Anyway, here is the open thread for the evening. The Nets are playing and there are three college basketball games on the schedule. That’s about it. You’re on your own for entertainment otherwise. Talk about whatever here.
According to Ronald Blum, the owners voted and ratified the new Collective Bargaining Agreement last night. The vote was 29-1. Only Rays owner Stu Sternberg opposed. The MLBPA approved the CBA unanimously, the union announced, it’s a done deal. Officially official. Details of the new CBA are still trickling in, so here’s some big picture news from around the league.
Yankees have $4.75M to spend internationally
The new CBA has implemented a hard cap on international free agents, and according to Ben Badler, the Yankees will have a $4.75M pool during the 2017-18 signing period. That’s what I figured based on everything we heard in the days following the CBA announcement, but now it’s official. The Yankees and every other team can trade for additional 75% in cap space. That works out to an extra $3.5625M. Now they have to find someone willing to trade cap space.
The bonus pools are based on market size now, not reverse order of the standings. Sixteen of the 30 teams have a $4.75M pool. Six get $5.25M and eight get $5.75M. Each team also gets an unlimited number of $10,000 bonuses that do not count against the cap. Between the international hard cap and the draft pools and the stiff luxury tax rates, the Yankees are running out of ways to flex their financial muscle. Each new CBA seems to bring them closer to the rest of the pack in terms of spending capacity.
Draft prospects can now volunteer for MRIs
According to Jon Morosi, the top 50 draft pitching prospects can now undergo a voluntary pre-draft MRI to show teams they’re healthy. (The top 50 are determined by the MLB Scouting Bureau, I assume.) I see this as a good thing for those players, for two reasons. For starters, this will help avoid a Brady Aiken situation, in which a team drafts a player, finds out he’s injured, then walks away and forfeits all that draft pool space. The MRIs help keep that money in play.
Secondly, it gives the player and his agent time to do damage control. If someone has an injury, it’s going to be discovered anyway. Either during the pre-draft MRI, or after the draft during the pre-signing MRI. If a pre-draft MRI shows an injury, it gives the agent time to shop the player around and find a team willing to sign him anyway. Those teams are definitely out there. If the player waits until after the draft to have the MRI, he can only negotiate with that one team. So yeah, it seems like volunteering for a pre-draft MRI carries a lot of risk, but ultimately, I think it’s a good thing for the players. Teams too.
Tommy John rehab stint extended to 60 days
As part of the new CBA, pitchers rehabbing from Tommy John surgery can now spend 60 days on a minor league rehab assignment, reports Jeff Passan. It used to be 30 days, though teams would dance around this by having the pitcher pitch in Extended Spring Training games, which aren’t official minor league games and don’t count against a rehab clock. Problem is there’s no ExST after June, so if your player is rehabbing in, say, August, you’re out of luck.
Once upon a time, the standard Tommy John surgery rehab timetable was 12 months. Not anymore. Nowadays teams are giving their pitchers 14-16 months to rehab, sometimes longer. There was a rash of pitchers needing a second Tommy John surgery a few years ago (Kris Medlen, Daniel Hudson, Brandon Beachy, Jarrod Parker, etc.) and the thought was they came back too soon from the first procedure. A 60-day rehab windows allows teams to be patient and give pitchers even more competitive minor league rehab starts. Good news.
Under Armour to become official uniform provider
At the Winter Meetings last week, MLB announced Under Armour will replace Majestic as the league’s official uniform provider beginning in 2020. It’s a ten-year agreement. “We are excited to build on our partnership with Under Armour, a powerful global brand that continues to grow exponentially … We appreciate Majestic’s many contributions to our clubs, players and fans throughout our partnership,” said commissioner Rob Manfred in a statement.
Okay, great. So MLB has a new uniform provider. Who cares, right? Well, according to Paul Lukas, as part of the agreement, Under Armour will be allowed to slap their logo on the upper right chest of all jerseys, like so:
If you click through the Lukas link, he has some images of players with the Under Armour logo photoshopped onto their jerseys. The Majestic logo is currently on the sleeves of MLB jerseys. The Yankees were granted an exemption and are the only club without the Majestic logo on their uniform. That won’t be the case with Under Armour though. They’ll have the logo on their chest too.
