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Would Steven Matz Be A Yankees Rotation Upgrade?

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On Monday afternoon, the NY Post’s Mike Puma and Ken Davidoff reported preliminary trade talks between the Yankees and Mets for starter Steven Matz. The never ending 2019 injury bug has hit the Yankees’ rotation this spring. The young pitching prospects are performing well in camp so far. Despite this, it doesn’t hurt to seek veteran upgrades if options arise. The keyword here is upgrade.

Matz is a big time source of frustration for Mets fans. The local kid from Long Island possesses top end talent. A few years ago, Matz was the third pitcher in a fearsome trio in the Mets rotation including Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. Things have not worked out well for Matz. He has suffered injuries and experienced inconsistencies in performance yet the talent and high ceiling still remain. A quick look at his numbers suggests entertaining the thought of acquiring Matz is a wasteful exercise. There may be underlying data hinting at why the Yankees inquired. While acknowledging how hard it is for the Yankees and Mets to make a deal, let’s examine if Matz is a trade target worth pursuing.

Performance

Looking under the hood of Matz’s standard statistics reveals a pretty mixed bag. Matz has a four-pitch arsenal that he likes to mix up. He primarily throws a sinker, which is his fastball of choice, but he will go to his changeup, slider and curve a fair amount of the time. He throws the sinker over 50% of the time. The offspeed offerings are pretty evenly spread out with his changeup sitting around 20%.

Matz’s sinker is a pretty fascinating pitch. In 2019, it averaged a velocity of 93.3mph, which is above the league average of 91.1mph. That is a good thing. On the flip side, his spin rate on the pitch sits around 2100rpms, which is below the league average. In a vacuum, the below average spin rate works well for a sinker. This may not be the case with Matz though.

The sinker goes against conventional wisdom mainly because of where he locates the pitch. We normally think down in the zone with sinkers. Matz uses his in the opposite manner. Here is a chart to illustrate his sinker location:

This is pretty atypical for a sinker heavy pitcher. This could very well reflect the Mets pitching philosophy. Matthew Trueblood over at Baseball Prospectus discussed Noah Syndergaard using his sinker in a similar way. Matz loves to pound his sinker up in the zone. One possible explanation for this is the desire to play up the above average velocity on the pitch. It is much more difficult for a hitter to get on top of a hard fastball up in the zone and Matz exploits this. Here is the pitch to Juan Soto:

And here is the fastball to a dangerous righty hitter in Anthony Rendon:

An effective high fastball is an important weapon for two reasons. One, it minimizes the opportunity a hitter has to drive the ball in the air. This is a problem Matz has that we will get to soon. Two, it is a great set up for Matz’s most effective secondary pitch in 2019.

The Changeup

The change worked really well for Matz last season. He averaged 84.3MPH on the pitch, which was slightly above average. His 2300RPM was well above average. As mentioned earlier, the changeup was his second most frequently used pitch last year and with good reason. It was easily the pitch with the highest movement in his arsenal. Here is a graph comparing the horizontal movement of his pitches against the average. The changeup is the green line:

The changeup had 16.8 inches of break. That was 22% higher than the average. That is a good amount of movement going from one side of the plate to the other. It doesn’t stop there. The changeup also has a really good drop as well. Here is a graph detailing the vertical movement of his pitches against the average. Again, the changeup is the green line:

This is a really good pitch. It has a ton of movement and plays really well with the high fastball. He has a pretty strong command of the pitch as well. He is able to keep it down in the zone in on righties and away from lefties as this graph shows:

When you combine really effective movement with good command you force swings like this from our boy Starlin Castro:

Yeah, that works.

Why Isn’t He More Effective?

As we’ve seen, Matz has two strong pitches that at times keeps hitters off balance. But a quick glance at his numbers reveals he hasn’t been able to put it all together over the course of a season. One reason for this is an inconsistent third pitch to complement the fastball and change. If the fastball command isn’t there or hitters lay off that pitch, he has to rely on his secondary pitches more. Both his curveball and slider sit below average in spin rate. The slider, in particular, is a below average pitch. The lack of effective movement results in the two pitches sitting in the strike zone close to or more than 50% of the time. Overall, he’s thrown 50.6% of his pitches in the zone, above the league average. This leads to one of Matz’s biggest issues.

