- Cary Greene
Assessing the Yankees Roster Ahead of the MLB Trade Deadline
by Cary Greene
June 7, 2022
Much has been written about Brian Cashman needing to recognize the importance of achieving a more balanced lineup. Cashman’s actions at the trade deadline last year illustrate that he does recognize the need for balance, but Yankee analytics always seem to skew the obvious in favor of three-outcome baseball.
The Yankees don’t seem to truly understand the advantages that a manager can deploy during a game, when he can create favorable matchups - be it with the starting lineup he pencils in or key substitutions he makes to counter the opposing managers.
Sometimes, a single or a sacrifice here and there can make all the difference in a tightly played game and against good pitching, games tend to be very low scoring and very tightly played.
Cashman’s teams always get their walks and they usually hit plenty of home runs too, but in key postseason games, they’ve often failed to plate those runners which has helped to create the twelve-year championship drought that the Yankee franchise is currently mired in.
This year’s Yankee team is doing a much better job regarding all the “little things that matter,” like playing strong defense, running the bases well, and avoiding hitting into double-plays. As a result, the offense is doing its job most nights and the difference between last year’s team and this year’s version appears to be night and day. The Yankee offense is continually pressuring other teams and it often piles extra runs onto formerly slim leads as the Yankees get into the opposing teams' bullpens.
Brian Cashman was very resourceful this offseason and he very quietly stockpiled a lot of pitching depth. He’s also done an excellent job of acquiring helpful players who bring needed skills to the table. A recent example of this is Matt Carpenter, who was signed to a Minor-League contract on May 26th. When we look at the 36 year-old lefty’s profile, many little things jump out. He’s actually a decent base runner (career BsR of +7.2), has a career OPS of .818 and his career wGDP is +14.6 which means he’s excellent at avoiding hitting into double-plays. He’s also a true dead-pull hitter as 41.5% of his batted balls are hit to right-field and if you look at his batted-ball profile, 46.2% of the balls he puts in play are of the hard-hit variety. Furthermore, his .299 career average against shifts is amazingly good. Talk about a shift-proof lefty who fits the mold! He’s perfect for Yankee Stadium and he gives the Yankees a legitimate “other option” to Anthony Rizzo.
Carpenter is a .268 career hitter against right-handed pitching and on days when Giancarlo Stanton plays the outfield, if the Yankees are up against right-handed pitching (which they usually are), Carpenter makes for a perfect DH. Has Brian Cashman captured lighting-in-a-bottle? He may have, as the big question is, can Carpenter, who has the ideal left-handed profile for the Yankees, sustain what he’s doing?
Brian Cashman also made a few moves that are turning out to be brilliant maneuvers. Most impressively, he decided to go with strong defensive catchers who call outstanding games and have superb receiving skills. Opposing teams now find it much harder to run on the Yankees, passed balls don’t occur as frequently, and the pitch framing is superb. Is it any wonder that the Yankee pitching is doing even better than they were supposed to do? Much of the Yankee pitching success is directly attributed to the Yankees improved catching.
In hindsight, Cashman probably hung onto Gary Sanchez a few years too long, but the important thing is that finally made the seemingly obvious call. I’m nearly ecstatic to watch Yankee games on a daily basis now. I love what I’m seeing in what is now called, “the season of the pitcher.” The league OPS has plummeted from a .728 last year to a .698 this year. That’s a massive drop in offense - one that can’t be good for baseball. Losing .030 in OPS in a single season is almost unprecedented.
Meanwhile, the Yankees went from a .729 OPS in 2021 to a .748 so far this season! How is a gain of +.019 even possible with this much outstanding pitching present in MLB? It’s seemingly mind-boggling.
Cashman also fixed the Yankees problem at shortstop. Isaiah Kiner-Falefa is a really good defensive player and any way we slice it, it appears he’s turning out to be far more than a stop-gap player. He’s a defensive stalwart. He’s changing games. No one’s calling him a Falafel any more, that much is for sure. Every Yankee beat writer in the five boroughs spells his name right every time these days. That’s what happens when a gritty, slick fielding, superb base-running player with a contact approach wins over the city of New York by playing the game the right way.
Cashman also did a few other massively important things. He was never in doubt about Nestor Cortes Jr. He penciled him into the Yankee rotation as the fifth starter. I also have never been in doubt and I’ve written many articles on this topic in the past two years. Before a pitch was thrown this year, I even went out on a limb and proclaimed Cortes would be an All-Star this year.
“Nasty-Nestor” still has some work ahead of him if that prediction will become a reality, but he’s been nothing short of ace-level for the Yankees and when I scrutinized all of the advanced metrics last August, I saw a pitcher who had reinvented himself and I also fell in love with his mound presence and his pinpoint command. Cortes gives in to no one. He’s fearless and as with any pitcher, there are certain vulnerabilities, but boy is he fun to root for. I’ve attended many of his starts in person this season.
Brian Cashman also hung onto Jameson Taillon and he let Corey Kluber walk. I was against that decision, though I never wrote about it specifically. Kluber is pitching very well this season and unfortunately he’s in the Rays rotation, which means Cashman let him hop to not only a Division Rival, but THE RIVAL - the one the Yankees will likely have to go through to earn the right to extract revenge on the cheating Houston Astros.
