Devil’s Advocate: Reasons the Yankees should trade Brett Gardner

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Once again, there has been a lot of talking about a possible a Brett Gardner trade this offseason. It’s been going on for a few years now, mostly because he is one of the few players on the roster with actual trade value. He’s the only veteran Yankee making real money with any sort of trade value. People like to talk trades and Gardner’s tradeable.

We’ve already heard the Yankees have discussed Gardner with the Mariners, though it sounds like those talks were preliminary more than anything. (Seattle’s recent Leonys Martin pickup may end those talks.) There’s been speculation other clubs like the Angels, Cubs, Nationals, Tigers, and even the Mets could be suitors for Gardner. Lots of contending clubs — and that’s Gardner’s market, teams trying to contend, there’s no reason for rebuilding clubs to get him — have a need in the outfield.

Even with his second half slump, Gardner was one of the Yankees’ best players this past season, hitting .259/.343/.399 (105 wRC+) with 16 home runs and 20 steals in 151 games. Only 15 players in baseball had 15+ homers and 15+ steals in 2015. Gardner was one of ’em. I have a tough time seeing how the Yankees could trade Gardner and actually improve, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth exploring.

As with any player, the Yankees are smart to listen to offers to Gardner. You never know when a team may be desperate and willing to overpay. (Overpay in your eyes, anyway.) Although I’m not necessarily hoping the Yankees trade Gardner, there are reasons it could be a good idea. Here are four in no particular order.

Avoid Decline Years

Gardner turned 32 in late-August and plays a hard-nosed style, so much so the Yankees are reportedly worried he wears himself out over the long season each year, leading to his second half slumps. His offensive production has actually held fairly steady since becoming a full-time player in 2010 …

Source: FanGraphsBrett Gardner

… though normal age-related decline figures to set in fairly soon, if it hasn’t already. Also, Gardner’s defense is not as strong as it once was. Both the eye test and stats confirm that. Gardner is still a really good defender, he’s hardly a liability out there, but he’s closer to league average than elite at this point.

And, of course, there’s the decline in stolen bases, which is pretty normal. Gardner swiped 47 and 49 bases in 2010 and 2011, respectively, missed most of 2012 due to an elbow injury, and has hovered around 20 steals a year from 2013-15. Stolen bases tend to peak very early in a player’s career, so it’s no surprise he isn’t stealing as many bases as he once did.

Gardner right now is still a really good player. He’s solidly above-average overall and is arguably the best all-around player on the Yankees. He’s no worse than their what, third best all-around player? That’s right now though. What about next year and the year after that and the year after that, all of which are guaranteed under his contract?

Gardner will decline at some point because all players decline at some point. The Yankees have almost certainly gotten the best years of his career and now they may be in position to avoid his decline phase — decline is not always gradual, remember — through a trade.

Shed Salary

I absolutely hate the idea of the Yankees shedding salary in order to make other moves, especially since payroll has not increased significantly over the last decade even though the new Yankee Stadium opened six years ago, but that’s the world we live in. Gardner is owed $38M over the next three seasons, including the $2M buyout of his $12.5M club option for 2016.

That’s not a huge contract — 18 outfielders have contracts with a higher average annual value, and a few more will join the list this winter — but it’s not nothing either. Shedding the $13M or so they owe Gardner each of the next three years means more money for … whatever. Pitching, second base, more outfielders, whatever. There are lots of ways to spend $13M annually and the Yankees certainly have no shortage of needs. Moving Gardner saves real dollars that can be put to use elsewhere.

Clear A Spot For Hicks & Co.

Late last week the Yankees acquired Aaron Hicks, a switch-hitter with center field defensive chops who Brian Cashman called “an everyday player.” Except he won’t be an everyday player, at least not with the roster as it currently stands. Gardner is locked into left field while Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran are set to again play center and right, respectively.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Trading Gardner clears up left field for Hicks — I’d be favor of playing Hicks in center and Ellsbury in left, but that ain’t happening — and allows him to play everyday. Also, the Yankees have some outfield talent in Triple-A they could also explore. We saw Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams last year, and there’s also Aaron Judge and Ben Gamel (and Jake Cave) in Triple-A.

The long-term potential of those other outfielders is up for debate — Hicks appears to be on the verge of a breakout, but who knows about the other guys — but the Yankees are never going to know what they have until they give them a chance. Trading Gardner clears left field and allows the Yankees to use Hicks, Heathcott, Judge, whoever. It creates more roster flexibility, basically. And it also allows them to potentially add some more balance to the lineup with a righty hitter.

