SSTN Mailbag: Arizona Outfield Bats, The Big Move, And Rotation Rank!
It's a glorious day to be a Yankee fan! The Mets might have been the flashier New York team early in the offseason, but I think the Yankees have made more impactful moves. Carlos Rodon has an incredibly scary injury history after he was abused in college by his coach at NC State, throwing far too many innings in far too short a time frame. It took him awhile to get going as he worked through a series of shoulder and elbow injuries, but Rodon has now produced two largely healthy seasons on the mound, and I think the front half of this deal should work out nicely for the Yankees. More to the point, the Yankees don't just have a deep rotation, but one that when everyone is rolling at the same time, touts 3-4 All-Star caliber arms. That's insane. We'll talk more about the rotation later, but for the first time this offseason, the Yankees are clearly a better team than they were last year, and they haven't even found a left fielder yet.
After the Aaron Judge signing, it was clear that there would be almost no way for the Yankees to continue building a championship caliber roster without exceeding the third luxury tax tier ($273 million), but Yankee fans have been justifiably concerned that Steinbrenner would pull the purse strings tight as has happened numerous times over the last 5 seasons. I hate doing it, but kudos to Hal Steinbrenner for finally enabling the Yankees to act like THE YANKEES. The two big moves the team has made this offseason put the front office in a position to do what they've done really well in recent years: hunt value and hidden gems on the trade market while unleashing the high-end talent they've developed down on the farm. I have my popcorn ready; I hope you do too.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll take another look at the glut of lefty outfielders currently employed by the Arizona Diamondbacks, muse about the potential "Big Move" Cashman has been working on besides Rodon, and look at the current Yankee rotation in comparison to the rest of the league! Let's get at it:
Fuster asks: have the D'backs reached the point where they have too many lefty-swinging outfielders?
do they keep Carroll in the minors to reduce the glut or do they go to market?
if it's the market, what should they be shopping for
and who might they be sending away?
Yes, the Arizona Diamondbacks certainly do have a glut of young, talented, lefty hitting outfielders who profile either in CF or LF. Basically all of their outfielders are at the point where they need to be in the Majors to finish their development. The best part for Arizona is that most of the group project to be very good ballplayers! The bad news is that there is certainly not enough room on the big league roster to play them all, and Arizona has plenty of long-term needs elsewhere.
Arizona needs long-term help on their pitching staff and all over their infield, so it makes sense to deal one of those outfielders for help elsewhere. Before we get crazy, no, Corbin Carroll isn't going anywhere. Carroll is one of the best prospects in the sport, and I fully expect the Diamondbacks to build around Carroll in the outfield, so that leaves four realistic left-handed outfielders on the trade bubble: Jake McCarthy, Pavin Smith, Alek Thomas, and Daulton Varsho. Let's analyze each quickly, as we've discussed each of these players in depth in multiple SSTN Mailbags in the last year.
I'll lump McCarthy and Smith together, because they are two players I am personally not very interested in acquiring. McCarthy put up surprisingly good numbers in 2022 buoyed by an unsustainably high BABIP. His quality of contact isn't particularly inspiring either, as his xwOBA (.298) was significantly lower than his wOBA (.337) in 2022, further indicating that last season's offensive numbers were very fluky. Pavin Smith was a solid prospect with some feel with the bat, but an awful glove in the outfield. The bat doesn't do enough to make up for the bad glove, and his performance fell off a cliff in 2022. Both might yet be useful platoon or bench bats, but I wouldn't bet on them being much more than that, and neither strike me as left fielders on a championship ballclub.
Alek Thomas is a really interesting ballplayer with great prospect pedigree coming off of a bad first cup of coffee in the Majors, which complicates any trade, because the Diamondbacks certainly don't want to trade low on a player with obvious tools and years of team control. Thomas seems to have it all: a solid hit tool, plus speed, surprising raw power from a guy with a slight build, and a glove that can fake it in CF, but is likely plus in LF. Thomas expanded his strike zone in the Majors as he pressed to make the most of his first call-up, so he made very little impact at the plate. However, he has a history of plus plate discipline and a good eye in his minor league career, so for now I'd bet that Thomas is a solid bet to become an average or better player in the Majors.
Daulton Varsho is a guy I highlighted last offseason as someone who might merit a look by a team like the Yankees. Varsho came up as a catcher with a light arm, so the Diamondbacks experimented with playing him in the outfield due to his surprising athleticism. The experiment paid off, because Varsho has been a plus-plus defender at every outfield position by both the eye test and by every publicly available metric. As a bonus, he can still moonlight behind the plate, though it may make sense for Varsho to be a full-time outfielder. If he's not playing CF, Varsho likely fits best in LF due to a middling arm. Varsho can hit, and I'd bet that his bat has more development left given the number of years he worked at his defense behind the plate. Varsho has a good feel for the bat at the plate, good-enough plate discipline, and surprising power. I think Varsho will actually be tougher to pry from the Diamondbacks than Thomas.
