Category: Musings Page 1 of 21

Rounding Out the Edges

With the signings of DJ LeMahieu and Corey Kluber, the main thrust of the Yankee roster is more or less filled out. At the very least, the lineup seems set:

C–Gary Sanchez

1B–Luke Voit

2B–DJ LeMahieu

3B–Gio Urshela

SS–Gleyber Torres

LF–Clint Frazier

CF–Aaron Hicks

RF–Aaron Judge

DH–Giancarlo Stanton

Kyle Higashioka and Tyler Wade are assuredly two of the four bench spots, with new addition Greg Allen and holdovers Mike Ford, Miguel Andujar, Thairo Estrada, and Mike Tauchman up for the final two spots. Tauchman and Allen are both out of options, so we can presume–for now–that the fourth outfield spot will be a battle between those two.

The rotation also looks more set with Kluber joining Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery, and some combination of Deivi Garcia, Clarke Schmidt, Domingo German, and, eventually, Luis Severino. Honorable mention to Mike King. The bullpen, though untouched by these acquisitions, seems set as well: Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Chad Green, Adam Ottavino, Luis Cessa, Joanthan Loaisiga, Nick Nelson, Albert Abreu (presumably, since he’sout of options) with the still optionable Ben Heller, Brooks Kriske, and Miguel Yajure in reserve.

All in all, this a roster I feel mostly confident in. The lineup is obviously fantastic and the bullpen’s top-three is as good as any in the Majors. The bench may not be sparkling, but the players there are likely good for their roles. At the least, the rotation has one of the best pitchers in baseball and serious upside.

But if we look closely, we can see some rough edges to this team. If a middle infielder goes down, they could be in trouble, same with an outfielder. The bullpen looks strong, but Ottavino is on shaky ground, which helps tire out Green and Britton as bridges to Chapman, which we’ve seen bite the Yankees in the playoffs of late. And that rotation has a lot of question marks beyond Cole.

In order of need, I’d say the Yankees need another starter, another infielder, and another reliever. I’m not wild about either Allen or Tauchman as backups, but I think there’s enough glove for both of them to make it work, considering the strength of the rest of the outfield. Do I think they could do better at 4th/5th OF? Yeah, for sure, but it’s lower on the list than the other items.

Getting any one of those–starter, IF, RP–would be tough given where the Yankees are in terms of their self-imposed budget. After the Kluber signing, they have just under $6 million to play with. If they’re going to stick to Plan 210, any signing(s) they make would be for depth, not impact. I’m of two minds on this.

The first mind says that, given the roster and even the title of this post, depth is what they could use right now. The roster is strong as it stands, could easily win the division, and make noise in the playoffs.

But the second mind says ‘yikes’ to that rotation. As good as Corey Kluber is, he’s pitched all of, uh, basically nothing since 2018. Deivi is still (mostly) unproven. Domingo German is a complete mystery and relying on a TJS recovery version of Luis Severino is not comforting. Something more than depth or a lottery ticket is needed to make me feel better about the rotation. But is it out there?

The team doesn’t seem to want to bring Masahiro Tanaka back, which saddens me deeply, and I doubt they go big splash with Trevor Bauer. It’s possible that the amount they spent on Kluber means they’ll blow past $210M–or maybe surpass it in the season–but they could just as easily close up the free agent shop, so to speak.

Given the budget constraints–however self-imposed–and the 40 man roster crunch–Kluber and DJLM make 42–it’s likely that the improvements I’d want for the Yankees would have to come by trade. Luis Castillo, maybe? That could be pie in the sky and I’m terrible at coming up with trade scenarios, so we’ll leave it there.

Regardless of my two minds, the Yankees have a great roster and only need to round out the edges. Whether they do that ‘roughly’ by just adding depth or ‘smoothly’ by getting someone to make a big impact, this team is going to win lots of games. Probably.

Post-DJ Part Two: Spending the Money

A little less than a month ago, I wrote about the possibility of a post-DJ LeMahieu life for the Yankees and included a bunch of options to replace him. If you’d asked me then if I thought that I’d write a follow up just a few days before Christmas, I’d’ve said no. Yankees or not, I figured DJLM would’ve signed with a team by now. Well, he hasn’t and the Yankees haven’t done anything in Major League free agency, so it’s given my mind time to wander. How could the Yankees spend if they don’t sign LeMahieu?

Without signing him, the Yankees would have about $35 million to play with before the first luxury tax barrier. In reality, it’s a little over that, but for the purposes of this exercise, we’ll say it’s $35M. For simplicity’s sake, too, I’m going to ignore the roster crunch that would happen in either of the scenarios I’m about to present. There’d be ways to work this out and this is a lot of wish casting anyway, so let’s roll with it. All salary assumptions are from MLBTR and reflect the contract’s average annual value for tax purposes.

