Happy Friday, everyone. It’s been a few weeks since our last mailbag, so apologies for the delay. We have a few good questions to address today. But before that: if you’d like to be considered for a future edition, please email viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com with your questions. We plan to choose our favorites each week. Now to the mailbag.
Sam asks: With Theo leaving the Cubs, it really feels like they’re about to tear everything down. What Cubs players make sense for the Yankees to target in the trade market? Adding Schwarber’s left-handed power is very appealing.
Yup, a selloff certainly seems to be coming. Schwarber feels like someone the Yankees would pursue, especially since the team was connected to him in the past. That said, I don’t like the fit in spite of his undeniable power from the left side. Even though he absolutely crushes the ball, he’s another low-contact bat (28 percent career strikeout rate) and is without a position. Statcast had him in the 2nd and 23rd percentiles in Outs Above Average and Outfielder Jump this season. With Giancarlo Stanton parked at DH, there’s really no place for Schwarber.
There are a bunch of other players on the Cubs I’m interested in, though. Javy Báez would be cool as a Francisco Lindor/DJ LeMahieu fallback. He had an oddly bad 2020 (57 wRC+) after hitting .286/.321/.544 (123 wRC+) from 2018 through 2019. One thing remained steady: his elite defense, which would unequivocally help the Yanks.
I’d also love to bring in Yu Darvish, who I mentioned yesterday in our news and notes post. The 34 year-old has been dominant since mid-2019 and can probably be had for very little because his contract goes through 2023. I’d bet that the Yanks would be able to get the Cubs to take Adam Ottavino’s deal as part of a trade too.
We’re a couple of weeks later than last year, but better late than never. It’s time for us to unveil our Official Offseason Plan for the Yankees. Everyone on staff has discussed and debated various decisions the Yankees have ahead of them this winter and are ready to share our consensus today.
As a preface, this plan is a bit conservative and would get the Yankees under the $210 million luxury tax threshold. It’s not clear whether or not the Yankees will exhibit austerity this winter, though there have been hints in the media. That led to some difficult decisions that you’ll see unfold below. That said, we are planning to share another less-stringent plan soon. It’ll be more fun, we promise.
With that, let’s dive right in.
We wouldn’t do anything differently than what the Yankees actually did. On the option front, Zack Britton stays while Brett Gardner and JA Happ depart.
Team Free Agents & Qualifying Offers
DJ LeMahieu: It’s tough to say goodbye, but something coming later will explain why.
Masahiro Tanaka: Another really tough goodbye here. Tanaka was terrific for seven years in pinstripes, but in trying to fit under the $210 million tax threshold, it just couldn’t be done.
Lindor hails from Puerto Rico, though his family moved to Florida before he started high school. He attended Montverde Academy, a school you may be familiar with if you follow the NBA. D’Angelo Russell, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, among others, attended. Cleveland drafted Lindor out of Montverde with the 8th overall pick in 2011. He signed for a $2.9 million bonus.
He was a top prospect throughout his minor league career and debuted in the big leagues mid-2015. Since, Lindor has hit .285/.346/.488 (118 wRC+), swatted 138 homers, and stolen 99 bases in 126 attempts (78.6 percent). He’s elite defensively too: the two Gold Gloves to his name aren’t just because of name recognition. All told, Lindor is a five tool player at a premium position and hasn’t turned 27 yet.
No decision is necessary just yet. But if I were running the Yankees, I’d think twice about signing the oft-injured Aaron Judge to a monster extension. Instead, I’d consider taking that money and going hard after Francisco Lindor when he becomes a free agent after the 2021 season.
I won’t give away the details of Rosenthal’s rationale since it’s behind a paywall. The gist of his argument is that Judge’s long-term health is murky, the team is loaded with outfielders, and have a ton of salary commitments already. Rosenthal believes Lindor might be the team’s better option as it’s next splurge. Not only is Lindor great in his own right, but he’s also younger and has a healthier track record. None of Rosenthal’s points are wrong, per se. But as you might have expected us to say, why can’t the Yankees have both?
Let’s address Rosenthal’s biggest concern: Judge’s health. Frankly, I can’t deny that it worries me too. He’s on the injured list yet again after playing in just 112 and 102 of the team’s games in each of the last two seasons. He probably would have played a similar total this year if not for the pandemic because of his broken rib and collapsed lung. The only real “bad luck” injury was the wrist fracture on a hit by pitch in 2018. Otherwise, we’ve seen a couple of muscle strains and that broken rib (which to his credit, he played through at the end of 2019). I suppose the rib fracture could be bad luck too. That said, it worries me that an impact play like that in right field could hurt him again.
