Thoughts on the Day Gerrit Cole Officially Becomes a Yankee

Today is a day eleven years in the making: Gerrit Cole is officially a Yankee. Well, not yet, but he will be as of 11:00 am EST, when the Yankees host his introductory press conference. Drafting him out of high school didn’t work. Neither did an attempt to trade for him after the 2017 season. All it took was a third of a billion dollars to reel him in. Go figure!

We will have you covered with anything notable that comes out of the presser — it probably will not amount to much, but we will officially learn his number (it will be 45), get some insight into the free agent process, hear some platitudes about The Yankee Way™, and maybe even hear about the 30-pound contraption the Yankees used to lure him to the Bronx. Whatever it is, we’ll have it all here.

In the meantime, I have a number of thoughts on Yankee-related things other than Gerrit Cole, if you can believe it. Let’s get right to it.

1. Dellin Betances’ Depressing Free Agency: Derek hit on some of the impediments standing in the way of a Yankee/Betances reunion yesterday, but I wanted to expand on it just a bit. It looks increasingly unlikely that he’ll be back in pinstripes. That really bums me out. Dellin is one of my favorite Yankees and it will suck to lose him, Didi, and CC all in the span of a few weeks. Baseball, man. It’ll break your heart.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Reports are that Dealin’ Dellin is seeking a one-year, $10 million deal. The Yankees should be all over that. Really, they’re uniquely positioned to be able to do so. As a team with a comically deep bullpen (Betances notwithstanding), they can take a shot on a high-upside reclamation project reliever. If Dellin doesn’t work out, so be it. The Yankees can weather the storm. I mean, they just did that [checks notes] last season.

And if he does bounce back to form — and he should be ready for Spring Training, by all accounts — then the Yankees aren’t just getting a good reliever. They’re getting one of the very best relievers in the game, if not the very best. Here are Betances’ stats from 2014-18 in key areas, with league rankings among 273 qualified relievers in parentheses:

  • ERA: 2.22 (8th)
  • FIP: 2.26 (4th)
  • Strikeouts per 9: 14.63 (3rd)
  • Strikeout percentage: 40.3% (4th)
  • Home Runs per 9: 0.60 (29th)
  • Innings Pitched: 373.1 (1st)
  • Average Leverage Index When Entering Game: 1.44 (44th)
  • fWAR: 11.3 (2nd)

That is a long stretch of dominance. Those figures and rankings even include a rough 2017 campaign. Dellin was an all-world reliever as recently as 365 days ago. We all know what that looked like, but it’s fun to look at anyway:

Is there a more fun pitcher to watch than Betances when he’s got it all working? I don’t think so, myself. No matter where he lands — and I hope it’s New York — I am still so sad for him. These injuries couldn’t have come at a worse time for him personally. He’d be looking at a major payday otherwise. (Side note: the Betances case is a perfect illustration of how baseball’s current economic structure doesn’t work for so many players.)

Anyway, maybe Betances doesn’t ever regain his previous form. I wouldn’t argue with you if you think that’s the likeliest scenario. But Betances is one hell of a pitcher who will be taking on a pillow contract. The Yankees should take a shot on him and let him rebuild his value in New York. It’s a win-win for both parties, really. I’m going to keep beating this drum until he signs elsewhere.

2. Yankees Interested in Josh Hader: I have made a few allusions to the Yanks’ interest in Josh Hader, but I just realized that we haven’t really examined Hader the pitcher here yet. First, though, I want to reiterate my position that I don’t think there’s any actual chance this happens. It’s one of those “hey, we should talk if he’s available” things and nothing else. Due diligence, as everyone likes to say. It’s interesting though because it shows that even after signing Cole and with the game’s most fearsome bullpen already lined up, the Yankees are willing to improve it further. (Cough, sign Dellin, cough.)

Let’s leave the personal baggage associated with Hader to the side for a moment. That’s something we can bring back up if/when these rumors pick up actual momentum. In the meantime, here are some of Hader’s key stats and rankings among 136 qualified relievers in his two-year run of dominance:

  • Strikeout Rate: 47.2% (1st)
  • Batting Average Against: .143 (1st)
  • fWAR: 4.9 (2nd)
  • Innings Pitched: 157.0 (5th)
  • FIP: 2.65 (8th)
  • HR/9: 1.38 (24th highest)

Pretty clear that Hader is one of the best in the business. Now, there are some causes for concern. He’s had a lot of burn in the last two years, to start with. Second, he gives up a lot of home runs and doesn’t induce many ground balls (22.0% ground ball rate) which is concerning in a Yankee Stadium environment. But come on now. No need to overthink this. Hader is so hard to hit — he is striking out almost half of the batters he faces — that it barely matters, but it’s worth mentioning. But even with this in mind, he is so overpowering:

Simply put, Hader is a stud. It’s kind of like Chad Green: connecting with his fastball usually does damage, but the tricky part is connecting with the fastball.