Steven gives up a ton of hard hit balls. Batters have swung and missed on only 23% of his pitches. This is well below average. Last season, he allowed the highest hard hit rate of his career at 38.5%. He allowed 9% of his balls in play to be barrels. The league average is 7%. To make matters worse, he is a flyball pitcher. All of this leads to a career high 27 home runs allowed in 160 innings last season. That is creeping towards J.A. Happ territory. It is possible that Matz throwing his sinker so much takes away from the slider and curveball.

Matz also has a long injury history. Here are his ailments since 2016:

  • Missed over a month with left shoulder tightness.
  • Missed over a month with left elbow inflammation.
  • Didn’t finish the 2017 season due to ulnar nerve irritation in left elbow.
  • Missed two weeks with a flexor pronator strain in left forearm.
  • Missed a week due to radial nerve discomfort.

This is frightening. It is pretty surprising that he didn’t end up getting Tommy John surgery. To his credit, outside of the radial nerve discomfort in May, Matz didn’t suffer an injury the rest of 2019. That may provide little solace to a Yankees fan base who is exhausted with new injury news coming out seemingly every day.

Is Matz Worth Pursuing?

From a sole talent perspective, the Yankees should look to acquire Steven Matz. The numbers don’t suggest this route, but the stuff does. There aren’t many lefties with this combination of velocity, aggressiveness, and talent on the major league level. The key is unlocking his third pitch. That would go a long way in mitigating the hard hit and strike zone issues he’s experiencing.

According to the available data, the curveball has more potential than the slider. Matt Blake may be able to unlock that pitch. It also doesn’t hurt to have a pitching savant like Gerrit Cole or a lefty with a good curveball like James Paxton on either side of you as well. The 2020 Yankees can take Matz to the next level. Their recent history of increasing spin and velocity for pitchers suggests they can improve Matz’s metrics. If they do that they may have a gem on their hands.

The flip side is the scary injury history. The Yankees are already without Luis Severino for the year. James Paxton is recovering from back surgery. The injuries to some of their position players also compromise the team’s ability to deal someone like Clint Frazier. It may not be wise to bring in another injury prone player who could realistically miss a month or more regardless of talent.

While the allure of unlocking Steven Matz is tempting, the potential IL stints are not. The Yankees have a nice group of young pitchers who can fill in the back end of the rotation until James Paxton and Domingo Germán return. A trade for Matz would also help the 2021 rotation, but how valuable is that if you can’t depend on his availability? Durability is every bit as important as pitching ability. Since that is a clear issue for Matz, it may be best to not tempt fate.

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Offseason Review: Toronto Blue Jays

Back in December, fresh off the signing of Hyun-Jin Ryu, I penned a quick piece on the Blue Jays as a looming threat. Toronto may not quite be ready for the limelight, but they’re certainly not far off. They seemingly flew under the radar this winter, but it’s hard to describe the team’s offseason as anything other than a success.

Rotation boost

Whether you prefer ERA, FIP, or DRA, the Blue Jays had one of the worst pitching staffs in the majors last year. Trading away Marcus Stroman midseason was a curious decision, but wisely, the team turned around and rebuilt its rotation for the upcoming campaign.

Ryu, the reigning MLB ERA champion, was the big addition to the staff. Health has always been a concern for the southpaw, but when he’s healthy, he’s terrific.

Toronto didn’t stop with Ryu, though. The team also brought in Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson, and Shun Yamaguchi. Along with the return of Matt Shoemaker, who missed nearly all of 2019, Toronto has literally remade its rotation from top to bottom. Sure, Shoemaker made five starts for the Jays last year, but that’s the only carryover in the rotation from last season.

