Mailbag: Fernandez, Harvey, Happ, Frazier, Ortiz, Comcast

Got a dozen questions in this week’s mailbag. RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is the place to send us your questions throughout the week.

Fernandez. (Rob Foldy/Getty)
Fernandez. (Rob Foldy/Getty)

Many asked: What would it take to get Jose Fernandez?

There’s been some chatter the last few days about the Marlins potentially trading Fernandez, their pitching franchise cornerstone, because of some off-the-field drama. The team didn’t include agent Scott Boras in talks about Fernandez’s workload limits for next season, for example. And apparently he’s a jerk in the clubhouse. Andy Slater had a little more on that.

Fernandez, who turned 23 in July, is so obviously talented, but his trade value might not be as sky high as you’d expect. Don’t get me wrong, it’s extremely high, but we’re talking about a player now only three years from free agency. Also, Fernandez isn’t all that far removed from Tommy John surgery, which is sorta scary. That said, he had a 2.92 ERA (2.24 FIP) in 64.2 innings after returning last year, so he showed no ill-effects.

Maybe Fernandez is a bit of a jerk in the clubhouse, but I have zero concerns about his mental toughness. Fernandez was thrown in jail in Cuba three times for attempting to defect before successfully leaving the island in 2008. Also, he jumped into the Gulf of Mexico to save his mother after she fell overboard when they hit turbulent waters. I don’t think pitching in New York or the AL East will scare him. Fernandez has been through worse no matter how messy things get on the mound.

The talent is undeniable. Fernandez was legitimately one of the best pitchers in baseball back in 2013 (2.19 ERA and 2.73 FIP in 172.2 innings) despite skipping over Double-A and Triple-A. He made the Marlins out of Spring Training despite never pitching above High-A ball. The movement Fernandez gets on his pitches seems impossible:

It’s pretty much impossible to come up with a comparable trade to use as a reference point for Fernandez. Three years of a bonafide ace who is only 23 but was limited to 116.1 innings the last two years due to Tommy John surgery? How do you value that? Fernandez is extremely talented and you bet on that talent, but the elbow reconstruction is a red flag.

My trade proposal sucks, but I’m thinking any deal for Fernandez starts with Luis Severino and includes two other top young players. Something like Severino plus Aaron Judge plus Jorge Mateo plus a fourth player — maybe one of the MLB ready relievers? — for Fernandez? Does that sound even remotely realistic? I really have no idea. If Fernandez is indeed available, I’d want the Yankees to go all-out to get him, regardless of what some anonymous teammates say to the media.

Mike asks: Could a team trade a guy who has accepted a QO to another team, whom could then work out a multi-year deal, instead of the one year 15.8M salary guaranteed by accepting the QO? Who holds the cards, if the player wanted the security of a multi-year deal and was willing to be traded early in the offseason, or is there a date they have to wait to be traded once accepting the QO?

Here’s a rule I didn’t know existed until just recently: players who accept the qualifying offer can not be traded until June 15th of the following season. I had no idea. I don’t remember who the player was (David Robertson, maybe?), but I definitely remember saying something like “make him the QO because even if he accepts, he’ll have trade value at that salary” about a player. That’s wrong. Players can’t be traded until midseason after accepting the QO for whatever reason. As for the multiyear contract, the player and team could work out a multiyear deal even after he accepts the QO. No problem there. The MLBPA wouldn’t stand in the way of the player getting more money.

Benjamin asks: #mytradeproposalsucks but take away the two teams involved, would a trade built around Brett Gardner and Dellin Betances for Matt Harvey make sense from a baseball prospective?

Like Fernandez, Harvey’s trade value is obviously high but it’s not oh my gosh give up everything high. He’s also three years away from free agency and will be paid well through arbitration, plus Tommy John surgery isn’t that far in the rear-view mirror. Unlike Fernandez, Harvey has pitched a full season since having his elbow rebuild.

Anyway, that trade doesn’t make sense for the Mets. They’ll want younger players for Harvey. They won’t trade him for a two-player package headlined by a 32-year-old outfielder making nearly $13M a year. Betances is awesome but he is still only a reliever. Ace-caliber starters are worth a heck of a lot more than elite relievers. The Yankees would do that trade in a heartbeat. It doesn’t make sense for the Mets. They could do a lot better.

Happ. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
Happ. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

Bill asks: Any Interest in J.A. Happ? Similar stuff to Chen who the Yanks are interested in and could come much cheaper.

The Pirates and pitching coach Ray Searage have had a ton of success with reclamation project arms. They scooped up A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, and Happ off the scrap heap and turned them into quality starters in recent years. Do it once and maybe you got lucky. But four times in the span of four years? Then it’s a legitimate skill.

