Part-4: Plan-B, Life Without Judge
by Cary Greene
November 30, 2022
In my previous three articles, Part One, Part Two and Part Three of "Plan-B, 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.
In a “Life without Judge” scenario, I wrote that Giancarlo Stanton is my starting right-fielder four days a week. I reasoned that I had to roll the dice, because he’s just too productive when playing the field not to do this with. I also wrote that healthy doses of Oswaldo Cabrera both spot starting and routinely entering the game as a defensive replacement was a way to give Stanton the best chance to be successful.
Why Matt Carpenter Deserves a Roster Spot
With the DH position freed up, I suggested the Yankees should sign Matt Carpenter. His Statcast numbers certainly support the notion that what he accomplished last year wasn’t merely smoke and mirrors. He hit the ball hard and he barreled up baseballs at an all-time career high for him and with regular playing time, he should do so again and best of all, he fits the budget.
Besides the insurance that the versatile and highly professional Carpenter provides, the Yankees should plan in case Anthony Rizzo, who was affected by a back injury last season, has recurring issues in 2023. Also, we don’t know if Josh Donaldson might be traded. If Donaldson is dealt, then DJ LeMahieu may have to be utilized mostly at third base and that makes Carpenter suddenly very important defensively because the position he’s by far the best at these days is first base.
Since the market lacks left-handed power and considering the Yankees have already locked up the best lefty power threat in Anthony Rizzo, Carpenter really ought to be considered - given that he’ll cost very little on a one year deal. However, he will be entering his age 37 season and significant regression is in the forecast as Steamers is projecting Carp to have a .322 wOBA and a 109 wRC+ to go with a .9 f-WAR and a .731 OPS so obviously these projections don't scream Babe Ruth.
It would be irresponsible planning if I didn’t reveal and acknowledge that Carpenter’s PECOTA player comps - Eddie Mathews, Robin Ventura and Graig Nettles suggest that Carpenter likely isn’t a variable solution at DH for 2023. The data suggests Carpenter won’t be very productive, considering both Mathews and Ventura had retired at age 36, never even making it to an age 37 season and Nettles was in serious decline by his age 37-season.
Why would I believe that Carpenter may have more gas in the tank than 37-year-old players with similar career arcs? Even Steamers is forecasting his xwOBA to be .322 next season, which would make Carpenter only a smidge above league average (.317).
We know that players don’t always perform to the same level that their xwOBA says they will. Last year, Carpenter's actual performance, as measured by wOBA, was .472 whereas, his xwOBA of .362 kept suggesting he would eventually come back down to earth. Had Carpenter regressed to his .362 xwOBA, he still would have been a terrific left-handed bat - but he never did.
League-Average Barrel-Percentage last season was 6.7-percent. Carpenter’s was 13.7-percent. His career low was actually 7.2-percent, in 2019 and that was still above League-average. He’s never been bad at barreling up baseballs. In 2020, he bumped his Barrel-Percentage up to 9.8-percent. Then, in 2021, he went up to 11.5-percent and then last season of course, he wound up at the aforementioned 13.7-percent.
Consider also that League-average Hard-Hit-Percent was 35.8-percent last season and Carpenter was at 42.1-percent. Carpenter was pounding the ball last season and his Hard-Hit-Percentages have similarly been steadily climbing since a career-low dip of 31.1-percent in 2019. He rose to 36.3-percent in 2020, 42.0-percent in 2021 and then he maintained his ability to drill the ball last season.
What was really behind Carpenter's offensive resurrection from 2019 to what we witnessed in the Bronx last season was a Launch-Angle renaissance - he climbed from 17.1-percent during the 2020 Pandemic-shortened season when he kind of “bottomed out,” to 21.1-percent in 2021 and then 22.4-percent last season. It’s been well documented that he fixed his swing and this allowed him to tap into his ridiculously good ability to barrel up the baseball and hammer it hard.
For those that are concerned that Carpenter had a rough 2019 season, I’d also point to his nagging back and foot injuries that season, which caused him to miss significant time (33-games) for only the second time in his career. He missed 30 games with an oblique injury in 2016 but his performance never dipped, in fact he was extremely productive as he played through the issue.
