Yankees fans might remember the Brian Roberts in the video above, but that’s not the Brian Roberts the Yankees signed today. According to Jon Morosi and Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees have agreed to a one-year deal with Roberts, worth $2 million plus incentives. That’s a relatively low-risk deal, giving them a potentially serviceable player without the commitment required to sign Omar Infante*. But in order for this to work, the Yankees need to spend in a few more areas.
*I’ve seen a lot of people asking why the Yankees didn’t match or trump the Cardinals’ offer for Mark Ellis. Who’s to even say the Yankees even knew the Cardinals made Ellis an offer? The Cardinals are the class of MLB right now. If I were the 37-year-old Ellis and the Cardinals offered me $5 or so million, I might take it without looking elsewhere.
An infield consisting of Mark Teixeira plus some rotation that includes Roberts, Derek Jeter, Brendan Ryan, and Kelly Johnson just isn’t going to get the job done. Given his injury history it’s doubtful Roberts can play an everyday role. Limited to part-time duty, the Yanks would need someone else to cover reps at second. If that’s Johnson, they’ll need someone to cover reps at third. Adding Eduardo Nunez to this rotation does little to bolster it, so outside help is still necessary.
When word broke last night, Rosenthal said that a Roberts signing doesn’t mean the end of the Yankees’ infield pursuit. They could still add Mark Reynolds, he says, a player who seems to fit in that he provides right-handed power and can play third base — though “play” is a relative term here. His defense at third has always been suspect, and that’s not likely to get better as he ages. But in the short-term, the Yankees could do a lot worse.
The wild card here is Alex Rodriguez. Asked to guess, I still think he gets a 50-game suspension, which would give the Yankees another decent option in that infield rotation. Then again, A-Rod hasn’t exactly been a bastion of durability in the last few years. Joe Girardi will have to manage both him and Roberts carefully in order to keep them on the field (and A-Rod not clogging the DH slot). If A-Rod is suspended, the Yankees absolutely should look into other options. Rosenthal mentions Mariners 2B Dustin Ackley, though he’s another reclamation project. The options do seem thin at this point.
If the Yankees are going to get by with low-cost fliers in the infield, they have to spend elsewhere in order to fortify other weaknesses. If they sign two relief pitchers — Joaquin Benoit and Jesse Crain would work — and also Masahiro Tanaka, they could be in decent shape. In other words, spending money to fill three of four needed positions, while taking a flier on the other, isn’t such a bad deal. But with the flier coming first, we have to hope that they do spend the money on those other needs.
As for Roberts himself, it’s difficult to expect much at this point. At 36 years old, and with his injury slate, he’s not going to come close to his numbers from his late 20s. Even if you give him a break and don’t count his first games back from a hamstring injury last year, he still hit only .253/.321/.404 in his final 252 PA. That’s probably better than what the Yanks would get from in-house options Dean Anna, Jose Pirela, and Corban Joseph. It might also be better than Omar Infante. But it’s not a given that Roberts can reproduce these numbers. Even if he can, it won’t be over 600 PA. His replacement could drag down the second base situation.
It’s hard not to feel bad for Roberts at this point. From 2007 through 2009 he played in 470 of 486 possible games, producing a 114 OPS+ and stealing 120 bags. In 2010 he missed 91 games with an abdominal strain. The next year he suffered a concussion that he says he didn’t truly recover from until some time in late 2012. Even when he came back in mid-2012, before he underwent surgery to repair his hip labrum, he says he didn’t feel 100 percent. Even when he did feel like himself in 2013, he tore a hamstring tendon, requiring surgery that caused him to miss 79 games.
Perhaps Roberts can make it through 400 PA this season without issue. We’ve seen it before. But to count on it is not sound strategy. If this move makes them more comfortable spending money on two relievers and a starter, it could work. They’ll need another cost-effective infield move to make it work, but it still could work. But by itself, this move still leaves the Yanks wanting.