Happ, who is somehow already 33, had a 4.64 ERA (4.12 FIP) in 108.2 innings for the Mariners this past season, then a 1.85 ERA (2.19 FIP) in 63.1 innings for the Pirates after being moved at the trade deadline. His strikeout (27.7% vs. 17.5%) and walk (5.2% vs. 6.8%) rates both improved while his grounder rate (40.4% vs. 42.1%) declined slightly. The biggest change appears to be Happ’s fastball usage — he threw it 66.7% of the time with Pittsburgh but only 51.5% with the Mariners.

We’d have to take a deeper look in a non-mailbag format to see when exactly he increased his fastball usage — ahead in the count? behind in the count? to righties? with men on base? etc. — but that’s a significant difference. He’s not suddenly a true talent 1.85 ERA (2.19 FIP) pitcher, but Searage apparently made some adjustments that change Happ’s outlook. It’s fair to wonder if he can continue that performance away from Searage and/or in the AL. The fact there appears to be a tangible explanation for his improvement intrigues me. Happ’s an interesting free agent sleeper, which is definitely not something I thought I’d say ever.

dmalb2 asks: I remember a while back that Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle got traded by the Marlins to the Blue Jays, and Jeffrey Loria, the Marlins owner, got criticized for trading those guys so soon after signing them. They had been with the team for only a year. How would that be different from trading Andrew Miller after just one season? Would that sort of move give the Yankees a bad name among the players?

I guess it’s possible the Yankees get a bad rap because of that, yeah, but this really is an apples to oranges comparison. The Marlins have a history of doing this — they traded Carlos Delgado one year after signing him, remember — and their reputation sucks in general because of their various fire sales. The Reyes and Buehrle deals were so heavily backloaded — Reyes made $10M in year one while Buehrle made only $6M — that it’s easy to think trading them away was the plan all along. (It was.)

The Yankees have a history of paying very well and trying to win each and every year. Trading Miller after one season would definitely be the exception, not the norm around these parts. Some players on the outside might not like it, but I think the majority would understand this is a business and sometimes that’s how things go. Trades happen. If it becomes a pattern, then maybe it raises a red flag. One trade wouldn’t change much, I hope.

Jacob asks: What would be an equivalent package from the Yankees’ farm system to what the Angels just gave up for Andrelton Simmons, and what are your general thoughts on that trade?

The two prospects are along the lines of Severino and healthy Ian Clarkin or Rookie Davis. (The Yankees don’t have an Erick Aybar.) I am totally cool with sticking with Didi Gregorius over acquiring Simmons. Zero doubt about it. Gregorius is a very good shortstop who pretty much equaled Simmons’ production this year. No reason to give up that sort of package for what might only be a marginal upgrade.

The trade itself was a little weird. It seems like the Braves are planning to field a team of 25 pitchers when their new ballpark opens in 2017. I guess they can use the young pitching to trade for position players, but the attrition rate is so high that they’re going to inevitably get nothing out of some of these guys. Maybe mix in a position player in the next trade? As for the Angels, they got an upgrade at shortstop but used their two best trade chips and still don’t have a catcher, third baseman, or left fielder. Not sure that was the best use of resources if the goal is contention in 2016, as it should be. Aybar’s fine at shortstop.

Andrew asks: Who would you rather the Yankees sign to their respective deals that they are predicted to get? Heyward and his predicted $200 million deal or Upton and his predicted $150 million deal?

Give me Jason Heyward. I’m of the belief Heyward’s offense will match Justin Upton’s very soon, within a year or two, and the differences in base-running and defense are massive. Factor in their ages — to be fair, Upton is only 28, so it’s not like he’s old — and I think Heyward’s worth the extra years and money. Upton’s good too! I’d be happy if the Yankees added him. I just prefer Heyward, even considering the higher cost.

Ryan asks: Not Yankee related but who got the better return on the 2 Kimbrel deals? Padres or Braves?

The Padres got the better prospect package but it’s tough to compare the two. A huge part of the first Craig Kimbrel trade was shedding more than $55M in salary obligations, most of which belonged to B.J. Melvin Upton. The Braves acquired Carlos Quentin, who was designated for assignment immediately, the useful Cameron Maybin and Matt Wisler, and a sleeper in Jordan Paroubeck. It’s hard to say how much Atlanta valued/needed that salary relief. Saving $55M+ in real dollars vs. getting the prospects the Padres acquired? There’s a decent chance the $55M proves more valuable.

Frazier. (Joe Robbins/Getty)
Frazier. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

Matt asks: How great would Todd Frazier’s right handed power look balancing the lineup out? He’d make a lot of sense if we can move Headley to a team that doesn’t have the prospects to get Frazier.