Talent Infusion

There are an awful lot of good outfielders on the market this offseason. I mean some of the best in the game. So why would a team give up players to trade for Gardner when they could simply pay money for a free agent? Because look at some of these projected prices (via FanGraphs Crowdsourcing):

  • Jason Heyward, age 26: Eight years and $184M.
  • Yoenis Cespedes, age 30: Six years and $132M.
  • Justin Upon, age 28: Six years and $120M.
  • Alex Gordon, age 31: Five years and $90M.
  • Dexter Fowler, age 29: Four years and $56M.

Suddenly three years and $38M for Gardner doesn’t seem so bad, does it? Point is, those guys are going to make major bucks, and not every team can afford them. Among the second tier outfield targets are Denard Span, Austin Jackson, Gerardo Parra, and Nori Aoki. Span and Aoki were hurt this year, Jackson wasn’t very good, and Parra’s track record as a hitter isn’t nearly as good as Gardner’s.

Mid-market teams that can’t sink $18M+ annually into an outfielder and don’t want to give up a draft pick are left to either sign a second tier free agent or trade for someone like Gardner, who has a strong track record and has succeeded in the tough AL East battles, which teams value. Plus the Yankees could also pay down part of his contract to make him even more affordable.

That’s the long way of saying Gardner figures to have plenty suitors this offseason and could bring back a nice package of players. Nothing that’ll alter the direction of the franchise, but it wouldn’t be a straight salary dump either. One year of Fowler netted Luis Valbuena and Dan Straily. Two years of Seth Smith landed a high-end reliever (Brandon Mauer). A year and a half of Parra returned two solid prospects (last year’s trade). Heck, one year of Shin-Soo Choo fetched Didi Gregorius a few years back.

The Yankees are in the middle of this rebuilding on the fly thing and chances are they won’t seek prospects in return for Gardner. Prospects may be part of the package, sure, but I’m guessing they’ll want at least one player they can plug directly into their MLB roster. That’s the way they’ve been operating over the last year. MLB player for MLB player trades. Gardner could bring back two or even three young players who better fit the Yankees long-term.

* * *

I don’t love the idea of trading Gardner but the Yankees are not wrong to explore it. Far from it. It’s Cashman’s job to explore every possible way to improve the team, and sometimes that can be accomplished by trading one of the better players on the roster. Trading Gardner could help the Yankees avoid his decline years, shed some salary, and create more roster flexibility by clearing a spot for young players and adding more talent to the organization. It’s definitely something to consider.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

According to Ken Rosenthal, David Ortiz is planning to retire following the 2016 season. That dude has crushed the Yankees for more than a decade now and I won’t miss him. He’s a Hall of Famer though. No doubt about it in my mind. Whether Ortiz actually gets in is another matter. A worthy foe, indeed.

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks, Nets, and Devils are all playing, plus there’s a bunch of college hoops on as well. Talk about those games or anything else here.

Jeff Banister named 2015 AL Manager of the Year; Girardi finishes fifth in voting

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

Tuesday night, MLB and the BBWAA announced Rangers skipper Jeff Banister has won the 2015 AL Manager of the Year award. Astros manager A.J. Hinch finished second and Twins manager Paul Molitor finished third. All three guys were in their first seasons on the job. Cubs manager Joe Maddon was named NL Manager of the Year.

Joe Girardi finished fifth in the voting, receiving two first place votes and two third place votes. He was behind Banister, Hinch, Molitor, and Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. Girardi, who won the 2006 NL Manager of the Year award with the Marlins, has received at least one Manager of the Year vote every year since 2009.

The full voting results are available at the BBWAA’s site. The Manager of the Year has morphed into the “manager whose team most exceeds expectations” award, and, well, the Yankees are always expected to win. Joe Torre in 1996 and 1998 is the last New York manager to win the award.

The Rookie of the Year was announced Monday. The Cy Young will be announced Wednesday and the MVP follows Thursday. The Yankees do not have any finalists this year but I’m sure some players received down-ballot votes. They always do.

New approach and leg kick are reasons to believe Aaron Hicks is on the verge of a breakout

(Ed Zurga/Getty)
(Ed Zurga/Getty)

Late last week the Yankees made their first significant move of the offseason, trading backup catcher John Ryan Murphy to the Twins for outfielder Aaron Hicks. The team has some depth at catcher — Gary Sanchez‘s breakout summer sure helped matters — and needed an outfielder, particularly someone who can hit lefties and play strong defense.

Hick does both of those things. He has long been considered a standout gloveman in center field — Hicks is the best outfield defender in the organization right now — and this past season he hit .307/.375/.495 (139 wRC+) against southpaws. That’s pretty great. At the very least, Hicks is a fine replacement for Chris Young, who is reportedly seeking a starting job this offseason.

