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  • Cary Greene

Could a Surprise Yankees Free Agent Signing be in the Works?

 

Could a Surprise Yankees Free Agent Signing be in the Works?

by Cary Greene

December 21, 2023

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During the 2023 season, the Yankees offense was one of the worst in baseball and Brian Cashman’s credit, thus far this offseason he’s managed to land Juan Soto and Alex Verdugo to help bolster the lineup while also scoring Trent Grisham to provide defensive coverage in centerfield. All three are durable players who will bring needed balance to what was primarily a right-handed lineup last season.

 

Yet, there is more work still to be done if the Yankees hope to bounce back with a better than average offense this coming season. The Yankees need at least one more productive left-handed bat and they also need a middle of the lineup right-handed slugger who can force opposing managers to make tough bullpen decisions. If Cashman were able to sign another productive bat, it would serve to lengthen the lineup as well, as players like Anthony Rizzo and Gleyber Torres could drop down one spot in the batting order.

 

Hoping for the Best

Perhaps the Yankees are hoping for the best, while preparing for the worst this offseason. What I mean by that is, perhaps the Yankees plan on giving Giancarlo Stanton every opportunity to rebound from what was a disastrous 2023 season, as they hope he can get back to being the player they hoped they were getting when they traded him in the 2017-18 offseason, but perhaps Cashman is actually going to make sure that if things don’t work out with Stanton, that a fallback plan will also be firmly in place.

 

Short of finding a trade partner that Stanton would consider waiving his full no trade clause to be traded to, there’s really too much money still on the books to justify the Yankees designating Stanton for assignment this offseason.

 

I’m not suggesting Stanton won’t be DFA’d during the season if he continues his putrid 2023 ways at the plate as the season progresses, but let’s see the Stantonian conundrum that the Yankees are presently faced with for what it presently is. Stanton’s player comps suggest a moderate bounce back season may be forthcoming. Who knows, maybe Stanton will bounce back to have a fine 2024 season, I’m sure the Yankees are hoping for that, but what if he doesn’t? Shouldn’t a back up plan be put in place just in case?

 

Preparing for the Worst

What if by the All-Star break, the Yankees are forced to let Stanton go? After all, it’s equally feasible to project that he can no longer handle the MLB pitching trends that opponents are using against him. 73 percent of all starts are made by right handed pitchers and 72 percent of all innings pitched in baseball are tossed by right-handed pitchers. Stanton's fall off a cliff from his career norms (129 wRC+/.360 wOBA) versus righties last season, tumbling to a 75 wRC+/.277 wOBA, which is simply not acceptable for a DH.

 

Furthermore, pitchers are throwing more and more hard, sweeping sliders and four seam fastballs away to Stanton, who showed he had tremendous difficulty with the way other teams attacked him during at-bats last season. With his closed stance and lack of flexibility, Stanton had enormous difficulty trying to cover the lower outside of the plate. The eye test even confirmed that he just wasn’t tracking balls as they swept down and away.

 

Below is a chart, courtesy of StatCast, which illustrates the way the league is dissecting Stanton at the plate. Because Stanton can’t flex his knees and bend, opposing pitchers use a routine diet of hard pitches, low in the zone. They also frequently expand the zone on him and he clearly has difficulty recognizing hard, low and away pitches and moreso, he can’t do much damage when balls are located in these quadrants of the zone.



If Stanton doesn’t address these trends, he won’t be a major league player for much longer. Wouldn’t it be prudent for the Yankees to form a backup plan this offseason, rather than having to overpay with prospects to try to address this potential problem at the Trade Deadline? After all, the Yankees farm system has already been pillaged and plundered again this offseason, as it was necessary for Cashman to wheel and deal to impact his anemic crop of outfielders, Aaron Judge aside.

 

Is Santa Claus Coming, to Town?

Santa may be working on a surprising holiday present for Yankees fans this Christmas season that could potentially wind up being just the backup plan I’m describing. 

 

Brian Cashman has reportedly shown interest in All-Star slugger Jorge Soler, according to MLB.com's Francys Romero who recently stated to the media, "The Seattle Mariners are the most active team for Cuban (outfielder/designated hitter) Jorge Soler, per source," Soler said. "Yankees and (Miami Marlins) have also approached and have shown interest."

 

First, the Bad News

Defensively, Soler is a playable but underwhelming corner outfielder, with big league experience in both left and right field. He rates 5 outs below average, which doesn’t sound too terrible on the surface, but his UZR/150 last year was an alarming -22.1, which is a genuine red flag and I use Kyle Schwarber here as my barometer, who is one of the worst fielders I’ve seen with the naked eye. Schwarber posted a -16 UZR/150 last season. Shwarber meanwhile rated a -19 Outs Below Average so clearly he’s probably significantly worse, but if Soler had a worse UZR/150, that can’t possibly be good defensive news.