When we look at Anthony Rizzo, we see a big left-handed bat who simply can’t resist pulling the ball, now that he plays in the Bronx. The short porch in right field is just too alluring to a pull-hitter. Last year Rizzo peppered the right field bleachers, while yanking 48.1-percent of his batted-balls to right field - basically one in every two that he hits is to right field. Now let’s project adding Matt Carpenter into the mix. “Carp” is by all accounts a beloved presence in the clubhouse and a wonderful teammate. He’s also a consummate professional with a winning pedigree. He’s always well-prepared and that means he can handle any role he’s given. But wait, there’s more! Carpenter pulled 60-percent of his batted balls to right-field.
Considering that the shift IS GOING AWAY next year folks, why wouldn’t the Yankees want a professional, dead-pull power hitter at DH next season? He’d be hitting in a world where shifts are verboten! Is it because we’re terrified to take a risk on a 37-year-old player - who stands 6’4”, weighs a trim 210-pounds and is as chiseled as he is in shape?
Also, it’s not like Juan Soto is available to DH for $2-million next season. Considering the ship has passed on Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber as well, Carpenter is an excellent low cost, short term option. Especially if a plan is in place, in a world without Aaron Judge, to revamp the Yankees offense and make it more able to make contact when needed. Then, perhaps the Yankees will stop sputtering against elite postseason pitching.
I Previously Suggested
In my previous articles, I also wanted to part ways with one of Aaron Hicks or Josh Donaldson, and because my plan was to use Donaldson at third base and DJ LeMahieu at second base, while trading Gleyber Torres - I created a realistic plan to move on from Hicks 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. It’s clearly time to pull the plug on Hicks being a viable fourth outfielder, the juice just isn’t worth the squeeze.
Then I looked at Harrison Bader and determined he isn’t likely a long term solution in center field and because of his concerning injury history, I suggested that the Yankees should experiment a bit with Oswald Peraza in centerfield and, sans Judge, that the Yankees should sign the proven Xander Bogaerts to play shortstop going forward.
Adopting a “win-now” mindset by aggressively pursuing Bogaerts impacts the heart of the Yankees lineup. Neither Isiah Kiner-Falefa nor Oswald Peraza does that. The Yankees would get a lot further with a legit number-three hitter who’s a proven commodity at shortstop and by no means am I suggesting Peraza shouldn’t be used as a utility player, where he can get some time at shortstop, third base, second base and yes, a new position - centerfield!
In time, the Yankees might also look at Peraza as an everyday shortstop and perhaps they’d want to move Bogaerts to third base, or second base. It’s equally possible that Peraza might look great in centerfield. Shortstops have a far easier time changing positions for a reason - they’re highly athletic and in Peraza’s case, he’s got outstanding speed and a strong arm. At the very least, he deserves an extended look while he’s enjoying being one of the Yankees two super-utility players (along with Oswaldo Cabrera).
For years, the Yankees have been very thin at shortstop. Not only have the starters been very subpar, but the reserves haven’t been very good either. In my plan, I want depth at the position, but I also want to win now. I’m fine with executing a partial youth movement down the line.
Wrought with tantalizing potential, the Yankees top organizational prospect, Anthony Volpe, is a +60 Future-Value player, a true Tier-One prospect. This means he’s very close to being a “can't-miss” prospect. He’ll more than likely force his way into the Yankees infield soon enough. Will he stick at shortstop or take over at second base? Time will tell, but this makes experimenting now with Peraza a very worthwhile endeavor, especially considering that the Yankees farm system likely isn’t producing a speedy, strong armed, projectible centerfielder any time in the next few years. Their top two outfield prospects, Everson Pereira and Jasson Dominguez are both bulking up and slowing down and they each now project as corner outfielders.
The next logical question is, does it make sense to try to fix the centerfield situation this season, by signing a player who would be an upgrade from Bader? Would plugging in Peraza at shortstop and using free agency to land a big fish who plays centerfield move the needle more than Bogaerts would? Thus begins today’s piece.
Does Signing a Star Center Fielder Now Make Sense?
