Mailbag: Duda, Tanaka, Pineda, Samardzija, Acevedo, Frazier

We’ve got 14 questions in the mailbag this week. Use the RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com email address to send us anything. We’re getting more questions than ever these days, so apologies in advance if I don’t get to yours.

(Justin K. Aller/Getty)
(Justin K. Aller/Getty)

Glen asks: What would it cost the Yanks to get Duda (assuming the Mets would deal across town)? There are a lot of available first basemen and while Duda is having a typically nice year, he’s got a bad injury history. Does Austin and a lower level, high ceiling arm (Abreu?) get it done?

Tyler Austin doesn’t have much trade value at all — see what the Yankees gave up to get Garrett Cooper yesterday? that’s basically Austin’s trade value — and I don’t think the Mets would want him either with Dom Smith waiting to take over at first base next year. Here are two trades involving similar rental sluggers from last year:

  • Jay Bruce: Traded for an up-and-down depth infielder (Dilson Herrera) and one organizational top 20 prospect (Max Wotell). (Bruce’s contract included a club option for another year.)
  • Carlos Beltran: Traded for a preseason top 50-75 global prospect (Dillon Tate) and two non-top 30 organizational prospects (Erik Swanson, Nick Green).

Beltran was in demand whereas the Reds were looking to unload Bruce and his salary, and the different circumstances led to very different trade packages. Duda is closer to Beltran than Bruce in my opinion, so the Mets wouldn’t be wrong to ask for a pretty darn good prospect in return. Albert Abreu is currently on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, which complicates things, though he wouldn’t be an unreasonable request by the Mets.

Duda, 31, is hitting .238/.351/.524 (129 wRC+) with 14 homers in 62 games around an elbow issue, plus he’s had some pretty serious back problems in the past. His big left-handed power would fit very well in Yankee Stadium, and picking him up in the second half would serve as a nice audition for next year. The Yankees will need a designated hitter in 2018, after all. I prefer Yonder Alonso personally, though Duda would be a fine stopgap as well. He probably won’t come cheap though. The Yankees would likely have to give up a pretty nice prospect to make it happen.

John asks: If the Yanks go say 4-12 over their next 16 games and sit at 47-53 and 4 GB (or so) of a WC spot on July 26, do they sell? Should they?

Yes they should sell and yes I think they would sell in that situation, even though they don’t have nearly as much to sell as last year, when they put Beltran and two elite relievers on the market. This year they could trade, uh, Matt Holliday? Michael Pineda? That’s maybe it. They fired their best “seller” bullets last year. Then again, if they go 4-12 over their next 16 games to fall to 11-30 in their last 41 games, they’ll have much bigger problems than not enough players to sell.

Erick asks: How many top ten, top twenty and overall first round draft picks do the Yankees currently have in their system and major leagues?

Fun question! I’ve always been a sucker for how teams are built. For CBS last year I put together posts on the Cubs and Indians roster construction prior to the World Series for that reason. Fun fact: the Cubs drafted and developed only four players on their postseason roster last year. Anyway, here’s the breakdown Erick requested:

I do believe that’s all of them. Holder (David Robertson), Judge (Nick Swisher), Clarkin (Rafael Soriano), Sheffield (Ubaldo Jimenez), and Bichette (Javier Vazquez) were all drafted with compensation picks gained for losing free agents. That’s the supplemental first round. Technically it counts as the first round, but it’s not the true “here’s your pick based on last year’s record” first round.

Not included in that list is Masahiro Tanaka, who was selected by four different teams (Rakuten Golden Eagles, Nippon Ham Fighters, Orix Buffaloes, Yokohoma BayStars) in the first round of the 2006 Nippon Pro Baseball draft. The teams then drew straws and Rakuten won his rights. The NPB draft is weird.

Rob asks: If Tanaka continues to improve and the Yankees fall out of the wild card race, does Tanaka become a trade chip for prospects? Would teams be willing to trade prospects for a rental? Keep in mind that Masahiro can opt out at the end of the season.

Tanaka’s trade value is very complicated because of the opt out, and it was complicated even before his overall poor season. Trade for him and he pitches well, and he’s going to opt out. Trade for him and he pitches poorly, then he’s going to stick around. Limited upside, ton of downside for the team that gets him. If the Yankees do continue to slip in the standings, of course they should listen to offers to Tanaka. My guess is the offers will be pretty underwhelming at this point. Maybe it’s worthwhile to unload Tanaka and his contract for whatever. Probably not, but maybe it is. I have no idea how to value him right now. His performance and the opt-out make him too undesirable.

Al asks: Yulieski Gurriel would look pretty good at first base right now. Think the Yankees regret not outbidding the Astros (5 years at $47.5 M) for him? Even if they were expecting Bird to play first, they could have had him ticketed for DH. Thanks.

Probably not. I wanted the Yankees to sign Gurriel, but taking on the age 32-36 seasons of a guy who projects to be a +1.5 WAR player in his age 33 season isn’t all that great for a team trying to get younger. Not when it comes with a $9.5M hit against the luxury tax. The Yankees would have had to out-bid the Astros too, so his actual luxury tax hit would have been more than $9.5M. Gurriel is hitting .297/.321/.491 (115 wRC+) this year and sure, the Yankees could use him at first base, but this isn’t a short-term question. What about next year and the year after and the year after that? Locking down the decline years of a player whose best position is DH isn’t all that appealing to me.

Ian asks: How about moving Pineda to the bullpen? His stuff might play really well in that role and this way you might get a bit of value before he mercifully leaves via free agency. Obviously you create a hole in the rotation, but there you at least have options. Running Pineda out there every fifth day got old several starts ago. Thoughts?

I guess it depends who replaces him in the rotation, right? If you go out and trade for someone like, say, Jose Quintana Sonny Gray, it’s worthwhile. If you’re just going to replace him with Luis Cessa or Chance Adams, then probably not, and I say that as a Cessa fan. Pineda in the rotation and Adams in the bullpen is the best arrangement in my opinion. Pineda would probably dominate in relief given his strikeouts, especially if he adds a tick or two to the bullpen, but the Yankees aren’t exactly swimming in replacement starters. Serious question: would you trust Pineda on the mound in the late innings of a close game?

Adam asks: Does Jordan Montgomery‘s recent option to Scranton manipulate his service time enough to control him another year? Thanks.

Nope. It doesn’t change anything. Assuming Montgomery comes back the first day he’s eligible, he will be retroactively credited with service time even while in the minors. It’ll be like he was on the MLB roster the entire time. A player has to spend eleven days or more in the minors to lose that service time. I suppose the Yankees could call Montgomery back up after eleven days, which would be enough to delay his service time, though his agent might make a stink about that. I’m normally not one to care about service time with non-elite young players (especially pitchers), but if we’re talking about one extra day here, why not?

Samardzija. (Matthew Stockman/Getty)
Samardzija. (Matthew Stockman/Getty)

Francis asks: Would a Jeff Samardzija for Jacoby Ellsbury trade make sense for the Yankees and Giants in terms of money owed and years left? I know that there are issues with no trade clauses etc but Ellsbury will eventually get squeezed out of a job, SF will likely rebound next year and and California is closer to Oregon than NY. Just seems like a perfect match for two bad contracts as the Yankees need pitching and SF needs OF help!

Hmmm, interesting. Ellsbury is owed $68.4M from 2018-20 while Samardzija is owed $59.4M from 2018-20. The money is close enough that it shouldn’t be an obstacle. The Giants are in desperate need of outfield help — their left fielders have hit .224/.281/.329 (63 OPS+) this year — and Ellsbury would fit well in their ballpark given his defense. They could slide Denard Span, who has lost a step or three, to left field and put Ellsbury in center.

So far this season Samardzija has a 4.58 ERA (3.44 FIP) in 118 innings. That’s after throwing 203.1 innings with a 3.81 ERA (3.85 FIP) last year, and 214 innings with a 4.96 ERA (4.23 FIP) the year before that. The one thing you can count on from Samardzija is innings. He’s thrown at least 200 innings every year since 2013. Samardzija, Quintana, Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, Cole Hamels, Madison Bumgarner. They’re the only six guys to throw 200+ innings every year since 2013, and neither Bumgarner nor Hamels will make it there this year.

If I’m the Yankees, yes, I’m trading Ellsbury for Samardzija. It clears up the outfield logjam and it gives the team a back-end innings guy, if nothing else. They could use one of those. Certainly moreso than another speedy outfielder. Would the Giants do it? Eh, they kinda need pitching too, and there are always plenty of decent outfielders sitting in free agency. My guess is the Giants would pass and keep the pitching, and look for outfield help elsewhere. I don’t see the Yankees being able to move Ellsbury without eating a ton of money.

Conor asks: What are your thoughts on allowing managers to make unlimited substitutions for positions players (not pitchers obviously) during the ASG? It’s always a bummer to see reserves not get in the game.

I am a fan. The All-Star Game doesn’t count for anything anymore. It’s not tied to home field advantage in the World Series. Why not bend the rules? They allowed teams to move players in and out of the DH spot without penalty during the Futures Game, after all. I mentioned this to someone during the All-Star Game: after Yadier Molina drew his leadoff walk in the ninth inning, when the game was tied 1-1, the NL should have been able to pinch-run for him, then reinsert Molina at catcher. I can’t think of a good reason not to do it. I suppose you have to put some kind of limit on it so the AL doesn’t pinch-hit Judge every bat, but that’s workable. That said, many of the players don’t hang around for the whole game. The starters come out of the game, get showered, talk to the media, then leave. No one is going to want to hang around in case they’re needed later in the game.

Brent asks: CC has been one of my favorites, I irrationally get excited when he pitches. He’s been not bad this year for a his age. If hes able to get to 3k SO and 250 W’s and a high 3 Era any chance he gets into the hof? And are there any players in the org or on the roster you think could eventually be HOF’s, hypothetically?

CC Sabathia was on the Hall of Fame track before those three disastrous years from 2013-15. He currently has 230 wins, a 3.70 ERA (117 ERA+), and 2,789 strikeouts to his credit. Getting to 250 wins and 3,000 strikeouts is doable, though it’ll take at least one more year beyond this one, probably two more years. Even then, 250 wins and 3,000 strikeouts doesn’t guarantee a Hall of Fame selection.

For what it’s worth, Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system says Sabathia falls comfortably short of the established Hall of Fame standards for starting pitchers in terms of both overall career value and peak value. Sabathia is more Chuck Finley and Orel Hershiser than John Smoltz and Randy Johnson. And that’s fine. Sabathia’s had an amazing career and he’s accomplished a ton. No shame in settling for the Hall of Very Good.

As for other potential Hall of Famers in the organization … I don’t see one. Matt Holliday will fall short and he’s probably the best candidate. Projecting out Judge and Gary Sanchez so far into the future is impossible. I love those guys. But they are a long, long, long, long way from the Hall of Fame conversation. Sabathia is the best shot at a Hall of Famer among the current Yankees with Holliday a distant second. No one else is even close right now. (Because they’re just now starting their careers, which is awesome.)

Zachary asks: If they juiced the balls a year earlier, is A-Rod still playing major league baseball? Is he past 714?

The ball was probably juiced last year too. Last season was the second most home run happy season in baseball history. The top three:

  1. 2017: 1.26 homers per team per game
  2. 2000: 1.17
  3. 2016: 1.16

As much as I love A-Rod, he looked pretty done last year. He struggled to make contact, and even when he did get the bat on the ball, he wasn’t able to drive it much. His bat had slowed noticeably. I don’t think even the juiced ball would have saved Alex Rodriguez.

Jon asks: In his Futures write up, Keith Law said he doesn’t see how Domingo Acevedo could have fringe average command but his walk rate in the minors is very reasonable. What am I missing?

Walk rate is a control stat, not a command stat. There isn’t a reliable way to measure command right now. (Baseball Prospectus tried it.) Control is strike-throwing ability. Getting the ball over the plate. Acevedo and lots of other guys can do that. Command is throwing quality strikes. The ability to paint the corners and dot the knees. Not as many guys can do that. Acevedo has a very good walk rate (5.6% this year), especially for a dude his size. But if you watched the Futures Game, you saw that everything was basically middle-middle. That works in High-A and Double-A when you’re throwing 97-98. It won’t work at the upper levels. I think Acevedo could get by in relief right now as a grip it and rip it guy. His command absolutely needs to improve to remain a starter.