It’s only a matter of time until full-blown advertisements wind up on MLB jerseys — I have no idea if that’s five years away, or ten, or 30, but they’re coming — and the Under Armour logo is step one. Well, I guess the Majestic logo was step one, but moving them to the front of the jersey is a pretty big deal. The New Era logo will now be displayed on the left side of all caps starting next season, Yankees included, so the #brands are coming. The iconic, untouched Yankees jersey of the last century will soon be no more.
A little more than a week ago, the Yankees landed their new veteran designated hitter by signing Matt Holliday to a one-year deal worth $13M. Carlos Beltran was reportedly the team’s first choice, but Beltran went to the Astros, so it was on to Plan B. I thought the Yankees were smart to avoid a big money DH like Edwin Encarnacion or Mark Trumbo, and instead go with Holliday on a one-year deal.
With the Cardinals this past season Holliday hit .246/.322/.461 (109 wRC+) with 20 homers in 426 plate appearances around a broken thumb caused by a hit-by-pitch. It was his worst offensive season since his rookie year back in 2004. The Yankees are hoping Holliday, who turns 37 next month, can bounce back for two reasons. One, he’ll be off his feet as the DH and won’t wear down physically. And two, exit velo. From my thoughts post:
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.
Generally speaking, hit the ball hard and good things will happen. Defenders have less time to react and that’s good for the hitter, especially these days with fielders precisely positioned based on the hitter’s tendencies. Holliday did, by just about every publicly available metric, hit the ball hard in 2016. He didn’t get the results he wanted though, and according to Holliday, he hit too many grounders. In nerd terms, his launch angle was bad.
“Quite frankly, I probably hit too many hard-hit ground balls,” said Holliday to George King. “Nowadays with how good the infielders are, it’s not a good idea. I think if I can combine the exit velocity with a little bit more lift and have my misses be more in the air than on the ground, my numbers could really get back toward where they have been my whole career. I think it’s a good sign that the exit velocity was really high. I did have a little bit of bad luck, but that’s no excuse.”
This past season exactly half of Holliday’s balls in play were ground balls. His 50.0% grounder rate was a career high, up from 48.5% in 2015 and eclipsing his previous career high of 49.5% set back during his rookie year. Here is Holliday’s ground ball rate over the last three years:
The plateaus in 2015 and 2016 are time missed to injury. In each of the last three seasons, Holliday began the year by beating the ball into the ground before starting to get it more airborne during the summer months. His overall ground ball rate is trending upward, but the injuries in 2015 (quad) and 2016 (thumb) robbed him of second half at-bats, when he was doing a better job of getting the ball in the air. That may be skewing his overall rate.
An increase in ground balls is a classic sign a player is losing bat speed. It happens to everyone at some point. As their bat slows, they don’t square the ball up quite as often, and that split-second is often the difference between a line drive and a ground ball. Holliday had some weird things going on statistically. The exit velocity indicates he hit the ball very hard overall. The career high grounder rate suggests something was still off.
Here are two heat maps showing pitch locations against Holliday. The brighter the red, the more pitches in that location. The brighter the blue, the fewer pitches in that location. The 2015 season is on the left. The 2016 season is on the right. You can click the image for a larger view.
Holliday saw a lot more pitches down in the zone this past season than he did a year ago. His 2014 heat map looks like the 2015 heat map as well, meaning more pitches in the middle and not nearly as many down and away. The pitch selection against Holliday didn’t change all that much from 2015 to 2016. Just normal year-to-year fluctuations. When you see that many down and away pitches to a righty, you think slider, and Holliday saw 16.1% sliders in 2015. In 2016, it was 16.8%. His fastball rate went from 61.2% to 62.4%. A negligible difference.
Based on PitchFX, pitchers did not approach Holliday differently in terms of pitch selection. They just started pounding him down and away, and pitches in the bottom third of the zone are the hardest to lift in the air, hence the increase in ground ball rate. I love it when the puzzle pieces come together like that. It’s possible there is some small sample size noise in play here. The numbers are what they are though. Holliday did indeed see more pitches down and away.
Whether he sees that many pitches in that location next season, with the Yankees, is the next question, and it’s impossible to answer. This is a copycat league, and if Holliday has a hole down and away, pitchers are going to attack it. The thing is, Holliday is such a good natural hitter that he could make an adjustment. It’s not guaranteed to happen, but it’s possible. This guy isn’t a brute masher. He knows how to hit. After all, look at his spray chart, via Baseball Savant:
I can’t get enough of it. Power from foul pole to foul pole and base hits to all fields. All spray charts should look like that. You don’t spray the ball all around like Holliday without being a smart and adaptable hitter. After of a year of getting pounded with pitches down and away, Holliday might be better prepared to attack those pitches in 2016. The element of surprise is gone. At least that’s what I hope anyway.
