Happy new year, folks! It’s the first mailbag of 2019, and I’m pinch-hitting for Mike – and I have nine questions to work with. As always, you can send your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com.
Tony asks: Your post about Gray still being on the team, wherein you noted that he’s an ace away from YS, made me wonder. Could they keep him and limit him to road-only starts? I mean…we play 81 games away from YS, so how many hoops would the rotation have to jump through to make sure that Sonny got most (say 25) starts on the road?
In a vacuum, this makes sense. It’s an extreme version of teams benching their lefties against Chris Sale, or not wanting to start fly-ball heavy righties in Yankee Stadium. And, given that it makes sense to get more rest for all of their starting pitchers. I’m not a staunch proponent of six-man rotations, but I think they make sense in certain settings.
All that being said, having a road-only starter would be incredibly difficult to manage. The Yankees open the season on a six-game home stand, and then play nine in a row at home from April 12 through April 21. Gray is essentially worthless in that time, which means you’d be wasting a roster spot; and that’s a precious commodity in these bullpen-heavy times. That undoubtedly evens out over the course of the season, but it’s nevertheless a hurdle to consider. Moreover, a quick review of the schedule shows that he’d be deployed erratically, and starters are creatures of habit – I don’t know what sort of impact pitching on drastically different amounts of rest would have. And all of this ignores the impact on the other starters (including making them all have a disproportionately higher number of starts in Yankee Stadium).
I do think there’s something to be said for trying to set Gray up to pitch mostly on the road, in the event that they do hold onto him. That’s far more doable. And yet the same issues remain.
Mark asks: I know it has been said that Andujar or Sanchez would be just an average hitting first basemen, but wouldn’t they be better than the .220 batting average we expect our existing first bases options to give us? Would there really be anyone else that could give the Yankees that kind of WAR for league minimum?
This is a two-layer problem.
The first question is whether the Yankees can find a cheap first baseman that’s a better option than Luke Voit and Greg Bird. The answer to that is almost certainly yes. Matt Adams ($4 MM) and Justin Bour ($2.5 M) signed for relatively little, and both would be massive upgrades over what the team has grown accustomed to at first. Is that the minimum? No – but it’s not a big-time outlay, either. Matt Davidson, Derek Dietrich, Lucas Duda, Wilmer Flores, and Mark Reynolds are all free agents, and all profile as average or better hitters. And I doubt that any of them will cost more than Adams.
The second question is more complex: if the Yankees move Andujar or Sanchez to first, who are they being replaced with at third or catcher? If it’s Manny Machado, then I’d absolutely be happy with Andujar shifting to first. Beyond him, though, things get hazy. Marwin Gonzalez isn’t a good defensive third baseman, either, and Jed Lowrie hasn’t played there regularly in a few years. I don’t think you move Andujar for either of them. As for catcher, if you’re not signing Yasmani Grandal, giving up a draft pick, and going over the tax, then what’s the point?
Basically, it’s a matter of first base being relatively easy to fill on the cheap, and the Yankees seemingly more than happy to stick with their in-house options.
Roy asks: As I read your article on trading Andujar to the Padres for prospects, it got me thinking about how little the Yankees currently have to offer at the July 31st trade deadline. Beyond Bumgarner, who is likely to be prized at the deadline. In other words, who do you predict to be tanking then that is not tanking now, and who do they offer for prospects?
This may not be the best methodology, but here are the players that (1) play for teams that might not contend, (2) will be free agents after 2019, and (3) could end up in high-demand:
- Jose Abreu, White Sox
- Nolan Arenado, Rockies
- Jake Arrieta, Phillies
- Francisco Cervelli, Pirates
- Khris Davis, A’s
- Josh Donaldson, Braves
- Todd Frazier, Mets
- Scooter Gennett, Reds
- Ivan Nova, Pirates
- Yasiel Puig, Reds
- Zack Wheeler, Mets
- Alex Wood, Reds
I’m leaving off a slew of relievers, given the volatility and fungibility of bullpen arms … as well as the fact that it would make the list incredibly cumbersome. Bumgarner is almost certainly the prize arm available, but there are several bats and arms that could make a difference for a team down the stretch.
