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SSTN Weekly Mailbag: A Trade Proposal, Sevy’s Timetable, and Catching Competition!

By Andy Singer


Pitchers and Catchers have officially reported for Spring Training. That may seem hard to believe for those of you who (like me) look out their window and are staring at a seemingly never-ending assault of snow and cold. In fact, the doldrums of winter threw my internal calendar off so thoroughly that I forgot to take part in my one Spring Training ritual. On the morning of each of the following days: the day pitchers and catchers report, the day the rest of the team reports for Spring Training, and Opening Day, I listen to “Centerfield” by John Fogerty. Cliché? Possibly! Will I do it anyway? You better believe it. Hope springs eternal, and no song embodies that essential baseball feeling like Fogerty’s classic…and I missed my first date with it in over a decade. On the bright side, my brother thinks that maybe my tradition has been jinxing the Yanks in the playoffs, so we have that going for us…which is nice. I may not be a terribly superstitious person by nature, but I’ll take a little push for the Yankees wherever I can get it.

As always, thanks for the great mailbag questions, and we’ve got some really good ones today. Keep them coming to, and I’ll answer 3-5 each week. In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll evaluate a trade proposal involving Clint Frazier and the A’s, pin a timetable for Severino’s return based on Aaron Boone’s recent comments, and evaluate the possibility of a catching competition. Let’s get at it:

Paperboy asks: Trade Proposal – Clint Frazier to the Oakland Athletics for Sean Manaea and A.J Puk.

On the surface, this is an interesting trade. Obviously, Frazier is currently penciled in as the Yankees’ starting left fielder, but many people would like to see more depth in the Yankee pitching staff. Manaea and Puk are both talented arms with question marks, while the A’s could sorely use an additional power bat in the middle of their batting order. Do the A’s and Yankees match up? Let’s first take a look at the proposed pieces coming back from the A’s with a little more scrutiny.

Sean Manaea was a good prospect coming up through the A’s system what feels to me like yesterday. The reality, as I was shocked to realize, is that Manaea has been around now since 2016 and is 29 years old, with just two years of team control remaining. In that time, Manaea has peaked as a solid, at best, starter, who struggles to throw more than 150 innings per full season. On the plus side, Manaea is a lefty starter who generally produces solid back-end starting numbers with one truly standout skill: elite control. Manaea has displayed elite walk rates in recent seasons when healthy, peaking in 2020 with a BB rate of just 3.6%, good for the 97th percentile of all MLB pitchers, according to Statcast. Manaea also throws 4 pitches with a deceptive delivery, which in theory would make him predisposed to face a lineup more than twice through the order.

Unfortunately, the negatives are very clearly apparent. First and foremost, Manaea has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career, spending significant time on the IL in each of 2018 and 2019 due to what was initially called shoulder tendonitis, but later led to rotator cuff surgery. Shoulder injuries take a toll, and we can clearly see that in Manaea’s velocity output, as his fastball has lost velocity in each year he’s pitched in the Majors. Also, while Manaea has elite control, he does not have elite command. Check out his heat maps from 2020:

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Sean Manaea 2020 Pitch Maps, Courtesy of Statcast (Click to Enlarge)

Sean Manaea 2020 Pitch Maps, Courtesy of Statcast (Click to Enlarge)

Given that Manaea throws his sinker just shy of 90 MPH on average, that’s a lot of red over the heart of the plate, particularly considering the fact that he throws that pitch 54% of the time. Additionally, hitters have traditionally hit Manaea hard, as Manaea’s allowed exit velocities have traditionally ranked in the bottom 10% of baseball. While Manaea has some value, I’m not sure that he would beat out any pitcher currently in the starting rotation.