Either way, the point stands. For Holliday to bounce back in pinstripes next season, he’ll have to hit the ball in the air more often than he did in 2016. That fact he was still hitting the ball hard is very good. The Yankees want him to continue doing that while improving his launch angle, so more of those 100+ mph batted balls fall in for hits. Whether he can make that adjustment at 37 years old remains to be seen. The fact Holliday has already acknowledged the ground ball problem is encouraging though, because he can begin to work on it right away.
By any measure, Masahiro Tanaka is not just the best starting pitcher on the Yankees, he’s one of the best starting pitchers in all of MLB. He’s New York’s best starter since CC Sabathia was in his prime, and their best right-handed starter since Mike Mussina was in his prime more than a decade ago. Tanaka turned 28 last month and is very much in what should be the best years of his career.
Looming next offseason is Tanaka’s opt-out clause, which will allow him to forego the final three years and $67M left on his contract and test free agency. Given the market for pitching these days, opting out is a certainty as long as Tanaka is healthy. Jeff Samardzija led the league in hits, earned runs, and home runs allowed back in 2015 and still landed a five-year deal worth $90M. I mean, come on.
A few years ago the Yankees dealt with Sabathia’s opt-out clause, which he leveraged into a contract extension. They added one guaranteed year to his original deal, plus a vesting option. The 2017 season is the vesting option year. Sabathia’s extension has not worked out as hoped, but that doesn’t mean you walk away from every pitcher with an opt-out. You have to consider these things on a case-by-case basis.
Signing Tanaka — again: one of the very best pitchers in all of baseball — to an extension has to be a consideration for the Yankees this offseason, before the opt-out comes into play. And before we go any further, let’s list some key differences between Tanaka now and Sabathia at the time of his opt-out:
- Age: Tanaka just turned 28 and will pitch all of next season at that age. Sabathia was 31 when he signed his extension and he turned 32 during the first season of the deal. Heck, Sabathia was as old as Tanaka is right now when he originally signed with the Yankees during the 2008-09 offseason. Pretty big difference in age, eh?
- Body Type: I love Sabathia, but the dude is 6-foot-7 and somewhere around 300 lbs., and that massive frame has taken its toll on his right (landing) knee. Not too many pitchers that size have pitched as deep into their 30s as Sabathia. He’s an outlier. Tanaka is far from it. We don’t have to bank on Tanaka being an outlier with his frame, because baseball history is littered with pitchers who stand 6-foot-3 and 215 lbs.
- Pitching Style: Sabathia at his peak was a pure power pitcher who dominated with a mid-90s fastball and a nasty slider. Tanaka is more of an artist. He doesn’t operate with overpowering velocity. He outsmarts hitters by commanding an array of offspeed pitches. That command and feel for pitching will ostensibly allow Tanaka to age gracefully, a la Andy Pettitte.
But Mike, what about the elbow? Ah yes, the elbow. The elbow that hangs over every pitch Tanaka throws and every blog post written about him. Tanaka suffered a partially torn elbow ligament in 2014, successfully rehabbed the injury, and has pitched to a 3.26 ERA (3.72 FIP) in 353.2 innings since. Turns out the doctors knew what they were talking about. Tanaka didn’t need Tommy John surgery. Weird.
Anyway, the fact Tanaka’s elbow has held up in the two years since the injury doesn’t mean the Yankees can simply ignore it when evaluating his long-term future. Health should play a pretty huge role in determining whether to sign a pitcher long-term. Three quick thoughts on the elbow:
1. The Yankees know Tanaka better than anyone. All we know about Tanaka’s elbow is what the Yankees have chosen to tell us. They know his health and the status of the elbow ligament better than anyone. We could sit here and say extending a pitcher with a bum elbow would be crazy, but the Yankees and their doctors are looking over the medicals, and they may feel comfortable long-term. Truth be told, stick any 28-year-old pitcher in an MRI tube and you’ll find something scary, including partial ligament tears. Many pitchers have them and don’t even know it because they’re asymptomatic.