Frazier would obviously be a great fit for the Yankees at third base. He’s a better defender than many may realize and he’s a legitimate 30-homer threat who would add some much needed balance to the lineup. Frazier’s not a huge AVG or OBP guy — even this year he had a .309 OBP — so you have to live with that in order to get the power. He’s two years away from free agency.

I’m not sure what an appropriate package for Frazier would be — not too many comfortably above-average players are traded two years before free agency — but this is not a “Chase Headley and Ivan Nova” kind of trade. The Reds are rebuilding and want young players. Asking for Severino would be fair game in my book, though I don’t think the Yankees would make that trade. Something like Judge and James Kaprielian plus a third player might be more realistic. (My trade proposal still sucks.)

Spencer asks: Do you think the Yankees will target a minor league 2B like Darwin Barney or Jemile Weeks to give insurance, should the whole Refsnyder/Ackley plan not work out? Is there any merit to considering Carlos Corporan as a candidate for the backup catcher/AAA backup role? He can’t hit but seems to be a good defender.

I don’t know if they’ll target Barney or Weeks specifically, but yes, bringing in a middle infielder on a minor league contract for Triple-A seems like a necessity. The Yankees don’t have a shortstop for Triple-A right now (sorry, Cito) and I guess Tony Renda plays second base if Rob Refsnyder is in the big leagues. Stashing a veteran middle infield dude down there makes a world of sense.

The same goes for catchers. The Yankees did re-sign Eddy Rodriguez a few weeks ago, but they could go into the season with Gary Sanchez backing up Brian McCann, Austin Romine out of the organization, and Rodriguez plus someone else at Triple-A. Corporan is one possible target — he’s another pitch-framing guy who can’t hit — as are Tim Federowicz and Mike McKenry, among others. Even if Romine backs up McCann with Sanchez in Triple-A, Rodriguez could start at Double-A — he was there last year — with the minor league deal guy backing up Sanchez.

Jarrod asks: Given your recent BBWAA membership (congrats!), I thought you could help settle a discussion between me and a mate. If David Ortiz has a similar 2016 to what he had in 2015, would you vote him into the HOF and why or why not?

Yes, definitely. He doesn’t even need a good 2016 to be a Hall of Famer in my book. He is one right now. Ortiz is arguably the greatest DH ever — no worse than what, third best? — and he’s a transcendent player who was a key piece of the Red Sox’s recent run of success. You can’t tell the story of baseball history without Ortiz. Whether he actually gets into the Hall of Fame is another matter. The voters have been punishing guys with performance-enhancing drug ties — heck, they’re punishing guys who look like they have PEDs ties — and Ortiz figures to get lumped into that group. I’d vote for him. We’re all Yankees fans, we all hate Ortiz’s guts, but respect the career. He’s been incredible.

Mike asks: I live in Northern NJ and have Comcast and as of right now I don’t have any access to Yankees Baseball on YES. Is an option or am I subjected to blackouts? Please help! won’t help, sorry. You’ll still be blacked out of live games. The good news is YES and Comcast are reportedly still negotiating and it is only mid-November, so there’s still a few months to go before Spring Training. Hopefully the two sides can get it resolved by then. It would be a damn shame if this turned into a Time Warner/Dodgers situation. (All non-TWC customers in Southern California have been blacked out of SportsNet LA for two years now.)

Josh Donaldson named 2015 AL MVP; McCann, Teixeira, A-Rod all receive votes

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

As expected, Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson was named the 2015 AL Most Valuable Player earlier tonight. He received 23 of 30 first place votes. Angels outfielder Mike Trout finished a distant second in the voting. I’d have voted for Trout, personally. Hard to believe he only has one MVP to show for this four-year stretch. It was his worst season too.

Anyway, three Yankees players received down-ballot votes: Brian McCann received one ninth place vote while Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira each received a tenth place vote. They’re the first Yankees to receive MVP votes since Robinson Cano in 2014. The Yankees were shut out of the MVP voting last year for the first time since 1992. The full voting results are at the BBWAA’s site.

Bryce Harper was named NL MVP unanimously. The Yankees did not have any awards finalists this year. Their last major award winner remains A-Rod, who was named 2007 AL MVP. Well, Andrew Miller won the Mariano Rivera Award this year, but that’s not really a major award.

Thursday Night Open Thread

Awards season if officially over — Josh Donaldson and Bryce Harper were predictably named MVPs earlier this evening — which means the 2015 season is completely in the rear-view mirror. No loose ends to tie up. It’s all hot stove now and for the next few weeks. Trades, free agency, rumors … the works. So long, 2015 season. You were cool. For the most part.

Here is your open thread for the evening. The Titans and Jaguars are the Thursday NFL game — is that even a good matchup? I’m so out of touch with football these days — plus the (hockey) Rangers are playing and there’s a bunch of college hoops on as well. Talk about those games or anything else right here.