I don't want to go too crazy to acquire either Varsho or Thomas, so given that I think Thomas is cheaper in terms of prospect quality (and is younger with more years of team control), I like Thomas as a target. Here are a few sample trades that I think exemplify fair trades, with slightly different frameworks depending on what Arizona is looking for:
Do the Diamondbacks want one big piece and one or two role players, or do they want a variety of solid players? I would expect that the Diamondbacks would prefer MLB or near-MLB ready players, so these deals reflect those needs.
Frankly, I'm not sure any of these deals gets the Yanks over the finish line for a player like Thomas, because I'm sure that Arizona places a higher value on his talent than baseballtradevalues.com, and if that's the case, I'm not sure this trade works for both sides.
Chris asks: The media has been speculating about Michael Kay's comments about a BIG MOVE that the Yankees are working on aside from a potential Carlos Rodon trade. What do you think that move could be and what position does that player or players play?
Michael Kay might be too opinionated and loud for some people's tastes, but one thing he does have are sources deep inside the Yankees' organization. Kay was right when he let his listeners know that Aaron Judge was not a goner after Jon Heyman's erroneous report of a deal with the Giants, and I believe him when he says that the Yankees are working on a big move even beyond Carlos Rodon.
I have zero inside information about what that move could be. What I do know is that the Yankees have a clear need in LF, the remaining free agents are uninspiring, and I'm not sure the obvious trade targets (Reynolds with the Pirates, pick your favorite Arizona outfielder, etc.) are realistic options right now. Besides, the Pirates aren't contenders and Arizona is an also-ran who will be clawing just to make the last Wild Card spot even with some shrewd moves this offseason. To me, a big trade involves two teams who will be competing for division crowns swapping high-profile players and/or prospects. There is one competitive team who we know the Yankees have talked to in the last year and with whom they match up quite well in a trade: the Milwaukee Brewers.
Like the Diamondbacks, the Brewers have multiple left-handed outfield prospects banging on the door of the Majors vying for outfield spots. Garrett Mitchell is the player most likely to win the CF spot, and there really doesn't look to be additional space for anyone else out there. That makes a very interesting prospect ready for the Majors available: Sal Frelick.
I hate making comparisons between prospects and established big leaguers, but when I watch video of Sal Frelick play, I see a young Brett Gardner. He's fast, profiles better in left field than center field, has a plus hit tool, surprising power for a player listed at 5'9" tall, elite plate discipline (in a small sample size at AAA, he actually walked more than he struck out), and will be a good baserunner. Frelick is often credited with being a guy who hustles hard and plays with his hair on fire all the time. As an East Coast guy (he played college ball at Boston College), he has flown under the radar as a prospect (even leading up the MLB Draft), but in his first full minor league season last year, he flew through every level of the minors without hitting any speed bumps. I love the guy, and I think he'd be a huge acquisition that would take a big trade haul to acquire. Let's get crazy:
The Brewers need thump in the infield, better infield defense, controllable pitching, and good prospects in the high minors to keep the team cheap. The Yankees get Frelick, who has an obvious current fit, and left-handed starter/swingman Eric Lauer, who is about to get more expensive with only two more seasons of team control. The Brewers get significant help for their sagging infield, with Gleyber Torres and Josh Donaldson as very real upgrades over the incumbents (really), a potentially impact arm with four years of team control in Clarke Schmidt, a big-bat prospect (functionally different than the prospects they have in the upper minors) in Everson Pereira, and $13 million in cash to offset Donaldson's contract.
How likely do I think this deal is? Not particularly, but I do think the Yankees and Brewers are a good match, and I do think Frelick is the type of young player that the Yanks will target on the trade market. While I'm not sure that this is the deal, I think this type of deal is what the Yanks could be working on. It may not be a seismic free agent signing, but a trade like this would certainly reshape the roster quite a bit, and it definitely is the type of trade that fits Cashman's M.O.
Brian asks: Now that Rodon is in the fold, how does the Yankees rotation look in comparison to the rest of the league?
Remember, I was the high man on the Yankees' rotation before the Rodon signing. Without Rodon in the fold, I thought the Yankees had a top-10 rotation in baseball, though one that needed another piece with the departure of Jameson Taillon. People forget, the Yankees had a top-5 or top-6 rotation last season, so even standing pat would make the Yankees' rotation competitive.
Looking at rosters around the league, there are only two teams that can compete with the Yankees in the rotation now: the Mets and the Astros. Houston lost their ace, Justin Verlander, while the Mets replaced their ace, Jacob DeGrom, with Verlander himself. The Astros still have a formidable, deep rotation, though without a knockout ace, while the Mets have a top-heavy rotation that is dependent on a 37 and 40 year old to stay healthy all year, with question marks behind them. The Astros are stable and the Mets are volatile. The addition of Rodon gives the Yankees a true ceiling at the top of the league, and a floor that exceeds all but maybe the Astros.
In my analysis of the Yankees' and Mets' rotations earlier this week, I showed that the two teams' projections were close (15.2 fWAR - 13.3 fWAR). The Yankees added the starting pitcher with the 3rd best projection in all of baseball, effectively giving the Yankees 4+ additional fWAR on my projection from earlier this week. The Dodgers are older and not as deep, and I just don't see anyone else that can compete. The Yankees are now an elite rotation, one that is the best in baseball.