There isn’t much available help in the free agent centerfield class , other than soon-to-be 31-year old Brandon Nimmo who will likely be very overpriced. Nimmo earned $7-million in this past season, but if he were a free agent, he would have been worth $43-million as he played at a +51.1 RAR, giving the Mets an extra $36-million in performance value compared to what he earned. Should the Yankees make a run at Nimmo?
Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic projects Nimmo could earn a contract as long as seven-years for as much as $140-million, which might peg his AAV as being around $20-million. Unless Hal Steinbrenner wanted to steer his payroll into unprecedentedly high tax-rate waters (44%), which would place it into the Second-Tier of the Threshold, it’s highly doubtful that the Yankees would move on from Bader’s one-year of team control to make a run at the do-it-all Nimmo, who posted a 5.4 f-WAR season this past season to go with a 134 wRC+ and a wOBA of .353.
Nimmo was rated 6-OAA by Statcast, so he’s overall an elite defender in centerfield, but his Outfielder-Jump is rated in the lower 34th-percentile in the league. He makes up for the poor jumps he gets on batted-balls by combining his blazing speed, that is in the upper 84th-percentile in MLB with his plus-arm that grades in the 72nd percentile. Unfortunately, the Sprint-Speed, which is measured at 28.7, is largely lost on the basepaths as Fangraphs lists him having a very league average -0.3 BsR. This show’s he has well below average instincts which prohibit him from capitalizing on his speed-tool.
Though Nimmo’s walk-rate went from top 4% in the league in 2021 to a still good 10.5% this year (league average is 8.4%), his .353 wOBA indicates he performed quite a bit above expectations - as measured by is xwOBA, which was .342. In short, Nimmo had a season to die for and it happened to be in his walk year. This should make any team in need of a good defensive center fielder feel confident that they’ll get what they pay for with regard to adding Nimmo.
I’ve carefully considered whether or not Nimmo would be a fit with the Yankees. I remember many of us here on SSTN discussing possible 2021 Deadline deals for a center fielder and while I don’t recall Nimmo’s name coming up, I do recall those of Bryan Reynolds and Cedric Mullins. Ultimately, I don’t think Nimmo is a fit.
I’m much more bearish on the chances of Nimmo signing a 5 to 7-year contract this offseason than Rosenthal is though, because when you’re projecting potential free agent contracts, you have to think analytically while also considering the strength of a given position relative to the marketplace.
I cite the careers of Josh Reddick (13-year career, 20 f-WAR), Dexter Fowler (14-year career, 19.3 f-WAR) and Jake Marisnick (10-year career, 8.4 f-WAR) who PECOTA lists as Nimmo’s three player comps as the reason for the bearishness. Collectively, the comp trio averaged 1.9 f-WAR from their 8th season(s) in the league to their 11th season(s). That would seem to indicate that Nimmo’s production is likely to decline and this thinking is fortified when we look at where his recent advanced metrics are trending.
Nimmo’s wOBA has consistently declined over the past three-seasons, dropping from .387 in 2020 to .370 in 2021 down to .353 this season. His OPS has also steadily declined by more than .100 points during this span as well. I don’t think a long term investment in Nimmo is in the cards and that may suit Boras just fine.
Instead, the market may be more inclined to make a shorter term play with Nimmo and it's also more likely that Boras will acquiesce and try for as much commission as he can get in the short term. If Starling Marte got four-years and $88 million in the 2021 offseason, Scott Boras will likely position Nimmo at 5 or 6 years and between $117.5 million and $141 million to start the offseason and I doubt teams will bite on that considering that Nimmo’s player comps may create some behind the scenes fear of a long term commitment among front office GM’s this offseason.
This could cause Boras to pivot and choose to follow the trends we saw last year with star players he represented, as he may be willing to negotiate shorter term deals with higher AAV’s.Many teams are growing increasingly shy of making long commitments. I forecast that Nimmo will likely see his market develop into three years and $75 million, with a $25-million AAV of course.
