The Biggest Move of the Offseason

Rosenthal: Cubs sign Scott Hairston
Braves land Justin Upton
(Chris Trotman/Getty)
(Chris Trotman/Getty)

The Yankees have spent roughly $62M this offseason, but the vast majority was spent on players who were with the team last season. Outside of various waiver claims and minor league contracts, Kevin Youkilis is the only new player the team has acquired this offseason. They downgraded in right field, downgraded behind the plate, and probably downgraded at third base as well. One spot where they did make an upgrade was left field, and they accomplished that without even making a roster move.

Last season, New York’s left fielders managed a .253/.315/.444 (103 wRC+) batting line that was highly dependent on the power of Raul Ibanez and (first half) Andruw Jones. Depending on your fielding metric of choice, the club’s left fielders were either very good (+12.2 UZR), average (+0 Total Zone), or a bit below-average (-2 DRS) defensively. I tend to agree with Total Zone and DRS on this one, especially since Ichiro Suzuki only started 26 games in left following the trade. Between the offense and defense, the Yankees basically had a league average (or slightly worse) left field unit last season.

Of course, the only reason the team had to rely on guys like Ibanez and Ichiro last season was because Brett Gardner hurt his elbow barely a week into the season. He missed almost the entire year, save for a handful of at-bats down the stretch. Gardner, 29, is no star, but the lack of outfield defense and overall team speed was painfully obvious while he was out of action. His ability to work the count — we’re talking high-end walk (11.0%) and pitches per plate appearance (4.29) rates for his career — was noticeably absent as well. The Yankees lost a lot when he got hurt, no doubt about it.

Super early ZiPS projections pegged Gardner as a true talent .259/.355/.362 hitter heading into next season, which is right in line with nearly league average career performance (.266/.355/.368, 98 wRC+). I don’t think we’re ever going to see a repeat of the .277/.383/.379 (112 wRC+) line he put up back in 2010, but he’s also not at an age where a performance drop-off would be expected. Heck, at age 29 Gardner is more likely to outperform his projection than fall short. The left field offense was about league average and power heavy last season, with Gardner it will be about league average and on-base heavy. If I had to pick between the two, I’d take the latter.

The upgrades on defense and on the bases will be drastic. Not only does Gardner average 47 steals per 162 games, he’s also taken the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) a whopping 51% of the time in his career. That’s far better than the league average (~40%). In the field he’s a defensive monster, a true ballhawk who should (and hopefully will) play center field and push Curtis Granderson to left this coming season. The various metrics have rated Gardner at roughly 20 runs better than the average left fielder in recent years, and even with the shift the center he should still be good for +10 runs or so. The overall shape of that left field production will be so much different, going from all-power and no speed or defense to no-power, OBP, speed and defense.

As I said before, Youkilis is the only notable new player the Yankees have brought in this offseason, and the only reason they signed him was because Alex Rodriguez got hurt. Maybe they would have pumped that $12M into someone else had A-Rod not blown out his left hip, but we’ll never know. Any shot at overall team improvement in 2013 will come from the guys who were here in 2012 improving their performance. It doesn’t stand out as a “move” because no one was acquired via trade or signed as a free agent, but swapping Ibanez & Co.’s one dimensional game for Gardner’s speed, defense, and willingness to work the count stands to be New York’s biggest upgrade of the winter.

Rosenthal: Cubs sign Scott Hairston
Braves land Justin Upton
  • Midnight Rider

    Hard not to see a 95 – 100 win season in 13. Everything is there for magic.

    • dalelama

      Magic mushrooms maybe. I will take the under on 96 in a New York minute.

  • Blake

    Gardner will help for sure if he can stay healthy

  • John C

    How did they “downgrade” at 3rd? Arod is hurt, and Youk will be a better fill in than Chavez, whose bat also disappeared from September on.

    • Blake

      He means from 2012….where a healthy Arod/Chavez combo is likely better than what Youk will do in 2013

    • MannyGeee

      Healthy 37 YO A-Rod > Healthy 33YO Youkilis. That is the reference point I would imagine.

      That said, Healthy 33YO Youkilis >>>>>>>>>> any other potential option trotted out there this season.

    • Mike Axisa

      Downgrading from what they got out of A-Rod and Chavez last season.

  • trr

    Excellent article, spot on!

  • Pissed off fan

    This a terrible way to show fans they want to win

    • Jim Is Bored

      …having a healthy outfielder is a terrible way to show fans they want to win?