In the high and low search for bullpen depth, the Yankees should explore all angles. This includes closers, even though David Robertson is probably their best bet. It can also include guys like Joaquin Benoit, who can provide setup help and a safety net at closer. But adding just one arm, even a high-end one, probably won’t be enough. The Yankees would do well to add a couple of arms for the bullpen.
Jesse Crain’s name hasn’t come up very often this off-season, and for good reason. After a superb first half of the season, Crain suffered a shoulder injury that kept him off the field for the remainder of 2013. The Rays traded for him, and even activated him from the disabled list, but Crain’s shoulder just wasn’t ready. He’s now a free agent, for the second time in his career. The first time around he signed a three-year, $13 million contract that was roundly mocked at the time (as are essentially all reliever contracts, so pay no mind), but he pretty much lived up to it during his three years in Chicago.
Jon Morosi reports that Crain has multiple offers. Given their needs in the bullpen, it’s possible the Yankees are among the interested teams.
- Crain has pure strikeout stuff, and it has seemingly developed since moving from Minnesota to Chicago. His mid-90s fastball helps set up a quality changeup, which he uses sparingly but effectively.
- Despite having just his second go-round in free agency, Crain is just 32 years old. He could help the setup corps for a couple of years if healthy.
- At the same time, he’ll probably only get a one-year guarantee, helping reduce risk.
- Crain is absolute death to right-handed hitters, especially in the last two years.
- During his three-year contract with the White Sox he produced a 2.10 ERA, 206 ERA+.
- Crain’s shoulder injury is certainly of concern. He didn’t require surgery, which is a positive sign. This also isn’t his first shoulder injury. In 2007 he underwent surgery on both his labrum and rotator cuff.
- Then again, he had a 3.16 ERA (143 ERA+) before the surgery, and a 2.98 ERA (143 ERA+) since.
- Then again again, he missed 22 games with a shoulder strain in 2012 as well, so his health history isn’t looking great here.
- In terms of production, the one downside is his walk rate, 3.5 per nine for his career. This is most pronounced against lefties: 4.55 BB/9 for his career, compared to 2.81 per nine against righties.
While Crain remains a risk due to his shoulder, he still warrants a look on a one-year deal. Even with his performances in the last two years and the demand on the market, it would take an especially crazy team to go beyond one year and a team option. That would seem to work for the Yankees, especially given 1) the weakness of the 2014 bullpen and 2) the probability that the farm system will soon produce some bullpen-ready arms such as Dellin Betances, Rafael DePaula, and Jose Ramirez. Crain could provide a nice one-year stopgap, albeit a risky one.
In replacing the 145 bullpen innings they’ve lost, the Yankees certainly need outside reinforcements. They might have a few internal players to fill some of those innings, but we can’t expect them to find all 145 within the organization. A couple of acquisitions seem probable.
One name linked to the Yankees is Joaquin Benoit, formerly of the Tigers. He seems pretty solidly in the former column, since Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski indicated that with the acquisition of Joba Chamberlain, he’s finished with his bullpen. Benoit, 36, has a number of suitors, the Yankees among them. The Padres and Indians reportedly have offers of two years and $14 million on the table, which seems reasonable. So where are the Yankees on this?
In 2013 Benoit, for the first time in his career, became a regular closer. He’d finished double-digit games in each of the previous three seasons, picking up a few saves in each, but he was never the full-time closer. Detroit, absent a “proven closer” in 2013, slid Benoit into the role with much success. The money is with closers, even older ones, as Joe Nathan proved with those very Tigers. It could be that Benoit seeks a full-time closer role, which would seemingly give the closer-absent Indians an advantage.
(The Padres have a “proven closer” of their own in Huston Street, which leaves their pursuit curious. In fact, reports have indicated that they are “in the lead,” whatever that means, so perhaps Benoit doesn’t value a closer role beyond all else.)
The Yankees could add a closer for the 2014 season, leaving David Robertson in the setup role he has so tremendously played for the past three or four seasons. That might be his ideal role, given his strikeout stuff and penchant for wiggling out of jams. But that doesn’t mean it’s the role he’ll play in the future. Ballplayers want to maximize their earnings during their relatively short window. Again, the money is there for closers.