Ryan asks: My gut tells me the Yankees will send down Clint Frazier to make room for Holiday, but should they send Frazier down? I think Clint could aptly fill the original Hicks role as the 4th OF. Gardner, Ellsbury and Holiday could all use extra rest, and Frazier could play 3-4x week and keep the vets fresh. Would it be better for Frazier’s development to play a few times a week until Hicks is healthy or play everyday in the minors?

I thought they would send Frazier down when Holliday returns, but then he started socking dingers last weekend. It’s a little hard to send him down now. Frazier is not your run of the mill prospect. He’s a special talent and when a guy like that has some success at the MLB level, I think you have to let him run with it, and I think the Yankees will. They are committed to this youth movement.

I expect Frazier to stay when Holliday returns — I guess that means Rob Refsnyder goes down? — and the Yankees to reevaluate the outfield situation when Aaron Hicks returns in a few weeks. Maybe Frazier will play himself back to Triple-A by then. Until then, move Frazier around the outfield like Hicks earlier this year. This kid has more than 400 Triple-A plate appearances to his credit and he has a chance to be a core piece going forward. When he comes up and starts mashing taters, you keep him up.

Thomas asks: Any idea why MLB decided to have no games on Thursday after the ASG this year? I would think both teams would prefer to play Thursday instead of playing a doubleheader on Sunday.

Two things. One, the Thursday off-day after the All-Star Game was negotiated into the last Collective Bargaining Agreement. In the past some teams played Thursday. There are no games that day now. And two, I am very sure the players would rather play a doubleheader on Sunday than give up the fourth day of the All-Star break. Off-days are like Christmas to these guys. Back-to-back off-days is a like a week’s vacation. They don’t want to cut short their All-Star break.

Mailbag: Tate, Refsnyder, Andujar, Hoskins, Sanchez, McKinney

There are 14 questions in this week’s mailbag, the final mailbag before the All-Star break. Seems like just yesterday we were talking about the final mailbag of the offseason. Anyway, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. You know what to do.

(Presswire)
Tate. (Presswire)

PJ asks: If Dillon Tate performs well in High A Tampa is he a candidate to be bumped up to Double A Trenton before the seasons end? To take it one step further if all goes well in 2018 would he be a legitimate option for the Yankees rotation in 2019?

Yes, I think the Yankees will move Tate up to Double-A fairly quickly if he keeps performing like this. It’s only three starts back from the shoulder issue, but so far he has a 1.47 ERA (1.49 FIP) with 21 strikeouts and three walks in 18.1 innings. Interestingly enough, Tate told Kelsie Heneghan all the time rehabbing the shoulder in Extended Spring Training allowed him to get his mechanics in sync. From Heneghan:

“You definitely have to make adjustments as you go up, but I’ve had a lot of work to do. Being down in extended really helped me iron some things out. I’m actually really grateful for my time down there because I got a lot of productive things done,” he said. “[I was] working on my delivery and getting comfortable with it and developing some more consistent fastball commands to help me get through lineups and working on my off-speed pitches.”

Last year it was reported the Rangers had Tate try to make some adjustments to his delivery, then, after the trade, the Yankees told him to forget all about that and go back to what worked in college. That’s not necessarily something that can be done overnight. It can take a while. This kid was the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft — and the first pitcher taken — for a reason. He’s got some serious ability.

So, I think the Yankees will give him a few more starts in Tampa just to keep him close to the home base following the shoulder injury. I could see them bumping him up to Trenton before the end of the month. Depending how that goes, the Yankees could have Tate start next season at Triple-A. I think it’s more likely he returns to Trenton to start next season in that scenario, but hey, you never know.

Tate still has some work to do with his changeup and overall command, though I don’t think calling him a potential rotation option for 2019 is unrealistic. Heck, he could be one in the second half of 2018.

Nicholas asks: Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a fan of Refsnyder-but how long until he’s DFAed? He’s of no use with the glove and he’s bat isn’t enough to keep a roster space.

The Yankees aren’t going to cut Rob Refsnyder just for the sake of cutting him. He’s serving a purpose right now, and that purpose is sitting on the bench as the 25th man. Someone has to do it. I don’t want Tyler Wade or any actual prospect to be that guy when Starlin Castro returns. I’d rather Wade play everyday in Triple-A. There’s no harm in keeping Refsnyder around as an up-and-down depth guy. My guess is the Yankees drop him from the 40-man roster at some point before Opening Day 2018. Maybe in November when they do the Rule 5 Draft protection thing, or maybe at the end of Spring Training. Either way, he’s going to wind up on the Rays. Take it to the bank.

Asher asks: Given the doubts about his defense at third, any chance Andujar gets reps at 1B with Scranton now? He’s already on the 40-man, so it would give them flexibility later on given everything else.

It’s always possible, sure, but I don’t think it’ll happen. Miguel Andujar should be working on his third base defense more than anything because that’s where his future lies. Put him at first base and he’s just another guy. Keep him at third base and he could be an above-average player. I wouldn’t change up his development plan just to plug a short-term hole on the big league roster. Andujar is really starting to click at the plate and now the Yankees need to get his third base defense up to snuff. That won’t happen playing first.

Conor asks (short version): What about Rhys Hoskins in a prospect for prospect trade? We get a guy that we can try out right away and who could be part of our core if he can handle major league position. The Phillies receive a prospect further up the defensive spectrum or an arm. Maybe Wade or Andujar for Hoskins?

Hoskins is kind of a weird prospect. It’s tough to pin down who he really is. The 24-year-old went in yesterday’s game hitting .295/.387/.590 (167 wRC+) with 20 homers, 15.3% strikeouts, and 12.7% walks in 346 Triple-A plate appearances this year. And yet, when you read the scouting reports, they’re split on his in game power. MLB.com and Baseball America (subs. req’d) say it’s above-average while Eric Longenhagen and Keith Law (subs. req’d) say it might not even be average.

A right-handed hitting and throwing first baseman with average power isn’t anything special. Historically, right-right first basemen have to hit big to stick in the show. Ultimately, this is all hypothetical because I don’t think the Phillies are going to trade Hoskins. Tommy Joseph is no obstacle at first base and I imagine Hoskins will get a big league audition in the second half. I’d rather not see the Yankees trade for a first base prospect. There are so many first basemen available in free agency each winter, plus they still want to see whether Greg Bird can give them anything.

Hoskins. (Presswire)
Hoskins. (Presswire)

Anonymous asks: Do you think that the Yankees would consider getting Gary Sanchez some reps at 1B over the next couple of years to save the wear and tear on his body (ala Buster Posey & Joe Mauer)? Obviously his bat plays much better at Catcher, but it could lower the chances of injury, keep his bat in the lineup and potentially lengthen his career. Thoughts?

I don’t think they will. I think the Yankees will instead use Sanchez at DH more often. Mauer didn’t play much first base before transitioning over there full-time. When he didn’t catch, he either sat out completely or served as the DH. Posey would DH more often if, you know, the NL had the DH. The big thing with catchers is their legs, right? All the squatting wears them down. Put Sanchez at first base for nine innings and that’s a lot of standing around. Put him at DH and his legs get more rest. Maybe they could put him at first base for one or two games a year, though I’d bet against it. Sanchez is too valuable at catcher and they want to keep him in the lineup as much as possible. DH days are the best way to get him in the lineup without making him squat behind the plate.

Anonymous asks: Would the Yankees consider moving Billy McKinney to first base? He is probably blocked in RF and doesn’t run fast enough for other OF positions, but has a great bat and power. There is certainly an opportunity at 1B with Bird out. And if they could throw Refsnyder out there to learn on the fly, why not McKinney?

The recent wave of “why not move this prospect to first base?” questions show how bad things have gotten at the position. McKinney has been awesome these last few weeks and that’s why I don’t think the Yankees will move him to first base. He’s on the bubble regarding the 40-man roster and the Rule 5 Draft after the season. I think it’s much more likely the Yankees keep McKinney in the outfield where he’s comfortable, hope he rakes these next few weeks, then trade him at the deadline. Giving him a crash course at first base to try to plug a big league hole seems … unwise. I’m not sure McKinney is a long-term piece for the Yankees. I think it’s much more likely he’s trade bait, and moving him to first base midseason carries more risk than reward.

Dan asks: Do the recent injuries to Torres and Fowler affect the Yankees ability to make trades at the deadline?

Of course. Their trade value is diminished, no doubt about it. I don’t think the Yankees were actually planning to trade Dustin Fowler or Gleyber Torres, but who knows what scenarios will present themselves? Now trading either guy at full value is impossible. Teams are going to use their injuries as a way to knock down their value and try to buy low on them. I know I’d want the Yankees to do that. Ultimately, I don’t think the Torres and Fowler injuries will have much impact on the deadline because I don’t think the Yankees were all that eager to trade either guy. But now trading them for full value is off the table completely.

Christian asks: A big splash for a starting pitcher or a buy low bullpen arm or even try and trade for an upgrade at 1st base?

The Yankees don’t do big splashes at the trade deadline. The was one was what, Bobby Abreu? I guess Ichiro Suzuki qualifies given his name value, though that was hardly a blockbuster considering what the Yankees gave up. I think it’s much more likely the Yankees take a 2014 trade deadline approach this year, and make a series of smaller “they got that guy at that price? neat!” trades rather than make a big slash. The big splashes tend to happen in the offseason. A reliever (or two) and a first baseman are my guess this trade deadline. Maybe even a starting pitcher if they decide to move Michael Pineda (or CC Sabathia?) before free agency knowing he’s not a qualifying offer candidate.

Anonymous asks: Why is Aaron Judge batting second when he leads the majors in HR, the league in RBI, is 3rd in BA, and 4th in RBI? He has no one on base to drive in in his first two plate appearances every time Gardner doesn’t get on base to start the game and Judge’s second PA is leading off the 3rd or 4th inning (Yanks put four men on in the first two innings or only one on in the first three.)

Batting second got Judge an extra at-bat in Wednesday’s game, remember. The lineup is so short right now due to injuries that I have no problem with Joe Girardi stacking the best hitters at the top of the lineup to get them as many chances as possible. Who could the Yankees hit second in the meantime anyway? Didi Gregorius? Jacoby Ellsbury? Chase Headley? Ronald Torreyes? I love Didi, but no thanks. A healthy Aaron Hicks would be the ideal No. 2 hitter, as long as he continues to hit like he did earlier this season. With Hicks (and Bird and Castro and Matt Holliday) all out of action, stack the best hitters up high and bat Judge second. It works for me. Imagine watching Ellsbury hit another grounder to the right side to end Wednesday’s game with Judge standing in the on-deck circle. Goodness.

Wade. (Presswire)
Wade. (Presswire)

John asks: Do the Yankees/Girardi not trust Tyler Wade defensively at 2B? Would he be better served getting ABs and more positional experience at AAA if they only trust him defensively in the OF currently?

I don’t get it all. Torreyes has started at second base against a right-handed pitcher twice in the last five games. Wade has played plenty of second base in the minors over the years, and while that doesn’t necessarily mean Girardi and the Yankees are comfortable with his defense, it’s hard to think that’s the reason. If they want to sit him against lefties, fine, it works for me. But Wade should be playing second base against righties, especially when the alternative is Torreyes.

Matthew asks: As we’ve seen the Yankees struggle with consistency from the rotation this season and also watched as Yankees showed little to no interest in signing big-time free agent starters over the past 3 offseasons, do you think it was a mistake for the team to pass of signing any top guys such as Greinke, Price, Scherzer, Lester, and Cueto? Out of those players, who do you wish the Yankees had potentially went all out to sign?

