SSTN Mailbag: Revisiting Bellinger, A Dodgers Blockbuster, And Offseason Priorities
As Yankee fans, I know that most of us are still in the mourning phase of the offseason. The season began with incredibly high hopes, and yet again, the season ended with a dud. It's painful to realize that the Yankees are playing golf while November baseball is being played. However, I basically got over my mourning period a few days following the ALCS. I have a lot more coming this offseason regarding who the Yankees are right now and what they need to compete for a World Series next year and beyond, but right now I'm allowing the pure baseball fan side of my brain to takeover. And you know what? This has been an enjoyable World Series. The Phillies are playing way over their heads, but as the Atlanta Braves proved last year, sometimes getting hot at the right time is enough, and that's fun! Watching Schwarber and Harper hit balls to the moon against a team I hate is fun! My brain still tells me the Astros will wind up on top, as the Phillies have the thinnest pitching staff of any of the teams that advanced to the Championship Series, but I hope that they can dig deep and pull off an upset.
I also want to make a fast note about Yankee fans. I think we are allowing our emotions to get in the way of our logic to a certain extent (I'm guilty of it too, so believe me, I'm not singling any of you out). Were Yankee fans rooting for the Phillies, we'd hear complaints about Schwarber batting first in the lineup and that the Phils are hitting too many home runs. As Yankee fans, I think we need to be more introspective and evaluate our concerns a little more critically. Maybe we'll come to the same conclusions with fresh eyes, but I think re-evaluating even concepts we consider self-evident will have value when projecting this team going forward.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. As a quick bit of housekeeping, I will be out of the country next week, so if you want your question included in next week's SSTN Mailbag, I'll need it in the inbox by 9:00 AM Thursday morning due to the time difference. Without any further ado, in this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll evaluate Cody Bellinger's future prospects, dig into a trade proposal with the Dodgers, and list my personal priorities for the Yankees in the offseason! Let's get at it:
Fuster asks: what happened to Bellinger? can he play left field and be worthy of a relatively modest Yankee contract?
Cody Bellinger is one of the most confounding cases I think I've seen in my lifetime of watching baseball. All of the tools are clear, and he even was able to put them to enough use to be an All-Star or better contributor for his first 3+ years in the league. There were signs of struggle in his shortened 2020 season, but most of us (myself included) chalked it up to the weirdness that came with the shortened season and MLB's decision to play with the baseball.
Those who just scout the stat line would say that Bellinger has been dinged by the deadening of the baseball, with steadily declining exit velocities and hard hit rates over the last 3 seasons. However, that is merely part of the story.
I would post videos showing how Bellinger's hitting mechanics have changed since his MVP-caliber seasons, but there have been so many changes at such short intervals that it almost doesn't make sense to show individual clips. Yankee fans will remember that at the end of Clint Frazier's tenure in pinstripes, he changed his batting stance seemingly weekly, correct? Well, Bellinger makes Frazier look like a paragon of consistency. That makes projecting Bellinger for a return to some semblance of offensive value very challenging.
Personally, I think it all goes back to the multitude of shoulder injuries Bellinger suffered playing 1B for the Dodgers. He separated the shoulder more than once, and separated shoulders often come with stretched ligaments and lasting damage. I think Bellinger subtly began to change his mechanics to compensate and he went down a rabbit hole
Now, Bellinger is pressing to find anything to get back to who he used to be. In that pursuit, he gets further away from being the 2019 version of himself. While Bellinger always struck out at above average rates (save for 2019 and 2020), he always posted high walk rates and had posted above average chase and whiff rates. All of that has slid well backward. Bellinger has also raised his launch angle well above the recommended range, likely due to all of his mechanical tinkering.
He remains an excellent fielder in the outfield, and that has significant value, but in his final year of arbitration, the Dodgers might well DFA Bellinger. If that happens, I am definitely not opposed to the Yankees taking a flier on him. He needs to hit the reset button and work with a hitting instructor who will help him get back to a comfortable mental place and mechanically similar to his 2019 state. If Bellinger is DFA'd, I can't imagine it will take more than $3-5 million to sign him. His left-handed pop is perfect for Yankee Stadium if he can make better swing decisions, something the Yankee hitting coaches have proven they can help hitters with, whatever we think about their other strategies.
Despite all the negative around him, Bellinger's floor is as a useful 4th outfielder, but the potential is there for much more, even still.
Lance offers the following trade proposal: Stanton and Volpe to the Dodgers for Bobby Miller.
Bobby Miller is an excellent pitching prospect, with mid-high 90s heat, a fantastic slider, and a useable change-up that's getting better. The Dodgers have cleaned up Miller's harsh delivery to some extent, which has allowed him to control the ball well enough to let his stuff play up as a starter. I worry about the potential for injury with Miller, as his delivery is still not "smooth," but he clearly has one of the highest ceilings in all of baseball.
Even still, there is no way the Dodgers would do this deal. Volpe for Miller is an interesting challenge trade, and even works for the Dodgers as they look for a shortstop this winter (though they'll probably just buy one instead) - I don't buy that they trust Gavin Lux there. Personally, I prefer high upside offensive prospects to high upside pitching prospects, just due to the volatility of pitchers and injuries, but given the way the Yankees' upper level pitching depth was wiped out at the trade deadline, I won't blame anyone for entertaining ideas like this one.
Stanton's inclusion makes this deal a non-starter. Were the Yankees to find a deal for Stanton (a long-shot), it would involve eating money and attaching a prospect in exchange for something that wouldn't be terribly interesting, and certainly not a prospect of Miller's caliber.
However, Lance is on to something here. It would not shock me if the Yankees go for a trade for a young pitcher with big upside and years of big league control this winter, even if the cost is high.
Dave asks: How would you rank the Yankees' priorities this offseason?
Re-sign Aaron Judge
Add at catcher (I believe the rule changes coming into effect next season will mean that catchers with good arms will be of much greater value than in years previous), preferably one that can hit
Figure out the left side of the infield
Add pitching depth