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.
- Kolten Wong
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.
- Didi Gregorious
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.
- Andrelton Simmons
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
- Jose Quintana
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:
Openly Tanking/Sucking: Orioles, Pirates, Rangers, Tigers
Openly Seeking Cash Relief: Cubs, Indians, Rays, Reds, Rockies
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
- Kyle Freeland
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.
- Carlos Carrasco
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.
- Jason Castro
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.
- Tyler Flowers
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.
- Trevor Bauer
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.
- Francisco Lindor
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.
- JT Realmuto
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.
- Marcus Semien
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.
- James Paxton
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.
- Michael Brantley
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.
- Eddie Rosario
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.
- Kyle Schwarber
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.
- Joc Pederson
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…
- Brett Gardner
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.
- Taijuan Walker
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.
- Brad Hand
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?
- Yadier Molina
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.
- Cesar Hernandez
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.
- James McCann
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.
- Corey Kluber
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.
- Garrett Richards
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.
- Austin Hedges
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.
- Sonny Gray
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.
- JA Happ
+ 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