Part-3: Plan-B, Life Without Judge
By Cary Greene
November 26, 2022
In my previous two articles, Right Field and DH and Yankees Outfield Plan, Part 2, "Life without Judge" I established that it makes zero sense to clog the DH position with Giancarlo Stanton, because he doesn’t perform at a high enough level when he’s DH-ing. Since he’s not a valuable DH, the Yankees need to reimagine the position and find a way to get Stanton back to some semblance of the 2017 NL-MVP form he displayed back when they first traded for him. Replacing Aaron Judge’s 2022 production with a single player is a fool’s errand and it’s highly unlikely Stanton’s own production can be anywhere near his 2017 form.
However, the Yankees got league average DH production from Stanton in 2022. If they can get simply the production that Stanton put up while playing the field in 2022, a plan can be procured that would offset Judge to the highest degree possible - but replacing Judge entirely, as if to think his impact can be made up for, just isn’t a realistic way to think.
In our game threads here on SSTN, we often focus on how the Yankees are performing with runners advanced past first base - when runners are in “scoring position” - otherwise known as “RISP.” We frequently note that when the Yankees lose, it’s not because they don’t get runners into scoring position. Rather, the Yankees offense fails to advance the runners and they struggle to drive the runners in. I thought it would be interesting to study this perception that often popped up in SSTN game threads because often where there is smoke, there is fire present.
Sure enough, the Yankees ranked 21st in the league with a .245 average with runners in scoring position. With a runner on second base, most of the time a single can plate that runner. So a low batting average hurts a team’s performance with RISP.
That the Yankees ranked ninth in the league in OPS with RISP, posting a .768, shows that as a team, their power often comes into play when runners are in scoring position. This supports a lot of fan comments to the effect that, “the Yankees have a home run or bust approach.” Fans who say things like that are right. The Yankees do hunt for home runs with runners in scoring position, the numbers don’t lie. The approach the Yankees use overall is productive and well above league average - even if they can’t seem to hit singles when singles would do the trick with RISP.
Underwhelmingly, the Yankees also ranked 16th in the league with only 41 Sacrifice Flies and they were eighth at grounding into double plays with 47. Ultimately, when the Yankees do lose, it's usually because they failed to drive runners in and a productive DH would go a long way towards changing that narrative. It also does appear that the Yankees need to diversify and add more contact oriented bats, so they will get more singles and doubles when they have RISP situations.
On the surface, the Yankees had a better offense than the Astros, yet the Astros OPS with RISP (.795) was fourth in the league and significantly better than the Yankees (.768). Their batting-average with RISP (.270) was second in the league so this shows that the team the Yankees likely have to go through to make it to the World Series already understands and worse yet, executes exactly what I’m breaking down. The Astros can and will hit a single when they need to.
In the ALCS, the Astros scored 11 runs via the long-ball, connecting for six home runs. But they also scored another six runs on singles and doubles and this helped them average the exact same run production against the Yankees postseason pitching as they did during the regular season. In layman’s terms, the Astros just did what they did all season long. Their offense was able to take advantage of scoring opportunities with men on base. Two of those one-run singles wound up clinching the ALCS in Game Four, as the Astros went from down 5-4 (after Harrison Bader's home run) to up 6-5, which was a lead their elite bullpen was able to cement into a “W.”
Meanwhile, the Yankees struggled to score against the Astros elite pitching, averaging only two runs-per-game in the ALDS, failing to do what they had done all season long. The Yankees averaged five runs a game last season. A big reason that the Astros won was because the Yankees starting pitching didn’t get the job done, pitching to a 6.00 ERA in the series, allowing 10 runs in 15-innings. If the Yankees are to ever take the Astros down, they have to get better run suppression from their starters and they have to do better than two-runs a game production.
I’ve been very careful to take note of what the Yankees opportunities are as I designed this series of articles. What good is having the second best offense in MLB if it can only score 2-runs a game when it matters most, against elite postseason pitching?