Now, this isn’t a terrific rotation by any means. PECOTA isn’t a huge fan of the staff:

PlayerProj. ERAProj. DRA
Hyun-Jin Ryu3.464.32
Tanner Roark4.234.88
Matt Shoemaker4.545.17
Chase Anderson4.375.02

There’s no projection for Yamaguchi, at least not yet, but that doesn’t preclude the fact that this group is better than last year’s low bar to clear. It’s a staff that buys more time for the team to develop young pitchers like Anthony Kay and Trent Thornton along with top prospect Nate Pearson. The depth also gives them cushion for Ryan Borucki’s worrisome elbow soreness. Not that any of these guys, aside from Pearson, are promising per PECOTA:

PlayerProj. ERAProj. DRA
Nate Pearson4.074.55
Anthony Kay4.585.36
Ryan Borucki5.616.17
Trent Thornton4.154.80

A flyer on Travis Shaw

What a difference one season can make. 2019’s version of Travis Shaw was unrecognizable compared to the hitter from seasons prior. Last year, Travis Shaw hit .157/.281/270 (45 OPS+) for the Brewers last season after a stellar first two seasons in Milwaukee. In 2017 and 2018 combined, Shaw slashed .258/.347/.497 (120 OPS+) and had established himself as a stalwart in the Brewers’ lineup. But that goodwill wasn’t enough for the Brew Crew to keep him around following a dismal 2019 campaign.

Shaw was projected to earn $5.1 million in arbitration, but after Milwaukee non-tendered him, he inked a $4 million deal with Toronto. Quite a bargain for Toronto, especially considering that they can retain him in arbitration next year should all go well in 2020. If not, it was worth a gamble.

For what it’s worth, PECOTA still likes the left-handed slugger. It expects a rebound year, albeit not to 2017-2018 levels. That said, adding a projected .242/.337/.479 (107 DRC+) hitter ain’t too shabby.

Even though Shaw was groomed as a third baseman, expect to see him mostly at first base for Toronto. He should get time at the hot corner too whenever Vladimir Guerrero Jr. DHs or has a night off.

Let the kids play

The focus of Toronto’s offseason was to rebuild its rotation, and for good reason. They did add Shaw to its position player mix, but considering the lack of activity elsewhere, the franchise’s mission is clear: let the kids play. Vlad Jr., Bo Bichette, and others are going be the club’s main attractions this season.

Guerrero, Bichette, and others like Cavan Biggio or Lourdes Gurriel may not have hit their peaks just yet, but they’re still going to be good in 2020. That’s a little scary now, but even scarier down the road. On the face of things, it doesn’t seem like their window is open just yet. Nonetheless, sometimes windows open earlier than expected. We saw that with the 2017 Yankees. That doesn’t mean that the Jays’ timeline will be accelerated, but it can’t be ruled out given the team’s talent.

PECOTA has Toronto at 77 wins at the moment, and if you’re familiar with how these projections work, you know that this isn’t an exact prediction. There are error bars to consider. Now, that could mean Toronto will be closer to the 67 win squad it ran out in 2019, but it also means there’s a scenario in which they win 90 games. And really, when you look at this roster, would it be crazy for things to break their way and fend for a Wild Card spot? I don’t think so.

Could they have done more?

There’s a lot to like about the Blue Jays roster and long-term prospects. That said, would it have been worth it to push a little harder for short-term improvements? Yes, they addressed the rotation needs in a major way. And sure, there are plenty of budding stars in its position player ranks. That said, there are some areas this roster is lacking that could hold them back for the time being.

The big weak spot: the outfield. Gurriel broke out last season, but after that, things are thin. Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernández, and Derek Fisher aren’t terribly exciting. The first two have power and Fisher has some former-prospect sheen, but someone like Marcell Ozuna would have looked really nice out there for them.

The Blue Jays’ bullpen is a problem too. Ken Giles is a terrific closer, but that’s just about all they’ve got. Anthony Bass is seemingly their second-best reliever, but that’s not saying much. They figure to shuffle through a whole bunch of arms throughout the season as they try to figure out what clicks.

