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.)
Brandon Belt (SFG): 147
Kyle Tucker (HOU): 147
Ji-Man Choi (TBR, now PIT): 140
Alex Bregman (HOU): 136
Jesse Winker (SEA, now MIL): 134
Luke Voit (SDP/WAS, now FA): 134
JD Davis (NYM/SFG): 133
Chris Taylor (LAD): 132
Ronald Acuna Jr (ATL): 132
George Springer (TOR): 131
You think the modern Astros have a type? Three of the key cogs of their fake pseudo dynasty appear in this Top 10, including Kyle Tucker tied for the top spot. It’s wildly impressive how much of an edge the 25 year-old Tucker has over his peers; Brandon Belt, the only other batter in his tier, is a decade older than Tucker and has already begun to fall off a cliff. Tucker had his BABIP fall from .303 in 2020 and .304 in 2021 to .261 in 2022, and he is also among the elite in the league when it comes to K:BB rate. He’s going to keep getting on base via hits and walks while seldom striking out, and he pairs that up with 30 homer, 25 steal ability. I’d consider Tucker a strong MVP candidate over the next few seasons.
It’s not a coincidence that four of the ten hitters on this list have been traded within the past 365 days: Choi, Winker, Voit and Davis. Hitters can adjust launch angle and study film and trends as much as they’d like, but this level of split-second recognition and decision-making can’t really be taught. It makes sense that teams target this skill and hope that better results in other departments follow.
It’s pretty shocking to me that Luke Voit remains a free agent. You’d think that a slugger who’s this good at taking hacks at pitches in the zone to go along with his raw power would have been scooped up quickly, especially after he was non-tendered by the Nationals. He doesn’t offer any defensive versatility and he’s mediocre at first base, but Voit could realistically pop 40 homers with a clean bill of health and he’s likely available for around $5mil.
It’s terrifying that Ronald Acuna Jr. is this good at identifying meaty pitches. A multitude of injuries totally robbed him of his power in 2022, with his ISO falling from .331 in 2020 and .313 in 2021 to just .148 in 2022. Assuming better health moving forward, Acuna could be the next player to hit 50 longballs in a season.
Chris Taylor’s inclusion on the list isn’t meaningless, given that it’s a primary reason why a player of his stature has two seasons of 20+ homers to his name. That said, Taylor basically swings at everything – as evidenced by his 35.2% K% (worst in MLB for players with as many PA).
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:
Yordan Alvarez (HOU): .329
Freddie Freeman (LAD): .313
Michael Brantley (HOU): .310
Aaron Judge (NYY): .305
Tim Anderson (CHW): .302
Jose Abreu (CHW, now HOU): .296
Christian Arroyo (BOS): .292
Alec Bohm (PHI): .290
Vinnie Pasquantino (KCR): .289
Yandy Diaz (TBR): .288
Bryce Harper (PHI): .288
Luis Arraez (MIN): .287
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:
Kyle Tucker (HOU): 255
Freddie Freeman (LAD): 255
Yordan Alvarez (HOU): 249
Corey Seager (TEX): 245
Bryce Harper (PHI): 245
Ronald Acuna Jr (ATL): 245
Aaron Judge (NYY): 243
Alex Bregman (HOU): 243
George Springer (TOR): 241
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:
There is minimal reason for hope behind Jose Trevino’s bat. This shouldn’t come as much of a shock to Yankee fans after Trevino crashed back down to earth in the second half of the season, with a .626 OPS compared to a .714 OPS in the first half. It’s also not that much of a concern given that Trevino was literally the best defensive player in the league, but it spotlights the need for the team to continue to bolster its offense around him.
Even if Oneil Cruz is a total alien when it comes to his arm and exit velocities, I’d be nervous about banking much of my organizational future on him. He’s still very young, sure, but he’s basically swinging blindfolded at the moment and his xBA has no business being subpar given how fast and strong he is. Considering he’ll likely call a corner outfield position home in his near future instead of shortstop, Cruz might be on a trajectory similar to that of Joey Gallo. Pittsburgh may be internally ok with that, but that might sound harsh to most fans given the hype around Cruz.
There are only 7 hitters who finished at least 10% below league average when it came to both swings-to-zone swings and xBA, and most of them won’t come as a surprise to baseball fans: Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario, Joey Bart, Jose Siri, Brian Serven, and Pavin Smith. But then there is also…Daulton Varsho, who was just traded to Toronto for one of the best catching prospects in years in Gabriel Moreno. I get it that Varsho’s value is closely tied to his glove and that pull power isn’t well reflected in this analysis…but yikes.
If you are looking for a superstar-caliber player that this exercise comes closest to exposing, it’s likely Michael Harris of the Braves. I have no agenda to crap on a 21 year-old kid who just won Rookie of the Year, and I think Harris will remain a valuable contributor for the Braves with an awesome glove in centerfield and a lefty bat atop the lineup. His plate discipline is just quite bad at the moment, with poor pitch selection on top of poor walk and strikeout rates. Even if Harris can fly, his .361 BABIP is inflated and his 19 homers were an aberration compared to his power in the minors (7 HRs in 101 A+ games in 2021). He’s also bound to get peppered with breaking balls moving forward, concerning given that he batted .375 with a .708 SLG against four-seamers and .238 with a SLG closer to .400 against sliders and curveballs. Perhaps Harris is a true outlier, but it’s not wise to bet on outliers so fresh into a player’s career. If he settles in as a good centerfielder who averages between 10-15 HRs and SBs per season while batting around .250 with low OBPs, I wouldn’t be surprised. (That’s also 2015-2017 Michael A. Taylor.)
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:
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!
Aaron Judge and Mike Trout…pretty damn good! They are arguably the top two hitters in the game right now regardless of position, but once you consider that they each took a bulk of their at bats listed as a centerfielder…it’s not even much of a debate. Judge, in particular with his full-season volume, finds himself 43 points clear of the runner-up at the 500 PA threshold (Jose Altuve). That gap is equal to the one between Altuve and the 31st ranked player (Sean Murphy).
Julio Rodriguez and Michael Harris II won Rookie of the Year for their respective leagues but they produced even better than the typical award-winning rookie. I’m prepared for these two to crack rRC+ leaderboards for years to come, even if Rodriguez eventually shifts over to rightfield. (Which, surprisingly and maybe an aberration for 2022, was a roughly average position from an offensive standpoint.)
The rankings of catchers should jump out, particularly Danny Jansen and William Contreras sliding in right before NL MVP and near Triple Crown winner Paul Goldschmidt. As a reminder, this isn’t to say that Jansen and Contreras are actually better hitters than Goldschmidt; it’s saying that their offensive production at catcher is slightly more valuable over the course of a season than Goldschmidt’s at first base. It’s really close and the catchers have smaller sample sizes – much smaller in Jansen’s case – but I’m down with that conclusion! Jansen’s slash line of .260/.339/.516 with great walk and strikeout rates should mean more when he’s changing in and out of pads between innings. In his case, Jansen is theoretically in his prime and should provide Toronto with a massive edge over the course of a full season. That is…if he is still wearing a Blue Jays jersey come 2023 Opening Day. It’s presumed that Toronto will deal one of Jansen/Alejandro Kirk/Gabriel Moreno this offseason, and most predictions – even my own – have Jansen as the dealt player given Kirk and Moreno’s youth. But maybe we’ve underrated Jansen and Toronto could be better off with his immediate impact and Moreno’s massive talent waiting in the wings? Trading Kirk feels crazy – he finished 4th among AL catchers in WAR and is elite by the rRC+ standard in his own right (144) – but he should be able to land Toronto quite the catch. Perhaps Kirk straight-up for an established All Star like Shane Bieber or Bryan Reynolds – or Kirk plus minor prospect compensation – is a win/win framework for both sides?
I want to focus more on the top of the leaderboard than the bottom, but quick note on the duds of the list. 21 players with 500+ PA finished beneath the even rRC+ of 100…and two of them were Yankees: Josh Donaldson (98) and Isiah Kiner-Falefa (89). The Astros, Phillies, Braves, Mets and Dodgers had three combined. The deepest of sighs.
rRC+ vs. wRC+
wRC+ Rank of rRC+ Top 10 (Min. 200 PA)
Aaron Judge: 1st, 207 wRC+
Mike Trout: 4th, 176
Jose Altuve: 5th, 164
Yordan Alvarez: 2nd, 185
Danny Jansen: 23rd, 140
William Contreras: 29th, 138
Paul Goldschmidt: 3rd, 177
JT Realmuto: 52nd, 128
Michael Harris II: 34th, 136
Julio Rodriguez: 11th, 146
wRC+ Rank of rRC+ Top 10 (Min. 500 PA)
Aaron Judge: 1st, 207
Jose Altuve: 4th, 164
Yordan Alvarez: 2nd, 185
Paul Goldschmidt: 3rd, 177
JT Realmuto: 35th, 128
Julio Rodriguez: 8th, 146
Manny Machado: 6th, 152
Austin Riley: 15th, 142
Nolan Arenado: 7th, 151
Rafael Devers: 17th, 140
Xander Bogaerts: 25th, 134
Top Risers from wRC+ to rRC+ (Min. 200 PA)
Yan Gomes (CHC, C): +44 (73 to 117)
Eric Haase (DET, C): +43 (112 to 155)
Elias Diaz (COL, C): +36 (67 to 103)
Travis d’Arnaud (ATL, C): +35 (120 to 155)
JT Realmuto (PHI, C): +34 (128 to 162)
Mike Trout (LAA, CF): +33 (176 to 209)
Brian Serven (COL, C): +32 (52 to 84)
William Contreras (ATL, C/DH): +30 (138 to 168)
Danny Jansen (TOR, C): +30 (140 to 170)
Yonathan Daza (COL, LF/CF): +26 (93 to 119)
Jose Iglesias (COL, SS): +26 (85 to 111)
Michael Harris II (ATL, CF): +26 (136 to 162)
Top Risers from wRC+ to rRC+ (Min. 500 PA)
JT Realmuto (PHI, C): +34 (128 to 162)
Brendan Rodgers (COL, 2B): +24 (92 to 116)
Gleyber Torres (NYY, 2B): +24 (115 to 139)
Ryan McMahon (COL, 3B): +22 (95 to 117)
Xander Bogaerts (BOS, SS): +22 (134 to 156)
Randal Grichuk (COL, RF/CF): +22 (88 to 110)
Kyle Farmer (CIN, 3B/SS): +19 (91 to 110)
Dansby Swanson (ATL, SS): +16 (116 to 132)
Will Smith (LAD, C/DH): +16 (127 to 143)
Bryan Reynolds (PIT, CF/DH): +16 (125 to 141)
Jose Altuve (HOU, 2B): +16 (164 to 180)
Rafael Devers (BOS, 3B): +16 (140 to 156)
Cedric Mullins (BAL, CF): +16 (106 to 122)
Austin Riley (ATL, 3B): +16 (142 to 158)
Aaron Judge (NYY, CF/RF/DH): +16 (207 to 223)
Brandon Nimmo (NYM, CF): +16 (134 to 150)
Top Fallers from wRC+ to rRC+ (Min. 200 PA)
Brandon Belt (SF, 1B): -31 (96 to 65)
Jace Peterson (MIL, 3B): -21 (96 to 75)
Ji-Man Choi (TBR, 1B): -19 (115 to 96)
Aledmys Diaz (HOU, LF/SS/2B): -17 (96 to 79)
Brad Miller (TEX, DH/3B/LF): -15 (69 to 54)
Harold Ramirez (TBR, RF/DH/1B): -15 (119 to 104)
Austin Slater (SFG, CF): -14 (124 to 110)
Wil Myers (SDP, 1B/RF): -13 (104 to 91)
Josh Naylor (CLE, 1B/DH): -12 (117 to 105)
Chris Taylor (LAD, LF/2B): -11 (93 to 82)
Jesse Winker (SEA, LF/DH): -11 (108 to 97)
Yordan Alvarez (HOU, LF/DH): -11 (185 to 174)
Pete Alonso (NYM, 1B/DH): -11 (143 to 132)
Anthony Rizzo (NYY, 1B): -11 (132 to 121)
Top Fallers from wRC+ to rRC+ (Min. 500 PA)
Jesse Winker (SEA, LF/DH): -11 (108 to 97)
Yordan Alvarez (HOU, LF/DH): -11 (185 to 174)
Pete Alonso (NYM, 1B/DH): -11 (143 to 132)
Anthony Rizzo (NYY, 1B): -11 (132 to 121)
Nathaniel Lowe (TEX, 1B): -10 (143 to 133)
Seth Brown (OAK, RF/CF/LF/1B): -10 (116 to 106)
Ty France (SEA, 1B): -10 (127 to 117)
Randy Arozarena (TBR, RF/LF/DH): -9 (125 to 116)
Vladimir Guerrero Jr (TOR, 1B/DH): -9 (132 to 123)
Rhys Hoskins (PHI, 1B): -9 (122 to 113)
Luis Arraez (MIN, 1B/DH/2B): -9 (131 to 122)
Having JT Realmuto and his slash line of .280/.342/.489 behind 547 PA from the catcher position rise from 52nd and 35th in wRC+ to crack both rRC+ leaderboards – including the Top 5 among the largest sample size – is the precise intention of this exercise. Realmuto is one of the most valuable players in baseball, period.
The top risers, unsurprisingly, are mostly players at up-the-middle positions. Guys like Xander Bogaerts jump from the great to elite tier, Gleyber Torres from good to great, and Kyle Farmer (.255/.315./386 with 388 PA at shortstop) from mediocre to good.
I love that Yan Gomes is atop a list of risers per rRC+ compared to wRC+. He’s long been an unsung player that I admire and this stat is a good way to credit his game. If you sought out a player with a wRC+ around 115 and positive defense on an annual basis, you’d land on solid players with enough recognition like Kolten Wong or Lourdes Gurriel. But in my opinion, and now backed by rRC+, a catcher like Gomes belongs in that company too.
On the flip side, you’ll find mostly first basemen, leftfielders and DH types among the top fallers. The point of rRC isn’t to totally detract from awesome hitters at these positions with high offensive expectations, and that shows here with Yordan Alvarez and Pete Alonso sliding a bit but still posting excellent rRC+ numbers. However, for guys like Brandon Belt and Wil Myers who have relatively normal slash lines but also have their positional counterparts around the league outperforming them, rRC is built to expose them.
I don’t blame any baseball fans who hadn’t been privy to the extreme impact of “ballpark factor” on mainstream stats, but look no further than the above lists. You have a pure third baseman in the Top 5 for risers (Ryan McMahon) and another pure third baseman in the Top 5 for fallers (Jace Peterson). Same goes for centerfield, where Mike Trout cracked the Top 10 for risers yet Austin Slater of the Giants landed similarly among the top fallers. I get that it matters but I swear, the more I dig into this the more I’m starting to believe that some statisticians forget that players in different types of ballparks do, in fact, play the same sport of baseball.
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.
If you surveyed 100 baseball fans in a Family Feud style on the best all-around player in baseball right now – non-Ohtani division – the top two answers on the board might be Nolan Arenado and Mookie Betts. The data agrees, with each of them playing elite defense with bats that are roughly 50% above their positional averages.
Adley Rutschman started the 2022 season in High-A minor league ball and finished the season as one of the best all-around players in MLB. The kid is an absolute stud, with a rRC+ near that of Juan Soto and one of the most valuable gloves in the game. You have my word that I will have some action on Rutschman’s 2023 AL MVP odds.
My pick for the most underrated player in baseball right now is probably Andres Gimenez. He’s not an unknown commodity by any means; he did make the All Star team and won a Gold Glove in 2022. But this is a dude who produced like 2021-2022 Carlos Correa across a full season of work, and Correa might be days away from landing himself a $300mil contract. Gimenez doesn’t light up a Statcast page but he’s an immensely talented player who could pull a 2014-2019 Anthony Rendon and post multiple 6.0 WAR seasons before he’s finally given the recognition he’s due.
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:
In all of these proposals, the Yankees get Rodgers and send Isiah Kiner-Falefa to Colorado. Although I’d contend that IKF is a negative value asset at 1yr/$6mil, he could do a decent Jose Iglesias impression for the Rockies and could play every day for them across top prospect Ezequiel Tovar. The third team in these fake deals is always the one landing Torres too, and in this case it’s the Padres. San Diego tried to land Trea Turner but now will likely allow Ha-seong Kim to stay at shortstop while aiming levels below Turner to add a second baseman instead – assuming they slide Jake Cronenworth over to first base. These three ideas are intentionally different flavors from the Rockies’ perspective, and here they land a top prospect in catcher Luis Campusano. Campusano’s game has its flaws but he’s immensely talented and still young, so Colorado also inherits the undesirable $8mil owed to Drew Pomeranz in order to improve the prospect return.
In this version, the White Sox – who currently have nobody resembling an Opening Day second baseman on their roster – land Torres along with a serviceable corner outfielder in Connor Joe. The Rockies acquire Jake Burger, a young masher without a defensive home who’s not dissimilar to Colorado’s recently-acquired Nolan Jones, and Domingo German. German would probably be the No. 2 starter in the Rockies’ rotation.
This one is the most ambitious but also the most fun. It’s the version with the most Yankees’ involvement, with them also acquiring German Marquez from the Rockies – who I wrote about here (Trade No. 9) as a cost-effective buy-low pitcher on the trade market – and dumping half of Aaron Hicks’ contract onto Anaheim. The Rockies land two post-prime blue-chippers in Clarke Schmidt, who would immediately become their most skilled pitcher by a mile, and Jo Adell, the can’t-miss prospect who royally flamed out and desperately needs a chance for career revival in new digs. It’s hard not to love this idea as an Angels fan after they routinely trotted out some of the worst lineups of the 21st century last year around two of the most talented players the sport has ever seen. They would get two starting hitters in Torres and CJ Cron while Hicks, despite his limitations, would be a massive upgrade as an OF4 for the Angels. Suddenly, this group of position players for the Halos wouldn’t look too shabby:
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
The humidity of Washington, D.C. is ruining shirts of mine with sweat during quick walks around my neighborhood so that can only mean one thing: summer is here and the MLB Trade Deadline is near. This beloved day for some baseball fans – bittersweet for others – falls on August 2 this year. Sometimes the Trade Deadline is a dud, sometimes Max Scherzer and Trea Turner get dealt. I cannot tell you which fortune the 2022 version will bring, but I will do my best here to outline some possible trades involving the trendiest candidates. These frameworks are somewhere in between trades that I would agree to as the GM of both involved teams and trades that I could see occurring in actuality over the weeks ahead. (Shoutout to Baseball Trade Values for the backup on player value beyond my own opinions.) While I’ll work my way through this exercise mainly by the prominence of the players getting hypothetically traded, I will kick it off with four trades involving one particular team sitting atop the AL East…
Yankees Trade: Joey Gallo
Padres Trade: Ha-Seong Kim
I’ll do the word count of this blog a favor and spare readers my full thoughts on Joey Gallo. TL;DR: they aren’t good. Just do a quick search for “Gallo” on my Twitter and you’ll get the picture. Instead, I’ll focus mostly on the Padres here. For a club that is safely in the playoff picture as of this writing, San Diego’s team offense is pretty bad. They rank 25th in baseball in home runs and Gallo would rank second on the team with his 10 homers despite his current role as a No. 9 platoon hitter who can’t get his bat around on any upper half fastball over 95 MPH. With Nomar Mazara as the current everyday RF and Wil Myers likely done for good, it’s easy to understand why the Padres could buy low on Gallo for a change of scenery with the Texas version of him in mind.
While the Yankees would preferably take back a prospect for Gallo…1) that likely isn’t happening with how badly things have gone for him in NY and 2) nobody is going to consider taking on Gallo without saving or shedding salary in return. Ha-Seong Kim is due $7mil over both 2023 and 2024, and despite the fanfare that came along with his signing the Padres would probably take a do-over on that move. He’s evolved into a fine player mostly on the strength of his glove, but it was hard to see how he fit into San Diego’s plans when they signed him and that remains the case today. Kim has received regular at bats so far in 2022, but that will end once Fernando Tatis returns and I don’t buy the reports that the Padres are considering moving him to CF in Year 2 of 13 on his deal. With the Yankees, Kim would be somewhat redundant with Isiah Kiner-Falefa this season – albeit with a semblance of potential in his bat – but would set them up with the opportunity to non-tender IKF ahead of next season while granting Oswald Peraza or Anthony Volpe enough patience to seize the starting SS job in the bigs.
Yankees Trade: Miguel Andujar, Alexander Vargas
Diamondbacks Trade: David Peralta
Personally I’d like to see the Yankees aim higher in their inevitable outcome of trading for an upgrade in the outfield, but Peralta just makes too much sense on paper. Long an underrated player, the 2022 version of Peralta remains his consistently good self with the glove in LF (1st in OOA among LFs since start of 2021) though he has reinvented himself at the plate as he reaches his mid-30s. Peralta has fully #EmbracedTheLaunch, increasing his launch angle about 3x over his career norm. The results are clear, even if his batting average has dipped a bit and his strikeouts are up: he’s crushing the ball and has actually been quite unlucky despite a .474 SLG and 114 wRC+. As a veteran presence who is the type of lefty hitter that actually crushes right-handed pitching, I’m not sure Brian Cashman will be able to resist adding Peralta despite the payroll approaching the likely off-limits next luxury tax threshold. Peralta is on the final year of a team-friendly deal though, so this could work out financially. Very similar circumstances to the trade for Anthony Rizzo last year.
As for Andujar, it would make for a really unfortunate ending to his Yankees career, but the team does owe him a trade that allows him a full-time opportunity and they must know it. (Doesn’t hurt that Andujar has already entered his arbitration years.) With Vargas, he was once the gem of a Yankees’ international signing class but has seen his shine diminish a bit since then. Still, he’s a plus athlete who is years away from the majors. Arizona has the patience, and they’d hope that they’re rewarded for trading away a long-time team fixture for a young talent in the same way it appears the Cubs have been rewarded by trading Rizzo for Kevin Alcantara – already a Top 100 prospect now.
There is no place for Domingo German on the Yankees’ 40 man roster, in the starting rotation, or in the clubhouse of a winning team. Good riddance, though good riddance to a legitimate major league arm that comes cheaply for at least 1.5 more years. Oakland will almost certainly deal Trivino, and multiple teams will be interested despite his current 6.94 ERA. His velocity and batted ball rates are normal and he’s actually missing far more bats than ever before in his career; he’s just on the wrong end of some AWFUL luck. Going back at least 10 seasons, no reliever with 20+ innings pitched has ever had a BABIP worse than Trivino’s current mark of .485. The Yankees will surely notice and he’d fit like a glove into the role vacated by Chad Green. Cabrera is a decent prospect who is probably too valuable to loop into a trade that is nearly even between German and Trivino alone, but it’s hard to get Oakland to take back any veteran contracts and I’m not sure Cabrera could crack the Yankees active roster any time soon.
Yankees Trade: Aroldis Chapman, Cash
Rangers Trade: AJ Alexy
Chapman lost his closer job to Clay Holmes and it feels like an obvious on-field/off-field lose/lose to keep him in the bullpen as a spot reliever. I’m not sure that I’d advise Texas to buy at the deadline, but I have a feeling that they will and if they do go that route then they will surely need to address their bullpen. If the Yankees eat 50-75% of Chapman’s remaining money, they should be able to get back a fringe prospect while saving a couple of million dollars. Alexy didn’t impress in his 2021 MLB debut and has been terrible as a starter in AAA this year, but he has a fastball with life that ranked in the 95th percentile for rise in 2021. He has MiLB options remaining so the Yankees pitching factory could work with him down there. Odd to mention Chad Green twice already in this blog, but this trade would be reminiscent of when the Yankees scooped him up for Justin Wilson.