 

Now for the Good News

However, there is actually good news, even if it’s not regarding Soler’s defense. Offensive production is Soler’s calling card and that’s why the Yankees should sign him. Soler is exactly the kind of right handed bat the Yankees lineup now needs. He hits both lefties and righties well and Steamers is projecting a 35 home run season from him in 2024, with 91 runs batted in and a 126 wRC+ to go along with a .346 wOBA. With exit velocities in the top six percent of the league and a whopping 48.0 hard hit percentage (league average is 36.3), Soler sported an absurdly good barrel percentage (15.0) last season (league average was 6.9).

 

Furthermore, Soler’s approach is to pull balls to the left side, which he does with 46.3 percent of his batted balls. Considering that MLB made the use of defensive shifts illegal and also factoring in that Soler will hit the ball up the middle 35.1 percent of the time, it only stands to reason that Soler will find much success at the plate in the coming years. Shifts were primarily implemented to make it difficult for pull hitters to exploit gaps in defensive positioning and so when the League outlawed the use of shifts, many pull hitters around the league instantly began having more success. Soler for example is a career .282 hitter against shifts, whereas he bats .306 against non-shifting defensive alignments.

 

In my estimation, Soler moves the needle and there are actually a few ways the Yankees could wind up stashing Soler on the active roster. The unlikely way would be to trade Giancarlo Stanton, which I admit has a very low chance of happening.  The other way would be to platoon Soler and Verdugo in left field, while also platooning Soler and Stanton both at DH, while rotating Soto in as needed as well - which would open some occasional starts in right field for Soler as well. 

 

Soler is a Solid Pickup

Signing Soler would be relatively affordable as he’s projected to receive a contract in the neighborhood of 3-years and $45 million. Doing so provides protection against continued Stanton decline and seeing that Soler is only 32, he more than likely represents a financially sound acquisition. I say that based on FanGraphs f-Value. If Soler would have been a free agent last season, he would have been worth a free agent contract of $14.9 million. Considering Soler’s 2024 projections, he’ll likely live up to a 3-year deal in the neighborhood of $45 million.

 

Potential Lineup with Soler

Now for the best part of this article. Here’s the Yankees projected lineup with Soler:

1.     LeMahieu 3B

2.    Soto RF

3.    Judge CF

4.    Soler LF

5.    Rizzo 1B

6.    Stanton DH

7.    Torres 2B

8.    Wells C

9.    Volpe SS

Bench: Verdugo (4th OF), Grisham (5th OF), Trevino C, Peraza UIF

 

Flexibility Thanks to Options

If the Yankees were to sign Soler, they could option Oswaldo Cabrera to Scranton for depth as he has two options remaining.  Trent Grisham and Austin Wells each have three options remaining as well, so there is plenty of flexibility to bring Soler into the mix. The Yankees could use the DH position to rotate Soto, Soler, and Stanton and they could also use both Verdugo and Grisham as late game defensive replacements.

 

The lone projected bench piece on the Yankees positional roster would be Oswald Peraza and barring a Gleyber Torres trade this offseason, Peraza will be part of the Yankees infield mix this season. Peraza is actually out of options, so he’ll need to remain on the Yankees active roster throughout the season.

 

Scoring Earlier in Games More Often

The thinking here in signing Soler to bat cleanup would be that the Yankees offense could generate more runs, earlier in games. It’s a simple plan that, if placed in lockstep with a plan to reimagine the Yankees starting rotation and fortify the bullpen, would probably help the Yankees close the gap on their Division rivals like Baltimore and Tampa, who both have incredibly good farm systems that will only improve their rosters while simultaneously making them more cost effective and controllable.

 

The Need for a Dynamic Plan

What the Yankees need is a dynamic plan that (1) improves the lineup substantially, top to bottom and (2) likewise improves both the starting rotation and the bullpen.

 

Besides Injuries, Last Season’s Biggest Problem was…

Last season, Yankees starters did a poor job of leaving the game with the lead. Yankees starters didn’t last  deeply enough  into their starts last season, ranking 19th in innings pitched (820.2) and they rarely gave the bullpen opportunities to protect leads.

 

Cashman, as usual, pointed to injuries as being the biggest reason why his roster once again failed to take the hill.  While he’s not entirely wrong as injuries did hurt the Yankees, what actually  hurt even more was the Yankees lack of left-handedness in their starting rotation.