Offseason Summary

Lastly, here’s a quick look at the changes to the Blue Jays major league roster.

In:

  • Hyun-Jin Ryu
  • Tanner Roark
  • Chase Anderson
  • Shun Yamaguchi
  • Travis Shaw

Out:

  • Derek Law
  • Luke Maile
  • Jason Adam
  • Ryan Tepera
  • Devon Travis
  • Clay Buccholz
  • Clayton Richard
  • Justin Smoak

Are There Bargains On The Free Agent Market?

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The Yankees enter the 2020 season with a legitimate claim as the best team in baseball.

The team secured their primary offseason target in Gerrit Cole. Despite this tremendous acquisition, there were more subtractions than additions from last year’s ALCS team. A few weeks ago, I mentioned that championship caliber teams win titles in the details. The reasoning is every spot on the 26 man roster should be filled with as high a quality player as possible. Quality isn’t limited to talent. It also includes dependability, experience, past production, etc. This Yankees team no longer has the luxury of evaluating or carrying what ifs on their initial roster if better options exist. This begs the question: are the Yankees in house options better than the available options on the free agent market?

Bobby did a great job projecting the Yankees Opening Day roster as things stand now. Using that projection for reference, there are a few spots on the position player side that could potentially use an upgrade or at the very least more competition. The players currently holding these spots are Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada, Mike Tauchman, Mike Ford and Clint Frazier. Some are safer to make the team than others. Let’s take a look at two of the top remaining free agents to see if any are worth a flier.

Yasiel Puig

Puig burst on the scene in 2014 with the Dodgers. He was an exciting All-Star that year displaying power at the plate and an arm from God. Puig’s career has been a model of inconsistency ever since with 2019 seeing a large drop off in the metrics.

In researching Puig’s data, I thought he had more power than the numbers suggest. He’s never hit more than 3o home runs in his career. His statcast numbers show above average, but not spectacular power. Here is 2019:

This is 2018:

The drop in hard hit percentage between the two seasons immediately jumps out. This directly contributes to the drop in his wOBA and xSLG. There are a few more metrics that may explain this tale of two vastly different offensive seasons.

Puig’s overall plate discipline took a nosedive in 2019. Here are some of his metrics along with their career rankings:

  • Chase Rate: 30.1% (Highest of his career)
  • Zone Contact Rate: 79.4% (Second lowest of his career)
  • Whiff Rate: 28.2% (Highest of his career)
  • Strikeout Rate: 21.8% (Highest of his career)
  • Walk Rate: 7.2% (Lowest of his career)

These are all bad trends. They are especially alarming when you consider the types of hitters the Yankees prefer. This doesn’t match up well with the Yankees at all.

Defense and Roster Competition

Things don’t look much better on the defensive side. Puig is primarily a right fielder and doesn’t rate particularly well. Besides some guy named Judge manning the position, Puig doesn’t provide much defensive value. He registered zero outs above average. He is the definition of average despite having an incredible arm. Puig gets terrible jumps and has a success rate of 84%. It is reasonable to guess that the number would be even lower if Yasiel played LF in Yankee Stadium. It would be great to see the throws, but who knows when he’ll actually get to the ball.

The primary guys under threat with a Puig signing would be Mike Tauchman and Mike Ford. Tauchman is the superior fielder. He may also be on his way to becoming the better hitter as well. As Bobby points out, Ford may already be a better hitter. It doesn’t hurt that both Tauchman and Ford are lefties.

The recent news of Aaron Judge battling a sore shoulder could change the equation. Aaron Boone is saying it is just maintenance, but we’ve seen this movie before. It is quite possible that Judge is feeling early camp soreness and nothing more. If this does turn into a bigger issue, the thin outfield depth will be immediately tested. Bolstering the roster due to injury is the only scenario in which I see the Yankees checking in on Puig. That may not even be enough to pursue a deal.

