SSTN Weekly Mailbag: Didi, A Trade Proposal, and One Bargain Signing
By Andy Singer
My Yankee fandom typically mimics my mentality either on the mound or on the golf course: never get too high or too low, and practice patience. Despite my natural proclivities, I am by no means perfect, and like all people, I can get impatient and fiery when the situation calls for it. The non-rational part of my brain is at the point where it wants the Yankees to do anything, even a bad move, just so we have something more to talk about. Logic dictates that in a slow offseason, the Yankees still have time to build a roster that will likely be among the 2 or 3 best in the American League. Though even I have to admit that the Yankees are walking a dangerous line due to their passivity thus far. I’ll reserve judgement on that score until the end of the offseason, but I really hope the Yankees start filling out the roster soon, before potential key pieces get away. (FRIDAY MORNING EDIT: It looks like DJ LeMahieu is coming back! More on this later.)
As always, thanks for your questions every week. Keep ‘em coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com, and I’ll answer 3-5 each week. In this week’s mailbag, we’ll talk about Didi Gregorius, a trade proposal, and a bargain signing! Let’s get at it:
newyorkred47 says: Resign Didi Gregorius and play him at first base.
So…I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Didi Gregorius will not be the Yankee first baseman in 2021. However, I do think this comment gets to the root of a rather fascinating discussion regarding Yankee fans’ dismissiveness of the current Yankee first baseman, Luke Voit.
There seems to be a prevailing sentiment that the Yankees should “sell high” on Luke Voit after his monster 2020 campaign. I’m not going to say that the opinion is without merit, but I think that fans need to seriously rethink who Luke Voit is right now. Luke Voit is really cheap, with 4 years of team control remaining, so his salary is not a drain on the Yankees finances, nor will it be for years. We also need to understand that Voit’s 2020 season, in which he was one of the best hitters in baseball, was not an aberration in the slightest.
In 2020, Luke Voit hit .277/.338/.610 (.948 OPS/156 OPS+) with 22 HR in just 213 AB. Over a full season, Voit would have approached 50 HR while making consistently good contact. While the power spiked somewhat, everything else is in line with Voit’s performance since coming to the Yankees. Prior to tearing his abdominal muscles in London in 2019, Voit hit .280/.393/.509 (.901 OPS) with 17 HR in 293 AB through June 29th. In 2018, Voit hit 14 HR in just 134 AB after joining the Yankees while producing 1.095 OPS/193 OPS+. This is a player you build around. Voit should be here for years to come.
That said, I love Didi Gregorius, and was really sad to see him go in 2020. I’m not sure he fits the roster if DJLM returns, but if LeMahieu doesn’t return, there’s plenty of reason to bring back Didi on a short-term deal. In 2020, Didi basically went back to being the player the Yankees knew and loved at the plate prior to Tommy John Surgery. Didi produced an .827 OPS/119 OPS+, which is right in-line with what we came to expect from Didi in his latter years in pinstripes. The issue is that Didi’s defensive slide continued in 2020. One could chalk that up to the oddities that come from a short season, but the metrics match indications that were becoming apparent even prior to 2020. All told, I think that Didi is likely a roughly 2 WAR player in 2021, so that’s a good stop-gap solution.
newyorkred47 also asks: Trade Proposal – Gleyber Torres to the Kansas City Royals for Josh Stanmont and Adalberto Mondesí.
Let’s start by talking about the players that would come back to the Yankees in this deal. Josh Staumont has stuff that makes talent evaluators drool. His fastball averages 98 MPH (ranging 97-101 MPH) with consistent ride at the top of the zone and sink when thrown at the bottom of the zone. He pairs the fastball with a knee-buckling curveball that sits in the low-80s with varying depth and a ton of vertical break. When his fastball and curve are sequenced and tunneled correctly, the two pitches produce strikeouts with ease. In fact, Staumont, in his second season of big league action in 2020, produced a 33% strikeout rate. The issue? Walks…and walks. Staumont’s walk rate was 14.3% in 2020, which is barely playable, and only acceptable because of his ridiculous strikeout rate. Staumont is also a one-inning reliever-only, so his value is limited from that perspective. On the surface, it’s easy to see a reliever that could one day be as devastating as Dellin Betances was at his best, but he’s not there yet, and Staumont’s issues with walks are more severe than Betances’ were.
Mondesi is a solid defensive shortstop with significant speed who barely produces average value at the plate for a shortstop. Mondesi likely only projects as a 2-3 WAR SS in his best seasons, but he is cost controlled.
Neither Staumont nor Mondesi are bad players, and they have value as players who will be cheap for the next few years, but the rub is trading someone like Gleyber Torres. Torres was not at his best in 2020, but he still projects as a plus talent at either SS or 2B for years to come. In fact, even with below-average defense at SS, ZiPS projects Torres to produce 4.8 WAR in 2021, one of the highest values on the Yankees. Torres is a cornerstone for years to come, and should only be moved for generational talent. Trading Torres is a move that the Yankees would regret for many years.
I completely agree with targeting a reliever like Staumont, just not for talent like Torres. I can take or leave Mondesi – I have a hunch that Torres will be passable at SS with time.
Greg asks: Name one under the radar signing you think the Yankees should make (Kluber doesn’t count)?
OK, Kluber doesn’t count…so then I’m going to come out of left field on this one: I think the Yankees should sign Carlos Rodon and make him a multi-inning reliever.
Rodon has struggled mightily with injuries and under-performance in the Majors following a stellar college career at NC State in which he was criminally over-used by the coaching staff. That said, Rodon maintains one of the best sliders in the Majors, and I think that pitch could be put to good use out of the bullpen, which would put less strain on Rodon’s arm.
Rodon will likely come cheap (think under $7 million for a prove-it contract). Assuming the Yankees come to terms with DJ LeMahieu (FRIDAY MORNING EDIT: LeMahieu looks like he’s coming back!), the Yankees will likely only have somewhere between $10-15 million to play with before they hit the artificial limit of the first luxury tax threshold. Someone like Rodon could return a solid return for relatively little risk.