stat, is at the heart of this analysis, even if rRC (Relative Runs Created) and rRC+ differ from wRC+ – more on that difference later. wRC+ (formula here) relies on a multitude of league averages and external factors to condense offensive performance into one round number. In terms of leveling the playing field, wRC+ is vulnerable to crooked numbers for smaller sample sizes. For example, drop the Minimum Plate Appearance qualifying total to 150 and you have Matt Carpenter pacing the league in wRC+ over Aaron Judge and way ahead of Yordan Alvarez and Paul Goldschmidt. Even if Carpenter was on fire over his 47 games, that’s pretty silly. As an admittedly simpler approach, I divided each player’s qualifying PA total by 500 (the approximate batting title requirement) then multiplied that amount by that player’s wRC total. From there – and this was the long part – I averaged out the offensive outputs proportionally for each player that appeared on the list across 2+ positions. Take Albert Pujols, who took 75% of his at bats as the Cardinals’ DH and the other 25% at 1B. Three-quarters of his rRC total comes from three-quarters of his wRC total at DH, with the other quarter coming from his wRC total at 1B. Here is a table containing the variables that I used to transform wRC over the 500 PA threshold into this new rRC stat:
|Position||wRC/500||Percentage from Average|
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the least valuable offensive position over 2022 was catcher with an average wRC/500 of 47.09 across qualifiers. The average wRC/500 across all positions was 15.51% higher than that figure, so the wRC/500 of every catcher was multiplied by 1.1551 to obtain his rRC. To quickly recap the rest of the diamond, centerfield also significantly lags in offensive value while the middle infield trails by a more normal amount. Third base and rightfield are roughly average, and significantly superior offensive value is found at first base, leftfield and DH.
rRC = [Position A (500/PA) x wRC) x (Positional Percentage from Average)] + [Position B…]
Make sense? Hope so, because we’re powering through to the final step of the methodology. Once each player had one rRC total across all of his positional eligibility, I took the league average across the player pool (54.2 rRC). With that number in hand, it’s a straightforward percent growth formula as a final step to reach the desired rRC+ stat. I’m a fan and regular user of the wRC+ stat despite what could have come across as criticism in the previous paragraph. It’s a great stat even if I do have reservations on the basis of the formula – namely that it’s my opinion we’ve gone too far with “ballpark factor” accounting, AKA curving down the offensive stats at Coors Field. I guess we still haven’t hit the necessary quota of Rockies hitters that continue to rake after leaving Denver’s altitude before reconsidering less attribution of their home/away splits to thin air and more to the idea that maybe – just maybe – baseball players are human beings who are more comfortable in the ballpark where they play 81 games per year. The Rockies organization hasn’t exactly been a factory for pitching development since its 90s inception either. Alas, that’s enough of that tangent. If I let my ego run completely wild and visualize a world where rRC+ catches on, I wouldn’t want it to replace wRC+. I’d want them to co-exist, so it’s important to me to not just stop at the rRC flat totals but also adjust to a rounded and more digestible percent-from-average stat. (As a brief primer, if a player has a wRC+ of 100, he created runs at the league-average rate. If a player has a wRC+ of 120, he created runs at a 20% clip above league average. If a player has a wRC+ of 80, he created runs at a 20% clip below league average.)
ENOUGH MATH, DORK. Let’s have some fun and see what rRC and rRC+ tells us!
Min. 200 PA
Min. 500 PA
rRC+ vs. wRC+
wRC+ Rank of rRC+ Top 10 (Min. 200 PA)
wRC+ Rank of rRC+ Top 10 (Min. 500 PA)
Top Risers from wRC+ to rRC+ (Min. 200 PA)
Top Risers from wRC+ to rRC+ (Min. 500 PA)
Top Fallers from wRC+ to rRC+ (Min. 200 PA)
Top Fallers from wRC+ to rRC+ (Min. 500 PA)
rRC and Defense
Now that offensive production has been positionally quantified, it feels like an appropriate bookend to this exercise to marry rRC with the positional defensive production that has been measured statistically for years now. Defensive stats are somewhat flimsy by nature and there are a number of versions now that sometimes spit out contrary numbers for the same player, but Defensive Runs Saved has become ol’ reliable in the space and is still one of the best for quantifying glovework. In the below graph, rRC+ is charted against DRS for all players with 200+ PA. It’s a visual mess, but that does mean the graph is working because the vast majority of players land in a condensed perimeter around the origin of 100 rRC+ and 0 DRS. For the purpose of instant analysis, we’ll center in on the outliers here.