Brian Dozier

It has been a fall from grace for Brian Dozier. From 2015-2017, Dozier hit 104 home runs. Since 2017, he’s only hit 41 home runs. He finished last season with a slash line of .238/.340/.430/.771 in 416 at bats. It was a pretty good recovery from an injury plagued 2018 when he hit .182/.300/.350/.650 with a 77OPS+. Yikes.

Despite the big home run numbers earlier in his career, Dozier has never been a big hard hit% or exit velocity hitter. He ranks in the 36th and 30th percentile respectively. His ISO took a major dip following the 2017 season:

The dramatic drop from 2017 to 2018 can be attributed to a knee injury Dozier suffered. There is a bit of a rebound in 2019, but the jump isn’t that considerable. It is clear he’s lost a significant amount of power than in his earlier years. That is pretty concerning for a player whose value is largely tied to his slugging.

There are some numbers that show Dozier still has some life in his bat. His barrel% of 6.7 ranks ahead of hitters like Tim Anderson, Jose Ramirez, and Michael Brantley. Dozier’s sweet spot% of 32.7 is ahead of players such as Rafael Devers, Christian Yelich, George Springer and Josh Donaldson. He hit 20 home runs in 416 at bats and he easily posted the highest walk rate of his career at 12.7%. For what it’s worth, Steamer projects Dozier to hit .235/.325/.436/.761. with a wOBA of .322. There is still some pop in the bat, but it’s nowhere near the elite level it once was.

Defense and Competition

Simply put, the glove does not play. Dozier ranks in the 6th(!!!) percentile for Outs Above Average. He finished 2019 with a -6 in OAA at second base. He is incapable of playing shortstop as well. There was a time when Brian Dozier was an above average defender. He led the league in fielding percentage in 2017. He had five seasons where he was in the top 10 in range factor per game. Those days are long gone. He is essentially a DH with declining power.

In terms of the Yankees taking a flyer on Dozier, it really depends on what you value more. The bat could be useful if smartly deployed. He can be a nice piece off the bench that can provide some power. The issue is he doesn’t have a position and the Yankees have plenty of bigger and better bats to put in the lineup. Is he a better hitter than Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada? Yes. Is he a better overall player than those two at the money it would take to sign him? Probably not. The lack of defense leads me to believe the in house options are better.

So Is It Worth It?

We’re at the part of the season where there are slim free agent pickings. All of these options have legitimate warts. That is why they are still on the market. If we circle back to the original point of maximizing each available roster spot, it doesn’t appear that any of the available players would be able to do that. In all transparency, this post originally had a section on Brock Holt, but he has since signed with the Brewers. He was the one guy I believed could provide an upgrade to the roster.

There was a time a few weeks ago when the Yankees could’ve found pieces on the market that would be considered upgrades from the in house options. That is no longer the case. Guys like Puig, Dozier, Tim Beckham, and Corey Spangenberg offer little to no value. Again, this view may change if the Yankees suffer injuries throughout camp.

The Yankees appear to be content with their current roster options. This was the case as soon as they signed Gerrit Cole. The front office has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to player evaluations. It feels like barring injuries, the next time the Yankees will seriously consider a move is when we approach the trade deadline. Hopefully, it will be to supplement a healthy and productive roster and not filling holes due to injury or subpar performance.

The Yankees Should Trade For Joc Pederson

Lost in the craziness of the Betts/Price trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers was the failed Joc Pederson trade to the Los Angeles Angels. According to reports, Angels owner Arte Moreno was unhappy with waiting on the Betts deal to complete. The Angels missed out on an opportunity to bring in an above-average lefty power bat to man right field. One person’s impatience can lead to another man’s chance at opportunity. That man should be Brian Cashman.

Joc Pederson would be a nice addition to the Yankees. I mentioned this in an earlier column, but it is worth repeating. The Yankees spent $324 million on Gerrit Cole. This is as strong an indication of the Yankees intentions as you can imagine. They want to win multiple titles. In order to accomplish this, the team should look to maximize each available roster spot with as many high quality players as possible. This is stating the obvious, but it is a pretty difficult strategy to execute. Pederson would be able to address multiple needs of the roster, but only filling up one slot. Let’s take a deeper dive.