My first plan is the ‘stick to the plan’ plan in which ‘stick with the plan’ means keeping Gleyber Torres at shortstop, even if LeMahieu signs elsewhere. Here goes, with $35M to spend:

–Sign Kolten Wong for $8M ($27M remaining)

–Sign Jose Quintana for $9M ($18M remaining)

–Sign Liam Hendriks for $10M ($8M remaining)

–Sign Brad Hand for $M ($1M remaining)

This gives the Yankees a viable replacement for LeMahieu, some starting depth, and good bullpen depth, too.

My second plan is a bit of a more nostalgic, get-the-band-back-together type plan.

–Sign Didi Gregorius for $13M ($22M remaining)

–Sign Masahiro Tanaka for $13M ($9M remaining)

–Sign Marc Melancon for $4M ($5M remaining)

–Sign Cole Hamels for $4M ($1M remaining)

All of them–except Hamels–have been Yankees at one point and are good enough to bring back. Hamels is a personal favorite and would be decent rotation depth with Tanaka back, too.

One thing we should not–aside from the aforementioned roster concerns–is that MLBTR’s salaries have shot pretty low. Hell, they project LeMahieu himself to get only $17M AAV. Additionally, I put the Yankees right up against the edge of the tax, which they may not want to do, in case they actually want to shop around at the trade deadline.

Even if they are a little more convoluted, there are paths to follow without LeMahieu; they could even be pretty successful! The simplest route–and the one fans likely want most–is to re-sign LeMahieu and go from there. There’s obviously still time to make that happen and build around that move. If they don’t though, the Yankees have options for that money.

A Yankee Holiday Wish List

‘Tis the season, isn’t it, folks? Whether you’re in the midst of celebrating Hanukkah or gearing up for Christmas or Kwanza, or the Winter Solstice, or whatever you celebrate, it’s the holiday season. In that spirit–and in the spirit of keeping safe and healthy in our celebrations this holiday season–here’s a list of my holiday wishes for some Yankees.

Gary Sanchez: For Gary, I wish a year of no tinkering and no tampering with his approach behind the plate. We’ve heard via Luke Voit that Gary is already working to correct his poor hitting in 2020 and that’s what he needs. What I think he doesn’t need–and I’ve expressed this before–is another round of fiddling with his catching. Sanchez will likely never be a great blocker, maybe not even a good one, but even without the tampering last year, he was a decent framer. He also calls a good game and has a rocket arm. Let him focus on what he’s good at behind the plate so that his struggles and adjustments there don’t carry over to the plate like they did in 2020.

Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, and Luke Voit: For these three, I wish for fully healthy and productive seasons. The former is asking a lot, especially so of Hicks and Judge, but I so badly want these three to play 140+ games in 2021 to show off what they can really do. Given their levels of talent and previous levels of production, all three could be MVP candidates with full seasons under their belts.

Non-Tender Contenders: Bradley and Dahl

With the non-tender deadline behind us, new players have been added to the free agent market. Two such players who should be of interest to the Yankees are outfielder David Dahl and reliever Archie Bradley.

With Jonathan Holder non-tendered by the team, Brett Gardner a free agent, and the need to upgrade over Mike Tauchman, the Yankees have room enough on their roster to fit one or both of these players. Dahl would slip into the fourth (or fifth if/when they bring back Gardner?) outfielder role with Bradley slotting in behind Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton for sure, and maybe Chad Green. Either way, he’d lengthen the bullpen considerably all by himself.

Considering that the Reds non-tendered Bradley for what appear to be purely financial reasons, there isn’t much of a baseball case against him. He’s a durable reliever–at least 70 innings every year since he’s been a full time RP (not counting the pandemic season of 2020) who’s gotten results and has closer experience. Adding that to your bullpen is practically a no-brainer.

But if I know that, so does every team in baseball and there’s sure to be stiff competition for Bradley and his services. This is where the Yankees can and should flex their financial muscles to beat out other teams. It’s their greatest advantage and to not use it is handicapping themselves for the benefit of other teams. For as cut and dried as Bradley’s case is, Dahl’s is a touch murkier.

Dahl’s biggest positive is his age. He’ll be just 27 on Opening Day, so he still has projection and time on his side. Add that to the fact that he’s got a solid track record already and it’s easy to see why he’d be desirable on the free agent market. Despite a down 2020, this lefty hitter’s got a career .348 wOBA and 101 wRC+, though 2020’s 10 (!) mark drags him down a lot. His other years have been 113, 110, and 110. He’s also got a nice career ISO at .208.

Additionally, he can play all over the outfield, including center, which the Yankees need in a backup outfielder. There’s some conflicting noise on the defensive metrics–Statcast loved him in 2019; UZR and DRS did not–but even so, it seems he can hold his own out there. Seems great, but…

Dahl is often injured. He’s never played more than 100 games in a season and missed all of 2017 with an injury. An injured back up or depth piece more or less defeats the purpose of being a back up or depth. And aside from the injury concern, there are practical concerns about his offensive game.

