Happy Friday and Happy New Year, everyone. We’ve now officially reached the dog days of the offseason, with little news or rumors. On the bright side, there are only 40 days until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on February 12. That’s not so bad, is it?
Anyway, we have four great questions for today’s mailbag despite the offseason doldrums. As always, send your questions to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com for inclusion in future mailbags. We go through our favorites each week.
Khantzian Asks: How would Scooter Gennett be as a bounceback candidate? Yankees have had interest in the past. Plus, if he returns to form he could be a solid LH bat.Embed from Getty Images
Gennett absolutely makes sense as a bounceback candidate. He suffered from injuries in 2019, limiting him to just 42 games of .226/.245/.323 (44 wRC+) ball. Yikes! That’s not great. Pretty horrible, actually. But it’s also not really representative of what he’d accomplished over the last two seasons, when he put up a .303/.351/.508 (124 wRC+) line in almost 300 games. He’s not too far removed from being a very good MLB player.
Steamer projects him to hit .261/.311/.421 (90 wRC+) for 0.6 fWAR in 2020, for what it’s worth. He is a lefty bat and he is versatile, at least in theory. He’s primarily been a second baseman in his career, but he’s also played in the outfield and other positions across the diamond. He’s worth a deeper dive at some point, but I think he could make sense as a bounce back candidate for sure, especially if injuries are to blame for his poor 2019. (But who knows if that’s true.)
The Yankees have a way with creating something out of nothing with bats these days, and while Gennett was a zero in 2019, he has recently been very good offensively. Entering the Yankees hitting lab on a cheap one-year deal might just be what he needs to get his career back on track. In fact, if this marriage happens, that’s exactly what I’d expect to happen. That’s how these things work now, benefit of the doubt, etc.
Jon Asks: Am I crazy that I seem to be the only person excited by the Kyle Schwarber possibility? From what I’ve seen, his batted ball profile is incredible and he’s had solid production to match. Could he even be a super-utility type – LF, DH, 1B, and emergency catcher? What am I missing?Embed from Getty Images
No, you’re definitely not crazy. Removing everything else, Schwarber definitely makes sense as a trade candidate. He is a lifetime .235/.339/.490 (115 wRC+) hitter with power (.254 ISO) and patience (13% walk rate). As you mentioned, he also has an impressive batted ball profile, consistently hitting the ball harder than everyone else; in fact, he’s never ranked lower than the 92nd percentile in exit velocity. That he’s a lefty only helps matters, obviously, defensive positioning/capability notwithstanding. He is, in every sense of the word, exactly the type of player the Yankees always covet. I do not doubt at all that he would thrive in New York.
That said, there’s reason to temper your excitement here. Mostly, that’s because there’s a very small chance that a trade even happens. The Yankees and Cubs have been discussing Schwarber at every possible opportunity since 2016 and it’s never happened. (Thanks to Theo, by the way, for refusing to trade Schwarber for Chapman and instead giving the Yankees Gleyber Torres!) I don’t think that’s much different now, either — just feels like one of those “we’ve checked in on the player” type rumors. The Cubs may be “blowing it up”, sure, but they haven’t actually done it yet. Even if they do, I find this move unlikely. That’s the only reason, though. He’d be a great fit otherwise, even if I do think that your characterization of him being a “super utility” type is a bit overstated.
Paul Asks: How long until the Gardy party becomes official? DFA or trade to make room on the 40?
I am definitely surprised that the Gardner signing is not official yet. It happened three weeks ago now. I’ve seen multiple people suggest that the team is waiting for a Happ trade to be executed before making this move official, but I just don’t see it. As good of a relationship that the Yankees and Gardner have, I’d be very surprised if Gardner agreed to wait that long. Remember the Sonny Gray ordeal last year? These trades can take a lot longer than expected and the Yankees have shown time and time again that they’re willing to be patient even when it’s obvious they’re moving someone. Even though the free agent pitching market has evaporated now, which should open up the trade market, there’s no guarantee a Happ move happens soon. (The Angels, Twins, and maybe even Blue Jays, though, should be all over him in my opinion.)
Maybe the holidays, vacations, etc. have been what’s slowed this down. It’s not like there aren’t players on the 40-man who are untouchable here. Stephen Tarpley or Ben Heller are obvious candidates to be cut for Gardner, in my opinion. Seems like a no-brainer, really. My guess is that this gets tied up sooner rather than late — and before a potential Happ trade — but who knows. It’s already gone on a lot longer than I expected it to.
Robert Asks: Should the Yankees look to extend Paxton now before he becomes a free agent next year? The pitching options available don’t look too promising in the free agent class and he has been pretty good so far. What would it take too keep him?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot in recent days, actually. Not only does the free agent pitching market look bleak, but the Masahiro Tanaka’s contract is also expiring after the season. Even after adding Cole, losing Tanaka and Paxton would be a big blow to the rotation. Extending Paxton now might be a good way to mitigate that outcome and keep a very good pitcher around longer during a title window.
And Paxton is just that: a very good pitcher. He turned a serious corner in the second half after making adjustments to his pitch usage and looked every bit an ace. Although he mostly struggled in his three starts — except for the one where he very much didn’t — Paxton absolutely earned that Game 1 start of the ALDS. With the addition of new coach Matt Blake to the staff, the Yankees might just think they can unlock Paxton’s obvious potential and keep him both healthy and pitching at that level. Even if he is inconsistently ace-like, though, I think it’s worth offering Paxton an extension.
What that would look like is a much more difficult question, of course. There aren’t very many good comparisons for Paxton in recent years in terms of an extension at this point. Zack Wheeler is an interesting comparison, though he obviously wasn’t extended. Check out their career numbers:
- Zack Wheeler: 749.1 IP, 3.77 ERA, 22.8% K%, 8.5% BB%, .687 OPS against, 9.7 bWAR
- James Paxton: 733 IP, 3.50 ERA, 26.5% K%, 7.4% BB%, .670 OPS against, 12.9 bWAR
Both have struggled with injuries and both have obviously great stuff with velocity. Paxton has been a better pitcher than Wheeler, though he’s a year older. Wheeler, of course, just got a five-year, $118 million deal from the Phillies for a $23.6m AAV. This is the latest in a clear trend: teams are paying for what a pitcher will do tomorrow, not what he did yesterday.
What that means for a Paxton extension is a bit unclear, honestly. Extensions tend to be below-market, so maybe he would agree to a five-year, $87.5 million deal, including 2020? That would raise the current CBT hit, obviously, but amount to an additional four years and $70 million guaranteed. Seems a bit light after the Wheeler signing, doesn’t it? Still, that’s a nice chunk of change and it might make sense for Paxton to collect that payday now and have some job/life security for the next half decade. I guess we’ll find out in the next few weeks, but if I were Paxton, I’d look at what Wheeler got and then put my services on the open market.