The Yankees don’t view Hicks merely as Young’s replacement, however. They believe he has the potential to be more than that in the future. Brian Cashman called him an “everyday player” at the GM Meetings last week, and while there is no obvious starting spot for Hicks on next year’s team at the moment, there figures to be a way to get him 350+ at-bats. After all, Young batted 356 times in 2015.

The Twins jerked Hicks around the last few years, calling him up and sending him down multiple times. He started this past season in Triple-A, came up for four weeks in May and June, went back to Triple-A for three weeks, then came back up for good in early-July. Part of that was Hicks’ fault — he would have stuck around longer had he performed better — but Minnesota didn’t show much patience.

Hicks hit .259/.333/.432 (109 wRC+) with ten homers and a 16.8% strikeout rate in 291 plate appearances after that final call-up this summer. He was a career .209/.293/.311 (70 wRC+) hitter with a 24.6% strikeout rate in 637 big league plate appearances prior to that. The Yankees are hoping the strong finish is a sign of real improvement and not just a three-month hot streak.

There are reasons to believe Hicks is on the verge of a breakout, if he didn’t already break out with the Twins last year. First and foremost, he became more aggressive at the plate. Usually that’s a bad thing, but Hicks was passive earlier in his career, and that’s bad. Here are his plate discipline stats:

Aaron Hicks plate discpline

(Hicks had over 200 plate appearances each year from 2013-15 and swing rates tend to stabilize very quickly, so while it isn’t a huge sample, the data works.)

Hicks started swinging at more pitches in the strike zone last year (Z-Swing%) without swinging at substantially more pitches out of the zone (O-Swing%). His contact rates have held relatively steady too, which is good. He’s being more selective in the sense that he’s swinging at more strikes without swinging at more balls.

All throughout the minors Hicks drew a ton of walks (career 14.4 BB%) but he was letting too many hittable pitches go by at the MLB level. The MLB average Swing% and Z-Swing% are 46.9% and 64.4%, respectively. Hicks was well below that from 2013-14 and is now closer to average. Working the count and drawing walks is good! But the goal first and foremost is to get a hit, and taking so many pitches in the zone is no way to hit.

“Preparation is key to be successful to the big leagues. If you don’t know who the starting pitcher is, it’s tough to prepare for that. I think that made me a stronger player, a better player,” said Hicks to Ken Davidoff when asked about his strong second half. “I feel confident that I’m hitting big league pitching and I’m developing into a good Major League hitter.”

Hicks is a switch-hitter who stopped hitting left-handed for a while in 2014 because of a lack of success. He made the decision himself before being talked back into it — “Rod Carew called me and told me what the heck am I doing, giving up switch hitting? It’s a blessing and I should go back to work harder at it and be able to learn from my mistakes,” said Hicks to Ronald Blum — though maintaining two swings can be tough. Maintaining one swing is tough.

Last year Hicks made some mechanical changes at the plate, specifically adding a leg kick. This was him at the plate in 2014. He had the same slight step while batting right-handed as well:

Aaron Hicks 2014 swing

The center field camera in Target Field is just the best.

Anyway, Hicks has almost no leg kick there. It was a little step forward and nothing more. Again, he did the same from the right side of the plate. Here’s video if you don’t believe me. I’m not making another GIF.

Now look at Hicks in 2015. He has a much more exaggerated leg kick:

Aaron Hicks 2015 swing

Hicks had the same leg kick while hitting from the right side too. Here’s video. He told friend of RAB Brandon Warne the leg kick came about when he and some teammates were messing around during batting practice, mimicking the swings and leg kicks of other players around the league.

“I started to like it,” he said to Warne. “From then on it was kind of a point where I was just like, you know what, I’m going to try this. We were just having fun in offseason hitting, and it just kind of led to me being comfortable with it and taking solid swings.”

Hicks told Warne he came to Spring Training this past season with the leg kick and kept “tinkering all through the spring” until he got it just right. “Torii (Hunter) helped tinker it for me as far as what I needed to do to be able to get my foot down in time,” he added.

Leg kicks do different things for different hitters, but for the most part it is a timing and/or weight transfer thing. There aren’t a whole lot of hitters these days who hit with a tiny step forward like the one Hicks was using prior to this season. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, just that it’s not for everyone. Hicks found something more comfortable.

“I feel like with the leg kick I’ve been more aggressive. Swinging early in counts and being able to make contact early, and not missing pitches,” said Hicks to Warne. “I think for me it’s more important to have my hands ready all the time to be able to fire them whenever I need to. A leg kick is going to generate my timing mechanism so I need to have my hands ready.”