Cubs Trade: Willson Contreras, David Robertson
Mets Trade: James McCann, JD Davis, Ronny Mauricio
There likely isn’t a better player who will get traded before the deadline than Contreras. Even if he is a rental, a veteran catcher in his prime with a .900 OPS is rightfully going to cost a lot. Some catcher-needy teams might opt against paying the premium for half a season of Contreras because he’s generally better with the bat than behind the plate, but Contreras isn’t exactly a slouch with the pads on. If he’s traded to a team with an experienced staff like the Mets, I especially think he’ll be just fine defensively. As for Robertson, he’s in the midst of a renaissance year and would immediately slot in as the Mets’ primary setup man.
The proposed package going back to the Cubs here is a bit odd but I think they’d go for it. McCann is on a bad contract with $12mil owed for both 2023 and 2024, but he could still play regularly for a rebuilding Cubs team and they should be willing to eat the cost for Mauricio. If Mauricio isn’t a blue-chip prospect then he’s close to it, but he does come along with a good amount of variance and shortstop is blocked at the major league level for the Mets for the next decade. Chicago has shown a recent willingness to pay for prospects and Mauricio has the toolkit to be their next Javy Baez. If you are wondering why the Mets wouldn’t just keep McCann with their moneybags owner, they are dangerously close to the $290mil luxury tax threshold that no team has touched before and I don’t think even Steve Cohen is hoping to go there.
Giants Trade: Carlos Rodon
Cardinals Trade: Matthew Liberatore
The Giants are probably the single hardest team to pinpoint a few weeks away from the trade deadline; I could completely see them buying and/or selling. I’ll forecast that they lean sellers though, and not just because they are 4-14 over their last 18 games and play in a division with the Dodgers and Padres. This is a front office with vision under Farhan Zaidi, and while Giants fans are understandably disillusioned with the team right now, I think they are largely forgetting how much of a mess this regime inherited a few years ago and missing how anomalous their 107-55 season was last year. That’s not to say that I advise them to totally throw in the towel with a .500 record currently and an extra Wild Card spot, but I do agree with any larger decision to prioritize 2024 over 2022 for this team. It’s worth acknowledging that the Giants are a major market club with a payroll that will be much cleaner going into 2023 and almost completely clean by 2024. There is a certain 6’7” 280lb slugger from the Bay Area hitting free agency following this season, and then there is a certain Japanese hitter/pitcher hybrid who’s insistent on playing on the West Coast hitting free agency following next season. If you catch my drift…
Shortly off defending the San Fran front office, I will admit that they had a mostly bad offseason, but signing Carlos Rodon was one of the best moves made by any team. Rodon has been one of the top pitchers in baseball by almost any metric, great enough where – barring injury – he’ll certainly exercise his player option and bypass a $22mil salary in 2023 to hit the free agent market again. That outcome won’t come as a surprise to the Giants so they’ll treat his contract as a rental, and holding a front-line starter on a rental deal would suddenly give them one of the better cards at the table. I really like the idea of them flipping Rodon for Liberatore. He’s been pretty bad for the Cardinals across 6 starts and has slightly faded as a prospect by the year since getting drafted in the first round out of high school, but he remains a promising 22 year old lefty arm who should have a long career ahead of him. He could immediately join the Giants rotation in place of Rodon and, while that would be a drop-off, this team isn’t winning anything meaningful this year without much more offense anyway. And guess what? If the Giants love Rodon so much, they could always push to sign him back next year.
Padres Trade: Blake Snell, Dinelson Lamet, Luis Campusano, Adrian Morejon
Mariners Trade: Kyle Lewis, Paul Sewald
Watching trade negotiations between AJ Preller and Jerry Dipoto must be like two babysitters watching toddlers play in the sandbox at the park. Snell certainly hasn’t been at his best in San Diego – more on that in a second – but trading him would be mostly a byproduct of the documented mandate for Preller to get under the luxury tax threshold for this season after the Padres were offenders last year. Snell carries a $13mil cap hit this year, plus a $16mil cap hit next year, so if the Padres are able to ship him then they could take a deep sigh of relief and forget about the luxury tax in one deal. As for Snell beyond his contract, his fit with the Padres was bad from the start – and I’m not just saying that because of his 5.13 ERA. It’s a common baseball saying that you can never have enough starting pitching, but in the case of the 2022 Padres, maybe you can. It’s hard to imagine any outcome where Snell would start a game for the Padres in a 7-game playoff series, and the appeal in having Snell isn’t durability or consistency. He can shut down any lineup across 6 innings when he’s on, but if he’s not a big game starter for San Diego then that’s really a moot point. A team like the Mariners would be a much better fit for Snell, the Seattle native. Should the Mariners grab one of the final Wild Card spots, a three-man rotation of him, Robbie Ray and Logan Gilbert would be tough to beat. Add George Kirby and Matt Brash into the stable for 2023 with Marco Gonzalez and Chris Flexen on the back end, and suddenly the Mariners might have the league’s most intriguing rotation.
As for the other Padres here, Lamet and Morejon are violent arms that have mostly flatlined in San Diego, with some fault due to the Padres and some due to injuries. Lamet would be a total salary dump onto the Mariners, who have plenty of cap space, though there is some upside he could become an impact bullpen arm in new digs; at worst, they can get out of his contract after this season. The Padres have floated Luis Campusano in trade talks for some time now, to the point where he’s been rumored enough that it’s easy to forget that he remains a great prospect. Despite having a solid young catcher in Cal Raleigh already, the Mariners would be smart here to take advantage of San Diego’s dire financial situation by scooping Campusano along with undesirable contracts.
I’m not sure a player has ever fallen off the radar less than two years removed from winning Rookie of the Year more than Lewis, who has still looked good in the big leagues when he’s able to stay on the field. That durability has become the story though, along with the fact that Lewis might now be third on the Mariners depth chart for CF behind Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic – who I imagine they still value more highly than Lewis despite his early struggles. San Diego badly needs another CF option aside from Trent Grisham, and they could use a back-end bullpen arm alongside Taylor Rogers too. Sewald has been terrific since arriving in Seattle, but Dipoto knows to sell high on relievers like he did with Kendall Graveman last year despite his players’ tears over the matter. Also, it’s time for Seattle to give that closer job to Andres Munoz and not look back.
White Sox Trade: Eloy Jimenez, Adam Engel
Marlins Trade: Jesus Sanchez, Brian Anderson
At most trade deadlines, there is a player traded that truly nobody expected. And I’m not talking about players included in “wild card candidates” articles or anything like that – where the previously mentioned Blake Snell would qualify. I mean more like Trea Turner at last year’s deadline, and my prediction for this year – likely wrong just by the nature of this game – is Eloy Jimenez. The timing alone of trading Eloy would be shocking, given that he was just activated off the 60-day IL and homered in his first game back with the White Sox. But the problems of this 39-43 White Sox team go beyond having a man from the Greatest Generation submitting their lineup cards; they are victims of bad roster construction in a few different areas. For starters, they are so predominantly right-handed. Their only typical impact players who can swing lefty are Yoan Moncada and Yasmani Grandal, who both have battled injuries this season and have been sub-replacement level players while on the field. The White Sox also have arguably the worst corner outfield situation in the league, where AJ Pollock hasn’t helped at all. Eloy and Andrew Vaughn can play LF but both are more DH/1B types, and this is a team with Jose Abreu already on it. Abreu’s contract does technically end following this season, but he’s shown no signs of slowing down and I’d be stunned if Jerry Reinsdorf allowed him to leave Chicago. Vaughn absolutely isn’t going anywhere, so that leaves Eloy as the odd man out. It wasn’t long ago that South Side fans thought Eloy would become their next Frank Thomas, and it would have been hard to blame them following 31 homers in his rookie season and then a Silver Slugger in his sophomore season. But Eloy’s size and inability to stay on the field have to be wearing thin on a White Sox front office that is ready to win now, though a Marlins team that has sought a true cleanup hitter since trading away Miguel Cabrera wouldn’t care about that. While the cheapest years of Eloy’s contract are soon over, he’s still on a reasonable and most importantly cost-controlled deal through 2026.
That was a lot of words on Eloy, so I’ll go rapid fire for the other three players. Anderson is a rock solid player with IF/OF versatility, though he’s also had a tough time staying healthy lately and Miami might seek to avoid paying his final arbitration salary in 2023. Joey Wendle has been good at 3B for the also heavily right-handed Marlins too. Sanchez not long ago was one of the toolsiest players in the minors though he’s not a good fit with this Marlins team. They have tried to pigeonhole him into CF and he has only a 90 wRC+ through nearly 300 plate appearances this season. Sanchez, though, is already a strong hitter against righties (11 HRs, 113 wRC+) and could become a Gold Glove caliber player in RF (5 DRS in just 344 innings in 2021). Any team in mind for whom a player like that sounds like a great fit for?! He’s also under team control through 2027, and the White Sox have minimal homegrown help coming any time soon so they need all of the young and cheap talent that they can get. Engel is a pretty bad hitter but could provide the Fish and their great pitching with a big defensive upgrade in CF through 2023.
Reds Trade: Luis Castillo, Mike Moustakas
Angels Trade: Jo Adell
What do you do when you have two generational players, arguably the league’s worst roster besides those two players, and one of the worst farm systems? Yeah, I’m not really sure to be honest. I do know that the Angels need to stop trading ascendant prospects for quick returns, but I also recognize that they have truly the most valuable contract…ever?…in Shohei Ohtani for only 1.5 more years. That leaves Jo Adell, whose current value is about as up in the air as the Angels organization is directionally. Adell is only 2-3 years removed from being the top prospect in baseball according to some experts, but he’s been horrific across each of his three short stints in the big leagues – including with the glove, which is almost more concerning than his bad plate discipline.
Castillo is the top player available at this trade deadline according to some followers, though I see him as more in the 4-5 range. He’s a good pitcher theoretically in his prime with 1.5 years of control, and whoever trades for him is fair to believe that he can get handed the ball for Game 2 of a playoff series. I just see some Jose Berrios here, who has been a major disappointment since the Blue Jays traded for him at last year’s deadline. Still, his contractual timeline lines up perfectly for the Angels, and I could see them being buyers despite their current place in the standings. While Adell remains a mega talent, things have gone poorly enough that his trade value has likely depressed to the degree where the Angels would need to offer more to acquire Castillo. Like I said, they need to stop trading the few good prospects that they have, so instead of their farm system taking a hit I’m proposing that Arte Moreno’s wallet takes (another) hit. Moustakas is a bad player at this point of his career with an even worse contract – he’s owed another $22mil beyond 2022 – but the Angels supporting cast is SO bad that he would justifiably be an everyday player for them. It might be a disappointing idea for Reds fans to include a bad contract as the team finally trades Castillo, but Adell is promising enough and Moustakas’ contract is bad enough where I’d advise all southwestern Ohio fans against shattering any TVs in this outcome. This deal basically asks the question: would the Angels sign Castillo to a 1.5yr/$37mil contract to maximize the Trout/Ohtani window that likely closes for good post-2023?
Athletics Trade: Frankie Montas
Dodgers Trade: Miguel Vargas, Landon Knack
One of the certainties of this trade deadline is that the Dodgers will not stand pat, nor should they with a record 25 games over .500 despite having some tough injury luck so far this season. Walker Buehler’s forearm injury is a particularly tough blow, and even if he does recover in enough time to pitch in October I’m not sure the Dodgers should bank on anything else from him in 2022. Their starting rotation is still in decent shape without him, but I can’t imagine that LA wants to hand the ball to Tyler Anderson for a playoff start regardless of how nicely he’s pitched for them. Enter Montas, the most ace-like arm surely available at this deadline with his ability to miss bats and go deep into games. I don’t think his shoulder inflammation is much of a big deal, and it’s not like the Dodgers can’t afford the risk – especially with Montas signed through 2023. Vargas has raked at every level of the minors, hitting himself all the way into Top 100 prospect status, but he’s probably a 1B and Freddie Freeman has that job for the foreseeable future. The Dodgers have a couple of pitching prospects ranked above Knack, but he’s near the big leagues and the A’s should value him. (Spoiler alert: this isn’t the last you’ll hear about Oakland.)
Pirates Trade: David Bednar, Ben Gamel
Dodgers Trade: Andy Pages, Ryan Pepiot
It’s an odd place that LA finds themselves in after a decade with Kenley Jansen that their biggest team need going into the trade deadline is closer. Craig Kimbrel hasn’t been a disaster for them or anything, but he also hasn’t been sharp enough to give the Dodgers confidence to hand him the ball in the 9th inning of one-run playoff games. Bednar is the top available reliever in this market by a wide margin, good and cheap enough that it would take a ton to land him – even from Pittsburgh. Hell, at this point Bednar is just one of the best relievers in baseball period. His 2.31 ERA is backed up by a good mix of control and stuff, and by fWAR he’s been the 15th most valuable reliever in MLB since 2021. He’s under team control until 2026, so this would be more of LA paying a premium to lock in their closer of the future than pushing their chips in to win this season. It should take multiple top prospects for the Pirates to trade Bednar so early in his career, and this package of Pages and Pepiot would suffice. It feels like a near certainty that Pepiot will get traded, since his stuff – particularly a changeup that gets top scouting grades – warrants a look from every team across the league. He just doesn’t have the command to start for a team as good as the Dodgers yet, and Pepiot is turning 25 this season so he deserves that shot elsewhere. Pages reminds of fellow Cuban Yoenis Cespedes with his freakishly powerful tools, and he’s murdered the ball in each of his stops across the early minors. He’d be a great get for the Pirates, but at the same time the Dodgers could stand to lose a few top prospects for Montas, Bednar and Gamel while still protecting their three best prospects.
Reds Trade: Tyler Mahle, Tommy Pham, Brandon Drury
Rangers Trade: Ezequiel Duran, Aaron Zavala
Like I said earlier in the proposed Aroldis Chapman trade: I’m not sure I’d advise Texas to buy at this trade deadline, but this is one of my favorite win/win frameworks of this entire exercise. I really like Tyler Mahle; for the associated cost, he’d be my top starting pitcher target openly available in this market. He posted a 4 WAR season in 2021 across 180 innings, and after a shaky start to the season (like many pitchers without a real Spring Training), Mahle has looked better by the month (6.45 ERA in April, 4.88 in May, 2.94 in June). Texas has become the destination for pitchers to become something out of nothing, like Martin Perez this year. Mahle certainly isn’t “nothing” but he could plausibly make the jump from good to great with the Rangers, and he’s under contract through 2023. With similarly high fastball usage, think Lance Lynn. I didn’t put much value behind Pham or Drury because of their rental statuses, even though both are having good years at the plate. Rangers ownership is willing to spend and both Pham and Drury would clearly be immediate starters for this team. Their lineup would actually look pretty solid all of a sudden with them in it.
Though he’s a certified Top 100 prospect across all sources now, I actually didn’t place too high of a premium on Duran in this trade either. It’s nothing personal against him; he just doesn’t fit well into the Rangers’ plan, even if they did unlock something with Duran by shifting him from 2B to 3B. Four of the Rangers’ top prospects are near-MLB ready infielders – including arguably the top 3B prospect in the minors in Josh Jung – and this is a team that just signed Corey Seager and Marcus Semien for basically forever. Every team should know that Duran is available. Zavala is more of a commodity even if he doesn’t rank as highly as Duran. If things go right for him, he could become a Michael Brantley type of player.
Boston’s June surge has them back in the thick of the postseason hunt but they remain a team with a gaping hole at 1B, a decimated starting rotation, and a mediocre bullpen from top to bottom. The crown jewel of this trade is Bell despite his rental status because he has been THAT good in 2022. You can count the number of batters on one hand with a more impressive line than Bell’s of .311/.393/.502. These two teams linked up midseason last year in the Kyle Schwarber deal, which worked out very well for Boston. Bell could have a similar impact, or honestly even a bigger one. Fedde is as boring as it gets for a major league pitcher but this team just needs innings until Chris Sale/Nathan Eovaldi/Rich Hill/James Paxton return from injury. Rainey can be a roller coaster on the mound but it’s well documented that Chaim Bloom seeks velocity from his relievers and Rainey is a flamethrower. The Nationals return is two post-prime prospects; Downs has mostly struggled in AAA – .217 AVG, though with 16 HR and 18 SB – and might not ever get the needed long leash in the majors with the Red Sox having Trevor Story signed long term, and Bloom’s regime inherited Groome in the minors and they might not love his makeup.
Tigers Trade: Gregory Soto
Red Sox Trade: Bobby Dalbec, Blaze Jordan, Gilberto Jimenez
Like I said: the Red Sox bullpen is mediocre from top to bottom. In the previous trade I had them picking up Tanner Rainey as more of a middle inning relief arm, but Soto would be the true anchor at the back of the bullpen for Boston. Soto averages 99MPH with his fastball and is in the midst of an All Star caliber season, plus the arbitration years on his contract haven’t even kicked in yet, so he’s not going to come cheaply. It’s hard to say what the Tigers will do organizationally after one of the worst offseasons in recent memory, but I do know that they have a surprisingly stacked bullpen and need all of the offensive help they can get. I’m sure the Red Sox would hate to sell low on a 27 year old who slugged .494 in his first full MLB season, but Dalbec is having a dreadful season and he’s primed to lose any shot at winning back Boston’s 1B job in the short and long terms. It’s hard to say if Dalbec is a full-time DH in waiting, but he’s a good athlete for his size and Detroit could give him more of a chance to improve in the field than basically any other team. Jordan and Jimenez are both low minors prospects with elite tools (Jordan’s power, Jimenez’s speed), but I’m telling you that Soto would cost a ton.
Athletics Trade: Sean Murphy
Guardians Trade: Tyler Freeman, George Valera, Gavin Williams
If you had to guess the person with the highest trade value according to Baseball Trade Values’ formula of all the players and prospects included in this blog, would you have guessed Murphy? That might be hard to believe given that he plays in relative anonymity and has been a league-average hitter across 2021 and 2022, but it otherwise makes total sense. Murphy was an elite prospect who showed great offensive potential in smallish sample sizes from 2019-2020, so it’s fair to label him as a high floor/high ceiling hitter. He’s even better with his glove, arm and ability to work with pitchers though; he’s the reigning AL Gold Glove winner and it likely won’t be the last one of his career. More than anything though, Murphy’s value is directly correlated to his contract, where he’s currently playing for the league minimum with his first arbitration year in 2023. That price tag means that any team, regardless of market size, can enter the sweepstakes for Murphy. Hello, Cleveland! So, given all of that, why would Oakland trade him, especially now? Well, their farm system is in far worse shape than it ought to be for a team with the worst record in baseball. (Drafting a NFL quarterback with a Top 10 pick will do that.) Also, their top two prospects are both catchers, including Shea Langeliers, who they acquired in the Matt Olson trade and is MLB ready. Trading Murphy alone would be powerful enough to jump Oakland up multiple spots in the farm system rankings.
Cleveland is the perfect landing spot for Murphy. One, they can obviously afford him now, and despite their frugal nature the Guardians prioritize defensively sound catchers and have never been hesitant to pay them. Austin Hedges has the fifth highest salary on the team and he’s long been one of the worst hitters in baseball. Two, some baseball fans might have been caught off guard by Cleveland’s early success, but with Murphy in the lineup instead of Luke Maile or Sandy Leon this would suddenly be a pretty complete roster that would shed any fluke status. And three, Cleveland has one of the richer farm systems – especially near the top. Steven Kwan and Nolan Jones have paid immediate dividends with the big league club, and between AA and AAA the Guardians have an embarrassment of riches: at least five Top 100 prospects, including arguably the best pitching prospect in the minors in Daniel Espino. I have Cleveland parting ways with Freeman/Valera/Williams, because Espino is trade-proof and the A’s will likely prioritize quantity and quality – as they should. Freeman was once found higher on prospect lists and likely will get traded before the deadline, even if not in return for Murphy. He could probably bat .280 in the majors starting tomorrow, but he’s a 2B/3B only with minimal power. In the best of developments, he’d become a Luis Urias type. Valera would be a great get for Oakland; he’s a high power, high on-base lefty hitter with solid athleticism. Jones might be Cleveland’s RF of the future though, and based on their history I have a sense they’d rather keep both of their SS prospects in Gabriel Arias and Brayan Rocchio over Valera. Williams is a power arm that Cleveland just drafted in the first round last year, but it’s becoming increasingly common to see teams quickly deal college arms while the shine is still on them.
Cubs Trade: Ian Happ, Chris Martin, Mychal Givens
Blue Jays Trade: Jordan Groshans, Ricky Tiedemann
Toronto’s lineup looks tremendous on paper, and while it has been good it hasn’t exactly lived up to preseason expectations thus far. They already have 8 above average bats entrenched into the lineup, and with Happ they would reach 9/9 while activating the best version of themselves defensively with Teoscar Hernandez moving to full-time DH and Cavan Biggio to a bench utility role. Those aforementioned 8 bats are also all righties, so beyond his .830 OPS and 1.5 years of control Happ would also balance out the lineup quite a bit. Martin and Givens are included to bolster the depth of a shaky Toronto bullpen while saving the Cubs some money. (Martin, in particular, is having a great year.) Toronto’s farm system is thinning quickly so it would hurt them to trade 2 of their Top 5 prospects, but a team this young, deep, and affordable needs to stay aggressive when a non-rental player like Happ becomes attainable.
Royals Trade: Andrew Benintendi, Whit Merrifield, Brad Keller
Phillies Trade: Matt Vierling, Johan Rojas
On one hand, this isn’t the blockbuster trade that it might look like upon first glance because Benintendi and Merrifield both have decorated resumes but are more solid than anything now. But on the other hand, I’m going to propose very few other trades that would net a team three immediate impact players like this one would for the Phillies. I’m lower on Benintendi’s value than most because his weak batted ball data corroborates his power outage at the plate and I think that any value associated with his defense could disappear with a shift from LF to RF, but this is a dude batting .316 with a .387 OBP. And even if my hypothesis on Benintendi’s corner outfield defense is correct, he would absolutely be an upgrade over Nick Castellanos in Bryce Harper’s absence. Also, it’s not exactly like Kyle Schwarber is Roberto Clemente in the field either. Merrifield is having the worst season of his career as it stands, but he’s heating up lately, has one of the most team-friendly contracts in MLB, and could slot right into 2B in place of Bryson Stott, who probably should be back in AAA. Keller has 1.5 years of control and is a perfectly fine back-of-rotation starter.
There were a few things that were inexplicable about Philly’s offseason approach, one of which is that they blocked Vierling just as he became ready for a starting job. They’ve tried forcing his puzzle piece into the CF hole that they have continuously struggled to fill but that’s not where he belongs. He’s a talented bat who they probably should trade at this point after experimenting enough with him; Vierling is 1 of only 8 true outfielders with 3+ HRs, a walk rate > 10% and a strikeout rate < 20%. Rojas is a total lottery ticket of a CF prospect with some of the best wheels in the minors; he has 38 steals through 77 games this year. Ironically, right now he projects as a Michael A Taylor type of player, but he could become more than that if he progresses at the dish.
Athletics Trade: Ramon Laureano
Brewers Trade: Keston Hiura, Jackson Chourio, Ethan Small
Outside of perhaps Willson Contreras, Josh Bell or Carlos Rodon, I’ll plant my flag on the take that there isn’t another player in these trades who will make a bigger 2022 impact for his new team than Laureano. (Selfishly, I want the Yankees to trade for him.) Laureano hasn’t exactly lit the league on fire this season, but he’s been plenty good with 6 HRs, 8 SBs and a 120 wRC+ across just over 200 plate appearances – including a sizzling .936 OPS start to July. And that’s his performance coming off an 80-game suspension on a team that’s actively tanking. I think he’ll stay hot for whoever trades for him, while bringing along an infusion of energy and production in CF that’s rare to find at the trade deadline. Not so coincidentally, this opportunity reminds me of Milwaukee trading for Willy Adames last year and the elite level of play they received from him shortly after. Laureano comes with 3.5 years of team control too.
