Mailbag: Didi reunion, GM heir, pitching development, Salvador Pérez

We have four mailbag questions to answer this week. As always, send what’s on your mind to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com for a chance to have your question answered in a future edition. Let’s jump right into today’s selected questions.

A couple of folks ask: How about a Didi Gregorius reunion?

Didi just turned 30 and is a free agent for the second consecutive season. He was quite good for Joe Girardi’s Phillies this season. Gregorius played in all 60 games and hit .284/.339/.488 (116 wRC+/112 DRC+/119 OPS+). He displayed good power (10 homers, .205 ISO), walked 6.3 percent of the time, had a career low (read: best) 11.8 percent strikeout rate. Defensive metrics on his performance, though his reputation at shortstop is sterling. Depending on your WAR metric of preference, Didi was worth +1 WAR in 2020.

Who wouldn’t want to bring him back? He checks a ton of boxes performance-wise, but we also have the benefit of already knowing that he can succeed in the Bronx. I probably should have mentioned him in my piece earlier this week, in fact.

One of our readers also wanted to know if Didi and DJ LeMahieu can coexist, or if one precludes the other. To that, I say: the more the merrier. The Yankees sorely lacked infield depth this season. Tyler Wade, Thairo Estrada, and Jordy Mercer combined for 170 plate appearances this season. Gross. Let’s not do something like that again.

And yes, I know having both Gregorius and LeMahieu means the team would have five infielders and four spots to go around, but isn’t that just how they planned it in 2019? Granted, they probably didn’t realize how good LeMahieu would be, but still. Assuming expanded playoffs remain (meaning more load management during the regular season) and general injury concerns around the roster, I really don’t see why having both Gregorius and LeMahieu on the roster is an issue.

Now, would I say Didi coming back is probable? As much as I’d be thrilled to have him return, my assumption is that ship has sailed. He didn’t seem too pleased that the Yankees basically ghosted him last winter. Plus, if the Yankees are adamant about cutting costs, it’ll be difficult to squeeze in both Didi and DJLM. Maybe one, but not both.

Aaron asks: Should the Yankees have an heir-apparent in mind for the GM position (do they already)? 

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Brian Cashman, Senior Vice President and General Manager, has been with the Yankees since 1986, when he started as an intern. He’s been the GM since 1998. And yet, he’s still only 53 years old. It’s been a long and successful run for him, though at some point, that will come to an end. I can’t picture that happening anytime soon, though. As many other people in the baseball media have said, Cashman is essentially part of the Steinbrenner family. It’s hard to imagine him going anywhere unless he voluntarily steps away or the team crumbles.

Honestly, I don’t have much of a clue regarding who is next in line. I’ll throw a few names at the wall of people currently within the organization, though. In no particular order:

  • Michael Fishman, Assistant General Manager
  • Jean Afterman, SVP and Assistant General Manager
  • Tim Naehring, VP of Baseball Operations
  • Damon Oppenheimer, VP Domestic Amateur Scout
  • Matt Gerry, Director of Basebll Operations
  • Dan Giese, Director of Professional Scouting
  • David Grabiner, Director of Quantitative Analysis
  • Kevin Reese, Senior Director of Player Development
  • Eric Schmitt, Director of Player Development
  • Matt Daley, Director of Pro Scouting
  • Jim Hendry, Special Assignment Scout

Only Hendry, who was the Cubs’ GM from 2002 through 2011, has prior experience in the role. Seems like a longshot to me, but figured I’d mention him.

Naehring has become something of a hot commodity lately. His name has been brought up in rumors for GM vacancies, such as Cincinnati. He’s from there. Perhaps, in order to keep him around, the Yankees bump up Cashman to a higher role and promote Naehring to GM. I don’t know.

Again, barring something unforeseen, it seems like Cashman will leave on his own terms.

Dan asks: What do you think about trading for Salvador Pérez? He’s not old, he doesn’t strike out too much, and he’s won the World Series before. Seems like a good fit.

After missing 2019 due to Tommy John surgery, the 30 year-old Kansas City backstop had a career-year in 2020. He hit .333/.353/.633 (162 wRC+/135 DRC+). Small sample size alert, obviously, but he was clearly great. Comeback player of the year, I assume.

Not only did this performance come after a year sidelined, but it also followed a 2018 season in which Pérez hit .235/.274/.439 (89 wRC+) and was roughly replacement level. That sub-.300 on-base percentage had become the norm for him, by the way. Up until last year, he hadn’t posted an OBP north of .300 since 2013. Even with very good power, he’s typically been an out machine.