Morosi: Yanks among teams to talk outfielder-for-starter trade with Indians

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)
Carrasco. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

According to Jon Morosi, the Yankees are among the teams tho discuss an outfielder-for-starter trade with the Indians. The Dodgers and Blue Jays are also in that mix. The Indians came into the offseason needing at least one outfielder, and that was before Michael Brantley underwent shoulder surgery, which will sideline him for the first few weeks of 2016.

Cleveland does have some big time rotation depth and they realize that is their key to success. They’re only going to go as far as their rotation will take them. They want outfield help but won’t just give away a spare arm either. Here is the rotation depth chart on the team’s official site:

Indians rotation

The Indians also have lefty T.J. House as their seventh starter. He gave them 102 innings of 3.35 ERA (3.69 FIP) ball last year but missed most of 2015 due to shoulder inflammation. House did pitch in the Arizona Fall League and will be ready for Spring Training though.

Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar have been mentioned most often as trade bait* and both will command significant returns. Carrasco, 28, has pitched at an ace level since moving back into the rotation midway through 2014 — he has a 2.99 ERA (2.54 FIP) in 40 starts and 252.2 innings since rejoining the rotation — and his contract will pay him only $37.5M through 2020, assuming his two club options are picked up.

* Realistically, we can probably rule out the Indians trading the ultra-popular Corey Kluber. Trevor Bauer had a 4.55 ERA (4.33 FIP) this past season and had the highest walk rate in baseball (10.6%). The Yankees seek out guys with very low walk rates, so he doesn’t seem like a fit. Cody Anderson? Josh Tomlin? Eh. Carrasco and Salazar are both hard-throwers and the Yankees love that.

The 25-year-old Salazar went up and down a few times from 2013-14 before sticking for good this past season, pitching to a 3.45 ERA (3.62 FIP) in 30 starts and 185 innings. He is not signed long-term but is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2020. The Yankees are said to be looking for starters they can control more than two years since basically everyone in their rotation except Luis Severino can become a free agent following the 2017 season.

Carrasco and Salazar are potential building block players because they’re so good and under control so long. The Indians don’t have to move them. It’s not like they’re impending free agents. They’ll only deal them if they get exactly what they want in return. The Tribe are a small market team with a tight payroll, so any idea of a Jacoby Ellsbury-Terry Francona reunion probably won’t happen. The obvious fit here is Brett Gardner.

The Yankees owe Gardner $38M over the next three years and even that might be too expensive for the Indians. New York could always eat some money to facilitate a trade — or take back a bad contract, like the $16.5M owed to Chris Johnson the next two years — which they’ve been willing to do in the past. They ate a bunch of money to move A.J. Burnett and more recently picked up part of Martin Prado‘s contract to get Nathan Eovaldi.

Either way, Gardner for Carrasco or Salazar straight up probably isn’t happening. I’d do either of those deals in a heartbeat which means they’re lopsided in favor of the Yankees, right? More than likely it would be Gardner plus stuff for Carrasco or Salazar, and the stuff would have to be pretty good too. Gardner and Aaron Judge for Salazar or especially Carrasco would not be an unrealistic request by the Indians in my opinion. Not at all. I’d still do either of those trades which means they’re still lopsided in New York’s favor.

Point is, there’s a potential fit here. The Yankees want a starter and have extra outfielders, the Indians need an outfielder and believe they have extra starters. This could work! Addressing Gardner’s salary and finding a common ground on the talent changing hands will take some work — what if the Yankees flipped Aaron Hicks instead of Gardner? — but at least this looks doable. The Yankees and Indians appear to match up well.

Scouting the Free Agent Market: Wei-Yin Chen

(Getty Images)

Recently, reports indicated that the Yankees will pursue the free agent lefty Wei-Yin Chen. The team’s interest in adding starting pitching in general is not surprising. As Mike and many others noted, the rotation is full of question marks.

I will elaborate on this later but Wei-Yin Chen isn’t really a guy that brings uncertainty. He’s a solid mid-rotation pitcher that shows up, pitches solidly more often than not, but does not fit into that “ace” mold. He’s shown that for four seasons in MLB. Yanks probably won’t need to break a bank to get him a la David Price or Johnny Cueto, but he won’t be too cheap either (Boras client, market likes paying big bucks for a starting pitcher, etc.). It will all come down to how highly the front office thinks of Chen and how much they are willing to pay. (Also, if they want to sacrifice a draft pick for him, of course)

Recent Performance

Barring a major injury or sudden decline, Wei-Yin Chen seems like he would perform as expected. In four ML seasons, Chen was a solid mid-rotation starter for the Baltimore Orioles. He compiled 9.5 fWAR in four seasons, averaging around 2.4 per season. Steamer projects him for a 2.6 fWAR season in 2016, which sounds about right.