As for what the Yankees can offer: it’s difficult to say. A great deal can change with prospects in the span of a couple of months. If Estevan Florial rakes at Double-A, he could end up in high-demand; if Jonathan Loaisiga ends up on the disabled list again, he could be persona non grata. That being said, they do lack a clear-cut, top-flight prospect to shop as of now, so the likelihood of them winning a bidding war for Arenado or Bumgarner or whoever doesn’t feel too high at this time. But that can change in a hurry.
Michael asks: Do you think there is any chance we could pry Travis Shaw from the Brewers? His lefty swing would profile well here. Brew Crew do not seem fully committed to him after trading for Moose and Schoop last year, as well as moving him all over the diamond and even sitting him vs. lefties down the stretch. He’d be good a fit here as our 1B. They have reported interest in Gray, and I know they’d need more in return. However, could there be a logical fit?
I don’t think that the Brewers machinations had anything to do with Shaw. Second base was a black hole for them on both offense and defense, and they felt that having Moustakas at third and Shaw at second was the best solution to that problem. I’d hazard that says more about their faith in Shaw to move to a more difficult defensive position than anything else, in fact. And Schoop was added as a replacement for utility player Hernan Perez; he ended up playing about a third of his games at short, after all. Schoop was the one who ended up falling out of favor, riding the pine frequently and starting just one playoff game.
As for Shaw: I think he’s a great fit on the Yankees. He has hit .258/.347/.497 (119 wRC+) with strong walk (11.6%) and strikeout (20.6%) rates as a full-time player over the last two years, and he’s still a few months shy of 29. His walk and strikeout rates have improved every year, too. Shaw might be a platoon player, given his 89 wRC+ against lefties – but he’s not unplayable. And he’s a solid defender at first and third, and didn’t embarrass himself at second.
If Gray and a mid-level prospect or two could get it done, I’d be all for it. Given that he has three years of team control remaining, however, I think he’d cost a fair bit more than that. And my trade proposal sucks too much to put something else together.
Jeremy asks: I feel like we’re all forgetting how miserable it was being saddled with huge contracts on the downside of their careers: Giambi, A-Rod, Jeter, Teixeira, CC before his big contract expired, currently Ellsbury, and probably a lot of other guys I’m forgetting. I get that the Yankees limiting their spending is annoying, but isn’t there something to be said for financial prudence and finding the right value? Especially in a sport where the playoffs are such a “crapshoot,” do we really want to mortgage the future for win-now signings that will likely look awful in a few years?
Bryce Harper will be 26 for the entirety of the 2019 season, and Machado will turn 27 in July. Compare that to the ages at which the other guys signed:
- Giambi – 31
- Rodriguez – 32
- Jeter – 37*
- Teixeira – 29
- Sabathia – 28 (or 31 when he signed the extension)
- Ellsbury – 30
I put an asterisk on Jeter because I don’t know if you’re talking about his free agency, or when he signed his ten-year extension. If it’s the latter, it’s worth noting that he was awesome for all but the final year of that deal.
Harper and Machado are so much younger than these guys that it doesn’t make much sense to compare them. And that’s why they’re such desirable commodities – they’re way younger than most players are when they hit free agency. A ten-year deal for Harper would pay him from age-26 through age-35 and, for whatever it’s worth, most of the players that you mentioned were still quite good into their mid-30s. I think the odds are in favor of Harper and Machado more than earning their keep for the vast majority of their contracts.
I also don’t think that signing a long-term deal is akin to mortgaging the future. Dealing away a slew of prospects for a player? Sure. That’s mortgaging the future a bit. But paying only money for a young, elite player that should give you dynamite returns for several years sets you up incredibly well now and in the future.
Colin asks: Doesn’t it make sense that the Yanks are holding onto Sonny to see what happens with Machado, if they sign him, they trade Sonny for minor leaguers and unload salary to lighten the luxury tax hit, if they don’t sign Machado they use Sonny to get a more meaningful major league piece (e.g. as part of a Scooter trade)? Not saying I like it, but wouldn’t it make sense, and then the Sonny deal would go down right after Machado says where he is going?
I’ve suspected this for a few weeks now. And, in a vacuum, it makes sense. With Machado in-play, Gray can be dealt for salary relief and depth or prospects; without Machado, he could be exchanged for a piece that fits this year’s roster. My issue with it is that there’s a big-time opportunity cost that comes with playing the waiting game. Gray for Gennett has been kicked around on Yankees Twitter for some time now, but the Reds already traded for Tanner Roark and Alex Wood, and appear to be going for it in the NL Central – would they really give up their starting second baseman for another pitcher? I don’t know.