If the Yankees don’t move Robertson into the closer’s role, they’ll probably lose him after next season to a team that will give him that opportunity. Sure, the Yankees could keep him in a setup role for 2014, and then re-sign him to be the closer in 2015 and beyond. That hardly makes any sense. Why give the guy closer money, and the closer role, when he hasn’t closed games for more than a couple weeks in his career? The prudent move, it seems, is to move Robertson into the closer role and sign a capable setup man. That way you can see what Robertson is made of, while giving him a safety net.
In that way, Benoit makes perfect sense. He’s a setup man who has had success as a closer, so if Robertson falters he could become the man. It will cost the Yankees — two years and $14 is a lot for a 36-year-old, and with three teams in the running the bidding could get higher — but he seems the perfect fit. Given the rest of the free agent market, and the unpredictable trade market, Benoit might be the Yankees best chance to help fill some of those 145 departed innings.
For the same reason, trading for a proven closer makes little sense for the Yankees. Yesterday, for instance, Buster Olney reported that the Phillies are “EXTREMELY motivated to move [Jonathan] Papelbon.” His time with the Red Sox sours him on Yankees fans, but looking beyond that he could be a good fit. You know he wants a trade to the Yankees, making him the heir to Mariano Rivera. He’d be more motivated than ever, going up against his former team six times a year.
It’s not even the money remaining on Papelbon’s deal, three years and $39 million if his 2016 option vests, that makes this a poor move. It’s the idea that with a proven closer in their ranks, Robertson could bolt for more money and a more prominent role on another team. Hell, he could bolt for the Red Sox, which is the worst possible idea. Imagine the Red Sox having an in-his-prime Robertson closing games while the Yankees have an over-the-hill (but still potentially effective) Papelbon closing theirs.
By itself, acquiring Papelbon wouldn’t be a bad idea. The Yankees obviously have the money, and Papelbon has made some adjustments to compensate for his diminishing stuff as he ages. The X factor is how this affects Robertson. If the Yankees bring in a proven closer, Robertson stands a better chance of leaving to find a closer role, and closer money, elsewhere. Why not just give Robertson the closer job in 2014 to see what he’s made of? Then they can spend that Papelbon money on Robertson if they’re satisfied.
Given the lack of relievers on the market, it might be easier to add a closer and keep Robertson in the setup role. But the easy move is rarely the correct move. The Yankees have to think beyond 2014, when they’ll need quality late-inning relievers like Robertson. To deny him the closer role in 2014 could be to lose him for 2015 and beyond. Given the mass exodus of relievers this off-season, that’s a scenario the Yankees can ill afford.
When Peter Gammons mentioned talk about a swap of Brett Gardner and Austin Jackson, it seemed appalling for two reasons. First, why would Detroit entertain such an idea? Second, why did Gammons claim it “makes sense for both teams”? If this is indeed on the table, shouldn’t the Yankees take it?
In the Tigers, the Yankees might have found a team that doesn’t undervalue Brett Gardner. Swapping him for Jackson, who is three and a half years younger and has two more years of team control, would indicate that the Tigers do value Gardner*. It might also indicate that, as they did when they traded Curtis Granderson to the Yankees in exchange for Jackson, that they’re looking to get rid of a player before he becomes too expensive.
*Of course, that statement could look a whole lot different if the Yankees are supposed to send additional players to Detroit.
A year ago it might have seemed insane to even entertain the idea of trading Jackson. In his age-25 season he broke out to hit .300/.377/.479, upping his power while cutting down on his strikeouts significantly. A year later he looks slightly less impressive, having hit .272/.337/.417 in roughly the same number of PA. A hamstring injury did hamper him earlier in the season. Perhaps the Tigers saw something they didn’t like and now think that perhaps Jackson’s 2012 was a standout he’s not likely to repeat.