A Diamond in the Rough…and Yankees Trade Target?
This is the same graph as above, just with a slope introduced to create a sort of “top tier” of players that intentionally encapsulates Aaron Judge and Mike Trout as the massive offensive outliers. The other players on the best side of this line have all been the subject of praise in this blog already: Realmuto, Betts, Gimenez, Rutschman and Arenado. But then there is also…Brendan Rodgers?! I’m not suggesting that this analysis dictates that the Rockies’ second baseman belongs in the company of bona fide superstars and budding superstars, but maybe there is something to Rodgers that the baseball community is largely missing? His fielding prowess isn’t a secret; Rodgers did just win the NL Gold Glove at second base. The potential secret here instead is that Rodgers’ fielding is so good and that his hitting relative to other second basemen is much better, so that when you combine those two factors you could have one player who is truly – and perhaps secretly – excellent at his position. Only JT Realmuto gained more by rRC+ compared to wRC+ than Rodgers among hitters with 500+ PA, and that’s without taking into account that Rodgers was literally the worst hitter in MLB in April with a grotesque slash line of .078/.172/.098. Just about every hitter deserves the benefit of the doubt for a slump – especially once he rebounds – and ESPECIALLY when that slump occurs immediately after an owner-forced lockout that basically did away with Spring Training.
That offensive rebound, coupled with Rodgers seemingly finding a permanent home at second base after coming up through the ranks as a shortstop, indicates that he has all the makings of a post-hype sleeper on the rise. So, why might the Rockies entertain trading him? Well, consider his other stats of 1.7 WAR and 92 wRC+ that paint him as a relatively pedestrian player. He is also entering his first season eligible for arbitration, so while the Rockies aren’t a poor club they are cost-conscious and already have an inflated payroll. It could behoove them to float Rodgers in trade talks in order to get younger and cheaper elsewhere on the roster. Who should be dialing out to Denver if Rodgers does indeed become attainable via trade? Does this spray chart give any hints?
That is a calling for the Yankee Stadium short porch if I’ve ever seen one from a right-handed hitter! Rodgers peppers the ball the opposite way and does it with authority (69% average exit velo, 83% max exit velo) – albeit to some detriment at the moment with an NL-leading 25 double plays grounded into last season. Get this: among all righty hitters with 200+ PA in 2022, only five of those 207 hit the ball the opposite way AND hit the ball hard at least 30% of the time: Bo Bichette, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Seiya Suzuki, Yandy Diaz…and Rodgers. Rodgers, the former 3rd overall pick in the MLB Draft, is a huge talent who is already coming into his own but could be fully unlocked with an ideal change of scenery. It’s not a total coincidence that his situation is eerily similar to that of DJ LeMahieu when he left Colorado to sign with the Yankees in 2019; it’s a lofty thought, but I can envision a similar output for Rodgers in pinstripes.
