Mailbag: Utley, Hill, Prado, Hanley, Managers

Got seven questions for you this week. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week. Don’t be discouraged if I don’t pick your question. Usually it comes down to not having the room/time or simply not knowing the answer.

Bring to me. (Greg Fiume/Getty)
Bring to me. (Greg Fiume/Getty)

Chris asks: How about a trade for Chase Utley? Good idea and what might it take?

Yes, please. Forget about his insanely hot start — hitting .462/.517/.769 (247 wRC+) with seven doubles and three homers in 58 plate appearances — the 2011-12 version of Utley (112 wRC+) would do just fine for me. He’s a power hitting left-handed second baseman who draws a lot of walks and plays strong defense. He also has no platoon split and some experience playing first base. Oh, and he’s an elite base-runner even though he doesn’t steal as many bases as he once did. Utley would be a wonderful addition to any team, but especially the Yankees since they have a black hole a second base.

The problem is that Utley signed a two-year, $25M extension with the Phillies last season, taking a discount to remain with the team rather than test the free agent waters. Given the market, I think he could have gotten three or maybe even four guaranteed years as a free agent. I’m sure his hometown Dodgers would have been all over him. Utley has a partial no-trade clause and I have no idea what teams are included, but, more importantly, he’s beloved in Philadelphia and the only way the Phillies would trade him is as part of a total rebuild. I’d have no trouble giving up two top prospects to get him. Gary Sanchez and Manny Banuelos? Plus a third, lesser prospect? Fine by me. Utley would be a legitimate five or six win upgrade for the Yankees this year.

Aaron asks: If the D’Backs continue to struggle would the Yankees be more interested in Aaron Hill or Martin Prado?

Man, the Diamondbacks are just awful this year. The rotation especially. It could be historically bad. Both Hill and Prado would fit the Yankees’ need at second base, though they are different players who wind up providing similar value. Hill (7.3 fWAR from 2012-14) is more of a power hitter and average defender while Prado (7.8 fWAR from 2012-14) is a contact hitter and above-average defender. They are both owed similar money t00, $33M-35M through 2016. Prado can play third and left field, so he has that going for him. Either guy would work for the Yankees, but if I have to pick one, I’ll go with Prado because he does more things well and is two years younger. If either hits the trade market, the Yankees should be interested.

Daniel asks: If the Yankees are truly still not interested in Stephen Drew, is it because they are waiting to see what happens with the extension talks with the Dodgers and Hanley Ramirez? Or are they just trying to ride out what they have?

I don’t think the Yankees are waiting for Hanley and I don’t think they should. Sure, he’s a great player and all that, but it seems likely he will sign a huge extension with the Dodgers rather than test free agency after the season. They Dodgers have said they want to keep him, Ramirez has said he wants to stay, and reportedly the two sides have been talking about a contract. Besides, Hanley wouldn’t help the Yankees at all this year, and even if they did sign Drew, there would be room on the roster for both next season. At this point, I have to think there is something in Drew’s medicals that are scaring teams away. The state of the shortstop position around the league is too terrible for him to still be unemployed because of draft pick compensation.

(Victor Decolongon/Getty)
(Victor Decolongon/Getty)

Tom asks: Although it’s still rather early to even think about it, which free agents in next year’s class do you see the Yankees making a push for?

Hanley would be at the top of that list for pretty obvious reasons. The other big names are Max Scherzer, Chase Headley, and Pablo Sandoval. Since the team already has two huge pitching contracts on the books, I think they will steer clear of Scherzer. Headley seems more likely than Sandoval because the Yankees almost always lean towards the guy who walks and works the count. Plus I think there has to be at some concern Sandoval will eat himself out of the game if you give him $100M or so guaranteed. Here’s the list of free agents for the upcoming offseason. Other potential targets include J.J. Hardy, Asdrubal Cabrera, Aramis Ramirez, Chris Denorfia, Jason Motte, Luke Hochevar, and Luke Gregerson. That’s just my speculation, of course.

David asks: How excited can we get about Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka after these first two three starts? They have both shown flashes of dominance (especially Big Mike) but to what extent do we need to temper expectations?

Get excited. Very excited. I’m more excited about Tanaka personally only because Pineda’s shoulder is still in the back of the my mind, and guys who have had arm problems tend to continue having arm problems throughout their career. Tanaka has a (much) deeper arsenal and isn’t as reliant on pure velocity as Pineda, which is another thing to consider. The best part is that this isn’t some one or the other hypothetical. Both are actually on the team. If you’re not going to get excited about these two 25-year-olds after these last few weeks, then what the hell is the point of it all?

Jack asks: Barring injury, who among the current five starting pitchers will be the first to be permanently replaced because of poor production? And when that happens who will be given the first shot at taking over the spot?

Let’s be realistic about this: CC Sabathia and Tanaka are not going anywhere because of their contracts. Hiroki Kuroda has earned a very long leash after the last two years and, given his first few starts, I have no reason to think his performance will fall off so much that the team wants to replace him. That leaves Pineda and Nova, and I guess it’s a toss up. Pineda seems more likely to be knocked out of the rotation by injury than poor performance, and Nova has already lost a rotation spot (2011 and 2013) due to poor performance. If I have to choose, I’ll say Nova. But I don’t think any of these guys loose their spots for anything but injury this year.

nycsportzfan asks: Hey Mike, was wondering if Joe Girardi wasn’t are manager and you could have anyone else in his place, who would it be? For me, it’d be Clint Hurdle.

