Mailbag: Lowrie/Cabrera, Zobrist, Roller, Frazier

Just a few shopkeeping items before we dive into the questions:

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Here are some deals at the MLB Shop today:

Those deals last through Sunday.

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And now, onto the questions.

Ben Zobrist
(CHRIS O’MEARA/AP)

Mark L. asks: Do you see signing two of Lowrie / Drew / Cabrera to mix and match with Prado as a cost-effective alternative to big bucks Headley?

No, I cannot see that. It seems increasingly probable that some team offers Chase Headley a four-year deal. Since the Yankees are willing to give only three, they’ll have to find help elsewhere.

Would it cost them less to sign Lowrie or Cabrera? Maybe a little, but maybe not. If Headley signs elsewhere I think they allocate that money to other positions and use Refsnyder or Pirela at second with Prado at third.

JR asks: With the Rays appearing to be in rebuilding mode, What would the cost be to get Zobrist be?

I’m not sure the Rays are in complete rebuild mode. Maybe they’re not looking for win-right-now pieces, but they’re not doing some three-year project. That said, Ben Zobrist has just one year left on his contract, for a super reasonable $7.5 million (well, $7.75 really, because he gets $.25 million if traded).

It’s hard to find a reasonable value here, though. How much is one year of Zobrist worth to you? I’m guessing the Rays want something like Greg Bird and a pitcher, and I don’t think I’d go that far. Not where the Yankees stand right now.

If they’re on the brink of greatness — if they have three guys with power who you can count on in addition to the table setters, and a great pitching staff — then maybe I consider mortgaging a decent prospect for one year of a player as versatile as Zobrist. But right now? The roster is too weak right now to make a move like that.

Hmmm asks: Would it be in the Yankees best interest, for the overall future of the team, if they do not sign anyone to over a 4 or 5 year contract until they are a legitimate contender to win? I understand that those contracts can help them become a contender, but I feel like if they don’t have the young talent that will make them perennial contenders that those contracts will just prove to be a waste.

I don’t understand this mentality at all. What does young talent have to do with being perennial contenders? Look at the 1996 Yankees. They had one starting pitcher under 30, and a lineup of mostly imported veterans. That’s not to say that the 2015 Yankees have a Jeter or a Bernie, but the idea that young talent creates perennial winners is a bit off.

You can only work with the players available to you, whether that’s on the roster or available to you in trade or free agency. Cutting yourself off from that talent because of years in a reasonable range is silly. Avoiding 10-year deals? Sure, that’s something you might want to avoid in general. But 4-5 years deals are pretty standard.

nycsportzfan asks: Why did the Yanks not protect Kyle Roller?

Roller did rake last season, mostly in AAA, so it seems as though he’s knocking on the door. That said, he turns 27 before the season starts, so it’s not as though he’s some prime prospect that they just didn’t protect.

There’s a lot going on with Rule 5 protection. You have to take into account the roster implications. A few years ago Brian Cashman said something about sometimes the best way to protect a player is to not add him to the 40-man roster. Wish I could find the exact quote. His point was that because of roster crunch issues, sometimes you protect guys and later have to make some tough DFA choices.

Say you protect someone on the fringe, but have to DFA him in June for some roster crunch reason. A team might not have taken him in the Rule 5, because they didn’t see a way to keep him on the MLB roster all year. But on waivers he doesn’t have that restriction. You can stash him in the minors for a few years. So a team that wouldn’t have made a Rule 5 pick might jump in with a waiver claim.

The Yanks have plenty of needs this off-season, and they’ll need roster spots. They can’t afford to have one of those spots taken up by a 27-year-old first baseman. Also, Roller didn’t even make this enormous list of Rule 5 possibilities.

Elfi asks: Why would the Yankees sign Headley for 3B when they have a solid and capable player in Prado who could do it? Prado I’m sure can at least match Headley’s numbers. This would pave the way for Refsnyder to be the 2B and of course A-Rod at DH

It’s all about depth. If you go into the season with Prado at 3B, you’re stuck with the rookies as your first option at 2B. If they fail, then what? By creating some depth, they can react to injuries and failures. If Prado gets hurt, Pierla or Refsnyder steps in. If they fail as a depth option, that’s one thing. But to rely on them, and have no real backup option, would hurt quite a lot.

Chris R. asks: Doesn’t a run at Todd Frazier make a ton of sense? 28 year old that can play 1st & 3rd. Entering his arb years so he will start to cost Cincy some money now.

Cincinnati is in a tough spot right now, with the poor season they had combined with a number of their pitchers hitting free agency after 2015. They’re locked into a couple of huge contracts, so they could seem inflexible at this point.

That said, he’s one of their only weapons on offense. Unless they go into rebuild mode — and I’m talking trade-Votto rebuild mode — I can’t see them entertaining offers for Frazier.

That said, a Jersey-raised kid who went to Rutgers and walks up to “Fly Me to the Moon” Frazier sounds like a Yankee to me.

Lightning Round

Kenny asks: With the Yankees looking for a new shortstop, do you think Ruben Tejada is on their radar?

The Mets also need a shortstop, so that should answer the question right there.

Daniel asks: Assuming no major changes to the current rotation, who would be the opening day starter?

Have to imagine that’s CC’s job for at least one more season, if he’s healthy.

Matt asks: The Rays are reportedly listening on offers for Yunel Escobar, should the Yankees be interested?

He doesn’t seem like the Yanks kind of player. The Braves traded him for peanuts because they couldn’t stand his attitude. Plus, he’s not a very good SS, even if he can hit a little.

Dustin asks: Dave Martinez for 1B coach or hitting coach?