In Gardner the Tigers would lose a year of control, but they’d gain a valuable player who slots well into their lineup and helps balance their righty-heavy approach. This goes especially after they signed Rajai Davis to a two-year deal. Instead of having the first four hitters in their lineup bat righty — Jackson, Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, and Ian Kinsler, in some order — they can lead off with the lefty Gardner. They might also think it more possible to sign him to an extension at a far more affordable rate than Jackson.
Jackson would better balance the Yankees’ lineup as well. Instead of leading off with the lefties Jacoby Ellsbury and Gardner, they could go with Ellsbury and Jackson, followed by Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, and Alfonso Soriano, giving Joe Girardi his desired lefty-righty split (with interspersed switch hitters). Jackson, who by the eye and generally by the numbers, plays good defense, could show similar value to Gardner in left, since few left fielders can cover as much ground as those two.
The trade, then, makes a little more sense from each team’s perspective. The Tigers get a player they can perhaps sign to a reasonable extension (which is probably not possible with Jackson, a Scott Boras client). The Yankees get a young player who gives them an extra year of team control. Both teams gain balance. Yet this move can’t be high on the Yankees’ priority list currently. They have areas of need, and if they’re going to trade Gardner now it would have to help cover one of them.
There is no reason, currently, to trade Gardner for anything other than a mid-rotation starting pitcher or a decent second baseman. The latter seems pretty out of the question. The former becomes a difficult proposition if teams don’t value Gardner as the Yankees do. Still, they’ll almost certainly wait out the market, seeing what they can get in exchange for Gardner on that front.
If the Yankees sign Omar Infante and Masahiro Tanaka, the situation might change. But even then, I’d rather see the Yankees explore an extension with Gardner than trade him. Given his value, and the reality that he’ll probably get a reasonable contract, it would seem a better idea to keep Gardner for four or five years rather than trade him. If, on the other hand, Gardner isn’t open to an extension, if he would rather play center and lead off for another team, then it’s easy to see why the Yankees would pull the trigger. They get two years of a player with similar current value and a higher upside, at a slightly more expensive rate.
The rumor surfaced this week, because this is the week that rumors surface. But at this point, it doesn’t make much sense for the Yankees. Swapping a good outfielder for another good outfielder in order to gain a year of control and balance the lineup is nice, but it can’t be near the top of the priority list. The Yanks have other moves to make right now, and Gardner is valuable to them. If a move like this is to occur, and there is certainly some sense in it, chances are it would come far, far closer to spring training.
It appears that Phil Hughes and Johan Santana simply couldn’t be in the Bronx at the same time. In 2007 the Yankees declined to include Hughes in a trade for the two-time AL Cy Young Award winner. Now that they’re both free agents, could Hughes and Santana effectively make that swap? Hughes has already signed with the Twins. According to ESPN NY, the Yankees have interest in signing Santana.
Any potential deal would come towards the end of the off-season, as the Yankees fill out their non-roster invitee list. Santana might be a household name, but at this point he doesn’t warrant a guaranteed contract. After missing all of last season, and all of 2011, with shoulder injuries. Those have been the kiss of death for so many pitchers that any amount of guaranteed money could be essentially flushed down the toilet. The only way to justify a rotation spot for Santana is to watch him first-hand in spring training.
While shoulder injuries spell trouble for all pitchers, Santana at least has one mitigating factor: he’s pitched reasonably well with diminished velocity. Through his first 16 starts in 2011 he threw 98 innings to a 2.76 ERA, holding opponents to a .618 OPS. While the narrative is that he fell apart after he threw the first no-hitter in Mets history, he did have quite a few good starts after that (12 ER in 30 IP) before completely falling apart in July. It’s not much of a stretch to speculate that his shoulder started becoming a problem right around that time.
The Yankees aren’t the only team with interest in a potential Santana resurgence. Both his former teams, the Twins and Mets, have expressed interest, as have the Rays, Orioles, Royals, Brewers, and Pirates. With that many teams in the hunt, there’s a non-zero chance that one team makes the crazy move of giving Santana a guaranteed contract. His agent, Peter Greenberg, has indicated that if a team does offer a guarantee, Santana could sign now. Absent one, he’ll throw in January for interested teams. At that point teams will get a better idea, and one could certainly offer a guaranteed contract.