So hey, how about that, the leg kick and the increased Z-Swing% might be related. At least Hicks believes they are, and that’s all that matters. Neat. It’s also worth noting that even though Hicks was swinging at more strikes this year, he still maintained a healthy 8.7% walk rate. It was 9.6% after being called up the final time.

Once upon a time Hicks was a first round pick (14th overall in 2008) and one of the top prospects in baseball (No. 19 in 2010), so this isn’t some middling talent the Yankees are trying to refine. Hicks has tremendous natural ability. Baseball America (subs. req’d) once said he has the potential to “become a five-tool center fielder with 20-25 home run power who bats in the middle of a lineup.”

It has taken Hicks some time to find his way at the MLB level and that’s not terribly uncommon. He’s still trying to figure out what works best for him, which led to the leg kick and a more aggressive approach — let’s call it “controlled aggression” since he’s not hacking at pitches off the plate — this year. Sometimes it takes time. Baseball is hard.

The Yankees are betting on Hicks — who turned only 26 last month, by the way — and his talent, hoping the improvement he made this summer is real. The change in approach and leg kick give us some tangible reasons to believe Hicks is on the verge of breaking out, at least as a legitimate everyday player, if not more.

“It feels good that the team that just traded for me has confidence in me,” said Hicks to reporters on a conference call after the trade last week. “Whatever they want me to do, just do it, and to know my role and help this team win.”

The Many Errors of Chase Headley [2015 Season Review]


Last offseason the Yankees had exactly one infielder under contract. That was first baseman Mark Teixeira. They needed a new second baseman, a new shortstop, and a new third baseman. It was a clean slate, which is both good and scary. Having to rebuild three-fourths of an infield in one offseason is a lot of work.

The Yankees opted to re-sign Chase Headley to play third base. He provided strong two-way play after coming over at the trade deadline last summer — Headley hit .262/.371/.398 (122 wRC+) and played the hell out of the hot corner in 58 games — so they gave him a four-year deal worth $52M in mid-December. Headley reportedly turned down a $65M offer because he enjoyed his time in New York so much. His first full season in pinstripes didn’t go as well as his first half-season.

A Monster in Spring

As a team, the Yankees scored 1,283 runs from 2013-14, the fourth fewest in the AL. And, coming into 2015, there were major questions about the offense. Teixeira was coming off a brutal second half, Carlos Beltran had offseason elbow surgery, Brian McCann had a disappointing first year in New York, Alex Rodriguez … gosh, who knew what to expect from A-Rod? Lots of questions.

Headley, who turned 31 in May, had a history of being an average or better hitter. No one expected him to repeat his monster 2012 season (31 homers and a 145 wRC+) but league average output built more on OBP than power was a reasonable expectation given his track record. Then Headley absolutely mashed in Spring Training, putting up a .305/.349/.543 line with five doubles and three homers in 21 games. At the time, it was easy to think he could step into the middle of the lineup should one of the other veterans falter.

A Streaky First Half

The first few weeks of the season were a bit weird for Headley. He went 15-for-59 (.254) in his first 15 games with five multi-hit games mixed in there. Headley also hit two homers in his first six games of the season, including this game-tying blast in the bottom of the ninth against the Red Sox on April 10th.

That was the 19-inning marathon loss, so the homer ultimately went for naught, but it was a pretty huge hit at the time. The Yankees struggled big time out of the gate — they lost four of their first five games, yuck — and Headley had a knack for big hits in the second half last year. He came through again that night.

The rest of Headley’s first half was really streaky. He’d be great for two weeks (.327/.382/.510 from May 16th to 30th), slump for two weeks (.212/.241/.250 from June 2nd to 16th), his power would disappear (24 games and 109 plate appearances between homers from May 26th to June 22nd), then reappear in a hurry (two homers in his next five games). Most players are streaky but Headley was really streaky in the first half.

Headley went into the All-Star break hitting .255/.310/.373 (87 wRC+) with eight homers, which was definitely below expectations. His walk rate (6.8%) was down compared to his career average (10.0%). And yet, when Jacoby Ellsbury got hurt, Headley stepped into the No. 2 spot in the lineup and hit .291/.340/.376 in the interim. That’s pretty good. It was an up and down first half and the Yankees were going to need more from their third baseman down the stretch.

Second Half Headley

Throughout his career, Headley has a history of being a better hitter after the All-Star break. He’s a career 102 wRC+ hitter in the first half and 122 wRC+ in the second half, so there was some reason to expect improved performance after the All-Star break.

Sure enough, Headley came out of the gate strong after the break, hitting .327/.407/.473 (145 wRC+) in 42 games and 167 plate appearances from the All-Star break through the end of August. He still wasn’t hitting for power (only two homers) but was doing pretty much everything else. Headley had his best game of the season on August 30th, going 3-for-3 with a double, a homer, and two walks in a blowout win over the Braves.