The Yankees don’t exactly have a need at second base and they are vocally out of the free agent shortstop market with Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe prepared to compete for that job for the foreseeable future. It’s certainly possible, and arguably the best-case scenario for the Yankees, that Peraza and Volpe hold down the middle infield for the Yankees moving forward, but having a good alternative option at the keystone would be smart business for the Yankees while also limiting pressure on the two talented prospects. Gleyber Torres is already on the roster with manageable salaries projected for the next two years, and to his credit he also massively benefits by the shift from wRC+ to rRC+. At this stage of Gleyber’s career though, a team change could be best for him and the Yankees after years of consistent and dramatic up-and-down periods where both his natural baseball ability and headache-inducing ability are on full display. (For what it’s worth, Gleyber is a subject in the actual Hot Stove rumor mill too so I’m not projecting anything here.) What could a trade involving Rodgers and Torres look like? It would almost certainly need to be a three-way trade because it wouldn’t make any sense for Colorado to acquire Gleyber right now – even if the Rockies do have the MLB market cornered on nonsensical acquisitions. Here are some realistic-enough variations:
Bench: Max Stassi, David Fletcher, Jared Walsh, Aaron Hicks
I’ll cut myself off from the trade machine and wrap this whole thing up before I drift too far away from rRC…you know, the point of this piece. I hope everyone who read this far appreciates the thought and effort, and I will gladly engage with any feedback! Follow on Twitter @Real_Peej
I recently published predictions for the Top 30 Free Agents of this MLB offseason. Free agency dominates the MLB news cycle from November through January but is only one component to Hot Stove Season; we can’t leave out the trades! Honestly, trades are more fun than signings even if they’re inherently harder to predict. I’m not sure if ANY of these trades will go down in the coming weeks but each of them are logical enough to transpire. Did I leave some glaring team holes open in my Free Agents piece? Yeah, but every team doesn’t get every free agent that they want. Treat this like a companion to that piece, with teams hitting the trade market to further flesh out their rosters. Unlike that post though, here I’ll write less about player qualifications and more about the impact for both teams in the trades.
Trade simulations are sourced from BaseballTradeValues.com. It’s an imperfect science but nonetheless an accurate method and a good verification system.
Blue Jays Get: Shane Bieber
Guardians Get: Danny Jansen, Ricky Tiedemann, Cade Doughty
Angels Get: Amed Rosario
Guardians Get: Jose Quijada
Looping the two Guardians proposals into one summary, and I’ll be real in that I’m somewhat confident that a version of that blockbuster will occur in reality. It’s the Cleveland way to trade star pitchers on the cusp of reaching free agency: CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, etc. And guess what? Cleveland usually wins these trades in the end, even if it would suck to deal a Cy Young winner in Bieber at 27 years old and coming off another excellent season. With Triston McKenzie ready to assume the ace role for the Guardians, I do expect Bieber to get traded this winter and Toronto is the perfect destination. The Blue Jays have arguably 3 of the 10 most valuable catchers in baseball in Alejandro Kirk, Danny Jansen and Gabriel Moreno. Bieber for Moreno straight-up is a fascinating trade concept, but I think he’s too elite of a prospect to trade and Cleveland already has a great catcher prospect they purportedly love in Bo Naylor. It makes most sense for Jansen, the veteran with two more years of control, to go back to Cleveland. Tiedemann is probably the Jays’ best prospect (No. 33 overall on MLB Pipeline) and would join what’s truly becoming a laughable stockpile of young pitching talent for the Guardians.
Even if Toronto had a disappointing season in 2022 relative to their lofty preseason expectations, they still won 92 games and possess one of the more loaded rosters in MLB. The lineup speaks for itself, they have reinforced the bullpen in a major way since the last trade deadline, and look at this potential rotation:
Yeah, not too shabby and all locked down through 2024. As for the Rosario trade, it’s probably the most deserving of a “who cares?” label among the dozen in this blog, but I want to include it for a couple of reasons. Rosario has turned into a solid player since the Mets gave up on him and he is – by far – the best one-year-only shortstop option on the trade market. The Angels need to go as all-in on 2023 as responsibly a 73-89 team can with Shohei Ohtani going into his last season in Anaheim, and Rosario could play 162 games for them. Cleveland would be sad to see him go, but he’s due roughly $9mil in arbitration in this contract year and the Guardians have multiple middle infield prospects near the big league level. With these trades – in addition to my calls for Cleveland to use this freed-up money to sign Josh Bell and Corey Kluber – look below where it would leave the Guardians’ projected lineup and rotation for 2023. This is on top of them having the best farm system AND bullpen in baseball – especially with lefty Jose Quijada coming over in return for Rosario.