2. There’s some give and take here. Would the Yankees be taking a risk signing Tanaka to an extension because of the elbow? Of course. And that risk should be reflected in the contract, either in terms of fewer years or (most likely) fewer dollars. There should be some give and take on both sides. That doesn’t mean Tanaka has to agree to a discount. He might say thanks but no thanks, I’ll try my luck at free agency, and I wouldn’t blame him one bit. But if he wants a big deal now, the Yankees will probably push for a slight discount given the elbow.
3. There are ways to build protection into the contract. A Lackey clause, specifically. When the Red Sox signed John Lackey to his five-year contract way back when, they included a clause in the deal that gave them a sixth year club option at the league minimum should Lackey have Tommy John surgery at some point during the life of the contract. He did and they picked up the option. Lackey had a preexisting ligament injury at the time of his signing and the league minimum option year was Boston’s way to protect themselves. The Yankees could apply a Lackey clause to a Tanaka extension, and again, he doesn’t have to accept it.
Alright, so after all of that, what will it take to sign Tanaka to an extension right now? I really have no idea what Tanaka and his agents will want. Ideally, the Yankees would tack something like two years and $50M on top of his current deal, but that essentially gives Tanaka and five-year deal worth $117M covering 2017-21. That’s not much better than Samardzija money. Unless Tanaka is truly concerned about his elbow, I can’t see him taking that. He’d beat that in free agency.
The Yankees might have to add something closer to three years and $90M to Tanaka’s contract to get his attention. Top free agent starters are getting $30M a year now, remember. Zack Greinke, David Price, Clayton Kershaw, and Max Scherzer are all there right now. If the Red Sox approach Chris Sale or the Giants approach Madison Bumgarner about an extension, their annual salary demands will be begin with a three. That’s the market now.
Adding three years and $90M to Tanaka’s contract puts him at six years and $157M total from 2017-22. That’s Cole Hamels (six years, $144M) and Jon Lester (six years, $155M) money. Seems much more reasonable to me. Let’s call it six years and $160M total with a Lackey clause added at the end. That takes Tanaka through 2022 and his age 33 season if the elbow holds up. That’s just young enough to land another nice contract, a la James Shields two years ago.
Now for the two big questions. One, why would Tanaka do this? Money, duh. He’d forego free agency for a large guarantee now. Tanaka would be trading his maximum earning potential, meaning a free agent bidding war, for the guaranteed cash upfront. Keep in mind Tanaka has already made a fortune playing baseball. The Yankees have paid him $66M the last three years, plus there’s whatever he made in Japan. He’s presumably comfortable enough financially that he can roll the dice in 2017 and shoot for the big free agent payday next winter. And if he gets hurt next year, he won’t opt out and will still have $67M coming to him. It’s a good spot to be in, that’s for sure.
And two, why would the Yankees do this? To keep their ace and avoid a free agent bidding war. A bidding war is bad news. Next offseason’s free agent pitching class looks much better than this year’s at the moment — Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish are both scheduled to hit the open market after next season — but that won’t hurt Tanaka. Ace caliber starters are always in demand and teams will be lining up to pay him. Mark Melancon‘s market wasn’t hurt by Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen this winter, was it? Nope. Arrieta and Darvish won’t take money away from Tanaka next offseason and vice versa.
The chances of Tanaka eclipsing five years and $138M — my proposed six-year, $160M deal minus the 2017 season — as a free agent next winter are pretty damn good, I think. The Yankees want to avoid that. They want to get out ahead of market and sign Tanaka without having to worry about the Dodgers or Nationals or whoever swooping in to sign him. Also, the Yankees are short on pitching beyond 2017. Extending Tanaka would help solve that problem.
This offseason is the best time to sign Tanaka to an extension because it’s pretty much the only time to sign him to an extension. Sure, the two sides could negotiate a new deal during the season, but players usually try to avoid that. They like to focus on baseball and not contract talks once Spring Training begins. Maybe Tanaka is different. Maybe he’s more than willing to talk contract during the 2017 season. Who knows.
Waiting until next offseason, right before the opt-out, gives Tanaka all the leverage. That’s what happened with Sabathia years ago. The Yankees had their backs up against the wall because they didn’t want Sabathia to actually use the opt-out and create a bidding war. Waiting until after next season would give Tanaka that same leverage. The Yankees at least have some leverage right now. There’s less urgency. They don’t have to sign him, after all.
