There are ten questions in this week’s mailbag. It’s a good mailbag, I think. Send your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll answer as many as I can each week.
Eric asks: So I can’t be the only one writing in about this (if it’s not resolved by Friday) but what is the market for infield help? Todd Frazier comes to mind and I know you tweeted about it. The Yankees do have the luxury of being able to find anyone who plays a non first position, but what’s really out there?
The Blue Jays have already traded Kendrys Morales and Kevin Pillar, so at least one team is open for business. With the new single July 31st trade deadline, maybe more teams are in sell mode early in the season than usual. That would obviously help the Yankees right now given all their injuries.
Frazier is currently on a minor league rehab assignment for his oblique and is expected back next week. The Mets have Jeff McNeil and J.D. Davis at third base, and Jed Lowrie’s on his way back from a knee injury, so they have third base depth. Giving up a Grade-C prospect and taking Frazier (and his $9M salary) off the Mets’ hands seems like a decent enough move given the state of the roster. Some other possible trade targets:
- Asdrubal Cabrera: As a recently signed free agent, he can’t be traded for anything more than $50,000 until June 16th. I imagine the Rangers will hang on to Cabrera and look to trade him for a prospect at the deadline rather than give him away for nothing now.
- Starlin Castro: Owed $12M between his salary and option buyout this year, and I’m sure the Marlins would give him away to unload that money. A more expensive option than Frazier, but it’s the same idea. Get a rental infielder in a salary dump.
- Neil Walker: Yet another former Yankee. Walker is dirt cheap ($2M), he can play three infield spots, and he was much more productive as an everyday guy than as a part-timer last year. The June 16th rule that applies to Asdrubal also applies to Walker.
- Jonathan Villar: Good player who is affordable ($4.825M in 2019) and is under control in 2020 as well. I assume it would take an actual prospect(s) to acquire him whereas some others are salary dump candidates.
The Giants have some expensive infielders I’m sure they’d love to unload in Evan Longoria ($60M through 2022) and Brandon Crawford ($45M through 2021), but taking on multiple years of those guys does not appeal to me at all. Even if the Giants eat a ton of money to facilitate a trade. No need to go after those guys when there are viable rental trade candidates available.
My preference would be Castro over Frazier and, frankly, a Yankees-Marlins trade seems much more realistic than a Yankees-Mets trade. Bring back Starlin, move Gleyber Torres to shortstop, keep DJ LeMahieu at third base I guess? Then figure it all out once Miguel Andujar and/or Troy Tulowitzki return? Blowing through the $246M third luxury tax tier to bring back Castro would be a hell of a thing after the offseason the Yankees just had.
Ryan asks: How about DJLM for leadoff while we wait on Hicksie? Big contact guy, seems to understand the zone.
DJ LeMahieu against lefties and Brett Gardner against righties is probably the way to go right now. LeMahieu’s has never really hit righties all that well and he’s not a true talent ~.500 BABIP hitter, so he’s going to come back to Earth at some point. The first week of the season shouldn’t change what we think about anyone as a player. LeMahieu’s the same guy he was two weeks ago. Players have good (and bad) weeks all the time.
Personally, I want the Yankees to stick Gleyber Torres in the leadoff spot. The Yankees are without four regulars (Miguel Andujar, Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton) and now one replacement (Troy Tulowitzki), so there’s no sense in trying to lengthen the lineup. There’s no length to add. I say go with this:
- 2B Gleyber Torres
- RF Aaron Judge
- DH Luke Voit
- C Gary Sanchez
- 3B DJ LeMahieu
- 1B Greg Bird
- LF Clint Frazier
- CF Brett Gardner
- SS Tyler Wade (I think the best defensive alignment has Wade at short and Gleyber at second)
Stack your best hitters atop the lineup and get them as many at-bats as possible. That is the easiest way for the Yankees to increase their chances of scoring runs in any given game. Give the best hitters the most opportunities. LeMahieu at leadoff against lefties would work, but I wouldn’t push my luck against righties until he gives us a legitimate reason to believe he’s better able to handle them than he did the last seven years of his career.
Max asks: I saw that as part of Chris Sale’s extension, Boston deferred up to $50M — $50M deferred at $10M per year from 2035-2039. Does that make financial sense for a team if they want to try to stay near or under the Luxury Tax? Does deferred money count towards the cap or is it dead money that a team can look at simply as an expense?
