Category: Free Agency Page 1 of 5

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.

Free agent profile: Asdrúbal Cabrera

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With Didi Gregorius’s departure official, the Yankees have a glaring infield absence. Sure, it’s not truly necessary since Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu can handle the two middle infield spots. That said, more depth is always a good. Tyler Wade or Thairo Estrada are intriguing players, but bringing in someone with a higher floor would be a nice insurance policy. That’s where Asdrúbal Cabrera could come into play.

Background

Cabrera’s a 13-year big league veteran and has played for six different clubs. He made his big league debut with Cleveland as a 21 year-old in 2007 and even hit a home run off Chien-Ming Wang in Game 1 of the ALDS that October. Ah, good times.

Before Cabrera came up with Cleveland, he was initially in the Mariners’ farm system. Seattle signed Cabrera out of Venezuela in 2002, but he didn’t play stateside until his minor league debut in 2004. Two years later, the M’s dealt Cabrera to Cleveland for Eduardo Pérez.

Cabrera played second base in deference to Jhonny Peralta in his first two seasons, but Cleveland shuffled the infield in 2009. Peralta moved to the hot corner, which opened up shortstop for Cabrera. Asdrúbal stuck there through 2014 before Cleveland traded him to Washington for Zach Walters.

After his half-season with the Nationals, Cabrera bounced around from here on out. He signed a one-year deal with the Rays and then a two-year contract with the Mets (with a third year club option that was exercised), was traded mid-2018 to the Phillies, and finally signed with the Rangers prior to the 2019 campaign.

Cabrera struggled in the Lone Star state and was designated for assignment come August. That’s when Cabrera reunited with one of his former teams, the Nationals. As I’ll get to in a moment in the performance section, Washington sure was glad to have him back. Following a championship run, Cabrera is a free agent once again.

Performance

The 34 year-old infielder is a lifetime .268/.331/.425 (105 wRC+) hitter, which is good production for a middle infielder. He had his two top offensive campaigns in 2011 (119 wRC+) with Cleveland and 2016 (120 wRC+) with the Mets.

Entering 2019, Cabrera was in the midst of a strong three-year run at the dish. Just about all of that time with in Queens, along with a short stretch down I-95 in Philly following the 2018 trade deadline. During that time in the NL East, Cabrera hit .274/.334/.456 (114 wRC+). He also hit 60 dingers, walked 7.6 percent of the time, and struck out just 17.9 percent of plate appearances. An 82 wRC+ in 185 plate appearances with the Phillies brought those numbers down a tad.

The beginning of this season was a sharp downturn for Cabrera. In fact, not just the beginning, but the majority of it. Cabrera replaced the legendary Adrián Beltré in Texas and paled in comparison. Not that anyone could really fill his shoes, of course. The Rangers dumped Cabrera by August when he was hitting .235/.318/.393 (79 wRC+). That’s when the Nationals brought Cabrera back for another stint in the nation’s capital.

Although a rough stretch in Philly and Texas portended doom, Cabrera wasn’t done yet. In two months of play, Cabrera hit .323/.404/.565 (145 wRC+). And he earned it:

(Baseball Savant)

In spite of a good finish buoyed by strong expected statistics, Cabrera has never been a Statcast darling. The switch-hitter doesn’t rack up high exit velocities or impressive hard hit rates. Yet, he remains a productive hitter because he doesn’t rack up high strikeout totals, is patient at the plate, and has a modicum of power.

So Cabrera offers a solid offensive profile, but what about defense? After all, he’d be playing premium defensive positions for the Yankees, primarily second and shortstop. Unfortunately, Cabrera is below average up the middle per DRS and UZR.

Another issue: he hasn’t played shortstop since 2018 and only played 204 innings at the position that season. It may be too much to ask him to play there at this point of his career. Wade and Estrada can, though they can’t hit like Cabrera.