September was rough for Headley, as it was for many of his teammates. He hit .179/.252/.223 (23 wRC+) overall with a 28.5% strikeout rate, which is ghastly. Seemingly no one hit that final month, but geez, Headley was especially bad. He of course started the wildcard game — it was the first postseason game of Headley’s career — and went 0-for-2 with a walk.

All told, Headley put up a .259/.324/.369 (91 wRC+) batting line with eleven home runs, a 7.9% walk rate, and a 21.0% strikeout rate in 156 games and 642 plate appearances this season. The average and OBP are fine, you can live with that from a guy who spent the majority of the season batting sixth and seventh, but where was the power? Solid so-called clutch stats — .258/.324/.435 (108 wRC+) in high-leverage spots and .285/.350/.482 (124 wRC+) with runners in scoring position — helped offset that a bit.

The Disappearing Power

Outside of that huge 2012 season, Headley’s never really been a power hitter throughout his career. Obviously spacious Petco Park had something to do with that, but, even on the road, Headley only mustered a .158 ISO as an everyday player with San Diego from 2009 through the trade in 2014. That’s more or less league average.

This year though, Headley hit only those eleven homers, his lowest total in four years, and had a career low .110 ISO. That’s in hitter friendly Yankee Stadium, remember. Headley’s a switch-hitter who was better against lefties (104 wRC+) than righties (86 wRC+), and there was no significant difference between his home (six homers and .110 ISO) and road (five homers and .111 ISO) power numbers.

We only have one year of exit velocity data right now, so that won’t help us much. Quality of contact data from Baseball Info Solutions, which is recorded by human stringers and inherently includes some scorer bias, will have to serve as a substitute. Here’s is Headley’s batted ball data since becoming an everyday player:

Chase Headley batted ball

The first thing that jumped out to me was the spike in infield pop-up rate. Headley’s IFFB% from 2010-14 was well below the league average (~9.5%). Infield pop-ups are usually just misses, unless you’re talking about an old school power dude with an uppercut swing, like Teixeira or Adam Dunn.

Furthermore, Headley’s ground ball rate didn’t spike this year. If he had suddenly started beating the ball into the ground, then it would explain where his power went. Ground balls don’t go for extra base hits all that often. The spikes in soft contact and hard contact rates are indeed huge, and yet, the league averages this year were 18.6 Soft% and 28.6 Hard%. Headley’s rates this season were out of line with his previous seasons but not the league averages.

Of course, Headley is a switch-hitter, and those numbers lump his left and right-handed swings together. Since he did damage against southpaws this summer, let’s focus on his lefty production. Here are three left-handed spray charts. From left to right you have Headley’s 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons. I recommend clicking the image for a larger view.

Chase Headley 2013-15 spray charts

Headley, like many left-handed hitters, tends to pull his ground balls to the right side of the infield, which is why he gets shifted. This past season he hit way more line drives (the yellow dots) to left field as a left-handed hitter than he did in 2013 or 2014. It’s been a gradual progress — some liners to left in 2013, more in 2014, then even more in 2015.

That’s a good thing! Line drives to all fields are pretty cool. The problem is the lack of line drives beyond the middle of the outfield. The 2013-14 spray charts show a bunch of yellow dots to the warning track/wall in left field. This season there was one. So all those liners to left were short line drives, which are not the kind of line drives that result in power.

The extra liners to left this year — again, this is as a left-handed batter only — could be a one year fluke. Weird stuff happens sometimes. It could also be the result of working with a new hitting coach and a change in approach. Headley could have intentionally being going to left to avoid all those frustrating shifts. It could also be that his bat has slowed and he can’t turn on pitches like he once did. That could also explain the just missed pop-ups.

I don’t think anyone is expecting Headley to hit 30+ homers. Maybe not even 20+. But eleven dingers for a guy who bats the majority of the time as a lefty in Yankee Stadium? I was expecting more. The sharp spike in pop-ups combined with all the additional balls to left field give me some hope it was mechanical — Headley was focused on going the other way, something he’s not really used to doing. That’s my hope, anyway.

The Disappearing Defense

Errors are a bad way to evaluate defense, but holy moly did Headley commit a lot of errors this summer. Twenty-three total, by far a new career high (previous career high: 13 back in 2010) and the fifth most in baseball behind Marcus Semien (35), Ian Desmond (27), Starlin Castro (24), and Brett Lawrie (24).

