There are nine questions in this week’s mailbag. Good mailbag, I think. As always, the mailbag email address is RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com. Also, I appreciate all the thank yous and well wishes in the inbox. It would take forever to reply to them all, but I did read every single one. Thank you.
Stan asks: Hi Mike, is Gerrit Cole the only realistic option for the Yankees to acquire in the next year or two for frontline pitching? If they’re serious about it, they’ll likely have to break the bank a bit. Given the current front office emphasis on value versus paying whatever it takes, how likely do you think the Yankees will end up being among the highest bidders? Would you break the bank for Cole? I say yes if it only takes money and slight hits to draft picks and international bonus money.
Looking over the 2019-20 free agent class and the 2020-21 free agent class, yes, Gerrit Cole is the best starting pitcher set to hit the market in the near future. It’s Cole this offseason and Trevor Bauer next offseason, and that’s it for aces. Depending how you feel about guys like Madison Bumgarner, Robbie Ray, Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, and Zack Wheeler, it is entirely possible the third best free agent starter the next two offseasons will be Masahiro Tanaka.
Assuming his 2019 is similar to his 2018, I think Cole has a good chance at Max Scherzer’s contract (seven years, $210M) this winter. Well, in a “normal” free agent market he would. At the very least, Cole should exceed Patrick Corbin’s contract (six years, $140M). He’s a Scott Boras client, he’ll hit the market at the same age, he’s been better leading up to free agency, he did it in the American League, and he hasn’t had Tommy John surgery.
The Yankees drafted Cole back in the day and they tried to trade for him last winter, so obviously he has fans in the organization. The question is not whether they should sign him (of course they should), but whether they will pony up the money to sign him. They didn’t for Manny Machado or Bryce Harper and those dudes were smarter and safer investments as prime-aged position players. Pitchers break, even the great ones. You need them, but they break.
My quick math says $34.5M comes off the books after the season and that’s without re-signing Didi Gregorius and Dellin Betances. A big chunk of that is going to Gary Sanchez’s and especially Aaron Judge’s arbitration raises. So, to sign Cole, the Yankees will have to either jump over the third luxury tax or dump salary. I’m not sure how realistic either of those things are. Maybe they’ll suck it up and deal with a big luxury tax bill in 2020 until Tanaka and Jacoby Ellsbury coming off the books after the season.
Robert asks: Any chance the Tigers would sell off utility man Niko Goodrum? What would it take.
I’m sure the Tigers would trade away pretty much anyone on the roster at this point. Matt Boyd, Jeimer Candelario, and Christin Stewart are their only players who look like long-term keepers, and they’re complementary types rather than cornerstones they can build around. (Nick Castellanos is a “build around” type but he will be a free agent after the season, so he doesn’t really count.)
Goodrum is a nice little player. The Tigers signed him as a minor league free agent last offseason and he hit .245/.315/.432 (103 wRC+) with 16 homers while playing every position other than pitcher and catcher. He went into yesterday’s game hitting .289/.413/.526 (160 wRC+), though I wouldn’t expect that to last all year. A switch-hitting super utility guy with a league average bat is a nifty little player. He’d help the Yankees and a lot of teams.
The Tigers control Goodrum through 2023 and he turned only 27 in February, so he’s someone they could keep and reasonably expect to be part of their next contending team. He’s a good “tenth man,” so to speak. Would the Tigers take Chance Adams for Goodrum? That feels light. What about Adams and Domingo Acevedo, two upper level young pitchers? That still feels light. Hard to know what it would take to get him, but yeah, Goodrum would be a worthwhile pickup.
Douglas asks: Once the Blue Jays deem Vlad Guerrero Jr. ready (aka once they’ve gained the extra season of control), if Andujar isn’t healthy or seeming to be close to healthy, do you think we could see a return of Brandon Drury? He’s seems to be the “guy who stands in front of the big time prospect fans really wants to see” the past 2 seasons.