Injury History

Cabrera hasn’t been on the injured list since 2017 and has been pretty durable throughout his career. He’s played no fewer than 131 games every season since 2011, and appeared 141 or more games in five of those seasons. There were a few injured list stints sprinkled in, but nothing that sidelined Cabrera for a lengthy period of time.

Contract Estimates

The Fangraphs crowdsourcing project estimated a two-year deal worth $12 million. Neither The Athletic’s Jim Bowden nor MLB Trade Rumors forecasted Cabrera’s next deal.

I don’t think Cabrera will get anything more than a one-year deal this winter. He had a fantastic finish to 2019, but I don’t think a two month hot streak following rough stretches with Philadelphia and Texas is enough to get him an extra year. Jonathan Schoop, who’s six years younger than Cabrera, just signed a one-year deal for $6.1 million. I think that’s closer to what Cabrera will get.

Does he make sense for the Yankees?

Though his ability to play shortstop and overall defensive play are a concern, he’s one of the better offensive options on the infield market. There’s no way Cabrera could fill the void that Didi Gregorius left, but Cabrera can alleviate some of the absence felt from Didi’s bat. Plus, if defense is a real concern, the team can still carry Wade or Estrada as the 26th man for a more reliable glove.

The impediments to a Dellin Betances reunion

Dellin Betances hasn’t signed on the dotted line for any of the other 29 clubs just yet, but all indications are that he won’t return to the Bronx next season. For shame. I don’t know anyone who wants to see Betances go. Assuredly everyone wants Dellin to come back strong in 2020, so why can’t that be with the Yankees? A number of things may have led to the point of no return.

A testy relationship

It takes two to tango, and maybe the Yankees are interested in a reunion but Betances isn’t. As you likely recall, he and the Yankees had an ugly arbitration hearing back in 2017. Further, the Yankees never told him about an asymptomatic bone spur in his shoulder that they discovered long ago.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be too pleased if my employer disparaged me and withheld information from me. That has to be a pretty difficult thing to overcome. That said, there’s more to Betances’ relationship with the Yankees than merely his rapport with the front office. In particular, Randy Levine directly drew Dellin’s ire. Not his teammates, not any of his coaches, nor any fans. He’s extremely popular in the clubhouse and that likely means something to Dellin.

Plus, the towering righty is a born-and-raised New Yorker. He was born in Washington Heights, grew up a Yankees fan, went to school in the city, and was drafted by the Yankees right out of high school. Could he reunite with Joe Girardi in Philly? Sure, it’s not that far away from home. There’s always the crosstown Mets, too. But I’d personally like to think he wants to remain a Yankee. Maybe that’s wishful thinking.

(Arturo Pardavila III – CC BY 2.0)

Payroll and Luxury Tax Implications

Bobby put together a post about the Yankees’ payroll situation last week. The gist: the Yankees are just over $260 million in actual dollars next year, though that’s not quite as high for luxury tax purposes. At the moment, the Bombers are on the brink of the third and highest tier of the competitive balance tax threshold, something ownership clearly would prefer to avoid.

So, without moves to shed salary (i.e. JA Happ), the Yankees may not be able to stomach re-signing Betances. We’ve already seen how it essentially precluded them from retaining Didi Gregorius.

Fangraphs’ crowdsourcing projected a two year, $18 million deal for Betances. At face value, that’s $9 million per year. However, it’s really closer to a $13 million impact factoring in the luxury tax. It would also push back the Yankees’ top pick in next year’s amateur draft ten places. That’s something the Yankees are able to afford, but perhaps it’s not a line they’re willing to cross.

Health

The good news is that Betances didn’t need surgery to repair his achilles after the season. Since it was a partial tear, his recovery should be quicker and allow him to be ready for spring training. Still, the Yankees may be wary about his effectiveness — and not just because of his achilles. Betances opened the season on the injured list with a lat strain, but experienced setbacks throughout his recovery. Namely, a lat strain in early June that stopped his return in its tracks.

