By Andy Singer
Belated Happy Opening Day, everyone! I realize that I may push the festivities a little too far, but I am personally of the opinion that Opening Day should be a national holiday. The Yankees inevitably play in the middle of the afternoon, which makes it hard for both kids in school and adults who work to watch the first game of the year. My viewing conditions were far from ideal sitting in my office, but I made it work. Somehow, I managed to observe all of my usual traditions for Opening Day: I ate breakfast while listening to John Fogherty’s “Centerfield,” I wore Yankee navy blue and white to work, and I watched the game with a hot dog in hand. Almost everything went according to plan…you know, except for the fact that the Yankees lost in extras due to possibly the worst new rule in baseball history. Thankfully, we’ve got 161 more games to go. I’m so glad it’s finally here.
As always, thanks for the great questions, and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll evaluate yet another trade proposal for Luke Voit, discuss the Lindor deal in the context of next year’s Free Agent shortstop crop, and talk about worries surrounding Corey Kluber’s velocity. Let’s get at it:
keith22newyork asks: Trade Proposal – Luke Voit to the Seattle Mariners for Emerson Hancock.
Everyone who reads the blog knows how resistant I am to dealing Luke Voit due to my thoughts on who he is as a player, so I won’t take a ton of time analyzing Luke Voit as a player other than to quickly summarize. Voit still has 4 more years of team control, will be really cheap for the majority of that time, and despite lackluster defense around the first base bag, produces offensive value equivalent with the best hitters in the game on a rate basis. Yes, Voit has a tendency to get a little banged up, but until the recent meniscus tear, he has proven capable of maintaining his elite offensive ability even through injuries. Quite frankly, Voit is the type of player teams should build around, and even though he’s a 1B/DH-only, he still should fetch a high return in any deal based on his offensive profile and cheap years of team control remaining.
Emerson Hancock is a really interesting name. Hancock was drafted #6 overall in the 2020 MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners as a projectable right-handed starter with 4 pitches. Hancock lives in the mid-90s with his four-seam fastball, with both his slider and change-up projecting as average-to-plus offerings. Hancock has good control, commands his running fastball well low in the zone, and has been credited by scouts for emerging command of his sharp slider low and away to right-handed batters. So, what’s the problem?
Despite a projection that sounds an awful lot like a #2 starter, Hancock doesn’t whiff nearly the number of batters one would expect with his stuff. Much blame has been given to his fastball, which shows two plane movement (sinking and riding) low in the zone. Hancock throws at a ¾ arm angle, which makes it difficult for him to locate his high-spin fastball at the top of the zone to help his slider and change-up play up as put-away pitches. While no pitcher is a finished product coming out of the amateur ranks, there are very real mechanical obstacles in Hancock’s profile that should give teams pause that he will optimize his pitches to the point that he reaches his ceiling. Having said that, there are multiple teams (and the Yankees are among that group) that have proven adept at helping pitchers take high-spin fastballs and move their locations further up in the zone to encourage strikeouts. Hancock could be one of those pitchers, though there were reports that he struggled with some of the adjustments the Mariners asked him to make at the alternate site last year.
Despite the concern around Hancock’s fastball, he still should be a good starter for years to come, even if he never reaches the ceiling he obviously has in him. Every team wants a starter like Emerson Hancock in their system, and the Yankees are no different in that regard. However, this is a team that is primed to win now with a shrinking window with the current core. Trading Luke Voit for Emerson Hancock might be approaching fair value in a vacuum (though I’d argue the return is still light), there is no way that the Yankees would do this trade right now. I think the Yankees are set to ride with Voit at first base for 2021.
Lionel asks, in light of the Lindor signing: what sort of contracts will likely be granted to Seager, Story and Correa?
I have a slightly different take on the Lindor contract than what I’ve read elsewhere. The CBA between MLB and the Players expires following the end of this season, and I think we all know that a very cold, contentious winter is looming. Almost no one will be able to predict what the economic landscape will look like across the sport after this season, and anyone who tells you that they do is either lying or hasn’t been paying any attention. I think Lindor took the best deal he could get from the Mets (and he did pretty darn well…lucky for Lindor, Mets owner Cohen was a willing partner, and looking to make a splash to encourage a beleaguered fanbase) so that he could avoid next winter’s uncertainty. When one of the best players in the game signs an extension rather than waiting out a free market, that tells me something.
In light of these realities, I fully expect one or two of these players to sign extensions this year. All three have injury concerns that Lindor didn’t have prior to signing, and even beyond that, they each have some mitigating factors that hinder their value. Seager and Correa are both perilously close to outgrowing SS (in fact, I don’t even think that Correa is the best SS on his own roster), which will diminish their value further the second that either has to move over to 3B, while Story faces the usual questions that all former Rockies face when they leave Coors Field.
That being said, all three guys are young and immensely talented. All of them deserve to be paid, but not to the level at which Lindor got paid. I expect Seager and Correa to sign extensions with the Dodgers and Astros, respectively. I expect those deals to run in the 6-8 year, $25-$30 million per year range. Trevor Story, in my opinion, is the most well-rounded player of the group, and I think he’ll maintain his value on a rate basis away from Coors Field. I just don’t feel comfortable projecting a dollar figure given the uncertain economics after this year. If the economics are similar to right now, I think he’s in a similar range to Correa and Seager, but I still see significant changes coming to baseball next year that could change that projection.
Brian asks: On a scale of 1-10, how worried are you about Kluber’s velocity?
More worried than I expected to be, frankly, so I’ll go with 5. As I’ve noted in previous posts about Kluber, he is not someone who necessarily depends on velocity for success on the mound, but there is a certain minimum velocity that pitchers in today’s game need to be effective. The velocity numbers don’t worry me in Spring Training, per say. What worries me is the effort it looks like Kluber is making to even touch 90 MPH. Were Kluber throwing a free and easy 89-90 MPH in Spring Training while showing some nascent command, I’d feel fine. Right now, I see a lot of effort in his delivery to see a 9 at the front of his radar gun readings to the detriment of his command.
Again, this could be Kluber working on some things in Spring Training, but my eyes are now peeled. Adrenaline can give guys a boost from Spring Training to the regular season, so we’ll see if that happens for Kluber. I really hope I’m interpreting what I’ve seen incorrectly, and the effort level in his delivery looks lower come Saturday. For now though, I have some concerns until I see something to quell those fears.