Previously, I suggested that if the Yankees want a World Series contender, they need to get more than just league-average production from the DH spot. Stanton posted a 133 wRC+ as an outfielder and a 107 wRC+ as a DH. Unfortunately, the Yankees offense was greatly hindered this year by the DH position, which only produced a .711 OPS which ranked 13th in MLB. I also noted that the Yankees offense once again fizzled out in the postseason and Stanton was a big reason for this as he struggled while DH-ing in the postseason, batting .188 with a .666 OPS and only 7-RBI’s in 9-games paired with 2 home runs.
I said that if one were grading Brian Cashman’s results, the grade would have to be very close to a failing one and it seems that poor planning has also created a middling lack of offensive production from a position that should be one of the strongest sources of run production and also lineup balance for a team with the Yankees budget.
Instead of simply lamenting, I suggested that for 2023, the Yankees should continue with their 2022 plan of working Stanton back into the the outfield and assuming Judge signs elsewhere while also considering Stanton’s natural position is right field, the Yankees should plan on a steady amount of Stanton in right field with a healthy amount of Oswaldo Cabrera sprinkled in both as a consistent 7th-inning defensive replacement and as a spot starter.
SSTN’s Tim Kabel said on Bronx Beat Podcast #356 the other day that if Judge does sign elsewhere, the Yankees need to find a replacement for him, they need a poor-man’s Judge. Well folks, the version of Giancalro Stanton, when he plays the field, isn't a bad replacement. If we have to go here, if we have to contemplate “Plan B, Life without Judge” then I’m cool with a 133 wRC+ performer, which is what Stanton produced when playing the field last season, playing right field with Oswaldo Cabrera serving as a late game defensive replacement and a spot starter.
Is there a good chance Stanton might get injured in the process? There is, yes, which is why the Yankees need to sign not one, but two corner outfielders this offseason and as discussed above, it sure would be nice if those corner outfielders had strong contact oriented approaches, played solid defense and were also able to hit left-handed.
This plan, providing Stanton can handle shagging fly balls five days a week, would free up the DH position and I further suggested that Matt Carpenter should 100-percent be brought back, where he could function as a primary DH, with Josh Donaldson also contributing. I pointed to Carpenter’s Statcast numbers like his Hard-Hit-Percentage (Top 85% in MLB) and his skyrocketing Barrel-Percentage (13.7%) as indications that what he flashed last season was in fact NOT a fluke. I also noted that “Carp” is a dead-red pull-hitter with 60% of his batted-balls in 2022 being scorched to right field. With the shift going away, why wouldn’t Cashman sign Carpenter as immediately as is possible?
While many fans want both Josh Donaldson and Aaron Hicks off the team going forward, I suggested from a tradability standpoint, it would be very hard to move either player without eating most of their salaries and from a budget perspective, I reckoned it would be difficult from a payroll perspective to dump both players in a single season. Unfortunately, if the Yankees ate both players salaries in 2023, it would amount to a $34.5-million payroll hit.
Since Hicks is less valuable offensively and since he’s also signed for three more seasons, I picked getting rid of him as being the lesser of two evils - though in truth I would hold a desert party, complete with free Twinkies for all attendees, if BOTH Hicks and Donaldson were jettisoned!
I made the decision largely because Aaron Hicks just isn’t a valuable offensive player and also because his left-handed hitting is rendered not helpful due to his terrible splits. The Yankees would be better off adding productive left-handed hitters instead of turning to the unproductive Hicks yet again. In the kindest of terms, he needs to go.
Today we have a couple of new topics to discuss. First, I’ll look at what the plan going forward in center field should be and then I’ll bring it all home as we look similarly at left field. Let’s begin with the crucially all-important question.
Is Bader the Answer in Center Field?
Trading lefty-starter Jordan Montgomery away was another not very popular 2022 Brian Cashman decision. It’s been incredibly difficult for Brain Cashman to address center field and frankly, the position has been a real problem for the Yankees. With Harrison Bader in the fold, Cashman believes the problem is solved, at least for the 2023 season anyway. Is Bader a viable solution at the position though?
Bader performed like a $12-million free agent would have last season. He posted a 1.5 f-WAR entirely based on his defensive value (+4.3). Offensively, Bader is basically a slightly below average player (-0.7). His +6 OAA places him in the 91st-percentile of all outfielders, so to properly frame Bader’s worth, it must be stated that Bader isn’t just a good defender, he’s elite.