No on Zack Greinke, David Price, and Johnny Cueto. Yes on Max Scherzer and Jon Lester. And even then I’m still on the fence because those two are two and a half years into long-term, big money contracts. Sabathia looked great two and a half years into his contract too. I was surprised the Yankees didn’t make more of an effort to sign Lester at the time. He didn’t cost a draft pick (he had been traded at midseason and was ineligible for the qualifying offer), he’s an AL East battle tested lefty for Yankee Stadium, and the Yankees seem to love ex-Red Sox players. Scherzer is a freak. He’s getting better at an age when pitchers aren’t supposed to get better. Passing on Greinke, Price, and Cueto was fine. If you want to quibble over passing on a big name free agent starter, start with Scherzer and Lester.

Alessandro asks: Buster Olney speculated this week that Blue Jays could be prepared to sell at the deadline. Marcus Stroman has been mentioned and the Yankees have been scouting him. Obviously the intra-division angle makes this difficult, but could the two teams actually swing a trade? What would Stroman cost the Yankees?

I don’t see this happening at all. There will be way too much interest in Stroman for the Blue Jays to trade him within the AL East. The Yankees would have to outbid everyone else and by quite a bit to get Toronto to bite the bullet and trade him to a division rival. Remember, when the Blue Jays were trading Roy Halladay, they refused to consider intra-division offers. They have a new GM, sure, but everyone at the ownership level remains, and I don’t think that directive will change.

In pure baseball terms, a guy like Stroman is pretty much exactly what the Yankees need. A quality starter in his mid-20s with several years of team control remaining. He’s kind of an ass, but whatever. I’d prefer Aaron Sanchez to Stroman myself, though we still fall into the same intra-division trade trap there. Stroman is under team control through 2020, and while he’s not an ace, he is an above-average starter. I don’t think it would be unrealistic at all for the Blue Jays to ask for two top prospects and a good third piece. That said, I don’t see them trading Stroman (or Sanchez). Those are the guys they’ll keep and build around going forward.

Julian asks: What about Giancarlo Stanton for Ellsbury with no money going either way? The Marlins needs to free up some cash for their sale and FOX’s Ken Rosenthal speculated they could eat some money, which could be done in the way of Ellsbury’s contract. I know we have a pretty decent right fielder now… but could Stanton play left with Gardner going back to center?

MLB should just fold the franchise and sell Marlins Park for scrap metal if they salary dump Stanton like that. I know Stanton has that big scary contract, but he’s only 27 and he’s really freaking good. Dumping him for a past prime veteran like Ellsbury would be so horrifically terrible for the Marlins. I think even Jeffrey Loria would understand that if you’re going to trade a dude like Giancarlo, you’ve got to get absolute studs in return.

Ellsbury has zero value to the Marlins. No marquee value and limited on-field value. The difference in their salaries beyond this season is about $195M and that’s only if Stanton doesn’t opt-out. If the Marlins are willing to trade Stanton for Ellsbury straight up, the Yankees should do it. I can’t imagine even the Marlins would be that desperate to unload his contract though. Stanton’s value transcends his on-field performance for the franchise. He’s their star player. He sells tickets, merchandise, and ad space. Ellsbury … doesn’t.

Michael asks: Does Betances going to this year’s All Star game surprise you? To answer my own question before you do, I’m guessing either A – Francona picked him and the other pitchers in mid to late June (before Betances struggled and had All Star numbers) or B – Francona picked him due to his great track record (made previous 3 all star games).

Not one bit. I mentioned this yesterday, but as of last Monday, Betances had a 1.09 ERA (1.41 FIP) and opponents were hitting .140/.282/.151 against him. The players voted him into the All-Star Game and the vote was held last week, when he was very All-Star worthy. So he’s hit a rough patch since then. Big deal. It seems players around the league better appreciate Dellin’s impact than many Yankees fans (or Randy Levine). Betances will get himself straightened out mechanically and we’ll all move on. It would have been egregious to leave him off the All-Star roster when the vote was held.

Mailbag: Fulmer, Frazier, Gray, Franco, Hicks, Belt, Judge

We’ve got 13 questions in this week’s mailbag. An awful lot of “when are the Yankees calling up Tyler Wade/Miguel Andujar/Dustin Fowler?!?” questions were rendered moot the last few days. Anyway, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send your questions.

(Adam Glanzman/Getty)
(Adam Glanzman/Getty)

Rhett asks: Tigers are almost 10 games under .500 and have a depleted farm system. What about Michael Fulmer, should they tear it down and rebuild? I like everything but the high stress delivery, looks like an elbow blowout waiting to happen. Frazier, Sheff, Mateo get it done??

Going into yesterday’s game the Tigers had the second worst record in the AL at 34-43, and there are rumblings they will sell at the trade deadline. They did sell two years ago, remember, when they traded David Price and Yoenis Cespedes at the deadline. They could do it again this year.

Looking at their roster, there are only two players who make sense for the Yankees: Fulmer and Justin Wilson. Justin Verlander and especially Miguel Cabrera are owed way too much money. Those two are great players! Miggy is a first ballot Hall of Famer. But I have zero interest in paying $184M for his age 35-40 seasons (!). Hard pass.

Anyway, the 24-year-old Fulmer had a 3.19 ERA (2.94 FIP) in 101.2 innings this season after throwing 159 innings with a 3.06 ERA (3.76 FIP) en route to being named AL Rookie of the Year last season. Here’s a quick year-to-year comparison:

ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2016 3.06 3.76 20.4% 6.5% 49.1% 0.91 .295 .276
2017 3.19 2.94 18.9% 5.8% 50.3% 0.35 .280 .263

Just about everything is the same except the home run rate, and chances are that’ll climb pretty soon given the way balls are flying out of the park these days. Otherwise Fulmer handles both lefties and righties well, he keeps his walks down, and his ground ball rate is solid. He’s not a huge strikeout guy but everything else checks out.

Thanks to the timing of his call-up last year, the Tigers delayed Fulmer’s free agency a year until the 2022-23 offseason. Acquire him at the deadline and you’re getting five and a half years of this guy. Fulmer did miss a start with shoulder bursitis earlier this year, though he’s come back fine since, and that won’t be enough to drop his price.

My guess is the Tigers will keep Fulmer and build around him going forward, but gosh, if they put him on the market, they could demand a ton. And they’d get a ton too. Teams would line up to get him. Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield, and Jorge Mateo doesn’t seem like enough. Frazier, Sheffield, Fowler (they need a long-term center fielder bad), and Chance Adams for Fulmer? I don’t think it would be an unreasonable ask.

Brent asks: Is Clint Frazier underperforming? He struggled last year, and this year he’s definitely getting his HR’s but his obp is a bit low along with BA. According to his prospect potential, so far, is this underperforming? And what is his MLB potential?

Nah, not at all. He went into last night’s game hitting .257/.344/.478 (122 wRC+) with 12 homers in 72 games as a 22-year-old in Triple-A. Frazier went from a 27.9% strikeout rate and a 5.4% walk rate in Triple-A last year to a 21.7% strikeout rate and 11.5% walk rate this year. The power is there and Frazier is doing a better job controlling the strike zone. It would be cool if he were hitting .310 with a .400 OBP, but that’s not that important. The bat speed is there, the power is there, and the plate discipline is improving. That’s exactly what I wanted to see this year.

As for his long-term potential, I’ve been using Nick Swisher as a baseline, though Swisher had the advantage of being a switch-hitter. Swisher hit .258/.365/.471 (122 wRC+) and averaged 27 homers and +3.5 WAR a year from ages 25-31, and that includes his disaster season with the White Sox. I get the sense more than a few people won’t be thrilled to hear Frazier has Swisher upside, but Swisher was really freaking good for a long time. Plus, Frazier has insane bat speed and a much better chance to hit for a high average than Swisher did, so it’s not like Swisher is the ceiling here.

Damian asks: Am I crazy for not wanting Sonny Gray? His numbers dip hard the 2nd and 3rd time through the order. His ERA jumps from 5.24 the 2nd time through, and all the way to 5.94 on the 3rd pass… He feels like a guy destined to be a relief pitcher (albeit maybe an excellent one), not a top of the line starter…

No, I don’t think that’s unreasonable at all. I am a big Sonny Gray fan, have been for a while and I’ve said it many times before. Right now I just have so little confidence in him staying healthy that I’d rather not see the Yankees give up some of their best prospects to acquire him. Gray has had ongoing lat and forearm issues since last season. He’s a great pitcher when healthy. Great and tough as nails. The kinda guy I want on the mound with the season on the line. But he hasn’t been healthy since 2015.

Franco. (Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)
Franco. (Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

John asks: How about Maikel Franco as a change of scenery if the Phils are interested in moving him?

Nick Cafardo says the struggling Franco is “more than available” in trade talks, and he’s probably worth a full post at some point. A few things about Franco. One, he’s still only 24 and is under team control through 2021. Two, he’s getting worse each year:

  • 2015: .280/.343/.497 (129 wRC+) with 14 homers in 80 games
  • 2016: .255/.306/.427 (92 wRC+) with 25 homers in 152 games
  • 2017: .222/.281/.376 (70 wRC+) with ten homers through 73 games

Three, Franco has a ton of natural power and he combines it with a better than average strikeout rate (14.1% this year and 16.1% career), and not many players can do that. And four, he is an absolutely brutal defensive third baseman. He should be playing first base like yesterday.

Like I said, Franco is worth the deeper dive outside a mailbag setting at some point, but yes, I’m interested in him as potential buy low/change of scenery player. For sure. Even if you have to stick him at first base or DH full-time, I’ll take a chance on the offensive potential. The power and contact ability give Franco a chance to be a monster.

Matthews asks: I realize he’s now going to be on the DL,the it’s unlikely while trying to get under the luxury tax and the team has plenty if young OF prospects but should they consider approaching Hicks about an extension? What would one potentially look like?

It never hurts to kick the tires, though I doubt the Yankees will seriously considered it. They have a ton of young outfielders knocking the door, so much so that trading Brett Gardner (or Jacoby Ellsbury) won’t clear up enough roster space. I also think the Yankees want to see more from Aaron Hicks before diving into contract talks. Is this the real him? Maybe! But why not wait a little while to find out?

Hicks will be a free agent following the 2019 season, so if the Yankees were to approach him about an extension this offseason, they’d be doing so when he’s two years away from free agency. Here are some other players who signed extensions two years before hitting the open market:

  • Jean Segura: Five years, $70M with a club option.
  • Brandon Belt: Six years, $79M with no option year.
  • Salvador Perez: Five years, $52.5M with no option year.
  • Brandon Crawford: Six years, $75M with no option year.

Don’t think one great year can get you paid? Segura was awful from 2014-15, then parlayed a great 2016 into a big contract.

I’m not comfortable committing upwards of $10M per season to Hicks yet. Maybe they could get him for, say, four years and $32M? He might jump at the guaranteed money, though that seems unlikely. Hicks has been unbelievable this season. Even after his little slump between the Achilles and oblique injuries, he’s hitting .290/.398/.515 (144 wRC+) with +3 WAR. Extension talks are still a bit premature, I think.

Rich asks: Here’s a fun one: After another great outing, Jordan Montgomery deserves a catchy nickname. J-Mont? Monty Python and the Holy Arm? Air Jordan?

Gumby works, doesn’t it? That was his college nickname and it’s his Twitter handle (@Gumbynation34). Here’s Montgomery explaining the nickname to Steve Serby:

Q: What is “Gumby”?
A: (Laugh) That was my nickname in college.

Q: Why?
A: I was so long, kind of uncoordinated … showed up first day of summer practice, and one of the fifth-year seniors turned around, asked me what my name is: “I’m gonna call you Gumby from now on,” and it stuck. I hated it at first, but lately everyone calls me it. Just kind of learned to go with it.

Seems to me Mr. Montgomery has a nickname already. Forced nicknames are the worst. Especially when they’re recycled nicknames like players adopting their own version of A-Rod. Gumby came along organically and it fits. I say we stick with it.

Bill asks: what would it take to get Belt from SF? He’s having a down year with the average but the power and walks are still there and SF will has to be in sell mode at this point.

