By Andy Singer
January 16th, 2024
It's been a really long time since I did a "thoughts" style post made famous by our Editor-In-Chief. I do mine a bit differently, so bear with me as I try a slightly different cadence. Today feels like a good day for it given that there are a multitude of topics worth covering. We're at the point of the off-season where I am ready to fast-forward to semi-meaningless Spring Training games, but there's still plenty of movement left on the free agent and trade markets. The markets are slow, but the Yankees may yet have a move or two left, so they're in an interesting position. Without any further ado, let's get at it:
As the season came to a close, I had convinced myself that one of the best ways to improve the roster was to find a new third baseman. Matt Chapman, traditionally one of the best third baseman in baseball, was on the market. Before I established my semi-official off-season plan, I really thought I was going to advocate hard for signing Chapman. I didn't.
I was also pretty sure that I wanted to find a way to offload DJ LeMahieu. Given his modest bounce-back at the end of the year, I thought clearing that salary might be for the best. I didn't advocate for that either.
The key to Matt Chapman's value is his defense at third base. His reputation, mostly deserved, is that he is one of this generation's best defensive third basemen. In his prime, he also had enough pop and plate discipline to make him a very good all-around player.
Reputations are often deserved, but they also often hang around well beyond the point of being deserved.
The eye test matches where I'm going when I review video, so for those that don't like defensive statistics, cover your eyes for a moment. Which of these players would you rather have (statistics from 2022-2023)?
Player A: 5 OAA, 112 OPS+, 27.9% K%, 10.8% BB%, .195 ISO
Player B: 7 OAA, 103 OPS+, 17.8% K%, 11.5% BB%, .132 ISO
So, which one do you want? If we take for wrote that Player B is a better defender at third, we can forgive the slight drop-off in total offense, particularly in combination with better plate discipline, right? Maybe Player A is a bit more valuable, but not by much, right? We also know the Yankees need plate discipline, so Player B might even be a better fit when you combine better plate discipline and infield defense.
Player A is Matt Chapman; Player B is DJ LeMahieu. If you were wondering why Chapman hasn't scored a good free agent deal yet, now you know.
This also highlights an important point: I think we've started undervaluing DJ LeMahieu. If he's actually getting healthy, and we can expect him to play good defense at 3B and make contact in front of the boppers, the Yankees are in good shape at 3B, particularly since they at least have a good defender backing him up in Oswald Peraza.
This comparison also tells us something very interesting about this year's free agent market: there's a reason it's stagnant. Chapman is certainly the fourth best free agent remaining. Would you pay a ton of money and commit 4-6 years to Matt Chapman? Me neither.
As much as the other guys look like fits, there are real issues with all of them. We've discussed Monty and Snell ad nauseum (and yes, I still want one of them regardless), but even Cody Bellinger is incredibly risky, given how scary some of the underlying stats are behind this year's resurgence. None of the remaining guys on the free agent market are slam dunks, nor should we treat them as such.
From a value perspective, I prefer Stroman to Snell or Monty. He might pitch as well as one of them in 2024. I'd still feel better if the rotation had one more Stroman or Monty-like arm.
So we've established that the free agent market is somewhat stagnant and the reason for it...
Hector Neris?!? The Yankees are the front-runners for Hector Neris? He has a dominant splitter, and he had a great year, but great years from relievers are a dime-a-dozen. I'm all for adding to the bullpen, but I'm not sure Neris is the guy we should want.
That said, year-over-year, Neris' splitter grades out as one of the best pitches in baseball. Maybe I should look into this one more.
Still, it seems strange for the Yankees' top target to be an inconsistent reliever.
I'm frustrated that the Yankees haven't done more, but the market has also been slow. Looking at the list of what the Yankees have accomplished this off-season is pretty good: Soto, Grisham, Verdugo, Stroman, replenished the pitching depth, got more lineup balance, added disciplined hitters who make contact, improved bench depth. That's pretty good.
I'd prefer great to pretty good.
I still hope the next big move comes from the trade front. I'm not a big fan of any of the remaining free agents.
A late January starting pitcher would be nice...