Mailbag: Astros, Gardner, Happ, Roster Crunch

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We have a number of interesting questions to answer in this week’s mailbag. Want to have something answered in a future edition? Shoot us an email at viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com to be considered. Let’s dig in:

Jason asks: Looking ahead to the playoffs; I noticed that Justin Verlander is having a home run problem this year – he’s ranked 6th in all of MLB with in HR/9 rate and to date has given up 33 (!) home runs second in MLB. Do you see this as a potential advantage for the Yankees – who are second in the league in home runs per game –  “when” they face Houston in a 5/7 game playoff series?

I don’t think I’d call it an advantage. Verlander remains dominant in spite of his high home run totals because he hardly lets anyone on base in the first place. I know WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) isn’t a cutting edge stat, but Verlander leads the league with a 0.80 mark. His teammate Gerrit Cole (0.96) is in second place.

Of Verlander’s 33 homers surrendered, 27 of them have been of the solo variety. The Yankees may be able to take him deep once or twice should they face him, but will anyone be aboard to make it impactful? That’s the hope. To beat someone as good as Verlander, you do need a little good fortune.

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On the bright side, it doesn’t hurt that he gives up homers at a high rate! In theory, it does make him a little more susceptible to having a game get away from him.

Robert asks: As his career winds down I have been thinking that Brett Gardner was probably woefully underrated as a prospect. Do you know of any projections for lifetime WAR when he was in AAA? It feels like he’s above 95th percentile. Any one else exceed expectations as much? Canó perhaps?

Hindsight is 20/20, so yes, Gardner was underrated as a prospect. Baseball America had him between 8th and 13th in the Yankees’ top prospects between 2005 and 2008. He was definitely on the radar, but wasn’t a league-wide top prospect. Knowing what we know now, a retrospective top 100 prospect list from any of those years would have had to include Gardner in the back end.

As for projections, you’re in luck. A few years ago, former FanGraphs contributor and college roommate of mine Chris Mitchell developed the KATOH projections for minor leaguers. In one of his earliest and rudimentary versions of the system, he shared some historical projections. Here’s what was projected for Gardner through his age-28 season:

AgeYearLevel>12 WARProjected WARActual WAR
242008AAA13%6.113.5
212005A-1%-0.214.6

Note that the first projection excludes 1.1 WAR from his 2008 season when he had already debuted with the Yankees. That projection forecasted amounts to be accumulated thereafter. Either way, those projections paint a pretty obvious picture: Gardner was much better than expected. Instead of being a fringe prospect (2005 projection) or a second-division regular/fourth outfielder (2008 projection), he became a comfortably above average starter. Now, as Randy wrote this morning, Gardner has become an unsung hero. Nobody saw this coming when he was in the minors.

As for other unheralded prospects, Robinson Canó is a good one. If I recall correctly, he was more regarded than Gardner as a prospect, though Robbie didn’t crack Baseball America’s top-100 either. Per KATOH, 18 year-old Canó had a 2.4 WAR forecast through his age-28 season. His projection as a 19-year old in A-ball bumped him to 4.7. Either way, his actual 23.4 WAR shattered both.

Jonathan asks: I read your article about Didi and Dellin possibly not coming back because of salary issues and the Yankees might prefer Cole. But I see a simple fix that the Yankees actually have done in the past which would allow them to keep Didi and Dellin plus pick up Cole. Two offseasons ago, the Yankees weren’t interested in Chase Headley at 13 million so they dumped him with Bryan Mitchell to create luxury tax space. Why can’t they trade Happ with maybe a couple of prospects like Nick Nelson, Albert Abreu, or Mike King?

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To be honest, I don’t think we’ll see another trade like we did with the Padres before. It was befuddling at the time that the Padres wanted Bryan Mitchell and it still is. The names you suggest ostensibly are more promising than Mitchell was, though.