Pérez does one thing that the Yankees really like, though: crush the ball. He’s was a Statcast darling this season, if you couldn’t already tell from the graphic above. So his .375 BABIP this year wasn’t necessarily smoke and mirrors. That said, he came into this year with an unspectacular lifetime BABIP and walk rate of .283 and 3.5 percent, respectively. That’s why his OBP is always so low.

The 2015 World Series MVP has always had good exit velocity and hard hit percentages, but it looks like the big difference in driving up that BABIP was lowering his launch angle. This year, it was 14.2 degrees compared to anywhere between 18.1 and 18.9 in prior seasons. In other words: more line drives and fly balls compared to pop ups. That’s good.

If you’re expecting a defensive boost over Gary Sánchez or Kyle Higashioka, you may want to look elsewhere. Pérez has rated remarkably low over the years per advanced metrics. Aside from this year in which Statcast and Fangraphs had his framing as average, Pérez has been one of the worst framers in the league for years. He’s a good thrower and has been good at blocking pitches, though. Those are the things that are easy to see just from watching, whereas framing isn’t. Perhaps Tanner Swanson could help Pérez take another step forward in framing though.

Contractually, 2021 will be the last year of a five year deal he signed with Kansas City. He’s due $13 million in 2021, though the average annual value for luxury tax purposes is $10.5 million. That’s more than reasonable for a backstop of his caliber. But at the same time, Sánchez and Higashioka will be cheaper. And as great as Pérez was this season, he feels prime for a step back in 2021.

Jonathan asks: The Yankees have the funds, the analytics, and the manpower to develop better pitching then the Rays. Why are they so outclassed in developing pitching?

The Rays certainly have the Yankees beat in terms of pitching over the last few years. Since 2018:

TeamERAFIP
Rays3.693.77
Yankees4.094.10

Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for you. Otherwise, the Yankees would probably want to hire me (lol). But I will say this: the Rays have had a deadly combination of good fortune, good health, and shrewd pickups.

In the luck department, look no further than the Chris Archer for Tyler Glasnow/Austin Meadows trade. I mean, that was a heist. The Pirates are a horribly run franchise who also traded Gerrit Cole for Joe Musgrove. How much credit do we really want to give the Rays for this? I mean, they pulled it off, so more power to them. Plus, it’s not like the Rays have always struck gold in the trade department, though. Drew Smyly, one of the big names in return for David Price, didn’t pan out for Tampa Bay.

Of course, the Yankees haven’t fared so well in the trade department for pitchers. James Paxton, Sonny Gray, Nate Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, the list goes on. All of those guys had their moments in pinstripes, but the Bombers have yet to strike gold in terms of an external trade acquisition. If you want to compare that to Glasnow, fine. But keep in mind that the Pirates, again, are horribly run.

Tampa Bay also snagged Charlie Morton on a more than reasonable free agent deal the very same winter that the Yankees re-signed JA Happ for more money. Hindsight is 20/20, but yikes. Obviously, the Yankees regret the Happ deal, but do have the financial wherewithal to handle such a mistake. The Rays have to be right when they spend, and in this instance, they were.

Obviously, Tampa Bay has had a good deal of success with internal development. Whether it’s Blake Snell (52nd overall pick in 2011) or IFAs like Diego Castillo and José Alvarado, Tampa Bay’s done well. At the same time, the Yankees have had their fair share of development successes. Even though he was out this year, let’s not forget about Luis Severino. Jordan Montgomery has held his own too. Though they’re elsewhere now, Dellin Betances, Gio Gallegos, and David Robertson too.

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In my mind, the biggest difference between the Yankees and Rays is bullpen acquisitions. Whereas the Yankees have built a high priced pen around guys like Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, and Adam Ottavino, the Rays have unearthed gems out of nowhere. Nick Anderson, Pete Fairbanks, John Curtiss, Ryan Thompson, and many more were acquired in what were perceived as inconsequential moves. Instead, guys like Anderson and Fairbanks are stars. Now, in fairness, the Yankees did pull off something similar with Chad Green a few years ago. But the Rays keep doing it over and over again.

I should also point out that the Yankees tried to acquire Anderson before Tampa Bay landed him. Yay, you tried and all, but it does show that the Yankees and Rays are somewhat likeminded.

For now, the Rays have done a better job, but let’s see how things look over the next couple of years. The Yanks do have guys coming (or who have already arrived) like Deivi García and Clarke Schmidt, who could tilt the balance. Let’s hope so.

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10 Comments

  1. MightyOak

    I’m ready to see Matt Blake, etc., start to develop some Bieber’s, Plesac’s, Clevinger’s in the Yankees organization, sooner than later.