In those four seasons, Chen posted all-around consistent peripherals: strikeout rate around 7.00 K/9, walk rate around 2.00 BB/9 and allowing dingers once in awhile (1.24 HR/9 in ML career). He’s also not a ground ball pitcher at all with a 38.5% GB rate. Barring a sudden change in approach, his style as a pitcher is pretty apparent: a control guy with an average strikeout ability who gives up fly balls.

There are two things in Chen’s performance that saw improvements though: LOB% and ERA. Well, those two things are very positively correlated so I’ll focus mainly on LOB% here. After posting a 72.8% LOB in 2012, which is right around league average, Chen improved steadily with runners on base with 76.0% in 2013, 77.5% in 2014 and 80.5% in 2015. That’s a pretty nice number for a starting pitcher, especially considering that Chen doesn’t really strike out hitters that much.

Chen had Camden Yards as his home stadium for past four years. That venue, by the way, has a park factor of 117, an extreme hitter’s park. Give the man a cookie. However, if he were to be a Yankee, it wouldn’t get much easier – YSIII has park factor of 119. Chen had a HR/9 rate of 1.32 this past season, which is not great. Unless if he undergoes a major overhaul in his arsenal and approach, don’t expect Chen to lower his home run rate under 1.00/9 anytime soon. I wouldn’t say he’s getting killed by long balls – but he is susceptible to it.

Luke Jackson, a Baltimore-based sportswriter (@luke_jackson10 on Twitter), pointed out few more kinks in Chen’s game. First off, he is not great against right-handed batters. In 2015, he allowed a .217/.250/.326 line against lefties but a .270/.318/.496 line against righties. He allowed 97 home runs total in his ML career and a whopping 79 of them have come off RHB’s. The split is quite stark, if you ask me. Buck Showalter, his manager with the Orioles, started Chen only twice versus the righty-heavy Blue Jays lineup in four years (none this year), which is incredible.

For what it’s worth, Chen also has three ML playoff starts under his belt. He beat the Yankees in 2012 ALDS Game 2 (6.1 IP, 8 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K), got hit around by the Tigers in the 2014 ALDS (3.2 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 3 K, 2 HR allowed) and pitched a decent one against the Royals in the 2014 ALCS (5.1 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K).

The Stuff

Here is a YouTube video of all the pitches Chen threw in a July 12 game versus the Washington Nationals.

Here’s his velocity tabular data from Brooks Baseball.

Wei-Yin Chen velocity

The Taiwanese lefty threw 65.6% of all pitches as fastballs and that approach didn’t seem to change at all through out the years. He mixes in a slider, curve and split/change as different weapons to show hitters. None of his pitches are considered elite but they are good enough to get by as a solid starter in ML.

According to Pitch f/x, Chen will use his fastball pretty much everywhere in the zone. He likes to bury his slider and curve towards RHB’s feet and away from LHB’s. As for split/change, he throws it below the strike zone – or keeping it middle-away from RHB’s. Doesn’t seem like he has a trademark killer pitch but he seems to have a strategy with different pitches to face hitters.

Injury History

This is an interesting one. In the states, the only instance of Chen missing an extended amount of time was in 2013 with an oblique injury. Otherwise, he’s been able to start 30+ games each year. However, if you look beyond his MLB career, he’s been through few issues in NPB days.

Chen underwent a Tommy John surgery back in 2006. In 2011, he saw overall decrease in velocity after suffering a lower body injury preseason. Even though he had a solid 2.68 ERA, he struck out considerably much less hitters (94 in 164.2 IP) than before (153 in 188 IP in 2010). Here’s a video of a 2011 start – fastball sits more around the high-80’s, which is several notches below his usual self. Considering that he posted an eye-popping 1.54 ERA in 164 IP in 2009, had he been able to showcase his best stuff in 2011, he might have been targeted with much higher offers than the three-year, $11.3 million contract (with a 2015 team option) that he got from Baltimore.

So his injury history isn’t perfect but he’s shown he’s capability of handling the Major League schedule, which is longer than the NPB one. Well, his record faltered towards the later months of both 2012 and 2013 seasons but he held his own in late stretches in 2014 and 2015. Signing a pitcher for a long-term contract will always come with some kind of injury risk but it’s good to know that Chen does not quite seem Pavano-ian in terms of visiting the disabled list.

(Getty Images)

Contract Projections

It’s been said that Chen wants a five-year deal, possibly six. I don’t know if he will necessarily get that length but given that 1) he’s a Boras client, and 2) there are a lot of teams hungry for solid starting pitching in the market, it’s not really out of the realm of possibility. I think there will be a good amount of teams comfortable giving him four years but the one that will offer him the fifth will come out as the winner. Will New York be that one? I don’t know.