Red Sox Get: Tim Anderson
White Sox Get: Jarren Duran, Tanner Houck, Nick Yorke
Mariners Get: Lucas Giolito, Liam Hendriks
White Sox Get: Matt Brash, Jesse Winker, Penn Murfee, Kyle Lewis, Marco Gonzales, Harry Ford
Another summary post for two trade proposals involving the same team, in this case the White Sox. If their 81-81 record wasn’t a clear enough indication, the SouthSiders are the most painfully average team in the league right now. Some of their underachievement could be attributed to Tony La Russa, yes, but their issues run much deeper than having a dinosaur at manager. There might not be a single team with less depth than Chicago, and even among their roster strengths there is a ton of redundancy. This is just a really poorly built team in need of a mini-blowup. I think these two trades could nicely position the White Sox to be on a brighter path as soon as 2024.
Though he’s become a franchise icon, the White Sox should absolutely trade Anderson. He has minimal long-term value and Chicago, despite having a bad farm system as things stand, has a few solid middle infield prospects who could use live reps immediately. The Red Sox, assuming they let Xander Bogaerts walk and don’t pursue a big ticket free agent to replace him, should be all over Anderson. He might not hit 20 combined homers over the next two seasons but Anderson has the highest batting average in MLB since 2019 (.318) and could realistically bat .330 hitting at the Green Monster. With two cheap seasons of control on his obscenely team-friendly contract, Anderson is the best-case scenario as a bridge shortstop between Bogaerts and uber-prospect Marcelo Mayer. Chicago would receive back three players with maximum team control. Duran, though still a valuable asset, has no future in Boston following poor production in two stints in the majors to go along with a bad attitude. He needs a career restart elsewhere and Chaim Bloom didn’t draft him; it would be a surprise if Duran isn’t traded this offseason, especially with Ceddanne Rafaela supplanting him as Boston’s centerfielder of the future. Trading Nick Yorke would sting for the Red Sox, but they would need to trade at least one of their top kids for a perennial All Star like Anderson. Yorke had an empty 2022 season, but he played through injury and was still one of the youngest players in A+ ball at 20 years old. It was only one year ago that he was garnering comparisons to Alex Bregman, so it would be wise for Chicago to buy low. Tanner Houck has big talent and has already made plenty of MLB hitters look silly, but he’s a tweener starter/reliever and Garrett Whitlock already does that for the Red Sox.
The second trade has the Mariners pushing more chips into the middle of the table, even after their hypothetical signing of Brandon Nimmo and actual trade for Teoscar Hernandez. If the Mariners have any roster holes left, besides arguably 2B, it’s the closer role. Paul Sewald had a fantastic 2022 season for the Mariners, but Seattle is too invested to pretend that his stuff is up to the task of shutting down 9th innings in October – if the ALDS series vs. Houston didn’t expose that already. Hendriks has delivered on exactly what Chicago paid him to do, but there isn’t much point in having an elite closer on a rebuilding team. With 2yr/$29mil remaining on his deal, Hendriks should be the target of aggressive pursuit from better teams without a true closer. Chicago doesn’t need to trade Giolito, but they should. He’s entering his final season under contract and isn’t the type of pitcher that’s given a blank check for an extension. Giolito is better than his 4.90 ERA in 2022, but he’s also probably worse than his 5.2 WAR 2019 season at this stage. The Mariners should view themselves as contenders, even if they share a division with the Astros. Ignoring the impending signings of deGrom, Verlander and Rodon, a starting rotation of Luis Castillo/Robbie Ray/Lucas Giolito/Logan Gilbert/George Kirby would probably be the best in baseball.
I have six players going back to Chicago in return for Hendriks and Giolito, but this isn’t exactly the friend in your fantasy football league who offers you a bunch of crap for your best running back. I’ll spell it out in bullet points:
Here is where I leave the White Sox for the future; is this 2023 team even worse than their current 2023 depth chart?