The Johan Santana who dazzled the league for years with his devastating changeup is long gone. He started his fade in 2009, and by 2011 he was completely gone. This is a different Santana, one dealing with physical limitations. Yet he has shown, for at least half a season in 2011, that he has the ability to succeed even with diminished stuff. A second shoulder surgery certainly changes things, but Santana is still worth a peek, at least. I wouldn’t bet on the Yankees coming away with him, but in a search for low-cost, potentially valuable assets, they could do a lot worse.
It appears there will be at least one more mention of Brandon Phillips. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Yankees rejected a Cincinnati Reds offer of Phillips for Brett Gardner. By itself that makes enough sense. While Gardner and Phillips produce their offensive value in different ways, it amounts to a similar run value. The only advantage Phillips holds is that he plays a position the Yankees need, which hardly seems to make up for the $46 million difference in salaries owed ($7 million in 2014).
The difference in salary would have actually been far greater in any potential grade. Heyman goes onto say that, when the Reds approached him about a deal, Phillips asked them to re-open his contract and add money. That’s quite a bold move after the kind of season Phillips had in 2013. It also comes as little surprise. From Day 1 it seems Phillips was unhappy with his contract, especially since it came just after teammate Joey Votto signed a $225 million deal. He got a no-trade clause in his deal, and apparently intends to leverage it.
Heyman says that Philips’s request came before the Yankees rejected the offer, so perhaps that was the kicker. Still, even a one-for-one swap seems a bit odd. The Yankees seemingly have a surplus in the outfield and a deficit at second base, but the issue is a bit more complex than that. For instance, are they really going to either 1) count on Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran full-time in the outfield corners or 2) go out and sign or trade for a fourth outfielder? Neither of those scenarios seems ideal. While Gardner doesn’t profile as a typical left fielder, he’s performed well there in the past. His bat isn’t as bad as people think — it’s in the top two-thirds of outfielders since the 2010 season.
There’s plenty of off-season left, and the Yankees, as Cashman says, are ready to rock n roll. This likely isn’t the last we’ll hear about a Gardner-for-Phillips swap. Hopefully any further overtures end with the same rejection.
When pitching becomes available, the Yankees will undoubtedly show interest. So when we learned yesterday that the Indians are willing to listen on Justin Masterson, it was only a matter of time before some reporter noted that the Yankees are in on him. Sure enough, this morning Bob Nightengale mentioned that the Yankees “would love to grab [Indians] Masterson in a 3-team trade involving CF Gardner.” Plenty of other teams will be interested, of course, and we know the Yankees have limited resources to use in a trade.
Buster Olney might have thrown cold water on the idea, but trades with no legs can sprout legs pretty quickly, especially when every team is in the same place with nothing else really to do except talk trade. Then again, this situation appeared to be a long shot even when we first heard about it. For that reason, we’ll start with the cons of the deal.
- The Yankees and the Indians don’t match up directly. With Michael Bourn and Michael Brantley, the Indians have no need for Brett Gardner. That would necessitate a third team, as Nightengale noted. While we saw a three-team trade yesterday, they’re notoriously complex.
- The Indians, who made the playoffs in 2013 for the first time since 2007, are still contenders in 2014. They already lost Scott Kazmir, and their best 2013 starter, Ubaldo Jimenez, is currently a free agent. Without Masterson they’d have Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar, and Trevor Bauer in the rotation. That’s young, sure, but they’d need more to become a playoff rotation.
- In fact, they might need more now in order to be a playoff rotation, further confounding the situation.
- Masterson is a free agent after this year, leaving the Yankees again in a position where they need rotation upgrades. That could be a pro, as Mike wrote yesterday, but how many of those six pitchers will actually make it to free agency?
- Masterson improved his game in 2013, increasing his strikeout rate and improving his performance against left-handed hitters. At the same time, he still generates a huge number of ground balls.
