Thoughts following the Matt Holliday signing

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last night the Yankees addressed one of their major offseason needs and landed a new DH. The team agreed to sign veteran Matt Holliday to a one-year contract worth $13M. Once he takes his physical and all that — I guess that’s something less than a formality considering a broken thumb effectively ended his season in August — the deal will be official. Until then, here are some thoughts.

1. My quick personal take: I like the signing. I don’t love it and I don’t hate it. It’s a solid, reasonable move. I would have preferred Carlos Beltran on a one-year contract myself, but Carlos had other ideas, so the Yankees moved on to the next best thing. I didn’t want Chris Carter’s or Mike Napoli’s strikeouts, or Brandon Moss’ or Pedro Alvarez’s pulled grounders into the shift. Holliday is, as announcers like to say, a professional hitter who is going to grind out at-bats. That’s pretty cool. The Yankees have lacked that in recent years. Plus Holliday is said to be a great clubhouse guy, and that’s important, especially with the team focusing on getting younger. The kids need someone to show them the way.

2. I’m really glad the Yankees did the sensible thing and stuck to a one-year contract. Edwin Encarnacion is awesome — that dude is absolutely terrifying at the plate — but committing huge dollars to a DH is not something the Yankees should be doing right now. They just got rid of how many expensive DHs this year, three? Maybe four? Whatever the number is, it was too many. The Yankees are trending young and that’s pretty damn exciting. Spending big on an inflexible DH would have complicated things, especially since the team is trying to get under the luxury tax threshold. Encarnacion would make sense if the Yankees were on the postseason bubble and trying to get over the hump, not trying to groom their next young core. A one-year deal was always the way to go.

3. One reason to expect Holliday’s numbers to bounce back next season: his .253 BABIP was by far a career low and well below his career .333 BABIP. That happened even though his hard contact rate (38.5%) was comfortably above the MLB average (31.4%) and his career average (35.6%). In fact, among the 375 players to put at least 100 balls in play this past season, Holliday had the third highest average exit velocity (94.7 mph). Only Nelson Cruz (95.9 mph) and Giancarlo Stanton (95.1 mph) were better. Miguel Cabrera (94.5 mph) was fourth. That is some good company. Also, according to Mike Petriello, Holliday put 42.5% of his balls in play at 100 mph or better, the fourth best rate in baseball. Exit velocity isn’t everything — it’s possible to hit a 100 mph pop-up, you know — but it’s not nothing either. Holliday can still strike the ball with authority. That suggests that .253 BABIP, which was so far out of line with the rest of his career, might not last.

4. One more reason to expect Holliday’s numbers to bounce back next season: the guy hits to all fields. A right-handed hitter who can go to right field will be rewarded in Yankee Stadium. Handsomely too. Here is Holliday’s spray chart from this past season, via Baseball Savant:

matt-holliday

That is a beautiful thing. Holliday, even at age 36, still hit for power to all fields this summer. Homers and doubles, from foul pole to foul pole. (I won’t hold my breath waiting for triples.) There’s nothing wrong with pulling the ball. Not at all. But being to hit for power to all three fields is what separates great hitters from good hitters, and over the course of his career, Holliday has truly been a great hitter. That .303/.382/.515 (137 wRC+) batting line in nearly 7,500 plate appearances ain’t no accident. This dude is a total pro at the plate.

5. The key to the Holliday signing is keeping him out of the outfield. He’s a very poor defensive left fielder and has been for years. Both the eye test and the defensive stats agree on that. The Yankees should consider him an emergency option out there only. The team has enough outfield depth that I’m hopeful Holliday won’t have to play left field at all. Even if the Yankees trade Brett Gardner, there’s still Aaron Hicks, Tyler Austin, Rob Refsnyder, and Mason Williams, and those are only the 40-man roster guys. Holliday has ten games of experience at first base, all in 2016, so if he does need to play the field, hopefully it’s there. The entire point is getting off his feet though. Holliday’s an older player, and the entire idea behind the signing is that limiting him to DH will help keep him healthy and prevent him from wearing down later in the season. If he ends up playing the field regularly, either at first base or left field, it’s a problem.

6. There is still an awful lot of offseason left to go, so it’s silly to think the Yankees are done making moves. But, as it stands right now, the lineup probably looks something like this, realistically:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. DH Matt Holliday
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. 2B Starlin Castro
  7. 1B Greg Bird
  8. RF Aaron Judge
  9. 3B Chase Headley

Eh? That leaves Austin Romine, Ronald Torreyes, Hicks, and either Austin or Refsnyder on the bench. Gardner and/or Headley could still be traded, which would obviously change things, but that’s the lineup right now, on December 5th. I have no idea whether that lineup can score runs at an above-average rate. At least it’s mostly young with some upside. That’ll be fun.