For anyone who follows prospects, it might come as a surprise to see Chourio included in this trade – let alone for a pro who has never made an All Star team. In Single-A, Chourio has a 160 wRC+ through 55 games as an 18 year old. That puts him in some rare company. There are probably better prospects going to Oakland in this blog than Chourio right now, but if they are to find their version of Julio Rodriguez in this massive sell-off, it’s probably him. Still, I think Milwaukee would consider floating him in trade talks at the right price. As more of a reason than the cost for Laureano, I’d like to believe the Brewers recognize the incredible window of opportunity that they are in. They sit atop an NL Central division that will soon feature three teams officially tanking for the rest of the season, and they are getting otherworldly performances out of Corbin Burnes, Josh Hader and Devin Williams. At best, this loveable Brew Crew core sticks together through 2023, and it wouldn’t even shock me if this year is the last real chance for this group. It also bears consideration that David Stearns, the architect of this team, could leave for one of the top jobs in baseball any year now. So, besides holding our horses on crowning a teenage player years away from the majors, that’s why Chourio goes to Oakland here. If you ask me why this Brewers team with Laureano in CF and Hunter Renfroe soon recapturing his job in RF shouldn’t win the World Series, I wouldn’t have a good answer for you.
One line on Hiura: striking out 40% of the time without a set position can’t fly on a team as good as the Brewers, but I’d love to see if he could realize his 35+ homer potential playing every day for the A’s.
Orioles Trade: Anthony Santander, Jorge Lopez, Dillon Tate
Twins Trade: Austin Martin
The Twins are leading the AL Central and figure to make the playoffs living in that terrible division, but this is more of an opportunistic than win-now trade for them. All three of these Orioles players are currently underpaid and have over two years of team control remaining on their contracts. Santander could occupy a corner OF spot from Day 1 and free up Minnesota’s starting lineup logjam and finally give them some flexibility, then Lopez and Tate would step right into the 7th and 8th inning roles in front of rookie sensation Jhoan Duran. Opposing teams would need to bring extra bats to Minnesota facing that bullpen trio. If anything, this is a more aggressive trade on the part of the Orioles. Martin was a college superstar at Vanderbilt who remains a better prospect than one might think for somebody potentially traded twice before reaching the majors, but the Twins organization didn’t make the most sense for him from the get go. Royce Lewis is the better prospect with essentially the same profile and the Twins just inked both Byron Buxton and Carlos Correa. It remains to be seen what position Martin ends up at professionally and his total absence of power in the minors is alarming, but he has the very realistic potential to steal 30+ bags with a .350 OBP annually. Baltimore would be the perfect organization to commit his development; just imagine this 2024 Orioles lineup:
C – Rutschman
1B – Mountcastle
2B – Martin
SS – Henderson
3B – Mayo
LF – Hays
CF – Mullins
RF – Cowser
Rockies Trade: Charlie Blackmon, Daniel Bard, Cash
Braves Trade: Huascar Ynoa, Alan Rangel
The Rockies have become infamous for paying to trade away franchise icons, though in Blackmon’s case it would be more justified than previous instances. Blackmon is having a good season at the plate and would be an awesome presence and rotating DH/OF lefty option for the Braves, but he can really only play defense in spurts now and his $18mil player option for 2023 is brutal. Blackmon is certain to pick that up, so in this case Colorado could put together some sort of framework where they get off the financial hook for 2022 (around $10mil) but pay his 2023 salary. The Braves have a fairly big payroll but still have leeway before approaching the luxury tax, so they could go for that. Plus, Marcell Ozuna might low-key be in DFA territory for them as early as next season, so the thought of having a free season of Blackmon must be appealing to Alex Anthopoulos. Bard might make the All Star team and, assuming Kenley Jansen is ok, could make Atlanta the most terrifying bullpen to face in October. The return here is minimal since this trade mostly operates as a salary dump. Ynoa looked really promising as a rookie in 2021 but is having a totally lost season in 2022, and Rangel is likely a Quadruple-A type who is included here as a 40 man roster casualty.
Blue Jays Trade: Danny Jansen
Pirates Trade: Mitch Keller, Jose Quintana
I would stop far short of labeling the Pirates as buyers at this trade deadline, but the best small market teams know when to pounce when opportunity strikes. Toronto has arguably both the best U25 catcher in the majors in Alejandro Kirk and the best catcher prospect in Gabriel Moreno, so as great as depth is they have minimal reason to hold onto Danny Jansen while his value is high. Jansen might not be an All Star but he’s a really solid catcher with 2.5 years remaining of modestly priced control – a perfect timeline for Pittsburgh with 2021 first overall pick Henry Davis in the minors. I really like how the Pirates are going about their rebuild; you’ll notice that Bryan Reynolds isn’t included in this blog. Especially with Jansen, I think they could be a frisky team in 2023 and a flat-out good team by 2024.
For the Blue Jays, Quintana is the exact kind of rental arm that they need to tread water in a playoff position until October. Keller is the real return here, though I’m pessimistic that he’ll ever pan out as a starter. While the Pirates surely have a history of minimizing the potential of homegrown pitchers, I don’t think they got anything wrong with Keller; he just doesn’t have the necessary pitch mix to start and his four-seamer is horrible. He has, however, ventured into the land of the sinker and the early returns are promising. If he can dial up that pitch out of the bullpen, then we could see a career revival for Keller similar to the one that Jorge Lopez is experiencing in Baltimore.
Nationals Trade: Nelson Cruz, Carl Edwards Jr, Cash
Rays Trade: Greg Jones
Tampa deserves a ton of credit for being in a playoff position because their injured list would legitimately make a good MLB roster. The Rays are always deep, but that depth is getting tested to its limits – nowhere more than in the power department with Brandon Lowe on the 60-day IL and in the bullpen with five key relievers on the 60-day IL. Cruz’s power numbers are down by his lofty standards (8 HR, .125 ISO) but he still hits the ball with well above average exit velocity and barrel rate. With his familiarity with Tropicana Field and motivation for what are presumably the final months of his career, I’d expect better results for Cruz down the stretch. Tampa, aside from trading for Cruz nearly 365 days ago, is one of the few good fits for his DH-only profile too. Edwards has kickstarted the back half of his career with the Nats this year, with higher velocity leading to an enviable combination of whiffs and ground balls. Jones might feel like too rich of a return for this package, but if there is anywhere deeper than the Rays’ major league roster, it’s the Rays’ minor league system – particularly with infielders. Jones is arguably Tampa’s fourth best infield prospect, and that’s behind the best young pro shortstop arguably since Derek Jeter in Wander Franco signed until 2033. He’s also 24 years old and doing more fine than well in AA, so despite his 20/20 potential from shortstop I have to think the Rays would entertain trading him. Also, no team cares less about consensus prospect rankings than Tampa. Just last year they traded Joe Ryan to the Twins for…Nelson Cruz. Trading a guy they could move before the next Rule 5 Draft anyway to get Cruz at 25% of his season salary and a reliever who started in the minors with another organization? That also sounds like the Rays.
Tigers Trade: Michael Fulmer
Astros Trade: David Hensley
There are many other decent players with expiring contracts on bad teams who are certain to get traded before the deadline, but I didn’t feel the need to write about them at length. To be honest, I’d probably have skipped over Fulmer, but I’m including at least one trade involving every team and I had to come up with something that made sense for the Astros. As much as it pains me to write, Houston probably has the most complete roster in MLB. They are offensively challenged at catcher and CF but they organizationally prefer defense at those positions. Their bullpen ERA has been the best in the majors to date, though in crunch time I’m sure they’d prefer another reliable option beyond retreads Rafael Montero, Hector Neris and Ryne Stanek. I don’t buy that Fulmer is as dominant as his 1.97 ERA suggests, but he’s certainly good enough to make a strength of the Astros even stronger. Hensley is a 26 year old who’s yet to graduate from the minors, but he hit .327 at A+, .293 at AA, and now is hitting .297 at AAA. Doesn’t sound so bad for these Tigers.
Athletics Trade: Paul Blackburn, Elvis Andrus, Stephen Piscotty
Cardinals Trade: Paul DeJong, Alec Burleson
This is an odd trade to close this out, but I want to summarize what I just proposed in full for Oakland…
Out: Frankie Montas, Sean Murphy, Ramon Laureano, Lou Trivino, Paul Blackburn, Elvis Andrus, Stephen Piscotty
In: Keston Hiura, Paul DeJong, Domingo German, Tyler Freeman, George Valera, Gavin Williams, Jackson Chourio, Ethan Small, Miguel Vargas, Landon Knack, Oswaldo Cabrera, Alec Burleson
This would lead to some of the worst baseball we’ve ever seen from the remaining 2022 A’s games and a team payroll under $30 million dollars. Any noise about John Fisher’s ownership and potential franchise relocation would get much louder, and rightfully so. But if there was ever proof that Billy Beane is still running the show and that Moneyball isn’t dead, this would be it. If the A’s currently have about the 25th best farm system, this series of events would leap them to around the 5th best. They would be so, so bad in 2023 – granted with a few new major leaguers in the fold – but they could be fun again by 2024.
As for the trade itself, Blackburn is such a Cardinal that I’m surprised he’s not a Cardinal yet. His stuff isn’t any good but he generates grounders and keeps the ball in the park, and he’s under contract through 2025. If Carlos Rodon would be the perfect front-end starter for the Cardinals, Blackburn would be the perfect back-end starter. Burleson is destroying AAA pitching to the tune of a .336/.380/.558 line, but he’s not much in the field and St. Louis has had almost too many young bats come through their system at once. The inclusion of Andrus, Piscotty and DeJong might seem weird – three bad but soon-expiring contracts – but Andrus and Piscotty would both be bench upgrades for the Cardinals for a combined ~$7mil while DeJong could get a second chance in Oakland for ~$14mil over the next year and a half. I’m beating around the bush though: this would basically be Oakland buying Burleson for the $7mil difference.
Thank you for reading! Follow me on Twitter @Real_Peej
Allow me to be the first to tell you that the 2020-2021 MLB free agency period is underway! No, seriously, like teams can start adding good players right now, but this offseason is frozen over. Baseball writers have boy-that-cried-wolf’d slow offseasons for a couple of straight years now just because overrated free agents didn’t get irresponsible contracts like it was 2005, but this time it’s actually bad – and for good reason with the reported billions with a B lost dollars across the league as a result of the pandemic.
Still, if you’re a bored baseball fun looking for a silver lining – beyond the Royals signing Michael A Taylor!!! – this dormant market has provided me with the time to brain dump all of the daily thoughts that I have about Yankees contractual matters. You know, normal people stuff. I did this exercise two years ago and not only had a lot of fun in the process, but it’s pretty sweet to be able to go back to a timestamped blog and say “no I REALLY was on record that the Yankees shouldn’t bring back JA Happ.”
Only a couple of ground rules:
1. The Yankees salary intentions for 2021 haven’t been put out into the open for fans, but Hal Steinbrenner has made it well known that the team took a financial beating last year. “Luxury tax threshold” has been the most oft spoken three-word phrase by Yankees execs since “Chien Ming Wang,” and actually for understandable reasons for the first time ever heading into 2021. This blog will not serve as a defense for billionaires or near billionaires, but after diving face first into the red just to lose again before the World Series and finally getting Jacoby Ellsbury off the books, I get it. So we’re not going to hypothetically commit the Yankees to owe more than the 2021 threshold of $210 million. According to this calculation by Mike Axisa, which just about falls in line with other sources, the Yanks have about $172 million counting towards the tax following arbitration projections. So, to play it safe and give the Yankees a bit of breathing room going into the season, we have $35 million to play with.
2. We are building a 26 man Opening Day roster, because I think that’s the size now? So weird that teams are setting rosters for 2021 without knowing the most basic of rules for the 2021 season. And for anyone new who comes onto the roster, somebody has to come off the 40 man roster. The Yankees have 39 players currently on the roster, but consider two spots open since Luis Severino is expected to be placed on the 60 day IL prior to the season.
3. This blog is not written by a Mike Francesa radio caller. “He wants to win” is not a reasonable defense for a player taking a below-market contract to play for the Yankees. And for any trades, I would have to want to accept the trade on the other side of the table too. Apologies if you had hopes of getting Nolan Arenado for Tyler Wade.
So, here we go. It’s as self-explanatory as it sounds. Just imagine that Brian Cashman is open to consulting from 27 year old dudes with Bachelors of Arts degrees in Political Science writing this blog in basement studios on a 2010 MacBook Pro. I’ll list out my proposed moves with a couple of back-up options that I like included, and mention towards the end of the blog some non-recommended and unlikely moves for the Yanks.
BRING HIM HOME: DJ LeMahieu for 5 years/$80 million ($16 AAV)
They have to figure this out, right? Right?!?! The Yankees surprise signed LeMahieu on a 2 year/$24 million deal before the 2019 season with plans for him to serve as a super utility infielder, only for him to rapidly become the best player on the team. And that’s the best player on two really good teams, if the 4th place MVP finish in 2019 and 3rd place finish in 2020 didn’t give that away.
So with that said…why am I proposing that the Yankees can bring back DJLM on the same deal that Dexter Fowler got from the Cardinals? For starters, I’ll call out the obvious here for the last time: deals will likely be lower in value this offseason across the board. But pandemic finances aside, DJLM has some things working against him:
1. He’s turning 33 next season, which is awfully old for a player expecting a five-year deal. Even if you are the most optimistic investor, you have to acknowledge that those last two years or so could be pretty tough.
2. LeMahieu is a three-time Gold Glove award winner who was arguably the best defender at his position as recently as 2018. But his defense showed cracks in 2020, with negative advanced metrics for the first time in years. I do think that narrative is a bit overblown and that LeMahieu can admirably play second base for at least two more years, but there’s almost no way around the idea that you’re buying into a first baseman for the back half of this contract.
3. Last note, and it’s the biggest one. LeMahieu was straight up not a very good player over his 7 years in Colorado. His individual hardware and then-outlier 2016 season in which he won the NL batting title propped up what was largely a near replacement level run. That 2016 season was his only season with a wRC+ over 100, meaning that he measured out as a below league average hitter for 6 of those 7 seasons. Brian Cashman was smart to see something in DJLM with his opposite field stroke and then career-high 15 homers in 2018, but this is the same guy who hit 34 homers across his first 6 seasons as a Rockie combined. There has to be real fear among GMs that they’d be putting their necks on the line for a player who could revert back to his Colorado self outside of Yankee Stadium.
Those reasons are good and all…but nah. Like, am I going crazy that I have to call attention to how good LeMahieu has been over the past two seasons? He was thoroughly elite in 2019 with a .327/.375/.518 slash line accompanied by an elite strikeout rate and good defense. If there were to have been buyers’ beware after that breakout season, fine. But then in 2020, LeMahieu was even better. Like…way better. He led the league in batting average, OPS, and placed in the 100% percentile in strikeout rate. (More on the strikeout piece throughout this entire blog.) Those are like three entirely different aspects of a batting profile, and LeMahieu was THE best in the league at all of them. He stands out in such a positive way within the current structure of the Yankees lineup, and it just seems like it would be a mutual mistake to not come to terms on DJ as the leadoff man in pinstripes for 2021 and beyond.
Rumors have it that LeMahieu is asking for 5 years/$100 million, which, honestly, good for him. That is beyond fair given his performance in New York and the recent contracts received by All Star caliber players around his age. Still, baseball writers who get paid to project this kind of stuff have those demands by the LeMahieu camp in the bonkers category. The FanGraphs crowd source results, a good place to gauge the thoughts of the baseball community, have him getting 3 years/$42 million! Personally, I think the final deal that DJLM actually receives is closer to his ask. I just have an impossible time believing that outside of New York there isn’t one other front office thinking “uhhhhh why isn’t this guy getting WAY more money?” LeMahieu profiles well over time with his bat, so I think the Yankees would reluctantly but not in tears give him the fifth year that he’s asking for in exchange for some less money per year.
OTHER GOOD OPTIONS
If you are like me in the boat of “LeMahieu or bust” this offseason, then you better pray that the Yankees aren’t feeling really cheap, because the secondary middle infielder market this offseason is actually quite good. Notice how I wrote middle infielder instead of second baseman. Gleyber Torres is awesome, but how do I put this…he has sucked defensively at shortstop. While his ability there might not chalk up to his disastrous 2020 defensive performance, I think it’s pretty clear that the team would be better off with him at second base in the long run. I know I say that while also saying that we should sign DJLM long term, but to me that’s a “figure it out later” thing. Point is, shortstops are on the table for the Yankees in 2021 too.
Man…I want LeMahieu back with the Yanks so badly, but if some other team pulls a 2014 Robinson Cano on us, then Wong could seriously be a perfect fallback plan. Wong has pretty clearly become the best defensive second baseman in baseball in recent years, as evidenced by his three straight Fielding Bible awards. On top of that, Wong is one of the league’s more disciplined hitters, coupling up an above average walk rate with an elite strikeout rate. So then, why did the Cardinals decline his club option? Well, good question. But the actual answer is that he’s already 30 years old and has shown to be an average hitter at best. There are very few regular pros who hit the ball less hard than Wong. Still, I don’t think he’s a total wash with that bat. Wong is a talented player, a former first rounder and top prospect, and he already has three seasons with 11+ homers under his belt. Now, that’s not a particularly impressive number, but with his approach I could easily see that number doubling playing half of his games in Yankee Stadium. I generally hate projecting success for lefties as Yankees just for the sake of them being lefties hitting towards a short outfield porch, but there are major 2016-2018 Didi Gregorious vibes here.
Speaking of the Sir! The Yankees and Didi had a heartbreaking but unfortunately understandable breakup last offseason, and I think just about every Yankee fan was happy to see Didi reassert his value following the complications of Tommy John surgery with an awesome 2020 season for the Phillies. Now, the same drawbacks that Didi had with the Yankees still persist: he doesn’t hit the ball hard or walk a lot, and a new development is that his defense at shortstop has shown some cracks. Still, Didi is an elite contact hitter with pop to the pull field, and at 30 years old and finally back to full health I’m not ready to pronounce him dead as a shortstop. Plus, Didi is just the best. If we miss on DJLM, reuniting the Didi/Gleyber double play combo on say a two-year deal with a third-year option would be sweet.
Tommy La Stella
As an analytically inclined baseball philosopher, it’s probably surprising to not see La Stella as my top backup plan to LeMahieu. The man is a BB:K ratio GOD. In 2020, there were only 7 qualified hitters who walked more than they struck out. Numbers 3-7 were within the range of a 1.08-1.23 ratio, with Juan Soto a distant second place at 1.46. But then there’s Tommy La Stella at 2.25! Nobody is rivaling this guy’s eye at the plate right now, and he’s even got a little bit of pop to go along with it. I like La Stella as a free agent, especially now that he’s produced across three different teams recently. But he’s another guy who has never hit the ball hard, and even though he can play all over the infield, he’s not particularly good defensively anywhere. I just think he’s probably a better fit with a team like Oakland that will really capitalize on his versatility.
Simmons is, without a doubt, the preeminent defensive baseball player of the 2010s. If you have any doubts on that claim, since his debut in 2012, he leads all players with 191 defensive runs saved. Next up is Nolan Arenado with…120. Andrelton is nearly lapping the field. The glove is what you’re buying with Andrelton, even though he also comes along with absolutely elite strikeout rates at the plate. But in 2020, Andrelton not only wasn’t a wizard defensively…he was kinda bad. It’s a bummer as a baseball fan to see him hit free agency now and miss out on a lot of money, especially with practically every relevant shortstop in baseball set to hit free agency over the next two years. Still, despite finishing in the 20th percentile of defensive outs above average in 2020, this is the same guy who was in the 99th percentile in 2019. Even if you buy into the aging curve with Simmons, he’s likely at a minimum somewhere in between those 20/99 percentiles defensively. If he can hit at an average level like he did every year from 2017-2020 save 2019, then some team will likely get him on an absolute bargain of a multi-year deal.
Enrique “Kike” Hernandez
I’ll be brief here: Kike is just an awesome player to watch. He’s been a chess piece for Dave Roberts and is actually really good at second base. At only 29 years old and with a 21 homer, 3.2 WAR season under his belt in a part-time role, some team out there is probably willing to give him starter money. This kinda screams a Marwin Gonzalez situation where you buy a versatile player from a contender only to see him immediately suck in new surroundings, but Kike was so solid and fun in LA that I would blame no team for taking the chance. But still, going back to the Dodgers would probably make the most sense for both parties.
TO-NAKA? OR NOT TO-NAKA? Masahiro Tanaka for 4 years/$50 million ($12.5 AAV)
Somehow, Masahiro Tanaka has played out the seven-year deal that the Yankees gave him to bring him stateside, and he hits free agency with a far more complicated legacy amongst Yankee fans than he deserves. What Tanaka does deserve is universal respect and appreciation, even if he mostly wasn’t the ace that he was in Japan and flashed over his first three years in New York. On top of being an excellent playoff performer outside of his 2020 blip – 3.33 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 10 starts – Tanaka has brought a nearly impossible-to-find level of reliability to the Yankees. Since his MLB debut in 2014, Tanaka is one of only six starters to make 20+ starts with a 2.0+ WAR each season from 2014-2019 with similar stats on pace for the pandemic-shortened 2020 season: Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke, and Tanaka. Not bad company.
Now, Tanaka isn’t nearly as good as those guys, but he does find himself as the consensus runner-up for the best starting pitcher on the free agent market behind Trevor Bauer. He’s an elite control pitcher with a walk rate that has never risen above 5.5%, and durability concerns should mostly be behind him now that he’s pitched a couple of full seasons with his partially torn UCL without any real issues. So why just a 4 year/$50 million projection then? Every team always needs starting pitching and it’s especially enticing when you don’t have to give up assets to get one, but Tanaka doesn’t exactly come along with the upside that you would typically find with the second best starter on the market – let alone even the third or fourth. Like, Tanaka is hitting free agency with better stats than Zack Wheeler when he did last year, but Wheeler’s contract will likely double what Tanaka ends up getting because there were real underlying signs of an ace with Wheeler (which looks like a correct bet by Philly one year in). You know for the most part what you are getting with Tanaka, which in some ways is certainly a good thing, but it’s probably not great for his payday hopes that it’s really hard to think there’s a team out there who sees Cy Young votes in the future for this version of Tanaka.
While I certainly would not mind another top-line starter or two on the Yankees, the good news is that a dependable mid-rotation starter is actually the team’s top need after committing $324 million to one pitcher last offseason. The current SP2 on the Yankees depth chart is Jordan Montgomery, who is a fine pitcher with some upside, but at BEST is a SP4 on a contending team. Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt are two of the Yankees best prospects and are both major league ready, but they should both be on pitch counts and likely wouldn’t exceed 100 innings on the season by much. Then there is the Tommy John recovery of Luis Severino and the black cloud of the domestic violence suspension hanging over Domingo German…you get the point. The Yankees need stability in the rotation, and who better than the beloved clubhouse guy who would become the longest tenured Yankee with a departure of Brett Gardner?