- At age 29 in 2014, Masterson is in position for a monster year. At various points in the past he has shown a decent walk rate (2011), a high strikeout rate (2013), and the ability to pitch over 200 innings (2011 and 2012). If he puts them all together in his walk year, he’ll provide insane value.
- Since coming up in 2008, and throug his 1013 career IP, Masterson has never hit the DL. That’s only slightly misleading; a ribcage injury last September would have put him on the DL if it weren’t for expanded rosters. True, Masterson did undergo shoulder labrum surgery — but on his non-throwing shoulder. Perhaps that threw him off in his career-worst 2012.
- After earning just over $5.5 million last season, Masterson appears in line for a $10 million salary this season, according to Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors. That’s easily affordable for the Yankees.
Unfortunately, in a situation like this, the pros also lend themselves to cons. The Indians will likely get more value out of Masterson, especially considering their current state of pitching, than they would in a trade. The necessity of adding a third team pretty much puts the nail in the coffin on this one. Maybe there’s one nail left to be hammered down, leaving just enough breathing room to keep our hopes alive.
If the Phillies are selling, the Yankees should be interested in buying. At the start of the off-season it didn’t seem likely that the Phillies were in any kind of selling mode. Does a team that spends $44 million on Carlos Ruiz and Marlon Byrd sound like a team that is ready to trade away its best players?
In the last few days, though, the rumor mill has churned out plenty of Phillies content, mostly related to them potentially trading their most expensive players. It started when we learned that they want to trade Jonathan Papelbon and his entire contract, using the cash savings for a starting pitcher. Peter Gammons took the issue further, saying the Phillies might even attach OF Domonic Brown to a Papelbon trade to sweeten the pot.
Trading a high-salary closer doesn’t necessarily fly in the face of the Phillies’ off-season moves to date. If they can free up enough cash to sign one of the free agent starters while losing only Papelbon, they could be better off in the long run. The rumors from this morning, on the other hand, will make you scratch your head. They might also make you say “gimme gimme gimme.”
Buster Olney reported that the Phillies “have indicated to other teams they are ready and willing to talk about Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in trades.” So, to review: the Phillies want to trade Papelbon to free up cash to sign a starting pitcher, but also are seeking to trade one of their very good starting pitchers. OK. Far be it from me to question the wisdom of Ruben Amaro, Jr. It’s his club and he can run it how he sees fit. It just so happens that the Yankees could be beneficiaries here.
Hamels, at age 30, might seem the more attractive of the two. Yet he has five years and $118.5 million left on his contract, including a $6 million buyout on a $20 million option for 2019. It’s not the worst contract for a 30-year-old; I’m sure he’d get more than that if he were a free agent today. Of course, his age and general effectiveness (2013 notwithstanding), he’ll probably fetch a decent price in a trade.
Lee, on the other hand, has two years and $62.5 million left on his contract — though that could be three years and $77.5 million, given his vesting option. That’s a lot of money annually, but the short-term nature of the deal, combined with Lee’s general elite level of play, makes that deal more palatable. It would certainly free up payroll for the Phillies, who could then sign another player to a dumb contract.
Plenty of roadblocks exist between the Yankees and Lee. For starters, Lee can block trades to 21 clubs, and surely the Yankees are on his list. It’s tough to forget that he spurned more guaranteed money from the Yankees — six years and $140 million at least, and it was rumored that the Yankees added a seventh year to the deal — in order to sign with the Phillies. Throughout the process we heard of Lee’s reluctance to play in New York, citing their older roster* and an incident wherein New York fans allegedly spit on his wife.
Time, of course, can change matters. The Yankees are looking a bit better than the Phillies right now, so Lee, who hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2011, could be more amenable to a trade. That’s when we hit another roadblock: the Phillies’ demands. According to Jayson Stark, the Phillies will want the receiving team to take on all of Lee’s salary, plus give up a “huge return.” That makes the deal seem less likely — not only because the Yankees don’t have much in the way of major prospects, but because Brian Cashman has shown no indications of trading prospects for a player with a huge salary (paying twice, as he says it).