Belt, who turned 29 in April, is owed $17.2M a year from 2018-21, which is on the pricey side but not outrageous. He’s hitting .228/.341/.442 (111 wRC+) with 14 home runs this year, which represents a down year for him and would equal a massive upgrade for the Yankees at first base. From 2013-16, Belt hit .277/.364/.474 (135 wRC+) with 64 home runs and +14 WAR in an extreme pitcher’s park even though he was limited to only 61 games in 2014 (a hit-by-pitch broke his thumb).

The Giants are abysmal. Far worse than I expected. They currently have baseball’s second worst record (only the Phillies are worse) so I imagine they’ll be open to moving pieces at the trade deadline. The Giants strike me as a team that will retool and try to win against next year though, not tear it all down and start a rebuild. Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner are still in their primes, after all. How does trading Belt help that retooling process? It doesn’t, really. Would the Giants take Greg Bird and a good prospect like, say, Fowler? Both guys would be able to step right into their big league lineup next year. (In theory, given Bird’s injuries.)

Jason asks: Chance Adams is the guy knocking on the door but Caleb Smith, a lefty, has made 14 starts in 2017, at SWB, and has allowed two earned runs or less twelve times, including back-to-back gems (13 IP, 0 ER, 7 H, 2 BB, 13 K) to lower his ERA to 2.84. Is he a realistic option in the MLB pen, or even in the rotation?

The 25-year-old smith was a 14th round pick in 2013 and the Cubs gave him a look as a Rule 5 Draft pick in Spring Training. So far this year he has a 2.20 ERA (3.32 FIP) with 24.5% strikeouts and 7.0% walks in 82 Triple-A innings, which is obviously excellent. Smith is a three-pitch guy with a low-to-mid-90s fastball and both a changeup and slider in the low-80s. Here is the only half-decent video I can find of the guy:

Smith has good velocity from the left side — I figured he would get popped in the Rule 5 Draft for exactly that reason — though neither his slider nor his changeup is a legitimate put-away pitch, which holds him back. He’s probably best suited for bullpen duty — he was was a reliever with Double-A Trenton for most of 2016 — as a fastball heavy lefty, a la Sean Doolittle. Smith very well might be next up on the lefty reliever depth chart now that Tyler Webb is in the big leagues.

Dan asks: If Judge just stopped playing for the rest of the year, would he still win AL rookie of the year? The season isn’t even at the halfway point, but from 2010 to now the only AL rookies worth more fWAR than what he has now were Abreu in 2014 (5.3) and Trout in 2012 (10.3). That’s insane.

I think so. We’ve seen guys win Rookie of the Year after getting called up at midseason. Why would winning the award playing only the first half rather than the second half be any different? There is no rookie in the AL (or all of MLB, for that matter) coming close to what Aaron Judge is doing. He reached +5 WAR before any other position player reached +4 WAR. That’s nuts. (As of yesterday Judge was at +5.1 fWAR and Paul Goldschmidt was second at +3.8 fWAR.)

Dan asks: Thoughts on picking up Miguel Montero to be back up catcher? The Yanks could use the offense. But, they probably wouldn’t cut Romine for him.

Nah. I don’t doubt that Montero is a better hitter than Austin Romine, but he’s faded big time behind the plate — runners have gone 90-for-98 (92%) stealing bases against him since the start of last season, and it ain’t all Jake Arrieta’s fault — plus his stints with two teams came to ugly and bitter ends. The guy’s a bit of a jerk. He can still hit a little — Montero was hitting .286/.366/.439 (112 wRC+) in part-time duty before getting designated for assignment the other day — but I don’t trust him behind the plate and I don’t trust him in the clubhouse. Montero’s not worth the headache, and obviously the Cubs agree.

Alessandro asks: This is a little out there, but if Bird remains out for an extended period of time, could the Yankees bring in another catcher to serve as backup to Sanchez, and keeping putting Romine out there at first?

Eh, I don’t see Romine at first base as a viable solution. He’s looked good over there defensively the last few days, but the guy is still hitting .236/.281/.323 (58 wRC+) overall, and that’s terrible. Maybe his numbers will tick up with regular playing time, though I don’t think Romine’s offensive potential is high enough to play him at first base long-term. The Yankees really need a full-time first baseman. I don’t like all this talk about having players change positions. Just get a real first baseman.

Steve asks: Let’s say Bird misses all of 2017. What do the Yankees do this winter? They can’t pencil Bird in for 1B next year, can they? Do they hedge their bets with another Carter-like signing? Find a DH that can fake 1B if needed? Thanks.

If Bird misses the rest of the season, I don’t see how the Yankees could count on him to be the starter next year. They’d have to go out and get someone to be the starter, and if Bird forces the issue, great! Maybe Tyler Austin will do enough this year to claim the starting job and he solves everything. That seems unlikely given his “high grade” hamstring strain. Odds are the Yankees are going to have to bring in a first baseman next year. Missing essentially your entire age 23 and 24 seasons like Bird may do is bad, bad news. That’s an awful lot of development time he’s not getting back.

Jason asks: Some of us middle-aged Yankees fans were talking about the latest Judge exploits and wondering: is this the best half-season of any Yankee since we have been watching (say 1975, possible competitors include Mattingly (1986), Arod, perhaps Giambi)? Thanks.

If you go back and look at the best half-seasons in Yankee history, it’s basically all Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, with a little Mickey Mantle mixed in as well. I’m going to go back 50 years, to 1967. Here are the best half-seasons by a Yankees, by OPS+:

First Half Second Half
Aaron Judge (204 OPS+ in 2017) Bobby Murcer (189 OPS+ in 1972)
Bobby Murcer (198 OPS+ in 1971) Don Mattingly (185 OPS+ in 1986)
Dave Winfield (187 OPS+ in 1988) Don Mattingly (184 OPS+ in 1985)
Paul O’Neill (186 OPS+ in 1994) Reggie Jackson (184 OPS+ in 1980)
Alex Rodriguez (184 OPS+ in 2007 Alex Rodriguez (184 OPS+ in 2005)

The All-Star break is only nine days away! Judge is putting the finishing touches on the best-half season by a Yankee in the last half-century. That is insane. The last Yankees with a 204 OPS+ in either the first or second half was Mantle in 1961.

  • Mantle in the first half of 1961: .320/.450/.691 (208 OPS+)
  • Mantle in the second half of 1961: .314/.446/.682 (209 OPS+)

lol.

As for Judge, what he’s doing is beyond “he’s having a great start to his rookie season” stuff. We’re in “he’s having an all-time great season for a player with any number of years of experience” territory. I get why lots of people jumped ship after his ugly debut last season, but man, but dude is among the elite of the elite when it comes to hitting know-how and making adjustments. That he’s 6-foot-7 and 282 lbs. of brute strength makes him that much more dangerous.

Mailbag: Vogt, Moran, Bird, Adams, Judge, Betances, Shreve

I’ve been busy the last few days, so I didn’t have much time for mailbaggin’. Only eight questions this week. These things used to only be three or four questions, you know. Now eight qualifies as small. Anyway, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. Send questions there.

Vogt. (Lindsey Wasson/Getty)
Vogt. (Lindsey Wasson/Getty)

Mike asks: Do you believe in Stephen Vogt?

I believe in Stephen Vogt. The Athletics designated Vogt for assignment yesterday as part of their renewed emphasis on youth. Vogt is gone, Trevor Plouffe is gone, and I imagine it’s only a matter of time until Jed Lowrie, Yonder Alonso, and Rajai Davis are gone too. The A’s are going young.

Vogt, 32, was hitting .217/.287/.357 (73 wRC+) with four homers in 174 plate appearances this year — Chris Carter went into last night’s game hitting .201/.287/.384 (77 wRC+) — after being an All-Star in 2015 and 2016. His production has dropped from a 116 wRC+ in 2015 to a 93 wRC+ in 2016 to a 73 wRC+ in 2017. That is: bad. And yet, there is this:

  • Vogt is a career .260/.320/.428 (106 wRC+) hitter against righties.
  • He’s a left-handed hitter who can take advantage of the short porch. Example: this homer.
  • He can play first base, fake the outfield, and be an emergency third catcher.
  • Vogt is an A+ clubhouse dude. He’s awesome. Example: his NBA referee impression.
  • If he gets released, Vogt can be signed for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum.

The Yankees gotten nothing from first base this year. Stephen Vogt has been very bad this year! Can he better in Yankee Stadium while limited to platoon duty? Maybe! Now that Aaron Hicks is healthy, the Yankees don’t need Mason Williams on the bench. Sending down Williams for Vogt and giving him a chance at first base could be an upgrade. Probably not, but maybe so.

Here’s the thing though: I don’t think the A’s will release Vogt, and he definitely won’t elect free agency because he has fewer than five years of service time, meaning he’d forfeit the remainder of his $2.965M salary by electing free agency, and that’s not happening. The A’s will outright him to Triple-A and stash him as depth. I wouldn’t trade anything to get him nor would I take on the salary via waivers. If the A’s do release Vogt, sure, see if he’ll come to New York. If they don’t release him, then forget it.

Colin asks: Colin Moran, top college bat, high draft pick, local kid. The Astros are all locked up in the infield (although with Gleyber going to 3rd maybe the Yankees are now). He’s 25 and seemingly figuring it out, would it be possible to pry someone like that away on the cheap side?

Eh, I’m not sure he’s figuring it out as much as he is repeating Triple-A. Moran, the sixth overall pick in the 2013 draft, is hitting .279/.340/.541 (122 wRC+) with 16 homers, 17.6% strikeouts, and 8.2% walks in 57 Triple-A games this year. He’s a left-handed hitter known more for his level swing than his power. MLB.com ranks him as the 23rd best prospect in the Astros’ system. Here’s a piece of their scouting report:

Known for his pure left-handed swing and his ability to barrel balls easily while controlling the strike zone … His approach and relatively flat stroke yield below-average power, however, and he’s not the walk machine he was in college at North Carolina. Moran contributes little value beyond his bat, so he’ll have to boost his projection to become a big league regular … He has the hands and solid arm to play the hot corner, though Moran lacks range there. He’s a well below-average runner whose only other defensive option is first base.

The ‘Stros have Alex Bregman at third base and Yulieski Gurriel at first — plus A.J. Reed is waiting in Triple-A — so there’s no real spot for Moran going forward. He has a minor league option remaining for next season, so I suppose the Astros could stash him in Triple-A for another year as a depth option. They don’t have to move him anytime soon.

The Yankees don’t have a clear cut long-term third baseman. Gleyber Torres is awesome, though his recent Tommy John surgery throws a wrench into things. If nothing else, it delays his arrival. I am a big Miguel Andujar fan, but prospects are suspects until they prove otherwise. Could the Yankees get Moran for a similar busted former top prospect like, say, Mason Williams? It would be worth it given the uncertainty surrounding third base. Moran is by no means a “must acquire” though.

Jake asks: Given Bird’s setback and the likely probability that Detroit will sell, Alex Avila seems like a good fit. He’s on a prove-it contract that expires at the end of this year, he’s played first in the past, and he’s slashing well (including getting on base at a career-best .432 clip). Is he worth the risk?

Interesting! Avila has played 35 games at first base the last two seasons, so it’s not completely new to him, plus you could always stick him behind the plate. Avila is hitting .314/.437/.587 (172 wRC+) with ten homers on the season, easily his best year at the plate, because he’s doing the “hit more fly balls” thing (like Yonder Alonso):

alex-avila-batted-balls

If Greg Bird continues to have injury issues, Avila would be a nifty little pickup. He’d slide right into Bird’s roster spot as the left-handed hitting first baseman (slash catcher), and he’d give the Yankees a nice platoon option against righties. Plus, left-handed hitter and the short porch! Those two things always mix well. I wonder whether the Yankees could get him for someone like Ben Heller or Jonathan Holder. I can’t imagine Avila has much trade value despite his great start. Getting him for an extraneous reliever (the Tigers are in perpetual need of bullpen help) would work.

Bobby asks (short version): Given that the Yankees drafted numerous players at the bottom of the draft who are early round talents, is there any chance that the Yankees would decide to go crazy and sign all of them to multi-million dollar bonuses? They would have to forfeit their first round pick in the next two drafts and pay 100% tax on the overage.

