Happy Friday, everyone. The Yankees are 20-9 (.689) over their last calendar month, and they sit at 25-19 (.568) overall. They’re 1.5 games out of first place, but just one on the loss side. I think it’s fair to say that the early-season struggles are behind them, even if the injuries and anemic offense continues to frustrate. They’ll get a real test this evening against the AL-best Chicago White Sox. I’m excited for that one.
Anyway, it’s time for another mailbag. We have four good questions today. As always, please send yours to firstname.lastname@example.org for potential inclusion in a future edition.
Broussard Asks: Given the problems the Yankees are having with position players, especially in the outfield, do you still think the Mike Tauchman trade was such a good move?
Yes, and I don’t have to think particularly hard about it. That’s true even though the Yankees have just seven outfielders on the 40-man roster, one of whom is Estevan Florial and another one of whom is Giancarlo Stanton, who is not really an outfielder anymore. Another is Ryan LaMarre, who has no place on a championship contending team. The point is that it’s definitely fair to think it’s weird to trade an outfielder for a reliever, given the roster construction.
But all outfielders are not created the same. Mike Tauchman is not a particularly good one, one multi-week stretch in 2019 in an inflated run environment aside. He just isn’t. People tend to remember his first game with the Giants, when he went 3-4. What has he done since? Well, he’s gone 11-for-65 (.169), posting a .169/.299/.308 (79 wRC+) line for the Giants. He is striking out nearly 30% of the time.
The best things you can say about Tauchman is that he’s walking a lot (15%) or that he plays solid defense (83rd percentile in OAA). I know that offense is depressed everywhere, but there are zero signs Tauchman is just slumping. His Statcast data is horrible. He’s 30, and he’s been a perennial Triple-A journeyman aside from 2019. This is just who he is.
Would I prefer him to Ryan LaMarre or Tyler Wade in the outfield? Yes. Does that matter? Not really. That’s because Wandy Peralta has been very, very solid for the Yankees – and the Yankees clearly believe in him.
Since joining the Bombers, Peralta has allowed 2 earned runs in 6.1 innings of relatively high-leverage (1.25 average leverage index when he enters a game) work. He has 7 strikeouts against just 2 walks in that stretch. Better yet, he is continuing to reduce hard contact, force matters to swing-and-miss, and chase bad pitches out o the zone. That is a profile for a good reliever.
These are small sample sizes, sure, but I think we can read into them. The Yankees turned a bad player in Tauchman into one with some really promising signs in Peralta. They can, and very likely will, find another 5th outfielder. Turning one into a potentially strong bullpen arm is not as easy, but that’s exactly what they did last month. Hard not to like it.
Sam Asks: How much of a factor do you think the ball is playing in some of the underwhelming (DJ, Gleyber) and downright awful (Frazier, Hicks, Gardner) offensive production from the team? Over the course of a season, players often adjust to the mean, but if the issue is the ball, they’re stuck with that. Are DJ LeMaheiu and Gleyber Torres simply mediocre as long as the current ball stays in use?
It’s hard to say. I’m not going to attribute all of the Yankees individual struggles to the new ball. I think that’s reductive and simplistic. That said, it’s hard not to consider it a factor at all. It clearly is. There’s a reason offense is down everywhere.
The league overall is hitting just .236/.312/.394 overall, for crying out loud. Batters hit .245/.322/.418 overall last year. It’s a slightly smaller sample than 2020, but enough to compare, I think. The obvious drop here is in power. Slugging is down nearly across the board, as are other indicators, like isolated power. That is what is really hurting the two players you’re asking about in DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres, who were both uniquely vulnerable to a less rocketball-y baseball given their batted ball profiles.
With DJ, it’s really apparent. He’s hitting .267/.353/.358, which is good for a 105 wRC+. That line itself isn’t that bad. It’s still above average. It’s just not what we expect from Yankee DJ LeMahieu. It would quickly stabilize to really good if he added even a career average (.428) slugging rate. That is not happening right now. He has 44 hits, and just 9 of them (6 doubles, 3 HR) are extra-base hits. Worryingly, his exit velocity and overall quality of contact is also down. It’s also been just about six weeks, so I’m not drawing any conclusions yet, though I am concerned.