I’m not sure. A big part of the manager’s job happens behind closed doors in the clubhouse, and we don’t know anything about that stuff. In terms of on-field moves, I’ve always felt Padres manager Bud Black does a really good job of putting his players in a position to succeed, either through pinch-hitters or reliever usage or whatever. Giants manager Bruce Bochy and Athletics manager Bob Melvin are both good at that stuff as well. I think you’d have to consider Joe Maddon and Buck Showalter as well. Gun to my head, I’d go with either Black or Melvin. I’ll say Melvin because he has experience managing in the AL.

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Possible Trade Partner: Philadelphia Phillies

(Brian Garfinkel/Getty)
(Brian Garfinkel/Getty)

The Yankees are in a very dangerous place right now. Their glut of injured players are due to start returning in 2-3 weeks, but the current roster simply isn’t good and the team is fading fast. They’ve lost five straight and 21 of 33, falling to 6.5 games back of the Red Sox for first place on the AL East. They’re four back of a wildcard spot. It’s a deficit they can still erase with 81 games to play.

The re-injuries to Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis (and Curtis Granderson to a lesser extent) should keep the Yankees from relying on the injured players too much. Even when guys start coming off the DL, there’s no guarantee they’ll help the offense. Heck, there’s no guarantee the team will even be close enough to the race for the lineup additions to matter. The season is half over and the Yankees need to start improving the offense — the time for patience has come and gone. They need help and they need it right now.

Over the last few days, we’ve heard them connected to both infielder Michael Young and catcher Carlos Ruiz. Those two aren’t the only Phillies who fit with New York though. In fact, the Fightin’s are a great trade match for the Yankees, and I’m not talking about Brian Cashman‘s white whale (Cliff Lee) either. Here are a few more fits.

IF Chase Utley
Once one of the very best players in all the land, age and injuries have reduced Utley to a merely above-average player. He’s hitting .284/.348/.517 (138 wRC+) on the year, and that is broken down into a 144 wRC+ against righties and a 123 wRC+ against lefties. The rebound against southpaws is nice to see after a few years of below-average production. Utley is a left-handed power hitter who draws walks (8.5%) and doesn’t strike out much (14.7%), and it’s worth noting that he’s also one of the very best base-runners in the game. I’m not necessarily talking about bulk stolen base totals, but being a high-percentage base-stealer and going first-to-third on singles, stuff like that.

Utley is owed approximately $7.5M through the end of the year and is due to become a free agent after the season, so he isn’t exactly easy on the wallet. He is cheap relative to his production, however. The Yankees are being reimbursed for a big portion of Mark Teixeira’s salary by … someone. Either the World Baseball Classic or insurance, depending on who you believe. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter who pays them back. It’s a big amount of saved salary that will more than cover the last few months of Utley’s contract. The money really isn’t the problem.

The Yankees have no need for a second baseman and Utley tried and failed to transition to third before the season, but first base is a viable alternative. He played a handful of games at the position earlier in his career, so it wouldn’t be completely foreign to him. Lyle Overbay turned into a pumpkin sometime in mid-May and Utley would be a fantastic replacement. Playing first would require an adjustment though, an adjustment and his willingness. Utley has ten-and-five rights and can veto any trade, so he’d have to be okay with leaving from the only team he’s ever known for the Yankees at a time when more legitimate contenders like the Orioles, Athletics, and hometown Dodgers figure to show some interest as well.

For what it’s worth, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. told Ryan Lawrence he would be open to moving Utley if the circumstances dictate a trade. “Even though he might be the most popular player, if there are things we have to do with some of these popular players that are going to make our club better, then we have to keep our minds open,” he said.

Frandsen. (Doug Pensinger/Getty)
Frandsen. (Doug Pensinger/Getty)

IF Kevin Frandsen
With all due respect to certified baseball player Jayson Nix, the 31-year-old Frandsen is a way better utility infielder. He’s a career .269/.328/.372 (88 wRC+) hitter in the big leagues but has found a home in Philadelphia, hitting .320/.382/.448 (129 wRC+) since joining the Phillies last year. The right-handed hitter does most of his damage against lefties (169 wRC+), which fits well with New York’s needs. Frandsen won’t steal bases or draw walks (5.5%), but he won’t strike out either (9.0%). Even if he has been playing over his head these last two years, he’d still be an upgrade over Nix if he reverts back to his career averages.

Frandsen plays first, second, and third bases regularly, but he hasn’t seen time at shortstop since 2009 and has only played there sparingly as a big leaguer. He has played short in the minors over the years — 25 games there as recently as 2011 — so it’s not something that is completely off the table. In fact, he’s played short about as often as Nix did prior to coming to the Yankees. Frandsen is a flat-out better player than Nix and would be an upgrade to the bench even if all the healthy guys return perfectly fine. As an added bonus, he is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2015.