No team has ever exceeded their bonus pool to the point where they forfeit future draft picks and I don’t see that happening anytime soon. It is an interesting idea though. In the late rounds this year, the Yankees drafted one bonafide first round talent (Alabama HS RHP Tanner Burns) and two players who could be first round picks next year with healthy 2018 college seasons (Stanford RHP Tristan Beck and Louisville RHP Riley Thompson). Beck is a potential top ten pick next year.

Exceeding your bonus pool by 15% or more means forfeiting your next two first round picks and paying a 100% tax on the overage. If the Yankees were to give those three players first round money, say $2.5M to $3M each, they’d be way over their $6.91M bonus pool. Let’s call it $3M each. That means paying $9M in bonus, $9M in tax, and giving up their first round picks in 2018 and 2019. But! You are adding three first round caliber talents to the organization right now. I think this is seriously worth considering when you’re talking about signing more than two such players. Doing it for one doesn’t make sense. But three? It’s not a bad idea. I don’t see the Yankees doing it though.

Michael asks: With the hole at first base who would you acquire? Any thoughts on Matt Adams? He’s cheap and controllable beyond this year.

I’ve never been a big Adams guy but he has been raking since getting traded to the Braves: .294/.346/.647 (148 wRC+) with eleven homers in 30 games prior to last night. Unless you think he’s a new player for some reason — and there’s nothing in the underlying numbers to suggest this is something more than a hot streak — Adams is the same guy he was with the Cardinals a few weeks ago. Atlanta gave up a non-top 30 organizational prospect to get him (Juan Yepez) and that’s all I’d give up to get him now. I’m not paying a bigger price because he had a month long hot streak with the Braves that will in no way benefit me. If the Yankees can get Adams for a non-top 30 guy, say Abi Avelino or Chris Gittens, do it. That’s about my limit here.

Henry asks: without seeing the numbers the eyeball test is telling me that Judges K rate has been climbing. It seems like he is maybe a little frustrated by the lack of good pitches in the zone and hes swinging more at the low and away out of the zone. It also looks that he might be sitting fastball a bit too much as im seeing him take a lot of loopy curves down the middle. do the numbers and your opinion back this up?

Aaron Judge‘s strikeout rate spiked in May and has stayed at the same level since. He was running a 29.8% strikeout rate heading into last night’s game. Here’s the graph:

aaron-judge-strikeout-rate

Twenty-eight of Judge’s 87 strikeouts this season have been looking, or 32.2%. The MLB average is 23.3%. I’m guessing all those low strikes he keeps getting called against him has something to do with that. It does seem like Judge has been caught looking a little more often the last few weeks — I could be completely wrong — and maybe that means he’s caught in between a bit. He’s looking fastball but gets a breaking ball, and vice versa. That sorta thing. Judge is striking out a lot, but man, whatever he’s doing, it’s working. Keep doing it.

Michael asks: Is DiDi’s very low walk rate concerning to you? There have been 208 players with 190+ PA and DiDi is ranked 204th with a BB% of just 3.1.

Nah. I wish Didi Gregorius would walk more, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. This is who he is. He’s a free swinger. And it works for him! Didi makes plenty of contact and he can hit the ball over the fence. I’d just let him be. Swinging is in his DNA so let him do it. If Gregorius wasn’t producing or if the Yankees had six or seven hitters like this in the lineup, it would be a problem. But he’s been hitting and, by and large, the Yankees have a patient lineup. One (or two, really, counting Starlin Castro) free swinger ain’t the end of the world.

Daniel asks: I don’t have video evidence, but it seems to me that Betances has seriously closed off his stance on the mound. What do you think? With Shreve doing the same, does two make a trend?

Both Dellin Betances and Chasen Shreve have closed their deliveries this year. Here’s what I mean:

dellin-betances-chasen-shreve-2016-vs-2017

One of the ex-pitcher YES Network broadcasters spoke about this a few weeks ago. I think it was David Cone. He said closing up like that — Betances and Shreve are practically showing their number to the hitter now — helps the pitcher stop from flying open out front. They stay back better and can more easily maintain their balance through their delivery. That’s what the broadcaster (again, Cone, I think) said, so take their word for it.

Shreve is throwing harder this season. His average fastball is 92.9 mph, up from 92.2 mph the last two years, and his max velocity has jumped from 94.8 mph to 95.7 mph. Basically one full mile-an-hour. That’s not nothing. I have no idea whether the slight velocity jump is due to closing up his delivery, but I suppose it could be related. The fact two pitchers on the same staff have done this now, closed up their delivery, leads me to believe it’s not a coincidence. The coaching staff encouraged this. And hey, given the way Betances and Shreve have pitched this year, it seems it be working.

Mailbag: Suarez, Pineda, Peralta, Healy, Judge, Andujar, AzFL

Pretty huge mailbag this week. Fifteen questions. Send your questions to RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com each week. I’ll answer as many as I can get too, assuming I actually know the answers.

Suarez. (Denis Poroy/Getty)
Suarez. (Denis Poroy/Getty)

Dee asks: Seems like the plan is for Torres to take over 3rd but if not what about Eugenio Suarez of the Reds as a target? He’s having a solid season (.283/.368/.597) but he’s being pushed by Scooter Gennett for playing time, and the Reds top prospect (#20 overall) is 3B Nick Senzel, although he is at single A.

Suarez is younger than I realized. He’ll turn 26 next month. He’s been around a while and I kinda assumed he was already 27 or 28. The Reds got Suarez from the Tigers for Alfredo Simon (!) three years ago, and he’s currently hitting .280/.368/.484 (124 wRC+) with ten homers and 11.2% walks as Cincinnati’s everyday third baseman. He’s a natural shortstop playing third in deference to Zack Cozart.

The Reds are in the middle of a rebuild, so they’ll probably listen to offers for Suarez, though there’s no indication he’s on the market right now. With Cozart a trade candidate and impending free agent, I suppose their master plan could be sliding Suarez back to shortstop when Senzel is ready to take over third. Anyway, yeah, I think Suarez would be a real interesting trade target. He’s always had some pop and he’s starting to come into his own as an all-around hitter, which is exciting at his age.

As an added bonus, Suarez will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2020, so he would be New York’s long-term solution at the hot corner. I know Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar are coming, but Suarez is a good player too, and good players are always worth adding. Would it be unreasonable if the Reds asked for Clint Frazier? I don’t think so. Doesn’t mean I’d do it. I’m just saying that’s what they could ask for in a trade. What about, say, Dustin Fowler and Chance Adams? I like the idea of Suarez. The question is, as always, cost.

Kenneth asks (short version): Michael Pineda has added a hesitation to his delivery from last season. It occurs when he brings his back foot down and starts to raise his hands. From a pitching standpoint, how far do you think this goes in terms of consistency, repetition, and overall makeup?

Kenneth has raised the mailbag question bar, folks. He not only made an astute observation, he also provided a video breakdown. 2017 Pineda is on the left and 2016 Pineda is on the right:

I hadn’t noticed the hesitation in Pineda’s delivery, perhaps because it’s so subtle. Tempo is pretty darn important, and if this hesitation helps Pineda keep everything in check and be more consistent with his delivery, it could absolutely have an impact on his overall performance. At the same time, pitchers make these tiny little changes to deliveries over the years and often they don’t mean anything. Compare any pitcher’s delivery today to his delivery last year and there will be some differences, no doubt.

To answer the question, I think it’s possible this little hesitation is helping Pineda’s overall performance this season, though I’m not ready to say that with any certainty. Does he even do it every pitch? I’m not sure. If anything, this could be a reason for Pineda’s success this year, but probably not the reason.

Joe asks: Is Jhonny Peralta better than Chase Headley?

Nah. Not at this point. The floundering Cardinals released Peralta earlier this week and ate the $10M left on his contract. He’s been hurt (103 total games) and ineffective (81 wRC+ and -0.9 fWAR) the last two seasons, and at age 35, he just looks old and worn down. The bat is slow, the defense is rough, and the body doesn’t recover as well as it once did. Any team can sign Peralta for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum now, so he’s basically risk-free, but I have no interest in signing him to replace Headley, even as bad as Headley has been since April. I’d rather have Ronald Torreyes than Peralta, and the Yankees also have a few young infielders knocking on the door in Triple-A. I don’t see Peralta having anything to offer New York at this point. He’s at the end of the line.

Max asks: Mike, any interest in Ryon Healy as a potential deadline pickup to play third? What would it even take? Fowler and a good secondary piece?

I don’t think the A’s would trade Healy now because he’s cheap and productive — he went into last night’s game hitting .282/.310/.532 (125 wRC+) with 15 homers — so this is purely hypothetical. I’m not much of a Healy fan because he’s so one dimensional. He’s basically a power hitter and that’s it. And that’s good! If you’re going to be one-dimensional, power is a good dimension to have. Hitting 15 homers in two months in that home ballpark is pretty impressive.

The downside here is that Healy is a brutal defender at third base. One of the worst in baseball. There’s a reason he’s played more first base and DH than third base this year. (That’ll continue going forward with top third base prospect Matt Chapman now up.) Add in suspect strikeout (25.2%) and walk (3.5%) rates, and you’ve got a player who is going to have to continue hitting for big power to have value. I’d rather see the Yankees look elsewhere for third base help.

Daniel asks: Aaron Judge is currently hitting .323 and according to ESPN he is on pace to strikeout 196 times. What are the most strikeouts someone who has batted over .300 has ever had?

Judge went into last night’s game hitting .338 with a 193-strikeout pace, which is a hell of a combination, even over a 63-game sample. The average really surprises me. I’ve always been a Judge guy, but I never expected him to hit well over .300 for this long a stretch. Certainly not so early in his career. Anyway, here is the answer to Daniel’s question:

  1. Bobby Bonds: .302 AVG and 189 strikeouts with 1970 Giants.
  2. Ryan Howard: .313 AVG and 181 strikeouts with 2006 Phillies.
  3. Freddie Freeman: .302 AVG with 171 strikeouts for 2016 Braves.
  4. Sammy Sosa: .308 AVG with 171 strikeouts for 1998 Cubs.
  5. Sammy Sosa: .320 AVG with 168 strikeouts for 2000 Cubs.

The Yankee record for strikeouts by a .300 hitter belongs to Alfonso Soriano. He hit an even .300 with 157 strikeouts back in 2002. There have been 20 instances in history of player hitting .300+ with 150+ strikeouts. Sosa and Mo Vaughn are the only guys to do it multiple times. Judge is still striking out a ton (28.9 K%) this year, but man, when he makes contact, it is LOUD. I keep waiting for the .424 BABIP to come down, but the guy hits like three 115+ mph line drives a night.

Judge. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty)
Judge. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty)

Sean asks: With Judge at 5th in Avg, 1st in HR’s, and tied for 3rd in RBI’s in the AL, is it out of the question to start talking about the triple crown? With his new spot as number 3 hitter and they way he’s been consistently hitting, it seems like it’s certainly possible. At this rate he’s essentially a lock for ROY and is challenged only by Trout for MVP.

I read recently that no rookie has ever led all three Triple Crown categories as late into the season as Judge this year. (He held the lead outright in all three categories for a day earlier this week. I think it was Tuesday.) Here’s where Judge stood in the Triple Crown race prior to last night’s game:

  • AVG: .338 (second to Avisail Garcia .339)
  • HR: 22 (Logan Morrison is second with 18)
  • RBI: 49 (second to Nelson Cruz’s 52)

We’re still a long ways away from serious “okay he has a real chance to win the Triple Crown” talk — we have to wait until at least August for that, no? — but it sure is fun to think about right now, isn’t it? Heck, if you’re not talking about Judge maybe winning the Triple Crown right now, then what’s the point of being a fan? It’s fun and baseball is supposed to be fun. Go Judge, my large baseball mashing adult son.