Still, I don’t think the Yankees should be in the business of attaching prospect(s) in order to shed salary. If they want to get rid of Happ, the organization should eat salary to facilitate a trade. Or, include someone on the fringe of the 40-man roster that another team wants to give a chance.

At any rate, I’m not sure that shedding Happ’s salary would necessarily alter the team’s plans with Betances and Gregorius. There are a number of other considerations, including first time arbitration eligible players like Aaron Judge and Gary Sánchez who will receive substantial raises. Getting Happ’s salary off the books would help, but it takes two to tango with regard to Gregorius’s and Betances’s free agencies. Moreover, I expect the Yankees to have their own number and not budge, similar to how we’ve seen them behave recently.

Jack asks: With what might be the most talented (and packed) 40-man roster in our lifetime, I want to know what you think the Yankees will/should do to balance the roster during the offseason. There will have to be some cuts, some free agents not brought back, and possibly some trades. Do the Yankees, for example, just cut the likes of Mike Ford, Greg Bird, and Jonathan Holder? 

This is definitely the most packed 40-man roster I can recall, and probably the best too. At the moment, the Yankees have 49 players on its 40-man roster, which means they have nine guys currently on the 60-day injured list:

  1. Luis Severino
  2. Dellin Betances
  3. Giancarlo Stanton
  4. Jordan Montgomery
  5. Ben Heller
  6. Miguel Andújar
  7. Greg Bird
  8. Ben Heller
  9. Jacoby Ellsbury

At some point between now and the offseason, everyone above will need to be activated and have space created for them. Severino, Betances, Stanton, Montgomery, and Heller are likely to be activated before the end of the regular season. Let’s power rank some guys who might be designated for assignment as these five return:

  1. Adonis Rosa
  2. Ryan Dull
  3. Breyvic Valera
  4. Mike Ford
  5. Cody Gearrin

I could also see Heller waived off the 40-man once he’s ready, too. Additionally, there’s also the option of transferring guys from the 10-day IL to the 60-day IL to create space. Maybe David Hale?

Making more space will be a little easier in the offseason, when the Yankees will have seven free agents. They’ll still need to add a few Rule 5 eligible minor leaguers, so I would still expect more movement. I wouldn’t expect straight cuts of guys like Greg Bird or Jonathan Holder though. They’d try to trade them first.

Jack also asks: I think most of us see the Astros as the biggest roadblock to winning a championship this year (and maybe during much of our “window”). I keep thinking about who I hope the Astros play in the ALDS. In other words, who has the best chance of beating Houston in a five game series?

I wouldn’t worry so much about who the Astros will play. The Yankees need to take care of business in their own ALDS first. Whether that’s Minnesota, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Oakland, or Boston doesn’t make much of a difference to me.

Nonetheless, I’ll try to statistically answer your question. Per Fangraphs’ playoff odds, the American League team with the best chance to win the pennant (after the Astros and Yankees) is the Twins. So, there you have it.

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Yankees Reinstate Luke Voit, Place Gio Urshela on 10-Day IL

3 Comments

  1. RetroRob

    I can’t see them DFA’ing Heller at this stage, yet they are going to face some difficult choices.

    Ellsbury is interesting. They’re 40-man spots have become so valuable you have to wonder if they’ll just cut him, especially if they think they won’t get another year in 2020 with him on the IL. They got the insurance benefit for this year. He may go. Only they know what’s really going on with him, so if they think whatever injury he has is debilitating enough that they can collect another year of insurance money, then he likely survives.

    Ford should stay over Bird at this stage. They won’t have the luxury of keeping both.

  2. Stump

    Instead of signing Cole, my gut says the team brings in a new pitching coach.

  3. chip56

    Can’t see the Yankees signing Cole. He’s going to likely command in the 7 or 8 year 28-30m range.

    Yankees will rationalize that Severino will be back, they have Paxton and German in year two, Tanaka, and if/when Happ stinks, Montgomery and Garcia to replace him

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