Few teams can afford a contract of Lee’s size, even though it runs only two or perhaps three years. That gives the Yankees an advantage. Given their need for pitching, and the immense help that Lee would provide on that front, they should look into a trade. Yet it’s unlikely anything gets done here. The Phillies want it all, and it doesn’t make sense for teams to give that up. Yet given the Yankees’ needs, we can all dream a little.
The murmurs started when the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury, but grew much louder when they signed Carlos Beltran last Friday. Given the Yankees’ myriad needs, they could trade Brett Gardner to help shore up an area of weakness. While it might make sense in terms of the current roster construction, the proposition becomes much more difficult when viewing it from a resource allocation standpoint.
Just because the Yankees have something of a surplus does not mean they must trade it away. We’ve seen first hand how quickly a surplus can become a deficit. If the Yankees were to trade Gardner, and then saw Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, or Alfonso Soriano miss time due to injury, they’re facing time with Zoilo Almonte as a starting outfielder.
Injuries happen, of course, and it’s not as though teams are expected to have major-league-ready backups at every position. Perhaps the better point is that since both Beltran and Ellsbury have injury histories, keeping Gardner helps insure the Yankees against missing too much production if they do miss time. Beltran could need more than a few games at DH, and chances are the Yanks could use Soriano there for a non-trivial number of games as well. Keeping Gardner allows them to keep the DH spot rotating, perhaps helping keep everyone healthy.
Insurance and flexibility aren’t the only reason to consider keeping Gardner. They might not even be the strongest. If the Yankees can’t get back a player as valuable as Gardner, trading him becomes a liability. There are many different ways of assessing value, but by most measures Gardner has been an underrated player throughout his career, particularly since he took over as a starting outfielder in 2010.
While a large portion of Gardner’s value comes from his defense, which is difficult to quantify, he’s no slouch on offense. Since he became a starter in 2010, Gardner has produced 35.2 runs with his bat. He’s no Jose Bautista or Ryan Braun, but he has still created the 39th (out of 117) most runs in the majors in that time span. In 2013 his 8.3 runs on offense ranked 29th out of 50 qualified OF. That’s not bad for a guy who creates most of his value with the glove.
Speaking of his glove, Gardner has proven his value in left field. While he started there, in 2010 and 2011, he was far and away the best defensive LF in baseball by every available measure. A move to left field actually increases that overall value,* since Gardner is orders of magnitude better than the average MLB left fielder. All of this makes it difficult to get a real grasp of Gardner’s actual value.
*Yes, the defensive stats at FanGraphs are all flawed in ways. You can plug in plenty of numbers and come to this conclusion, but for this exercise we’ll just use FG’s. In 2011, Gardner produced 26.7 runs with his glove. Since he played in left field, he got a -5.8 positional adjustment, for a total defensive value of 20.9 runs. In 2013, in center field, he produced -0.5 runs with his glove, and got a positional adjustment of +1.8 runs, for a total of 1.3 runs. The points are 1) Gardner is much better compared to the league average left fielder than his is the average center fielder, and 2) even if Gardner produced 18 runs with his glove in center, he’d still be a wash with his value in left. It’s not the most airtight argument in the world, but from it we can discern the premise: playing a player with a great glove and decent bat in left field can pay dividends.
If Gardner reaches free agency next off-season, what are the chances he gets a contract within $100 million of Ellsbury’s deal? While his market could change between now and then, especially with a strong 2014 at the plate, I can see him getting a four-year, $50 million contract. That would represent one of the greatest bargains on the market, given what other, less valuable outfielders have gotten. If this is Gardner’s perceived value around the game, he could very well be more valuable playing for the Yankees than in a trade for another player.
On trade possibility making its rounds is Gardner for Homer Bailey. With the expected departure of Shin-Soo Choo, the Reds need a center fielder and a leadoff hitter. The Yankees need pitching, so the swap seems reasonable on the surface. It’s when we examine the issue through the lens of actual vs. perceived value that we see discrepancies.
