SSTN Weekly Mailbag: A Challenge Trade Proposal, Clark Schmidt’s Elbow, And A Surprise Spring
By Andy Singer
I gotta tell you: it feels good to see players on the field. Much as I like to cover labor issues, baseball economics, and the offseason more generally, my biography here on the site says it all: I’m a misplaced baseball rat at heart, so even mundane baseball activities like soft-toss between throwing partners in the early days of Spring Training gets me excited. Almost everyone has reported at this point, except for Estevan Florial, who is dealing with a Visa issue. Of course that happens after talking him up as a potential 4th/5th outfielder possibility later this year.
As always, thanks for the great questions (and you guys really seem to be digging trade proposals lately), and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week’s mailbag, we’ll evaluate an old-fashioned challenge trade proposal, discuss Clarke Schmidt’s recent elbow injury, and predict one surprise player this spring! Let’s get at it:
Lance T. asks: Trade Proposal – Luke Voit to the Seattle Mariners for Marco Gonzales.
I have to be honest, at first blush, I was ready to say “no way” without even looking at the particulars. However, I think the reality is a bit more complicated than that.
Marco Gonzales is functionally different from every pitcher that has a shot at the Yankee rotation this year. We talk about Jordan Montgomery as a classic control and command lefty without a real knockout pitch that has to think and pitch his way through a lineup with multiple looks. However, Monty at least approaches average fastball velocity, and has proven that the further away he moves from Tommy John Surgery, the better his velocity and stuff seem to get. Gonzales lives off of his sinker that lives in the high-80 MPH range while locating a cutter, curveball, and changeup on the fringes of the zone. Gonzales walks a tightrope as a pitcher, and it took him many years to finally break out. The good news is, it seems that Gonzales has settled in as a solid back-to-middle of the rotation pitcher in the last 3 years, producing average results at a minimum, and a very good year in a small sample size in 2020. Gonzales hovers in the average-to-below-average range with regards to strike out rate, but he is a king of soft contact, keeps a home run rate around league average, and he limits walks as well as any pitcher in the Majors. The total package is a pretty good arm!
Contract and age are where things start to get interesting. Gonzales signed a very friendly deal (4 years/$30 million, or 5 years/$45 million with a team option), such that he is under team control through 2024, with a team option in 2025 for $15 million. The contract is very manageable, and 2021 is his age-29 season, so he should have multiple prime years remaining. Gonzales is valuable, and I would guess that multiple teams would be interested were Gonzales actually available.
However, I think we underrate how valuable Voit has become, and more importantly, how valuable he has become to the Yankee lineup. First basemen have lost value in the era of hyper-analytics, but the best at the position still have real value as middle-of-the-order bats, particularly when they come cheap. Luke Voit is in that category. The Yankees have control over Voit through at least the 2024 season, which will span all of his prime years. In that time, I expect that Luke Voit will barely eclipse the $30 million owed to Gonzales, while providing greater value on a day-to-day basis. Sure, Voit’s defense at first is lacking, but I think the bat is as for real as it gets, and he’s going to challenge for a Hank Aaron award, if not an MVP, at least once in the next couple of seasons. It’s really tough to deal a bat that good, even in a lineup full of potent bats.
As much fun as old school challenge trades are, they are inherently risky, which is why it won’t happen. Voit is critical to the Yankees’ pursuit of a ring at least this year, while Gonzales should be part of the core Seattle is building for next year and beyond. In a vacuum, I think their value is similar, but I don’t see it this year, despite the perceived need for depth in the Yankee rotation.
Bobby asks: Should we count Clarke Schmidt out for this year now that he’s out with an elbow injury? The Yankees pitching depth is getting thin quick…..
OK, I know that Yankee fans are scarred from the way the injury bug swept the team the last two seasons, but let’s slow our roll on doomsday predictions for Clarke Schmidt.
The injury suffered by Schmidt did not effect his surgically replaced/repaired UCL, which is what’s most important. He just ramped up too quickly in his first mound session of the Spring, which is easy to have happen when you’re young and trying to impress the coaching staff in the heat of a competition for the 5th starter spot. Unfortunately, I have a hard time seeing a scenario in which Schmidt is pitching in competitive games until mid-May at the earliest, so it certainly takes him out of the running for the 5th starter spot, at least initially.
In reality, there has always been real injury risk with Schmidt despite his obvious talent. His arm action, while cleaned up significantly from his amateur days, is still longer and his delivery remains somewhat violent. It behooves the Yankees to develop him as a starter and use him that way for as long as possible, but there is real reliever risk in his profile. For all the talk in Yankeeland about Garcia’s reliever risk, I don’t think we talk about that possibility enough with Schmidt.
For now, I’m hoping this injury is just a speed bump in the middle of what will be a successful season for Schmidt.
Brian asks: Every year, there’s one player who comes out of nowhere to play well in Spring Training and make the Opening Day roster. Who will that player be for the Yankees this year?
The Yankee roster seems pretty close to set, but I’m going to cheat a bit. There is one player that has been overlooked this offseason, who I think could still have value on this roster: Mike Ford. Did anyone see the body transformation Ford underwent this offseason? I almost didn’t recognize him when I saw his video in some of the Yankee promo material. He bats from the left side, typically has elite plate discipline, and has pop. If he can get his body and mind right, he has a shot to spell Voit and Stanton at 1B/DH against righties and be a match-up force off the bench. That’s my best guess.