It doesn’t feel like baseball season in New York this morning, but Opening Day is merely ten days away. Exciting stuff! But seriously, I thought we were done with winter weather. This cold spurt will be long gone come April 7th, which currently has a forecast in the low 60s (yay) with showers (gulp).
Today marks the return of the mailbag from a long hiatus. As always, you can send your mailbag questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll [try] to answer them every Monday. Now, let’s get to this week’s edition:
Dan asks: Seeing how ownership and the front office operates now, is extending Judge a wise decision? Look at how this offseason went. They passed on every top free agent and it looks as though that’s because the plan all along was to extend Judge. If Judge’s potential extension, along with Cole and Stanton’s contracts, precludes the Yanks from being in notable FAs in the future (especially in scenarios where the team has an obvious area of need and the best player at the position is available), wouldn’t it be smart to either trade Judge or let him walk?
Yes, it still makes sense to extend him. It’s been frustrating to watch the Yankees not pursue and/or sign this offseason’s top free agents, but thinking about future free agents can’t be a reason to move on from Judge. Now’s not the time to be concerned about, say, Juan Soto’s free agency after the 2024 season. The Yankees are going to need Judge beyond 2022, and it’s hard to imagine them being a better team in 2023 without him around.
Judge is an incredible player and one we’d all want the team to pursue if he was a free agent from another team, regardless of positional need. Among qualified hitters, only Mike Trout (180 wRC+) and the aforementioned Soto (156 wRC+) have been better than Judge (154 wRC+) since 2017. Not to mention that Judge is elite defensively, too. He’s the type of player any team should add regardless of positional “fit”.
Are there concerns about signing Judge to a long term deal into his mid-thirties? Yes, of course. If there’s anything that should worry you about a Judge extension, it’s his aging curve and future health. Not how it would affect the organization’s pursuit of future free agents.
One more thing to keep in mind is that future free agents we have our eyes on (again, Soto) could always be extended by their current teams. What happens if the Yankees lose Judge only to see players they’ve had their eyes on not actually hit the market? It’s just not a sound strategy. Remember all those rumors about the team waiting on Nolan Arenado, only to see him traded and extended?
So, keep Judge around for the next half decade or so. It’s best for the team right now, even if there are potentially better free agents on the horizon. Yes, even if it means Hal Steinbrenner won’t want to issue another big contract in a couple seasons. Judge is just too good to let go.
Hornick asks: Why is Aaron Hicks’ lack of arm strength post-TJS and declining speed being ignored? Shouldn’t the ideal OF be Hicks in LF, and Gallo in CF?
I don’t know that those two items are necessarily being ignored, it’s just that I don’t think they’re the top concerns when it comes to Hicks. First and foremost: he needs to stay on the field. He hasn’t been (mostly) healthy for a 162 game season since 2018.
Now, in terms of who is the best fit in center? Begrudgingly, I’d still pick Hicks because of experience out there. Yes, he is slowing down (per Statcast sprint speed) and he’s well below average in terms of outfield jump (again, per Statcast), which is a very poor combination. I haven’t seen any quantification of Hicks’ arm strength, though. In any event, he still has an edge in terms of experience out there over the other starting alternatives.
Aside from history in center, keeping Judge and Gallo healthy is paramount. Playing center is much more rigorous than the corners (although left field at Yankee Stadium isn’t easy, either). Even if Judge or Gallo truly are comparable or better than Hicks in center, I’d still want to minimize the wear and tear for the two middle of the order sluggers.
All that said, the Yankees are playing a dangerous game with center field. I had hoped the front office would acquire a center fielder over the winter so Hicks could transition into Brett Gardner’s old role. Hicks’ trouble staying healthy was the main driver of that desire, but his apparent decline defensively was a secondary reason. For now, he’s still the best option the team has at the position on an everyday basis. Let’s just hope he stays healthy.
Mr. Rogers asks: Gardner rumors have been silent, what are your thoughts on him returning again?
I think it might be time to count him out, though I still am not ctotally onvinced. For what it’s worth, here’s what Brian Cashman said over the weekend:
Brian Cashman has been in contact with Brett Gardner’s agent, but, “right now we’re focused on what we have in camp, to be honest.”— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) March 26, 2022
If you take that literally, it sounds like Cashman’s ready to move on from Gardner. On the flip side, that he’s still in touch with Gardy’s agent could be interpreted as meaningful.
The only other team rumored to have interest in Gardner (at least of late) is Toronto. That was before they acquired Raimel Tapia, though. And yet, it’s no secret that Gardner wants to come back to the Bronx.
From my perspective, I’d bring him back, especially at this stage of spring. It’s getting late in camp and I don’t envision any center field trade happening. There are no better free agent center fielder alternatives. Players in the clubhouse want him back. I know he’ll be 39 this year and there are obvious signs of decline, but I can’t imagine that the Yankees would regret giving Gardner a bench spot over Tim Locastro. Sure, Locastro’s projections are comparable to Gardner, meaning it seems possible to have a seamless on field transition, but I also don’t think one should lose sleep over blocking Locastro, who has a minor league option anyway.