A Trade With the Phillies?
by Cary Greene
June 13, 2022
Long time reader, Fuster, brought up a very interesting question regarding my most recent article, “Should the Yankees Consider Upgrading the Catching at the Trade Deadline.” I thought the question was worthy of a follow-up article. The question was asked, “Would Austin Hedges be Available?” I’ll attempt to answer that question and also provide a bonus. I have two trade targets to announce.
Let me start by saying I do think the Yankees should stick with Kyle Higashioka as the backup catcher for the time being, but there is a need for the Yankees to game plan around the long-term catching situation and what direction they want to go.
The Yankees have struck gold with Jose Trevino and there is little doubt that they will probably stick with him as their primary catcher for the remainder of 2022 and perhaps even beyond. He’s been terrific defensively and he’s raking offensively as well.
Along with this, the Yankees' future plan involves a number of their prospects and none is presently better positioned than Austin Wells - who’s offensive prowess is well documented. Wells was widely considered as perhaps the fourth best college hitter in the 2020 MLB Draft class. Granted, he fell to the Yankees at number 28 overall mainly because of defensive concerns. Still, this year, Wells is reportedly improved in a number of areas defensively. His 3.5 Framing-Runs percentage so far this year is even better than…<gulp>...Jose Trevino! Imagine that!
But, let's explore Austin Hedges. First, is Hedges available?
Cleveland is "in contention" right now and they are in the middle of a tight playoff race in the wild and wacky AL Central. Austin Hedges is Cleveland's starting catcher, he’s a huge part of what the Guardians do, but contractually, Hedges is at the end of the line in terms of arbitration. He will become a free-agent at the end of the season. Because of this, he may actually be available. But, is he an upgrade over Higgy?
Trading for Hedges would hypothetically mean that the Yankees would be on the hook for a smidge over $1 million. Hedges is slashing a horrendous .171/.230/.282/.512 with an anemic .232 wOBA. Unfortunately for him, that's about where he's "supposed to be" considering that his xwOBA is only .237. He’s not a good offensive player and as bad as Higgy is playing, Hedges probably doesn't represent an upgrade at all offensively speaking.
That being said, Hedges is a fine defensive catcher who really does everything well. He handles the pitching staff adeptly, his wCERA is a +1 and his Pitch Framing is a +2.7. He's about average at negating an opponent's running game and his agility behind the plate is terrific, not quite Jose Trevino terrific but he does have a +4 DRS this season so there's that to consider.
Despite how bad Hedges is offensively, he’s still a 1.0 WAR player currently. Jose Trevino is at 1.1 WAR presently by the way, while our man Higgy is presently at a .8 WAR - despite playing so poorly offensively. All of the Stat-Cast data suggests Higgy isn’t far away from turning the corner and if he does this, he’s a more desirable backup than Hedges would be.
Contemplating trading for Hedges really is about xwOBA because this stat suggests that Higgy has a significantly better offensive ceiling. With an xwOBA of .334 and the luxury of owning a commanding 7 ½ game lead over the second place Blue Jays, the Yankees might want to be patient with Higgy. After all, Higgy's power is still there and considering his defense is fairly solid and that he’s a catcher, he remains a backup worth carrying on the roster - at least for the time being.
The primary reason NOT to trade for Hedges however is actually Ben Rortvedt, who I reason is nowhere near ready for a call up any time soon. Rortvedt is very "Hedges-like" defensively, so if Higgy were to continue to tank offensively and the Trade Deadline passes, the Yankees could pull the plug at any time.
A decision to DFA Higgy in favor of Rortvedt would be made for two reasons. The Yankees patience in waiting for Higgy to heat up offensively would have to have worn out and also, the Yankees might just want to just focus on going with the better defensive catcher - which Rortvedt clearly is.
On the other hand, the Chicago Cubs' Wilson Contreras is said to be available, but I’m not certain that Contreras is a fit given the importance of how much benefit good defensive catchers provide. Contreras falls off the table defensively from Higgy and Trevino. It’s not that Contreras doesn’t have a gun for an arm, fast transfer rates and great POP times - he does. Where he fails is with pitch framing, handling a pitching staff and bleeding defensive runs caused. Because of this, I don’t think Contreras is a fit on this year’s Yankees.
Trading for the Phillies Garrett Stubbs is also intriguing, but that depends on whether or not he can sustain his current profile- something he’s yet in his career. Stubbs is 3 years younger than Higgy and he has an extra year of team control to boot. Right now, his splits are very attractive against righties and he also hits lefties great as well (and always has).
With Stubbs, the Yankees would get much better offense and slightly worse defense. Stubbs mashes righties and he could add some needed balance to the bench. His swing profile is also perfect for Yankee Stadium’s short porch also - perhaps more so than any left-handed hitter I know of. 75.9 percent of his batted-balls are pulled to right field, 34.5% of which are hard-hit.
If the Phillies do turn out to be sellers, a broader trade could be explored. Didi Gregorious is playing well so far this season. Stubbs is obviously playing well also. That's two attractive lefties the Yankees could add to their bench and they both would be respective upgrades.
Gregorious doesn't play the outfield, but he's mangling righties to the tune of .339 this season and we already know his swing plays in Yankee Stadium. Didi’s also actually still a good-enough defensive shortstop. Marwin Gonzalez, the Yankees current utility-man, is very versatile but Didi is a big upgrade offensively and his splits, along with those of Stubbs are exactly what the Yankees need.
If the Yankees want to win a World Series, they might be wise to add a menacing lefty-catcher like Stubbs and to bring in Didi Gregorius for even more balance against righties. The goal after all is to win a World Series this season. With Aaron Judge’s pending free agency, the Yankee window might be closing. Brain Cashman should go all in without mortgaging the future. Trading for Stubbs wouldn’t be painful at all and Didi would also be a fairly palatable trade target - considering the upside and the veteran presence.
Didi Gregorious, though playing well, by the time the Deadline rolls around, will be owed $7,250,000 as he will be a free agent at the end of the season and Stubbs will be owed $352,000 - so this part of the deal would be a salary dump for the Phillies.
The Yankees may also need to add a bullpen piece for the stretch run and Seranthony Dominguez, a righty reliever, would be a good fit.
Here’s my proposed trade, assuming the Phillies become sellers:
Yankees Get: 29 year-old LH Catcher Garrett Stubbs .314/.368/.600/.968 OPS/.414 wOBA + 32 year-old LH Shortstop Didi Gregorious .316/.361/.447/.809 OPS/.353 wOBA + 27 year-old RHRP Seranthony Dominguez 1.61 ERA/11.7 K9/ 2.8BB/9
*** +5.6 million in median trade value per baseballtradevalues.com / +7.96 million in 2022 payroll (not counting Higgy’s salary to be paid by Philadelphia, should they determine they want him to replace Stubbs)
Phillies Get: 32 year-old RH Catcher Kyle Higashioka + 23 year-old RHSP Brendan Beck (Yankees 2nd Round 2021 Draft Pick).