      • jjyank

        Juding by his handle, I’m guessing he’s not interested in the bright side of things.

        • Havok9120

          Or the subject of the thread, apparently.

  • Jack P

    Holy Shit, the Braves got Justin Upton… outfield with two Upton bros + Heyward…

  • MB923

    9:12am: The Braves get Upton and Chris Johnson for Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Nick Ahmed and Zeke Spruill, Mark Bowman of reports (on Twitter).

  • dasani

    Upton to Braves
    Hairstone to Cubs
    ?????????????????? to Yanks
    Fill in the blank

  • http://Tab Ally

    Blank to Yanks….so far.

  • mitch

    Is there any real evidence that Gardner will shift to CF, or are we all just speculating because it’s so obviously the right move?

    • Havok9120

      The link in that sentence is all we have (unless Jennings has something else; he thinks they’re gonna do it too). They were “considering” it.

      Which doesn’t mean much, but there you go. Blame Danny Knobler’s source.

  • MB923

    Yankees sign dan johnson to minor-league deal, @YankeesWFAN reported

    • dasani

      Whats next, open tryouts ?

      • Havok9120

        RAB Hivemind: The Yankees should be signing more depth and scrapheap guys and hope to catch lighting in a bottle,…..,,.!! I can’t believe they missed out on ….!!!1!one

        *Yankees sign marginal player*

        RAB Hivemind: I can’t believe that the Yankees,, the greatest franchise in sports, is having to rely on a scrub like this,…..what is Cashmen thinking?….. Hal is ruining the brand!! I hope he sells the team.

        • jsbrendog

          i hate this mindset and have avoided rab comments for a long time because of it

          • Havok9120

            Which is an incredible shame. :/

            • jsbrendog

              we need cesar “stairs” cabral to come clean it up for us

  • dasani

    As much as I am disgusted by the Yanks lack of off season activity, i still believe all is not lost.
    1. Yes Toronto is the team to beat, but ,Josh Johnson can’t stay healthy, mark buhrele can’t beat AL East teams, Jose Reyes is due to pull his hamstrings, Who knows if Dickey will get away with his knuckler in the AL, and then will see how Melky plays minus the ‘Roids
    2. Baltimore has failed to upgrade and they loss Yankee killer Mark Reynolds.
    3. Tampa did us a huge favor by dealing away Shields.
    4. Boston still has a ton of question marks.
    All in all I still belive the Yanks havea good team and if our pitching stays healthy theres no reason not to make the post season.

    • TomH

      You made 4 points. Here are 4 counter-points

      1. Jeter, Rivera, and Pettitte return from serious injuries and are one year older (to ominous base numbers for each guy).
      2. The Yankees are counting inordinately on Gardner who has (metaphorically speaking) shown serious signs of having a glass jaw.
      3. The team has lost a huge number of HRs from last year and done very little to recover many of them.
      4. If Toronto has fragile people, so too have the Yankees, in Youk and Gardner and perhaps even Teixeira.

      The Yankees are in no position to warn about other teams’ problems.

  • Andy Pettitte’s Fibula

    I just hope they move Gardner to CF. I can do without having to sit through another season of Granderson stinking up the place with his lousy CF defense.

  • Raul Moandesi

    Downgraded? Well, if that’s the case they also downgraded at 1B (as Teixeira is in steep decline) and at SS (where Jeter has already been dreadful defensively and now is likely to be even worse).

    “Heck, at age 29 Gardner is more likely to outperform his projection than fall short. ”

    Based on his age? That seems like ready tortured logic. If we just look at his performance, 2010 was the outlier in his career, not the standard. No, ZIPS is what we should assume, and I’d argue that with wrist and elbow problems Gardner is more likely to fall short of his projection.

    “Any shot at overall team improvement in 2013 will come from the guys who were here in 2012 improving their performance.”

    TIme for cold, hard reality: Team improvement ain’t happening. The question is whether some guys (Gardner, Granderson, Cano, Youkilis) can be better to cover for the more numerous who will continue to decline (Jeter, Teixeira, Catcher-Nobody, Ichiro, DH-Nobody ).

  • jsbrendog

    I am a Yankee fan. the Yankees are better than most teams in baseball. I will root for the Yankees. Muuuuuuuuuch worse teams have not only made the playoffs but won the world series.

    • jjyank


    • Bob Buttons

      *clap clap clap*
      Welcome to the Wiserhood.

    • dalelama