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  • Andy Singer

SSTN Mailbag: Former Yankees' Contributions, Big Acquisition Decision, and Rule Changes!


A huge deal this week has been made over Brian Cashman's big name acquisitions. No, we're not talking about player acquisitions; we're talking about front office acquisitions. Cashman has hired two former high-profile GMs, Brian Sabean and Omar Minaya, to GM advisory roles in the front office. Before I get into it, I want to make it clear that I applaud Cashman's decision to bring in talent of all kinds in an attempt to make the team better, especially in a situation where other, less secure leaders might see former GMs on their team as a threat. However, I find some of the speculation by even baseball reporters I respect, like YES Network's own Jack Curry, that Cashman is doing this to regain balance between the analytics and scouting departments somewhat preposterous. Why? Because real baseball insiders (not bitter anonymous scouts that chime in to cheap-shot writers like Randy Miller at NJ.com) have long lauded the Yankees' front office for blending traditional scouting with analytics for years.


For instance, while we might fawn over the successes the Astros have experienced since 2017, it is critical to realize that the team has fired almost the entirety of their traditional scouting department over the course of their impressive run. That has been a trend across more analytically inclined teams in recent seasons. The Yankees have not diminished their scouting staff at all; if anything, it continues to expand, and the Sabean and Minaya acquisitions are indicative of that fact. Hiring ex-GMs like Sabean and Minaya isn't even something new for Brian Cashman; ex-Cubs GM, Jim Hendry, has been an executive advisor to Brian Cashman since 2012, and Kevin Towers has been in and out of roles in the front office as well since the late 2000s. I think hiring voices like Sabean and Minaya are merely high profile points of emphasis on the fact that the Yankees are, and have been, committed to blending analytics with traditional scouting. I had written something similar yesterday, and sure enough, Ken Rosenthal posted an interview with Brian Cashman this morning that reiterates the same points I've made above (subscription to The Athletic is actually not required to read the interview in question).


That doesn't mean that the moves are meaningless, though. I think that Brian Cashman is looking for outside voices with a track record of successful minor league talent evaluation to make an independent evaluation of the Yankees' prospects in the upper minors as they make final decisions about who will ultimately be part of the next Yankee core, and who should be made available in trades while their value remains. Whether you love or hate Brian Cashman, you can't fault him for consistently bringing a wide variety of voices into the organization so that informed decisions regarding the product on the field are made. Our Editor-In-Chief, Paul, brought up the comparison to Abraham Lincoln's method for building a cabinet as illustrated in the book, Team of Rivals, and I think that analogy is perfect. No matter how disparate the backgrounds and opinions are, if they are coming from a legitimate place, Cashman wants talented voices at the table. That's all you can ask for in a leader.


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 the performances of a few former Yankees in 2022, hypothetically choose between Machado and Devers as acquisition targets, and evaluate some questions about the rule changes coming in 2023! Let's get at it:


Mark asks: Yankees gut instinct is usually to trade speed and youth for age and expensive paychecks. Some previous Yankees that had nice War in 2022 for other teams include Gio, Drury, Mateo and David Robertson. Who would have most impacted the 2022 Yankees if they were still with the team?


This is an incredibly fun question! We've spent so much time dissecting the Yankees' lineup in 2022 that we've often forgotten about some former Yankees who had success elsewhere. Gio Urshela, Brandon Drury, Jorge Mateo, and David Robertson all put together solid seasons that were far from guaranteed coming into the year. Urshela had been banged up in 2021, and many thought his previous offensive output for the Yankees was a mirage in the first place; Drury hadn't found a home since injury issues and under-performance derailed him with the Yankees in 2018; Mateo looked like a prospect in danger of flaming out after finding himself unable to catch on with the A's following the Sonny Gray trade; and David Robertson was getting long in the tooth and was coming off of Tommy John Surgery and merely passable performance with the Rays.


Though his power didn't return, Urshela made gobs of contact and stayed healthy for the Twins; Drury showed surprising pop, swatting 28 homers in 2022 and being a useful cog for both the Reds and Padres all over the diamond; Mateo didn't do a ton at the plate, but was among the best defenders at SS in the sport while displaying elite foot speed on the basepaths and proving that his plus raw power was intact (and he even accessed it occasionally in games); and David Robertson was one of the best relief pitchers in the sport, pitching mostly like the guy he's always been.


That's not to say there weren't reasons to keep these guys away from a championship team. Urshela's defense at 3B was terrible according to Statcast, despite what DRS had to say about it, and it matched the eye test; Drury likewise didn't have a defensive home and struggled offensively after getting dealt to San Diego; Mateo's offensive line was saved by his occasional pop, but he produced some of the worst on-base and plate discipline metrics in the sport; and Roberston...was pretty great, though if we wanted to nitpick we could say that his walk rate was becoming worrisome.


