It’s Wednesday, and it is exactly two weeks before pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa for Spring Training. That is very exciting, to me. It’s simultaneously been a very long and very short offseason, if that makes any sense at all. I’m definitely ready for the season to get started. Here’s what’s on my mind.
1. Welcome Aboard, Josh Thole: If you had any doubts left that we’re mired in the depths of the offseason, I’m leading off this thoughts column with the signing of a Triple-A catcher. So, yeah. That’s where we are these days. Anyway, the Post’s Joel Sherman last night reported that the Yankees and Thole agreed to a $600,000 MiLB deal:
As Joel noted, the Yankees also added Erik Kratz and Chris Ianetta this offseason, so they’ll have some Triple-A depth here. Remember, Austin Romine signed a deal with the Tigers, so there’s a bit of a competition for the backup catcher position here. My money has always been on Kyle Higashioka in that competition and it’s still there today. Even more so, really.
Anyway, Thole — who brings back memories of R.A. Dickey’s tenure in Toronto — is a career .242/.313/.306 (73 wRC+) hitter who hasn’t played at the MLB level since 2016. He spent last year in the Dodgers’ and Angels’ farm system. (For what it’s worth, Statcast’s framing metrics have him pegged as a bad framer from 2015-16, though his sample is limited.) My guess is that he mans the Triple-A roster, which we will break down in detail before the season begins, and serves as much-needed depth at an important position. Welcome aboard, Josh.
2. Keeping J.A. Happ: You know, I’m now 100% convinced that the Yankees should just keep J.A. Happ. Sure, if there’s a chance that unloading Happ can bring someone back like Nolan Arenado — unlikely! — then you definitely do it. No doubt about it. But right now, the way I look at it is like this: the only reason to move Happ is to save money. That’s a fair concern! His salary isn’t peanuts for a 5th, 6th, or even 7th starter, but it’s not prohibitive money for the Yankees by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. (By now, you should all know where I stand on the CBT.) But I’m going to play with a much-repeated pitching prospect line and tweak it a bit: There’s No Such Thing As Too Much Pitching Depth.
Besides, I’m still oddly convinced that last year’s weirdness with the ball was a major factor in his struggles. I mean, look at his HR/fly ball rate over the last 5 seasons, with league averages in parentheses:
- 2015: 9.2%
- 2016: 11.1%
- 2017: 12.3%
- 2018: 13.4%
- 2019: 18.3%
Now, let’s be real: that’s an actual bad trend. No amount of playing with the numbers can change that. He is an aging pitcher — the end can come really quickly and out of nowhere — with less velocity and spin on his fastball. Not to mention, this is not the most encouraging spray chart I’ve ever seen:
That is all true and can’t be waved away. However, with that said, that’s a huge jump. Huge! I think it would be irresponsible to say that the ball wasn’t a factor in that. (As for whether or not the ball will be the same next year, who can say? Another bang up job by MLB, that is.)
Finally, I think it’s pretty clear at this point that there’s not much coming back for Happ, which is to be expected because of the above paragraph. That’s why I think it makes sense just to hold on to him and see if there’s a dead cat bounce in there. If there isn’t, they can always trade him at the deadline after it’s clear next year’s option won’t vest. No harm, no foul.
3. Bring Me Nolan Arenado: The other day, The Athletic’s Jim Bowden wrote a piece (subs req’d) about the prospect of a Nolan Arenado trade, specifically mentioning the Yankees as a potential landing spot for the superstar 3B. Now, let’s be clear: this is definitely, 100% not happening. I will be shocked if it did. On the other hand, and bear with me here, what if it does?
You don’t have to squint that hard to see parallels to the Giancarlo Stanton situation back in December 2017. Arenado is owed a lot of money, though not quite as much as Stanton — $234 million over the next six seasons compared to $284 over eight seasons for Stanton — and also owns a full no-trade clause. To boot, he’s expressed his displeasure with the direction Colorado is taking, giving him a significant amount of leverage moving forward. That’s why I think so many of the trade proposals we’re seeing on social media, including from Bowden, are a bit absurd.
When was the last time one of these superstars commanded what we thought they would? Remember how the Stanton situation ended: with some low-level prospects and Starlin Castro being sent back to New York with $30 million for the reigning NL MVP. It’s not likely, but it is possible that, if Colorado feels that they have to move now, a similar filtering type situation may occur here, too, with only a few teams realistically positioned to take on that money and therefore mitigating the prospect drain. (The Yankees already have a huge payroll, so I repeat that it’s unlikely, but it’s January. Let me dream.)