If Boras can generate enough sense of urgency with the team ultimately most interested in Nimmo, there is an outside chance that Nimmo could get a four-year deal, but for now it seems like the more realistic bet is on Nimmo ultimately receiving a three-year deal, most likely from the Mets. Due to the AAV, I can’t find a way to work Nimmo into a realistic budget, so I think even suggesting that the Yankees should take a run at Nimmo is irresponsible writing. If not Nimmo then, is there someone else out there that makes sense?
Is there a Better Option via Free Agency than Bader?
Offensively speaking, the next-best available free agent and much more affordable one to boot would be Kevin Kiermaier, but he’s less desirable than Bader, considering he never made it back this past season after going down in June with a recurring hip injury that, all total, cost him to miss 99-games.
How about Cody Bellinger?
With 27-year-old Cody Bellinger recently non-tendered by the Dodgers and rumored to be looking for a one-year deal, we’ll soon be reading a lot about why the Yankees should take a chance on Bellinger - afterall, he’s young and not far removed from all-world status in center field. Why should two horrendous sub-Joey Gallo level seasons stop the Yankees from taking a “Galloian-gamble” on Bellinger, when all it will cost is money this time?
Cashman won’t have to fork over half the farm system to acquire Bellinger after all, like he did when he traded for Gallo at the 2021 Deadline. All he’d have to do is roll the dice and outbid all of the teams interested in trying to get Bellinger on a reasonable deal. In a world without Judge, doing that would be easy enough right?
It’s remotely possible that the Yankees might jump in on Bellinger and try to sign him, perhaps he’s not a bad backup plan to Harrison Bader, but I’m not holding my breath. He’s been pretty putrid for the past two seasons and there isn’t a lot to hang a hat on that might suggest a return to former greatness. He does bat left-handed though, so there’s that!
Represented as a defensive-ace in centerfield who could/might have significant offensive upside if he can return to form, Bellinger is going to get a lot of attention from MLB teams with money to spend and a need in centerfield. Bellinger’s .284 wOBA was in the bottom 10-percent of the League last season. He posted a measly 83 wRC+ while striking out way too much and not walking enough.
More concerningly, Bellinger’s Hard-Hit-Percentage (39%) was in the bottom 35-perent of MLB last season. Considering he wasn’t unlucky, I can’t find any trend that suggests he’s a player to bet on. Even Steamers projects him to put up a .306 wOBA in 2023. I’m sorry, but I’m not signing up for that via free agency. If he can be had for a minimum contract, it might be worth it to take a peek but I’m pretty sure some team somewhere will snap him up.
Keep in mind, I said the Dodgers wouldn’t DFA him but would look to trade him instead, which didn’t happen, so what do I know. There must have been not a single team in the league that was interested in paying a significant prospect cost to acquire Bellinger. Since all prospects have MTV, we can therefore extrapolate that, considering the projections, he’s likely not getting a very big contract for 2023. Possible upside usually comes with positive Statcast trends, but right now, Bellinger stinks.
One of the things I have to do, in order to write this article responsibly, is to consider my audience and I know there are readers out there who do like the idea of adding Bellinger - so I’ll commit to proceeding with an open mind and I’ll let you know that I came to a startling conclusion as I did this. But first…
What if the Yankees Traded Bader and Signed Bellinger?
Does trading Bader and pivoting to Bellinger make sense for the Yankees? Bader has an MTV of $9-million. He would fetch a prospect the likes of Clarke Schmidt. He’s also due to make $4.7-million next season, so if Bellinger could be had for a similar or lesser amount, would jibing towards Bellinger, with thoughts of him and his 7-OAA patrolling the vast expansive ocean in centerfield in Yankee stadium make sense?
Interestingly, Bellinger is a vastly healthier player who comes with lesser injury concerns, whereas Bader comes with red-flags as it’s unlikely he’ll remain healthy over the course of a full season. Bellinger did miss 54-games in 2021 with a calf injury, but he was fairly healthy overall last season. Most defensive metrics actually favor Bader. He gets better jumps, he has a vastly superior throwing arm and he’s significantly faster. Bellinger has better fielding instincts though, he reads the ball off the bat better and he reacts more quickly to batted balls than Bader does. While both players are demons on the basepaths, Bellinger is actually rated a touch better racing from bag to bag than Bader.