Apparently deferred money reduces the player’s luxury tax hit now. I was under the impression it was straight average annual value. Guaranteed dollars across guaranteed years because the Collective Bargaining Agreement doesn’t say anything about deferrals. Alex Speier says the annual luxury tax hit is “based in part on net present value of the deal,” which is reduced by deferring money, because $1 today is worth more than $1 five years from now. Sale signed a five-year, $145M extension that begins next year. Straight average annual value says the luxury tax hit should be $29M from 2020-24. Ken Rosenthal says the deferrals reduce Sale’s luxury tax number to $25.6M. That’s a big difference! Jacob deGrom’s extension includes some deferrals that lower his luxury tax number as well. It takes two to tango — the player has to agree to the deferrals and most guys want their money ASAP — but yeah, if the Yankees can reduce luxury tax hits through deferrals, it seems worthwhile. An Aaron Judge extension could be a candidate for deferrals. The Yankees have historically avoided deferrals, it should be noted. I’m sure they have their reasons.
Rob asks: Do you ever see an opener winning the Cy Young or MVP with the way bullpens are now constructed? Do you think a team will ever construct a pitching staff without any starters?
No to an opener winning the Cy Young. That guy is still effectively a reliever and it takes a lot for a reliever to win the Cy Young. They have to have an overwhelmingly great year in a high-leverage role. A guy starting, say, 60 games and throwing 70 total innings without any late-inning accolades probably won’t get any Cy Young support. Or shouldn’t, anyway. If you’re going to throw that few innings and win the Cy Young, you better be getting the highest leverage outs possible. I can’t see the voting body going for this anytime soon.
As for a pitching staff with no starters, yes, I think we’re heading in that direction. It’s probably still several years away, but it does seem possible. Starting next year each team gets a 26-man roster with a 13-pitcher maximum. I could see a team going with 13 pitchers who are two or three-inning types and never go through the lineup a second time. Or maybe it’s 12 two or three-inning guys and a closer, something like that. You could plan on each guy giving you three innings every four days or so, with plenty of rest built in. It’s coming. Not sure when, but eventually.
Michael asks: So Denard Span is still a free agent. I’m surprised he hasn’t even gotten a minor league deal yet. With all the OF injuries, wouldn’t it make sense for the Yankees to sign him to a minor league deal at the very least?
Yes, definitely. I’d give almost anyone a minor league contract. In this case, we’re talking about a team that has two regular outfielders on the injured list, and a free agent who hit .261/.341/.419 (112 wRC+) last season with good baserunning. Span isn’t much of a defender anymore, but geez, the Yankees need some offense and outfield depth. Something like the Gio Gonzalez deal could work. Minor league deal with an April 30th opt-out or something. Span gets to work out and play in actual games to showcase himself and effectively go through Spring Training, and the Yankees would add a depth player. If the injuries persist, they can call Span up. If not, they can let him walk with no strings attached. I’m not sure what Span’s up to right now or what his contract demands are. A minor league deal should be an easy yes from the Yankees’ perspective.
Rich asks: How many innings do we expect Ottavino to throw this year? As of Tuesday night, Boone has gone to Ottavino 4 out of 5 games. I know it’s early, but is there any concern that he may be overused over the course of a season?
Using him four times in the first five games is not ideal, obviously, but there was a team off-day in there and one of those appearances was one batter (four pitches). The Yankees are very diligent with their reliever workloads and I’m not worried at all about Ottavino being overworked during the season. They’ve earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to resting relievers. Ottavino’s early workload seems like one of those random baseball things. He pitched four times in the first five games, then, before you know it, he’ll go five days between appearances and have to pitch in a six-run game to get work in. I trust the Yankees to take care of Ottavino and their other relievers. This is just a blip.
Michael asks: After Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Tigers, I was looking at Yankees numbers with RISP. After Tuesday, they somehow ranked 14th with a 109 wRC+ with RISP. If you use OPS however, it is only .621 which was ranked 22nd. In this example, wRC+ puts them at an average team with RISP, but OPS has them in the bottom 3rd of the league. Which one is a better to use?