Twelve of those 23 errors were throwing errors and many of them came on routine plays, like this one:

I can’t imagine how many errors Teixeira saved Headley with scoops at first base too. Headley still made some truly outstanding plays this year though, so it’s not like he forgot how the field entirely. I mean, look:

The defensive tools are there. But the throwing miscues piled up this year, and when you watch him play — plus the fact most of the errors came on routine plays — it’s hard not to think the problems are mental. Just look at the release on the throwing error in the video a little while ago:

Chase Headley error

Headley’s tentative. He takes his time, steps into the throw — I count three steps between fielding the ball and the throw — swings his arm back, then the throw sails away. Headley made a ton of throws like that this year and, to be fair, most were on-line. But many more were off-line compared to what you’d expect from a big league third baseman.

Here’s Headley making a fairly routine play last year, for comparison:

Chase Headley 2014 throw

There’s conviction behind that throw. Headley fields the hop and throws a dart to first base in one nice and fluid motion. That’s how big leaguers are supposed to play third base. There was no thinking there. It was all reaction. That wasn’t the case this year.

For what it’s worth, the errors did not come as frequently later in the season. Headley committed a ridiculous 16 errors in his first 69 games at third base and only seven in his final 86 games. That’s still a lot though! This is a guy who committed eight errors total in 127 games last year.

To me, it doesn’t look like anything is physically wrong with Headley. He looks like a guy dealing with a mental block, or the yips if you prefer. This isn’t a severe Knoblauchian oh my gosh he can’t throw ever again case of the yips, but Headley struggled this year. He didn’t look sure of himself, and getting over the yips can be really tough. Lots can go wrong during that long throw from third base.

“I did the extra work, but it wasn’t one thing to look at. More than anything I had gotten to the point a little bit where I was getting caught in between,” said Headley about his throwing problems this summer. “Hopefully it’s behind me and hopefully it makes me mentally stronger.’’

Looking Ahead to 2016

Headley has three years left on his contract and even though he doesn’t have a no-trade clause, I have a hard time thinking the Yankees would trade him. Not because they wouldn’t be able to find a taker, but because there are almost no viable replacements available. The best free agent third baseman is David Freese — or Daniel Murphy, I suppose we should count him — and the Yankees don’t have anyone in the system ready to step in. Headley figures to be back next year and hopefully he gets over his throwing issues. Finding some power is a secondary concern to the throwing in my book.

Poll: Protection decisions for the 2015 Rule 5 Draft

Hebert. (Presswire)
Hebert and his poorly buttoned jersey. (Presswire)

This Friday is the deadline for clubs to set their 40-man rosters for the Rule 5 Draft. (They also have to set their Triple-A and Double-A rosters for the minor league phase, though that isn’t significant.) The Rule 5 Draft isn’t as helpful as it once was, but some useful players still slip through the cracks, including Odubel Herrera (3.9 fWAR!) and Delino DeShields Jr. this past season.

Generally speaking, high school players selected in the 2011 draft and earlier are eligible for this offseason’s Rule 5 Draft. So are college players drafted in 2012 or earlier and international free agents signed during the 2010-11 signing period or earlier. There are some exceptions — eligibility is determined by the player’s age the day he signs, and we rarely know the exact date — but those are the general guidelines.

The Yankees got a head start on their Rule 5 Draft protection moves this year, adding Luis Severino, Greg Bird, and James Pazos to the 40-man roster during the regular season. Severino and Bird were locks to be added while Pazos was on the bubble. Obviously the Yankees like him as a hard-throwing lefty.

The club still has several players eligible for this year’s Rule 5 Draft, including some notable prospects. Whether they are worth protecting is another matter. Here’s a look at the biggest names.

3B Miguel Andujar

The case for protecting: Andujar has some of the best tools in the organization, and while his performance hasn’t been great — 99 wRC+ at Low-A Charleston in 2014 and a 98 wRC+ at High-A Tampa in 2015 — he’s been among the youngest players in the league at each stop. There is a shocking shortage of quality third basemen in baseball these days. Andujar has the defensive chops for the hot corner and the tools to be a two-way player down the road.

The case against protecting: The tools outshine the production at this point. The 20-year-old Andujar offers little versatility (he’s a third baseman only), so a team is unlikely to scoop him up for a utility tole. He hasn’t hit enough in the low minors to think he could handle big league pitching at this point either. Simply put, Andujar isn’t ready for MLB. You could argue he isn’t even ready for Double-A.

IF Abi Avelino

The case for protecting: Avelino, 20, has good tools and top of the line instincts, so the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. He had a solid 2015 season, hitting .260/.314/.334 (97 wRC+) with 54 steals in 72 attempts (81%) in 123 games split between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa. Avelino is also a capable defender at both middle infield positions, so it’s not out of the question he could stick as a backup infielder/pinch-runner in 2016.