Where Bader has a surprising edge is that he hits right-handed pitching decently (90 wRC+) and struggles against left-handed pitching (68 wRC+) - so he’s got a case of reverse-splits going on. Bellinger meanwhile put up a 92 wRC+ against right-handed pitching and only had a 63 wRC+ against left-handers. Therefore due to Bader's reverse splits, it makes little sense to platoon the two players because Bellinger doesn’t do anything that Bader can’t do better.
This is why I’m suggesting to save the payroll and try Oswald Peraza a bit in centerfield, while also using him as one of two super utility players off the bench. Peraza’s splits against left-handers (129 wRC+) are a lot better than Baders and his splits against right-handers (151 wRC+) were likewise much better. There’s a strong chance that Peraza could represent a pretty nice upgrade from Bader, whereas Bellinger is kind of just more of the same.
Ultimately, both Bader and Bellinger were offensively in the bottom 10-percent of MLB last season and they’re both projected to be so again in 2023. My conclusion is therefore a soft-pass on acquiring Bellinger.
Wouldn’t it be better to Focus on a Star Shortstop?
Ultimately, I conclude that signing a free agent shortstop makes a ton more sense for the Yankees. Afterall, Harrison Bader is already under team control for 2023 and Oswald Peraza has all the tools to back him up and provide insurance for what seems like an inevitability that Bader will go down with the usual injuries. His injury history shouldn’t exactly encourage the Yankees to not bother with a backup plan.
There is a chance Peraza could be a solid shortstop also, but which impacts the Yankees lineup more. Xander Bogarets or Trea Turner –AND– Peraza (in centerfield) or Peraza and Harrison Bader? I think it’s a no brainer, don’t you? At the very least, the Yankees should do some spring training experimentation. What I dread is that Cashman passes on Xander Bogaerts and tries to wing it at shortstop with what he has in-house.
Can Free Agency Help the Yankees Outfield Elsewhere?
Thus far, I’ve indicated that free agency has no ability to help the Yankees in center field or right field. I’ve also advocated that the Yankees trade Aaron Hicks (eating as much of his contract as is necessary to facilitate this). Not to mention, I’ve also spurned the notion of bringing back Tim Locastro and I’m keen on trading Estevan Florial before he completely bottoms out and what little trade value he has left is lost.
The free agent bats I’ve managed to identify so far, Matt Carpenter and Xander Bogaerts, form the beginning of my “Plan-B, Life without Judge” roster construction. With shortstop and DH all set, I’ve yet to address left field.
Cashman has finally recognized the importance of becoming more left-handed in the lineup, though he’s largely lost at making the starting rotation more left handed. Left field represents an opportunity to become better balanced.
Left-field going forward
Left field remains a riddle that Cashman needs to solve and to his credit, he traded for Andrew Benintendi at this year’s Deadline and it sure began to look like an excellent move, before Benintendi’s unfortunate wrist injury caused him to miss the final 33-games of the season and remain shelved for the playoffs. One thing Cashman may have learned about left field last season is that you can’t necessarily put a round peg that seems terrific into a square hole and as the Joey Gallo experiment proved, it’s best to play people where they’re most comfortable. Gallo turned out to be a pretty bad left fielder and thankfully, Cashman finally pulled the plug.
I had written numerous articles last offseason that Gallo needed to be traded prior to the start of the season, but Cashman chose to hang onto him and of course, he received very little return for Gallo as Gallo’s trade value plummeted by the time the Deadline rolled around. Cashman was quite fortunate to get a lower-end pitching prospect from the Dodgers in Clayton Beeter for Gallo. He could have received so much more though, with smarter planning. Gallo entered the 2022 season with $15-million in MTV. Beeter is presently worth $2.9-MTV. Cashman most likely whiffed on acquiring a very good pitching prospect. We can only hope Beeter can one day help the team.
The obvious inclination regarding left field is to sign the soon to be 29-year-old Andrew Bennintendi and in doing so, pretty much put the left field issue to bed as the Yankees lineup suddenly looks a lot better balanced considering Rizzo and Carpenter are both back and Cabrera is also a productive left-handed bat.
