SSTN Mailbag: Pursuing Ohtani, An Outfield Trade Proposal, And Process Vs. Results!
Now the real heart of the offseason begins. It's been a little more than a week since the Astros won another World Series, and already there have been some significant maneuverings around the league. Teams, including the Yankees, are beginning to get their 40-man rosters organized prior to the Rule 5 deadline and the start of unrestricted free agency. We will be covering those maneuvers in the coming weeks and we'll likely project the moves the Yankees need to make to be competitive for next year and beyond. I know that I promised to reveal my offseason plan in a Mailbag either last week or the week before, but work and a newborn delayed it a bit. I return from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean this weekend, so I should be able to put the finishing touches on it to post next week. For that reason, I delayed answering a couple of very specific offseason planning topics in this week's Mailbag. To those that asked those questions: I saw them, and I think you will be satisfied with longer answers in my offseason plan. I just have one thing to reiterate: I don't think that the Yankees are as far off as it seemed at the end of the season.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll evaluate another trade proposal for Shohei Ohtani, think about a really interesting trade target, and I'll throw my hat into the ring of the current process vs. results conversation as it relates to the Yankees. Let's get at it:
Fuster asks: The smart money sez that it won't happen, but with a $30M salary and a single year of control...
for Montas, Peraza, Periera and Torres...
would such an overpay be enticing?
I think if Ohtani is ultimately available, the Yankees should absolutely call with their best offer. Ohtani is a generational talent who is seemingly aching to play for a winning team, based on his comments. However, this trade doesn't come close to hitting the mark.
If the Angels are going to trade Ohtani (and I'm not convinced that they will until the trade deadline, if at all), it will be as part of a massive rebuild/re-tooling around Mike Trout. I think that the Angels will target very specific types of players: top-15 prospects ready to make the jump to MLB from AA/AAA; young, established big league players with years of team control; and the players that meet the aforementioned criteria will be up-the-middle players with broad skillsets or starting pitchers. None of the players above meet that criteria, though Peraza and Pereira would surely be secondary or tertiary pieces in a trade for Ohtani.
Again, as bad as the Angels have been with two of the best players on the planet Earth, expanded playoffs gives them a huge amount of leeway to add a few pieces and sneak into the playoffs. Until the last two months of the season, were the Phillies any good? How about the Braves the year prior? The Angels could hope for better health from Trout and Rendon, further progression from some of their stalled prospects (looking at you, Jo Adell), and again hope that they find some pitching depth to squeak into the playoffs. Once you make the playoffs, anything can happen. This may sound cynical, but I become less convinced by the year that there's a "secret sauce" to succeeding in the playoffs with expanded playoffs. You need to have a good core that is healthy-ish and gets hot at the right time. Very little preparation is going to help with those attributes.
What I wrote above is what I'm sure the Angels' baseball operations staff is selling to ownership as they try to sell. If the sale drags on and the team is struggling at the deadline, then I think they might sell Ohtani for whatever they can get back, and that package will be entirely built on players like the ones I described above. A package for Ohtani would necessarily start with Volpe, Peraza, and one of Dominguez or Pereira, and likely include someone from the Luis Gil/Clarke Schmidt/Yoendrys Gomez/Clayton Beeter/Randy Vasquez bracket. The 1 year, $30 million salary doesn't really ding Ohtani's value given that an owner just has to be willing to suck it up for a year.
Lance proposes the following trade: Fankie Montas to the Arizona Diamondbacks for [Alek] Thomas.
Alek Thomas is a really interesting trade target for the Yankees. Thomas is a young, athletic left-handed bat who can play both CF and LF with good range, excellent plate discipline, and a line drive swing that doesn't always allow Thomas to access his above-average raw power in games, but it does allow him to make a lot of contact. The only knock against Thomas from a tools perspective is his arm, but he generally makes up for it with his range.
Thomas struggled in his first exposure to the Majors in 2022, chasing more than his minor league stats would suggest in projecting his MLB performance. The Diamondbacks seemed to believe the drop in offensive performance was more an indication that Thomas was pressing than it was a mechanical change or skill deterioration.
Thomas also seems to be something like the odd-man out in Arizona with the emergence of Corbin Carroll and Daulton Varsho in the outfield. While I don't think Arizona is looking to deal Thomas, I think he'd be a valuable piece they could use to add to their up-and-coming roster elsewhere. They might be dealing Thomas at his lowest value, but despite that, Thomas is still a very valuable trade chip with his prospect status and skillset.
Even so, Montas is not a fair return by himself for Thomas, but it wouldn't shock me if Arizona wanted pitching as part of a return for Thomas. The issue is, much like our Ohtani discussion above, I think the Diamondbacks will be looking for a young, MLB-ready centerpiece with good prospect pedigree. That's not Montas. Could Montas be part of a deal like that? Maybe, depending on how close the Diamondbacks think they are to contention.
There's also something else to consider. Montas was terrible for the Yankees in 2022, but he was clearly pitching hurt and is capable of stretches of dominance. As a 4/5 starter, the Yankees are in pretty good shape if they keep Montas and German around. I like Thomas a lot for the Yankees, but I don't think Montas is the right return.
Matt asks: We watched another end of season conference that really said nothing as far as I'm concerned. One theme that came out of the press conference that has been discussed is the idea of process vs results. What do you think about that conversation?
It's an interesting and necessary conversation given the realities of contention in the modern league. At the end of 2013, I would have said that not only were the results short of World Series expectations, the process was wrong as well. If the Yankees had fired Brian Cashman at that time, I think it would have made some sense. However, Cashman largely evolved and made significant changes on the scouting, player development, and analytics side of the organization. I think what gets lost in the current conversation is an understanding of just how much this organization has changed in the years since Robinson Cano left.
Prior to 2013, the Yankees really weren't developing a high percentage of usable prospects either as trade chips or for internal use. The Yankees do that pretty regularly now.
The Yankees had been largely incapable of developing any pitching internally. They have since produced Luis Severino, Jordan Montgomery, Nestor Cortes Jr. (yes, they exposed him to the Rule 5 Draft and allowed him to leave twice, but every other team would have done the same; more importantly, they always sought to re-acquire him and get the credit for the bulk of his development), Jonathan Loaisiga, Mike King, Chad Green, Ron Marinaccio, and a host of other pitchers that have been used as valuable trade chips.
I also believe that given the almost religious adherence to the luxury tax that the Steinbrenner family has imposed, while also understanding that as the New York Yankees, they are almost obligated to spend big on one free agent every couple of years, I think that the organization has largely put together rosters that win a lot of baseball games.
Do I think that the roster has flaws? Yes. Among the biggest problems is that the roster is getting old. I am hoping that all of the promise floating around at the top of the farm (all there because of the manner in which processes on the player development and scouting side have been improved) helps with that issue, making the Yankees deeper and healthier in the coming years.
While Cashman and crew has their flaws (like anyone else), I think they follow sound processes most of the time. When they are wrong, they change the process. We can talk about the lack of postseason results until we're blue in the face, but how would we feel if the Yankees had won it all in 2017 instead of losing to a team that cheated? Does the randomness of the playoffs hold any weight to the idea that teams can only be concerned about process?
To answer the question directly: a GM must be concerned chiefly with process. An owner must be concerned with results. The Yankees' issue isn't process; it's motivation at the top.