  2. Jonathan Stein

    As much as I would love to see Didi come back, I don’t see it happening unless they fail to sign DJLM. They will keep Sanchez. As bad as he was this year, there is not much better that they could get. Cashman needs to focus on resigning DJLM, Tanaka, Gardner, and Britton
    , and finding starting and relief pitchers and a better utility infielder than Wade.

  3. Charlie

    Why did the Yankees freeze out Didi? Joel Sherman wrote they didn’t like his defense, but putting Torres at short doesn’t exactly coincide with that school of thought.

    • MikeD

      I do remember thinking his defense slipped by the eye test in 2019, just as his bat did, so maybe that’s what Sherman was referring to? Yet, he started his season later and he was recovering from TJS, so I wouldn’t have drawn any grand conclusions based on a partial season when he was still recovering. I don’t buy Sherman’s explanation because Didi only required a one year deal and for not a lot of money. He would have also provided a LH’d bat. No, I think the Yankees used that as an excuse. They were counting pennies, trying to limit how far they were going to go over the luxury tax threshold, and they saw letting Didi go as an easy way to save $12-14M.

  4. Mungo

    I suspect at some point Cashman will be given a President of Baseball Operations title, and that will allow them to name a GM. It’s kind of B.S., since it’s title inflation. Tthe PoBO is what the GM used to be, but maybe they’ll structure it differently. You’re correct. Cashman is almost an extension of the Steinbrenner family. As long as they own the team, he’ll be there in some capacity. If Naehring goes to the Reds, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Billy Eppler returns. Naehring was promoted into Eppler’s job. The Yankees thought very highly of him, and getting him to return with 5 years of GM experience would be appealing. Maybe this is the offseason when Cashman is bumped up to PoBO and Eppler returns with a GM title with the Yankees.

    Didi? I can see him returning, but it will only happen if DJLM signs elsewhere. The Yankees then push Gleyber back to 2B and Didi comes back to the Bronx. I’m sure whatever hard feelings, if any, exist they can be smoothed over. I don’t see it happening though as I believe DJLM will return.

    • Smurfy

      Mungo, what would you value among THE LOSER who inherited Mike Trout and let him go to waste after signing Pujhols to that historically accurate contract? Pitching doesn’t really matter. I think you’re hacking for Boston!

  5. DanGer

    Few random thoughts:

    -Contrary to the outrage, I think Cashman is doing exactly what the FO wants. MLB owners are intent on max profits with teams that are “good enough”. For good or bad, Hal is not George.

    -Let’s relax on Sanchez. He’ll be 28, relatively inexpensive, and one COVID-warped season removed from 116 wRC with 34 homers in 106 games (50+ homer pace).

    – We can’t ignore the moves or parts of moves that don’t fit a narrative. Re-signing Happ was dumb but the trade the year before was brilliant. Glasnow is great but Paxton was pretty much as-advertised before getting injured. Pineda didn’t pan out but Montero was worse. And for every Voit or Hicks there’s an Ackley or Drury. Even Domingo German (icky suspension aside) was part of the Eovaldi trade. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

    -Disagree on Green being the only “unearthed gem”. Wilson, Shreve, Kahnle, Warren 2.0, etc.

    • Mungo

      I agree The Yankees have done a very good job constructing bullpens over the years to the point it’s often referred to as an organizational strength, using either their own minor leaguers, found gems, or signing free agents. The high-price approach is a more recent trend, but one I can see changing quickly depending on supply.

      Sanchez is not going anywhere. He’ll be the started in 2021. I do think they are sending him a clear message though. The press conference was the first time I’ve seen Cashman back away from Sanchez, but I believe it’s more a case of sending a message.

  6. Jetandymo

    The Yankees will never win or even get to a World Series with either Torres at short or Sanchez catching! You cannot win a crucial playoff game without great defense. In this case the Yankees defense is below average. Torres is a great young player with fantastic offensive prowess and he played a very respectable second base last year, Obviously the change to shortstop affected him negatively this year. By reacquiring Didi you immediately strengthen the team. DJ moves to first and roving infielder as he did in 2019. Possibly even opening up Voit for a trade for an excellent starter.

  7. mikenyc2007

    IIRC Morton was thinking of retiring before Tampa signed him, and certainly had interest from alot of teams before deciding to go there – he is from CT, so maybe he just liked the weather and tax climate(s) for this last big career payday.
    The issue is the inability of the Yanks to use their resources to develop the pitchers Tampa has, and while it is a narrative, the article shows the Yanks aren’t half-bad at it either.
    The biggest issue i see is that the Yanks use their relievers often, and for shorter stints, than the Rays do. For instance, with Betances, Miller and Chapman, the yanks basically had them penciled in for 9 outs on a “perfect day”… whereas the rays would be able to get, and expect, to get 15 outs from that same talent on a regular basis.

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