When Betances finally returned for one game in September, his velocity wasn’t there. He maxed out at 94.9 miles per hour, a far cry from his heater typically around 98 MPH in the past. Is that enough to scare the Yankees away? He admitted his arm strength still wasn’t all the way back and is a notoriously slow starter in terms of velocity.

(Baseball Savant)

Whether or not a velocity concern is legitimate; Betances’ age (32 in March), workload, offseason rehabilitation, and shoulder woes that plagued 2019 may just be too much risk for the Yankees to continue the relationship.


Ultimately, whatever the Yankees’ justifications may be, letting Betances go would stink. I’m still holding out hope for a reunion, but I can’t say I feel very good about it. The Yankees have already lost enough fan favorites this winter in CC Sabathia and Didi Gregorius, and I’d really rather not have to see another one go.

Free agent profile: Martín Maldonado

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Well, I can’t say I expected to write this free agent profile this winter. The consensus was that the Yankees would either re-sign Austin Romine or plug in Kyle Higashioka to the backup catcher position. I did imagine a scenario in which the Yankees carry three catchers next year, though that’s unlikely. Now with Gerrit Cole in tow and Romine out, there’s another option who’s come into play: Martín Maldonado.

Feinsand’s tweet more or less tells you everything you need to know about why the Yankees are interested. Let’s dig in a little deeper.

He’s well regarded defensively…

The 33 year-old backstop from Puerto Rico does just about everything well defensively. He’s a good receiver, has a strong arm, and has a good rapport with his battery mates (namely, Cole).

Framing is basically the name of the game for catchers nowadays. The Yankees have emphasized it for a while, and the team’s new catching coach Tanner Swanson only reinforces its importance to the organization. Here’s how Maldonado stacks up:

YearFangraphs (FRM)Baseball Prospectus (Framing Runs)Statcast (Runs Extra Strikes)
20157.27.73
20166.52.54
201721.627.220
20189.95.94
20191.0-2.0-1

All of these metrics are scaled to zero being average, so it’s pretty clear that Maldonado is better than your typical backstop even with a couple of sites having him slightly negative this year.

The pretty clear outlier here is 2017. Couldn’t tell you exactly what went right that season, but even so, that’s probably a once in a lifetime defensive year for him. Statcast doesn’t have framing numbers before 2015, but both Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus had him right around 10 runs in 2013. So, I think we can assume he’s a very good framer but not in the realm of whatever happened in 2017.

Now, have his framing skills declined? That’s what his ’19 numbers indicate. That said, as the entire league has caught on to the value of a good receiver, the variance in framing ability between teams has shrunk. Perhaps that’s partly why Malonado doesn’t appear quite as good as his counterparts.

Aside from framing, Maldonado is also good at keeping pitches in front of him. He doesn’t allow many passed balls and Baseball Prospectus’s Blocking Runs has had him above average for his career.

Additionally, Maldonado is good at honing in the running game. Per Statcast, his pop time was in the 77th percentile of all catchers in 2019 and his 87.1 MPH average throwing velocity ranked sixth in baseball (Gary Sánchez was fourth).

…but brings little to the lineup

If you didn’t like what Romine brought to the table in the batter’s box, you’d actually be in for worse with Maldonado. Even though Maldo holds a better career triple-slash and wRC+ than Romine, the past two seasons tell a different story. Romine owns a 94 wRC+ since 2018, whereas Maldonado stands at 75.

It doesn’t look like there’s much offensive upside for Maldonado. All of his underlying Statcast numbers — exit velocity, hard hit percentage, expected wOBA, et. al. — are well below average.

Contract estimates

Fangraphs pegs Maldonado for two years and $9 million. Jim Bowden nor MLB Trade Rumors have predictions for Maldonado.

After seeing what Romine (and other backstops) have signed for, Fangraphs’ projection seems a little high. Even though Maldonado is excellent defensively, he’s two years older than Romine and a worse hitter. A bunch of other backup-caliber catchers have signed one year deals in the $3 to $4 million range (Romine, Tyler Flowers, Alex Avila, Stephen Vogt). Maldonado will probably receive something similar.