All of this, coupled with four more years of team control, is why Hader isn’t going anywhere. At least not in my opinion. If he does go somewhere, I doubt it will be New York. I feel an obligation to close this section by beating the same drum as above: if the Yankees want a reliever of this caliber, they can simply sign Dellin Betances and not give up anything but about $10 million in cash. Seems straightforward to me.

3. Yankees Interested In Kyle Schwarber: If Gerrit Cole was the Yankees’ pitching white whale, then Kyle Schwarber is Cashman’s offensive white whale. Okay, not really, but the Yankees and Cubs have discussed Schwarber back at the 2016 trade deadline, again in December 2017, and now once more, according to Ken Rosenthal (subs req’d). It’s not like this rumor comes out of left field. Rosenthal adds that there is “no momentum” and that there probably “never will be”, but still. A few things about this come to mind.

First, Schwarber fits the bill as a prototypical Yankee target. As a lifetime .235/.339/.490 (115 wRC+) hitter at the plate, it’s clear he’s got the offensive talent. He also has the underlying skillset that the Yankees love: he hits for power (.254 ISO), draws walks (13% walk rate), and hits the ball hard (his exit velo has been in the top 8% or higher in the league every year since Statcast started tracking it). The Yankees’ interest makes sense in every regard.

Second, he is a lefty bat — the sort of lefty power hitter that the Yankees simply don’t have right now. In fact, now that Gregorius is gone, Brett Gardner and Mike Tauchman are the only two lefties on the 26-man roster right now. (Possibly Tyler Wade too. More on him in a bit.) That makes Schwarber even more attractive in some regards, as he’d provide some balance to the lineup if you care about such things. I generally don’t, but it’s worth considering.

However, Schwarber is coming off his best season since his 2015 campaign. He put up a .250/.339/.531 (120 wRC+) line in 2019. He also stayed healthy — he played in 155 games — which is important for him. In other words, his value is as high now as it has been since the Cubs decided to gift wrap the Yankees Gleyber Torres instead back in 2016.

For that reason, plus the fact that the talks don’t seem to be serious at all, I am not reading too much into this. I don’t think that there’s much steam here at all, but it does make sense that the two sides are talking. The Yanks are buying and the Cubs, much to their eternal disgrace, are selling. Worth keeping an eye on, at least.

4. Luke Voit is Not a Platoon Hitter: There was, however, another nugget buried in the Rosenthal piece that I feel like I need to bring up. While speculating on a potential position switch for Schwarber, Rosenthal said this: “The Yankees aren’t exactly set at first with their potential Luke Voit-Mike Ford platoon.” Rosenthal is not alone here. There is a growing narrative in the fanbase that there is a competition brewing at first base for the Yankees. I just don’t understand where this sentiment came from. I really don’t.

My position as Luke Voit’s number one fan in the online Yankee community is pretty well established by now, but come on. This is getting ridiculous. Let’s just debunk this one once and for all: Voit is not a platoon hitter. He just isn’t. Check out his platoon splits since joining the Yanks back in 2018:

  • Voit vs. RHP: .280/.390/.510 (142 wRC+), 13.6% BB rate
  • Voit vs. LHP: .278/.368/.536 (140 wRC+), 11.5% BB rate

His torrid end of the 2018 season isn’t skewing these stats, either. Check out his 2019 splits:

  • Voit vs. RHP: .268/.386/.474 (131 wRC+), 14.4% BB rate
  • Voit vs. LHP: .250/.354/.435 (110 wRC+), 12.6% BB rate

In other words, Voit was actually a bit worse against lefties overall in 2019, but in his career, he’s been about the same (135 wRC+ vs. lefties and 133 against righties). This is without mentioning the obvious fact that Voit is a .280/.384/.517 (141 wRC+) with 35 HR in ~650 plate appearances with the Yanks. That includes his rough second half. Simply put: Voit is a stud.

Now, it is worth noting that Mike Ford absolutely mashed against lefties this year, so if you squint, I guess you can see a reverse platoon option going on here. But before getting too cute, remember that Ford only had 33 at-bats against LHP this year. Even though he’s shown the ability to hit LHP in the minors, Ford is going to need to earn playing time from Luke Voit. The Yankee first base job is Luke Voit’s, provided he’s healthy. I don’t know what more a guy needs to do if “play at a borderline MVP-candidate level for more than a season” doesn’t do it.