I don’t expect the Yankees to get serious about an extension with Tanaka this offseason. They seem too dug on in getting under the luxury tax threshold in the near future, and a big money contract would complicate that. Also, it’s not really the club’s M.O. to sign players to extensions. Brett Gardner is the only notable exception in the last eight or nine years. If the Yankees are going to go against the grain though, Tanaka’s the kind of player you do it for.
Extension or no extension, Tanaka is the Yankees’ best player and therefore most indispensable player. The pending opt-out makes 2017 a huge season for both Tanaka and the team. He wants to put himself in the best possible position going into free agency, and the Yankees want him to pitch well because it’ll help them win. The better he pitches, the more likely he is to opt-out though. It’s a Catch-22. An extension now would solve a lot of problems.
Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks, Rangers, and Islanders are all playing, and there are a handful of college basketball games on the docket too. You folks know how these things work by now, so have at it.
According to George King, the Yankees are among the teams to check in with the Tigers about left-hander Justin Wilson. Detroit is kinda sorta trying to get younger and trim payroll — they salary dumped Cameron Maybin to clear a spot for JaCoby Jones earlier this offseason — and cashing in Wilson as a trade chip given the current bullpen market seems like a good idea.
The Tigers are looking for “controllable Major League arms” for Wilson, says King, and the Yankees passed because they found that too prohibitive. Funny how things have turned out, eh? The Tigers gave up two controllable arms (Luis Cessa and Chad Green) to get Wilson last winter, and now they’re looking to flip him for basically the same package. Anyway, I have some thoughts on this.
1. When did the Yankees ask about Wilson? Was it before or after agreeing to a deal with Aroldis Chapman? If it was before, the Yankees may have only been doing their due diligence and looking at backup plans in case Chapman went elsewhere. If it was after, then we know they’re still seriously looking to improve their middle relief. Earlier this winter Brian Cashman indicated he wants to improve his bullpen beyond adding a closer, so it’s entirely possible the Yankees are thinking Chapman and Wilson, not Chapman or Wilson.
2. If the Yankees still want a lefty, just sign a free agent. During the Winter Meetings last week we heard the Yankees want to add a lefty reliever this offseason to join (or replace?) Tommy Layne. Not just Chapman, but a middle innings guy for left-on-left matchup work. Wilson is certainly qualified to do that — he’s overqualified, actually, since he can get out righties as well — but why trade prospects for a lefty reliever when there are so many free agents available?
Those are 2015-16 numbers against left-handed batters. Four of those players are free agents. Why trade prospects for Wilson when someone like Blevins or Logan can do the job just as well, if not better? Perhaps the “gets righties out too” part is too great to ignore. The Yankees have a matchup left-on-left reliever in Layne. If they are planning to carry two middle southpaws, it would be nice if one could get righties out, and Wilson can do that. The other four guys in the table generally can not.
3. Wilson wasn’t as good in 2016 as he was in 2015. During his one season with the Yankees, Wilson was really awesome. He was a legitimate high-leverage reliever Joe Girardi shoehorned into the seventh inning role, but Wilson could have easily gotten outs in the eighth or even ninth inning. And sometimes he did. This past season though, Wilson’s performance took a step back.
Improved ground ball and walks rates coupled with a slight decline in strikeout rate is generally a good thing, I’d say. For Wilson this year, it wasn’t. He was more hittable overall — opponents hit .223/.293/.309 against Wilson in 2015 and .263/.316/.392 in 2016 — and it showed up in his ERA.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Wilson had some elbow problems this summer. He was shut down for a few days with soreness in June, then, in August, he needed a cortisone shot. Wilson was so inconsistent this past season that Bless You Boys took a deep dive. It’s entirely possible the Yankees traded Wilson at exactly the right time, before he started to break down.
4. The trade looks pretty good now, doesn’t it? Understandably, many folks didn’t like the Wilson deal when it went down. He was pretty great for the Yankees and they traded him for two unknowns. I myself had never heard of Green, and I’m as big a baseball nerd as you’ll find. Cessa’s name might have rung a bell only because he was the second piece in last year’s Yoenis Cespedes trade.
This past season, Cessa and Green showed bonafide Major League stuff during their relatively brief big league cameos. Maybe they’re only relievers long-term — I think Cessa has a much better chance to start than Green at this point in time — but they are big leaguers, not prospects, and that’s pretty great. Turning a reliever with three years of control into two pitchers with six years of control each was a nifty, albeit unpopular at the time, move by Cashman.