OF/1B John Mayberry Jr.
Mayberry, 29, became a platoon darling after cracking Philadelphia’s roster full-time three years ago. He’s a righty bat who’s hit .278/.302/.490 (116 wRC+) against lefties this year with a 130 wRC+ against them the last three years, basically since breaking into the league for good. His numbers against right-handers — 102 wRC+ this year and 91 wRC+ since 2011 — aren’t great, but they aren’t disastrous. Mayberry will draw some walks (7.7%) and he will strike out a bit (21.6%), which isn’t surprising.

Mayberry. (Brian Garfinkel/Getty)
Mayberry. (Brian Garfinkel/Getty)

Despite his size — he’s listed at 6-foot-6 and 225 lbs. on the team’s official site — Mayberry is a really good athlete who can legitimately play center field as well as the corners. He’s not a great defender in the center, but he can do it. Mayberry has also spent a bunch of time at first base, making him an ideal platoon candidate. He could partner with Overbay (or Utley!) or the outfielders on any given day depending on who else is in the lineup. Mayberry will be arbitration-eligible for the first time next year and remains under team control through 2016.

* * *

It’s hard not to dream about a blockbuster trade that sends Young, Ruiz, Utley, Frandsen, and Mayberry to the Yankees. That would shore up the corner infield spots, the catcher position, and bench in one fell swoop. Trades that big are complicated though, plus the Phillies have yet to decide to sell. They seem very tentative at the moment, but remember, they took the plunge and traded away Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence at the deadline last year. They made be tentative, but they have shown they will do it.

As for the asking prices … who really knows. They traded Victorino and Pence for prospects and okay young-ish big leaguers, but that doesn’t mean the same will be true this year. One thing I do know is that they won’t want rental players like Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. That defeats the purpose of selling. Adam Warren? Ivan Nova? Zoilo Almonte? The Phillies always target toolsy up-the-middle athletes in the draft, so would Mason Williams or Angelo Gumbs pique their interest? We have no way of knowing. All we do know is that the Yankees have a ton of position player needs and Philadelphia has several players who would fill those holes.

Thoughts on a random Wednesday

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

We’re now only six days away from pitchers and catchers reporting, the most exciting non-news day of the year. Almost nothing happens that day, all the guys have to do is inform the team they are physically in Florida. Everyone shows up for the first workout the next day. That’s all, it’s symbolic more than anything. But still, hooray baseball.

1. I think that this season, moreso than any other season over the last few years, it will be extremely important for the Yankees to have a strong bench. They’ll need a) a right-handed hitting outfielder, b) a competent pinch-hitter (preferably a lefty), and c) a speedy pinch-runner. They need (a) because everyone in the starting outfield is a lefty, that’s easy enough. They need (b) because the catching tandem is terrible and those guys shouldn’t be allowed to bat in the late innings of close games. Finally, they need (c) because Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, and Travis Hafner are crazy slow and will need to be replaced if they reach base late in close games. The Yankees lost a lot of offense this winter and figure to play many more close games in 2013, so Joe Girardi is going to need weapons on the bench. Not just warm bodies to fill-in during emergency situations, weapons he can deploy strategically.

2. I have this strange feeling Chase Utley will be a Yankee within the next 12 months. There’s a few different ways this could happen too. The Phillies showed last year that if they’re out of it at the trade deadline, they’re willing to move established players for prospects. Utley, 34, will be a free agent next winter as well. Given Travis Hafner’s affinity for the disabled list, I suppose the Yankees could look to acquire the second baseman from Philadelphia to serve as their left-handed DH. If he’s healthy enough at the end of the season — a big if given the last few years — he could be a second base candidate for 2014 should Robinson Cano sign some mammoth contract with the Dodgers next winter. He could also be a DH candidate as well. I dunno, just feels inevitable to me for some reason.

(Mike McGinnis/Getty)
(Mike McGinnis/Getty)

3. Obviously a ton is going to change between now and then, but one players scheduled to hit free agency next winter who really catches my eye is outfielder Carlos Gomez. He just turned 27 in December and hit .260/.305/.463 (105 wRC+) with 19 homers and 37 steals last season. The strikeouts (career 22.3%) and walks (career 5.0%) are a concern, though his defense grades out as well-above-average in center. A player that young with that kind of power-speed combination is very attractive even if his on-base skills stink. I could see him getting B.J. Upton money with another strong year, which probably makes him too pricey for the Yankees. But man, I would love to have him for ages 28-32.

4. All of the prospect rankings come out this time of year and it’s a nice reminder that the Yankees need to knock it out of the park in the draft this summer. They own three of the top 35 picks — all three carry seven-figure slot recommendations as well — and really need to add some quality, high-ceiling players to the system. Grabbing more Cito Culvers and Dante Bichette Juniors ain’t gonna cut it if they truly plan to remain under the luxury tax. They’ve got to max out on those three picks and take the best players possible, forget about trying to save a little draft pool room to use for overslot bonuses later in the draft. The new spending restrictions suck, but the Yankees have what amounts to three first round picks this year and need to capitalize.