Depending on your WAR metric of preference, Judge was a five-win player in 2018 and 2019 in spite of missing so many games. There aren’t many outfielders who do that in a full season! If you could only pencil in Judge for 115 games annually but knew you’d get 5 WAR a pop, I think you’d be thrilled. And with guys like Mike Tauchman and Clint Frazier around to fill the void, those other games aren’t exactly being filled by scrubs. The caveat: Judge needs to be healthy when it matters most in October.
Speaking of Tauchman and Frazier — yes, the Yankees have in-house options to step in for Judge after 2022, when he becomes a free agent. But as good those two look, they’re not Judge and they almost certainly never will be. Plus, Tauchman is 1.5 years older than Judge. Frazier is a little more than a year younger, though. Hell, Jasson Dominguez might be ready for the show come 2023, but that’s a ways away from now. Who knows what happens between now and then.
Finally, we get to payroll. I think we’ve argued this ad nauseam, but the Yankees aren’t in dire straits as much as some may lead you to believe. There is a lot of money coming off the books this season, even if you consider the large arbitration raises for guys like Judge, Gary Sánchez, and Gio Urshela (among others). Masahiro Tanaka ($23M), JA Happ ($17M), James Paxton ($12.5M), DJ LeMahieu ($12.5M), and Brett Gardner ($12.5M) could all depart this winter. Now, it wouldn’t be great to lose that much talent, it’s just worth noting. Per Cot’s, these are the Yankees’ salary commitments through 2024:
Almost all of that is tied to Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton (but don’t forget, the Marlins are paying a. Of course, this doesn’t account for the larger arbitration increases for guys like Judge in 2021 and 2022, but still. There’s money to play with and it doesn’t have to be Judge or Lindor. It can be both.
Keep in mind that Judge might not be as expensive as you think. The Yankees can continue to go year-to-year in arbitration through the 2022 season. While that could cost them something like $40 million over the next two seasons, that’s a pittance for Judge’s production. Further, Judge becomes a free agent in advance of his age-31 season. This isn’t a Manny Machado or Bryce Harper free agency when guys sign for $300 million in their mid-twenties.
So, I’ve spent all this time talking about Judge’s health and the Yankees’ financial status without really talking about Lindor. He’s great and the Yankees should absolutely sign him after 2021. Move Gleyber Torres back to second base, and depending on what happens with LeMahieu in free agency, the Yanks can play either DJ or Urshela at third. Don’t forget about Luke Voit at first base. That probably would be the Yankees’ best infield since 2009.
It’s exciting to think about the prospect of Judge and Lindor in pinstripes, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It would be awfully fun to have both of them around, but the focus at the moment is winning this year and next. Unless there’s a trade, Lindor can’t help just yet.
If you’re reading this and are a Yankees fan, I’d bet you’re having a really nice morning right now. Whether you got a good night’s sleep and woke up to the Gerrit Cole news or stayed up late as the news broke, it’s no matter. This is the best news in a while.
Say it with me: Gerrit Cole is a New York Yankee. How great does that sound? Pretty, pretty good if you ask me. The Yankees did the thing we’ve all been hoping for. They also did the thing we’ve been waiting for them to do for years: dole out a big contract to a superstar.
What more can I say? I’m numb and speechless from the excitement of the news. It’s a good thing I wrote the rest of this post before the Cole news broke. I’m not sure I’d have been able to in the immediate aftermath. We’ll have a whole lot more on Cole in the coming days.
Ultimately, there’s no need to overthink this one. Be happy, everyone. I sure as hell am. Gerrit Cole is a New York Yankee and it sure sounds sweet.
Missing Didi as a fan. As great as the Cole signing is, yesterday remains somewhat bittersweet because the Phillies reportedly signed Didi Gregorius. I’m sad to see him go and I’m sure I’m not alone. After the news broke, Twitter was ablaze with fond memories of Didi’s time here, including his postgame victory tweets, clutch homers, and his success in the post-Derek Jeter era.
There was a great joy in watching Didi play for the Yankees. His passion made him incredibly fun and easy to root for, which was an element many Yankees teams lacked in years before his acquisition. Remember those business-like Yankees teams of the 1990s and 2000s? They were great, but I wouldn’t always define them as fun. Gregorius played a big role in making things different in the Bronx from many fans’ viewpoints.