7. Ridiculously premature 2017-18 offseason thought: I hope the Yankees are in on Carlos Santana, who will be a free agent. He’s always been a personal favorite — switch-hitters with power and patience are my jam — and he’d step right into Holliday’s roster spot and annual salary slot nicely. Santana, who turns 31 in April, will command multiple years though, which could throw a wrench into the long-term payroll plans. Otherwise he’d be a really great fit as a most of the time DH/part-time first baseman/emergency catcher. I’ll spend the next eleven months pretending Holliday is a placeholder for Santana. That sounds good.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 5th, 2016

2016 Season Record: 84-78 (680 RS, 702 RA, 79-83 pythag. record), 5.0 GB of postseason spot

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George Steinbrenner not elected into Hall of Fame by Today’s Game Era Committee

(AP)
(AP)

Earlier tonight, the Today’s Game Era Committee announced former commissioner Bud Selig and longtime executive John Schuerholz have been voted into the Hall of Fame. George Steinbrenner was one of eight others on the ballot who did not receive enough votes for induction.

The Today’s Game Era Committee is one of four new Hall of Fame committees. They’re the descendant of the old Veterans Committee. Each of the four committees — Early Baseball (1871-1949), Golden Days (1950-69), Modern Baseball (1970-87), Today’s Game (1988-16) — meets every few years.

Each committee consists of 16 members (Hall of Famers, executives, media) and 12 votes are needed for induction into the Hall of Fame. Steinbrenner received five. For shame. Schuerholz, the long time Royals and Braves general manager, was voted in unanimously. Selig received 15 votes.

Steinbrenner was been up for Hall of Fame induction several times over the years. He purchased the Yankees in 1973 and brought the franchise back to prominence. There’s no doubt Steinbrenner was polarizing. He was also a key figure in baseball for over 30 years. Is that enough to get into the Hall of Fame? Apparently not.

Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Mark McGwire, and Lou Piniella were also on the Today’s Game ballot this year. The BBWAA’s Hall of Fame selections will be announced next month.

Weekend Open Thread

TGIF, for real. I’m looking forward to the Winter Meetings next week, but I’m mostly just happy this week is over. This was a long one for me. Anyway, as you wait for all hot stove hell to break loose next week, here are a few links worth checking out this weekend. A couple of these pieces are a few weeks old. Sorry. I didn’t get around to reading them until this week.

Friday: This is tonight’s open thread. Not a whole lot going on in the world of sports this evening. Just the Knicks and one college hoops game. It’s Friday night though. Go out and get some fresh air.

Saturday: Once again, this is the open thread. The Rangers and Devils are playing right now while the Nets will be in action a little later. There’s also a boatload of college basketball and football. Have at it.

Sunday: Here is the open thread for the last time. The Islanders and Knicks are on, plus there’s all the day’s NFL action and college hoops as well. Talk about all that stuff and more right here.

Update: Jacob Lindgren signs with Braves after non-tender

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Sunday: Well, so much for that. Lindgren has signed a one-year Major League contract with the Braves, the team announced. They’ve had a thing for hoarding ex-Yankees the last few years. I’m guessing the Yankees wanted to retain Lindgren on a minor league deal, but once Atlanta offered a big league contract, that was that.

Friday: Prior to tonight’s deadline, the Yankees non-tendered left-hander Jacob Lindgren, the team announced. He’s now a free agent. All other pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players received contract offers. The Yankees now have one open spot on the 40-man roster.

Lindgren will miss the entire 2017 season following Tommy John surgery, and his non-tender is not entirely unexpected. Chances are the Yankees will look to re-sign him to a minor league contract now, which allows them to keep him in the organization as a non-40-man player.

The Yankees have made the non-tender/re-sign move several times in the past, most notably with Slade Heathcott, Vicente Campos, and Domingo German. They were all hurt at the time too. The non-tender allows the Yankees to remove Lindgren from the 40-man without exposing him to waivers.

Lindgren, 23, threw only seven innings this past season, during which he walked nine and uncorked six wild pitches with High-A Tampa. He landed on the disabled list shortly thereafter and had Tommy John surgery later in the summer. Sucks, but what can you do?

The open 40-man roster spot means the Yankees will be able to make a selection in the Rule 5 Draft next Thursday. They haven’t made a Rule 5 Draft pick since 2011. Odds are against it, but who knows. Maybe they take a flier on a bullpen arm or a Josh Phelps type for first base depth.