Getting very good overall jumps on batted balls is a big reason he’s so good in center field. He’s also blazingly fast (Top-93% in MLB) and he has great baserunning instincts which makes him equally valuable on the basepaths (4.2 BsR).
Unfortunately, Bader’s wOBA was a putrid .286 last season, so his speed is largely underutilized. He doesn’t walk much (bottom 9% of the league) and he only had 10 doubles and two triples last year. I don’t think Harrison Bader is a realistic fit on a World Series championship roster, but I do acknowledge that his postseason this past year was pretty stellar and surprising.
Which brings me to my conclusion. Harrison Bader has 9.3 MTV so Cashman could easily trade him if a better option presented itself this offseason. I think Cashman should absolutely look to do just that. Unfortunately, replacing Bader would be pretty challenging as center fielders worth their cleats are quite expensive on the open market and they fetch rather brutal prospect returns in trades.
Therefore, if Cashman is going to hang onto Bader, which does make sense he needs to platoon him with a player that has more offensive upside and who “could eventually be” a possible longer-term fit at the position. Fasten your seatbelt, things are about to get even more interesting - and remember, we’re talking about Plan-B here, Life without Judge here.
Weeding Through the Internal Clutter
Looking internally, Everson Pereira moved from High-A to Double-A last season and he’s projected as a possible call-up to Triple-A some time next season. Though he won’t be ready to likely impact the big-league team next season, he likely isn’t a solution at the position as it’s more than likely Pereira may be better suited to a corner outfield position than he is as a big league center fielder.
MLB.COM has indicated that due to his strong throwing arm and added bulk, Pereira may wind up moving to right-field by the time he hits the big leagues. His frame is filling out to the point where looking increasingly more “lumbering” and with each passing day, it’s becoming more and more apparent that he won’t stick in centerfield. Therefore, keeping a centerfield warm while waiting for Pereira’s ascension likely makes little sense.
Meanwhile, Estevan Florial is another internal option who is getting to the point where Cashman will have to decide whether holding a 40-Man Roster spot continues to make sense, which of course it unfortunately doesn’t. Florial’s performance indicates he’s not major league material presently.
While Florial is still tradable, due to his toolsy skill set, his strong throwing arm (Top 80% in MLB) and the good jumps he gets on balls, he’s just not able to hit the ball hard (Bottom 13% in MLB) and he’s still striking out way too much (Top 80% in MLB). Cashman should free up the 40-Man Roster spot by trading Florial while he still can. Alas - Cashman hasn’t done that though and his failure to act resulted in the loss of fireballer Stephen Ridings being lost to the Mets, who claimed him off waivers the other day.
Imagine, giving a reliever who costs virtually nothing and who has team options remaining away for nothing - to the Mets of all teams! Cashman’s genius apparently knows no bounds! For now, Florial remains in pinstripes. He likely has little to no chance of helping the big league team though and it’s unfortunate that I have to conclude that. He’s pretty much a disaster at the plate though. It would take a miracle for him to suddenly start hitting like a big league baseball player.
What about Tim Locastro then, is he worthy of occupying a roster spot and being a fifth outfielder on a World Series contender? Fangraphs rates Locastro a 0.0 f-WAR. He’s like a serving of shredded cucumber salad, while it tastes fine, it’s just not filling enough.
All elements of Locastro’s game considered, his speed is really his only calling card. His offense rates as a -0.1 and surprisingly, he’s even less valuable defensively, rating as a -1.4. Even with the speed factoring in, he’s worth zero RAR, which means Locastro could be replaced with any average player Cashman could pick and he wouldn’t be missed in the least.
Locastro was a $900-k signing last season and he performed like a free agent who is worth $0 on the open market. His play in the outfield produces a -2 DRS and a -14.8 UZR/150, and he was rated -1 OAA which places him in the 38th-percentile in the league defensively.