Michael asks: At what point does Judge’s rookie season get put in the conversation for the greatest rookie season of all time? What past rookie season would even be in Judge’s conversation? (I know Ichiro‘s rookie year was amazing, even though he wasn’t a true rookie)

Right now. It’s time to start having this conversation. This is a topic worth its own post at some point, but here’s a quick list of the best rookie seasons by a position player in history:

HR OPS+ wRC+ fWAR bWAR
1. 1987 Mark McGwire (49) Judge (195) Judge (200) 2012 Mike Trout (+10.3) 2012 Mike Trout (+10.8)
2. 1956 Frank Robinson (38) 1911 Shoeless Joe (193) 1911 Shoeless Joe (184) 1914 Benny Kauff (+9.9) 1911 Shoeless Joe (+9.2)
3. 1930 Wally Berger (38) 2014 Jose Abreu (173) 2014 Jose Abreu (167) 1911 Shoeless Joe (+9.3) 1964 Dick Allen (+8.8)
4. 2001 Albert Pujols (37) 2012 Mike Trout (168) 1914 Benny Kauff (167) 1964 Dick Allen (+8.2) 1914 Benny Kauff (+7.8)
5. 1950 Al Rosen (37) 1914 Benn Kauff (165) 2012 Mike Trout (167) 1899 Jimmy Williams (+7.5) 2001 Ichiro Suzuki (+7.7)

Judge is currently on pace for +10.3 WAR, both the FanGraphs and Baseball Reference versions. Given the obvious issues with historical WAR — something tells me the defensive component for Shoeless Joe Jackson in 1911 might not be reliable — I’m inclined to look at offense only right now. That means Judge is up against guys like Trout, Abreu, and Pujols. Either way, WAR or offense only, Judge is doing stuff only a handful of rookies have done before. This will be fun to follow the rest of the season.

Kyle asks: How do minor league options work for international free agents? Are the Yankees allowed to option Tanaka to the minors? Or, does it need to be a phantom injury DL stint if this keeps up?

As best I can tell, there is nothing in Masahiro Tanaka‘s contract that prevents the Yankees from sending him down. Many of these overseas veterans have clauses put in their contracts that prevent teams from sending them down without the player’s consent. Eric Thames has one, for example. Also, Tanaka doesn’t have enough service time (needs five years) to refuse a minor league assignment.

So yes, the Yankees can send Tanaka down. I don’t see that happening though. That’s a pretty extreme measure and you risk making Tanaka, your best player last year and a guy you need to have a legitimate World Series chance this year, unhappy. That’s not good. Relationships are important. If anything, I think the Yankees would put him on the phantom disabled list. The Yankees have yet to do that though. They’re sticking with Tanaka because he shows enough flashes of snapping out of it. Sending him down ain’t happening.

Anthony asks: I am a big fan of Miguel Andujar. Not the most sexiest name in the loaded Yankee’s farm system but definitely a legitimate third base prospect. The writing is on the wall for Torres to take over third at some point this season. Where do you see Andujar fitting in the Yankee’s future plans? Can we safely assume he has the flexibility to learn a new position or does he become trade bait at this point?

I imagine Andujar is going to head to Triple-A Scranton fairly soon. He’s been at Double-A a year now — Wednesday was the anniversary of his promotion — and he’s hit .285/.330/.419 (106 wRC+) with nine homers and a 13.3% walk rate in 133 games and 570 plate appearances at the level. Andujar has been excellent of late too, hitting .385/.420/.635 (192 wRC+) over the last month. He’s figuring it out!

A promotion to Triple-A will complicate the infield situation because Torres and Tyler Wade have been working out at the hot corner, and Andujar has no experience at other positions. The Yankees have had him work out a bit at first base this year, though he’s yet to play there in a game. I suppose the outfield could be an option, though it seems unlikely. The Yankees have not yet had him work out there anyway. I’m not sure Andujar is equipped to play anywhere other than the infield corners.

Perhaps the inevitable Andujar promotion to Triple-A coincides with Torres being called up to MLB, which would answer the playing time questions. If not, well, I imagine Andujar would get the lion’s share of the playing time at third base for the RailRiders while Torres (and Wade) move around. What else would they do? I’m an Andujar fan and think he can be a starting big league third baseman, which would allow the Yankees to play Torres at second. Let’s wait until everyone is ready before we start to worry about who fits where though.

Will asks: Any talk in the last CBA negotiations about teams being able to trade picks? There has been a lot of parity in MLB over that past decade or so and I do feel like not being able to trade picks helps (keeps teams from making stupid trades) but I love the idea. I don’t follow them anymore but it makes the trades in the NBA and NFL much more interesting.

If MLB and the MLBPA talked about it prior to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement being finalized, it wasn’t reported anywhere. Apparently the concern is small market teams would trade all their draft picks to avoid spending on bonuses, which seems sorta silly. I’m pretty sure every front office in baseball right now is smart enough to know high draft picks are crucial to long-term success. Trading picks would be really interesting and I’d like to see it. There probably has to be some limitations though. Only picks in the top ten rounds, the picks tied to the bonus pool, are tradeable, maybe? If not, why not ask for, say, a 30th round pick to be added to every trade? I really hope MLB makes draft picks tradeable at some point. It would be fun and it would make the draft more interesting.

(Sean M. Haffey/Getty)
(Sean M. Haffey/Getty)

Anonymous asks: It seems lately in blowout games, that Gardner is usually the first to get pulled. (Saturday and Sunday for instance). Any trade speculation talks? Thanks.

It doesn’t have anything to do with trades. Gardner is the oldest regular position player on the roster — among guys who actually play the field, that is — and he’s played a ton lately with Jacoby Ellsbury out, so when Joe Girardi has a chance to get Gardner off his feet for a few innings, he does it. That’s all it is. There’s no greater meaning here.

Christian asks: In Monday’s game I was perplexed the Angels pitched to Judge with one out, Hicks at 2nd and 1st base empty… I’m glad they did. But it made me think if you would rather have Hicks hit a single or a double with one out? A single and they more or less have to pitch to Judge or a double to give the team a runner in scoring position in which case the smart move would be to walk Judge?

Yeah that made no sense to me at all. I get that Matt Holliday was on deck and he’s a dangerous hitter, but man, how do you pitch to Judge in the late innings of a tie game with first base open? Both Judge and Holliday are dangerous hitters. Walking Judge means you only have one great hitter to deal with rather than two. Whatever. The Angels pitched to Judge and he socked the go-ahead homer. Hooray for that.

Anyway, as for the question, give me the double over the single in that (and every) situation. I understand the thinking, that Aaron Hicks stopping at first base forces them to pitch to Judge, but in the late innings of a tie game, you’ve gotta get to second base if you can. If they walk Judge, so be it. Take the free baserunner. Give me first and second with one out and Holliday at the plate over a man on first and one out with Judge at the plate.

Ryan asks (short version): What about locking players up (Judge, Sanchez, etc,) to long term extensions à la Tampa & Longoria?

The Yankees absolutely should consider long-term extensions for their young players, which means Luis Severino in addition to Judge and Gary Sanchez. I’d prioritize extensions for those players in this order:

  1. Sanchez: Quality catchers are so hard to find and Sanchez very well might be the best hitting backstop in baseball for the next ten years.
  2. Judge: Love the guy, but he’s already under team control until his 31st birthday, and part of me worries about that big 6-foot-7, 282 lb. frame breaking down at some point.
  3. Severino: Pitchers break, man.

My guess is the Yankees won’t approach any of them about an extension until after they get under the luxury tax threshold next season. If the Yankees were give Sanchez, say, six years and $42M this offseason, he’d count as $7M against the luxury tax payroll next season, not his near league minimum salary as a pre-arbitration-eligible player. That hurts their chances to get under the luxury tax threshold. You could easily argue that, in the big picture, signing Sanchez now would save more than enough long-term to justify the luxury tax hit, but it’s not like the Yankees couldn’t afford to sign him down the road anyway.

Kyle asks: How soon after you draft a player can you trade him? I know you can’t trade draft picks but I am wondering if there are any way to circumvent the restriction by making trades post-draft.

After the season. They changed that rule not too long ago. Teams used to have to wait one calendar year after the player signed his first pro contract to trade him. They used to get around that by including them in deals as players to be named later. That’s what happened with Trea Turner. He was included in that big Wil Myers trade as a player to be named, and he had to stay with the Padres until he was eligible to be officially traded. It was a crappy situation for everyone. Turner was essentially a Nationals employee under Padres management. Because of that, they changed the rule. Drafted players can be traded right after the season, which is how Dansby Swanson went to the Braves in the Shelby Miller deal.

John asks: Who do you think the Yankees will send to the Fall League?

We’re still a ways away from the Arizona Fall League rosters being officially announced. They usually aren’t released until the end of August. As always, the best AzFL candidates are players who missed time with injury this season. That makes Dillon Tate (shoulder), Albert Abreu (elbow), and Dietrich Enns (shoulder) prime candidates. Top Double-A and Triple-A prospects are always candidates too. Wade, Torres, Andujar, Fowler, etc. They could be in the mix.

Because the Yankees have so many quality prospects eligible for the Rule 5 Draft after the season, I could see them using the AzFL as sort of a “last gasp” to evaluate guys on the 40-man roster bubble. Billy McKinney, for example. He has talent, and even though he hasn’t hit much, you’d still hate to lose him for nothing. The AzFL could buy the Yankees some more time to evaluate him before making a decision about the roster. Others like Tito Polo, Thairo Estrada, Ian Clarkin, Rashad Crawford, and J.P. Feyereisen could fit into that class too.

Mailbag: Yelich, Wade, Cozart, Domingos, Schwarber, Hicks

Thirteen questions in this week’s mailbag. The email address for all mailbag related correspondence is RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. We’re getting more questions this year than we did the last few seasons, probably because the Yankees are good now, so don’t feel discouraged if yours doesn’t get picked. Keep trying.

Yelich. (Stephen Brashear/Getty)
Yelich. (Stephen Brashear/Getty)

Alessandro asks: So if the Marlins do indeed make Christian Yelich available, that’s someone we should totally go after, right?

Yup. Ken Rosenthal (video link) recently reported the Marlins will be “wide open” at the trade deadline and will listen to offers for basically everyone, including Yelich. Yelich is off to a slow start this season — he’s hitting .268/.348/.406 (101 wRC+) so far — but it’s only a matter of time until that turns around. The facts:

  • He is still only 25 years old and he will spend the entire season at that age.
  • He had a 118 wRC+ every year from 2013-15 — literally 118 on the nose all three years — before breaking out and hitting .298/.376/.483 (130 wRC+) with a career high 21 home runs in 2016.
  • He is an excellent defensive outfielder who can remain in center field for the foreseeable future.
  • He is owed $43.25M from 2018-21 with a $15M club option for 2022, so he’s signed through his age 30 season.

Also, Yelich is basically a shift proof left-handed hitter. He goes the other way as well and as often as anyone. His power spike last year was the result of him finally figuring out how to pull the ball a little more often. Here is his 2016 spray chart, via Baseball Savant:

christian-yelich-2016-spray-chart

It’s beautiful. So, to recap, Yelich is a 25-year-old left-handed hitter who hits the ball to all fields while playing a mean center field and being signed affordably for another five seasons behind 2017. That is someone you pursue very aggressively if the Marlins do indeed make him available. Yelich would fit the Yankees’ youth movement perfectly.

What will it take to get him? A lot, obviously. The Nationals gave up two top 50 prospects (Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez) plus a third good prospect (Dane Dunning) for Adam Eaton, who like Yelich is signed affordably long-term, but is also three years older and has an uglier injury history. (Even before the recent knee injury.)

It would in no way be unreasonable for the Marlins to ask for Gleyber Torres in a Yelich trade. Fortunately the Yankees have the prospects to make it happen without including Gleyber. In that case we’re talking a package that includes Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield, a really good third piece like Dustin Fowler or Chance Adams, and probably a really good fourth piece too. I’d seriously consider it. Then again, I’ve been a Yelich guy since he was in the minors, so I’m biased.

Bill asks: I know the plan is to groom Gleyber to take over 3rd, but reality is he probably needs a few months in AAA. Why isn’t Wade being discussed more for 3rd? He has played multiple positions (including 3rd if I’m not mistaken) and he has had a great year at AAA. Seems like a logical move unless his defense at 3rd is that bad.