That would be something else. Trade for Drury with the expectation that he’ll become the third baseman of the future, watch him get Wally Pipped by the real third baseman of the future, trade him for pitching, then reacquire him because the third baseman of the future got hurt. Drury hasn’t hit at all this year — he went into last night’s game hitting .162/.200/.233 (13 wRC+) — but it’s early, I think he’s better than that. I mean, he can’t be worse. I feel like this a “been there, done that” situation. The Yankees tried it, it didn’t really work out, so they moved on. Even with Miguel Andujar hurt, I think the Yankees can get a capable replacement in a salary dump (Todd Frazier? Starlin Castro?) rather than trading a young player(s) for Drury. I mean, yeah, Drury would fit right now, but meh.
Brian asks: Something I’ve noticed now that Frazier has come up is that his stance is a lot more open than it used to be. I looked at a few clips from 2017 and 2018 (not much 2018 unfortunately) and it seemed to have opened up a bit this year. Thoughts?
Clint Frazier has indeed opened up his stance a bit this season. In fact, he’s changed his stance quite a bit each of the last two years. We don’t have much video to look through given his sporadic playing time, so here is the best side-by-side(-by-side) comparison I could build with similar camera angles:
Frazier went from way open in 2017 to mostly closed in 2018 to open again in 2019. Back in Spring Training, Frazier said he worked with hitting coach Marcus Thames on several things because he didn’t feel right mechanically. One of those things was a wider stance. Here’s more from Pete Caldera:
“I have a hard time thinking right field, because I feel like that slows me down too much,’’ said Frazier, who is “messing around with a few different timing mechanisms.’’
We’re just trying to get him to stay more balanced, stay more under control,’’ hitting coach Marcus Thames said before the game. “He’s got plenty of talent.’’
Frazier looks more confident and more dangerous at the plate right now than he has at any point in his brief big league career. He’s in control of his at-bats and even his outs have been hit hard lately. How much can be attributed to the open stance? Hard to say. It could be a function of being healthy. Or just a talented young player figuring it out. It’s likely a combination of many things, and whatever it is, I hope it continues. Clint’s a lot of fun when he’s locked in.
Layonel asks: How long until Johnny Lasagna is a very good longman? Given his injury history and how he can’t seem to pitch more than 4 innings per outing.
I think Jonathan Loaisiga fits best as a multi-inning reliever right now. Turn him into the 2019 version of 2017 Chad Green. Let him air it out and go the lineup one time and one time only. It’s a small sample, obviously, but Loaisiga has held hitters to a .167/.241/.271 (32 OPS+) line the first time through the lineup and .308/.417/.487 (133 OPS+) thereafter. I get that the Yankees want to develop him as a starter. It would be amazing if he could start long-term. His history suggests he can not stay healthy in that role though, and Loaisiga could really help the win-now Yankees as a multi-inning reliever. I don’t mean a mop-up guy either. He has the stuff and guts to get important outs. I’d love to see it. Instead, it appears the Yankees will continue working Loaisiga as a starter.
Jerry asks: Despite the small sample size, what is your take on the Red Sox pitching staff? I know it is early but Rodriguez looks awful, Eovaldi is morphing back into the Yankee version of him, Porcello is hittable and Sale/Price still have injury concerns.
I think it’s a combination of things. For starters, there’s likely some World Series hangover effect in play, and by that I mean these guys pitched a ton last year and had a deep postseason run, and thus a shorter than usual offseason to recover. Secondly, the Red Sox might’ve taken it a little too easy on their starters in Spring Training. They brought them along very slowly and they didn’t start pitching in games until mid-March. Their starters all seem to be playing catch up. Maybe they were brought along too slowly in Spring Training.
Chris Sale is the one I worry about most long-term because he hasn’t looked right since before his shoulder injury last year. His velocity was down late last season and in the postseason, and everything was a grind. That is still the case now. Sale looks like he did after the injury last year. That’s worrisome. Nathan Eovaldi turning back into the guy he’s been his entire career aside from three or four months last year is not the most surprising thing in the world. Eduardo Rodriguez has always been a bit of an enigma. I’m worried about Sale because he doesn’t look healthy. Give everyone else time and they’ll probably shake off the World Series hangover/overly protective Spring Training.
Trevor asks: Isn’t Joey Gallo the perfect acquisition target for this team? Under team control for 3 more years, left handed power hitter, and he can play LF, 1B and 3B. Get the bat now and depending on who and when guys come back he has enough flexibility to fit in the rest of the year and years to come.