5. Middle Infield Options: Am I crazy for thinking the Yankees will be fine rolling with Thairo Estrada and Tyler Wade going into next season? They’re not the sexiest options by any means, but Estrada has shown potential in the minors — he was a plus hitter at four MiLB levels before he got shot — and Wade brings a missing element to the Yankee offense. Of the remaining infield options out on the market, only Brock Holt is interesting to me, but maybe I need to look harder. That is certainly possible!

But let’s focus on Wade for a moment. With the roster expanding to 26 in 2020 and the departure of Gregorius, it feels like Wade’s time to shine. However, even though he hit .297/.366/.486 (126 wRC+) in September last year, Wade is not ever going to be a real offensive force. Always take September resurgences with a grain of salt and it was only 41 plate appearances, for crying out loud — but I don’t think that really matters. Wade brings value in other, less seen ways. I think he can be a useful player on the 2020 roster. Honestly!

First, he is a multi-positional defender who is competent at the very least across the infield. That is a very valuable skill for the Yankees in particular with the makeup of their roster. Second, he is the fastest player on the Yankees by Statcast — even faster than Gardner — and a good baserunner. He is 9-of-10 in stolen base attempts as a big leaguer and has stolen 20 bases or more in four MiLB seasons. He takes the extra base 71% of the time — i.e. going from first-to-third on a single — as a big leaguer, which is very valuable. Wade is a combination of aggressive, smart, and fast. That’s a good combination.

As a person with a broken brain, I immediately thought of a play from late September as an illustration of this value:

That was from the Yanks’ September 21 win against the Blue Jays. The video in that link — for some reason I can’t embed that video in this post — is more illustrative, but I think it works. Higashioka hit a dribbling base hit through the hole and Wade scored from second, just beating out the throw home. Would any other Yankee have scored on that play? I don’t think so. (He also stole third in this game, resulting in a run.) Anyway, it is a good encapsulation, in one play, of what Wade can do on the base paths.

Now, he has to get on base for this to matter, but Wade has a skillset that is unique to these Yankees. He doesn’t have to be a masher. In fact, his .245/.330/.362 (82 wRC+) line in 2019 would be just fine in 2020, given his other skills, as a utility infielder. I wish Gregorius was a Yankee, but I’m excited to see if Wade can turn a corner in 2020. Remember what I said about a broken brain?

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The impediments to a Dellin Betances reunion

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Highlights From The Gerrit Cole Press Conference

6 Comments

  1. JG (Ben Francisco)

    I’m not confident Betances will return to his old form and $10m is a lot for a gamble but I’d still like him.

    Totally right on Voit.

    Wade/Estrada is probably fine. I’d prefer Panik, assuming those rumors are true, but not by a lot.

  2. RetroRob

    I see and understand why fans are sad that Didi has left. I see and understand why fans are sad that Dellin is likely leaving. Signing one, and certainly both, would mean the Yankees will blow through the $248 million luxury tax threshold, even if they traded the full value of Happ’s contract. This is no longer a case of simply spending more. That third tier is also about the future. Living above it impacts the amateur and international drafts, both in draft position and dollars available. A team like the Yankees can do that for a year, and I’d be fine if they did that this year, but it’s not sustainable.

    Dellin won’t be back unless he drops his asking request below the reported $10 million. Letting Didi leave and actively shopping Happ is telling us what we need to know. The Yankees aren’t going above the $248 line. If they were comfortable doing that then Didi is likely re-signed and they wouldn’t be pushing so hard to shed Happ’s contract. They wouldn’t hesitate to add players on one year deals who can help them in 2020 while allowing them to get below the third tier for 2021. It’s been nice Dellin.

  3. Going over the 3rd threshold increases the tax paid by what, 5 million? I think that’s worth paying to keep Didi and Dellin. Quality depth is important these days.

  4. Looks like Voit is becoming the new Brett Gardner.

  5. Signing Betances pretty much guarantees they stay over the $248 million CBT threshold – even if they trade Happ. That appears to be something ownership is unwilling to do. I think basically the choice Cashman was given by ownership was a) sign Gregorius, Betances, Romine, etc (or some similar mix of free agents), or b) sign Cole. If that was indeed the case, I’m glad they chose the Cole option.

  6. The Original Drew

    I also have confidence that Gio Urshela can play SS in a pinch if he needed to. I think that it can give the Yankees so much flexibility around the IF.

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