Arenado is one of those players that you make space for, as a career .295/.351/.546 (120 wRC+) hitter with stellar defense. You just make room for a guy like that. I’m sure that there would be handwringing about his home/away splits, but it’s insane that we’re still doing that after DJ LeMahieu. Anyway, Nolan Arenado: bring him to me, please and thank you.
4. Mookie Betts and the Red Sox: So, it looks like the Red Sox are really going to trade Mookie Betts, huh? Here’s the latest from Jon Heyman:
Incredible. It’s hard to think of a more self-defeating move than Boston doing this right now (which, by the way, is coming a few weeks after ownership blamed the media for “playing up” the salary issue). Mookie is a bonafide superstar player who has a real argument for being baseball’s second-best player behind only Mike Trout. I mean, look at the fWAR leaderboard from 2017-19:
- Mike Trout: 25.2 fWAR
- Mookie Betts: 22.4 fWAR
- Christian Yelich: 20.0
Betts is incredible. It’s amazing to me that they’re considering moving him at all and not just locking him up. He’s a homegrown superstar who just formed the foundation of the best season* in franchise history, for crying out loud. Besides, I know they’re currently under investigation, but Boston is only one (1) year removed from the best season in their history. They could be good again this year!
Anyway, a people are saying that the Sox trading Betts is bad for the Yankees. To that I say: what? I guess you can make the argument that holding Mookie increases the likelihood that Boston loses him for nothing after the season, but I really don’t care about that. The other argument is that this will allow Boston to restock its depleted farm. I don’t see that happening — again, when was the last time these guys commanded what we thought they would in a trade — and even if it does, I don’t care. Mookie gone means the Yankees have a much, much better chance at winning the division this year. That matters a lot. It’s basically all that matters to me right now, actually.
The 2020 Yankees are, in my estimation at least, the best Yankees team heading into the season in a very, very long time. Their title window is right now. It will never get more open than this. If one of their biggest inter-divisional threats wants to blow it up, more power to them. No Yankee fan should lose sleep over that (unless, of course, you care about one of the league’s richest, most prestigious organizations trading a superstar over made-up financial concerns. But that’s a different story altogether.)
Right now, the only thing stopping me from buying Betts a farewell gift is the fact that the Boston media hasn’t completely committed to a character assassination yet. Once that happens, it’s all over.
5. Re-Litigating Robinson Canó and the 2013 Offseason: I missed the original article, but WEEI’s Lou Merloni had an interesting tweet yesterday. Check it out:
There’s a lot going on there for sure. As a reminder, the Yankees offered seven years and $170 million ($24+ million per year) and he signed a ten-year, $240 million deal with Seattle ($24 million per year). In other words, the Yankees were in the financial ballpark in some respects. It was the length with which they had an issue. Even before considering his decline, I think that was a reasonable decision. Less reasonable is the idea that Cano’s demands were outrageous. Check out his place in the history books for second basemen with 90% of their games logged there:
- Home Runs: 324 (1st)
- bWAR: 69.6 (5th)
- Hits: 2,570 (5th)
- OPS+: 125 (minimum 3,000 plate appearances)
I could go on and on. The point is that Canó was, at the time, on an inner-circle path to the Hall of Fame — a path he has absolutely continued, even now that he’s slowing down. And he had one of the prettiest swings I’ve ever seen:
The Yankees offered that guy, a homegrown superstar, $20 million and change more than they offered Jacoby Ellsbury. Let that sink in. (I know Canó tested positive for steroids. We can’t ignore that, of course.) Anyway, I am extremely happy with the way the Yankees are set up now. It’s not worth being very angry over this. That said, the Canó situation was absurd at the time and continues to be absurd now. He was worth that deal, and I still think the Yankees should have given it to him.
6. MiLB Coaching Tree: Finally, the Yankees announced their MiLB coaching tree yesterday. Check it out:
I don’t have anything to add to this right now. We’ll do a full preview of the system this year as Opening Day gets closer and that will include the coaching staffs for each level. For now, though, I just wanted to share this. Here’s the good news: this is yet another sign that Spring is just around the corner.