SSTN Weekly Mailbag: Ghosts of Centerfield’s Past and Present, A Top Prospect Trade, and My Fa
By Andy Singer
My opening monologue for this morning’s SSTN Mailbag looked a lot different at 10:00 last night. For the first time this season, I was ready to gloat about the Yankees’ recent stretch. I remain of the opinion that the law of averages will play out over the second half, which is to say that the Red Sox will regress to the mean while the Yankees will play well above their first half record, but wow did last night hurt. I was so thoroughly encouraged by the way the team kept fighting back in a pitcher’s duel that I had already mentally counted the game as a win for the Yanks. Despite Green’s blow-up and the mind boggling decision to replace Cessa after 5 (!) pitches, I’m going to come back to a play that will likely be forgotten next week: Rougned Odor’s sac bunt in the 8th inning. Some have said that he was trying to drag bunt for a hit, but that doesn’t add up with the infield corners playing in. Yes, the Yanks got a run off of a sac fly shortly after Odor’s sac and his teammates loved the play, but that single play was an illustration of what analytics has identified for years: trading an out for a single run is almost universally a poor play in terms of run expectancy, except in very isolated late-and-close situations. Admittedly, last night bordered on that type of scenario, but Odor was a lefty batter against Adam Ottavino, who gets crushed by left-handed batters. That bunt felt like a missed opportunity for more runs, and it may well have cost the Yankees the game. I hope I’m not forced to remember that play when the Yankees lose a playoff spot by one game at the end of the season.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll compare the ghosts of centerfield’s past and present, discuss a blockbuster-type deal for a top prospect, and I’ll tell you my favorite trade target! Let’s get at it:
Mike F. asks: Was just curious for your opinion as to why everyone gives Aaron Hicks so much love and put down Jacoby Ellsbury? Elsbury was by far the better hitter, at least 50 points higher lifetime average. Was faster, covered more ground bunting and much better at stealing bases. Granted he’s been hurt a lot also has Hicks and many other Yankees as it seems. If both of them we’re healthy I would much rather have Elsbury on my team as he is also a perfect lead off man.
I love this question. Many of you know that I’m among the group of Yankee observers who have long been Aaron Hicks apologists (that point of view is getting somewhat harder to defend, but we’ll talk about that another day). To this day, I still believe the logic behind the Hicks extension was sound in the context of the money it cost the Yankees to make it happen. At the same time, I actually didn’t hate the Ellsbury signing at least initially, though I correctly feared how the contract would age. One of the prevailing theories that existed at the time of the Ellsbury signing was that guys who relied on speed for value maintained value longer than guys who depended on the hit tool or defense. In Ellsbury’s case, that turned out to be a moot point due to lower body injuries. Despite both player’s obvious flaws, I think they make for a fascinating comparison.
Both Ellsbury and Hicks were stuck with the injury prone label even prior to inking 7-year contracts with the Yankees, however both were coming off multiple good seasons that made you think they could be turning a corner. Ellsbury was one of the premier Free Agents on the market in the 2013-2014 offseason, and the Yankees paid market rate (or maybe a hair worse) for his services at 7 years/$153 million. Hicks had a couple of years of team control and a few years of Free Agency bought out by the Yankees at a cut rate deal for 7 years/$70 million. Numbers for contracts have climbed since 2014, so it would be hard not to grade both Ellsbury’s and Hicks’ performances on a curve based on contract. I don’t think we can look at the total value of their careers when talking about who we’d rather have. Rather, I think it makes sense to look at what both players did (or have done, in Hicks’ case) as Yankees. It’s time for another blind case study. Here are Ellsbury and Hicks’ two best seasons as Yankees:
Player A: .255/.368/.470, .838 OPS, 125 OPS+, 21 SB, 7 CS, 42 HR, 8.2 bWAR, 1.3 dWAR
Player B: .265/.324/.387, .710 OPS, 98 OPS+, 60 SB, 20 CS, 23 HR, 5.4 bWAR, 0.7 dWAR
Player A did just about everything you can do as a baseball player better than Player B in their two best Yankee seasons. Player A got on base with greater frequency than Player B, while hitting for more power and more total offensive value even though Player B made slightly more contact and stole more bases. To put the cherry on top, Player A had more defensive value in CF than Player B.
Player A is Aaron Hicks. Player B is Jacoby Ellsbury. The Yankees paid more than double for Ellsbury’s services than they will for Aaron Hicks, and that’s without even adjusting for today’s dollars. Sure, Ellsbury ran with greater frequency, but he didn’t extract much more value from his legs because he didn’t get on base enough to use them.
Both Hicks and Ellsbury are/were flawed Yankees due to injuries, but if you ask me which I’d rather have in the context of their time, I’ll take Hicks without any question.
Fuster asks: is SD willing to trade and what would it cost the Yankees to acquire C J Abrams, a short stop that SD can’t use at short? does San Diego need bullpen arms and/or a young 1B?
CJ Abrams is among the best prospects in all of baseball (think top-10, more likely top-5), though somehow he flies a bit under the radar. Scouts are mixed on his ability to stick at SS (some believe his range will compensate for a fringy arm and just average hands while others believe he’ll be plus at 2B or CF), though at just 20 years old, he 80-grade speed, a great hit tool, and emerging power, and was putting it all together at AA, so most believe that he has All-Star ability at any position. In short, every team in baseball would love a player like CJ Abrams in their system, and he’s one of the few guys I’d want more than Anthony Volpe as a middle infield prospect right now.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of factors that make a trade between the Yankees and Padres for Abrams impossible. For one, the Yankees and Padres are both likely in win-now mode, and are both looking for MLB-ready pieces in any trade. Abrams would command a huge price, but the other issue is Abrams’ current injury predicament. Abrams is out for at least the rest of this season with a broken left tibia and sprained MCL that he sustained back in June. That is a scary injury for a prospect who derives much of his value from his legs, so I don’t think a trade would be remotely possible until teams see that his legs are back following injury. That said, let’s have some fun and try to pin down Abrams’ value were he not hurt.
In a world where Abrams were healthy, he would be one of the most valuable prospects on the trade market in all of baseball, even if he’s a 2B/CF. He is a better prospect right now than the two best Yankee prospects, Dominguez and Volpe (yes, that’s my 1/2 at the top of the Yankee prospect board right now) based on his proximity to the Majors and huge carrying tools. Bullpen arms and first basemen, even if they were 60-grade players wouldn’t get this deal done.
That means the Yankees would be pulling from the Majors, with high minors prospects to fill it out. From a value perspective, I think a deal would necessarily start with someone like Luis Severino (though TJS complicates his value as well), and would likely include good prospects in addition, like Gil/Medina, and one of the talented prospects in the low minors (think Vargas/Alcantara, or someone with more probability, but a lower ceiling like Peraza). That may even be light, but I think it’s in the ballpark for value.
Gary asks: We’re close to the trade deadline. Who are you’re favorite targets right now?
To stick with guys that can likely be pried from their current teams, I’m firmly in the Joey Gallo and Starling Marte camps. My initial reaction is Gallo, as he’s making more contact recently, striking out less, can play an adequate CF, and has a left-handed power swing tailormade for Yankee Stadium, but I’ve also liked the way the offense looks with more speed and defense in the outfield, so I’m equally good with Starling Marte as well. I’ll do a longer post on both shortly, but those are my two top targets.