From the commentary I’ve read, the idea is Gardner and a prospect for Bailey. That certainly represents Bailey’s and Gardner’s perceived values, but in terms of actual value it’s tough to justify. After years of struggling, Bailey has rounded into form the last two seasons, producing a 111 ERA+ in 417 innings. That is, he’s a solid No. 3 on a first-division team, an asset the Yankees could certainly use.
For his part, Gardner has been a solid starting outfielder no matter his position. His bat might not rank among the best, but it’s better than is generally perceived. If that value isn’t reflected in his trade value, then he could be worth more playing for the Yankees, in a season when they’ll almost certainly need four outfielders, than as a trade chip, even for a position of need. That goes especially if the Yankees can lock him up on a reasonable deal. Given the sizes of left and center fields at Yankee Stadium, they might need two guys like Ellsbury and Gardner to cover ground.
If the possibility came up and Walt Jocketty offered Brian Cashman Bailey for Gardner, straight up, Cashman would have a difficult time refusing. He needs a reliable starting pitcher, and Bailey has proved himself as such in the last two years. Entering his age-28 season, he could be poised for a career year. At the same time, Gardner has plenty of unperceived value on the field. It’s not as though he’ll languish on the bench and get two starts a week. If he stays he’ll get at least 550 at-bats and plenty of time in the field.
The question of perceived vs. actual value makes the idea of trading Gardner a complex one. If he’s more valuable than the player coming back, then why would the Yankees trade him? Unless they’re desperate to fill a position of need, they should probably refrain. Which is to say, I don’t think they’re going to trade Gardner in the next few weeks unless someone offers a player within Gardner’s actual value range.
Despite a spending spree to open the off-season, the Yankees’ roster still has plenty of needs. We can expect that they’ll reach out to GMs and agents this week in an attempt to fulfill those needs and make the 2014 roster situation clearer. Nothing is guaranteed, as Brian Cashman will tell you until you’re sick of hearing it. But the Yankees clearly have motivation to make their moves and get a better grasp of where they stand.
A few of the remaining free agents make sense. Omar Infante fits as a second baseman who plays acceptable defense and can hit for about league-average numbers. Masahiro Tanaka could get posted. Even if he doesn’t the Yankees have needs in the rotation and could seek one of the free agent pitchers (about whom it appears teams are less than enthralled). However they choose to pursue additional players, it remains certain that they’re needed for a robust 2014 roster.
They might not fill out the roster with any of the remaining free agents, or at least the household names. Joel Sherman quotes a “key-decision-maker” for the Yanks: “we are certainly done with the big free agents this off-season.” So does that mean the Yankees will prioritize the trade route rather than the remaining free agents?
In a way it makes sense. Even if A-Rod‘s suspension stands, the Yankees are butting up against their $189 million payroll goal.* Letting off the gas at this point might make sense, especially considering that they’ve spent $299 million already this off-season. But on the other hand, why go gung-ho and then not finish the job? The Yankees have helped improve the club this off-season. There seems little sense in beefing up the roster, only to skimp when it comes to the complementary pieces.
*So it appears that they did spend money without regard to A-Rod. Neat.
This could be a bluff, of course. Then again, I’m not sure any team would buy a Yankees bluff at this point. Teams know that they’re going to do what’s necessary, and that could very well mean picking up another free agent. Sherman’s source did say “big free agents,” a term open to wide interpretation. Is Infante a big free agent? Is Grant Balfour? Raul Ibanez? Or are big free agents limited to guys like Shin-Soo Choo, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, and Unbaldo Jimenez? If the latter is the case, sure, the Yanks appear out on those guys.
For two years we’ve heard about Plan 189, and for at least a year we’ve bemoaned moves, or lack of moves, that push the Yankees in that direction at expense of the on-field team. The Yankees restored some faith this off-season by spending some dough to beef up the roster and create a contender for 2014. But they’re not done yet. They’ve pulled no punches to this point. Why not finish the job the way they started it?