He’s basically the best lefty starter in the market not named David Price. Teams that want a starter but not at Price, Zimmermann, Cueto, etc. prices will most likely consider Chen at some point, so yeah, I feel like him getting a big contract as a result of a bidding war is very much a possibility.

One major knock against pursuing Chen is that he was offered the qualifying offer from the Orioles and, of course, he declined it, meaning that Yankees would have to give up their first rounder if they were to sign him. Here are some projections/predictions of his next contract from different publications:

If you had told me back in the 2011-12 offseason that Chen would someday get a contract five times bigger than what the O’s gave him, I would have been pretty skeptical. But hey, life works that kind of way for some. The Orioles got an absolute steal in Chen and now he’s looking to get paid. A deal around five years, $80 million does not seem like an outrageous outcome at all.

Wrapping Up

I think Chen could be a very serviceable starter for the Yankees. He’s shown consistency as a solid mid-rotation starter in the same division and in a hitter’s park. At least for the first two or three years of the contract, Chen will be a nice guy to go for most days of the week.

He definitely won’t come cheap for Yankees though – in more ways than one. First off, he’ll get a big contract. He will be an attractive commodity to teams that aren’t willing to spend Cueto/Price money on FA starters and, in my opinion, that will certainly create some kind of bidding war, which could drive the price up higher than a lot of us could foresee. Once a team wins the bidding, then they’d have to give up a draft pick. New York could definitely get extra wins by having Chen for next few years versus not having him, but at what cost?

My gut feeling says that Yankees will monitor the market for Chen for awhile and, at some point, the price will go out of their comfort range. We’ll see how it goes though.

Brett Gardner and the Tale of Two Seasons [2015 Season Review]


The Yankees had a lot of players coming into the season with health and performance concerns, and Brett Gardner was no exception. The team’s longest tenured non-A-Rod player played through an abdominal injury in the second half last year, an injury so bad it required offseason surgery. The surgery came with a four-week recovery time and Gardner was 100% come Spring Training.

With Derek Jeter retired, Gardner was certain to hit near the top of the lineup in 2015 after being the club’s best offensive player a year ago. (His 111 wRC+ led guys who were with the Yankees for all of 2014.) Whether he hit leadoff or second really didn’t matter. Gardner was one of the team’s best hitters and there was now a clear path to at-bats at the top of the order, which was a step in the right direction for an offense in need of help.

A Normal Spring

Abdominal injuries — Gardner had surgery to repair a core muscle near his ribs, specifically — are a pretty big deal in baseball. In all sports, really. Hitting and throwing requires a lot of quick-twitch movements. Gardner had no physical problems in camp but he didn’t hit at all: .186/.294/.220 with 16 strikeouts in 22 Grapefruit League games. Did anyone even mention that? I don’t remember that being talked about at all. Either way, Gardner was healthy and in the lineup come Opening Day, because duh.

An All-Star First Half

When the season started, Joe Girardi opted to use Jacoby Ellsbury at leadoff and Gardner as his No. 2 hitter. There was really no bad way to order them as far as I was concerned. As long as those two hit in the top two spots of the lineup, the Yankees were good. The first of the team’s 764 runs in 2015 came on Opening Day, on Gardner’s sixth inning solo home run.

That was the only run the Yankees scored in the Opening Day loss to the Blue Jays. Gardner nearly went deep in the first inning too, but Jose Bautista made a nice jumping catch at the wall. Here’s the video.

The Opening Day home run was the start of an outstanding first half for Gardner. He basically never slumped. Only four times in the first half did Gardner go back-to-back games without a hit and he never once went three straight games without a hit. He started the season by reaching base in each of his first eleven games and in 31 of his first 32 games. From April 18th through May 15th, a span of 25 games, Gardner reached base 40 times.

During his best hot streak of the season, an eleven-game stretch in late-June, Gardner went 25-for-50 (.500) with seven doubles, a triple, and four home runs. That’s a .500/.545/.920 (300 wRC+) batting line. It’s both an extremely small sample and cool as hell. The performance helped earn Gardner a spot on the AL All-Star Final Vote ballot, though he was later named to the All-Star Team as an injury replacement for Alex Gordon.

Gardner went 3-for-5 with a home run that afternoon. He came off the bench in the All-Star Game in Cincinnati and went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts against Clayton Kershaw and Mark Melancon, his former teammate at several levels. He also played one inning in left field and three in center.

Gardner finished the first half with a .302/.377/.484 (137 wRC+) batting line. He had ten homers and 15 stolen bases, making him the only AL player with 10+ homers and 15+ steals at the break. Also, Mike Trout (179 wRC+), Nelson Cruz (154 wRC+), J.D. Martinez (146 wRC+), and Bautista (138 wRC+) were the only AL outfielders with better offensive production in the first half. Gardner was a monster. The Yankees scored a lot of runs in the first half and he was a huge reason why.