With Gleyber, it’s a different story. His power has completely evaporated since the end of 2019. He has just a .094 ISO in 308 plate appearances since Opening Day 2020, logging just 17 extra-base hits (13 2B, 4 HR) against 65 hits. He’s hitting .244/.347/.338 (98 wRC+) in that stretch. It’s not a super small time period, either. It’s a lot of plate appearances across two (admittedly weird) seasons. With Gleyber, I think you’d have to be burying your head in the sand not to be outright worried at this point.
How much does the ball factor in? It’s tough to say. I think both players are susceptible to changes in the ball, and we do know that the 2021 ball is having a real impact. People way smarter than me have said so all season long. It is worth noting that DJ was probably not ever the power hitter we saw in 2019 or even 2020. Those were career aberrations. A power drop from him with a new ball is expected, and he’s a good enough hitter where he’ll adapt. He’ll be back to normal soon, I suspect.
As for Torres, I just don’t know. He struggled to hit for power even last year, when this wasn’t the same problem. I trust he’ll snap out of it, because I think he’s better than this. But it is a concern, and I think it’s a real one.
Richard Asks: Do you see the Reds as a sleeper trade partner for OF help? What do you think it would take for one of Winker/Naquin?
Maybe. It’s too early to say. Cincinnati has not been good so far, posting a 19-23 (.452) record and sitting just about Pittsburgh in the NL Central. It is very possible, if not downright likely, that they are a seller at the deadline. They’re not so abysmal that they’re going to be making moves now, though. At least I don’t think so. I do think that the Yankees are looking to upgrade now. (Ken Rosenthal reports they’re talking to Texas about Delino DeShields right now.) The two teams have traded a bit recently, too. Here’s a breakdown:
- August 2019: Yankees get Joe Mantiply (LHP) from the Reds for cash considerations
- January 2019: Yankees get Shed Long & Reiver Sanmartin from the Reds for Sonny Gray (Yanks then moved Long for Josh Stowers)
- December 2015: Yankees get Aroldis Chapman for Caleb Cotham, Rookie Davis, Tony Renda, and Eric Jagielo
There have been a few others in the decades prior with Cashman at the helm, too, including a deadline deal for Aaron Boone in 2003 and one for Jerry Hairston, Jr. in 2009. The point is that Cashman is not afraid to work with Cincinnati, and they’ve even executed some fairly high-profile trades. It could definitely be a fit.
I’d also 100% take Jesse Winker (.338/.397/.592, 167 wRC+) on the Yankees right now. Who wouldn’t? Winker, who is a lifetime 132 wRC+ hitter with great on-base skills and some pop, is just 27, and won’t be a free agent until 2024. And he’s a lefty! Imagine. Point is that acquiring him would cost a pretty penny. Probably a top 10 prospect plus some sort of MLB talent. He won’t be available until the deadline at the earliest, if even then.
Naquin is having a nice year (.256/.336/.512, 127 wRC+), but was non-tendered in 2020 and is closer to league average in his career. He could likely be acquired for a minors piece or possibly even just some cash, but I don’t think he’d move the needle in the way we’d like. But hey, he’s a lefty, and even a league-average lefty bat who can man the outfield (he’s not especially good out there) would have value on the Yanks. They don’t all have to be exciting. The Yankees could probably get him soon, and it wouldn’t take all that much. Cincy may even want to capitalize on his value now, too.
Iron Mike Asks: Is it safe to say that Shohei Ohtani choosing a West Coast team over New York was one of the biggest pendulum swinging events in MLB recently? I keep imagining this team with Ohtani’s DH swing in Yankee Stadium.
Hard not to dream, right? Ohtani is insanely, insanely fun and it’s tough not to imagine him tearing down the house in the Bronx. His 2021 production would make him an off-the-charts superstar right now and he would obviously be a great addition on the team. I don’t think he ever seriously considered New York, though. He obviously wanted to be on the West Coast, which is fine. That’s a personal decision.
I’m not going to hold that against him, much as I like to dream of him in pinstripes. So, to answer your question, I don’t think so. The Yankees were never really an option. The bigger pendulum swing is that he chose the Angels out of all of the West Coast teams. The Dodgers were right there, man. So were the Padres, A’s, and even the Mariners. (He would not have saved the Mariners either, obviously.)
Instead of any of those options – even if it’s hard to imagine the A’s ponying up the cash to sign him, but it’s a thought exercise – Ohtani chose the embarrassing joke of a franchise that is the Angels. Mind-blowing stuff, really. At least Mike Trout was drafted. Ohtani made his bed.