I’m sure the Yankees are considering Tyler Wade for third base too, but no one is really talking about him because he’s not the sexy top prospect like Torres. Keep in mind Wade has even less third base experience than Gleyber at the moment. Wade has started seven games at the position in his career, all this season. He also played one game there in the Arizona Fall League. Torres has 12 games at the hot corner this year (and for his career). They’re both new to third base. Like I said, I definitely think Wade is someone the Yankees are considering. He’s just not a sexy enough prospect to generate headlines.

Dan asks: With the surprising move of the Yankees reinstating Tyler Austin from the 60-Day DL and optioning him to AAA, I was wondering if there could be any service-time thresholds the Yankees might be trying to avoid? If yes, when would he be an option to come back up?

I seriously doubt it. The Yankees activated Austin because his 20-day minor league rehab stint was about to expire, and they optioned him because they believe Chris Carter is the better first baseman. It’s really that simple. It’s not worth worrying about Austin’s service time. A year and a half ago he was designated for assignment and unclaimed on waivers. He’s someone you call up whenever he’s ready, get whatever you can out of him, then move on when the time comes. There’s no reason to manipulate service time with non-elite prospects, especially if you’re the Yankees.

Michael asks: If Ellsbury is still out as the deadline approaches do we go out and get more of a true 4th outfielder?

I hadn’t thought about that. Seems possible, right? I suppose it depends what the Yankees want to do with Frazier and Fowler. Are they comfortable using either as a true fourth outfielder, meaning only occasional spot start duty? I don’t like that idea. I’d rather let them play everyday in Triple-A. In that case picking up a veteran fourth outfielder who passes the “better than Mason Williams” test at the deadline wouldn’t be a bad idea. I don’t know who that could be. Rajai Davis? Cameron Maybin? Gregor Blanco? Right now, Rob Refsnyder is the fourth outfielder, and that’s not good.

Cozart. (Andy Lyons/Getty)
Cozart. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Steve asks: How about Cozart an outside the box trade for 3B? I know he has only ever played SS but with his defense I imagine he could be moved to 3B and handle it easily enough….FA at the end of the year, and wouldn’t cost a lot of prospects, just an idea. Thoughts?

Interesting idea. Zack Cozart has been unreal this season. He’s hitting .346/.430/.612 (170 wRC+) with nine homers — he passed Aaron Judge in fWAR the other day (+3.3 to +3.1) — plus he’s an outstanding defensive shortstop. Has been for years. Cozart has never played third base though, not even in the minors, so you’d be asking him to learn the position on the fly. That seems like a bad idea even for someone with his defensive skills.

I’m of the belief that you shouldn’t pay for outlier performance at the trade deadline, and even though Cozart has been a solid player throughout his career, he’s never done anything close to this with the bat before. Maybe it’s a legit breakout (at age 31)! Do you want to bet a boatload of prospects on it at the deadline? I’d rather not, though I like the outside the box thinking. Cozart is an impending free agent, so the Reds are going to trade him. My guess is he winds up with the Nationals. They’ll go with Cozart at short and put Trea Turner back in center field to cover for the Eaton injury.

Dan asks: The two Sundays, Acevedo and German, can you tell us if they either of them are rotation options this year?

Domingo German yes, Domingo Acevedo no. Acevedo is more of a 2018 guy. Also, I don’t think German is someone the Yankees could count on for more than a spot start right now either. He’s having a fine season and by all accounts his stuff has returned following Tommy John surgery, but he had never pitched above High-A prior to this season. I could see him getting called up to make a spot start because he is already on the 40-man roster — not to mention a token September call-up to sit in the bullpen all month — but probably nothing more this year. Acevedo just got to Double-A himself and there are too many MLB ready (or readier) arms ahead of him at the moment. I don’t see him debuting in 2017.

Dave asks (short version): With Chance Adams pitching so well, doesn’t a six-man rotation make sense for them right now? Most of the rotation could use the extra rest (Tanaka, CC) or the limited innings (Sevy, Jordan).

The Yankees have been playing with a three-man bench and an eight-man bullpen for a few weeks now, and of course that eight-reliever isn’t pitching a whole lot. Right now Gio Gallegos is the eighth reliever with Tommy Layne the “he doesn’t pitch much either” seventh reliever. Carrying a sixth starter instead of an eighth reliever seems like a better use of the roster spot. It’ll give the regular five starters extra rest — surely Luis Severino is on some sort of workload limit, right? — and also give Adams a chance to cut his teeth in the show. My official 25th roster spot power rankings:

  1. Fourth bench player, especially with first and third bases being so bad these last few weeks.
  2. Sixth starter to give everyone extra rest throughout the season.
  3. Eighth reliever who pitches maybe once a week. Maybe.

And there you have it.

Nate asks: Buster Olney hinted on the podcast that the Cubs may be souring on Schwarber. Would a package of Fowler + Sheffield + another arm make sense for both sides? Seems like Schwarber could do well in YS as a 1b/DH.

I wouldn’t trade Fowler for Kyle Schwarber straight up. I’ve never been a Schwarber guy. Said it all last year during the trade rumors. Let’s look at this objectively and strip away the Cubs hype. Schwarber is a career .212/.328/.435 (108 wRC+) big league hitter — he’s at .173/.298/.377 (81 wRC+) in 2017 — with a 29.0% strikeout rate, and against lefties, he’s hit .141/.262/.216 (47 wRC+) with a 39.3% strikeout rate. That’s not a new problem either. There were always concerns about Schwarber’s inability to hit lefties, and everyone just kinda ignored them for some reason.

Furthermore, Schwarber has no position. He’s a designated hitter all the way. And he’s a negative on the bases who recently had a major knee injury. Schwarber has left-handed power and patience against righties, and the Yankees do love that, but he offers literally nothing else. He’s a platoon designated hitter. I’m not saying I wouldn’t take him under the right circumstances, but Fowler and Sheffield and more? Not a chance. Schwarber’s upside is too limited given his skill set. His best years might be +3 WAR.

Schwarber. (Jon Durr/Getty)
Schwarber. (Jon Durr/Getty)

Gene asks: Putting contract and free agent issues aside, if you were the Yankees front office, if you could would you trade Aaron Judge straight up for Mookie Betts?

Yes. If we completely ignore contract status and service time and all that, and focus only on talent and expected production going forward, I would take Betts over Judge. He’s a few months younger, his combination of contact (career 11.7 K%) and power (career .196 ISO) is extremely rare, plus he adds a ton of value on the bases and in the field. I love Judge. He’s the man and I’m glad the Yankees have him. But Betts is the better player. I’d rather have him going forward. Now, that said, Betts will be a free agent following the 2020 season. Judge won’t be a free agent until after 2022. I’d take six years of Judge over four years of Betts.

Gai asks: Do you buy into Aaron Hicks‘ success this season? Where do you think he fits in long term? He’s a former top prospect and having an incredible eye is a very important trait to have as a hitter, so it makes me excited to think Hicks might actually be a long term solution.

Yes I buy into Hicks turning things around for real, no I don’t buy him as a true talent .315/.426/.550 (163 wRC+) hitter going forward. I would love to see Hicks keep that up, but I don’t expect it. That would be amazing. I think he could settle in long-term around, say, .280/.380/.450, which is obviously really good. Keep in mind though that Hicks will become a free agent after the 2019 season, so it’s not like he’s under control super long-term. Perhaps the Yankees should approach him about an extension? Eh. Might be a little too soon for that. I’m excited Hicks has turned it around and I’m excited he’s complicated the outfielder picture even further.

Quintin: Judge seems to always have long at bats. Does he rank 1st on the team in terms of pitches per plate appearance? Where does he rank in the MLB? Also, even though he’s having an amazing year, do you think it would benefit him to be a little more aggressive earlier in his at bats? Thanks!

Judge does always have long at-bats. He’s averaging 4.36 pitches per plate appearance, which leads the Yankees and is seventh high among all qualified hitters in baseball. The top seven:

  1. Anthony Rendon, Nationals: 4.49 pitches per plate appearance
  2. Curtis Granderson, Mets: 4.48
  3. Kyle Schwarber, Cubs: 4.46
  4. Todd Frazier, White Sox: 4.46
  5. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: 4.41
  6. Jayson Werth, Nationals: 4.39
  7. Aaron Judge, Yankees: 4.36

Brett Gardner (4.26), Matt Holliday (4.23), and Chase Headley (4.18) are all in the top 25 as well. Working the count is great and all, but at the end of the day, you’re trying to get a pitch to hit, and if that pitch comes early in the at-bat, so be it. I don’t think it would be a bad thing for Judge to be a little more aggressive early in the count, but what he’s doing right now is working so well that it’s not much of a concern at all.

Jeff asks: Inspired by Cone talking about Gardner’s base running prowess since he entered the league… is there any data that compares the value of stolen base % vs total bases stolen? As in, would you rather have someone go 15-for-15 in SBs or someone who goes 20-for-25? Thanks.

Sure. In the calculation for wOBA, the value of a stolen base is held constant at +0.2 runs year to year. The value of a caught stealing changes each year depending on the offensive environment. In a high scoring era with a lot of homers, a caught stealing is more damaging than it is in a low offensive era. Losing baserunners when the ball is flying is bad. When runs are at a premium, steals are worth the risk.

So anyway, stolen bases are held constant at +0.2 runs. This year a caught stealing is worth -0.416 runs. So going 15-for-15 in steal attempts is worth +3.0 runs (15 x 0.2). Going 20-for-25 equals +1.92 runs ([20 x 0.2] + [5 x -0.416]). In theory, going 15-for-15 is more valuable than going 20-for-25 because losing those five baserunners hurts more than the extra 90-feet five times helps. The stolen base is a weird thing though. In the eighth inning of a tie game, a stolen base could be huge. In a fifth inning of a blowout, it’s meaningless. I’ve always felt the blanket “steals are +0.2 runs” statement was overly simplistic.

Alex asks: Is it time to start thinking about Judge or Sanchez as the next captain of the Yankees? This year is obviously early, but in the next few seasons would that make sense for one of them?

Way too early. Way way way too early. Derek Jeter wasn’t named captain until 2003, in the eighth season of his career. He’d won four World Series and signed a massive ten-year contract by then. The Yankees knew he was sticking around. Don Mattingly wasn’t named captain until 1991. We’ve got a long way to go before the Yankees name another captain, I believe. I do think Judge is captain material because he’s an extreme team first guy with a great work ethic. People gravitate to him. Let’s just let Aaron Judge be Aaron Jdge for a while before we worry about naming captains. The same is true with Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Gleyber Torres, whoever.

Mailbag: Pitchers, Torres, Headley, Green, Harvey, Chapman

Big mailbag this week. Fifteen questions. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send your questions throughout the week.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Ross asks: Assuming Tanaka opts out at the end of the season, who would you re-sign of Tanaka, Pineda, and CC and what is the contract value/years you would be willing to pay?

Well, if Masahiro Tanaka opts out, it’ll be because he’s looking for more than the three years and $67M left on his contract. This is a difficult question to answer because he’s been so bad this year. Before this season I was thinking Johnny Cueto money (six years, $120M). Now? Hard to see that happening. Jeff Samardzija money (five years, $90M)? Brandon McCarthy money (four years, $48M)? It really depends how the rest of the season plays out.

Michael Pineda, if he keeps doing what he’s been doing, will best McCarthy’s contract, I believe. He’s still on the right side of 30, and he’s been pretty durable the last three years. CC Sabathia is a year-to-year guy at this point. One year, $10M to $12M or so. How’s this sound?

  • Tanaka: Four years and $80M with a Lackey clause (fifth year at the league minimum if he needs Tommy John surgery at some point during the life of the contract)
  • Pineda: Four years and $60M.
  • Sabathia: One year and $10M.

Those are my current guesses — and I emphasize, these are only guesses — as to what these guys will receive this coming offseason. I’d be open to re-signing all of them, especially if Tanaka is healthy and rights the ship soon. The Yankees have a lot of young pitching in the minors and that’s exciting, but give me as much pitching depth as possible. I’m definitely open to re-signing those guys at those terms.

