How the Padres Hiring Bob Melvin Affects the Yankees
How the Padres Hiring Bob Melvin Affects the Yankees
By Chris O’Connor
November 1, 2021
After a disappointing 2021 campaign that saw the team win just 86 games and miss the playoffs, the Oakland Athletics have decided to allow longtime manager Bob Melvin to forgo the final year of his contract and sign on to manage the San Diego Padres. Melvin is regarded as one of the best managers in baseball, and while the A’s fell short of expectations in 2021, the reason that expectations were so high in the first place is that Melvin led the club to the playoffs during each of the prior three seasons. Allowing Melvin to leave likely signals the beginning of a rebuild for the small-market A’s. How does this affect the Yankees and their offseason plans
For one, this almost certainly means that center fielder Starling Marte will leave in free agency. Marte, who will be entering his age-33 season in 2022, came to the A’s in a trade deadline deal after he failed to come to terms on a contract extension with the Marlins. While he was always deemed likely to be a rental for the A’s, it is a near certainty now that they will let him go in free agency. Marte led all of baseball with 47 stolen bases in 2021 and slashed .308/.381/.456. He also struck out just 99 times in 120 games and would seem to fit the Yankees desire to get more athletic and contact-oriented. I do not think that it is particularly likely that the Yankees pursue Marte with Aaron Hicks back in the picture and needs elsewhere (see: shortstop), but Marte provides an intriguing option.
Matt Olson is the guy that many prognosticators are pinpointing to the Yankees, and for good reason. Olson is a 27-year-old lefty who has a career WRC+ of 132 and is regarded as one of the best defensive first baseman in the league. He is a consistent 30-40 home run hitter who nearly halved his strikeout rate from a career-high 31.4% in the shortened 2020 to just 16.8% across a full 2021. Olson is also very durable and strikes me as a younger, more powerful version of Anthony Rizzo at this point in his career. For 2022, Steamer projects him for 40 home runs, a 140 WRC+, and 4.6 fWAR across 150 games. Olson is currently entering his second year of arbitration and projects to earn a salary of close to $12 million, which is very affordable for a top-tier first baseman. Because he is set to hit free agency after 2023, the A’s will likely look to move him before his value lessens, like the Yankees should have done with Luke Voit after 2020. With Voit seemingly falling out of favor with the team in 2021, and with Rizzo hitting free agency, the Yankees have to consider making a deal for the superstar to fill a huge need at first base.
Matt Chapman is another interesting player for the Yankees to consider pursuing. As it stands now, I think that it is likely that the Yankees will sign one of the marquee shortstops, move Gleyber Torres to second base, move D.J. LeMahieu to third base, and either re-sign Anthony Rizzo or look for a first base upgrade like Olson. An A’s fire sale, however, would just give the Yankees more options. Like Olson, Chapman is entering his second year of arbitration and is set to hit free agency after 2023. He projects to earn about $9.5 million in 2022, so if the A’s tear it down, it is likely that they will consider moving the 29-year-old third baseman. If the Yankees deem the price of Olson too high, the Yankees could move D.J. LeMahieu to first base and slide Chapman in as the third baseman. Chapman is one of the best defensive third baseman in baseball, if not the best. After posting back to back 6 fWAR seasons in 2018 and 2019, however, his bat has dropped off over the past two years. His strikeout rate has risen to over 30% and his hard-hit rate and average exit velocity noticeably declined in 2021. Still, with a few MVP-level seasons in the recent past, no durability concerns, and still in his prime age, Chapman would be a nice bounce-back candidate if the Yankees pass on Olson and Rizzo. Even in a disappointing 2021, Chapman was worth 3.4 fWAR.
Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt, and Frankie Montas are the starting pitchers to monitor. The 30 year-old Manaea will be a free agent after 2022 and projects to earn a little over $10 million in his final year of arbitration. The lefty is a consistent 160-inning pitcher with a career ERA of 3.86 and excellent control, but due to his impending free agency and average peripherals, I think it is unlikely that he is at the top of the Yankees wish list. Bassitt, meanwhile, had flown under the radar for a few years before his breakout 2021. Like Manaea, the 33 year-old will be a free agent after 2022 and his projected $8.8 million salary is likely to be deemed too high for a rebuilding team. Though he threw just 6 innings after suffering a freakish line-drive injury in mid-August, Bassitt still managed to post a 3.15 ERA across 157.1 innings. Bassitt is no one-year wonder, either; he was excellent in 2020 and solid across a full 2019. The real dark horse, however, is the soon-to-be 29 year-old Montas. A free agent after 2023, he seems to fit the profile of pitchers that the Yankees love: a consistent 95-96 mph fastball with above-average spin rates and solid walk and strikeout rates. Montas was on his way to an excellent 2019 through 16 starts before testing positive for a banned substance and was subsequently suspended for the rest of the season. After a poor 2020, he fully broke out with a 3.37 ERA across 187 innings in 2021. While I ultimately think Olson or Chapman is more likely after the way the Yankees offense struggled in 2021, the A’s have some interesting pitchers as well.
The Yankees need to make significant offseason moves and picking at the carcasses of a talented A’s roster is a nice option to have.