Is Benintendi Worth It?
All told, the contact-oriented Benintendi was in the upper 70% of the League last year as measured by his .342 wOBA. Who cares if he hits mostly singles, he gets the job done, doesn’t he? Show me a metric that says otherwise, please do. His wRC+ was 122 last season. Benintendi is very much above average offensively and his hit-tool has always been highly-touted.
There’s also a bit more to like about Benintendi, his elite 14.8% K-Rate, per StatCast, combined with his 0-OAA means that he’s a solid outfielder who clearly plays his zone pretty decently while featuring a contact oriented approach at the plate. Theoretically, he would complement DJ LeMahieu in the lineup quite nicely and Yankees fans got a very brief glimpse of this being true this season. Fangraphs rated Benintendi with a +2 DRS and an +8.5 UZR/150 for this past season, which supports the notion that Benintendi knows how to man his zone very well.
According to Statcast, defensively, Benintendi is a slightly below average route-runner with slightly below average reaction times and slightly below average foot speed, which he makes up for with an average throwing arm (50th-percentile), an ability to get a decent jump on batted balls (57th-percentile) and a reliable glove that produced a 90% Actual Catch percentage.
Is Benintendi the Best Fit in Left Field Going Forward?
Yankees fans may have been reading some rumors circulating that Brian Cashman is potentially interested in Masataka Yoshida, who’s been rated as an average corner outfielder. Yoshida has worked more power into his approach than Benintendi provides, and he’s also very consistent. Former MLB outfielder Joe McCarthy, who played in Japan, recently told the Post’s Joel Sherman, “He’s as legit as they come.” “He didn’t slump for five-months. He can go gap-to-gap and he just constantly barrels-up pitches.”
Yoshida hit 21 home runs and walked 80 times last season, to go with only 41 strikeouts for the Japanese champion Orix Buffaloes, who are making him available to MLB teams through the posting-process. Once he’s posted, the Yankees would get 45-days to negotiate with him if they’re interested.
In a “Life without Judge” scenario, signing both Benintendi and Yoshida not only makes sense, but the Yankees have the budget to make that work. Should Judge elect to return to the Yankees, Yoshida would be the less-expensive option and he doesn’t have the wrist injury concerns that Benintendi brings with him.
Therefore, the Yankees should absolutely pursue Yoshida now and look to sign him. Then, after they get a good read on the Judge negotiations, they may wish to also go after Benintendi as that would make good sense.
Because I’ve moved on from Hicks, Florial and Locastro, the roster needs not one but two outfielders. Both Benintendi and Yoshida have excellent hit tools and neither strikes out much. They also both happen to hit left handed and, if one is used at the top of the lineup and paired with DJ LeMahieu and the other is used at the bottom of the lineup, the Yankees would have an ideal segway from the bottom of the order to the top of it.
With Oswald Peraza and Oswaldo Cabrera serving as utility players and with both of them getting time in the outfield, the Yankees would be well balanced. They’d also have the ability to sign Matt Carpenter and fit Giancarlo Stanton into the plan as well. The lineup’s RBI production would be buttressed by Bogaerts, Rizzo, Stanton and Carpenter. I think that might work well.
I haven’t revealed what the budget of my “Plan-B, Life without Judge” roster is and I will get into that in the next part of this series, but the below positional accompaniment is one that barely exceeds the Luxury Tax threshold and subsequently lands in the First-Tier, leaving plenty of wiggle room to add pitching. I’ll leave you with a vision of what the projected Plan-B lineup looks like, until we meet again!
1. LeMahieu 2B– Peraza/Cabrera
2. Benintendi LF– Yoshida
3. Bogaerts SS– Peraza/Cabrera
4. Stanton RF– Cabrera/Yoshida
5. Rizzo 1B – LeMahieu/Carpenter
6. Donaldson 3B – Peraza/Cabrera/LeMahieu
7. Carpenter DH– Yoshida/Stanton
8. Trevino C – Higashioka
9. Bader CF – Peraza
Bench: Cabrera, Peraza, Yoshida, Higashioka