The Yankees right now are very much open to trading pricey veterans for prospects. They sold big time at the deadline and continued selling in the offseason by sending Brian McCann to the Astros for two Single-A pitching prospects. The Yankees have reportedly dangled Brett Gardner and Chase Headley in trade talks this winter, and I’m sure they’d love to move Jacoby Ellsbury too, but, you know.
Two teams that stood out as obvious suitors for Gardner addressed their outfield needs last week. The Nationals traded for Adam Eaton and the Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler. Both clubs needed a defensively competent center fielder — Gardner plays left for the Yankees in deference to Ellsbury, but he could still handle center full-time, no problem — and a top of the order on-base guy. The Nats and Cards went in another direction.
Gardner is a good player, not a great one, and the two years and $23M left on his contract is not unreasonable. And besides, the Yankees have shown a willingness to eat money to facilitate trades. They did it with Carlos Beltran at the deadline and McCann a few weeks ago. Salary shouldn’t be a problem. The problem is finding a team that actually needs Gardner, a defense first outfielder with on-base skills. Here are the remaining potential trade partners I came up with.
Current Outfield: Adam Jones in center and Hyun-Soo Kim in left, with Joey Rickard and Rule 5 Draft picks Anthony Santander and Aneury Tavarez candidates for right. They also have the option of moving Chris Davis to right field and playing prospect Trey Mancini at first.
Why Would They Want Gardner? He’s a heck of a lot better than Rickard and the Rule 5 Draft kids — Santander has never played above High-A — and he’d give the O’s a legitimate leadoff hitter, something they really lack. Jones was their leadoff hitter most of this past season. Yeah. Also, the Orioles have an opening at DH, remember. They could put Gardner in left, Kim at DH (where he fits best), and stick with the kids in right.
So Are They A Fit? Yes with the caveat that they’re an AL East rival, and intradivision trades are rare. I don’t think that closes the door completely, it just makes it unlikely. For what it’s worth, Brian Cashman told Bryan Hoch he’d have no problem trading with the Orioles.
“If I can trade with the Red Sox and the Mets, I can trade with the Orioles. I can trade with anybody. If it’s in our best interest, whether it’s short- or long-term, it doesn’t matter what the other teams get. Does it make sense for us? If it happens to be them, I don’t really care.”
What do the O’s have to offer the Yankees for Gardner? Geez, beats me. Their farm system isn’t in great shape (here’s their MLB.com top 30 prospects list) and I doubt they’d be willing to give up pieces from their big league roster. I’m sure the Yankees could find some combination of minor leaguers to make it work though.
Current Outfield: Tyler Naquin in center and Lonnie Chisenhall in right. Brandon Guyer and Abe Almonte are expected to hold down left field until Michael Brantley returns from shoulder surgery.
Why Would They Want Gardner? Not too many reasons at this point. The Indians seem focused on adding a big middle of the order bat to share first base and DH with Carlos Santana, and I suppose if those plans go awry, they could circle back and import Gardner to be part of a rotating DH system. He’d give them a more traditional leadoff hitter too. They used Santana at leadoff most of last season, which was somewhat a waste of his power because he batted with fewer men on base.
So Are They A Fit? Nah, I don’t think so. Naquin had a nightmare postseason but a very good regular season, good enough to finish third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting and earn a starting spot in 2017. They’ll ride it out with Almonte and Guyer until Brantley returns, which could be as soon as April.
Current Outfield: Justin Upton and J.D. Martinez on the corners, with Anthony Gose and JaCoby Jones in the mix for center. Tyler Collins could get a crack at the job too, though he’s best in a corner.
Why Would They Want Gardner? Gardner is much better than the group of players vying for Detroit’s center field job at the moment. Of course, the Tigers traded away Cameron Maybin earlier this winter, and they seem to be scaling back on payroll a bit. Salary dumping Maybin only to turn around and acquire Gardner would be a bit weird, don’t you think?
Of course, plans change, and the Tigers are looking at a more winnable AL Central right now. The Twins stink, the White Sox are selling, and the Royals might have to sell at the deadline since basically their entire core will hit free agency next winter. The Tigers won 86 games in 2016 despite going 4-14 (4-14!) against the Indians. What are the odds of that happening again? Small. Gardner would improve their chances in a much more winnable division.