Compounding his shortcomings in the field, his arm is in the bottom 10% of the league. Locastro gets poor overall jumps on balls, then uses his speed to try and offset his inability to initially see the ball off the bat. I remember games where he made seemingly spectacular catches ranging from left field into the center field gap, but then I went back and watched the jump he got on a few of those plays and was astounded at how difficult he made the plays look. His skillset doesn’t remotely play well in left field, let alone center field.
The only desirable part of Locastro’s game is his blazing speed, which places him in the 99th percentile of MLB. He’s a good base runner for sure, but is pinch running duty worth a roster spot? Clearly from a value-perspective, it is not. Since his one-year deal is now expired, hopefully the Yankees' brilliant analytics department will realize there’s nothing valuable about the speedy Locastro.
No Yankees center field planning conversation would be complete without mentioning soon to be 20-years old super-prospect Jasson Dominguez, who moved from Low-A to High-A last season, before getting an end of the year call-up to Double-A where he’ll begin the 2023 season.
Baseball America recently ranked “the Martian” as the Yankees number-five prospect, noting that some of his skills (his speed and his arm) had backed up since he signed. In fact, the only tool they graded as plus or better was his power and their projection for Dominguez is that he could still reach a ceiling as a MLB regular. Many scouts outside of the Yankees organization feel he projects more as a power-hitting corner outfielder. Yankees fans (including myself) have been hoping Dominguez would eventually patrol center field in the Bronx but it may be necessary for folks to be a little bit more realistic with Dominguez.
Personally, I don’t see Dominguez as the answer I too was hoping he might one day be. My conclusion is that the Yankees have no obvious in-house solutions in center field, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an internal solution!
The Answer may be Right Under the Yankees Noses
Barring a trade or a splashy free agent signing, a possible in-the-box solution does exist. Yes, “in-the-box” opposed to outside-of-it. Due to Harrison Bader’s injury-history track record, it is highly unlikely that he can remain healthy over the course of a full MLB season. The Yankees would be extremely wise to at least attempt an internal contingency. History is often the best teacher and the Yankees would do well to remember their own storied history as they “hope for the best” while taking care to “plan for the worst.”
Once upon a time, Mickey Mantle was converted to centerfield and that worked out pretty well for the Yankees. The reason “the Mick” was moved in his words, was because he was injuring spectators behind first base too regularly. He had a cannon for an arm, but he struggled to throw over to first base accurately. The player I’m about to mention parallels Mantle’s defensive profile, but he has a more accurate arm. Is there a chance that Oswald Peraza could be a viable solution at the position?
Good center fielders are hard to come by. Facing the likelihood that there is no internal solution in the Yankees system, converting the speedy, strong armed Peraza right away is a move that makes sense for the Yankees to initiate. This idea is especially intriguing considering this season’s bumper crop of shortstops could provide an avenue for a pivoting Cashman to pursue if he fails to sign Aaron Judge.
Signing a Star Shortstop Now Makes Sense
In a “Plan-B, Life without Judge” scenario, the Yankees should absolutely sign a star shortstop. Replacing Judge with a single player is impossible, he’s THAT productive, but a highly productive offensive shortstop replaces the very unproductive Isiah Kiner-Falefa and thus, the needle moves. If enough other upgrades are made to the roster, the Yankees can still break through and win a World Series. It’s possible.
The presence of Anthony Volpe, who will open the season in Triple-A also means that the Yankees might actually have a realistic internal option who could very likely be a better fit at shortstop than Peraza might be. Volpe also might not be and there is a chance he may be better suited to play second base. With this in mind, I’ll go ahead and let the cat out of the bag.
Considering that Trea Turner will likely command 8-years and $264-million, making his AAV about $33-million - per Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic, a plan that might make sense for a future without Aaron Judge would be to replace Judge’s offensive impact with a shortstop who has a lot more offensive firepower than the speedy Turner and who’ll also be markedly more affordable – plus, he comes with added “fit-dynamic” in that he could easily move to third base in 2024, once Josh Donaldson finally put out to pasture.
This allows the Yankees to promote Anthony Volpe and see how he looks, compared to the shortstop they signed in the 2023 offseason. It also means that Isiah Kiner Falefa can be traded to help restock the barren farm system that Cashman has been steadily siphoning from in order to make up for his poor preseason planning.
