SSTN Mailbag: Will The Real Left Fielder Please Stand Up and Strikeouts!
I hope everyone out there had a very happy and healthy holiday, whatever and however you celebrate! I, for once, have had a minute to breathe, so I've actually been able to give more than cursory thought to the Yankees and their current offseason standing. On the surface, it sounds bad to say that a team with championship aspirations really doesn't know who is going to play SS and LF when the first pitch is thrown in the regular season. If the season started today, one of Aaron Hicks or Oswaldo Cabrera would be in LF, and one of IKF/Peraza/Volpe will be at SS. It sounds bad, but then I think back to the 1996 season. Derek Jeter, like Anthony Volpe, was one of the top prospects in the sport, but there were reservations about whether or not he was ready. I also think back to the 2006 season when we were told that if the season started in November, the Yankees were comfortable with Bubba Crosby in CF, much like what they're saying now about Aaron Hicks. Derek Jeter was just fine in 1996 and Crosby was not the starting CF in 2006. As much impatience as we are prone to as Yankee fans, patience always proves to be a virtue. The Yankees' work is not done yet, and I expect the roster to change some more in the coming weeks.
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 a slew of LF options and ponder positively about the potential for the Yankee pitching staff to surpass the MLB record for strikeouts in a season! Let's get at it:
Paul asks: I know the odds against this are about a million to one, but...
There has been a lot of talk about Shohei Ohtani and the Yankees, but what about a different target from the same team?
What would it take to get Mike Trout?
If the Angels would be willing to trade Ohtani, wouldn't they also like to get out from Trout's contract? He's been injured... He's now 31 years-old...
It might even take fewer prospects to get him than Ohtani ...
I keep hearing whispers about Mike Trout.
I don't think it's possible. At all. But, what are your thoughts about Mike Trout for the Yankees? What would he cost? Etc...
It almost feels like heresy to even consider a world in which the Angels shop Mike Trout without Trout asking for a trade. On the other hand, I think it's an absolute crime that baseball's best player for the last decade hasn't played in a playoff game since the 3 he played way back in 2014. For anyone that says spending guarantees a playoff berth, the Angels stand as the poster child to the contrary.
Where do we even begin with a Trout trade? He's about to play his age-31 season with a degenerative, incurable back/rib issue that can only be managed through physical therapy, anti-inflammatory injections, and rest, and he was on the backside of his prime anyway. If the Angels were going to deal him, the time to do so was 2 years ago. However, the team is rumored to be for-sale and Ohtani is a free agent following this season. Without Trout and Ohtani, winning seems nearly impossible given the lack of talent elsewhere on this roster. In the name of clearing salary and rebuilding, I can see a sell-off at the trade deadline if the Angels are awful, something that is a distinct possibility.
For everything working against Trout, he's still an elite player on a rate basis, though he's one who is only likely to perform over 400-500 plate appearances moving forward, which combined likely age and injury based regression holds plenty of risk for an acquiring team. But for a team going for it? Yes, I'd inquire.
The Yankees are already in a situation where they need to shed salary to stay under the $293 million luxury tax tier, and while that doesn't matter to me, I'm sure it matters to Hal Steinbrenner. Obviously, a trade would likely be predicated on moving salary elsewhere (think finding something for Donaldson/Hicks even if it brings $10-14 million total in salary relief this year), and I'm sure the Yankees would ask the Angels to eat some money on Trout's contract.
Baseballtradevalues.com pins Trout's median trade value at $37.8 MTV. Even with the contract, that value is low for a face-of-the-franchise player, and even the high of $45.3 seems low. I worked off of $45.3 MTV for Trout, plus $10 million in cash for the contract. I wound up at the following trade:
That still seems ridiculously light, but there it is: a blue chip outfield prospect, a top-100 SS prospect, and a mid-level starter prospect. I can't imagine the Angels taking it, but if they were desperate, maybe that gets it done.
Sbarbeau asks: Excellent article- Now, Ian Happ or Kepler?
As I wrote the other day, I've come around on Max Kepler quite a bit, so much so that I think he's a prime LF target for the Yankees. He likely wouldn't demand serious prospect capital and I think he is capable of producing a 3+ WAR season by any evaluation standard hitting without the shift at Yankee Stadium.
That said, Happ clearly has a higher floor and is a better ballplayer today. He should be motivated as he hunts down a good free agent deal next year and the contract should look very similar to Kepler. Happ should be more expensive than Kepler, but likely less expensive than Reynolds in terms of acquisition cost. I advocated for Happ multiple times last year, but I don't think the Cubs were motivated to trade him last season.
In reality, I think Cubs are actually trying to win in 2023. They signed Dansby Swanson to a long-term deal and have put some other bargain pieces together, so I think Swanson/Happ/Hoerner/Bellinger are the core of the offense and defense for this year's Cubs lineup. Unless they get blown away, I don't think the Cubs will deal him unless the Cubs are out of it at the trade deadline. I love Happ, but I don't see it as a move that happens today.
jjw49 asks: You might want to check out Luis Gonzales on SF Giants since they have a surplus of OF's ... he might be a nice fit in LF for Yankees. I watched him a lot this past year and he would be upgrade over Hicks, Florial. Yankees have SF have done trades in the past and I doubt he would be as expensive as Reynolds or Kepler.
This is a rarity for me, but I've never considered or evaluated Luis Gonzalez at all. He has been a solid prospect, long considered to be a 4th outfielder type. Fangraphs evaluated him as a guy with a big hit tool, basically no game power, slightly below-average raw power, and good feel for the strike zone. Interestingly, that's not what I see at all digging into the numbers or watching tape.
I think Gonzalez has slightly above-average raw power, and his exit velocities (and first MLB homer) show that he can move the ball when he makes good contact. The problem is that he rarely makes good contact, even though his contact rates and swing decisions are solid. If someone can help him make even a little more solid contact, I think he'll be a good ballplayer as his swing is super rotational with a line drive path, but I think he's a developmental piece even at the big league level. I'm not sure that fits with where the Yankees stand currently, though I would take him over Hicks and Florial.
Gonzalez is pre-arbitration, but with such low prospect pedigree, he might be available cheap. Baseballtradevalues.com sees Florial as fair value in a straight swap, so maybe with all of the help the Giants need, combining Hicks and Florial in some fashion in return for Gonzalez could work. I'd prefer Gonzalez as an interesting 4th outfielder, but the idea has merit.
Mark asks: Any chance the Yankees beat the record for pitchers recording strikeouts in 2023? I think the Red Sox currently hold that title.
My research indicates that the 2018 Astros hold that title with 1687 strikeouts (having Verlander, Cole, and McCullers will do that for you!). And you know what? I think the Yankees could approach that figure, though their recent sinker-heavy approach might cost them a few K's over the course of the year.
For the Yankees to do it, Cole needs to strike out 260+ batters, Rodon needs 250+, and Sevy needs to throw 160 innings. If those three do those things, then it gets interesting, because the Yankees have a bevy of strikeout relievers and starters behind them.
You know what? I'm starting to buy that it's doable. I think the 2023 Yankees will strike out 1695 batters to set the new record.