A Productive Lefty Bat

The departure of Didi Gregorius and the injury to Aaron Hicks leaves Brett Gardner as the only lefty regular in the lineup. Fortunately, the team has two good bats in Mike Tauchman and Mike Ford, but there is a need for more. Joc Pederson would immediately slot in as the top lefty hitter in the lineup. In 2019, Pederson hit .249/.339/.538/.876 with 36 home runs in 450 at-bats. There is the obvious caveat of the juiced ball, but Pederson hit 26 and 25 homers as a 23 and 24-year-old in 2014 and 2015 respectively so power isn’t foreign to him.

Looking beyond the standard stats, we will see some encouraging trends for Pederson. We will start with his wOBA:

According to Fangraphs, wOBA combines all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighing each of them in proportion to their actual run value. It is a more accurate metric of a player’s contribution to scoring runs. As we can see from this graph, Pederson sits comfortably as an above average offensive contributor. He finished 2019 in the 69th percentile in this measurement. This captures Pederson’s diverse skillset in impacting the offensive side of the game. While his main contribution is power, he isn’t simply a slugger looking for that one pitch to drive out of the park. There is another trend resting under the hood that should excite Yankees fans.

Pederson’s strikeout rate sits below the league average over the last three years:

I didn’t expect to see this when researching Pederson’s data. I always thought Joc was a free swinger taking big hacks hunting for homers. That clearly isn’t the case. There was a jump in 2019, but that makes sense given the league-wide increase in strikeouts.

These metrics paint a pretty nice picture of Pederson’s overall ability as an offensive player. He creates runs in multiple ways and is improving as a disciplined hitter. Of course, his calling card remains his power.

The Power Is Legit

Joc Pederson hits the ball very hard. In 2019, his average exit velocity of 90.9 mph sat in the 83rd percentile. His hard hit percentage of 43.5% sat in the 76th percentile. Over the course of his career, Pederson routinely sits in the higher rankings of any hard hit ball measurement.

There has also been a conscious effort to get the ball in the air with more consistency. Over the last two seasons, Pederson’s average launch angles of 15.4 and 15.3, in 2018 and 2019 respectively, are the highest of his career. As a result, Pederson experienced the highest fly ball rates of his career. Joc hitting the ball with consistent authority in the air leads to improved performances like this :

This is a player who knows his strengths and is developing ways to maximize them. Sure, the juiced ball factors in, but that does a disservice to the clear improvement Pederson is making as a power hitter. There is another aspect of Joc’s offensive profile that suggests increased productivity could be on the way.

Improved Control Of The Strike Zone

Oftentimes when we think of strike zone control balls and strikes immediately come to mind. Strike zone control also refers to the types of pitches batters swing at in the zone. Hitters could let mistakes go by while swinging at a pitch with great command. Pederson is being more aggressive with swings in the zone while maintaining an average zone contact rate. Here is a look at Pederson’s z-swing% or swing rate in the strike zone over his career:

This is important because it shows that Pederson is giving himself more chances to positively impact the baseball. Yes, he has an average contact rate in the zone, but increasing the usage of that swing increases the opportunity to do damage. There is one more aspect to this that will give a clearer understanding of Pederson’s production over the last year.

He is pulling the ball more now than at any other point in his career. According to statcast, Joc pulled the ball 46% of the time in 2019. Prior to last year, the closest Pederson came to that number was in 2016 with a 40.1% pull rate. He is hitting the ball in the air with authority to his pull side. This would work incredibly well in Yankee Stadium.