Dodgers Get: Bryan Reynolds
Pirates Get: Andy Pages, Gavin Stone, Jorbit Vivas
It’s been a nauseating 3+ years of fan bases around the country posting low-ball trade ideas for Bryan Reynolds, but I think the time has finally come for Pittsburgh to trade their star outfielder. I generally like how the Pirates are going about their rebuild in that they aren’t cutting corners, but it’s definitely coming along slowly. I’m sure the Pirates’ brass wants to have Reynolds in black-and-yellow once the team starts winning again, but he’s starting to get pricey and they probably would have agreed on an extension by now if there was common ground between the team and Reynolds. Getting back three prospects for Reynolds, including two blue-chip and MLB-ready ones in Pages and Stone, would go a long way in speeding up the rebuild. Pages will strike out a ton at the MLB level but has the bat to drill 30+ homers annually and a firehose of a right arm; he could be the Pirates’ starting rightfielder tomorrow. Stone was arguably the best pitcher in the minor leagues in 2022; he made 6+ starts in A+, AA and AAA and posted respective ERAs of 1.44, 1.60 and 1.16. He’s bordering on too-good-to-trade status, but the Dodgers cannot go another round of leading the league in regular season wins and ranked prospects with no championship to show for it. (I know, I know…2020.) Assuming that Diego Cartaya is off-limits, Pittsburgh would reasonably ask for one of Stone or Bobby Miller in return for Reynolds, and I’d be curious to see who LA would part with in that scenario. I think it would be Stone, who has clearly outperformed Miller but is a 170-pound 5th round draft pick, while Miller is a 6’5”, 220-pound first rounder.
Like I just said, the Dodgers need to be more aggressive in building a world-beating team. Cody Bellinger still does some things well despite falling off a cliff and Trayce Thompson is a good comeback story who posted wild reverse splits and destroyed right-handed pitching in 2022, but they aren’t good enough to pencil into the Dodgers’ starting outfield next to Mookie Betts. Reynolds is a switch-hitter in his prime who’s an elite everyday leftfielder in waiting and can probably hold his own for another season or two in centerfield as well. The sample size has grown too large for Reynolds; his career slash line of .281/.361/.481 isn’t a fluke. He’s a stud.
And by the way, the Dodgers would still have a plethora of great prospects following this trade.
Athletics Get: Nolan Gorman, Paul DeJong, Andre Pallante, Tink Hence
Cardinals Get: Sean Murphy
This framework isn’t too dissimilar to the Dodgers/Pirates framework above involving Bryan Reynolds, as Sean Murphy is an All Star caliber player in the arbitration years of his contract on one of the cheapest teams in the league. A key difference that needs to be stated though is that the Pirates are rebuilding in a (mostly) commendable way while the Athletics are nothing short of shameful. They will field one of the worst rosters in recent baseball history next season to the tune of around $30mil. Yes, their total team payroll will be about what 5+ players are guaranteed annually by other teams in free agency in the weeks ahead. That number will drop too once Oakland inevitably trades Murphy and his $4mil salary. The sad thing is, within the perspective of Oakland’s operations, they absolutely should trade Murphy this offseason. He comes along with three years of team control and posted a 122 wRC+ in 2022 – which is WAY higher than just 22% above average for offensive production from a catcher. He’s also a Gold Glove winner who should be in his prime and brings along the leadership and toughness that old-school teams crave from their starting catcher.
The Cardinals have a gaping hole at catcher and will be all over Murphy, and like the Dodgers they have more than enough young talent at their disposal. Fortunately for them the A’s need everything, though Jordan Walker will be off-limits and I suspect that Masyn Winn has reached that territory too (even if they sign a free agent shortstop like I predicted). I have Nolan Gorman as the centerpiece in this trade, who just last year debuted as a Top 25 prospect in the game and hit 14 homers in 89 games for the Cardinals. It’s unclear where he’ll end up defensively though; he was horrendous at 2B for the Cards so the answer is probably 3B, which Nolan Arenado just agreed to occupy for five more years. He’d likely be a platoon DH for the 2023 Cardinals, which not only would be a bad use of resources but fellow prospect Alec Burleson might be even better suited to own that role. Tink Hence was a 3rd round pick but absolutely eviscerated Single-A pitching as a 19 year old, and Andre Pallante is exactly the type of No. 6 starter with flashes of MLB production and plenty of cheap control that the A’s always seem to target in trades. Salary dumping usually sucks but it’s minor in the case of DeJong and the Cardinals should get him out of there. Oakland can manage to pay him $11mil, start him at shortstop and more importantly point to him when they face criticism for their anemic payroll.
