SSTN Mailbag: A Trade For Benintendi, A Shot For Florial, And Andujar Vs. Gallo!
Despite the fact that the Yankees currently lead the AL East by 14 games, a series against the Red Sox always seems more important than almost any other series. I didn't get to watch the beginning of last night's game, a rarity for me when the Yanks play the Sox. I was on a stage making a vague attempt to play the saxophone (last night's epiphany was that blowing into the smaller end produces better sounds), and I was lucky enough to share the stage with a few people who are diehard Yankee fans like me. For instance, I knew about the Donaldson grand slam because the drummer made sure to check his Yankee updates between sets. Even as we all silently cheered the fact that the Yankees were up against the hated Red Sox, I still sensed looming doubt among my playing partners. "Did you see Judge and Rizzo are out of the lineup?" "Here it comes..." "They just don't stay healthy." I heard more about Judge and Rizzo being out of the lineup than I did about the fact that the Yankees were beating a division rival. I'm not sure that I have a real takeaway other than that it still stuns me how deep the scars of the last 2-3 seasons run for Yankee fans. I take solace in the fact that Aaron Boone stated yesterday that were this a game of critical importance, both Judge and Rizzo would have suited up. I do worry about the toll playing CF everyday will take on Judge, but I think the Yankees have proven that they have learned how to manage guys like Judge to keep them healthy. At some point, we are going to have to accept that this team's DNA is different than the one that frustrated us in 2020 and 2021.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll talk about taking a real shot at acquiring Benintendi, giving Florial a real shot on the big club, and debate the relative merits of giving Gallo's playing time to Miguel Andujar! Let's get at it:
Fuster asks: would the Yankees be willing to risk paying too much and surrender Andujar, Florial and Wesneski for Benintendi?
It's funny; I was thinking about this question as I listened to Hal Steinbrenner's first public interview since Spring Training the other day. Hidden among the talk about Aaron Judge's looming free agency was a very interesting bit from Steinbrenner about his thinking regarding the trade deadline. I'm going to paraphrase because I haven't been able to find the exact clip to embed, but Steinbrenner noted that every year, the combination of the scouting and analytics team will propose moves that they believe will make the Yankees stronger in the long run. Often, some of those ideas involve dealing prospects from the upper echelons of their system. Steinbrenner tellingly noted that he is often loathe to part with good, young prospects unless his teams can produce very convincing evidence that parting with good prospects will get the team closer to a championship.
I'm of two minds regarding Steinbrenner's statements. On the one hand, of course Steinbrenner would prefer to keep good prospects; it helps keep the team cheaper over the long haul. On the other hand, there is legitimacy to some prospect hugging, as it is difficult to build dynasties without building from within. In any case, I believe that Hal Steinbrenner gave truthful insight into the Yankees' thought process coming into trade season.
Back to Benintendi. I don't want to take undo credit, but I believe I was one of the first baseball writers to identify Benintendi as a solid target for the Yankees both last season and the year prior (in 2020, I wanted him as a reclamation project). To be fair, he's been a very valuable player in 2022. He's been worth 2.2 bWAR/1.8 fWAR, his strikeout and walk rates are excellent, and he's left-handed. These are all good things, and certainly better than the combination of Gallo and Hicks this season (though Hicks has been significantly better since June 1st). On the surface it appears that the Yankees should be willing to enter a bidding war for Benintendi, and no doubt they have the tools for acquisition in this case.
But would the Yankees do it? On the surface, the proposed trade looks pretty even, as Wesneski alone is likely in the ballpark of fair value for Benintendi, and throwing in buy-low candidates like Andujar and Florial certainly sweeten the pot. However, I can't get Steinbrenner's comments out of my head, and once we move beyond the surface, there enough red flags with Benintendi to remove him as a possibility if prospects of Wesneski's caliber were included.
Benintendi has hit for an outstanding .319 batting average with excellent walk rates that have propelled him to a .388 OBP, but that has come with literally no power, with a .086 ISO (that's beneath Hicks territory...before his recent homer streak), which puts significant pressure on him to continue hitting at his current scorching rate. There is reason to believe that negative regression is coming on that front. Benintendi produces good speed on the basepaths, so he typically posts higher than average Batting Averages on Balls In Play (BABIP), but his mark this season is 33 points beyond even the highest mark for any full season of his career at .366. If Benintendi regresses even to his previous high water marks, we're talking about a .275ish empty singles hitter who just barely gets on-base enough to make him a more valuable hitter than, say, IKF. His spray chart confirms that he has benefited from an abnormally large number of infield singles in 2022...I would not expect that to continue. This would be made better if Benintendi were a good fielder...but that really isn't the case either. Statcast's OAA sees Benintendi as a below-average left fielder, ranking in the 41st percentile, and his outfield jumps are even worse, in the 38th percentile.
This isn't to say that Benintendi isn't valuable; he is, but I don't think he clears Steinbrenner's bar as a slam-dunk upgrade given the quality of prospect headlining this deal, particularly in light of the fact that the Yankees may need to dip into their starting pitching depth as this season wears on and the Yankees look to fill out next year's rotation.
Lou asks: Is it time to give Estevan Florial a real shot to play everyday in the majors? He's hitting the cover off the ball at Scranton and he can't be worse than Hicks and Gallo.
I'm as thrilled as anyone to see that Florial has had a good season down at AAA. The poor guy suffered a terrible run of injury luck at the exact wrong time in his development, so he deserves the type of season he's having. However, I have to rain on his parade. Even though he's hitting right now, his walk rate is unremarkable at AAA, and he is on-pace to strike out 150+ times at Scranton. That does not translate to the Major League level at all. Scouting reports still note that Florial struggles to recognize breaking and off-speed stuff, and he will get eaten alive if that's the case in the Majors aside from occasionally running into a fastball. Combine that with the fact that Florial is still not an instinctive outfielder, and I'm not sure he bumps anyone from the current roster long-term.
I think Florial can still have a career as an occasionally interesting 4th outfielder; I just don't think it's with the Yankees.
Jeff asks: Can we please play Andujar over Gallo now? It can't be any worse, right?
I'm sensing a trend here...in all seriousness, it's really pretty stunning to watch Gallo's fall. Even in his worst years in Texas, Gallo still played good defense and bopped enough homers to keep his total value afloat. He's completely fallen off of a cliff in that regard, and we now have enough data to say that it's just not happening for him in pinstripes. Watching Gallo right now reminds me a lot of Chris Davis, who fell off from an MVP candidate to a non-roster player seemingly overnight. I still think Gallo has skills that make him Major League player, but he's a change-of-scenery candidate if I ever saw one. I wanted it to work; I think everyone wanted it to work; it just hasn't.
Yes, I would get Andujar up to the Majors to stay, and split Gallo's playing time between Carpenter and Andujar based on matchups. Both Carpenter and Andujar have earned the playing time; Gallo has not.