Trevor asks: When looking at partnering with SD I wonder how a swap of Wil Myers and Ellsbury would factor in. I’d guess that Myers has $30 mil or so of negative value. Ells has no value and its all dead money (though a team like SD may like to stash him to cash in on the insurance policy). Myers could provide a bat that is semi-capable of 1b, 3b, LF, and RF while lowering the AAV from the Ellsbury contract by about $8 mil a year. I know our trade proposals suck… I’m asking more about the theory. While it is ideal to get player value from an asset like Andujar but offsetting some of it by getting Myers at a lower AAV could potentially help bridge the gap. I hate to even venture a trade idea but off the top of my head I’d be interested in a Ellsbury and Andujar for Myers, Francisco Mejia and Jose Castillo.
I’m going to handle this in two parts.
I’m semi-interested in Myers as a buy-low candidate. His luxury tax hit is only $12 MM per year, which isn’t bad at all, and he has the sort of power that plays everywhere. And, while I don’t think his numbers with the Padres are necessarily an illusion, it’s worth noting that his exit velocity (89.7 MPH), barrel percentage (8.2%), and hard hit percentage (45.3%) over the last two years are comfortably above league-average. There might be something there. Is it enough of that nebulous something to make me confident he’s an upgrade at first? I’m not sure. I would prefer him to Ellsbury, though.
The second part then becomes whether I would deal Andujar for Mejia, Castillo, and what amounts to cash. And, to be honest, I’m not sure that’s actually worth considering, because I don’t see the Padres doing it. Andujar is a very good to great hitter that will probably end up at first base for them, whereas Mejia is a good to very good hitter than can catch (and has an extra year of team control); and Castillo profiles as a legit closer. I don’t see the Padres being the team that takes on salary to facilitate a trade like this.
Would I do it, though? I’d consider it, to be sure. I’m not opposed to having two quality catchers on the roster, and rotating them between backstop and DH to keep both fresh. And I’m a big fan of Mejia, to boot. I just don’t think it’s terribly likely.
Alexis asks: My TPS but what about Dee Gordon as Didi replacement or bench player (he can play SS, 2B and CF) and Mike Leake (as sixth starter/swing man) as insurance for our starts? Can we swap Ellsbury 42 million contract plus middle level prospects/MLB ready ones (like Wade, German and Acevedo for example) for Leake 31 million and Gordon 26.5 million contracts? Mariners will actually reduce their payroll by 7.6 million per year in 19 and 20. Who will said no Yankees or Mariners?
This would be a hard no for me – and I assume the Yankees. Gordon is versatile in the same way that any player who plays multiple positions is, in that he has stood at various spots over the years. However, he did not look good in center last year, and he’s never been a quality shortstop. So, in essence, you’re looking at a second-baseman that has an 84 wRC+ over the last three years and, by Statcast’s sprint speed metric, has slowed down in back-to-back-to-back seasons.
And I’m not interested in Leake, either. A righty with an 89 MPH fastball that doesn’t strike anyone out? In Yankee Stadium? No thanks. I’d rather hold onto Gray for that role than take a flier on someone like Leake.
JDK asks: Re: Machado/Harper – Wouldn’t 10/$35 be a better deal for the players and the Yankees than 8/$40?
I don’t think that there’s a right or wrong answer to this.
The time value of money, in a nutshell, tells us that money now is better than money later. Having an extra $5 MM per year for eight years may well be more valuable than having $70 MM (or a net of $30 MM) more between years nine and ten. It also provides an opportunity to make more money at age-34, as opposed to age-36. It’s not a simple economics problem, to be sure, but there’s definitely a great deal of value in having more money today than tomorrow. I don’t think that players see it this way in most sports, though, as years seem to win out more often than not.
As for the team, the seemingly obvious answer is that the lower AAV is preferable, given the luxury tax issues (and general availability of more money today to spend on someone else). However, there are inherent risks that increase with age that they would have to navigate once the player hits his mid-30s. Moreover, the impact of having potentially dead money – as they do with Ellsbury now – increases with every additional year of the contract.
Please accept this non-answer as an answer.