SSTN Weekly Mailbag: Aaron Hicks, 2023 Payroll, and Green's Elbow Injury!
Save for yesterday's late inning loss, the Yankees simply continue to roll. Even many of the skeptics, whom were many prior to the start of the season, are beginning to come around. Power Rankings are of limited value in my view, but it is interesting to note that almost none of them rank the Yankees below 3rd in baseball, which sounds about right. It's a great time to be a Yankee fan, and I had previously written more about the team's hot start until I abruptly changed my mind this morning. Pete Caldera has a must-read article in The Record this morning, and I wanted to highlight the premise. I'll let you all find the article and read it, but it was all about Nestor Cortes Jr.'s slow climb to the Major Leagues while almost no one of any import believed in him. The part of the story I was fascinated by most was the belief that Carlos Marti, an area scout for the Yankees, held in Cortes Jr.'s ability to compete against higher level competition, basically begging Yankee Scouting Director, Damon Oppenheimer, to select Cortes Jr. after the 30th round of the 2013 MLB Draft. Even once he was in the system, the higher ups didn't believe in Cortes Jr. until Oppenheimer himself watched one of Cortes Jr.'s bullpen sessions in AAA, noting his ability to hit spots at will with multiple pitches. The Baseball Gods often don't smile upon those who work the hardest, as I've witnessed from multiple talented ballplayers I've played with who didn't make it through the minors, so it's fascinating to read about Cortes Jr.'s story. It also speaks to the success of the Yankee player development system since their last World Series win. The Yankees had to buy players in the past because there wasn't a good approach down on the farm. The Yankees largely have flipped the script since 2010, and Nestor Cortes Jr. is a good example of the blend between analytics and old-fashioned scouting. Both have their place, and kudos to Oppenheimer for sticking with Cortes Jr. on the advice of an area scout. I love Nasty Nestor, and I hope he continues to compete for a Cy Young award in 2022 and beyond.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll discuss Aaron Hicks' struggles, the payroll picture for 2023, and Chad Green's elbow injury! Let's get at it:
Joe asks: Aaron Hicks has been brutal at the plate since his solid start. Can he provide anything other than OBP moving forward? Is there anything we should look forward to?
Well...it's not looking good. Hicks has been able to float under the radar as the Yankees have played some outstanding baseball out of the gate, but he's been terrible at the plate at everything other than plate discipline. Hicks is elite at maintaining the strike zone, swinging only at strikes the vast majority of the time, and he makes pitchers work. His walk, strikeout, and chase rates all indicate that his elite plate discipline is intact. Hicks also has turned back the clock, regaining sprint speed that he'd lost in the last 3 or so seasons. Those are the only real positives though.
Unfortunately, Hicks is swinging through too many hittable pitches, and when he does make contact, he's hitting an inordinate amount of week pop ups. Contact quality is a real issue, and I can't help but think that the torn tendon sheath in his wrist could be the cause of some strength issues, as is common in the season following a wrist injury.
Much as Hicks' plate discipline profile makes him a good fit for a one-hole hitter, I don't think he should hit higher than 9th until he shows something more. I don't see anything that indicates a turnaround soon.
Fuster asks: Noticed that Chapman and Britton's salaries are coming off the books after the season. Are other salaries coming off, which ones require price-y replacement, who (other than Judge) should be expecting significant raises and what, in general, is next season's payroll likely to be?
Actually, there is a large chunk of money coming off the books prior to next season. In addition to Judge, Chapman, and Britton (which likely adds up to close to $50 million AAV, once we know what Judge's calculation is for 2022), the Yankees also shed Gallo, Taillon, Green, and Castro's salaries to the tune of $22.75 million AAV. When we include likely raises in arbitration for numerous players, I'd guesstimate that the Yankees' payroll is somewhere around $175-190 million for next season before we even talk about an extension for Judge. So, if we include Judge at $35 AAV (which I think is the real ballpark for his next contract), the Yankees still have some wiggle room beneath the first luxury tax tier at $233 million, and more if we expect them to surpass that figure, but stay beneath the $20 million-over bar for further penalties.
Based on the above, I think the Yankees budget is somewhere between $233-$253 million in 2023, and they have plenty of room to operate, but they will definitely be in the market for a left fielder, and possibly a bullpen arm or two. Frankly though, I think the minor league system is about to produce pitchers in both the starting rotation and the bullpen, so the Yankees may not have to spend a ton of money there, which might free them up to find an upgrade up the middle at either catcher or centerfield.
Mikey asks: Chad Green came up lame with an elbow injury today - how bad is it and who will replace him near term and long term?
It didn't look good, that's for sure. Chad Green, whatever his early season struggles looked like in the first couple of weeks, has come around and is a key cog in the Yankee bullpen. A long-term injury would be a really bad thing, though the Yankees have more pitching depth than most teams.
The real question is who gets the call? For the short term, I think that Ron Marinaccio will get a call-up, as he's dominated at AAA since getting sent down. However, should Green's elbow injury be serious enough to shut him down for the long-term, then I think that JP Sears or Clarke Schmidt might get the call. I think Sears is a starter long-term, and the Yankees have had him down in the minors not because of performance, but to stretch out to a starter's workload, and he's absolutely dominated AAA hitters. Sears has earned a call-up, and he might be the best fit for the rest of the season.
Schmidt is in a similar boat. He really performed well at the MLB level, and he's looked good at AAA. Personally, I believe Schmidt is a reliever long-term, so it may be of some benefit to bring him up and get him used to a 1-3 inning role in the Majors on a permanent basis. But on stuff alone, I think Sears should be the guy.