Hot Take: I think Joey Gallo is the worst possible target for the Yankees. They do not need another extreme strikeout hitter. Two is enough, and, really, the only reason the Yankees tolerate two is because Aaron Judge is a top ten player in the world and Giancarlo Stanton is the best power hitter of his generation. Adding another 30% strikeout rate guy to the lineup is just too much. Gallo doesn’t want to play third base, so we’re talking about a first base/left field guy, and I’m not inclined to give up prospects to get someone like that, especially in this free agent market. I love dingers and Gallo hits glorious dingers, but the Yankees can do better.
Thomas asks: When are the Yankees going to pull the plug on Bird. Started the year taking fastballs down the middle of the plate for strikes and constantly getting behind in the count. Now he’s swinging at them but swinging through 92-94 mph fastballs right down the pipe early in the count when that’s what you should be looking for. Not sold on Voit yet. What about Justin Smoak? He can be had.
Greg Bird had a good game to wrap up the Astros series (1-for-2 with two walks), though he is still hitting .214/.353/.321 (95 wRC+) overall. He is drawing lots of walks (17.6%) and not doing much else. Bird’s not even hitting the ball hard. His 86.2 mph average exit velocity and 33.3% hard-hit rate are well below the league averages (89.1 mph and 40.2%). Here are the exit velocities on Bird’s last eight balls in play, working backwards: 86.4, 84.3, 90.2, 57.8, 70.4, 93.7, 73.6, 83.0. Dude. Bird has a .311 wOBA and .323 xwOBA. This ain’t bad luck. It’s bad hitting.
I tweeted about Smoak last week and he’s a definite fit. The Yankees could plug him in at first base and send Bird to Triple-A, where he would’ve started the year had Aaron Hicks not gotten hurt. Smoak has started slow this year (76 wRC+ going into last night’s game), but he hit .270/.355/.529 (133 wRC+) with 38 homers two years ago and .242/.350/.457 (121 wRC+) with 25 homers last year. Even if he slips again to, say, a 115 wRC+ and 22 homers, that’s more than you can realistically expect from Bird at this point.
The Blue Jays are already in sell mode — they traded Kendrys Morales on Opening Day eve and Kevin Pillar last week — and the J.A. Happ trade shows these teams will do business with each other. I’m sure Toronto would move Smoak right now. He’s making $6M this year and will be a free agent after the season, so he’s not tying up long-term payroll either. It fits. Send them a Nick Nelson/Garrett Whitlock type*, send Bird to Triple-A, and put Smoak at first base.
* If the Blue Jays think they can do better, fine, more power to ’em. Which contenders are looking for first base or DH help though? Maybe the Angels? Toronto’s options might be trade Smoak to the Yankees, hope some contender’s first baseman gets hurt, or keep him and possibly lose him for nothing as a free agent after the season. Hell, Nelson or Whitlock might be an overpay.
John asks: Baltimore’s Chris Davis is 0-for-28 this season (through Tuesday), 0-for-49 since his last hit on 9/14/18, 1-for-67 since 9/5/18, last RBI was 9/4/18, last home run was 8/24/18. His line drives this season have exit velocities of 95 mph. Chase Headley had an epic poor start three years ago and it wasn’t anything near this bad. Is Davis finished, or can he come back from this?
After going 0-for-3 with a walk yesterday, Davis is now hitless in his last 53 at-bats and 61 plate appearances, both MLB records. The guy has more money than I could ever possibly imagine and I feel bad for him. This is just brutal to watch. It’s sad. It really is. And it’s not like Davis is sitting around doing nothing. He works every day to snap out of it. (I’m not going to go back to find it, but the YES Network posted a Toyota Conversation thing the other day where some idiot called Davis a bad teammate for not trying to get better. Get outta here with that.)
The Orioles owe Davis roughly $92M through 2022. This isn’t washed up Alex Rodriguez with $27M and one year plus two months remaining on his contract, or even Troy Tulowitzki at two years and $38M. Davis is not even halfway through his seven-year, $161M contract. It looked like an ill-advised deal the day it was signed. I don’t think anyone saw it going this bad. Can he come back from this? Sure. He’s only 33, he’s a good athlete, and he’s working at it. That doesn’t make it any easier to watch. This has to be eating away at him. How could it not be?