Does he make sense for the Yankees?

I’d rather give Higashioka a shot than Maldonado, but that doesn’t mean Maldonado doesn’t make sense. More catcher depth is good, especially with major league experience and stellar defensive chops, which is what Maldonado brings to the table. It also brings over a familiar face for Cole, though I have little doubt about his ability to dominate with or without Maldonado.

Surveying the market for Brett Gardner

Lost in the hubbub about Stephen Strasburg’s record-breaking deal (for now) and the pursuit of Gerrit Cole was the above tweet about Brett Gardner. Little attention has been paid to Gardner of late, and understandably so with the Yankees currently big game hunting. But at some point soon, perhaps not long after Cole’s decision, Gardner should come off the board. It’s highly likely that he’s back in pinstripes next season, but for the sake of it, let’s see where else he could fit.

Philadelphia Phillies

Gardner could reunite with his former manager in the City of Brotherly Love, just like I suggested with Didi Gregorius last week. Joe Girardi would undoubtedly be thrilled to have Gardner under his wing once again.

But where does Gardner fit in Philly? Odúbel Herrera, the Phils’ longtime center fielder, slumped to start last season and was arrested for domestic violence in May. He was suspended for the rest of the season and will have to earn his role, if any, on the 2020 team. Gardner is a more than capable replacement for Herrera, though Brett may be better off in left field at his age.

If not center, Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper block Gardner in the corners. Of course, McCutchen is recovering from a torn ACL and Gardner could provide some insurance.

Chicago White Sox

There was a debunked report that the White Sox had signed free agent outfielder Marcell Ozuna. Perhaps that could still happen, but it may mean the team is interested in acquiring an outfielder (or two).

Aside from Eloy Jiménez, there’s no reason to be excited about Chicago’s outfield in 2020. Gardner would easily be an upgrade wherever the White Sox stick him. Adam Engel and Leury García are no match for Gardy.

The south siders appear to be in spend mode and Gardner would fit right in should they decide to sign an outfielder.

(Keith Allison – CC BY-SA 2.0)

Texas Rangers

The Rangers will open a new ballpark in 2020 and evidently want to put on a good show in year one. They’re linked to Anthony Rendon and already signed two pitchers: Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles. Gardner would be a solid addition to an outfield in need.

Joey Gallo played a decent amount of center field last season, but is better in the corners of the infield or outfield. Delino DeShields was supposed to be the team’s center fielder, but has faltered in recent years. So, there’s a spot for Gardner should Texas be willing to play him in center.

Willie Calhoun, Nomar Mazara, and Shin-Soo Choo have the corner outfield and designed hitter spots, but Mazara may be on shaky ground. He’s yet to reach his prospect potential and Gardner theoretically could usurp some of his playing time.

Cleveland Indians

Cleveland is notoriously fickle when it comes to spending, but the team’s outfield really could use some help.

Right now, some combination of Oscar Mercado, Greg Allen, and Jake Bauers compose Cleveland’s outfield. Tyler Naquin, who had knee surgery, won’t return until midseason. If they want to overcome the Twins, they’ll need to upgrade the team’s outfield (among other things). So, it’s pretty safe to say that Cleveland would have no issue finding a spot for Gardner.

Los Angeles Angels

Gardner could join ex-Yankees executive Billy Eppler with a move to the west coast. Seems like a longshot considering Gardner’s east coast roots and stage of his career, but I’ll throw it out there nonetheless.

Gardner would be a nice complement to Mike Trout and Justin Upton, particularly now that the Halos non-tendered Kole Calhoun. Of course, the Angels are warming up one of those corner outfield spots for super prospect Jo Adell.


These are just a few teams that could have an interest in Gardner. Chances are that I wasted my time contemplating other options for the longtime Yankee. He’ll almost assuredly be back in the Bronx next season. We should get some clarity once the dust settles around Cole.

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