More good news for the Yankees in Tanaka’s case is that it’s hard to even predict what other team would be competing for his services. There is some talk that if the Yankees were to lose Tanaka to anyone, it would actually be to a team in the NPB in his native Japan. (Why would anyone want to leave America right now?) Tanaka’s Achilles heel for years has been his tendency to give up quite a few more long balls than the average pitcher, and they aren’t cheap Yankee Stadium dingers either. Tanaka has worked his exit velocity figures up to nearly league average, but when he misses his spot the ball is usually clobbered. In an otherwise good 2020 season, Tanaka posted the worst barrel rate of his career, and hitters have increased their launch angles against Tanaka each year since 2017. Basically, opposing teams are going into Tanaka starts expecting to tee off. Aside from simply the mental impact of pitching in a new home park for the first time in his career, there is data that supports that Tanaka is actually a better pitcher at Yankee Stadium than on the road, so I’d get why another team might be concerned about investing in a Home Run Derby tosser.
If the Yankees do bring back Tanaka, I imagine it would be one of those vesting contracts with an option based on player incentives like Zack Britton and JA Happ both signed. At just 32, I don’t really worry about Tanaka flaming out over a three or four year deal. He’s a craftsman on the mound who doesn’t rely on overpowering hitters, though it is worth noting that his velocity was actually up last season. He’s such a smart pitcher that he might be immune to the blowup season that a lot of veteran pitchers experience when they are slow to admit to themselves that they’ve lost their best stuff. Honestly, that might have already happened in Tanaka’s case. He has started to move away from the splitter that led to his early dominance that had lost its bite in recent seasons, replacing it with slight increases in his curveball count while introducing a changeup. That can be a tough transition for pitchers, but in Tanaka’s case almost nobody noticed since his control remained so good – though his swing-and-miss rates did jump back up! I’ll wrap it up: Tanaka is just a good baseball player, and if the Yankees let him walk I think it would take no more than 1-2 months to realize that we messed up with a good thing.
OTHER GOOD OPTIONS
Quintana has long been connected to the Yankees, from his time in the farm system as a Tampa Yankee to then a heavily rumored trade target before the Cubs “won” those sweepstakes. Did any other baseball fans completely miss Quintana’s pretty good 2019 season for the Cubs? I just bought into the narrative that his time on the North Side of Chicago was a total waste of time, but his 3.80 FIP that season verifies that he faced some terrible luck both with team defense and at the expense of his own manager – 31 games started but only 171 innings. Quintana basically missed the entire 2020 season with injuries, though he should be good to go for 2021 and this is the same guy who has made 31+ starts EVERY season from 2013-2019 with a WAR below 3.4 in only one of those seasons (2018). The ceiling is low, and I see way more potential for Quintana to crash and burn than someone like Tanaka who also doesn’t throw hard. Quintana relies pretty heavily on his four-seam fastball, which clocks at an average of 91 MPH and barely has any movement. Sabermetrics hate him for it, as well as his extremely low spin rates and concerning exit velocities. Still, he’s spent most of his career as a good pitcher and will only be 32 at Opening Day. With his disappointing tenure as a Cub and an absent 2020 season, Quintana should command no more than a two-year deal, and I’d take the bet that you’re getting the White Sox version of him.
PITCHER TRADE: Estevan Florial, Albert Abreu, Luis Cessa, and Kevin Alcantara to the Pirates for Joe Musgrove and Cole Tucker
Quick editor’s note: I’m writing this blog in pieces over the course of about a week, and I’m writing this section less than 24 hours removed from Lance Lynn getting traded to the White Sox. It works out, because I really didn’t see (or want) the Yankees trading for Lynn despite the obvious fit, but it also verifies the general sentiment that trading for starting pitching in the offseason is ridiculously hard. Lynn has been a really good workhorse over the past two seasons, but one year of him is costing a majors-ready Top 100 prospect who has some real promise in Dane Dunning. There are only a select few teams that would even entertain the idea of trading away an attractive starter before the season:
Of those 9 teams, all of them besides the Orioles and (now) Rangers have starters on contracts that I could see them trading. I’ll address each of them throughout this blog, but I’ll quickly get the two longshots – especially for the Yankees – out of the way now: Yu Darvish and Blake Snell. Darvish definitely hasn’t been marketed as a trade candidate after just finishing as the NL Cy Young runner-up for a playoff team, but he’s 34, volatile and injury prone with $59 million owed over the next three years. You can count the number of pitchers better when dialed in than Darvish on one hand, but with Theo Epstein moving on and this team clearly heading in a new direction from their 2016 high, Darvish could jumpstart a rebuild. As for Snell, I could more likely see him being moved than Darvish given the Rays frugal nature and his value being sky-high off of a dominant (yet abbreviated) World Series start. But at just 28 with a 3 year/$40 million remaining contract and already rostered by a great team, it would take a king’s ransom to get Snell. The Rays would likely start the negotiations with the Yankees with Gleyber…so yeah no thanks.
So that takes us to Musgrove, my favorite option among those other five teams for the Yankees current situation. If you don’t know much about Musgrove – which I wouldn’t blame you for – he was the swingman on the 2017 Astros championship team then became one the centerpieces of the Gerrit Cole trade. In his first two years in Pittsburgh, Musgrove was quietly a good pitcher, averaging only 112 innings over those seasons but with good walk, ground ball, home run, and spin rates. But then, despite his 1-5 record due to playing on the worst team in baseball, he took things to another level in 2020. I hesitate to overreact to any findings that come out of the 2020 season when Musgrove threw only 39.2 innings, but the dude’s strikeout rate SPIKED and his exit velocity rates reached elite territory, all while keeping his ground ball and homer percentages stable. This was no small sample size coincidence either. Musgrove cut back on his fastball to more than double his percentage of curveballs, and the early results show that was a VERY good idea. It measured out as the 12th most valuable curveball in all of MLB in 2020 according to FanGraphs pitch values…not bad for something he was barely throwing before. Musgrove is a bulldog on the mound who brings a high floor alongside a ceiling that I think is going extremely under-discussed in the baseball community, especially since I’m pretty sure that he’s going to get traded before the season. He’s affordable, even for the Pirates, with two arbitration years remaining with the first one projected for just $4 million. But the Pirates, like the Rangers with Lynn, will likely look themselves in the mirror and accept that there is just no chance that their team contends over the next two seasons. Musgrove would address the durability concerns for the Yankees rotation, but I am also bullish on his ability to be the guy who’s confidently handed the ball for an October start too.
Despite that glowing review of Musgrove and his two years of cheap control, I don’t foresee him commanding a massive return. He just hasn’t put it all together – yet – and he sits at just 92 MPH with his fastball. It’s possible that the Yankees could be forced into centering any starting pitcher trade around Clarke Schmidt, but the Pirates are restarting so aggressively and need help everywhere so I think they would go more for a wider package of assets. (Ironically this is similar to the ill-fated package that they got for Cole – doubly ironic with Musgrove involved – but I think this time it would actually make sense.) That would work better in the Yankees favor, since they’ve got an intriguing pipeline but are pretty thin at the top with how things currently sit. There isn’t exactly a headliner in this proposed package, so I’ll just give each player a sentence or two. Estevan Florial was not long ago the Yankees top prospect and deemed untouchable by Brian Cashman, but he’s seen his shine wear off in the minors mainly due to his plate discipline. But he’s still just 23 with dynamite tools, and the Pirates are certainly in a position to extend Florial a long leash with their current outfield depth chart. Albert Abreu is another guy who recently was mentioned as one the Yankees best prospects, but he’s 25 now and the Yankees have been too good to give him a real chance to prove himself. He’s got big-time stuff with a fastball that can approach 100 MPH, so at worst he could become one of the Pirates more exciting relievers as early as 2021. Luis Cessa is the most boring of the group, but if the Pirates trade Musgrove then they would need to replace those innings with someone. Yankee fans know that Cessa isn’t anything special, but he’s only due $1 million next year, throws in the mid 90s with a repeatable delivery and could definitely make 20+ starts in a season without being bad enough to incite a fan revolt. Kevin Alcantara is the lottery ticket here. I won’t pretend to know much about an 18-year-old Dominican kid, but he’s got speed to go along with his 6’6” frame. He ranks anywhere from third to the teens on Yankees farm system lists, but if we can’t accept giving up a years-away prospect for immediate pitching help when he’s not even the best teenage centerfielder in our system, then we’ve got bigger problems.
I also have the Pirates chipping in Cole Tucker in this fake deal. You might think that’s BS to do Tucker like that with his high digital profile and celebrity girlfriend, but the fact of the matter is that Tucker is currently a bad player. Pittsburgh had Tucker in the outfield last year for some godforsaken reason, and while it wasn’t a total disaster or anything, it’s pretty obvious that he’s a shortstop. Among shortstops to play 300+ innings in 2019, Tucker’s only MLB season with time at the position, he finished 11th out of 38 qualifiers in UZR/150 (one of the few top defensive metrics). Nothing extraordinary, but this is when I remind about Gleyber’s defensive woes at shortstop. And if we do ride it out with Gleyber there, lord knows that the Yankees could use a better backup at the position than Tyler Wade, who isn’t even a good shortstop! As for Tucker’s bat, it’s pretty tough to find redemptive qualities there – in 2019 he was league average in hard hit percentage? Tucker’s swing looks pretty broken and he’s buried on the Pirates depth chart after they tendered Erik Gonzalez and drafted shortstop Nick Gonzales 7th overall, so I’d like to see what would happen if the Yankees started him out in Triple-A and had their swing magicians try to turn him around like they’ve successfully done recently with other first round busts and prospect cast-offs.
OTHER GOOD OPTIONS
Would you have guessed that the only MLB team with three starters who qualified for the ERA title to each have an ERA+ north of 100 (100 is league average) in 2020 was…the Colorado Rockies? The same team that went 26-34 last year and that projection models HATE for 2021 – and that’s with Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story on the roster. With a grim immediate future, the tenth highest payroll in the league, and ONE prospect in MLB.com’s Top 100 (who isn’t supposed to crack the big leagues until 2024), the Rockies should probably blow this thing up beyond Arenado and/or Story. German Marquez is their best starter, but even with how bad things are in Denver I have a tough time seeing them moving on from him. Of their other arms, the one target I like for the Yankees is Kyle Freeland. (More on the others below in the “Don’t Want It” section!) For a guy who is turning 28 during the 2021 season, Freeland has already had quite the career. He was the 8th overall pick by the Rockies in the 2014 Draft, got some Rookie of the Year votes in 2017, finished 4th in the NL Cy Young voting in 2018 (worth noting he was INSANELY lucky that season), then was arguably the single worst pitcher in baseball in 2019 – so bad that he got sent down to Triple-A where he went 0-4 with a 8.80 ERA. Freeland quickly shook it off in 2020 back in big leagues, making 9 quality starts across 13 outings. I don’t think this has the makings of a Cliff Lee level rags-to-riches story, but I’m optimistic that the Freeland we saw in 2020 will be closest to the version we get for the foreseeable future. It’s a gamble on his mound makeup, because his good soft contact rates are negated by his inability to miss bats combined with control that is good but not as good as you’d think. Still, I watched Freeland go into Wrigley Field and throw 6.2 innings of shutout ball in the 2018 Wild Card Game, and then I watched him remodel his approach to quick success after a season that would have crushed some other pitchers. Freeland cut his four-seam fastball percentage in half from 2019 to 2020 while leaning more heavily on his changeup. He’s an outlier in a game that continues to embrace power, cut from the same cloth as Andy Pettitte and Mark Buehrle. For the Yankees, again, the name of the game is quality starter innings, and Freeland is the first lefty that I’ve targeted. (Besides Quintana, but I like Freeland more.) Like most southpaws Freeland is better against lefty batters, but in his case he’s MUCH better against lefty batters – another plus. Of the three starters that I can see the Rockies trading, Freeland also has the best quantitative case that he’d improve outside of Coors Field (3.98 career road ERA vs. 4.35 at Coors). Freeland is owed roughly $4.5 million for his first of three arbitration years in 2021, so he comes at a manageable cost. Still, I don’t think trading for him would be too tough, given the aforementioned Rockies woes, being so closely removed from his 2019 implosion, and his style being so unfriendly towards analytics. If this extremely long-winded paragraph didn’t give it away, I’d have Freeland as a 1B to Musgrove’s 1A for starting pitcher trade targets.
I’m not sure why fans of teams in need of starting pitching – myself included – aren’t banging the table for Carrasco more? He’s on the league’s biggest “help me I’m poor” team in the Indians and carries either a 2 year/$24 million or 3 year/$38 million deal depending on his vesting option – not cheap but also team-friendly for a player of Carrasco’s caliber. It’s hard to find starters more consistently good than Carrasco. From 2015-2020 minus 2019 when he was diagnosed with leukemia, Carrasco has had an ERA between 2.91-3.63 each season. From 2015-2020 minus 2016 he has had a K/9 rate of 10.17-10.85 each season. He’s still missing bats as often as ever too, with solid velocity and near-elite spin rates to boot. I’d be excited with a trade for Carrasco, especially since he’s already a #2 starter when somebody like Joe Musgrove has only shown glimpses of potentially becoming one. Also, with the Indians penchant towards unexpected trade returns for legit players, even with the Yankees farm in a fairly weak state I’m confident we could pull of a trade for Carrasco without it going completely barren. Still, for some reason the idea doesn’t totally jack me up? Part of it is definitely his contract, which isn’t exactly a flier. There is natural worry about a velocity-based pitcher who will turn 34 prior to Opening Day too, and he did show cracks in his control for the first time ever in his 12 starts in 2020. Part of me just sees Carrasco getting shelled in new digs, but a bigger part of me thinks he’s such a rock solid pitcher available for the taking that you just do it.
A PAINFUL GOODBYE / FIXING THE DEFENSE: Gary Sanchez (plus choice of low prospect/draft pick/international signing bonus money) to the Rays for Kevin Kiermaier
I know, I know. Every WFAN caller wants the Yankees to ship Gary on the first flight out of New York, and while those callers a proud group of people, they are generally not a group that I choose to identify with. But here, I am sadly with them. I try to avoid personal notes in writing like this, but in the case of Gary I think it’s important to clarify that he was my favorite Yankee from 2016-2019. I love Gary and staunchly defended him after all of the passed balls and lack of hustle plays. So this isn’t a frustration decision to hypothetically trade him; I’ve just reached the point where I think we’re lying to ourselves that he makes this construction of a Yankees team better in a meaningful way, if at all.
There haven’t been any rumblings of a deal along these lines and I don’t think anything like it actually happens – I think Gary stays with the Yankees for 2021 – but man I do like it a lot for both teams. Kiermaier really has become expendable for the Rays with Randy Arozarena’s breakout and Manny Margot as a more than capable centerfielder, and Kyle Higashioka gave reason to believe that he could be a decent platoon catching option at worst.
If you follow baseball at all, then you likely know that Sanchez’s 2020 season was an unmitigated disaster. He batted .147 across 178 plate appearances, saw his strikeout rate spike to 36.0%, and the defensive woes that have plagued him throughout his career continued – all culminating in his benching come the playoffs. It was a tough to watch fall from grace for Gary, who in 2017 looked like one of the premier building blocks in the league and in 2019 hit 34 homers with a wRC+ of 116 as a catcher. The power was so real that you put up with the occasional lapses and miscues, but it all fell apart in 2020. Gary was, in my scientific opinion, lost. In one of the most damning stats I’ve ever heard, Gary saw 55 pitches that qualified as “meatballs” in 2020 per Statcast, and he recorded hits on…0 of them. We had seen Gary in his own head before, but nothing like this.
Now, I don’t think Gary is hopeless, and in a second I’ll clarify why I think a team – the Rays in particular – would be interested in buying Gary at rock bottom. But first I want to quickly elaborate on why I think the Yankees should trade him. The Yankees cannot regularly trot out SIX right-handed hitters who strike out more than league average (Gary, Voit, Gleyber, Frazier, Judge, Stanton). I don’t know how that has become a controversial opinion, especially if anyone who denies that has watched the Yankees in October. I clearly don’t think the Yankees require drastic measures to win it all with the moves that I list out in this blog, but we have to acknowledge and adjust to the fact that getting overpowered by pitching in the playoffs has been just as big of a problem, if not more of a problem, than not having enough of that overpowering pitching of our own. The last four World Series champions have limited strikeouts at the plate at an elite team-wide level, and while the Yankees have improved in this department in recent years, they can still absolutely do better.
Now, the one team that has reached the World Series in that four-year span that doesn’t mind striking out on repeat? That would be the 2020 Tampa Bay Rays, who finished dead last in MLB in the category. (Difference between the #30 Rays and #29 Twins is greater than the difference between the Twins and #25 Cubs.) Tampa REALLY can live with the slow walk back to the dugout; in fact, they embrace it if you can bring something elite to the table to make up for it. In the case of Gary Sanchez, nobody on the planet can hit a baseball harder. He’s finished in the Top 5% of barrel rate across MLB over each of the past three seasons, all while walking more than the average hitter. And while Gary is CERTAINLY not the most fleet of foot, for somebody who hits the ball as hard as him, the .159 BABIP he posted in 2020 was impossibly low. He’s due for better luck, and new surroundings with lower pressure could bring it out for him. The Rays are currently slated for the lowest projected WAR at the catcher position in all of baseball for 2021 as well, so they are certainly going to make a move. And Gary, while a technical mess and still a liability with balls in the dirt, is a fine pitch framer with a huge arm, and pitchers aside from Gerrit Cole have seemed to like him as a battery mate. The Rays are smart enough to not care about trading within the division, but would they take on Gary’s $6 million of salary in 2021 with more due in 2022 for a reclamation project? I think they would, considering they went into last season with Muke Zunino as their fifth highest paid player, who at his best is close to Gary at his worst. But beyond that, I think the Rays would especially be open to a trade that nets them a few extra millions of dollars in the process, and the only non-Snell way to do that with Gary is to exchange him for Kevin Kiermaier.
Kiermaier is set to become the highest paid player on the Rays now that they cut ties with Charlie Morton, with 2-3 years remaining on his deal and at least $26 million committed to him. Beyond his loyalty as the longest tenured member of the Rays, Kiermaier makes good money for one reason: his glove. Plain and simple, he’s the most valuable defender at the most valuable defensive position in baseball, and it’s been that way for years. If you can find the humor in advanced baseball statistics, Kiermaier’s defensive metrics are laugh out loud funny. There isn’t one component to playing centerfield where he hasn’t been in the 99th percentile for it. Healthy and just 30 years old, he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down yet either.
The Yankees desperately need to address their team defense too, something I’ve alluded to earlier with Gleyber Torres and now here again with Gary. It’s something that I think would have been a much bigger storyline had the 2020 season not been abbreviated and so weird. The Yankees finished with negative defensive runs saved as a team, and Aaron Hicks – while a good player – was also a major part of that. Only the Royals and Angels got worse defensive production in centerfield than the Yankees in 2020 according to DRS, and the eye test backs that up. Hicks has lost a couple of steps, and he’s such a valuable component to the Yankees lineup that the team should be looking to limit his annual IL trips that have come out of playing centerfield so often. Kiermaier isn’t the most durable player either with his style of play – only in 2015 has he played more than 130 games – so the Yankees would be able to keep both guys fresh. And by more regularly kicking Hicks to a corner outfield position, where there’s no reason to believe that he wouldn’t thrive, the Yanks would improve defensively in two spots.
Kiermaier’s bat on the other hand is an entirely different story, which is why I feel comfortable mock trading him for Sanchez to save the Rays $6 million in 2021. (A $6 million player would be the fourth highest paid on the Rays in 2021.) His offensive numbers have been mediocre enough where this is the point of reading this when you ask why the Yankees would do this trade. He has a posted wRC+ of 79, 78, and 93 over the past three seasons, with an OBP as low as .278 in that span. He just isn’t a good hitter as it stands; in fact he’s quite a crappy one. Still, there are reasons to think that he could be at least an average hitter moving forward. In 2020, as limited as the season was, Kiermaier posted a career high in barrel and hard hit percentages, with a walk rate (12.6%) that nearly doubled his career average coming into the season. He’s changed his approach and the deepest of analytics see it for the best, especially if he can improve his launch angle and keep the ball off the ground so much – think when Brett Gardner hit 28 homers out of nowhere in 2019. To the Yankees benefit, Kiermaier has been a better hitter against righties than lefties in both 2020 and over the course of his career. And if there is anything to learn from the 2020 Rays it’s the reality of regular lefty/righty platooning success, something that I am begrudgingly accepting. If Kiermaier could even bring his wRC+ up to 100 by capitalizing on being the rare lefty in the Yankees lineup while learning to take advantage of the short porch, then we might be talking about an All Star here, not just a phenomenal glove with a bat that you deal with.
OTHER GOOD OPTIONS
I’ll cover both trading Gary Sanchez and the centerfield defensive upgrade here.
Jackie Bradley Jr.
JBJ is a good player, though he’s one of the tougher guys to encapsulate in the league. He’s famously streaky; at one time rattling off a 29 game hitting streak then at other times looking unplayable at the plate over weeks long stretches. His counting stats appear evenly split between good offensive seasons (2015, 2016, 2020) and bad offensive seasons (2014, 2017, 2018, 2019). He has NEVER posted a season with a wRC+ between 91-117. You might have noticed that three of those bad seasons were consecutive from 2017-2019 and are inclined to think that his 2020 was a fluke, but I’m not so sure. In 2020 he simultaneously posted both his best walk and strikeout rates of his career – pretty good! But strangely enough, his exit velocities were down in 2020 and his expected stats show that he got really lucky, but it was the opposite case from 2017-2019 when he hit the ball hard with not much to show for it. (He was SO unlucky in 2018, with a 96th percentile hard hit percentage and a .234 batting average.) Like I said, he’s a tough evaluation.
What makes JBJ an easier decision for teams is that he’s one of the select few consistently good defensive centerfielders in the game. He’s not quite in Kiermaier territory and it is possible that some of his elite metrics come from his mastery of the complex Fenway Park centerfield, but he’s going to give you a plus glove regardless for a few years at just 31 years old. I think he’d be a great fit for the Yankees and he’s enticing as a free agent, though I think he’s going to get paid more than people might expect. The centerfield free agent market is George Springer in the top tier, Bradley in the next tier, and then the tier after them is a bunch of guys that are debatably deserving of major league roster spots. I think JBJ is in play for a three-year deal in the range of $30-40 million, which would be an expensive commitment for a fourth outfielder for the Yankees – especially if they aren’t offloading salary in the process. I’ll call my shot here that he goes to the Astros.
Gary to the Rockies
A trade framework around Gary and Kyle Freeland actually makes a lot of sense. No team has struggled with one position in the 21st century like the Rockies and catchers. The Yankees would have to give up a better prospect(s) for Freeland for a fledgling team like the Rockies to take on Gary’s money, but it would be a great landing spot for him.
Gary to the Rangers
Rebuilding team with zero expectations and terrible catcher depth where Gary could split time between catching and DH. It’s tough to even pick whom the Yankees would want in return…likely a bullpen arm, or maybe Rougned Odor if the Rangers paid off at least half of his contract.
Gary to the Marlins
It’s cliché but I could see Derek Jeter having interest in bringing Gary to Miami. The Marlins are likely still a year away from calling it quits for good on Jorge Alfaro, and maybe trading for Gary could light a spark under the talented yet struggling Alfaro. This trade could work for Corey Dickerson in return, who I don’t like much but would fit well with the Yankees as a lefty-hitting corner outfielder who makes good contact. He’s the Marlins second most expensive player heading into 2021, but offset by Gary would only cost the Yankees $4 million.