The case against protecting: For starters, the Yankees don’t really have room on the 40-man roster for a player who isn’t projected to help in 2016. Also, Avelino’s good but not great production indicates he’d be overwhelmed at the MLB level at this point of his career. He’s of limited use right now — defense and running, that’s it. The Yankees would effectively be working with a 39-man roster next year.

RHP Johnny Barbato

The case for protecting: Every team needs bullpen help, and the 23-year-old Barbato managed a 3.19 ERA (3.45 FIP) with a 24.8 K% and a 9.2 BB% in 67.2 innings between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton in 2015. Barbato, who the Yankees acquired in the Shawn Kelley trade, is a mid-90s fastball/upper-70s curveball guy who has missed bats and had success at the highest levels of the minors. He is a prime piece of Rule 5 Draft fodder.

The case against protecting: The Yankees have approximately 67 right-handed relievers for the bullpen shuttle on the 40-man roster already. Okay, maybe not that many, but they have a lot. I count six and that’s just the righties. Obviously one or two of those guys could lose their 40-man spots in the roster crunch this winter, but there’s still plenty to go around. Is yet another righty reliever good use of a precious 40-man spot?

OF Jake Cave

The case for protecting: Cave, 22, has both tools and performance. He’s hit .285/.344/.386 (110 wRC+) in 266 games over the last two years, climbing from High-A Tampa to Triple-A Scranton. Cave isn’t a huge power threat but he does almost everything else, including hit for average, draw walks, steal bases, and play capable defense in all three outfield spots. It’s not hard to see him in a fourth outfield role at the MLB level reasonably soon.

The case against protecting: As with Barbato and righty relievers, the Yankees are loaded with left-handed hitting outfielders. Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams are on the 40-man roster, and we can probably include Dustin Ackley in that group. The Yankees had enough lefty outfield depth that they traded Ramon Flores, who I think has a better long-term outlook than Heathcott or Williams. How many spots can you tie up with players who fill the same role?

RHP Rookie Davis

The case for protecting: Thanks to some mechanical tweaking, the 22-year-old Davis took a huge step forward with his control this year, cutting his walk rate to 4.7% of batters faced. He’s always had good stuff — low-to-mid-90s heater, curveball, changeup — but now he has the command to go with it. Davis had a 3.86 ERA (2.47 FIP) in 130.2 innings at High-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton this year.

The case against protecting: Davis has barely pitched above Single-A ball. He made only five starts (and one relief appearance) with the Thunder last this summer, throwing 33.1 innings. That’s all. Making the jump from limited Double-A time to the big leagues isn’t unprecedented, and it sure is easy for a bad team to hide someone like Davis in long relief, though chances are Davis won’t help the Yankees in 2016.

LHP Dietrich Enns

The case for protecting: Enns, 24, is a stats before scouting report guy. He returned from Tommy John surgery earlier this year and managed a 0.61 ERA (2.39 FIP) in 58.2 innings at mostly High-A Tampa. A total of 1,901 pitchers threw at least 50 innings in the minors this summer. None had a lower ERA than Enns. He’s a low-90s fastball, slider, changeup guy from the left side.

The case against protecting: Not counting Andrew Miller, who is in a league of his own, the Yankees have four optionable lefty relievers on the 40-man: Pazos, Jacob Lindgren, Chasen Shreve, and Justin Wilson. (I don’t think Wilson will ever be optioned, but you never know.) Enns will almost certainly be selected if he is exposed to the Rule 5 Draft — teams can’t help themselves when it comes to lefty relievers — but, for the Yankees, he would be nothing more than their fifth best lefty bullpen option on the 40-man.

Gamel. (Bill Tarutis/Times Leader )
Gamel. (Bill Tarutis/Times Leader )

OF Ben Gamel

The case for protecting: After spending a few years as an interesting prospect who was more tools than performance, Gamel broke out in 2015, hitting .300/.358/.472 (138 wRC+) at Triple-A with a farm system leading 52 extra-base hits. This was a guy who never slugged over .400 in a full season’s worth of playing time coming into the season. Gamel is also a solid defender in all three spots who can steal the occasional base. He could easily be someone’s fourth outfielder — or starting lefty platoon outfielder — come Opening Day. (I can’t help but notice GM Billy Eppler’s Angels need a low cost left-handed bat for left field.)

The case against protecting: The Yankees do have a number of upper level lefty hitting outfielders already on the 40-man roster, including a few guys with more tools and more two-way game than Gamel. Also, Gamel’s production is ahead of the scouting report. He had a marvelous year but isn’t believed to have the same explosive extra-base potential at the next level. Gamel might be something of a ‘tweener: not enough power for a corner and not enough defense for center.