Defense and Platoon Issues

We won’t be confusing Joc Pederson with Lorenzo Cain or Victor Robles in the outfield. Spending his time in right field this past season, Pederson ended up with an Outs Above Average of 3. That ranks him 32nd amongst outfielders behind guys like Steven Duggar, Hunter Renfroe, and Brian Goodwin. Interestingly enough, he’s ranked ahead of players like Kevin Pillar and…Brett Gardner. Pederson is a solid defender who can competently man both corner outfield positions. The Yankees would be better served to have Mike Tauchman back up center while Hicks recovers from Tommy John surgery.

The platoon splits are a legitimate concern. He has a career OPS of .572 with a slugging percentage of .310 against left handed pitchers. He has nine home runs against lefties versus 114 against righties. While these numbers are alarming, there may be some important context to consider.

The Dodgers fully believe in positional flexibility, versatility, and matchups. They are looking to create as many advantages as possible. This includes a heavy reliance upon platoons. Remember, they didn’t want Cody Bellinger facing lefties early on in his career. Bellinger is a top 5 hitter in the entire sport. Pederson only has 336 at bats against lefties. He has 1696 at bats against righties. We don’t actually know if Pederson can hit lefties because he hasn’t been given a fair chance to do so. This could be another Didi Gregorius situation.

Is There A Chance It Happens?

There is always the possibility of Ninja Cash swooping in and acquiring a player who is trending upwards. There are a lot of things to like about Pederson. He hits the ball hard. 40 home runs is a real possibility. There is a need for some lineup balance despite many people downplaying its importance. He provides solid defense. The Yankees believe in load management so providing Aaron Boone with another quality piece to rotate amongst Stanton, Voit, Tauchman, and Andújar is aggressive and smart. There is real Curtis Granderson 2.0 potential as Matt mentioned on Twitter. The Dodgers are clearly willing to move him in the right deal.

It just doesn’t feel like the Yankees will make the move. They certainly have the prospect capital to do it, but the team appears to be content with their roster heading into spring training. The team is also firmly over the third luxury tax threshold at $258 million according to Cots. An argument could be made that once a team surpasses the third luxury tax threshold it makes sense to blow by it since the tax penalty is set. It is a nice theory, but teams don’t operate that way in this day and age.

A Pederson trade during spring training would virtually eliminate any opportunity for the team to address potential issues that may pop up between now and the trade deadline. There are positions that may need more attention as the season progresses so positions like back up middle infielder or bullpen may be worth the added splurge.

Joc Pederson is a good player and could be even better in a full time role. The move is tantalizing. It is one the Yankees should strongly consider if not now than some further point in the season.

Offseason Review: Boston Red Sox

Now that the dust has (finally) settled on the Mookie Betts and David Price trade, we can finally put a cap on the Red Sox’ offseason. I’ve always been glad to not be a Red Sox fan, but after watching how the team’s winter unfolded, I’m especially glad. Boston went from a World Series juggernaut just two years ago to a team ready to kick the can down the road.

Management overhaul

The direction of Boston’s organization has changed dramatically in the last few months, and it started from the top. Some changes were expected, whereas others not so much.

First, we knew the Red Sox would have to replace Dave Dombrowski, who was let go in September. It’s pretty clear that his replacement, Chaim Bloom, was brought in to undo all of Dombrowski’s work. What, a 108-win World Series champion GM doesn’t get a pass for one disappointing season? Who’d have thought.

Bloom came over from the Rays’ front office where he was VP of baseball operations. Tampa Bay’s executives tend to get poached more than other organizations, and the reasoning is pretty clear: wealthy owners are impressed by those Rays’ teams win totals on low payroll. So, John Henry wants to have his cake and eat it too.

Bloom should be able to keep Boston afloat in terms of being a merely good team. Even though he’s clearly here in some part to trim payroll, he’s also working with a higher budget than the Rays have ever had. The Red Sox should win in the mid-to-high 80s this season, but the next time they are World Series contender isn’t going to be in the short-term.

In addition to Bloom, the Red Sox made an unplanned managerial change. Once Alex Cora’s name came up in the Astros’ cheating scandal, it was only a matter of time until he and Boston parted ways. Ron Roenicke, Cora’s bench coach, will take the helm.