Gary to the Tigers
OK, I can actually see this one happening. Gary has historically dominated the Tigers, and they sound like a team ready to stop being one of the laughingstocks of the league. But before they can do that, they need catcher help and somebody resembling a cleanup hitter. The Tigers and Yankees are trade compatible on paper, with Detroit likely hoping to move at least one of their veteran starting pitchers to make room for their young guns. I really don’t like any of the options that they have to offer – more on them later – but again, a major part of this is addition by subtraction with how Gary currently fits with the Yankees.
NOW GO GET ANOTHER CATCHER: Miguel Yajure to the Dodgers for Austin Barnes
I understand what Yankee fans reading this might be thinking: why the hell would we voluntarily enter catcher hell? Catcher hell is a very real and very scary thing. Akin to tight end hell in fantasy football, this happens when you forego an everyday option for a more appealing quick fix, but then the shine wears off that quick fix and you find yourself auditioning stopgap after stopgap to no avail. My retort to that would be…are the Yankees not in catcher hell already? Sure, it happened quickly after Gary’s 2020, but I don’t know how you could look at 12-15 of the better catcher situations around baseball and think we’re in the same boat as them. Even if you do think Gary has a rebound 2021 season in him, which is a totally valid line of thought, do you seriously think we would extend Gary following 2022 as our catcher of the future? And if not, where are you going to play him? As a fun reminder, Giancarlo Stanton is signed on to be our DH through at least 2027.
I have enough self-awareness to realize that this is entering Inception territory with a hypothetical catcher trade inside of a hypothetical catcher trade. Still, I think it is important to cover what our options actually could look like for all of the fans calling for Gary’s head. There are a couple of cheap one-year options in free agency that I’ll cover soon, but they each are old and come with major flaws. For the very few “Tier 3” catchers on the market, basically someone you would sign for around 2 years/$10 million, I don’t like any of them at all. So back to the trade market we head!
Trading for a catcher is essentially as difficult as trading for a starting pitcher, because it’s really the only position where teams place a premium on the backup. The trading team either has to have three majors-ready options at the position, or like always it can come down to a salary crunch. In the case of the Dodgers, it is safely the former with Barnes on the same squad as Will Smith and Keibert Ruiz. Smith broke out in a big way in 2020, and at just 25 years old he’s on the cusp on stardom. Ruiz is a blue-chip prospect who the Dodgers have notably avoided trading to date, and now he’s ready to make more than 8 plate appearances in the big leagues like he did in 2020. Any way you slice it, Barnes is the runt of the litter with the Dodgers catching situation when it comes to future value.
That’s not to shortchange Barnes too much, who is only going to be 31 on Opening Day and comes along with two years of cheap arbitration salaries. He’s excellent defensively around the plate and has consistently measured as one of the better framers in the game. He’s subpar when it comes to preventing steals, but if you’ve watched an AL East game recently then you know that isn’t a big deal anymore. The defense is certainly the main reason that it would be cool to have Barnes in pinstripes, but it’s not the only reason. Barnes is a pretty bad all around hitter any way you slice it – minus an amazing 2017 season that was safely an outlier – but he does do some things well with the bat. He has an excellent approach at the plate, combining consistently strong walk rates with league-average strikeout rates – which is good for a catcher. He’s really light hitting with a slugging percentage that has topped out at .340 over the last three seasons, but he has improved his launch angle and in 2020 routinely hit the ball hard as much as he did in 2017. He hasn’t seen the immediate returns on those swing changes yet, but maybe with more regular playing time in a more hitter-friendly ballpark (27.2% of his batted balls in 2019 went to the opposite field) he could become a 15 homer guy? If not, then oh well he’s still a really good defensive catcher who would work tough at bats in the 9 hole.
I’m not sure if the Dodgers would do this? Even with Smith and Ruiz offering them much more promise, Barnes is the only one of the group who is glove-first, so maybe they wouldn’t consider departing with him during their championship window. But I find it hard to believe that improving Smith’s defense isn’t a top priority for them, and at his young age it’s certainly possible. If I’m underselling their commitment to Barnes, then I would improve the Yankees offer up to Jonathan Loaisiga. If I’m overvaluing a guy who had a 68 wRC+ in 2019, then I would decrease the offer to someone more in line with Luis Cessa. We’ll compromise with Miguel Yajure, who ranks in the teens in most Yankees prospect rankings with non-special stuff but good control that led to a 2.14 ERA in 2019 across A+ and AA minor league ball.
OTHER GOOD OPTIONS
Trade for Willson Contreras
Contreras is better – way better – than the catchers name dropped before him in this blog. He’s an extremely athletic All Star in his prime, and there is a very good chance that he’s still getting better. Contreras has always hit the ball hard but in 2020 hit the ball the hardest he ever has, and more importantly in his case is that his defense significantly improved last year too. Notoriously a terrible framer who was difficult for pitchers to work with throughout the early years of his career, he improved in 2019 then was straight up good in that department in 2020. He’s always been one of the toughest guys in the league to run on, but now he’s coming into his own as a complete defensive catcher.
Contreras isn’t perfect – he swings out of his cleats too often and has two recent seasons batting beneath .250 with good BABIP in each of those years. But if there is any catcher outside of JT Realmuto who could win an MVP over the next two years, it’s Contreras. Contreras isn’t quite as good as Realmuto was at the time of his trade to the Phillies, but it’s close enough in skillsets and their contracts were nearly identical to use that trade as the model here. The Marlins netted Sixto Sanchez in that deal, the Phillies top prospect who ranked as around the 20th best overall in baseball. So yeah, the Yankees would have to deal Deivi Garcia to get Contreras. I’m not positive that I’d want to do that, especially depending on what starting pitching moves the Yankees actually make this offseason, but I’m also definitely not positive that I wouldn’t want them to do that. It sure as hell would be exciting.
Castro isn’t an all-around good player and this would be incredibly boring, but he’d be cheap and could contribute to basically replacing Gary. Castro is good defensively, walks a ton, and is a pure platoon player who mashes righties and is unplayable against lefties. He strikes out far too much and might not bat over .200, but we’ve sadly seen what that looks like anyway, and this time it would come cheaper and with improved defense.
Flowers really quickly went from one of the most underrated players in the game (4.5 WAR in 2017) to a guy who will likely be offered not much more than the veteran minimum. Flowers is basically the godfather of pitch framing as the key player behind it growing from an art form into a legitimate statistic. He’s still good at it too, even though his 6’4” 260 lb frame is racing towards a total breakdown. His bat speed is rapidly slowing as evidenced by his scaling strikeout rate, but at least when Flowers does connect he still clobbers the ball. In this scenario, you’d want Kyle Higashioka catching 3/4 games regardless of opponent with Flowers giving him days of rest. If you liked Erik Kratz’s presence last year, then you’d love Flowers.
DON’T SEE IT / DON’T WANT IT – LIGHTNING ROUND
I’ll rattle off a bunch of names of players linked to the Yankees or those who fit the bill for team needs that I either can’t see happening or just don’t want us to do.
Let’s start here, because it’s the most relevant and most noteworthy. Bauer, for as much of a lunatic as he is, is truly an awesome pitcher. He’s an ace who falls somewhere in the second tier of MLB starters, and they don’t hit the open market often. I know how many Yankee fans see a 1-2 rotation punch as the key to World Series ring #28 along the likes of Kershaw/Buehler and Scherzer/Strasburg and Sale/Price. But a couple of things on that note:
1. A championship team hasn’t had their top two starters on mega contracts at the same time since when? Johnson and Schilling? Even in a sport without a hard salary cap, I’m not sure you can commit $60+ million to two pitchers and expect to field a winning team.
2. Of the other pitchers in that second tier that I mentioned – like Strasburg and Buehler – there isn’t a pitcher as volatile as Bauer. His past four seasons have followed the pattern of meh/great/meh/great.
3. He still has to prove that his elbow is all the way back after Tommy John surgery, but Luis Severino is that SP2! How short term are our memories? He’s 26 with two Top 10 Cy Young finishes under his belt.
I also buy that Bauer actually will sign a one-year deal like he’s been hyping up, so that will probably run a team around $35 million. It would be fun, but I’d rather put that money towards building a complete team.
Let’s get this one out of the way too, because so many Yankee fans are clamoring for Lindor and he likely will get traded this offseason. I’m not going to pretend like Lindor isn’t an amazing player right now, but I’m extremely out on trading for him and even out on signing him to a megadeal next offseason. We have seen Lindor’s potential; in 2018 he put up MVP numbers alongside a 7.6 WAR. I just think the other seasons that he has posted to date are more his game than that one season where he posted a 130 wRC+. I see Lindor as more of an above average hitter with an elite glove, which would make him an All Star but not a $250 million player. If you are signing Lindor to 8-10 years, that’s also quite the gamble on a player of his stature. A team might be paying the big bucks on those final years towards a slap hitter at a position where there aren’t a ton of guys over the age of 30 playing it well.
Best catcher in baseball, seems like a safe projection, just really can’t see the Yankees blowing most of their (hopefully) available money on a positional upgrade. If we’re talking mid 2000s George Steinbrenner days, then yeah I’d be screaming for Realmuto.
Some team might get a steal here with the rest of the league looking ahead to the 2022 free agent shortstop class. But it looks like I differ from the analytics community for the most part here in that I think Semien is more of the guy we saw in 2018 and 2020 than 2019. Still a solid player, but one I don’t need the Yankees investing in.
Ha-seong Kim and Tomoyuki Sugano
These two play different positions and are different nationalities, so I don’t mean any offense by looping them together. I only do so because I know nothing about them outside of written scouting reports. They both do play positions of need for the Yankees though (Kim SS, Sugano SP) so I want to at least address the possibility.
Big Maple probably caught too much heat in the Bronx – his 2019 was solid – but this just wasn’t a good fit. And Justus Sheffield impressed in his Seattle debut…ugh. He’ll sign a one-year deal somewhere, for his sake hopefully somewhere with low expectations for 2021 so he can get back on track and build up his value.
He really doesn’t fit into the Yankees picture much at all, but it was impossible to watch an Astros game over the last two years and not fantasize about Brantley’s lefty contact-always bat in our lineup. It’s hard to see the path where he’d want to play for the Yankees in a potentially part-time role in his final prime years, but I would celebrate this move.
I’ve always liked Rosario more than the analytics do. He almost never walks and his defense isn’t too good – though he’s got a rocket of an arm – but the man just collects extra base hits and barely strikes out while doing it. He reminds me of a lefty outfielder Miguel Andujar, for the perspective of Yankee fans. I think he is the profile of a player that would capitalize on the Yankee Stadium dimensions, but like the rest of corner outfielders listed here, there isn’t much of a fit on these Yankees.
I think it’s nuts that Schwarber was non-tendered, but he was objectively bad in 2020 and I’ve touched on the Cubs cap situation already so the rationale is clear. Still, Schwarber is one of the select few guys who can realistically hit 50+ homers in a season as soon as next year. He barrels the ball with amazing regularity, and he improved his offensive numbers each year from 2017 through 2019 when he finished with an impressive .250/.339/.531 slash line. I really do think his 2020 was an unfortunate fluke for an otherwise incredibly talented hitter. The experiment in the outfield should come to an end, but I’d love to see a team like the Orioles bring him in as their full-time DH. It’s unfortunately near impossible to see how he slides into the Yankees lineup.
I actually would like this move, especially if the Yankees could buy low following Joc’s disappointing 2020 season. He’s just a good player, and at 28 he’s young to hit free agency. Joc wouldn’t necessarily need the help of the short porch with far how he hits the ball, but his lefty presence and much improved approach over the years in the Yankees lineup would be a great fit. (Though Statcast shows that he would have hit 5 extra homers in 2019 playing at Yankee Stadium.) He’s purely a corner outfielder already though, and if I were him I’d pick a National League team or an American League team where I at least had the option to DH. Also, if the Yankees are to sign a free agent corner outfielder, it would be…
Guys, I appreciate Gardner’s Yankees career too, but we HAVE to stop with this. How has the guy who split time as the centerfielder on the 2009 championship team with a career postseason slash line of freaking .214/.288/.286 become this much of a Yankees legend in some people’s eyes? I’ll contribute towards his Old Timers Day ovation, but we treat Gardy like he’s coasting towards number retirement. I know that his WAR has been deceptively good the past few years and that he’s an extremely tough at bat in terms of taking pitches, but we just have to aim to do better after a decade of this. Now that he’s deteriorating in the outfield and getting in the way of Clint Frazier’s playing time too, the time has come to move on from our short bald friend.
Every offseason, there is at least one starting pitcher who hasn’t been good for the majority of his career but teams convince themselves that they can be the ones to change that after finding something underlying in his performance. This year Walker fits that bill, but I kinda feel the opposite about him. I think he’s actually less good than he led on with his 2.70 ERA in 2020. I’m sure teams might be excited by the cutter that he started throwing 3x as much in 2020 that has good movement, but I think that’s grasping at straws. He still is a fastball pitcher at the end of the day with a fastball that isn’t that fast or tight, and he has never reached 170 innings in a season. Pass.
The weird thing about the Yankees bullpen is that they already have two of the very best lefty relievers in baseball in Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton, but those two are entrenched in the final two innings of the game so there really isn’t a current southpaw option readily available from innings 5 through 7. There is no such thing as too much bullpen depth for Brian Cashman – which is really smart – and Hand is awesome and would theoretically fit in well. That said, it’s a bit hard to see him being cool with shifting from one of the game’s best closers to a mid-relief guy while making the same range of money. It’s unlikely but it would be cool, and I didn’t see Britton’s signing coming a couple of years ago for the exact reason so who knows?
Please GOD no. Just NO. Molina offers virtually zero offensive potential and his defense isn’t even THAT good anymore. He’s also just a pain in the ass that would be tough to tolerate outside of St. Louis, in case you didn’t catch onto that when he claimed not already receiving a one-year/$10 million offer this offseason as “ridiculous.” The Yankees have been linked to him, which terrifies me. And while I have you here, Yadier Molina is not a Hall of Famer.
He’s an extremely consistently solid second baseman who will likely get underpaid, but his ceiling is really low. Moving from DJ LeMahieu to Hernandez would be a really tough pill to swallow for Yankee fans.
Ah, we have an interesting one here – and not just because the Mets are close to finalizing a deal with him. McCann is the rare “Tier 2” catcher who can be an everyday starter with All Star potential on a multi-year deal. If the Yankees were to trade Gary, then I’m sure McCann would be a heavily requested target by the fan base (if still on the market). But I’m skeptical, and while there are multiple reasons including an empty All Star Game appearance in 2019, the main reason is actually financial. I think McCann is in for a BIG overpay. Teams are going to see a chasm between McCann and the next catcher tier of Yadier Molina and Wilson Ramos, and there also will be reservations with committing over $100 million to JT Realmuto, so naturally the half-measure is to pick McCann around $40-50 million. There are reasons to really like McCann – age, limited wear and tear, good exit velocities, improved defense in 2020 – but there are also reasons to feel the opposite way. Pitch framing is a fickle skill, and while McCann’s metrics were good in 2020, he was horrendous behind the plate in the prior years. He was also a terrible player over 4 years in Detroit, and while a player deserves the benefit of the doubt for improving with a new team and genuinely improving over the course of his career, it’s scary to think about paying big money to McCann then getting the Tigers version.
I can think of more fun ways to light money on fire. Seriously, hell of a run for Klubot, but the guy was slowing down even before his chronic arms problems popped up. No way.
I’m already annoyed because I can really see the Yankees signing Richards. Every GM craves being the one to find the next Charlie Morton: the hard throwing veteran with god-like spin rates who never put it all together. Well, Morton was awesome for the Astros and Rays, but that was such a Cinderella story. The much more common outcomes here are that these pitchers remain pedestrian or injured with their arm action. Just let some other team do this.
The Tribe will almost certainly look to trade Hedges, who is in line to make $3 million as their backup catcher behind Robert Perez, who almost never misses a game. If he was a free agent I would have listed him as a good alternative option for the Yankees, but I wouldn’t exchange any assets for him. At 28, he’s young to be the savant level framer that he is, and he’s got some pop, but the truth of the matter is that he’s a horrendous hitter. The Padres got so fed up with his bat that they traded him away just to trade for another catcher. Let the Rays take on Hedges – it’s the most obvious move ever.
Some team is going to take advantage of the Reds looking between the couch cushions for change and trade for Gray, but it just can’t be the Yankees. I’d like to think more open-mindedly here when a pitcher as good as Gray has been from 2019-2020 is available, but that trade was one of the bigger whiffs of Brian Cashman’s career, even if we didn’t give up much to get Gray. And while I generally despise this narrative, I actually don’t think Sonny is cut out for the Big Apple.
Josh Bell and Jameson Taillon
A first baseman and a pitcher, but I’m looping them together here since it has been reported that the Yankees are interested in each of them. In Bell’s case, sure! I love his offensive upside – switch-hitter with 37 homers along with elite BB:K ratio in 2019 – and he should be available for dimes on the dollar after a terrible 2020. He is on the hook for $6 million for the Pirates in 2021 though, so it’s curious how he would slot in with Luke Voit at that cost. As for Taillon though, that’s a big “no thanks” from me. Look, I’m rooting for the guy too after going through testicular cancer and major arm surgery over the past couple of years. And when he was on the mound for the Pirates, he was the style of pitcher that I typically love. But every once in a while, we reserve the right to say “we’re the Yankees” to proposed moves like this, however that makes us sound. This is a really good and championship ready team, and a rotation spot shouldn’t be slotted to someone who has thrown 37.1 innings over the last two seasons. I hope I’m wrong on Taillon and he is ready sooner than I expect, but I see no reason why he shouldn’t reestablish his value in Pittsburgh before some team picks up the phone for him.
Matthew Boyd, Spencer Turnbull, Michael Fulmer
These are the Tigers top three starters heading into 2021, and they should each be available for a trade with multiple younger and better options coming up for Detroit. These guys each suck for their own unique reasons though. I could see the Yankees interested in Boyd given that he wouldn’t cost too much and that he did strike out 11.56 batters per 9 innings in 2019, but I am positive that dude would give up 3+ homers a game in Yankee Stadium.
Jon Gray and Antonio Senzatela
I already wrote in depth about how Kyle Freeland is my preference of the Rockies starters that might be available for trade. Gray is likely the most commonly projected option within Yankees circles though, given that he only has one year left on his contract and that he is the clear sabermetric favorite of the bunch. Gray posted WARs between 2.5-3.6 and FIPs between 3.18-4.06 each year from 2016-2019. But here’s my thing with Gray: I think he’s become overrated just by nature of baseball media writing for years that he’s underrated by playing in Coors Field. Gray has actually been better at Coors than road ballparks over the course of his career, and I’m pretty sure people think his stuff is better than it actually is being that he was a third overall pick and a major prospect. As for Senzatela, he’s young, offers 3 years of cheap control and is coming off a 2020 season with a 3.44 ERA over 12 starts, but I just don’t think he’s much good. As a heavy pitcher that throws a heavy ball, I actually think he’s the rare case of a starter that belongs at Coors Field.
+ DJ LeMahieu – 5/80 ($16 million luxury tax)
+ Masahiro Tanaka – 4/50 ($12.5 million luxury tax)
+ Joe Musgrove – 1/4 Arb ($4 million luxury tax)
+ Cole Tucker – Pre-Arb ($0.5 million luxury tax)
+ Kevin Kiermaier – 2/26 ($9 million luxury tax)
+ Austin Barnes – 1/1.5 Arb ($1.5 million luxury tax)
– Gary Sanchez – 1/6 Arb ($-6 million luxury tax)
– Luis Cessa – 1/1 ($-1 million luxury tax)
– Estevan Florial – Pre-Arb ($-0.5 million luxury tax)
– Albert Abreu – Pre-Arb ($-0.5 million luxury tax)
– Miguel Yajure – Pre-Arb ($-0.5 million luxury tax)
2021 Opening Day Lineup
1. DJ LeMahieu
2. Aaron Judge
3. Aaron Hicks
4. Giancarlo Stanton
5. Gleyber Torres
6. Luke Voit
7. Giovanny Urshela
8. Kevin Kiermaier
9. Austin Barnes/Kyle Higashioka
2021 Opening Day Rotation
1. Gerrit Cole
2. Masahiro Tanaka
3. Joe Musgrove
4. Jordan Montgomery
5. Deivi Garcia
Thanks if you read this far! I tweet about the Yankees a lot and other non-Yankees things a lot at @Real_Peej
My name is PJ, I’m 25 and one-quarter years old, and I’ve been a very good Yankee fan this year. I spend just about all of my free time watching, writing, or reading about the Yankees. Some would say I’m “obsessed.” Anyway, there’s a lot of pressure on you this offseason. The Red Sox just won the World Series, as I’m sure you heard, and we have not been since 2009, as I’m sure you know. So I’ve decided to write you with an extremely well organized wish list for the Yankees’ 2018-19 offseason. If you don’t do literally every single one of these moves, I will freak out.
(OK, I’ll stop writing from the perspective of a man/boy with clear confusion about his actual age, but hopefully you get the premise of the blog now. This is my dream offseason for the Yankees.)
THE GAME AND THE RULES
I genuinely believe that a reinforced yet similarly structured roster to last season can win it all in 2019. Given the Yankees are coming off back-to-back postseason appearances and a 100-win season, they don’t have as many holes as the average team. They already patched up some of those holes by bringing back CC Sabathia and Brett Gardner on cheap one-year deals. Yeah, both of those guys are way past their primes, but they’re the two best veteran presences on the team and both provide valuable depth. They’re gladly welcomed back. But there’s still work to be done in those two areas, especially the starting pitching. The front office isn’t being coy about their intentions to bring in multiple starters, hopefully at least one of the ace variety. (Note: I wrote this part before the James Paxton trade. I still expect the Yankees to pursue one more big-name starter.) With Didi Gregorius sidelined for most or all of 2019 following Tommy John surgery, there’s a necessity for infield help too. And considering these are the modern Yankees we’re talking about, bullpen reinforcements are always on the table as well.
I’m aiming to stay grounded here. I’ll try to make every trade a win-win and as balanced as possible, and every free agent signing will be something I could actually see the Yankees doing and will fall within a reasonable dollar range. And while the Yankees achieved their goal of getting under the luxury tax threshold for the 2018 season, therefore resetting their penalty rate moving forward, I’m not going to conduct this exercise as if Hal Steinbrenner presented Brian Cashman with a blank checkbook. There’s a chance the payroll will increase by a considerable amount, but I think the luxury tax threat is still in play and I know that the Steinbrenners don’t want to return to the days of having the highest payroll just for the sake of having the highest payroll. I’m going to observe the 40-man roster too. So for every addition to the roster, I’ll remove one of the current occupants.
The Prize: Patrick Corbin for 5 years/$100 million
For casual fans, Corbin might feel underwhelming as the Yankees’ jewel from a free agent class that has been hyped up for years now. But man, I think he is a PERFECT fit. As heralded as this class has been, it was never particularly strong in the starting pitching department after Clayton Kershaw, who’s already off the market. It really comes down to Corbin and Dallas Keuchel. Figuring that the two southpaws are in line to receive similar contracts, this is an easy decision for me. Keuchel is probably the best groundball and defensive pitcher in baseball, has an amazing track record at Yankee Stadium, and offers less risk than almost any pitcher you’ll find on the free agent market. But he’s been trending in the wrong direction ever since winning the Cy Young in 2015. He doesn’t need to strike guys out to be good, but a K/9 of 6.73 is just absurdly low. He’ll likely get you 200 competitive innings, but I don’t really see him topping out his 2018 WAR of 3.6 by too much over any year on his next contract.