If St. Louis could trade for Murphy and sign Dansby Swanson like I suggest, my money would on them as the best group of position players in the league. Just look at this lineup, which could also win 5+ Gold Gloves:
Marlins Get: Austin Hays, Jordan Westburg
Orioles Get: Pablo Lopez
The key players in the above trades hover in between 25-50% likely to get traded for the most part, but Lopez is more in the 80-90% range. Given that Miami very publicly dangled him at the last trade deadline, this doesn’t qualify as a bold prediction. It’s also a good idea for the Marlins, and I say that as a fan of Lopez. His trade value is just about at the highest point it’ll probably ever be. (I think that 38.7 number per BaseballTradeValues.com is a bit inflated, hence the gap is Total Value.) 2022 was his first season staying healthy from wire-to-wire and his metrics basically remained in line across the board. He’s a quality No. 2 starter that’s out there for the taking, and Baltimore can definitely use some more front-line pitching.
Miami wasn’t exactly expected to contend in 2022 but their 69-93 record was pretty inexcusable, to the point that the sand is probably starting to fall in the hour glass for Kim Ng. They are in dire need of more offense and, considering that the Marlins whiffed on their free agent additions of Avisail Garcia and Jorge Soler last year, trading is the best path toward achieving that goal. The Orioles boast an embarrassment of riches with hitting prospects, having a surplus of MLB-ready guys in both the infield and the outfield. Hays isn’t one of those prospects but trading him would free up a spot for Kyle Stowers. Hays isn’t an All Star but he’s a surefire positive impact player in leftfield; Miami needs more players like that and he’d be a good get for them. The Marlins could take advantage of the blockers the Orioles have around the diamond by prying away Westburg, who could start at third base on Opening Day for Miami. Westburg batted .273/.361/.508 in a full season at Triple-A, but he surely isn’t getting reps over Gunnar Henderson and Joey Ortiz is the same age as Westburg and probably the better shortstop prospect. (I also believe the Orioles are higher on Jorge Mateo than his perceived value.)
Braves Get: Jake McCarthy, Madison Bumgarner
Diamondbacks Get: Ian Anderson, Marcell Ozuna, Freddy Tarnok
Madison Bumgarner and Marcell Ozuna, beyond both being among the least popular players in the sport, are the owners of two of the worst contracts in the sport as well. I’ll still kick it off with them given their notoriety, but also it’s worth noting that their inclusion isn’t for humor but because it would actually make a lot of sense for the Braves and D-Backs to flip them for one another. They have literally identical remaining terms on their contracts at 2yr/$37mil, and the Braves would benefit more from a veteran depth arm at the back of their staff while the Snakes are openly searching for a right-handed power bat. Don’t get me wrong; MadBum and Ozuna are both bad players at these points of their careers. In 2022, Bumgarner had a 4.88 ERA with even worse underlying metrics and Ozuna is a DH only who batted .226 with a .697 OPS. They are both washed but not quite in DFA territory, and perhaps each of them is good for a last gasp season with Bumgarner pitching in the South for a better team and Ozuna getting somewhat of a fresh start after his tumultuous last couple of years.
Enough of those losers, though! Let’s get to the meat of this trade. If there is a more under-the-radar young ballplayer than Jake McCarthy in the majors, then I’m not sure who he is. In his 2022 rookie season, McCarthy batted .283/.342/.427 from the left side of the plate and already strikes out at a below average clip. He isn’t an exit velocity king like some other wunderkinds around the league, but McCarthy has a quick bat and is truly one of the fastest players in the game; his sprint speed is in Trea Turner territory. So then, why would Arizona, a team on the come-up, trade him? They have the enviable problem of too much young talent in the outfield at the major league level, with superstar-in-waiting Corbin Carroll and defensive phenom Daulton Varsho occupying two spots. I suppose the Diamondbacks could pick McCarthy over Alek Thomas, who was demoted to Triple-A after falling short of McCarthy’s production, but Thomas is three years younger and was a much more highly regarded prospect. McCarthy has experience playing leftfield and is under team control through 2028, so yes the Braves in this outcome would basically be Thanos adding another Infinity Stone to their gauntlet.