A Disaster Second Half

Believe it or not, Gardner started the second half fairly well, going 10-for-39 (.256) with a homer and more walks (nine) than strikeouts (eight) in his first eleven games after the break. It all collapsed from there. Gardner put up a .208/.304/.257 (60 wRC+) line in August then a .198/.271/.321 (62 wRC+) line in September (and October). Ice cold like too many of his teammates.

Gardner hit six home runs in the second half and three of them came on the same day. The Yankees played a doubleheader against the Blue Jays on September 12th, and Gardner went 4-for-9 with three homers and a walk on the day. He drove in seven of their 12 runs in the doubleheader.

The overall numbers are ugly. Gardner hit .206/.300/.292 (66 wRC+) in the second half, dragging his overall season slash line down to a still respectable .259/.343/.399 (105 wRC+). He stole 15 bases (18 attempts) in the first half and only five (seven attempts) in the second half. Brett was two totally different players in 2015. He was unbelievable in the first half. Legitimately one of the most productive outfielders in baseball. Then, in the second half, he ranked 145th out of 156 qualified hitters with that 66 wRC+.

Gardner started the wildcard game in the leadoff spot — Ellsbury was benched against Dallas Keuchel in favor of lefty masher Chris Young — and went 0-for-4 with three ugly strikeouts. He grounded out in the eighth inning and heard loud boos from the Yankee Stadium crowd, which was dumb, but whatever. Fans were frustrated. The Yankees went from leading the AL East (by seven games!) to barely hanging on to a wildcard spot and Gardner’s disaster second half was a huge factor.

Before & After

Something changed this season. There has to be an explanation for Gardner going from great in the first half to a replacement level in the second half. Realistically, his true talent is somewhere in between the two halves. In fact, it’s right where he finished the season. Gardner hit .259/.343/.399 (105 wRC+) in 2015 after hitting .267/.350/.397 (108 wRC+) as an everyday player from 2010-14, so yeah.

The easy way out would be to blame it on simple regression. He was so insanely hot in the first half and then the other shoe dropped, bringing his numbers where they belonged. That is … unsatisfying. For instance, we know Gardner had some kind of wrist injury this year. We don’t know how much it affected his performance, but it would be silly to ignore it. Wrist injuries are kind of a big deal.

We know the raw stats, the 137 wRC+ in the first half followed by the 66 wRC+ in the second half. Let’s look at some batted ball data to see if anything else was going on.

Brett Gardner batted ball

Gardner hit considerably more fly balls in the second half than he did in the first half, which at least somewhat explains going from a .363 BABIP to a .247 BABIP. Fly balls are bad for BABIP business.

Even worse for BABIP business: not hitting the ball hard. Gardner’s hard contact rate fell big time after the All-Star break — he had a 27.5% hard contact rate from 2013-14, so his first half number isn’t unusual, but his second half number is way down — and that’s another BABIP killer. Unless you can expertly place the ball like peak Ichiro Suzuki, less hard contact generally leads to fewer hits. The wrist could be one possible explanation.

Gardner’s spray rates didn’t change much. He’s always been pretty good at hitting to all fields and in the second half he hit some more balls back up the middle rather than the other way to left field. That’s not really a huge deal in my opinion. Had Gardner suddenly started pulling like 50% of his balls in play, that would be a red flag. There’s only a slight change. No biggie.

More fly balls and less hard contact is a really good way to reduce offensive production. I can’t explain why it happened — I’m not even sure Gardner and the Yankees can explain it right now — but it happened. It would be nice if the wrist was behind all this, that way we could point to an injury and simply wait for it to heal. Injuries are a pretty good excuse most of the time.

It could also be that Gardner wore himself down in the first half. He has a history of being better in the first half — career 115 wRC+ before the All-Star break and 88 wRC+ after — and a few reports this summer indicated the Yankees are concerned Gardner’s hard-nosed style of play causes him to wear down late in the season. That’s a plausible explanation too. It also could be Gardner was a mechanical mess and lost his swing. It happens.

My guess as to the cause of Gardner’s second half fade: everything. It was a little of everything. The wrist, being worn down, some swing issues, some poor ball-in-play luck, everything. This could all be connected too — the wrist injury led to bad hitting mechanics, etc. I don’t think Gardner is suddenly a true talent 66 wRC+ hitter. He didn’t forget how to hit during the All-Star break. Something happened and I don’t know what.

Looking Ahead to 2016

There have been more than a few Gardner trade rumors this winter — we know the Yankees have talked to the Mariners about him — and while that’s nothing new, it does seem like there is a bit more validity to them this year. He’s one of their few (only?) movable veteran players and the Yankees would be able to replace him internally after picking up Aaron Hicks. For now, Gardner remains the team’s starting left fielder. I think a trade is a very real possibility though.

