SSTN Weekly Mailbag: Hicks’ Future, Nasty Nestor, And A Lefty Starter To Be Named!
By Andy Singer
Ouch. Just when I thought I was desensitized to bad losses, the Yankees found a way to take my heart and drag it across a dirty floor. The Yanks, for all of their faults, have been surprisingly adept at making late comebacks, particularly over the last month or so. I can’t honestly say that I counted on any magic in the 9th inning of the “Field of Dreams” game, but I felt pretty good about the top of the order. Suddenly, the Judge-Stanton tandem functioned the way most Yankee fans envisioned back in 2018 when Stanton was initially acquired. It felt so good to watch Stanton put the Yankees seemingly over the top coming into the bottom half of the inning, I almost forgot how worried I was to watch Zack Britton in a save situation. I remembered quickly as soon as Britton threw his first pitch. By the time Britton hung a sinker over the middle for Anderson, I knew the game wasn’t going to end in a win for the Yankees. Heaven? Hardly.
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’ future with the Yankees, Nestor Cortes Jr.’s recent run, and the potential for another lefty starter next season! Let’s get at it:
Rudy asks: Is it worth hanging onto Hicks, or should Cashman dump him this winter?
Rudy surely asked this question in response to last week’s Mailbag discussion regarding the relative merits of Hicks’ Yankee career compared to that of Jacoby Ellsbury. Aaron Hicks has become something of a punching bag among many Yankee fans, and even I have to admit that there is merit to the idea that the Yankees should move on from Aaron Hicks. While Hicks has pop, gets on-base at a well above-average clip, and runs the bases well, there is plenty to pick at. Hicks does not make a ton of contact, which means that he doesn’t always access his raw power consistently; his defense, once his greatest asset, is in decline both by the metrics and the eye test in no small part because his once elite arm is merely above-average following Tommy John Surgery; and even if we were willing to overlook the aforementioned demerits, Hicks is constantly hurt.
That last point is particularly persuasive given what has occurred in 2021. The Yankees counted on a full season from Aaron Hicks, with just Brett Gardner and a contingent of replacement level players in the high minors as contingency plans in the event that Hicks underperformed or got hurt again. We know how that story has played out. Hicks was bad for the majority of his short time on the field this year, and though he was heating up prior to the torn tendon sheath that ended his season, his final contribution this season was every bit as ugly as it looks on paper.
Now that I’ve discussed why the glass is probably at least half empty, the reality is that Hicks’ contract is both reasonable and potentially tradeable if need be. $10 million sounds like a lot of money, until we realize that Hicks really only needs to be worth 1.5 WAR per season to exceed the monetary value of his contract. No matter how you feel about Hicks, a full, healthy season likely clears that bar.
I don’t think that the Yankees can go into 2022 with Hicks penciled in as the everyday starter in CF, but I do think it makes a ton of sense to keep Hicks as the 4th outfielder. It is a missing piece on the 2021 Yankees, and it is a role for which I think Hicks is possibly over-qualified. Now, I am going to qualify this opinion with the dreaded luxury tax caveat: if the Steinbrenner family chooses to be as hawkish with the budget as they have been this year, then it doesn’t make sense to keep Hicks as a 4th outfielder (even if he gets 350+ AB) at $10 million when that money can be allocated elsewhere. However, if the goal is to put the best possible team on the field, then most teams would kill to have Hicks as an extra outfielder.
Jack asks: Can Cortes keep up his current performance? He looks like a good 5th starter.
The re-emergence of Nasty Nestor has been one of my favorite storylines of the 2nd half of this season. Nestor Cortes had to scratch and claw for everything he’s ever achieved in baseball, climbing through the minors despite existing for the majority of his time in the minors as little more than organizational filler. Despite that fact, he just kept performing, eventually making appearances with the Yankees, prior to his troubled stint with the Orioles.
Did I ever expect to spend any time in this Mailbag discussing Nestor Cortes this year? Absolutely not! He’s done a fair amount right to even get to this point, and for that reason, I think we should take Cortes seriously.
Cortes is a true 5-pitch pitcher, a rarity in today’s game. Cortes is comfortable mixing all of his pitches around the strike zone and changing his game plan depending on the situation. Watching Cortes alter his timing and delivery to the plate from pitch-to-pitch is a master class in “How To Be A Pitcher 101”. That kind of guile is how Cortes is able to absorb innings and keep the Yankees in games even when his stuff isn’t good. He’s also added a bit of velocity since his debut in 2018, so that doesn’t hurt him either.
Unfortunately, the reality is that Cortes’ stuff is not good. His fastball is slow and flat, and Cortes does not locate the pitch well in the strike zone, often hanging the pitch over the middle. Cortes struggles when he falls behind hitters and is forced to utilize his fastball more. Sadly, I expect that the more exposure Cortes gets to the rest of the league, the more he’ll need his fastball, which is a recipe for disaster. I’m just not sure I see much more than a slightly better than replacement level starter.
However, I think Cortes can play an important role on the Yankees as a spot starter and long relief arm long-term. That’s one heck of an outcome for a 36th round draft pick.
Lionel asks: although the Yanks have plenty of righthanders, does it make sense for the team to pursue a left handed starter this off-season?
is Carlos Rodon scheduled to hit free agency and will his zealot of an agent allow him to sign a sane contract?
Ah, Carlos Rodon. Those of you who have been reading the blog since the end of last season will know that I wanted the Yankees to grab Rodon as a reclamation project when the White Sox non-tendered him at the beginning of last offseason. Rodon went back to the White Sox on a bargain deal, and he’s been one of the best starting pitchers in the American League this year. Nothing I’ve seen from him on the mound this year makes me want him any less: Rodon is every bit as good as he looks. His performance has been everything he’d want in a walk year, and he’ll likely earn a nice raise in Free Agency this offseason.
The big knock on Rodon is the health of his left arm. He was ridden almost criminally hard in college at NC State, and Rodon has struggled with health ever since his last NCAA season. Sadly, the White Sox placed Rodon on the IL earlier this week with arm soreness. For some reason, we’re not allowed to have nice things.
As much as I’ve beat the drum for Rodon, I would be leery of signing him to a long-term deal in which I was counting on him as a rotation mainstay. Rodon just isn’t durable enough to count on. However, I do think it would be prudent for the Yankees to look for more left-handed pitching to keep opposing teams from taking advantage of the short porch in RF at Yankee Stadium. I’m just not sure Rodon is the right man for the job.