Premature Lineup Questions

Ellsbury. (Presswire)
Ellsbury. (Presswire)

Considering it’s not even mid-December yet, the questions that follow are way too premature. To make up for that, I’ll try to avoid things that aren’t likely to stay the same. For example, I highly doubt the Yankees are going to go into the season with, say, Tyler Austin as the number one DH candidate just because they missed out on Carlos Beltran.

Let’s start at the top with two questions:

Will Jacoby Ellsbury keep batting second?

In early July, Joe Girardi made a bit of a lineup switch and had Ellsbury bat second behind Brett Gardner. Taco didn’t sparkle in the two hole, hitting just .244 with a .310 OBP. His walk rate was near 9%, which is encouraging, but it was mostly a forgettable performance. Might it make sense for them to flip places again, especially given Gardner’s shyness with regards to running lately? Granted, Ellsbury isn’t exactly bold on the basepaths anymore, either.

Will Aaron Hicks be platooned more aggressively this season? 

Towards the end of the year, Aaron Hicks woke up and showed flashes of why the Yankees traded for him last offseason. Given that the Yankees have two lefty hitting outfielders in Ellsbury and Gardner, and Hicks is a switch hitter, capable of playing both positions those guys do, how often will he start in one of their places when a lefty is on the mound? Of course, if one of those two is traded, that question is answered a lot more easily.

(AP)
(AP)

What happens if (when) Gary Sanchez struggles? 

Gary Sanchez was a monster in 2016 and we all hope he can be successful again in 2017; he gave us all the reasons he possibly could to believe. But that performance is hard to live up to and he’s going to take some sort of a step back over a full season. If Sanchez struggles behind the plate but maintains his solid hitting, you can always move him to DH. What, though, if the unlikely happens and Sanchez pulls the hitting version of 2008 Phil Hughes/Ian Kennedy? The answer for him is easy: send him back down and let him get right. For the Yankees, though, unless they sign a veteran back up, is less appealing, as it means giving the every day job to Austin Romine.

Who’s going to carry this lineup? 

Perhaps that question is unfair; it’s unlikely that one person on a team will carry a lineup. The right question might be, who’s going to lead this lineup? With Sanchez, the return of Greg Bird, and (hopefully) improvement from Aaron Judge, there’s the potential for big contributions from the young players. Will Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro continue their mild improvements at the plate? Will Ellsbury and Gardner bounce back? Which Chase Headley is going to show up? Depending on the answers to these questions, the Yankees could either be a reasonably solid offense, or they could be a disaster. Likely, they’re somewhere in the middle, but there don’t seem to be any sure things in the lineup.

Update: Carlos Beltran signs with Astros, not Yankees

(Greg Fiume/Getty)
(Greg Fiume/Getty)

Arguably the best DH option for the Yankees is off the board. According to multiple reports, former Yankee Carlos Beltran has agreed to a one-year deal worth $16M with the Astros. He gets a full no-trade clause as well. Carlos and Brian McCann, together again.

The Yankees reportedly had interest in re-signing Beltran to replace McCann at DH, but Mark Feinsand says they never made him a formal offer. That doesn’t mean much though. It just means they didn’t put a piece of paper in front of him to sign, not that they didn’t talk money.

Beltran, 39, hit .304/.344/.546 (135 wRC+) with 22 home runs in 99 games with the Yankees before being traded away as part of their deadline sell-off. He wasn’t quite as good with the Rangers after the trade, hitting .280/.325/.451 (103 wRC+) with seven homers in 52 games.

Interestingly enough, Beltran’s contract is worth less than the qualifying offer this offseason ($17.2M). A few days before the trade I said the Yankees shouldn’t consider Beltran a qualifying offer candidate because he’d probably accept it, and while it wasn’t a given, the money suggests it was a possibility.

There is no shortage of DH bats available in free agency. The big name is Edwin Encarnacion, but geez, I can’t imagine the Yankees would pay huge money and forfeit their first round pick to sign a soon-to-be 34-year-old DH. They got rid of like four old and expensive DHs this year. Why rush to sign another?

Other free agent DH candidates include Matt Holliday, Mike Napoli, Chris Carter, and Brandon Moss. I suppose we shouldn’t rule out Jose Bautista or Mark Trumbo either, though they’re cut from the same “expensive and forfeit a pick” cloth as Encarnacion. That’s not something the Yankees should be doing right now, I don’t think.

When in doubt, bet on the Yankees targeting the lefty pull-hitter. That’s their go-to demographic when looking for short-term roster fillers. Think Travis Hafner and Raul Ibanez. I guess that makes Moss the likely target? Ryan Howard, Colby Rasmus, Pedro Alvarez, and Michael Saunders are other possibilities.