Freddy Tarnok isn’t exactly a throw-in, but the main piece going back to Arizona in this trade is Ian Anderson. Following the 2020 season, I’m not sure if there was a single young pitcher that you’d pick to build your rotation of the future around before Anderson. His changeup was dancing from the moment he hit the mound and he made 4 dominant postseason starts at 22 years old. But, to put it bluntly, Anderson has sucked since then. His strikeouts are down while his walks are up, all culminating in an ugly 5.00 ERA in 22 starts last season. Atlanta has absurd pitching depth; they currently have EIGHT starting pitchers on their 40-man roster in the minor leagues. That includes Anderson (and Tarnok), who I’m sure the Braves would hate to sell low on but also would be tough for them to justify still in the rotation over their five better options. It would be a worthwhile reclamation project for Arizona, who just pulled off a similar feat with Zac Gallen. Between this trade prediction and my call for them to sign Taijuan Walker, that would give Arizona a front four of Gallen/Walker/Anderson/Merrill Kelly. Not bad!
Mets Get: German Marquez, CJ Cron
Rockies Get: Mark Vientos, James McCann, Luis Rodriguez, Cash
Across this piece and my free agency piece, the teams that I haven’t predicted any immediate-impact acquisitions for are either cheap (Oakland, Cincinnati) or at the beginning of a major rebuild (Detroit, Kansas City). And then there are the Rockies, easily the most confounding and unpredictable team in the league. I almost wouldn’t believe this if I didn’t do the math myself but the Rockies have 124 million dollars in guaranteed money on the books for 2023. This team, with largely the same roster, went 68-94 last season. I’m not in the business of trying to save MLB owners money, but Colorado has no reason to pay CJ Cron and German Marquez a combined $23mil for 2023 just to finish 40 games behind the Dodgers. Cron was a revelation for the Rockies with 57 homers across 2021-2022 but they should sell him for value while they can. Marquez, on the other hand, has lost some shine recently after ERAs of 4.40 and 5.00 over 180 innings in each of the last two seasons. He’s still throwing hard though and his stuff hasn’t really changed; batters have just been teeing off on his fastballs lately. With an affordable $16mil club option for 2024, Marquez is a good buy-low candidate for a team that will simplify his approach, lean more on his great curveball and, most importantly, just get him the hell out of Coors Field (6.70 home ERA, 3.43 road ERA in 2022).
Mark Vientos is a good, borderline Top 100 prospect who showed off some of the best power in the minors in 2022 (24 homers in 101 Triple-A games). He would hit some moonshots playing in Denver, but playing in Queens he’s pretty much a 22 year old DH who won’t ever get first base reps with Pete Alonso there or third base reps with Brett Baty as the superior defensive (and overall) prospect. Vientos is ultimately disposable for the Mets and the type of prospect that Colorado should be vulturing as rosters are trimmed around the league. James McCann’s contract isn’t burning a hole in the Mets’ wallet with Steve Cohen signing the checks but it’s still hurting the team just by nature of a wasted roster spot. They need to get him off the team, even if it means eating half of his remaining $20mil like I included in this trade. The ironic inclusion of McCann + Cash is that the Rockies signing him on a 2yr/$10mil deal is the exact type of head-scratching deal that we’ve come to expect of the modern Rockies.