They voluntarily traded Mookie Betts

Pretty much, Dave.

I’ve already spent some time ranting about the Mookie Betts trade here and here. Anyway, anytime you can trade the best player not named Mike Trout for pennies on the dollar, you gotta do it. Payroll flexibility is in vogue these days and the impending free agent Betts posed a big financial threat to Henry’s $6.6 billion Fenway Sports Group conglomerate.

By trading Betts, Boston significantly downgraded its outfield and playoff odds. PECOTA projects Betts to slash .294/.381/.538 (142 DRC+) and accumulate 6.2 WARP, second to that Trout fellow. Alex Verdugo, the headliner in return for Mookie, will presumably take over in right field. Verdugo’s projection is pretty average: .271/.330/.434 (101 DRC+) and 2.4 WARP.

Boston will have the right to keep Verdugo for the next five seasons, though it’s difficult to imagine him ever approaching Betts’ production. Yes, he’s already a solid player and was Baseball Prospectus’s 19th-best prospect entering last season, but Betts is a superstar and only three years older than Verdugo. Moreover, all indications are that Betts is a great guy. Meanwhile, Verdugo reportedly was present during an alleged sexual assault with other Dodgers’ minor leaguers that’s seemingly been swept under the rug.

An incomplete rotation

Boston starters had a 4.90 ERA last season, 11th-worst in the majors. Naturally, they decided to do absolutely nothing to improve the pitching staff. Granted, I think Chris Sale is a good candidate to rebound after a down 2019, but everything else isn’t very pretty.

First of all, they traded away David Price in the Betts blockbuster and will absorb half of the $96 million remaining on the southpaw’s deal. Price wasn’t very good in 2019, but he’s just a year removed from being a Boston postseason hero.

Now, if the Red Sox simply think Price isn’t good anymore, then that’s fine. But if that’s the case, at least do something to boost those around him. Instead, barring any last minute moves, Boston is going to trot out this rotation in 2020:

  1. Chris Sale
  2. Eduardo Rodríguez
  3. Martin Pérez
  4. Nathan Eovaldi
  5. ???

Yep, that’s noted offseason addition Martin Pérez joining the middle of the rotation. That’s the move Boston made to shore up its rotation that needs Sale to rebound, E-Rod to repeat his strong 2019, and Eovaldi to stay healthy and rediscover his 2018 form.

To make matters worse, the rotation is incomplete and seriously lacks depth. The fifth starter is a mystery — maybe Chris Mazza? Matt Hall? Yikes. Last year, at least they had some respectable names for depth in Rick Porcello and Andrew Cashner. The downside this staff has, particularly if Sale gets hurt, is remarkable. Boston may still hit aplenty even without Betts, but it’s going to be hard to outslug teams with this rotation.

Quick hitters

Boston’s other offseason moves are pretty unremarkable. They added José Peraza to replace the still-available free agent Brock Holt. The Red Sox also found themselves a new backup catcher in Kevin Plawecki. He replaces Sandy León.

One bullpen move may pan out nicely for Boston: the trade for Austin Brice. Admittedly, this is a bit of a reach as I was trying to find *something* positive Boston did. Brice, a right-handed reliever last with Miami, posted a 3.43 ERA and struck out 46 batters in 44 2/3 innings last season. He’s not a hard thrower, but his curveball appears to have some potential with a 94th percentile spin rate.

Offseason Summary

Lastly, here’s a quick look at the changes to the Red Sox major league roster.

In:

  • Alex Verdugo
  • Martin Pérez
  • José Peraza
  • Kevin Plawecki
  • Matt Hall
  • Jeffrey Springs
  • Austin Brice
  • Chris Mazza
  • Josh Osich

Out:

  • Mookie Betts
  • David Price
  • Steve Pearce
  • Rick Porcello
  • Brock Holt
  • Jhoulys Chacín
  • Andrew Cashner
  • Travis Lakins
  • Sam Travis
  • Sandy León

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