Corbin, on the other hand, posted a WAR of 6.3 in 2018 and couldn’t be trending in a better direction. A surprising All Star in 2013, Corbin had Tommy John surgery the following offseason and missed all of 2014 and half of 2015. He was then one of the worst pitchers in baseball in 2016, a solid pitcher in 2017, and then an elite pitcher this most recent season. There’s no two ways around it: Corbin was an ace, and I’m bullish on his chances of repeating that. I absolutely love his style of pitching, and the Yankees surely do too. He throws a four-seam fastball less than 20% of the time, yet he led ALL of baseball in swing-and-miss percentage. So he throws gas, right? Nope! Corbin’s average fastball sits around 91 MPH, already proving that he doesn’t need heat to succeed. So then by getting batters to chase a lot, surely he has issues with walks? Nope, Corbin only walked slightly over 2 batters per 9 innings and finished with the fifth best K:BB% in baseball. So if he doesn’t throw hard or walk a lot of guys, he must give up a ton of homers? Negative, my man keeps the ball in the park. He had the third best HR/9 rate in baseball, and was the only starter to finish in the Top 10 in strikeout percentage and groundball percentage.
I’m framing Corbin like he’s Sandy Koufax 2.0 here. There are some red flags. As referenced, his track record isn’t nearly as stable as you’d like for a guy you’re handing nine figures to. But I’m pretty confident his 2018 wasn’t a fluke. Chase Field is no pitchers’ park, and his fielding independent numbers show that he was even better last year than his standard stats would indicate. There’s also some fear associated with investing in Tommy John recipients, but Corbin is now four years removed from his procedure and has logged nearly 400 innings over the past two years. I’m not worried there. My biggest concern with him is that while he misses more bats than anyone, he gives up a ton of hard contact when batters connect. His hard hit percentage was the second highest in baseball per FanGraphs, and keeping his groundball percentage in mind, he might need a personal third baseman if he comes to New York.
I think my contract estimate is fairly overaggressive, but that’s likely how the Yankees need to play this one. They have such a glaring need for another top-of-the-rotation arm, and in this case they wouldn’t need to move more top prospects to get one. Yu Darvish, the top arm on the market last year, got a sixth year and slightly more average annual value, but his track record was far better than Corbin’s. I’m all in on Corbin at this price.
The Bargain: Daniel Murphy for 2 years/$15 million
I know, I know. I don’t like the guy off the field either. But before we talk about Murphy as a baseball player, let’s make an important distinction. He has some unpopular viewpoints that I’d argue are unacceptable, but at the end of the day, that’s all they are…viewpoints. The Yankees paid top dollar for a player who actually did this, and we’ve been cheering for him for three years now. Just want to get out in front of some fans inevitably jumping ship if the Yankees do in fact sign Murphy.
Anyway, you might say that contract seems low for a player who was an MVP runner-up in 2016. I’d say you are correct, but I think that’s the ballpark Murphy is looking at. The free agent market infamously “froze over” last offseason, and while I do think there were some fishy factors in play, I think the main reason behind it was a league-wide understanding that you can often get similar or better production from young, cheap players than over-the-hill players on big contracts. And guess what? The teams were largely correct. There’s a reason that Lorenzo Cain flew off the market for big money but that power-hitting corner infielders with no defensive ability signed disappointing deals. And while that second group doesn’t exactly describe Murphy, that’s likely how teams will view him too. Murphy will be 34 on Opening Day, is one year removed from major knee surgery, and struggles defensively without a true position. But this dude was born to rake. Despite coming off that surgery and effectively having his Spring Training during the actual season, Murphy still managed to bat .299 in 2018. There’s almost no scenario in the near future where Murphy doesn’t bat between .290-.310. He’s shift proof…it’s freaky how evenly he hits the ball to all fields. With a sure bat and a low strikeout percentage, I think he makes for the perfect platoon to Luke Voit. (There’s a decent chance Murphy would end up as the everyday first baseman. I think Voit’s 2018 was a bit fluky, but he was so good that he at least bought himself some playing time at the start of the season.) Add in that he can play a somewhat serviceable second base until Didi returns and Gleyber Torres moves back, and Murphy makes for an exceptional short-term play for the Yanks.
The Familiar Face: David Robertson for 3 years/$27 million
I’ll keep this one short and sweet. Robertson is great and one of the most consistent relievers…ever? I’m not really kidding. Besides a 2016 season when he was merely “pretty good” rather than “really good,” his numbers during each season from 2012-2018 are virtually identical. (I’m leaving out his 2011 for the sake of this exercise, because it’s one of the best reliever seasons ever that nobody talks about.) He’ll offer some walks and give up some homers, but he’s a high strikeout guy who you can bank on getting the job done 60 times a year. It’s an expensive contract for a 7th inning pitcher, but that’s the cost of reliability.
The Blockbuster: It Already Happened… Justus Sheffield/Erik Swanson/Dom Thompson-Williams to the Mariners for James Paxton
I didn’t get into the details about the Gardner and Sabathia signings because I want to focus more on prospective moves, but I’ll write about this one because Paxton is less of a known commodity for Yankee fans and he cost the organization’s top prospect in Justus Sheffield. For starters, the Yankees were going to trade for a top-of-the-rotation arm in 100% of offseason scenarios. There weren’t many options, and I don’t think most of them stood a chance. I never bought into the Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco rumors for a second. They are both in their primes and have two years left on their contracts for below-market rates. Not to mention the Indians have the best staff in baseball, arguably the sport’s two best contracts in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, and play in the worst division by a mile. To get them to voluntarily close their contention window would cost an absolute fortune. I’m fairly certain Gleyber would have to be involved for Kluber, and count me the hell out on that. The same applies to Madison Bumgarner and Noah Syndergaard, but they’d probably cost even more, so scratch them off too. That leaves Paxton and Zack Greinke.
I mapped out this blog before I actually started writing it, and in my original plan I had Greinke as the blockbuster. There were a few reasons why I went this route. I think you know what you’re getting more with Greinke than Paxton, and I think he potentially fits better into the “beat the Red Sox and the Astros in the playoffs” formula. Still, I’m burying the lede here. The major reason I pegged Greinke was because I planned to include Jacoby Ellsbury in the package for him. I’ll write more about Ellsbury later, but almost more than anything this offseason, I dream of the Yankees getting someone to take his contract. Moving Ellsbury will require the Yankees taking on another awful contract, and Greinke’s league-leading $34 million/year contract constitutes as awful for a Diamondbacks team about to embark upon a rebuild. I thought the Yankees would have to include two top pitching prospects in that scenario, and I thought that Paxton would cost the same. Knowing beforehand that Paxton would only cost Justus Sheffield likely would have changed my entire thought process.
Let me get this out there: I’m excited that Paxton is in pinstripes. There’s so much to love here. He’s a tall lefty who throws gas and pounds the strike zone, and he’s the darling of the analytics community too. Just about every forward-thinking baseball outlet already views Paxton as an ace and Top 10 pitcher in the league. Just watch the highlights of his no-hitter and it’s not hard to see why. His K% since becoming a regular starter in 2016 is among the best of the best, his walk rate is low, and his FIP is elite and substantially better than his ERA. But that’s also the thing with Paxton. I feel like people are constantly coming up with reasons to explain why his production isn’t better than it is. Don’t get me wrong; he’s been a really good pitcher over the past three years. But he has not been an ace. He has not once qualified for the ERA title, as his 160 innings from this past season represent a career high. And while the Mariners of late have never been known for their team defense, two of his three season ERAs of 3.79 (2016) and 3.76 (2018) aren’t awe inspiring. Throw in the fact that he had a DL stint for a back problem this past season, one of the highest hard-hit percentages in the league, road stats worse than his Safeco Field stats, and a home run rate that skyrocketed in 2018…and yeah, there’s some reason for concern here. But let’s focus on the positives. Again, he misses bats like the Scherzers of the world. Everything points to him being a 5.0-7.0 WAR pitcher if he can go 200+ innings. And the home run rate from 2018 was so much higher than his 2016-2017 figures that I think it’s safe to assume it’ll regress towards the mean. It’s a misnomer to label Paxton an ace now. But there’s a good chance it won’t be 365 days from now.
In one sense, Paxton is actually extremely similar to J.A. Happ, who is heavily linked to return to the Yankees in the rumor mill. They’re both tall lefties with easy velocity who basically only throw fastballs. But in another and more important sense, Paxton is WAY better than Happ. The two arbitration years remaining on Paxton’s contract should equate nearly identically to the deal that Happ is forecasted to land in free agency, so the financials are a wash. If the cost of upgrading from Happ to Paxton for no additional charge is one top pitching prospect and two fringe major leaguers, then I think you have to take that deal every time. (And I’m saying that as someone who seemingly likes Sheffield more than most. Sure, the kid has shown some command issues and didn’t pitch well in his 2.2 MLB innings – it is BANANAS some people actually care about that. But even with those increased walk rates in the minors, Sheffield still excelled for the most part in both Double-A and Triple-A. Plus…he’s 22 for god’s sake! He’s got a ton of talent, and that wins out a lot of the time.)
The Ellsbury Dump: Jacoby Ellsbury/Domingo German/Greg Bird to the Marlins for Wei-Yin Chen/Adam Conley
I teased it earlier, but let’s talk some Jacoby Ellsbury. Believe it or not, it’s already been five years since Ellsbury signed that ill-fated contract. In those five years, Ellsbury had one solid debut season, one bad full season, two pedestrian injury-riddled seasons, and one completely missed season. For all of Brian Cashman’s sorcery, this move was an all-time misfire. As if Ellsbury’s health and ineptitude wouldn’t make him tough enough to trade, he also has a full no-trade clause. So yeah, I don’t think he’s actually going anywhere. But still, this is a blog of hypotheticals, so you better believe I’m shipping his ass.
Like I said earlier, in order to trade Ellsbury, the Yankees would have to receive another bad contract in return AND include another piece(s) to gauge interest. Ellsbury is essentially on a 2 year/$47 million contract (there’s a third year with a $5 million buyout option that will 99.99% be exercised). Since the Yankees would aim to save some money with this trade, we’ll explore other short-term contracts in that $15-20 million/year ballpark. And while the two centerpieces of this trade will be salary dumps, we’ll still trade them to teams that theoretically could use their services. So for the Yankees…we’re eying starters.
Believe it or not, there are actually a few different starters who fit this extremely specific bill. (The 2014-2016 offseasons were the damn Wild West.) Here are the barf-inducing choices: Jeff Samardzija, Homer Bailey, Wei-Yin Chen, and Ian Kennedy. The Giants as a trade partner would actually make some sense, given their dismal outfield situation and likelihood of a total roster teardown. I just really dislike Samardzija, and I get the sense that his camp would have an expectation for Shark to be a full-time member of the rotation. Bailey is truly horrendous and one of the select few contracts in baseball that might be even worse than Ellsbury, so easy pass on him. Kennedy would actually work on the Yankees’ end, but there’s just no chance that the Royals would take on another huge contract for a bad corner outfielder.
So that only leaves Chen, which is good because this fit makes sense for both sides. Chen has never really been a good pitcher and definitely is not one now…I seriously have no idea what the Marlins were thinking with this contract. He’s owed $42 million over the next two seasons and has major injury issues too. But still, Chen is more mediocre than bad, which the Yankees would gladly take in this situation. He threw 133.1 innings last year with a 4.43 FIP. If he could duplicate that, Chen would make for a fine Opening Day #6 starter and mop-up man. Think Jaime Garcia in 2017. And for the Marlins, a healthy Ellsbury (a big if, I know) would probably crack the Opening Day lineup. Given that they are likely to trade their only great player in J.T. Realmuto this offseason and that the only other famous player on the roster is Starlin Castro, a little name recognition honestly might not be a bad thing for an organization that draws fewer fans than some minor league teams.
Now let’s talk the pot sweeteners. There’s no incentive for the Marlins to bring in Ellsbury for Chen straight up. The Yankees need to offer more, but probably not a whole lot more. I think any cheap starter with some talent and multiple years of team control would get the job done, and Domingo German has more than some talent. He has command issues and gave up a lot of runs in his 14 starts in 2018, but German’s stuff is absolutely nasty. He gets batters to swing at pitches out of the zone as well as anyone, and his curveball has the potential to be one of the majors’ best. So why the hell would the Yankees trade him and his five years of cheap team control? There are a few reasons, the first being that German is out of minor league options. While German would almost certainly crack the 2019 Yankees’ Opening Day roster, I can’t see him being anything more than a swingman for this team. So his biggest value to the Yankees might be as a trade chip. For a rebuilding team, he could crack an Opening Day rotation with the upside to be much more than that. Seems like more than a throw-in piece then, right? Correct, but the Yankees aren’t only getting Chen in this trade.
Adam Conley isn’t a big name yet even within baseball circles, but I’d bank on him being one by season’s end. A failed starter who was one of the league’s worst in 2017, Conley was converted into a reliever and became one of the more intriguing bullpen lefties in baseball. His standard stats don’t jump off the page, but his strong K:BB ratio and FIP indicate that even better things are ahead for him. With a fastball that sits around 96 MPH paired with a changeup that is already an elite pitch, I think the odds of Conley developing into 2016 Andrew Miller are higher than 2019 Andrew Miller reverting back to 2016 Andrew Miller. And with three years of cheap team control, Conley would cost WAY less. There’s a reason that the Marlins didn’t move him before the last trade deadline despite interest from around the league. It’s going to take a lot to pry him from Miami, so we’re throwing in Greg Bird too. Bird’s 2018 was such a disaster that I think it would be best for everyone involved for him to get a fresh start with a new team. He still has solid power, a good walk rate, and should be a good defender. But even if Bird never pieces it all together, he would still represent an upgrade at first base for the Marlins. They were the only team in baseball to have their first basemen combine for negative WAR in 2018. Even Bird didn’t sink that low.
Yankees receive: Jurickson Profar from Rangers, Chad Pinder from Athletics
Rangers receive: Jharel Cotton from Athletics, Luis Cessa from Yankees
Athletics receive: Sonny Gray from Yankees
(Quick note at the top here: I swear, I’m not plagiarizing from River Ave Blues. In his offseason blog, he also suggested an Ellsbury-for-Chen swap and a three-way deal that brings Profar to the Yankees. As already mentioned, my original plan for Ellsbury involved Zack Greinke, but I don’t think there’s any chance the Yankees trade for another big-name pitcher now. And as for Profar, I’ve loved him as a trade target for a while now. I’d mock a trade for him that’s solely between the Yankees and Rangers, but a goal here is to trade Sonny Gray and I don’t think his one-year deal makes any sense for Texas.)
Sonny Gray is going to get traded. Brian Cashman isn’t beating around the bush about it. He didn’t work out in the Bronx, but he’s still an interesting trade chip for the Yankees. His road numbers were significantly better than his Yankee Stadium numbers, and he has other peripherals that suggest he could return to his 2016 form. I’m not exactly sure how valuable of a trade chip Sonny is, but considering a few teams are already aggressively pursuing him, I think his value might be higher than most Yankee fans would guess. All teams with good/great offenses but no starting pitching like the Brewers and Reds would work as partners, but Oakland fits that mold too and I think a trade-back is in play here. The A’s had back luck with multiple injuries to starters last year, but this is still a team that was forced to resort to bullpenning in the Wild Card Game. I’m sure the A’s plan to stay aggressive this offseason while retooling a 97-win roster, and Sonny fills such a need for them that he would probably be the Opening Day starter.
The player coming back to the Bronx from Oakland is both the one who I am most excited to write about and the least known by the baseball community: Chad Pinder. I admittedly haven’t watched Pinder play a ton, but I’m familiar with his skillset and his stats, and he could not be a more ideal fit for the 2019 Yankees. Pinder, who is going to be 27 on Opening Day and is under team control for four years, is a good athlete who functioned as Oakland’s super utility man last season. He made starts at seven (!!!) different positions in 2018, yet most of them occurred at his best position in left field. Pinder is a capable second baseman, but he is a truly excellent left fielder. He ranked fifth among all leftfielders in Defensive Runs Saved, and he ranked first in UZR/150 among those with 400+ innings. The Yankees are obviously open to the idea of at least platooning Brett Gardner, as evidenced by last season’s trade for Andrew McCutchen. But the roadblock in replacing Gardner is that he’s a master of patrolling the tricky Yankee Stadium left field. Gardner is not a good hitter anymore, but his defense is clearly a priority for the Yankees’ brass because he continued to start in left over Giancarlo Stanton last year even as his offense dissipated. Pinder isn’t simply a right-handed left field specialist though…there is major offensive potential here too. Behind his solid walk rate and power, Pinder posted an eye-opening 113 wRC+ last year. (For reference, that’s equal to Eddie Rosario and Starling Marte.) But the real cause for excitement is that Pinder squares up the ball as well as anyone in baseball, and that’s not an exaggeration. He ranked 13th last year in both FanGraphs’ hard hit percentage and Statcast’s barrels per plate appearance. An adopter of the launch angle revolution, those stats make sense, as does his high strikeout rate unfortunately. Still, there is potential here to trade for a plus offensive and defensive player whose role would be a left field split at an absolute minimum…and he’s currently buried on the Oakland depth chart. Most of these “moves” are total hypotheticals that I could live without, but I adamantly want Cashman to trade for Pinder. Even if that entails a straight-up swap for Sonny because, again, I have zero clue what his true trade value actually is.
The other player coming to the Yankees in this trade is far better known than Pinder, albeit not for the best reasons. Jurickson Profar debuted in the majors as a 19 year-old and spent years as the top prospect in baseball. Yet here we are years later, and Profar just logged his first season with over 100 games played in his career. Plenty of that lack of playing time can be attributed to injuries, but the full story includes Profar not playing near his lofty expectations. But just because didn’t develop into a perennial All Star doesn’t mean that Profar still doesn’t have a ton of talent. His standard stats from 2018 won’t blow anyone away, but they show that he was an above-average hitter. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see that Profar might be more than that, and with a skillset that the Yankees could desperately use. On top of being a switch-hitter with dead even lefty/righty splits, Profar has an incredibly rare combination of balance at the plate and power. Just listen to this. Profar was one of only eight players in MLB last year with a walk rate higher than 9%, a strikeout rate lower than 15%, and an ISO rating north of .200. The other seven? Mookie Betts, Alex Bregman, Justin Turner, Jose Ramirez, Manny Machado, Anthony Rendon, and Francisco Lindor. So yeah, the guy can deliver some offense. The same cannot exactly be said about Profar’s defense. Like Pinder, Profar was utilized as a super utility man in 2018, making at least 9 starts from every position in the infield. The majority of those starts came on the left side of the infield, which is strange, because he’s bad there. I guess he could offer a slight upgrade at third over Miguel Andujar late in games, but Profar is actually solid at second base and that’s where he’d provide the most defensive value if the Yankees choose to slide Gleyber to shortstop for the season. Profar is currently slated to start at third for Texas on Opening Day now that Adrian Beltre has retired, but Joey Gallo is better than him there and the Rangers could move Gallo back to the infield to make room for Willie Calhoun. So without a firm grasp on a position and with only two years remaining on his contract for a bad team, Profar should be attainable via trade.
Like I just said…the Rangers really suck. They stand no chance of competing for the AL West in the near future, so they should be thinking 3-4 years down the line. And ALL of their attention should center on pitching. Their projected rotation for 2019 is truly nauseating, and right now they have no help on the way either. The Rangers need a couple of arms who provide some immediate upside and multiple years of team control. Luis Cessa fits that description. Yankee fans don’t hold a high opinion of Cessa after years of spot starts from him, but he would be a valuable trade chip. Somehow still just 26 years old, Cessa’s fastball sits around 95 MPH and he posted a respectable 3.74 FIP in 2018. Texas would hold four years of control over Cessa, and honestly he’d probably make 25 starts for them next season. Completing the trade is Jharel Cotton moving from Oakland to Texas. Cotton really struggled in his first full season in 2017 and missed all of 2018 following Tommy John surgery, but he’s still an asset. A former Top 100 prospect with a filthy changeup, Texas could buy low on Cotton and take advantage of Oakland’s pipeline of younger arms. Also under team control for four years, it would be a worthwhile bet by the Rangers on Cotton becoming a top-end starter for them for 2020 and beyond.
I know, I know. We all love Toe. But the Yankees have World Series aspirations, and the fact of the matter is that Torreyes isn’t very good. He has absolutely no offensive upside and his defense isn’t as good as we like to pretend. In this scenario I’m bringing in three other guys who can play the infield, so Ronnie T wouldn’t have a role beyond clubhouse mascot. Ideally he clears waivers in this situation so we could bring him back on a minor league deal (he’s out of minor league options), but anything more than that is sentimentality winning out.
A.J. Cole is horrific. I still can’t get over how long he survived on the active roster last year. The Yankees could miss out on every single free agent, and I’d still want them releasing Cole.
THE “WHAT IFS?”
I’ll be brief with these, because I have some self-awareness over how long I’ve gone already. But I want to at least address the names linked to the Yankees this offseason that I don’t have them bringing in.
I guess I shouldn’t be referring to this exercise as my “dream offseason,” because in my dream Bryce is wearing pinstripes. I just really can’t see it happening. Immediately following the Giancarlo trade last offseason, I wrote about how it was the big move that the Yankees spent years preparing for. I still think there is some truth to that, despite the Yankees kicking the tires on Bryce and the opening for a better corner outfielder. Inking Bryce to a deal in the ballpark that he’s expecting would have the Yankees paying around $90 million annually to three slugging outfielders (Judge is going to get PAID) for at least five seasons. I’m a total believer in Bryce and think he could win multiple MVPs for whatever team lands him, but even for the Yankees I’m not sure the financials make sense here.
I don’t view Machado in the same light as I view Harper, but he’s still another potential MVP who might just be entering his prime. But unlike Harper, Machado would provide a better immediate fit. An actual third baseman who views himself as a shortstop, Manny could fill in for Didi for 2019 then kick over to the hot corner if Andujar’s defense doesn’t improve. It’s more complicated than that though. Again, he’s going to be crazy expensive. I also think Machado’s issues with effort and dirty play are valid and totally worth consideration when handing out a lifetime contract. But most importantly, I believe in Miguel Andujar, and to a greater extent the entire young core. Voluntarily breaking that up for one star player with a bad attitude would be reminiscent of mid-2000s Yankee teams that weren’t nearly as fun as some people act like they were. (They didn’t win either.)
Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco
I already touched on these guys, but again, their contracts are way too team-friendly and the Indians are way too good to trade either of them to the Yankees without getting at least Gleyber or Andujar in return.
Already wrote about him too…I prefer Corbin.
For the contract that he’s about to pull, I’m perfectly content letting someone else invest in Nasty Nate. Best of luck.
Cutch played really well in his half season for the Yankees, but Cashman knew he was trading for a rental. Don’t think this would be a good long-term fit.
Britton was shaky but good enough for the Yankees. It would be nice to have him back, but some team is going to pay him closer money, and that’s just not an option for the Yanks.
I’ve seen a lot of people pencil Brantley into left field for the Yankees, and I do not want them to do this. It’s a really bad fit to me. Brantley is a good player, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 and will command a contract for at least three years around $15 million a year. I’d love to have his high-contact bat in the lineup, but with his awful injury history, bad defense, and limited power, I can live without it.
Another commonly predicted 2019 Yankee, another free agent that I don’t want the Yankees targeting. Happ was excellent after coming over at the trade deadline, and then he was terrible in the playoffs. You shouldn’t use postseason performance as an indicator of a pitcher’s “guts” or any shit like that, but it should open your eyes to the pitcher that Happ has been for the majority of his career. I’ve already called James Paxton a better version of Happ in this blog, but in that case then Paxton is like Happ 4.0. He’s old and is going to cost a lot, and I wouldn’t be shocked at all if he posts ERAs in the high 4’s over each year of his contract.