While Dahl has shown power–see that aforementioned ISO–he also comes with a lot of strikeouts. His career rate is 26.0%, having risen each year he’s been in the league, topping out at just over 28% in 2020. Now far be it from me to knock a guy for striking out too many times, especially if it comes with power. However, the lack of walks is concerning–6.5% for his career. When he makes contact, though, Dahl is obviously productive, hitting for relatively high averages.

Given that he comes from the Rockies, there’s the Coors factor to consider, but were he coming to Yankee Stadium, he’d still be in a hitter’s park, especially as a lefty hitter who’s pulled the ball around 40% of his time in the majors. If he adds a little loft to his swing, he can take advantage of right field and be a dangerous weapon off the bench or fill in…provided he’s healthy.

To varying degrees, both Archie Bradley and David Dahl would improve the Yankee roster. Given Dahl’s injury history and that there may be other options out there, I’d pick Bradley if I had to choose between the two. But the Yankees should try to angle for both. Even with competition, non-tendered players are definitely at a loss for leverage and may not have many enticing offers. The Yankees should lean into their finances to outbid other teams for these undervalued players.

My Obligatory HOF Post

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. And I don’t mean the Christmas season (and I definitely mean this sarcastically):

That’s right, folks. It’s Baseball Hall of Fame season, the most tedious, pedantic time of the baseball year. And I can’t help but at least partially love it. I’ve been Extremely Online about baseball since about 2005 and a good portion of that time has been spent thinking about and discussing players making or not making the Baseball Hall of Fame. This style of writing and argument helped me get into thinking about the game in a more analytical, numbers-driven way, and for that, I’ll always be appreciative. My first statistical deep dives, way back when, were dissecting Craig Biggio’s career in my ‘he’s actually kind of overrated’ argument (before I got into/understood WAR. I still think there’s a touch of overrated there, but that’s a story for another day), then spilling a lot of digital ink over Bert Blyleven’s and Mike Mussina’s deserving HOF cases (and against those of Jack Morris, Jim Rice, etc.). For a long while, I was pretty passionate about it. Over the last few years, though, I’ve started to care less about it, but I can’t fully quit it.

To be honest, this discourse matters less and less as we move on in the baseball world. In this information/technology age, it’s much easier to find out who actually were the best players in a given time than before, making us much less reliant on the BBWAA’s interpretation (or whatever other committees are voting now) or the Hall of Fame’s plaques. Regardless, it’s obviously important and meaningful to both the players and the writers and I’m a sucker for that, so I can’t fully quit this stuff.

Before I reveal my hypothetical ballot, some thoughts on the voting process:

  1. I hate the ten-player limit. It’s less of a concern now that the logjam of the last ten years or so has cleared up, but there should be no limit.
  2. I don’t like that there’s some arbitrary eligibility standard to get on the ballot. If a player has played ten years and been retired for five, he should be on the ballot and stay on until his time’s up. The 5% barrier is fine, I suppose, but I think it should be expanded beyond one year.
  3. I hate blank ballots. Hate them. Absolutely hate them. Allow me to reproduce what I said on Twitter on Friday, prompted by this tweet from Jared Diamond: No, the reasoning is bad. There is at least one person on this ballot who is surely HOF worthy with no “baggage” or whatever. To act otherwise is foolish, or shows a complete lack of understanding of baseball beyond, like, 1993. There are going to be years when no one gets in; we experienced that recently. But there is almost never going to be a year when no one is worthy of a vote, by most any standard. Writers who turn in blank ballots are seeking attention above all else, whether directly or indirectly, so they can make some point informed by an incredibly narrow and (most often) outdated understanding of baseball. It also smacks wildly and loudly of the almost unrivaled self-seriousness of baseball writers, which I cannot stand.

Now on to my fake ballot, without paragraph upon paragraph of explanation because most of these are pretty self-evident.

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Todd Helton, Jeff Kent (an offensive force at 2B when that wasn’t quite a thing yet), Andruw Jones (400+ homers; all time great CF), Manny Ramirez (PED suspensions or not, one of the top RHB ever), Scott Rolen (he crawled so Adrian Beltre could walk/run), Gary Sheffield (go look up his numbers if you haven’t lately), Sammy Sosa. I’m leaving Curt Schilling off, even if some of the guys on here are also bad. Craig Calcaterra does a nice job explaining why here, so I’m not going to drone on and on about it.

The only one I’m unsure about up there is Kent, but the rest are among the best hitters or pitchers in the game’s history, without whom the telling of the story of baseball is hard to do. Clearly, PED stuff doesn’t matter to me, either. If you want the HOF to put some PED acknowledgement on their plaques, go right ahead.

And that’s my HOF discourse for 2020-21 (don’t hold me to this; I’m sure I’ll offer a take or three when the results come in). Let’s do this again next year, shall we? Good luck to the candidates.

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