AJ Puk is a really good prospect, and he’s made Top 100 Prospects lists since he was drafted in 2016. Unlike Manaea, Puk is a stuff monster that throws left-handed. Puk sits in the mid-90s as a starter, with the potential for 3 plus pitches, and a 4th (a curveball) that’s average. The problem with Puk is that he’s got as many injury red flags as any prospect in baseball. He’s basically missed 3 years due to Tommy John Surgery, subsequent rehab, and persistent shoulder trouble. Puk has also been dinged in the past for being out of shape, though he has been training at Cressey Sports Performance (see the Yankee connection!), so look out for “best shape of his life” stories this Spring. In reality, if Puk can stay on the mound, he’ll likely have an MLB role. I’m just not sure that his arm will hold up under a starter’s workload. Puk is almost 26 already, and it will take a couple of years now to build up his innings in the rotation. I think his most likely role is as an impact bullpen arm.

Should teams want guys like Manaea and Puk? Absolutely! Are they worth Clint Frazier? No. In a world far, far away (otherwise known as 2019), I projected that Frazier would peak as an average outfielder due to his defensive struggles and strikeout issues. Frazier did a lot to dispel those notions in 2020. I want to see it over a full season, but I think Frazier may yet be an All-Star for the Yankees. A player with that much current ability and future potential cannot be traded for players with as many question marks as Manaea and Puk.

Keith asks: Aaron Boone says Severino is already playing catch from 120 feet. What does that mean for his comeback? And when do you think he’ll pitch for the Yankees in 2021?

I was very encouraged to hear that Sevy is already tossing from 120 feet. The Yankees have typically been very vague about injury updates, so to hear that level of transparency and general optimism from Boone was a breath of fresh air. Luis Severino will be one year removed from Tommy John Surgery on February 27th, so let’s use that as a guideline. For a long-term asset like Sevy, I would expect the Yankees to wait until the 16-18 month mark to bring Severino back to a Major League mound (remember, the days of 10-12 month returns from Tommy John are over, as longer recovery times statistically last longer and work better). 16 months would put us at just before the All-Star break while 17 months brings us to the end of July.

Once you’re throwing from 120 feet, throwing straight stuff at 75% effort from a mound (or a half-mound) isn’t far behind. I would expect Sevy to hop on a mound for that stage by mid-late March. On that timeline, Sevy should be throwing all of his pitches at close to full-effort off of a mound by late May. Without setbacks, Sevy should be able to start throwing competitive pitches in a rehab setting by late-June. Returning from Tommy John can be complicated, and the logistics of rehab assignments with Covid-19 could still present issues, but I think the current schedule puts Sevy on pace for a return somewhere between mid-July and early-August.

As Yankee fans we’ve heard this all too frequently in recent years, but getting Sevy back after the All-Star break should be like getting a free trade acquisition. The dog days of summer usually prove to be the time when an extra starter is required, and Sevy should be just in time (maybe he should start looking for a cape…) to extend the rotation or fill-in for a starter that needs his innings managed. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, because Sevy still has a long way to go before he throws any competitive pitches in pinstripes, but it’s really good to hear that the arm feels good enough to be throwing at 120 feet right now.

Sam asks: Is Robinson Chirinos being brought in as competition for Gary Sanchez or Kyle Higashioka?

A lot has been made of Chirinos’ invitation to big league camp. Frankly, I just don’t see his acquisition as anything other than taking a flier on an experienced catcher who had some pop at one time in the same vein as when the Yankees signed Chris Iannetta last year. Much has been made of Chirinos’ past as Cole’s personal catcher, but the reality is that Chirinos has always been regarded as a below-average defensive catcher, and that is unlikely to improve now that he’s 36 (going on 37 in June). Additionally, his pop at the plate has been overstated, given that outside of his best season, he’s been an average offensive catcher, at best (averaged 106 OPS+ in his prime from 2016-2019). Even with average offense, I’m not sure Chirinos would reach 2 WAR by any valuation method with his struggles defensively.

Realistically, Chirinos was signed to be the, “Break the Glass in Case of Emergency” catcher. Sure, he’s a bit more legitimate than Iannetta was, so he can push Sanchez and Higgy in camp, and that has value after Sanchez’s struggles last year. However, I don’t see Chirinos’ as a guy who can approach either Sanchez or Higgy’s potential value in 2021.


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