Many asked: Why did Tanaka get the loss against the A’s???

One of baseball’s many weird scoring quirks, that’s why. Let’s set the scene: Tanaka dominated the A’s last week, striking out 13 in 7.1 innings. He left a runner on first base for Tyler Clippard in a scoreless game. Clippard threw a pickoff throw away, allowing the runner to get to third. The next batter hit a weak grounder to Chase Headley, who threw home for the out. That erased Tanaka’s runner! Clippard then allowed the runner who reached first base on the fielder’s choice to score, yet Tanaka was charged with the loss. Rule 9.16(g) explains this. Emphasis mine:

When pitchers are changed during an inning, the official scorer shall not charge the relief pitcher with any run (earned or unearned) scored by a runner who was on base at the time such relief pitcher entered the game, nor for runs scored by any runner who reaches base on a fielder’s choice that puts out a runner left on base by any preceding pitcher.

So because the runner who scored the go-ahead run initially reached base on a fielder’s choice in which the out was recorded on Tanaka’s runner, the run was charged to Tanaka. How stupid is that? That’s the rule though, so Tanaka got the loss against the Athletics last week. And there you have it.

Todd asks: I’m gonna need a ruling here. If Gleyber Torres makes it up to the show this year, do we get a revote for a new watch or does he stay on the sidebar all year regardless of level?

No re-vote! Torres stays in the sidebar all year, for better or worse. We’ve had other Prospect Watch players get called up to the big leagues in the past. Joba Chamberlain for sure. I’m pretty sure Jesus Montero as well. (I forget exactly what year Montero was the Prospect Watch guy.) The Prospect Watch is perpetual. Every game Gleyber plays this season will be added, regardless of level.

Matt asks: I see two trade suggestions all the time for the 2017 Yankees: either get a LHRP or a high end starter, but who wants to give up prospects for a reliever and who gets bumped from the rotation? That made me think, what if our high leverage lefty is the guy who gets bumped out? Is it just me, or wouldn’t CC Sabathia be a killer reliever if he airs it out an inning at a time?

Sabathia’s numbers against lefties aren’t great this year — they were hitting .278/.375/.314 (.317 wOBA) against him going into last night’s start — but that’s small sample size noise more than anything. Sabathia handled lefties well last season (.294 wOBA) and all throughout his career. Who knows, maybe his fastball will tick back up into the 93-95 mph range in the bullpen. That’d be cool. The big question is how will Sabathia handle the adjustment to the bullpen? How quickly will he warm up, that sort of thing. This is all hypothetical, of course. The Yankees won’t move Sabathia to the bullpen. But, if they add another starter, moving him wouldn’t be a bad idea given his age and impending free agency.

Jackson asks: The Yankees can trade for about up to an additional $3.6 million in IFA salary cap. What type of player(s) would the Yanks have to give up to max out to this number so that they can increase their chances of getting Otani?

Those international bonus slots usually don’t fetch much in a trade. The White Sox just traded a Single-A reliever, Alex Kratz, for roughly $750,000 in international bonus money last month. Kratz was a 27th round pick two years ago and isn’t really a prospect. A fringe prospect at best, basically. Based on that, acquiring a bunch of additional bonus money will be easy! But you have to find teams willing to trade their bonus money away, and I don’t think that’ll be easy. Most teams are looking to add spending money, not give it away.

Green. (Presswire)
Green. (Presswire)

Brian asks: Jack Curry suggested on the pregame show that Chad Green start getting high leverage relief innings over Clippard and Warren. I agree wholeheartedly. How long do you think before this starts occurring?

I’m not sure I’d have Green replace Clippard and Adam Warren in the late innings yet, but I would like to see him get some more responsibility. Now that Warren is the Seventh Inning Guy™ while Aroldis Chapman is out, the Yankees could use Green in the old Adam Warren role, that do everything reliever. One of my predictions coming into the season was Green emerging as a dominant reliever because he’s got a great fastball and a good enough slider (and no changeup, which makes starting hard). Right now it seems the bullpen pecking order is Chapman, Dellin Betances, Clippard, Warren, Jonathan Holder. Holder’s been fine, but I’d like to see Green used in some of those spots going forward.

Jim asks: The Yankees seem to be awful at hitting with RISP. But are they? How do they compare to the rest of the league??

I’ve been writing about baseball for more than a decade now, and my time at MLBTR and FanGraphs and CBS has exposed me to the fanbases of all 30 teams. And during that time, I’ve learned one thing: everyone thinks their team stinks at hitting with running in scoring position. That’s what happens when three hits in ten at-bats is considered a success. Anyway, here are where the Yankees ranked at hitting with running in scoring position going into last night’s game:

  • AVG: .240 (18th in MLB)
  • OBP: .322 (23rd)
  • SLG: .477 (5th)
  • wRC+: 111 (10th)

Middle of the pack in AVG, near the top in SLG, but bottom third in OBP. That’s annoying. I’d worry more about the OBP and AVG right now. Make fewer outs in any situation and good things will happen.

Dan asks: Could the solution to Chase Headley’s struggles be a platoon? As of this email, he is OPS’ing .749 against RHP’s and .476 against LHP’s. Torreyes is perfectly capable of hitting in a platoon with Headley if they go that route.

Interesting, I hadn’t thought about that. Going into last night’s game Headley was hitting .259/.358/.405 (111 wRC+) against righties and .173/.189/.269 (15 wRC+) against lefties. Headley has many more at-bats against righties though, and frankly he’s looked hopeless against all pitchers lately, so I’m not sure how much I’d read into those numbers. His platoon split has been pretty small the last few years too. Given how bad he’s been, I’m totally cool with giving more third base starts to Ronald Torreyes going forward. If that means a straight platoon, so be it.

Kyle asks: Are there any active Haitian ballplayers? Sharing an island with DR, one would believe baseball would still be prevalent. Any idea why so little crossover?

It’s weird, right? One side of the island produces gobs of baseball talent while the other doesn’t. Bruce Schoenfeld wrote about this earlier this year. Apparently a lot of Haitian players keep their backgrounds a secret and identify themselves as Dominican. My guess there are more than a few Haitian players in the show and we just don’t know it because they’re considered Dominican. The Yankees do have a prominent Haitian player in their farm system: Estevan Florial. Perhaps if he reaches the show and makes a name for himself, it’ll inspire other young players to identify themselves as Haitian rather than Dominican.

Anonymous asks: What are the chances the Mets non tender Matt Harvey? If that happens, does Cash make a run? I would think if given a choice Harvey would take less money (slightly less) to stay in New York.

Not happening. The non-tender thing. The only way the Mets will non-tender Harvey is if he suffers a catastrophic injury that will sideline him all of next season. It would have to be a Nathan Eovaldi situation. Why pay him a big arbitration salary to rehab in 2018 only to have him become a free agent after the season? If anything, the Mets will tender Harvey a contract and trade him. They won’t let him go for nothing. Also, Harvey might be one of the least likely players in the big leagues to take less to go anywhere. He seems like he’s going to chase every last dollar, like most big name Scott Boras clients. In the off chance the Mets do non-tender Harvey, I’m certain the Yankees would kick the tires.

Chapman. (Presswire)
Chapman. (Presswire)

Sam asks: Would a Dustin Fowler for Matt Chapman prospect swap make sense? Both are in AAA and have similar prospect rankings with Chapman just in the top 100 and Fowler just out on most lists. Chapman would be an immediate upgrade in the field and likely at the plate over Headley and the A’s are in desperate need of a real CF. It feels like it would improve both clubs right now. And yes I know #MTPS.

Interesting! They’re both fringe top 100 prospects, so in that sense they’re equals. Fowler is a very good defensive center fielder while Chapman is a Gold Glove caliber defender at third. He’s a defensive stud. Both guys have spent the entire season in Triple-A, so here’s the side-by-side statistical comparison:

  • Fowler: .312/.348/.583 (155 wRC+), 9 HR, 7 SB, 5.2 BB%, 18.6 K%
  • Chapman: .242/.333/.563 (125 wRC+), 11 HR, 4 SB, 12.0 BB%, 30.7 K%

They are very different hitters. Fowler is a contact lefty with some power. Chapman is a grip it and rip it righty who will strike out a bunch, but also hit the ball over the fence more often. Also, Chapman is nearly two full years older than Fowler, which is kind of a big deal. Chapman would, in theory, fill a hole for the Yankees because they need a long-term third baseman. Problem is the A’s need a long-term third baseman too.

I don’t think Fowler-for-Chapman is unfair in terms of value, nor am I against trading Fowler for anything, let alone a third baseman of the future. I just worry about Chapman’s swing and miss tendencies. I’m inclined to say keep Fowler and see if one of the 900 shortstops in the farm system can play third base long-term.

Zeke asks: What do you think about the idea of trading Aaron Hicks now and call-up Dustin Fowler? Really appreciate your blog! Great quality!

Not a bad idea as long as Fowler plays a ton, as Hicks has so far this year. If they call Fowler up only to use him like a true fourth outfielder, meaning once or twice a week, then forget it. I don’t like it. I don’t think that would happen though. Another thing: how much trade value does Hicks have? That’s not easy to answer. Are teams buying into this year’s version, or do they still see him as a reclamation project? I guess the answer to this mailbag question depends on what you’re getting back in the trade. If you’re trading Hicks as part of a package for a young starter, sure. If you’re dumping him only to open a roster spot for Fowler, nah.

John asks: With Severino’s latest good start in Baltimore on 5/30, it looks like he’s doing a great job mixing up his pitches. Last season one of the big talks with him was the lost change-up. How often has he been throwing it this year and how successful has it been?

Luis Severino admitted last year that he lost confidence in his changeup, which is why he rarely threw it towards the end of the season. Even when he went back into the rotation. Anyway, here are the changeup numbers:

% Thrown Avg. Velo Whiff% GB%
2015 14.6% 88.6 19.3% 63.2%
2016 9.7% 90.0 8.5% 46.4%
2017 9.4% 88.1 9.7% 50.0%
MLB AVG 12.2% 84.1 14.9% 47.8%

He’s been throwing the changeup as often as last season, which seems wrong. It seems like he’s using the pitch much more this year. Overall, the changeup hasn’t been great. Below average swing-and-miss rate and basically an average ground ball rate. Then again, Severino doesn’t need it to be a great pitch. It would be cool if it was, but he doesn’t need it to be. He’s a fastball-slider pitcher, first and foremost. Severino just needs the changeup to give hitters something else to think about. I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen from him this year. How could you not be?

Michael asks: I am reflecting back on one of my favorite Yankees from the 2000s. I believe this was before StatCast existed. My question for you is: Do you think the liners Gary Sheffield hit were as fast or faster than the 119 MPH Statcast record for a home run Judge hit earlier this year against the O’s?

Statcast was introduced back in 2015, so no, it wasn’t around for Sheffield, unfortunately. He was the original exit velocity king, even toward the end of his career. Sheffield’s bat speed was insane. The ball exploded off his bat. It amazes me that he could swing that violently and still retire with a 10.7% strikeout rate and a 13.5% walk rate. My guess is Sheffield produced exit velocities on par with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. That 119-120 mph range might be the human limit, you know? At least for now. In a few years players will be even bigger and stronger. Remember how only a handful of guys threw 95 mph back in the day, and now everyone throws 95? At some point dudes will be hitting the ball 119 mph on the regular, probably.

Alex asks: Zack Littell is putting up great stat lines in High-A for the second straight season, but it seems that there’s no room for him in the Trenton rotation, especially since Rogers and Acevedo just got moved up ahead of him. Does he have to wait until next year to get promoted and will that stunt his development?

So far this season Littell, who came over from the Mariners in the James Pazos trade, has a 2.03 ERA (3.62 FIP) in 53.1 innings with High-A Tampa. He split last season between Low-A and High-A, so between this year and last year, he has thrown 121.1 innings at High-A. That’s a good amount, though keeping him there a little longer wouldn’t be a big deal. At some point a Double-A rotation spot will open up and he’ll get the call. These things have a way of working themselves out. I think Littell gets to Double-A sometime in August and starts next season there as well.