 

It’s difficult to win with a short porch in right field with a predominantly right-handed group of starting pitchers. The Yankees rotation has posted a 106 ERA Minus, which is an ERA stat adjusted for ballparks where 100 is average and lower than 100 is better. According to ERA Minus, the Yankees had the 20th worst rotation in baseball – even with Gerritt Cole.

 

The Yankees entire pitching staff allowed the ninth most home runs to left-handed batters in MLB last season. Opposing teams stacked left-handed hitters in their lineups when visiting Yankee stadium, as was commonly themed game plan that opposing managers use the Yankees home field advantage against them.

 

Yankees starters also gave up the fourth most home runs in MLB last season (136) and that was a really big problem. The 405 earned runs that Yankees starters gave up ranked 15th in the League as well so it’s not possible to give Brian Cashman high marks for creating a championship caliber starting rotation this past season.

 

Cashman often blames some of the Yankees woes on injuries and with the Yankees key left-handers, Nestor Cortes and Carlos Rodon missing the bulk of the season, there’s no doubt that Brian Cashman’s reliance on pitchers with injury risks has yet again left the Yankees dead in the water. Cashman has a chance to change this narrative this offseason, if he succeeds in reshaping his rotation.

 

Soler for the Stocking, Yamamoto Under the Tree

I know fans want a shiny christmas present under the tree this December and they may well wind up getting a Yoshinabu Yamamoto, but it’s doubtful that signing a single ace is going to fix the Yankees problems. Much more needs to be done.

 

Starting with the Yankees offense, signing Jorge Soler would dramatically improve the Yankees lineup. He bolsters the middle of the order and his presence extends the lineup to give it much needed depth.

31 Comments


fuster
Dec 21, 2023

a good thought, but

not really a good fit for the Yankees.


the team already has outfielders who can't field in Stanton and Soto.


perhaps if they get rid of Stanton they could have room for both Soler and Soto

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Cary Greene
Cary Greene
Dec 21, 2023

Prediction: The Yankees are going nowhere near Cody Bellinger. Not with Soto in the fold. Not with Judge around, backed up by Grisham, with Dominguez on tap for 2025

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Paul Semendinger
Paul Semendinger
Dec 22, 2023
Replying to

I would tend to agree with you, but I think he's a better fit than Soler:


Lefty

More athletic

Can play OF

Can play 1b

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Cary Greene
Cary Greene
Dec 21, 2023

A good plan starts not with hoping for the best, but by preparing for the worst. Soler is an affordable and productive cleanup hitter. He's an RBI maching. You can't walk Judge or Soto with him protecting both.


If somehow, Giancarlo Stanton can be moved, then Joc Pederson could be signed and the Yankees lineup is suddenly pretty amazing, with three plus defensive outfielders and three bad ones whose bats are all game changers.

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Cary Greene
Cary Greene
Dec 21, 2023
Replying to

I'm a huge Carpenter fan so I can't find fault with your plan on that front. When he got DFA'd, my eyebrows raised and the finger I personally use to dial began to twitch. I hope Cashman's did as well. Carps PECOTA player comps say he's at the end of the line. All Projection services currently second that.


But maybe the Yankees see something that no one else did, like when they signed him last time. Personally speaking from the fan in me's perspective, I'd love it if it all worked out and he came back and played like he did before. He's a consumate professional and he was borderline beloved in the club house by all accounts.

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Alan B.
Alan B.
Dec 21, 2023

Don't want Soler. The Yankeea have too many guys currently on their roster who could be given the DH ABs. Those ABs might just start with Dominguez. And speaking of Dominguez, that is exactly just how long Stanton has to get himself together. But again, has he undergone a some sort of skeletal or neuro muscular test to see what's really wrong with him?

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Paul Semendinger
Paul Semendinger
Dec 22, 2023
Replying to

I'm with jjw49 on this.

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Paul Semendinger
Paul Semendinger
Dec 21, 2023

Note - This is Cary's article. As I scheduled it this morning, I originally didn't have his name on the front page. It is corrected. My apologies.

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Cary Greene
Cary Greene
Dec 21, 2023
Replying to

And to Allen, you're a valued poster here and I respect your opinons very much. It's okay to disagree. We all have opinons, its what makes a good Blog. If you disagree with anything I write, you and anyone else is by all means invited to respond and let me know. who knows, maybe my or your opinions might actually change from time to time, or not. It is said that opinions are made to be changed.


That said, after next season's data is in the books, we can revisit what we thought we were each so right about.

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