I don’t know anything about his game, but Kikuchi is a 27 year-old lefty starter and the top Japanese free agent this offseason. If the Yankees lose the bidding war for Corbin, then expect them to be active here.
Fading reliever who’s going to be expensive and is suddenly getting old. Let someone else take this one.
Ugh, I’d LOVE Warren back. I just don’t think that’s on the table after the Yankees traded him for international signing bonus pool space during the heat of a playoff run.
This one is tough. Morton has been excellent the past two seasons and will probably only sign for a one-year deal. It would be a major high risk, high reward move. I’d be fine with it, but I could also see it playing out where Morton gets paid just short of $20 million just to throw 50 innings.
I would be all about bringing in Iglesias on a one-year deal to fill in for Didi. He can’t really hit, but he is an absolute wizard at short. I would love if the Yankees could continue Gleyber’s development at second base, but Iglesias is the only affordable shortstop in free agency who could justifiably start every day. And I wouldn’t bank on a 28 year-old this good at defense taking a one-year deal.
I kinda expect the Yankees to sign Harrison. They’ve publicly liked him for a while now and he has that 2B/3B versatility the team is searching for this offseason. He’s been solid offensively as recently as 2017, but I’m bearish on his future with the bat. I definitely wouldn’t hate this move; I just think there are better and cheaper options out there for infield versatility.
What am I missing here? A lot of Yankees writers whose work I respect are hopeful that Walker will return on a one-year deal. Um, he was terrible last year? I know he had some big hits and improved in the second half, but this is still a guy who batted .219 (including .164 as a right-handed hitter) and played suspect defense. Let’s aim higher, people.
OPENING DAY ROSTER
OPENING DAY LINEUP
Gleyber Torres SS
Aaron Judge RF
Aaron Hicks CF
Giancarlo Stanton DH
Miguel Andujar 3B
Daniel Murphy 1B
Gary Sanchez C
Jurickson Profar 2B
Brett Gardner LF
Santana isn't a bad player like those I mentioned in the Ellsbury segment of the blog. But he's coming off a disappointing year and more importantly the #Phillies are desperate to ship him to make room at 1B for Rhys Hoskins. I think Ellsbury + a good prospect for Santana works.
So while I still love my initially suggested roster with Daniel Murphy as a lefty 1B and Chen as the No. 6 starter, I think I'd prefer one with Santana at first and the Murphy money spent on another pitcher even more. (Shoutout @tbald427 for this idea.)
Wind chills are hovering around -20 degrees. New calendars are up on the walls. Maesters at The Citadel have released the white ravens. In other words, winter is officially here. Now most people probably look forward to spending these dark and cold nights cuddled up by the fireplace. Pshhh. You can find me gyrating next to the MLB Hot Stove. You love the smell of roasting chestnuts and the sound of Christmas carols? That’s nice, but give me technical articles on luxury tax thresholds and quotes of Scott Boras telling teams “YOU WON’T HEAR FROM ME AGAIN UNTIL THAT EIGHTH YEAR IS ON THE TABLE.”
In all seriousness, MLB free agency is usually a glorious shitshow. Every time you refresh Twitter you see that another player just signed for more money than the GDP of some small African nations. GMs are reminded after issuing contracts that they just agreed to pay a player $25mil in his age 42 season. It’s chaos and it’s beautiful…but it’s just not going down that way this offseason. Baseball has been feeling the early effects of the bomb cyclone. The market has frozen over. Usually most of the marquee free agents ink massive deals before the New Year, but right now only 2-3 of the dozen or so best free agents have signed. All fans are bored, and dumb fans are starting to worry that this is some sort of sign for the future of baseball. (It’s not…we are going to see teams spend ungodly amounts of money next offseason.) But what it is a sign of is that teams are getting smarter. There is simply no need to rush into a contract that has the potential to cripple the future operations of a franchise. The players surely understand that, but at the same time the best free agents want the same kind of money that they’ve seen their peers rake in over the past few offseasons. Deals will be signed, but it seems like both sides could use a little bit of a push. Allow me to Henry Clay the shit outta this situation and strike some compromises.
Listed below are the ten biggest-named members of the remaining free agent class, ranked in order of appeal. I pick what I view as the perfect destination for each player given his current/future value and the team’s outlook, and then I come up with a contract that seems agreeable for both sides. But in all likelihood, most of these players will probably get overpaid and will fairly follow that money to whichever team offers it, regardless of fit. So in addition to a section on where each of these free agents should sign, I’ll include one on where I think each of them will sign. Here goes nothing:
I’ll keep this simple: Darvish is the best long-term asset in this market. While JD could produce the biggest immediate impact of the group, Yu is the clear-cut guy I’d most want locked up for six or seven years. Yes, I know that he was horrendous in both of his World Series starts. I don’t know if he was tipping pitches, exhausted, or just nervous, but whatever team lands Darvish should be beyond thankful for that primetime meltdown. His price point has dropped drastically, and writing off his chances of becoming a “big game pitcher” because of two bad games is almost as absurd as the “big game pitcher” label itself. Regular season performance provides us with the best idea of a player’s value, and few starters have been as consistently good as Darvish since his debut in 2012. He had a solid 2017 in his first full season back from Tommy John with 209 strikeouts and a 3.86 ERA, with fielding-independent numbers that are even better. And the crazy thing is…it was probably the worst season of Darvish’s career. But considering his velocity is as high as ever, his K/9 rate finished over 10.0 for the fifth straight season, and he finished in the Top 20 in baseball in soft contact induced, there is absolutely no reason to believe there is a dropoff for Yu coming anytime soon. In fact, I’d argue that his 2017 numbers are probably the worst you’ll see out of him for the next few seasons. In the right conditions, Darvish could return to his 2013 form and safely solidify himself as one of the ten best starters in baseball. Aces don’t hit the open market very often, and when they do, teams almost never have the chance to buy low on them.
Best Deal: 6 yrs/$150mil with the Twins
The smaller-market Twins might be hesitant to take on another huge contract right as Joe Mauer’s deal is finally coming off their books, but this opportunity is too good and makes too much sense to pass up. With their current roster, I’d be pretty shocked if Minnesota returns to the playoffs in 2018. Their bullpen is anonymous, and Ervin Santana will have a tough time duplicating his excellent 2017. But a rotation anchored by Darvish, Santana, and Jose Berrios to go along with a deep and underrated lineup is no joke. Combine the dimensions of Target Field with the Twins’ unbelievable outfield play, and Darvish would be poised to put up his best stats yet. Cy Young potential is there with this fit.
Actual Deal: 7 yrs/$175mil with the Angels
As a Darvish fan and someone who recognizes that Anaheim is where flashy free agent signings go to die, I really don’t want this to happen. It just makes too much sense. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Angels have once again decided to go “all in” this offseason. It’s a long-term play to try to keep Mike Trout around by proving their commitment to winning, but it’s likely that it eventually ends with the unintended outcome of not having enough money to pay him when his time comes (just ask Orioles fans about this strategy re: Manny Machado). Anyway, while the Angels lineup is filled with star power, they have nothing resembling a complete rotation. The thought of pairing Darvish with Shohei Ohtani is probably too enticing to pass up, so I expect the Angels to dig even deeper into their pockets. This totally won’t come back to bite them in the ass in a few years!
If there’s anything about the 2017 season that I’m truly thankful for, it’s that we finally put the 2014 World Series between the Giants and Royals in the rearview mirror and started to embrace the value of power again. And when it comes to purely mashing the ball, JD is one of the five best in baseball at it. Already established as one of the premier sluggers in baseball coming into 2017, Martinez put up his best season split between the Tigers and Diamondbacks with a preposterous 45 dingers in just 119 games. For those casual fans who might not be too familiar with JD, his 2017 wasn’t just a fluke either. Among players with at least 2000 plate appearances between 2014 (his first full season) and 2017, he finished second in slugging percentage and third in isolated power (behind Trout in both, and Stanton too in ISO). So if you’re wondering why he isn’t at the top of this list, it’s because he strikes out a ton, doesn’t walk a lot, and already can’t really hold his own in the outfield.
Best Deal: 6 yrs/$150mil with the Red Sox
The Red Sox desperately need power in the middle of their lineup, especially since the already great Yankees lineup just added the best power bat in baseball. They’re also the only team that’s certainly going to shoot past the luxury tax threshold this season, so they’re going to be spending money. And guess what? JD Martinez wants A LOT of it, and he deserves it. A late bloomer, JD is already going into his age 31 season, so the last few years of this contract could potentially look really ugly. But Boston is in win-now mode, and the thought of what JD could do right now aiming for the Green Monster 81 times a year is pretty terrifying.
Actual Deal: 6 yrs/$170mil with the Red Sox
It’s going to happen. But considering this is Dave Dombrowski and Scott Boras at the opposite ends of the negotiating table, this staring contest might take weeks to call off. The Red Sox reportedly offered him a five-year deal, but it’s logical to assume that Boras wants seven. We’ll meet halfway at six years, but we’ll also throw in some extra dough because Boras pretty much always gets what he wants.
Cain is one of the few players on this list that I think actually might get underpaid. He’s the best of the available former Royals, and I don’t even think it’s particularly close. Also a late bloomer, Cain is entering his age 32 season with only three pro seasons with 130+ games played under his belt. But in each of those seasons, Cain finished with a WAR above 4.0, including a ridiculous 6.5 WAR season in 2015. He finished THIRD in the AL MVP voting just three years ago! (Seriously, has there been a more undercover Top 3 MVP finish ever? Maybe Michael Brantley in 2014?) While his 2017 wasn’t as spectacular as his 2015, it was still a really good season. He hit .300, popped 15 homers, stole 26 bags, saw his walk rate rise to a career high, and once again finished as a plus centerfielder. Cain doesn’t profile as a player who should quickly drop off either. He has great speed, but he doesn’t rely on it to get on base. And while he has some power, it’s more of a complimentary tool. Cain might have to move to one of the corner outfield spots towards the end of a long-term deal, but there’s massive value here.
Best Deal: 5 yrs/$75mil with the Giants
Cain is the rare Giants’ free agent target that actually makes a ton of sense for them. (I have absolutely no clue why or when the Giants, who won three championships through homegrown development and shrewd acquisitions, decided to become reckless spenders). San Francisco’s current outfield situation is a complete disaster, and their lineup isn’t much to look at either. Cain would be an immediate steadying presence for both. Still, I have little faith that this match comes to fruition. For starters, the Giants are one of the big-market teams making a concerted push to get under the luxury tax threshold for this season, and a contract for Cain in this ballpark would makes things extremely tight. With that being said, the Giants outfield is so bad that they are locks to spend on it in some fashion. I think they’ll concentrate on corner outfield options with more power, especially since they just moved on from Denard Span who they probably view similarly to Cain. That is beyond stupid if true, but these are the present-day Giants we’re talking about.
Actual Deal: 4 yrs/$65mil with the Mets
The Wilpons from the clouds!!! Mets fans have endured years of lies from ownership that they will eventually spend big at the right time, but if there’s anything that we definitively know about them, it’s that they’re always searching for a good bargain. This deal for Cain would fit the bill, and he’d change the outlook for this team overnight. The Mets desperately need a rock at the top of the lineup, and a healthy Cespedes/Cain/Conforto outfield would rank as one of baseball’s best. Would this turn the Mets into contenders? Probably not. But the Triple C outfield would justifiably give Mets fans something to look forward to.
Timing hasn’t proved to be the best friend to Jake Arrieta. He had one of the best pitching seasons ever in 2015, followed that up with great 2016 regular season and postseason, but then produced just an average 2017 in his contract year. There is still a lot to like when it comes to Arrieta. He’s still striking out about a batter per inning, generates a ton of soft contact, and hasn’t logged as many innings on his arm as most starters entering their age 32 season. But on the other hand, he has now regressed by almost every metric in back-to-back seasons, he’s become more erratic, his home run rate has skyrocketed, and his fastball velocity is down big time. I’d argue the ace potential is still there, but there’s probably an equal chance of a total collapse. Arrieta is about as polarizing as a free agent can be.
Best Deal: 4 yrs/$110mil with the Orioles
These are reportedly the exact terms that the Cubs offered Arrieta, and I am stunned that he didn’t cut off Theo Epstein to take that deal. It’s a major overpay for the direction that Jake is trending towards, but I guess Boras has actually convinced him that he’s going to collect 6 yrs/$200mil. Still, this is the hypothetical section, and I think a contract like this should’ve be more than enough to lure Arrieta back to his old stomping grounds. The second half of this deal would probably be rough on Baltimore, but their window is quickly closing. As I referenced before, all of this money, Chris Davis’s money, and Mark Trumbo’s money should’ve been piled together and offered to Manny Machado years ago, but that ship has sailed. Manny Machado will not be a Baltimore Oriole in 2019, but that doesn’t mean that Baltimore can’t make one last push to make a run with him in town. I’m of the opinion that you don’t trade players like Machado under almost any circumstances, because he is one of the elite few that can singlehandedly get a team over the hump. The Orioles offense is still good with enough talent to be great, but their rotation is so bad that the team still managed to finish seven games under .500 last year. Even Arrieta in his 2017 form could place the O’s in the Wild Card discussion. If he managed to return to his 2015-2016 form, then they could contend for a lot more. You might not think that’s possible, but there aren’t many competitors like Jake and I’m sure he’d want redemption for those ugly seasons he had the first time around in Baltimore.
Actual Deal: 5 yrs/ $125mil with the Cubs
Again, I can’t believe Arrieta is getting offers of this magnitude, but clearly the Cubs have serious interest in keeping him around. There was speculation that the Cubs were one of the teams trying to avoid paying the luxury tax, but that initial offer to Arrieta likely indicates that they’re comfortable paying it for this season. They could definitely use another starting pitcher, even with the deal they already handed out to Tyler Chatwood this offseason. With a deal like this, you couldn’t help but think that it’s partially a reward to Jake for his popularity amongst fans and direct role in delivering a championship in 2016. I subscribe to Theo Epstein being a genius, but this one would be a head-scratcher.
Deep breaths, PJ. So I’m an Eric Hosmer hater, as this ranking probably indicates since most similar lists have him first or second. If you’re looking for further proof, a simple Twitter search would suffice! I think he’s arguably the most overrated player in baseball, and I legitimately believe the deal he’s about to get has the potential to be one of the worst of all time. I’m pretty sure most fans have no idea how the Royals made it to back-to-back World Series, so they just assume Hosmer is way better than he actually is. He’s an average overall player who peaked as a simply good player in 2017, yet he’s about to get paid like a superstar. I don’t even think he was the best first baseman in this free agent class. That honor belongs to Carlos Santana, who signed a 3 yr/$60mil deal that I love for the Phillies. Most “experts” think the Phillies splurged on Santana, yet they’ll stay silent once Hosmer inks a deal for 4-5 extra years and more average annual value. It all makes no sense.
So what specifically is it about Hosmer that drives me insane? Take a seat! His four Gold Glove awards are quite literally the least deserving pieces of recognition that I have ever seen in sports. Of the 19 qualified first basemen between 2015-2017, Hosmer ranks 18th in ultimate zone rating, 19th in defensive runs saved, and 19th in total defensive rating. He’s by most definitions the worst defensive everyday first baseman in baseball. (For what it’s worth, Santana checks in at 4th, 10th, and 3rd in those respective metrics.) So he must be an unreal hitter, right? Wrong! He’s played seven full seasons for the Royals, and in three of them he was objectively bad at the plate. Yes, he had a great season with the bat in 2017, hitting .318 with a .333 RISP that led to 94 RBI. But that’s pretty much his peak ability, and he still has some of the lowest walk rates and isolated power stats among first basemen over the past few years. In this “breakout season” of his, he posted a 4.1 WAR…also exactly what Lorenzo Cain just posted in an “average season” of his. As recently as 2016, Hosmer was a NEGATIVE WAR player. There’s a reason Scott Boras keeps hyping up his “intangibles” and “prestige value.” It’s because there’s not a single piece of tangible evidence he can point to that proves Hosmer’s worth.
Best Deal: 7 yrs/$140mil with the Padres
Obviously, I don’t think teams should be offering Hosmer anything remotely close to this type of contract. But it will happen, so we’ll stay realistic here. The Padres apparently made Hosmer an offer close to this, and it’s the only fit that doesn’t make me want to rip my hair out. Petco Park would be the perfect home for Hosmer, since he sprays the ball evenly to all fields and wouldn’t be expected to hit many homers. But more importantly, landing a “marquee” free agent like Hosmer could change the culture and public perception of the Padres. It would be eerily similar to when the Nationals wildly overpaid for Jayson Werth. Werth’s on-field performance didn’t live up to his contract, but his arrival turned the Nationals into a reputable free agent destination and swung their reputation around the league. Hosmer wouldn’t turn the Padres (or any team for that matter) into winners next year, but he could be the veteran clubhouse presence in a few years for a team that has a really promising farm system.
Actual Deal: 8 yrs/$170mil with the Royals
The Royals should stink next season and the few seasons after that, yet it isn’t the “Royal Way” to tear it all down and tank. They’d rather keep a fan favorite at an exorbitant price than commit to a rebuild, even though a contract like this would completely handcuff all future efforts to improve the team. But hey, at least they’ll sell more tickets and still lead in All Star Game fan voting!!!
Frazier is the last of the few whose expected contract would actually be a great value to whatever team lands him. I like the Toddfather a lot and will be hyping him up here, so I’ll start with the glaring negative: he batted .225 in 2016 and .213 in 2017. There is no nice way to slice that…it is very bad. HOWEVER, Frazier is a good-to-great player when it comes to just about all other facets of his game. Even with that dismal 2017 batting average, he posted a respectable on-base percentage of .344. And while his home run total was the lowest it’s been in four seasons, he still popped 27 of them and hit 40 as recently as 2016. So you know the patience and power are there for Frazier, but he’s also got some decent speed and is excellent at the hot corner. He was an all-around great player for the Reds in 2014 and 2015, and I guess he’s just fallen off the radar a bit after 1.5 pretty anonymous years with the White Sox and a half-season spent near the bottom of the Yankees lineup. Still just 31 years old, I think whoever gets Frazier for 2018 will be stealing him at his anticipated price point.
Best Deal: 2 yrs/$30mil with the Yankees
Frazier and the Yankees are two middle schoolers with a crush on each other who are standing on opposite ends of the dance floor when “Time Of Your Life” comes on. They want it to happen…someone just has to make the first move. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but Frazier is from New Jersey and grew up a Yankee fan. In all seriousness, he meshed incredibly well with the team and they would love to have him back in New York. On one hand, it’s likely that Frazier will be seeking a shorter-term deal. The market for third basemen is terrible right now, and if he returns to his 2014-2015 form (entirely possible) then he will be in line for a way bigger payday in his near future. But on the other hand…
Actual Deal: 1 yr/$12mil with the Yankees
…the Yankees can’t afford Frazier at that price and would likely only entertain bringing him back for a single season. The Yanks are adamant about getting under the luxury tax threshold, and by most estimates $12mil is near the max they can offer another free agent with the current state of the roster. This deal would surely complicate their salary situation, but that’s how badly I think they’d like Frazier back. As for Todd, he’d be leaving some money on the table with this deal, but I get the feeling he’d do it to return to the Bronx and chase his first ring.
It’s hard to find a more boring player in baseball than Lance Lynn, and I actually mostly mean that as a compliment. After five incredibly similar seasons in St. Louis, whatever team signs Lynn should know exactly what they’re getting. And considering that 2017 was Lynn’s first season back from Tommy John, that should be comforting for all of the teams targeting him. Yes, there were some minor disparities in his performance last season. His strikeout rate was down a bit and his homer rate went up more than a bit, rising so much to the point where it’s natural to assume it will come back down to earth moving forward. At the same time, his .219 average against and 1.23 WHIP both marked career bests. His velocity remained about the same and he still pretty much only throws fastballs. Lynn has the ceiling of a #3 starter and the floor of a #4 starter. There are more than a few teams out there that would kill for that kind of stability.
Best Deal: 5 yrs/$80mil with the Mariners
No team in need of starting pitching stability comes to mind before the Mariners, and we all know how much they love to stay active in the offseason. I’m usually not a fan of Seattle’s moves, but pairing Lynn with his former Cardinal teammate Mike Leake would provide them with the rotation reliability they’ve been seeking for years. If a healthy James Paxton and a somewhat effective King Felix joined them, then I’d finally concede that the team is balanced enough to make a strong push to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
Actual Deal: 5 yrs/$90mil with the Brewers
A lot of teams have expressed interest in Lynn’s services, and I think the Brewers will be the one with the most sizable bid. Milwaukee surprised people with an 86-76 record last year, and now they’re looking to spend some money to build something sustainable. They’ve already added a couple of starters this offseason, but they’re more fringe rotation guys in Jhoulys Chacin and Yovani Gallardo. Lynn would sit atop their rotation until Jimmy Nelson’s return from shoulder surgery, and a Nelson/Lynn/Chase Anderson/Zach Davies/Chacin rotation definitely doesn’t suck. While I think the Brew Crew would benefit more from a more dynamic arm, Lynn is still a decent fit here. With a good pro roster and an even better farm system, the Brewers won’t be going away for a while. Lance Lynn would only help out.
I’ll start with this: I don’t think Moustakas is particularly good. His free agency outlook is pretty much a less severe version of Hosmer’s. He’s going to make way too much money when he probably isn’t even the best available player at his position (I’d prefer Frazier and Zack Cozart too, if you count him). But what Moustakas has going for him is that he had his flashiest season in his contract year. He hit 38 homers out of absolutely nowhere, with a career high of 22 prior to the season. He hit 25 of those dingers in the first half too, which earned him a Home Run Derby invite that only further raised his public profile that was probably already too high from the Royals’ World Series runs. Still, it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that this power surge was probably a pretty big fluke. While most hitters with sudden boosts in home run totals can accredit a shift in launch angles, Moustakas elevated the ball with the same regularity that he had in previous seasons…more just happened to leave the park. Combine this with pitiful on-base percentages, rapidly declining defense, and horrific baserunning, and Moustakas is an average-at-best asset.
Best Deal: 3 yrs/$60mil with the Royals
I know I ripped on them for this philosophy when discussing Hosmer earlier, but I’d actually understand if the Royals really wanted to keep around one of the familiar faces from their recent glory days. A little bit of appeasement for the fan base is never a bad thing. If this is indeed their goal, then I’d suggest Moose as their target (well, besides Cain, but it seems like a foregone conclusion that he’s leaving). I think $20mil a year for a player who’s most famous for batting .215 during their championship run is laughable, but it’s a helluva lot better than giving Hosmer seven or eight years.
Actual Deal: 5 yrs/$80 mil with the Braves
I’m aware that this deal offers Moustakas less average annual value, but like I’ve repeatedly said: he’s not a very good player. He should be taking the longest-term offer he can get, and I think something in this range will be it. Atlanta has a ton of money to spend and could be competitive sooner than people might expect, so they’ll be a factor this offseason. Considering they’re currently pulling off the nearly impossible feat of scheduling to start a player I’ve never heard of, I’d recommend that third base is where they should choose to place their attention. (Apologies to Rio Ruiz and his .193 average). As harsh as I’ve been on Moustakas, he’s only 29, so it would be a safe bet for Atlanta to assume that he produces at his mediocre-to-average level for all five years on the deal. And considering the Braves aren’t exactly known as the most progressive team when it comes to sabermetrics, there are probably a few people in that front office salivating over Moose’s 38 longballs. I surely wouldn’t offer this deal if I were running the show in Atlanta, but honestly it kinda makes perfect sense.