Last season, the Red Sox were first in the League in offensive production at shortstop, as Xander Bogaerts and company put up a league leading .815 OPS. It was a bit of a down season for Bogaerts individually, as he posted an .833 OPS with 15 home runs and while batting .307, but his wOBA was .363 which means offensively, he was in the top 10-percent of MLB. Advanced metrics suggest that some regression towards the mean is probably in the cards (his xwOBA was only .323 - which basically means at worst, going forward he’s still going to be in the 58th-percentile offensively
In a lineup without Aaron Judge, the Yankees could plug Bogaerts in and, if they make the other changes I’ve advocated, they might actually be a World Series contender even without Judge.
Defensively, Bogaerts is rated 5-OAA and any way we slice it, his metrics are pretty decent. Bogaerts posted a 4.7 UZR/150, so it’s clear that he mans his zone a lot better than Isiah Kiner Falefa does (0.0). Considering Oswald Peraza was rated 1-OAA, Bogaerts is a better and more proven defensive player and he’s clearly far more advanced at the plate. Peraza’s defensive calling cards are his range and his arm, but offensively, he doesn’t even remotely compare to Bogaerts at this stage of his career and he’s not on Bogaerts level defensively either - at least not presently. This doesn’t mean Peraza shouldn’t be the backup shortstop in 2023. It doesn’t mean that Peraza wouldn’t be able to shift Bogaerts to second or third base down the line either.
What if Peraza looks good in center field though? This would be a great problem to have, especially with Volpe and Trey Sweeney both ripening in the farm system. Many scouts outside the Yankees organization see the left-hand hitting Sweeney, who throws right-handed by the way, as having a future at third base. Yankees fans my age may remember a player who’s handedness was similar - Graig Nettles. Let’s imagine Sweeney as the possible 2024 third baseman, he’d arrive to “the show” just as Donaldson’s contract expires. MLB scouts also project Volpe is probably better suited to play second base. Imagine the flexibility the Yankees would have with Bogaerts, Peraza, Volpe, Sweeney and Cabrera all on the same roster?
Going into the season with Kiner-Falefa and Peraza battling it out doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in a world without Aaron Judge. An impact shortstop has a good glove and an even better bat right now than either Kiner-Falefa or Peraza. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush, as the saying goes. With Bogaerts signed, the birds in the bush can help if and when they’re all ready.
Meanwhile, how about winning a World Series for a change, instead of continuing to get bounced due to an offense that just can’t take the hill when it matters most.
In the words of the legendary General George Patton, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” A good plan now would be to fix the shortstop position so the Yankees can go out and win now. A perfect plan next week (season) can wait. The Yankees would have a whole season to develop that plan.
Oswald Peraza may take to center field very well. He’s fast (90th percentile in baseball), he has a strong throwing arm (80th percentile). Harrison Bader allows the Yankees to try Peraza in center field and play him as a utility player on a potential World Series champion. He could also play some second base and some shortstop. A plan like that sounds a whole lot more in line with General Patton’s philosophy than rolling into the season with a plan that might not work out so well.
The Yankees need to account for a center fielder in 2024. They may decide to extend Bader. They may decide to sign a 2024 free agent center fielder or they may make a trade for someone, but what if a surprisingly good option is right under their noses?
Mickey Mantle never played centerfield a day in his life before being converted and neither has Peraza. I acknowledge this but you have to start somewhere and the team is going to need a center fielder eventually. Why not conduct a bit of experimentation this season, while also playing Peraza in the infield? Where is the harm in thinking “in the box?”
John Heyman of the New York Post projects that Bogaerts is projected to land an 8-year deal worth $225-million, which means his AAV will be in the neighborhood of $28 million. This offseason represents a chance to secure an offensive player who’s in the top 10-percent in MLB and he’s a better shortstop than any Yankee currently is – plus, he can always be moved to second base as he ages, or perhaps even sooner if and when Gleyber Torres’ time as a Yankee is up and should Peraza or Volpe force the issue.