The Yankees had two primary issues in the playoffs: a thin bullpen and an inability to get guys on-base consistently. Of the two, I think the offense was a far more critical issue, as the pitching staff, while not perfect, was more than good enough to win games. While Robertson was the best player on this list (in my opinion), he's out of consideration for me as I'd want a bat.


By process of elimination, Mateo and Drury are both out because neither make enough contact or get on-base enough for me to think they'd be upgrades in the playoffs. That leaves me with Gio Urshela. Defense matters, and I don't think Urshela really would have moved the needle, but he has shown in the past that he can make contact, and while his overall offensive numbers in the playoffs aren't good, he had previously come up big for the Yankees in 2019 against the Astros. Urshela can work an at-bat and make contact, and I think the Yankees needed more of that in 2022. Urshela would likely have found a place in my lineup after the Yankees' offense disappeared.


That said, I really don't think any of these guys would have gotten the Yankees closer to beating the Astros in 2022. I'm glad each of them found good Major League roles for themselves, but I don't think the Yankees missed them either.


Fuster asks: both might be hitting free agency soon, both might be worth acquiring

should the Yankees prefer Machado or Devers?


Devers, as most of you know by now, signed a huge extension with the Red Sox pending a physical (which suddenly seems more important this offseason...I can't imagine why). That said, I find it very intriguing that the contract does not seem to include a no-trade clause of any kind. To me, this deal screams that the Red Sox were doing some PR damage control after dealing Betts for basically nothing and watching Bogaerts leave in free agency after getting outbid by quite a significant margin. Despite last season's high priced acquisition of Trevor Story, the Red Sox have largely operated like a mid-market club since their last World Series win. Chaim Bloom has caught a lot of flack in the press, but I think his hand has basically been forced by ownership's desire to cut costs as they make other high profile acquisitions elsewhere (Liverpool FC, The Boston Globe, RFK Racing). Now, I don't think Bloom and his staff have done the best job evaluating talent on other teams as they seek returns for some of their players, but his leverage has surely been hurt by ownership's whims. All of that being said, I think it's very likely that Devers finishes his contract in a uniform other than his familiar red and white.


By the same token, assuming Machado has a good year in 2023, I think it is highly likely that he will also opt out of his deal with the Padres. Machado remains an above-average hitter that is occasionally an elite hitter who remains an elite defender at 3B by both my eye and Statcast. It was a mistake a few years ago for the Yankees to not sign one of Machado or Harper, and they'll likely have an opportunity to right a wrong next offseason.


Which would I prefer? Devers is younger and has a left-handed swing that fits Yankee Stadium beautifully. The Yankees don't have a long-term solution at 3B or 1B right now, so Devers could fit either or both. Machado is likely to be elite for at least another 3-5 years after 2023 and is far superior as a defender.


In a vacuum, I prefer Devers' left-handed power swing in Yankee Stadium (likely manning first base while moonlighting at 3B in the early years). However, without a 3rd team, I see almost no chance that the Yankees are given the opportunity to win a bidding war for Devers by the Red Sox. Given that Devers will cost significant prospect capital AND a trade with the Red Sox would be challenging at best, I'll take Machado since all he costs is money...oh, and he's probably the better player in total value, despite Devers' fit on the Yankees.


Mark also asks: Can you explain the larger bases, pitch clock, and shift ban?


The bases can’t go into foul territory right? So they are larger towards the other three sides? Does it effectively shorten the 90ft between bases?


With the shift ban, the players have to be in position when the pitch is released, but then run right over to where they used to play the shift? How did this work in the minors?


The pitcher can still pitch out and give the bullpen extra time to warm up?


They want to shorten the game but add more offense? Seems counterintuitive, no?


I took a much deeper dive into a lot of these topics in an article last month. You can find my definitions for the new rules and their implications for the Yankees there. However, I didn't explicitly answer some of these questions in that post, so I'll dig into some of it here.


The bases do not go into foul territory, so yes, the distance between 2nd and 1st base and 2nd and 3rd base is shortened by approximately 4.5 inches. Not only does MLB hope that this will encourage more adventurous baserunning, but the hope is that this will also reduce collisions on the basepaths. Evidence suggests that both were true in the minor leagues.


Technically, yes, players could begin in proper position relative to the new shift rule, and begin to cross those borders after the pitch is released, but remember that we're talking about fractions of a second between pitch release and potential contact, so it's not like fielders will be able to move more than a few feet. I do expect to see more creative outfield shifting as a result of the new rule, but I think the most extreme shifts will truly be eliminated.


Pitchers can absolutely still pitch out, and that will likely be their only defense against would-be base stealers if they exhaust their 2 throw-overs per plate appearance.


I agree, adding offense can increase the length of the game, but data from minor league games indicates that game time is shortened significantly with these rules. More importantly, even in longer games, the pace of play will be greatly improved. I'm not a huge fan of clocks in baseball, but agree that something had to give. I am cautiously optimistic about how these rules will play in MLB.

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