With Marquez and Cron in the fold – on top of my predicted free agent signings – this is where it would leave the Mets:
Brewers Get: Josh Donaldson, Kyle Higashioka, Trey Sweeney, Cash
Yankees Get: Christian Yelich, Devin Williams, Tyrone Taylor, Cash
Twins Get: Domingo German, Lucas Luetge
Yankees Get: Max Kepler
Royals Get: Aaron Hicks, Estevan Florial
Yankees Get: Hunter Dozier, Michael A. Taylor
The nerve and unabashed bias to conclude this with three different Yankees trades! First things first in response to that: YUP, write your own blog if you want something else. Kidding, sorta, but I do think the Yankees are objectively one of the more intriguing teams of this offseason. They are particularly intriguing as traders, given that they made one big move last offseason and that was the trade for Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa from Minnesota that backfired rather spectacularly. Speaking of Donaldson, the first of these three Yankees trades involves the team offloading his stench. I went into more depth on the bones of this trade in my Yankees offseason piece, though since then I did remove Clarke Schmidt from the Yankees side and Luis Urias from the Brewers and instead have Milwaukee including Tyrone Taylor and more cash owed for Yelich. With Yelich’s future payment split evenly between New York and Milwaukee, the Yankees would be acquiring Yelich on a 6yr/$78mil deal. For comparison, I predicted Brandon Nimmo to receive a 6yr/$120mil deal and Andrew Benintendi to land a 6r/$90mil deal in my free agency piece. The main thing I want to elaborate on here in support of this trade though is why Milwaukee, at their market size, should be so desperate to get Yelich off their books. For starters, the Brewers – or perhaps only Arizona instead – have the best collection of outfield prospects in baseball. Yelich might not even be one of their best options out there by 2024. But more than that, shedding even half of his contract would be a titanic weight off the chest of the new Brewers’ regime as they actively attempt to reset without blowing everything up this offseason. Consider this math:
Path 1: $156mil (Yelich 2023-2028) + $30mil (Corbin Burnes 2023-2024) = $186mil
Path 2: $78mil (Yelich to NYY) + $21mil (Donaldson 2023) + $87mil (4yr/$87mil deal for Corbin Burnes 2023-2026) = $186mil
These paths include some rough estimates, but the logic holds that Milwaukee could lock down Burnes’ Ages 30-31 seasons opposed to losing those to free agency or have Yelich’s Ages 31-36 seasons under contract instead.
Moving on, Domingo German and Lucas Luetge are decent pitchers who are on the roster bubble for the Yankees but would definitely crack Minnesota’s Opening Day roster. The Twins have low-key put together another beast of a starting lineup and Max Kepler probably isn’t part of the best version of that lineup anymore. Kepler is one of the more polarizing players in the game, with up-and-down base-level production matched by some underlying data that says he’s underrated and unlucky (exit velocity) and other underlying data that says he isn’t much as a hitter (bigly negative vs. four-seam fastballs). It’ll be unfair to anyone if the Yankees have to ask him to fill Aaron Judge’s cleats, but Kepler is an extremely athletic player with great plate discipline, good pull power from the left side of the plate and two more years remaining on his team-friendly contract. Almost regardless of whether Judge returns to New York, the Yankees should call Minnesota about Kepler; it’s a great match.
Last and probably the least, this trade is a two-way salary dump. I don’t mean to pile on Aaron Hicks more than the Yankees community already does; my grander point here is aimed more at the Yankees than Hicks himself. Teams must carry 13 hitters by current roster rules: the 9 starters, a backup catcher and the utility man are a non-negotiable set of 11. That leaves two true bench spots and the Yankees in recent years have completely wasted that flexibility, with a good deal of that waste coming from Hicks. He isn’t a useless player yet but the Yankees need to prioritize players with plus tools for bench openings, not just players who are adequate backups at occupied positions. Case in point: Hunter Dozier is not a good player. He’s quite bad, in fact; Dozier is literally lapping the field in negative WAR (-2.0) among qualified hitters over the last two seasons. But still, Dozier has real power. His contract isn’t pretty either with 2yr/$18mil left on it, but there aren’t many options for the Yankees to choose from if they want to dump Hicks without paying part of his deal down. As a regular for a completely rebuilding Royals team, Hicks is certainly a better option for KC than Dozier. But for a competing Yankees team in need of bench upgrades, Dozier is a better option for NYY than Hicks.
Quickly to cap it off, the Royals get Estevan Florial and his rookie deal from the Yankees’ Quadruple-A ranks. In return, the Yankees get one year of Michael A. Taylor for $4.5mil. I totally disagree that he’s a negative value player like that screenshot implies; Taylor isn’t great but he’s an ok hitter who’s lights out with the glove in centerfield. He’d become one of the better backup CF options in the game on the Yankees. Below is an amended version of a hopeful Opening Day picture for the Yankees:
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