So Are They A Fit? Maybe! I think the Yankees would have to eat money to make a trade happen, which I doubt would be a deal-breaker. If the Yankees ate money to trade Beltran and McCann, I’m sure they’d do the same for Gardner.
Current Outfield: Some combination of Khris Davis, Matt Joyce, Brett Eibner, and Jake Smolinski. Did you know Khris Davis hit 42 home runs in 2016? True story.
Why Would They Want Gardner? The A’s are in the market for a center fielder this offseason, it’s been reported everywhere, and they’ve most recently been connected to Jarrod Dyson of the Royals. Gardner is a very similar player (lefty hitting leadoff type with speed and defense) who happens to be much more expensive. But again, if the Yankees are willing to eat money, his contract may not be an obstacle.
So Are They A Fit? Maybe. The Athletics are a weird team that seems to be stuck between going for it and rebuilding. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they traded for an outfielder making $23M over the next two years despite losing at least 93 games the last two seasons. They’re weird like that.
San Francisco Giants
Current Outfield: Denard Span in center and Hunter Pence in right, with Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker slated to platoon in left. Gorkys Hernandez has a leg up on a bench job.
Why Would They Want Gardner? Left field is wide open. Williamson and Parker did an okay job as platoon partners while Pence was on the disabled list this summer — they hit a combined .230/.338/.402 with eleven homers in 278 plate appearances in 2016, but also struck out 28.5% of the time — though neither is a long-term building block. Williamson is the young one at 26. Parker turns 28 in three weeks.
Gardner would, at a minimum, give the Giants an above-average defender for that spacious left field at AT&T Park. In also guessing he’d outproduce a Williamson/Parker platoon at the plate over a full 162-game season. The Mark Melancon signing pushed San Francisco over the luxury tax threshold and they don’t want to go much higher, so Gardner’s contract could be an issue. Then again, the Giants are built to win right now, while Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner are still in their primes, and left field is a sore spot.
So Are They A Fit? Yes, definitely. The Giants have enough prospects to cobble together a trade package (here is their MLB.com top 30 prospects list) and the Yankees could eat money to make things work on San Francisco’s end with regards to the luxury tax. The Giants are a fit. A great fit. No doubt.
Current Outfield: Leonys Martin in the middle with some combination of Seth Smith, Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia, Mitch Haniger, and possibly even Danny Valencia in the corners.
Why Would They Want Gardner? As an alternative to that hodgepodge of platoon veterans and mid-range prospects slated for the corners. The Mariners are trying to win right now. I mean, they should be. Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz aren’t going to be this productive forever, so anything Seattle can do to improve their short-term chances qualifies as a good move in my book. Gardner represents an upgrade.
So Are They A Fit? Yes in theory, no in reality. Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto has said his team is too left-handed at the moment, which Gardner would only exacerbate. Also, they seem committed to playing those kids in the outfield. So while there is a fit on paper here, I don’t see it happening.
Current Outfield: Carlos Gomez in center, Shin-Soo Choo in right, and Nomar Mazara in left. Delino DeShields Jr. and Ryan Rua are the depth options.
Why Would They Want Gardner? The Rangers have no first baseman or designated hitter at the moment. Adding Gardner would allow them to slide Mazara over to right field, his natural position, and put Choo at DH full-time, which is where he belongs at this point. Texas has money and prospects to trade, plus an obvious opening for Gardner in the lineup and on the field.
So Are They A Fit? Yes. Whether the Rangers are willing to make a trade is another matter. They may prefer to hang on to their prospects and address those first base and DH openings through free agency. There are still plenty of those players available.
Toronto Blue Jays
Current Outfield: lol
Why Would They Want Gardner? Kevin Pillar is still the center fielder. That much is clear. But after losing out on Fowler, the Blue Jays have Melvin Upton, Steve Pearce, Ezequiel Carrera, and Dalton Pompey penciled in as their corner outfielders. That might be the worst outfield unit in baseball. Gardner would give them a legitimate left fielder and leadoff hitter, allowing them to slide Devon Travis lower in the order, in a run producing spot. That would be a big help considering they effectively replaced Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista with Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce. I’m sure that’ll work out fine.
So Are They A Fit? Yes in the same way the Orioles are a fit. The Blue Jays could use Gardner, for sure, but to get him, they’d have to swing a rare intradivision trade. It’s not impossible. Just really tough to do. There’s a reason you don’t see them often. Everyone’s afraid of losing a trade to a division rival.