There’s no denying both trading for and hanging onto Taillon is looking like an absolutely brilliant move. “Extend” Taillon articles haven’t hit mainstream Yankees news yet, but the topic has been bandied about by the Yankee faithful here on SSTN. I’m sure we’ll read lots more about this topic in the coming months because Taillon is forging an absolutely dynamite season up to this point, his .230 ERA is a testament to just how stingy he’s been this year and his pinpoint command of all his pitches is a big reason whey. In fact, Taillon’s BB% is 2.2% and that makes him number uno in MLB in the control department. Not a single qualified pitcher walks fewer batters. He’s using his defense and simply not allowing baserunners, but when runners do get on, they mostly get stranded. Taillon has a 81% LOB% up to this point this year.
Granted, there are still opportunities to make this Yankee team even more of a favorite to win the World Series. The July 31st trade deadline has a way of creating a sense of urgency and teams who are looking to win tend to offer “best and finals” as the clock ticks down to midnight on the final day. Selling teams get around to understanding which prospect packages that have been offered for their most tradable assets are most desirable and deals tend to happen in a flurry.
Assessing the Yankees offensive needs requires an understanding of player splits. We can draw a few conclusions from the data below and trust when I say, Brain Cashman and the Yankees are well aware of this data because Cashman’s moves indicate he’s very focused on splits and lineup balance. The data shows that the Yankees actually do have an opportunity to be even better situationally, from both sides of the plate. As the Trade Deadline approaches, one or two moves might put the Yankees truly over the top.
Conclusions we can arrive at are:
Keeping Matt Carpenter around is an excellent idea. He’s mostly a DH these days, though he does play first base and a little third base and some corner outfield. At age 36 and based on his .990 OPS in the minor leagues this season prior to signing with the Yankees, all indications seem to point to Carpenter truly being a superb signing. He’s a terrific fit for the Yankees.
Gleyber Torres should be in the lineup against left-handed pitching and if push comes to shove, he should play second base instead of DJ LeMahieu against right handed pitching.
Miguel Andujar had some value against right-handed pitching but, given he’s struggling badly against lefties, he’s not an every day player right now. Who would you rather have in the lineup against lefties, Miggy or Gonzalez?
Joey Gallo needs to be cut. It’s time. Perhaps playing Stanton more on the outfield would be a way to accomplish replacing Gallo. More on that in a bit.
DJ LeMahieu, who coincidentally is playing better at third base than he is at second base these days, shouldn’t start in the lineup against tough righties, for now. LeMahieu’s K% is a miniscule 13.4%, so he’s in the top 10% in the league at avoiding strikeouts, but his at-bats against righties are hurting the team right now. Meanwhile, he’s obviously pulverizing lefties so in games he doesn’t start, he’s an ideal situational pinch hitter / late game defensive replacement.
Jose Trevino is mangling left-handed pitching and should absolutely be starting against lefties for the foreseeable future.
Aaron Hicks is terrible against righties and well below league average against lefties. He has no value at this point. It’s time to dump him seeing how his contract and his injury history make him untradable.
Marwin Gonzalez is a very good defensive player on the left side of the infield and he’s hitting lefties well so far this year. But so far he’s struggling against righties to the point where starting him to take advantage of his left-handness at Yankee Stadium is looking like it makes very little sense. Can the Yankees upgrade from Gonzalez? Hard to say, it’s not easy to find a good defensive infielder who also plays the outfield. The Yankees will better understand what they have with Marwin Gonzalez over the next two months, leading up to the trade deadline. For now, they need him around as a versatile utility player, considering none of the Yankee infield prospects are even remotely ready for MLB call-ups.
Kyle Higashioka is a goner. He’s going to be DFA’d in all likelihood when Ben Rortvedt is ready for a call up. “Higgy” plays good defense but he’s redundant in that department because Rortvedt may even be a better defender and he happens to bat left-handed. Higgy’s out of options and his offense just isn’t there.
With the above conclusions made, all of which are fairly straightforward and obvious, it will be up to Brian Cashman to further tweak the roster at the Trade Deadline. I don’t think Cashman will want to disrupt the flow of the defense-first catching and negate the positive impact it’s having on the staff by bringing in a more offense-first catcher. Therefore, I’ll go out on a limb and predict that the Yankees are all set at catcher, once Rortvedt is installed and Higgy is cut-loose.
Aaron Hicks and Joey Gallo are the two canker sores on this year’s team and I will be shocked if they’re both Yankees when the deadline clock strikes midnight on July 31st. Neither player is tradable. Cashman needs to recognize this and accept that he needs to move on. Both players will get some time to work out of their awful funks, but if neither does, they both really ought to be DFA’d.
Marwin Gonzalez’s role as the team’s utility player also needs to be examined. The thought of Oswaldo Cabrera hitting 20+ home runs and providing solid infield defense, even at shortstop in a super-utility role for the Yankees has been put on the back burner. He’s hitting .186 in Scranton this season with one home run. Oswald Peraza isn’t doing much better. He’s batting .209 with a .626 OPS. Neither player is going to be an upgrade from what Gonzalez can offer.
It is therefore conceivable that Brian Cashman might be looking for two players. If he hangs onto Gonzalez, he’ll need a couple of outfielders to replace Hicks and Gallo. Cashman also needs to simultaneously upgrade the Yankees ability to punish right-handed pitching.
Cashman will also need to figure out if he wants to hang onto Matt Carpenter or not and he’ll learn the answer to that question based on Carpenter’s performance in the next month-and-a-half. It’s looking like Carpenter may stick and if he can do that, he’d be a massive help to the Yankees in terms of balancing the lineup. Whether or not Carpenter sticks might also greatly impact the direction Cashman goes at the trade deadline.