LHP Chaz Hebert

The case for protecting: Hebert quietly had a breakout year. The team’s 27th round pick in the 2011 draft had a 2.55 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 134 innings at three levels this summer, including a few spot starts with Triple-A Scranton. Hebert had good strikeout (20.0%) and walk (5.6%) rates, and he’s a true four-pitch guy with a low-90s fastball, a changeup, a cutter, and a slider. Lefties with four pitches are pretty valuable, even if they only project to be back-end starters long-term. Even Vidal Nuno can get you a half-season of Brandon McCarthy, after all.

The case against protecting: Hebert, 23, was not much of a prospect prior to this season. In fact, this season was the first time the Yankees trusted him to be a regular starter for one of their affiliates. They sent Hebert to the Arizona Fall League to buy themselves more time to evaluate him, indicating they aren’t sold on his breakout just yet. Lefties are always good to have, but, like Enns, if he’s only going to be the fifth best southpaw option on the 40-man roster, Hebert might not be worth the spot.

IF Tony Renda

The case for protecting: The Yankees acquired the 24-year-old Renda from the Nationals for David Carpenter at midseason. He’s a contact freak, hitting .269/.330/.358 (100 wRC+) with more walks (8.1%) than strikeouts (7.3%) at Double-A this summer. Renda also has speed as well as the mobility and hands for the middle infield. The Yankees do not have a long-term second baseman — not until Ackley or Rob Refsnyder proves otherwise, anyway — and right now Renda is lined up to start the season in Triple-A, putting him on the cusp of helping the MLB team.

The case against protecting: Although he has good range and hands, Renda is a second baseman only because he doesn’t have the arm to handle shortstop on anything more than an emergency basis. Heck, he struggles with throws from second. Renda has zero power — six career homers in 1,944 plate appearances — and his walk rate may be the result of an experienced college hitter facing minor league hurlers with limited control. His throwing arm means he lacks the kind of versatility teams look for in Rule 5 Draft bench players.

* * *

OF Tyler Austin is also Rule 5 Draft eligible this offseason, though I didn’t include him above because he slipped through waivers unclaimed in September. Any team could have grabbed him then and not had to worry about the Rule 5 Draft roster rules. (Has to stay on the 25-man roster all year in 2016.) It didn’t happen so I assume Austin will be left exposed to the Rule 5 Draft this winter.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that sometimes the best way to keep a player is to leave him unprotected. If he’s not MLB ready, leave him off the 40-man roster, let him go through Spring Training and whatnot, then take him back when he doesn’t make the team. This is exactly what happened with Ivan Nova. Nova’s a big leaguer now, but he wasn’t in 2008, when the Padres grabbed him in the Rule 5 Draft. He got hammered in camp and was back with the Yankees before Opening Day.

The Yankees currently have 38 players on the 40-man roster, so they can add two Rule 5 Draft eligible players with no problem. Every additional player requires cutting someone loose, which is a real cost to the organization. If you’re adding a third player, you better be sure he’s better than the guy losing his spot. Time for a poll. Pick as many players as you like. (Click here to see the poll results.)

I didn’t include my Rule 5 Draft protection votes and explanations in the post because I tend to sway the vote, it seems. So vote first, then click this link to see what I’d do.

Carlos Correa named 2015 AL Rookie of the Year

(Bob Levey/Getty)
(Bob Levey/Getty)

Monday night, Astros shortstop Carlos Correa was named the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year, the BBWAA announced. He received 17 of 30 first place votes. Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor was second in the voting and Twins third baseman Miguel Sano was a distant third. The full voting results are at the BBWAA’s site.

Correa, 21, hit .279/.345/.512 (133 wRC+) with 22 homers and 14 steals in 99 games after being called up in June. He led all AL rookies in homers and slugging percentage, among other things. Lindor, who received the other 13 first place votes, actually edged Correa in WAR (4.6 to 4.1) but he didn’t have the same power numbers, and much of that 4.6 WAR came from defense.

No Yankees received a Rookie of the Year vote this season. Correa and Lindor were in the top two spots on nearly every ballot, leaving the third spot for all other rookies. Luis Severino was New York’s only chance at a Rookie of the Year vote and it didn’t happen. Greg Bird didn’t play nearly enough games for serious consideration. So it goes.

Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant was named NL Rookie of the Year unanimously. The Manager of the Year award will be announced Tuesday night. Joe Girardi is not a finalist but he has received at least one Manager of the Year vote every year since 2009.

The Yankees do not have any major awards finalists this year. I’m sure one or two guys receive down ballot votes though.