He’s as good a candidate as any. I have a feeling that the Yankees are more interested in Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton, though. But maybe they bring in both, given that they have two coaching openings.

email

The perfect fit and the trade that will (probably) never happen

(Mike Carlson/Getty)
(Mike Carlson/Getty)

Now that the season is roughly 40% complete and we’ve had more than two months to evaluate the Yankees, their needs are obvious. They need another starter and another bat, in simplest terms. You can argue they need two starters and two bats, really. Specifically, they need a veteran innings eater and either an infielder (either second or third base works) or right fielder. Alfonso Soriano looks toast and Carlos Beltran‘s bone spur means he’s stuck at DH for the foreseeable future.

Digging up trade candidates these days is not easy because of the second wildcard spot, which keeps most teams in contention until August or even September. Even if they’re not really in it, they can still sell the idea that they are in it, like the Yankees did last year. All you need to do is stay close enough to keep fans excited. Selling off veteran players may be the best baseball move, but driving fans away has a very real and negative impact. Ask the Astros.

As of today, the division rival Tampa Bay Rays have the worst record in baseball. By a lot. They currently have the worst record (25-42) and second worst run differential (-52) in baseball, three games worse than the Cubs. The next worst AL team is the Red Sox at 29-36. Tampa was recently shutout in 31 straight innings and they’ve been a disaster this season. I thought they’d be good because the Rays have been annoyingly good since 2008, but the magic finally wore off. The pitching well dried up too.

Because they’re so bad, there are already rumblings the Rays could look to trade some veterans and restock the young player cupboard. David Price is the big name for obvious reasons. He’s making huge money ($14M) and will be a free agent after next season, and there’s no way Tampa will a) let him walk for just a draft pick, or b) be able to afford to sign him long-term. Expect a ton of Price rumors in the coming weeks. Others like Matt Joyce, David DeJesus, Jeremy Hellickson (once healthy), and Joel Peralta could be shopped as well.

Then there’s Ben Zobrist, the versatile switch-hitter who seems to play a different position every other game. He is the team’s third highest paid player at $7M and his contract includes a very affordable $7.5M club option for 2015 that will surely be picked up. Like Price, the Rays probably won’t let him walk for nothing more than a draft and probably won’t be able to sign him long-term. Even if they could, he’s already 33, and they might not want to re-sign him after next year.

Zobrist, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, is that “perfect fit” I referred to in the post title. He can play both second base and right field, two positions of need in the Bronx, and he’s a switch-hitter with some power and a lot of patience. His walk rate has always been strong (10.6% this year, 12.1% from 2011-13) and while his power production has dipped to a .121 ISO this year (.176 from 2011-13), it may be partially explained by the dislocated thumb he suffered sliding into a base earlier this season. We’ve seen Zobrist play against New York for a long time, we know he’s a quality player.

(Scott Iskowitz/Getty)
(Scott Iskowitz/Getty)

The appeal for the Yankees is obvious. Zobrist can not only play second and right, but he plays them both well and can shuttle between the two positions on a near daily basis without suffering at the plate. I don’t think everyone understands just how hard that is. He’s also a true switch-hitter without a platoon split historically, he walks, he has some pop, he steals some bases, he’s familiar playing the shift, and he’s very familiar with the AL East and those grueling late-season battles for postseason position. And the contract is more than reasonable. It’s a bargain, really.

I don’t need to spend any more time explaining why Zobrist would be perfect for the Yankees, right? The real question is whether the Rays would be open to trading him within the division, and, if they are, what they would want in return. The last time Tampa made a notable intra-division trade was … well, never, really. The three-team Joe Kennedy/Mark Hendrickson/Justin Speier deal with the Blue Jays and Rockies in 2003 is the biggest by far. The only trade they’ve made with the Yankees came in 2006, when Tampa sent Nick Green to New York for cash. That was before Andrew Friedman became GM.

The Blue Jays have made it clear they are unwilling to trade impact players within the division but the Rays have not really done that. They seem like the type of front office that would be open to trading a player anywhere as long as they received the greatest possible return, but who really knows? Zobrist figures to be in high demand (Mariners? Tigers? Dodgers? Giants? Blue Jays? Braves? Athletics?) so they shouldn’t have a problem digging up high-end offers. They’ll be able to get full value and deal him out of the division, so it’s the best of both worlds.

The Rays have shown a tendency to seek big trade packages with a lot of throw-ins — five players for Matt Garza, four players for Jason Bartlett, five players for Alex Torres (plus a prospect) — and I assume the same would be true with Zobrist. Victor Martinez, another solidly above-average player who was traded a year and a half prior to free agency, was dealt from the Indians to the Red Sox for a young MLB ready player (Justin Masterson) plus a top ten (Nick Hagadone) and top 20 (Bryan Price) prospect in the system. That seems like an okay framework for Zobrist.

What could the Yankees give the Rays along those lines? Geez, I don’t know. John Ryan Murphy, Manny Banuelos, Jose Ramirez, plus two throw-ins? Add another playing coming to the Yankees as needed? It won’t be Austin Romine and Vidal Nuno, that’s for sure. Figuring out an acceptable trade package is something for the front offices to determine. Talking about them is part of the fun of being a fan but ultimately we have no idea how these teams value these players. Based on everything I’ve seen in my years watching baseball, how we view players and how teams value them is often very different.

If the Rays do decide to sell — given their place in the standings and generally pro-active approach, it seems very likely they will sell — the Yankees should make a call about Zobrist because he’d be a great addition to the roster and help address several needs at once (offense, defense, second base/right field) both this year and next year. Several other teams will do the same and that will probably put the Yankees at a negotiating disadvantage with their division rival. Zobrist would be a perfect fit for the Yankees and chances are they have little shot of actually getting him.