I pretty much feel the same about Jay Bruce as I do about Moustakas. They’re both middle-of-the-pack players. While Bruce has more consistent power, he also struggles to get on base and strikes out way more often. And while he had a commendable defensive performance in 2017, I sure as shit wouldn’t want to pencil him in to guard right field for my team for 3-4 years. After getting traded at the deadline in back-to-back seasons, Bruce is undoubtedly looking for a multiyear deal. He probably wants to play for a contender too, but I wouldn’t bank on too many of them answering his phone calls. This might develop into a “take whatever you can get” situation.
Best Deal: 3 yrs/$45mil with the Blue Jays
Bruce should absolutely be in the American League. I’d guess that within two years he’d offer his most value as a regular DH that can hold his own in the outfield. Toronto feels like the ideal fit for a few reasons. First, they are slated to start some character named Teoscar in right, so the immediate need is there. Second, there is something in that bagged milk north of the border that helps hitters meet their potentials. For god’s sake, if the Blue Jays can turn Justin Smoak into an All Star, then they can teach Jay Bruce how to finally pop 40 dingers. And while Toronto struggled last year, they had miserable luck with injuries and offensive underperformance. They could potentially contend this year with better fortune, but this is probably their final chance with Josh Donaldson likely to bounce following the season. I’d endorse them pushing the chips in one last time before tearing it all down, and Bruce seems like the best move for them.
Actual Deal: 4 yrs/$55mil with the Giants
There are rumblings of this match in the rumor mill, and I can’t reiterate enough how little sense it makes for both sides. The Giants know they were nearly the worst team in baseball last year, right? I guess that Bruce, like Evan Longoria, provides some immediate assistance, but not nearly enough to reverse the team’s 2018 general outlook or improve their future whatsoever. If Bruce actually does end up in San Francisco, I’d pretty confidently say that he’ll never hit 30 homers in a season and that he’ll fall off a defensive cliff trying to man that cavernous rightfield at AT&T Park. This would be a team that struggles mightily to reach .500 despite a Top 5 payroll. So naturally, I’m expecting the Giants to actually make this deal happen.
Just about every offseason there’s a pitcher that teams obsess over, not because of the eye test or any stats. It’s because pretty much every team expresses interest and that snowballs to the point where you forget why anyone loved him in the first place. This year, that pitcher is Alex Cobb. I do not at all understand the fascination here. Sure, it’s cool that he went 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA in 2013 before a liner to the dome ended his season. But I’d prefer to focus on how he missed both the 2015 and 2016 seasons then returned with an incredibly average 2017 performance? Only four starters in all of baseball regularly allowed hard contact more often than Cobb’s 36.9% of batters faced. Two of them are strikeout machines in Robbie Ray and Chris Archer, and the others were two of 2017’s worst pitchers in Rick Porcello and Ricky Nolasco. I’m not at all suggesting that Cobb belongs in that latter group, but he certainly doesn’t belong in the same conversation as Ray or Archer either. Cobb’s 2017 strikeout rate of 17.9% is so alarmingly low that it more than offsets his impressive walk rate. It’s good to see that he was comfortably able to throw 179.1 innings…but that also marked the most he’s thrown in a single season in his career. That wouldn’t be concerning for a starter early in his career, but Cobb is already 30 years old. For the amount of money that he is bound to make, I wouldn’t want Cobb in the short-term or the long-term.
Best Deal: 4 yrs/$70mil with the Red Sox
I’ve already expressed how I think the Red Sox will spend borderline offensive amounts of money once the first major domino falls in January, and I think Cobb will be a major part of that. He has Boston ties, and he’s already spent the entirety of his career pitching in the AL East. As for the Red Sox, you know that the thought of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez batting in order is keeping them up at night, and something tells me that they don’t want Rick Porcello as the only righty in their rotation ready to face them. Ironically, Cobb reminds me a lot of Porcello. They’re both curveball-dependent and don’t really make much of an effort to miss bats. If the Red Sox could bring in Cobb and also turn him into the least deserving Cy Young winner in MLB history, then this deal would obviously be worth it. But something tells me that…um…won’t happen.
Actual Deal: 4 yrs/$70mil with the Red Sox
Yup, I think that’s actually the way it’s gonna go down. Shoutout to all the Yankee fans who are already praying that a JD/Cobb splash goes just about as well as that Hanley/Sandoval splash from a few years back.
“Stray Bullets” is a recurring series of blogs I’ll be doing, choosing to list off a few bullet points on a breaking topic instead of writing an organized feature. Today’s subject is the reigning NL MVP and now New York Yankee, Giancarlo Stanton.
This all hasn’t really set in for me yet. It’s pretty impossible to process. The Yankees’ plan for years was to mostly ignore free agency and avoid big contracts, get under the luxury tax threshold, then go all in on Bryce Harper or Manny Machado after the 2018 season. It was an extremely public blueprint that just about every Yankee fan bought into. But when the best slugger in baseball chooses you as one of his only desired destinations and then his asking price hits rock bottom, sometimes you have to make a move. And that’s exactly what Brian Cashman did.
Make no mistake about it: this was highway robbery by the Yankees. A power-hitting rightfielder was probably the last thing the Yankees needed to acquire, but Cashman knows better than to pass up an offer as opportunistic as this one.
The prospects that the Yankees are giving up for Giancarlo are…um…far from their best. Jorge Guzman has a big arm and immediately becomes one of Miami’s top prospects. But he was also the second best prospect the Yankees received in their Brian McCann trade, and Guzman is only the fourth best…right-handed pitcher in the Yankees system. As for the other kid, Jose Devers, I’ve never heard of him and I spend more time actively following the Yankees than most people my age spend actually working at their jobs. Even with the Marlins’ barren farm and their total lack of leverage in this situation, I’m stunned that this is all they pulled in prospects.
Losing Starlin Castro isn’t ideal, considering he’s somehow only 27 with a pretty solid contract. But he’s also a free swinger who I’m pretty sure doesn’t know that you can reach base after taking four balls. His profile doesn’t fit in at all with a lineup that’s filled with righties and bound to strike out a ton, especially considering mega-prospect Gleyber Torres was bound to take his job at some point during this season anyway. I’m sure most fans would’ve rather seen Gleyber supplant Chase Headley instead of Starlin, but I’m not so sure I subscribe to that. Headley’s potential is severely limited and he’s not exactly a Gold Glover, but Starlin would occasionally blow games with his play at second and he’s a remarkably inconsistent hitter. For someone who’s bound to bat 8th or 9th in this lineup, I’ll take the switch-hitting third baseman.
Now let’s discuss the main reason why people tune into baseball…the financials! Real talk, I’m not gonna go all Darren Rovell here, but it’s important to consider the money since the Yankees have such a specific financial plan that Stanton’s league-leading contract surely complicates. As expected, the Yankees are taking on the bulk of Giancarlo’s massive deal: $265mil of the $295mil that he’s owed through 2028. That $30mil that the Marlins are chipping in might seem like chump change compared to what the Yankees are paying, but it’s actually crucial. The Yankees are on the hook for $25mil towards Giancarlo for 2018, but he actually only costs $22mil towards the luxury tax threshold since it accounts for average annual value and that $30mil is spaced out over ten seasons. (The Yankees don’t get that money from the Marlins if Giancarlo opts out after 2020, but that’s unlikely and for the sake of this exercise we’re gonna assume that he won’t.) Even though A-Rod and other big contracts finally came off the Yankees’ books, they still have a big payroll and their pursuit to get under that threshold is gonna be extremely down-to-the-wire. An extra $3mil goes a looooong way. (First-grade explanation of the luxury tax to those confused: while baseball doesn’t have a salary cap, a team is penalized if their payroll exceeds a certain amount. The penalty exponentially increases for repeat offenders, so for a year-after-year big spender like the Dodgers, they end up paying more in the luxury tax than they pay to Clayton Kershaw. But getting under the threshold for just one season completely resets the scale for a team, which is why the Yankees badly want to achieve that before the impending free agency bonanza of next offseason.)
What this means for the rest of this offseason: money is gonna be pretty tight in the Bronx. Unless he takes a huge hometown discount, Todd Frazier is as good as gone now. While it’ll suck to see the Toddfather go, starting pitching has always been the biggest need for this offseason, and that’s still the case. I don’t think our rotation is in dire need of an upgrade like a ton of fans are suggesting, since a healthy Severino/Gray/Tanaka/Montgomery is a really solid Top 4. Still, we could definitely use some more depth and a veteran arm to eat up the innings that our young arms won’t be allowed to pitch. CC Sabathia is pretty much exactly what the Yankees need, but following his resurgent season he’ll probably field a few short-term offers from contenders. Although I think it’s foolish to assume that CC will pitch like he did in the playoffs over the course of an entire season, here’s to hoping the fat man comes back for one more chance at his second ring. I also wouldn’t rule out Cashman flashing his creative genius some more, especially since some increased financial flexibility would be huge towards bringing back CC and maybe another piece. Jacoby Ellsbury is the obvious name who needs to get the fuck off the roster, especially since he is now a $21mil pinch runner and the SIXTH outfielder with Stanton in town. No team in their right mind wants any part of Ellsbury and his contract, but if the Yankees promised to eat most of the deal and throw in a top prospect like Clint Frazier, I think a rebuilding team with pitchers to offer could pounce on that. (I hate the notion that Frazier is an expendable player now. Yeah he’s an imperfect prospect and probably wouldn’t crack the Opening Day roster, but he could make things happen way sooner than most people expect. Injuries also happen, and regression from Aaron Hicks or a complete breakdown at the plate for Brett Gardner are both entirely possible.)
What this means for next offseason and beyond: the Bryce Harper in pinstripes dream is pretty much dead. With Stanton around, I just don’t see any way that Hal Steinbrenner would approve bringing in another rightfielder for something in the ballpark of $35mil per year. The Yankees’ master plan was to spend big on an absolute superstar to turn a great roster into the best roster in baseball. I’m not saying they’ve already achieved that, but let’s be clear…Stanton is that absolute superstar. Any perception of him as a one-dimensional player who just hits bombs is total crap. Yes, his ability to hit 50+ homers year after year is what’s most impressive about him, but last year he also raised his walk rate while his strikeout rate dropped dramatically. (Compared to the other great power hitters in baseball, he really doesn’t strikeout that) To put it simply, he’s one of the ten best players in baseball, and he immediately becomes the best player on his new team. Does this mean the Yankees will just sit out on next year’s free agency party? Of course not, but I think it means the Yankees are no longer the clear favorite to land Manny Machado. While Harper was always the goal for 2018, I think Machado became the more realistic target for the Yankees this year with Aaron Judge’s emergence. He is a vacuum at third base, and that just so happens to project as the Yankees’ biggest need going into next offseason (unless they shift Gleyber or actually give fellow Top 100 prospect Miguel Andujar his fair chance). And even though Machado should still sign for something absurd like 10yr/$300mil, the crazy thing is that would make him a significantly cheaper option than Harper. But with Stanton and his contract in the fold for the next decade, I wouldn’t be shocked if a big-market team looking to make a splash makes Machado an offer the Yankees choose not to match. Josh Donaldson is in that free agent class too, and he’d make a pretty ok consolation prize.
I’m not too concerned about Giancarlo’s health moving forward. His injury history isn’t pretty, with this past season being the first in his career with over 150 games played. He’s had a few short DL stints because of hamstring problems, but it’s not like he has chronic knee or back issues. I mean, his most serious injury came when he got drilled in the face with a fastball.
Among players who hit at least 18 homers last season, within the Top 10 in average longball distance are…Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez. There will be innings this season where pitchers have to face all three of them. I can’t stop laughing at this.
I’ve seen some hypothetical lineups for the Yankees next season, and in just about all of them Stanton is slated at DH with Judge at RF. Um…I’m pretty sure that won’t be the case. Look, Judge had a good year in the field. But I’m pretty sure most fans think he’s way better with his glove than he actually is, especially with plays like his ALCS Game 7 home run robbery fresh in mind. He was never projected to be anything more than a competent fielder, and his play was downright sloppy at times during last season. Giancarlo isn’t perfect in the field himself, but he’s been solid out there for a few seasons and has way less ground to cover now that Yankee Stadium is home. I think it will mostly be a rotation, but I also think it’s safe to call Stanton our rightfielder. And no, this is not a “Jeter didn’t move to third for A-Rod” situation. I love Aaron Judge, but he is not Derek Jeter.
Let’s talk some more about Mr. Jeter. No doubt it’s super fishy that one of his first moves as Marlins co-owner is selling the franchise player to his former team for a minimal return. But c’mon, this is not Derek Jeter doing the Yankees a solid out of loyalty. The Marlins are in crippling debt thanks to their scumbag ex-owner Jeffrey Loria, and with Giancarlo in line for a huge pay bump this year, they simply couldn’t afford to keep him around. Jeter had to trade him, and the Yankees were the only one of Stanton’s approved destinations that stepped up to take on the majority of his contract. Still, I am not about to blindly defend Jeter’s approach to this whole situation…he fucked it up. How the first step in this process wasn’t finding out where Giancarlo would approve a trade is beyond me. Jeter came up with frameworks for trades with both the Cardinals and Giants, and considering how badly both teams wanted him, it’s safe to assume they would’ve taken on the entire contract while giving the Marlins a few good prospects and/or young pros. The only thing is…Giancarlo didn’t want to play in St. Louis or San Francisco. All leverage went out the window for the Marlins once those trades broke down and everyone figured out that Stanton only wanted to play for one of four teams. The Cubs and Astros didn’t express real interest, and Giancarlo’s hometown Dodgers apparently weren’t psyched to pay him that much without offloading a few of their bad contracts. That left the Yankees as the only real option. Even with all of that factored in, it’s insane that Jeter couldn’t negotiate a better haul from one of the most loaded farm systems in baseball.
All day I’ve seen non-Yankee fans dreading the return of the Evil Empire and saying shit like “RIP likable Yankees.” I get that the Yankees are just a naturally hated franchise, but I don’t really get how this move drastically shifts public opinion on them overnight. Yeah, it’s probably annoying to fans of small-market teams to watch Giancarlo go to New York just because they can afford him, but the Yankees have been openly prepping for a gigantic move for years now. They just improvised and made it happen sooner than everyone expected. Giancarlo is also insanely popular, which is especially impressive considering he’s spent his whole career with what’s probably the least popular franchise. His contract makes him stand out compared to his new teammates, but he’s just like a lot of them in the sense that he’s a Yankee because of a shrewd move by Brian Cashman. Pretty much the entire Yankees’ core is a homegrown talent, an affordable free agent signing, or the product of a trade. The Yankees haven’t handed out a contract north of $100mil to a free agent since they gave deals to Ellsbury and Tanaka in 2014. Hell, even the Mets have paid a player like that since then. And don’t even begin to compare this to the trade for A-Rod in 2004. Yes, they both resulted in the Yankees taking on the biggest contract in the league, but in that first deal the Yankees traded a stud and one of the most beloved players in New York in Alfonso Soriano. Even with Stanton on the roster, this isn’t close to a reincarnated version of the mid-2000s Yankees, let alone their 2009 team. They aren’t trying to buy their way into the World Series just because they have the deepest pockets. This is them putting the cherry on top of their plan to rebuild the team from the base up. If you just despise the existence of the Yankees, then you can go right ahead and hate on this team. They’re gonna be really fucking good for a long time. And douchey Yankee fans are going to be especially douchey. But say what you want…you don’t hate this team because they’re the best team that money can buy. You hate us ‘cause you ain’t us.
Carlos Beltran just retired the way that probably every MLB player dreams it up. After 20 seasons that were mostly all healthy and productive, Beltran walked away on top after finally grabbing that elusive ring with the Astros. Almost the second after Beltran definitely published the announcement himself on The Players’ Tribune, the pro-Hall of Fame thinkpieces were everywhere and they might as well have included a line that suggested reading with Jergens and Kleenex. This is hardly surprising, given that Beltran is one of the more respected players ever and the Twitter climate where every good athlete gets his/her chance to be the G.O.A.T. But allow me to break up this circle-jerk by blasting whatever music makes baseball writers go soft (probably any rap), because the doors of Cooperstown aren’t just opened to all nice and sometimes great players.
The Baseball Hall of Fame is the hardest one for players to get into and it isn’t particularly close. People have been professionally playing this game for like 150 years and only 220 former MLB players are in Cooperstown. That is CRAZY exclusive when you stop to think about. It’s well known throughout the baseball world that the Hall wants voters to loosen up a bit to better represent the modern era of the game, especially with so many statistical leaders probably shunned for life because of steroids (I’ll tackle that beast of a debate another time). But count me out for this cause. I love how fucking hard it is to get in. It’s reserved for the best of the best (and Bud Selig). Give me the Baseball Hall any day of the week over the Basketball Hall, where Tracy McGrady was elected on the first ballot and Mitch Richmond (!!!) got in. I’m still unsure if I’m on board with Tim Raines getting in on his tenth and final year on the ballot, and that’s a dude who won a batting title and is fifth all time in steals. Even though I’m a total dickhead when determining who would get my hypothetical Hall of Fame vote, my qualifications are actually pretty simple: the player had to have been among the elite of the elite during any point in his career, and he had to have a solid streak of sustained greatness. I’m not sure Carlos Beltran meets either of those requirements.
Before I get overly negative here, it needs to be acknowledged that Beltran’s career totals are wildly impressive. Among the 60 players with more than Beltran’s 2725 hits, only 17 of them hit more than his 435 homers. Of those 17, only FOUR of them surpassed Beltran’s 312 steals (Barry Bonds, Willie Mays, A-Rod, and Andre Dawson). PEDs aside, those are three of the best players ever and Dawson is a Hall of Famer in his own right. In summation, Beltran was really good at being the total package, better at it than a ton of guys already in the Hall.
Still, the closest to the top of any statistical leaderboard you’ll find Beltran is in games played. He didn’t have a particular tool that he showed off at a legendary level. He never had 200 hits in a season. He topped 40 homers in a season just once with 41 in 2006. He batted .300 or better in only three seasons, topping out at .307 in 2003. He never had a season with an OBP of even .390. He was really good defensively in the first half of his career, but in his second half he should have been a full-time DH. I don’t hold falling off a defensive cliff once he got older against him, but even at his peak he wasn’t in that top tier of contemporary centerfielders like Jim Edmonds or Torii Hunter or Andruw Jones. And while he had a strong arm, there were never “oh shit don’t run on Beltran” moments for baserunners like there were for soon-to-be Hall of Famer Vlad Guerrero.
And when we get into the hardware, Beltran’s argument gets worse. WAY worse. 9 All-Star appearances and 3 Gold Gloves looks really nice, but given today’s propensity for mindless fan voting and defensive stupidity, it’s like having 9 Schrute bucks and 3 Stanley nickels. Winning Rookie of the Year in 1999 is a legit bullet point on the resume and for some reason Hall voters love that shit. But this is the same award that was also won by Kaz Sasaki, Eric Hinske, Angel Berroa, and Bobby Crosby in the five years following Beltran’s win. While the MVP and Cy Young voting processes are definitely imperfect (you don’t need to remind me that Rick Porcello won a Cy Young), they’re still probably the best barometer for measuring if a player was elite and how he stacked up against the best players of his time. Beltran had two Top 10 MVP finishes, coming in fourth in 2006 and ninth in 2003. Compared to the vast majority of players in the Hall, that is…not good. At all. He never received a first place MVP vote. Francisco Lindor, who just turned 24 a few days ago, has already put together pretty much the exact same MVP campaigns. Being the key player on a championship team can rightfully provide a huge boost to candidates with borderline statistical cases, like it did for Barry Larkin (for what it’s worth, Larkin also won the 1995 NL MVP). And while Beltran finally got his ring, let’s be real, he was a glorified hitting instructor on these Astros.
To be fair, Beltran probably would’ve finished in the Top 5 of the MVP voting in 2004 had he played the entire year in one league. He split the season between the Royals and Astros, a season where he finished just two homers shy of becoming the fifth member of the super exclusive 40-40 club. 2004 is the highlight of Beltran’s career, specifically his postseason performance that year with the Astros. He was unconscious at the plate for pretty much all 12 playoff games (first 3:30 of the video). His 8 moonshots are tied for the most ever in a single postseason, and unlike the two guys he’s tied with who each played in a seven-game World Series (Bonds and Nelson Cruz), Beltran’s Astros that year were knocked out in the NLCS. While it’s definitely good to share a record and have a specific moment in time for voters to reference, we’re talking about a postseason run where his team didn’t even reach the World Series as the pinnacle of his career. This is probably dumb, but I deeply consider what team’s logo a player could justifiably wear on the cap of his Hall of Fame plaque. In the case of, say, Mike Piazza, you can make worthy arguments for both the Dodgers and the Mets. But for Beltran, can you make any case whatsoever? He peaked as an Astro and won a World Series there, but he only played in Houston for 1.5 years. He was his most consistent as a Royal, but those teams were AWFUL and never reached the postseason. He played more games for the Mets than any other team and accumulated his most WAR there, but his most enduring memory in New York is undoubtedly striking out looking with the bases loaded in the 9th inning of Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS. The correct answer is Beltran would probably go in with a blank cap, but that’s lame as shit and also speaks volumes to his legacy on each team.
I want to compare Beltran’s case with that of another relevant Hall of Fame candidate, Roy Halladay. The uncomfortable and oft-unmentioned reality behind Halladay’s case is that he was probably an on-the-fence candidate too before his plane crash, but now he is receiving the shoo-in treatment. Still, even had Halladay not suddenly and tragically passed away, he absolutely would have had my hypothetical vote. The major limitation in Halladay’s argument is that his tenure as a full-time starting pitcher essentially lasted only 11 years from 2002-2012, so roughly half the length of Beltran’s career. Still, he was truly one of the elite starters during that entire time frame, including multiple stints as the best starter in baseball. He has the single-season numbers and the hardware to back that claim up. Halladay lead his league in wins twice, innings pitched four times, strikeout/walk ratio five times, and complete games seven times. And for each of the seven seasons where Halladay made 30+ starts between 2003 and 2011, he finished in the Top 5 in Cy Young voting in EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. Oh, and he happened to win the award in 2003 and 2010, throw a perfect game, and become the second pitcher ever to throw a postseason no-hitter. His career totals might not stack up to most starters in the Hall, but Halladay was dominant for a long time. If Beltran ever was, then it definitely wasn’t for long.
Even though this blog has been whatever the opposite of a puff piece is called, I’m pretty confident that Beltran will eventually get into the Hall of Fame. Like I mentioned earlier, baseball writers love him and they’re going to give a boost to anyone from the past 20 years who was never mentioned in the same sentence as steroids. (Especially with every 60-year-old’s favorite childhood player Joe Morgan just sending Hall voters an old-man-yells-at-the-sky note to reaffirm that PED suspects should be kept out.) Another argument from writers that you should prepare for to back Beltran’s candidacy is “X outfielder has a lower career WAR than Beltran and he is already inducted.” I fucking HATE this logic. So just because there’s some guy with unspectacular numbers who played before both World Wars and the advent of minority players enshrined in Cooperstown, we should double down and let in another undeserving guy who was slightly better?
And despite how you probably think I feel about Beltran at this point, I’d be psyched for him if he gets in. I’ll always have a subjectively high opinion of him for following up his bad first two years with the Yankees with an out-of-nowhere and somewhat deserving All Star season at 39 years old. For all of the unbridled rage and frustration I felt when I saw Brian McCann celebrating the Astros’ title, I felt the polar opposite for Beltran. How could you not be filled with happiness for this guy at this moment?
But before the baseball world prematurely solidifies its lasting take on Beltran, may I recommend that image as Beltran’s legacy instead? Because Hall of Fame plaques are made of bronze, and that shit lasts a LONG time.