If the Yankees are planning to spend when huge contracts end, they should do it this offseason instead

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

It’s the offseason, which means we’re seeing constant updates about the Yankees and how they don’t want to spend money or trade their best prospects or give up their first round draft pick. We hear the same stuff every offseason and inevitably the Yankees do some of that, either spend money or give up prospects. They can’t not do anything, not when they continue to push “World Series or bust” mantra.

The offseason is still young and the Yankees have made just one notable move so far, swapping John Ryan Murphy for Aaron Hicks. They’re trying to get younger so trades figure to be the focus this winter — just like they were the focus last winter — because that’s how you get younger. Free agents aren’t young. They’ve put their 6+ years in and have earned the right to test the open market. Guys in their mid-20s like Jason Heyward are extremely rare.

The Yankees had relatively little money come off the books this year, roughly $20M total between a bunch of low cost one-year contract guys (Stephen Drew, Chris Capuano, Chris Young, Garrett Jones). Next year some of the huge contracts begin to expire. Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran will be free agents next offseason, then Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia come off the books the offseason after that.

“The last couple of years, the money that has come off, we’ve had to put it back in,” said Hal Steinbrenner to Ken Davidoff. “Fill voids because we haven’t had the young players to do it with. The guys that we picked up two years ago, the McCanns and the Ellsburys, they’ve been great. Glad we did it. A couple of years from now, the payroll situation will be different. I’ll have flexibility. We will be active on the free agent market. We always are. But I’ve got other options.”

Between Teixeira and Beltran, the Yankees will dump $40M or so in payroll next winter. Another $50M or so disappears thanks to A-Rod and Sabathia the following year. That’s an awful lot of money. But where does that money go? Hal can say they “will be active on the free agent market,” but have you seen the upcoming free agent classes? Here’s my quick ranking of next offseason’s top ten free agents:

  1. Stephen Strasburg – really great when healthy
  2. Carlos Gomez – kind of annoying but really good
  3. Jose Bautista – like the Blue Jays are letting him leave
  4. Kenley Jansen – like the Dodgers are letting him leave
  5. Edwin Encarnacion – he’s a DH
  6. Adrian Beltre – he’ll be 37 in April
  7. Justin Turner – looks like a human-sized leprechaun
  8. Matt Wieters – oh geez
  9. I got nothing
  10. Really, that’s it

So yeah, the Yankees are freeing up a boatload of cash soon, but quality free agents aren’t going to magically appear just because the Yankees have money to spend. If anything, the 2016-17 free agent class will only get worse because a few of the actual good players will sign extensions.

The more I think about it, the more I believe the Yankees need to look at this free agent class as their best opportunity to bring in quality players for nothing but cash over the next few years. They could really use a high-end starter, and right now guys like David Price and Zack Greinke and Jordan Zimmermann are available. Next year it’s Strasburg and Jered Weaver. Want a second baseman? Either sign Ben Zobrist or Howie Kendrick now or pretend Martin Prado is comparable next year.

The Yankees have not increased payroll significantly in a decade now, which is both total crap and something we can’t do anything about. Hal Steinbrenner has established his payroll comfort zone in that $200M to $220M range — well, aside from the fact he’s made it clear he wants to get under the luxury tax threshold as soon as possible — and if the Yankees are going to stick to that next year, they won’t be signing any notable free agents this offseason. The math doesn’t work.

For the Yankees to take advantage of this deep free agent class, Hal would have to step out of his payroll comfort zone for a year before the bigger contracts come off the books next winter. Live with a bigger than usual payroll in 2016 before things return to normal in 2017 and beyond. Spending the savings now, basically. It’s either that or sit out the best free agent class in years and look for other ways to improve the team in future offseasons.

The Yankees have gotten burned by big money contracts and I get that. I’m actually in favor of avoiding huge money long-term deals for guys at or over 30. There are very valid baseball reasons to not sign, say, David Price. Heyward is a special case because of his age and a long-term contract makes sense for him. Otherwise the mid-range free agents are where the Yankees can benefit the most, guys like Zobrist or Hisashi Iwakuma, who likely could be had for high-salary three-year deals. (Iwakuma might take two years.) The money’s not really the issue — at least it shouldn’t be for the Yankees — the years are the sticking point.

Long story short, the upcoming free agent classes stink and there won’t be many good places for the Yankees to spend the Teixeira, Beltran, Sabathia, and A-Rod savings. The smart thing to do in my opinion is to target free agents this offseason — get the help you need to contend and maybe actually win a postseason game — and live with the high payroll for a year. (That’s easy for me to say, of course.) Waiting for the contracts to come off the books before spending comes with a high opportunity cost. They’ll miss out on a lot of good players who fill obvious needs.