The Yankees went into yesterday’s game with a 113 wRC+ (16th in MLB) and a .642 OPS (20th in MLB) with runners in scoring position. Their slash line: .190/.379/.263. They’ve drawn a ton of walks with runners in scoring position (22.4%) in the early going and getting on base is the name of the game with wRC+. OBP is a component of OPS and it says a walk is equal to a single, and a single is equal to a double, and so on, and no. Just no. If you’re going to stick with one number, go with wRC+ because it is adjusted for ballpark and more properly values events (singles, doubles, homers, etc.). Regardless of situation (runners in scoring position or otherwise), my preference is having the entire AVG/OBP/SLG (wRC+) slash line, especially early in the season when stat lines can be funky.
Adam asks: Do you think the cold weather is at least partially to blame for the Stanton and Andújar injuries? Shortening the season seems like a non-starter, we’re already playing the WS in Nov, northern teams opening the year in the south pissed a lot of southern teams off a couple years ago. Is there a solution that doesn’t involve building roofs?
Eh, I’m not sure if the injuries are related to the cold. Guys pull muscles all the time — Giancarlo Stanton strained his biceps on a swing and Miguel Cabrera tore his biceps during a swing on a 74° day last June — and Miguel Andujar dove into the bag awkwardly. I don’t know how much the cold was a factor there. Damaging a labrum on a play like that seems like something that could happen at any time. There’s no good solution to early season games in cold weather cities. The teams with domes and in warm weather cities don’t want their home games stacked in April (and September), and there’s basically zero chance existing ballparks in cold weather cities will be retrofitted with retractable roofs. Teams didn’t want to pay for them then and they’re not going to want to pay for them now. I’m not sure what other possible solution is available other than “suck it up.”
Eric asks: Does it seem like Luke Voit is pressing? Paul O’Neill on the YES broadcast noted that Voit is trying to pull everything where last year he was at his best going the other way.
Yeah, it’s possible. Voit had the home run and reached base four times on Opening Day, then he went 2-for-22 (.091) with three walks and a hit-by-pitch (.231 OBP) before yesterday’s ninth inning homer. I know everyone is on high alert and ready to declare Voit the next Kevin Maas or Shane Spencer or whatever, but it’s been a week. Guys press in April, they press in June, they press in October. It happens. Maybe Voit is the next Maas or Spencer. It is absolutely possible. One week isn’t nearly enough evidence though. It’s a boring answer, I know, but it’s been a week. I’m not going to start changing my expectations for any player or any team on April 5th unless there’s an injury involved.
Mark asks: Considering the Yankees bad start against Baltimore and Detroit, it got me thinking: I feel like the Yankees have been bad against bad teams and good against good teams. It’s probably just my perception and my high expectations for my favorite team but what do you think? How bad have the Yankees been these last few years against bad teams?
It seems like every fan thinks their team stinks against bad teams. It is one of those universal beliefs. They stink with runners in scoring position, the third base coach doesn’t know what he’s doing, etc. etc. The Yankees dropped three of four to the Orioles at home last April, went 11-4 against them the rest of the way, and all anyone talked about was how they couldn’t beat the Orioles.
Anyway, here are the Yankees and their MLB ranks in parenthesis:
|vs. 500+ teams||vs. sub-.500 teams|
|2018||41-30 (1st)||59-32 (8th)|
|2017||26-22 (4th)||65-49 (11th)|
|2016||52-54 (11th)||32-24 (15th)|
|2015||40-47 (12th)||47-28 (7th)|
|2014||41-45 (11th)||43-33 (14th)|
From 2014-18, the Yankees had .503 winning percentage against .500+ teams, third best in baseball behind the Cubs (.510) and Dodgers (.507). Their .597 winning percentage against sub-.500 teams was eighth best. From 2017-18, the “the Yankees are good again” years, they had the best winning percentage against .500+ teams (.563) and seventh best against sub-.500 teams (.605).
Those numbers indicate that, relative to the league average, the Yankees have “played down” to their competition the last few years. They haven’t won as many games as sub-.500 teams as you’d expect (or hope). Still, winning six outta ten against sub-.500 teams and playing north of .500 (even slightly) against winning teams is a good recipe for 90+ wins. The Yankees have been consistently in the top half of the league against both good and bad teams the last few years. The year-to-year differences seem like normal fluctuation to me more than anything.