Missing Didi in the clubhouse. Of course, it’s not just us who will miss Didi. The shortstop was clearly incredibly popular among his teammates and grew into a leadership role. I noticed a couple of players shared fond farewells to Didi on social media, including Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres. They’re certainly not alone.
Didi’s departure marks the second significant hole to fill in the clubhouse. We all knew about and were prepared for CC Sabathia’s departure, as were his teammates, but Gregorius’s future beyond 2019 was murky.
Other guys in that locker room will have to step up in those two’s absence. I’m plenty confident in guys like Judge and Torres doing so, but still. Sabathia and Gregorius leave big shoes to fill, and there’s still the risk of losing other significant presences like Dellin Betances, Brett Gardner, and Austin Romine.
Gregorius’s departure puts a lot of pressure on Gio Urshela and Miguel Andújar. I tweeted about this after the news broke yesterday and I want to expand upon the thought. With Gregorius gone, the Yankees’ infield is officially set: Urshela/Andújar, Gleyber Torres, DJ LeMahieu, and Luke Voit from left to right. Even without Didi at short, that middle infield is one of the league’s best. Voit should be just fine at first too. That said, there’s some real risk over at third base. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a believer in Urshela’s all-around game and Andújar’s bat. However, it’s not that hard to envision scenarios in which either or both struggle in 2020.
Urshela was a late bloomer as a 27 year-old this season. Even though he delivered strong xStats per Statcast and a 121 DRC+, it’s not unreasonable to be somewhat skeptical of his breakout. Again, I think he’s for real, but I can’t help a little bit of doubt trickle in because of his limited track record.
Meanwhile, who knows how long it will take Andújar to be all the way back, if at all. The recent history of hitters who’ve returned from labrum surgery, including Greg Bird, is a mixed bag. Maybe I’m being too pessimistic, but I don’t want to count on Miggy’s bat at the outset of 2020. Even back at full strength, missing a full season will require him to shake off some rust. All this not to mention the already legitimate concerns about his ability to handle the hot corner defensively.
If the Yankees had kept Didi, LeMahieu would have remained in his roving infield role next season. Remaining in that role would have protected the Yankees against significant regression from Urshela and/or Andújar.
Right now, the Yankees’ infield depth consists of Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada. I like both players, but they’re a steep drop from what could have been with Gregorius. Handing either of those two extended time due to poor performance or injury from the expected regulars isn’t ideal.
Trading Happ will be costly. If the Zack Cozart trade is indicative of anything, the Yankees will have to include a good prospect to get out of what’s remains on JA Happs’ contract. The Angels sent Cozart and their 2019 first rounder, Will Wilson, to the Giants. San Francisco is absorbing Cozart’s contract, approximately $13 million.
The Yankees are seeking a trade partner, but it may not be easy to find a match. Now, nobody was expecting a heist like the Chase Headley salary dump with the Padres a few years ago. But let me ask you this: would you trade any of the following prospects to shed Happ’s deal?
Unfortunately, pulling a few trade comps based on scouting grades isn’t the end-all-be-all. Happ’s deal is more complicated than the just-dealt Cozart’s. The newest Giant was owed nothing more after his $13 million this year, whereas Happ is due at least $17 million. And, if Happ throws 165 innings or makes 27 starts in 2020, he gets another $17 million in 2021. That additional “risk” could cost the Yankees more in prospects. Now, any suitor for Happ could plan to manipulate his innings next year. That’s a slippery slope, of course, but not unheard of.
Ultimately, the Yankees shouldn’t be in the business of attaching prospects to get out from contracts they regret. If you’re going to trade prospects, trade them for someone who can help the team win now. The organization is a financial behemoth that can sustain itself with Happ under contract for one more season. After all, it’s hard to imagine Happ meeting his incentives this season while a member of the Yankees.
On theFrancisco Lindor, Mookie Betts, Kris Bryant, and Carlos Correa trade rumors. We’ve known about Lindor and Bryant being on the block for weeks and months now, but Correa is the latest addition to young studs supposedly available. And once again, it’s because of teams “facing tough payroll decisions”.
I’m tired of beating a dead horse, but let’s do so once more. It’s absurd that teams in the midst of its contention windows are contemplating trading its best players! Team valuations are through the roof, and yet, owners do not want to pay stars to maintain a winning club. As fun as it can be to speculate on blockbuster trades, this is just getting ridiculous.
Anyway, I really really hope we don’t hear about this with the Yankees anytime soon. Imagine the uproar if the Yankees decided to dangle Aaron Judge or Gleyber Torres in the coming years? Good grief. I’d like to think the Yankees know better than that. Such a thing would be a massive slap in the face.