SSTN Weekly Mailbag: Kluber vs. Tanaka, A Hader Trade, and Jordan Montgomery’s Role!
By Andy Singer
Well, it took awhile, but there’s finally an offseason worth discussing! Save for one or two potential moves, I think that the Yankees are nearly finished for the offseason. Of course, the potential exists for further trades, so if the right guy is available, I don’t think Cashman will hesitate as long as the move fits in the budget…which right now has a little room left, but not much after the O’Day signing. I figure there is enough left for a Brett Gardner return and maybe another budget reliever. We’ll see what the next few weeks brings, but it’s nice to finally be able to talk about baseball and roster moves again.
Keep the great questions coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll discuss the merits of signing Kluber over Tanaka, what a Josh Hader trade might look like, and the most likely outcome for Jordan Montgomery! Let’s get at it:
Chad asks: Did you think it was a bad move to give Kluber $11 mil, apparently at the expense of Tanaka? I would rather see Tanaka get $11 mil, and I think he would stay at that price. He’s a proven commodity, especially in the playoffs (last year notwithstanding). No one knows what to expect from Kluber who’s been hurt the last 2 years.
I was going to write a standalone post in appreciation of Masahiro Tanka, but Views from 314 Ft. beat me to it. I agree with much of what Derek Albin wrote in that post. I loved watching Masahiro Tanaka pitch in pinstripes, and I am very sad to see him go. He was the rare Free Agent signing that was worth every penny. Tanaka came over from Japan, lit the league on fire, tore his UCL, fought back without surgery, and became a dependable, bulldog mid-rotation (or better) arm for the entirety of his stay in New York. You could tell that Tanaka was giving you every ounce of what he had every single time he pitched, yet somehow, I have always felt that Tanaka was underappreciated by many Yankee fans. The 2020 playoffs notwithstanding, I always felt good about having Tanaka on the mound in the playoffs, and I will never forget his efforts pitching against the Astros in 2017, the year I will always think should have been the Yankees’ year. Beyond his performance on the mound, Tanaka was charismatic in a way few players are anymore, and it was clear that his teammates both liked and respected him. I will forever feel bad that Yankee Stadium never got to give Tanaka an appropriate send-off in 2020 – he deserved it, and I would have been among the crowd clapping and cheering loudly in appreciation for everything Tanaka was as a Yankee.
However, the Yankees have made it clear that they wanted to change it up in the rotation in 2021, and I can’t blame them. The rotation was pretty clearly the Yankees’ weakest link in 2020, and I don’t think the Yankees projected Tanaka as a plus arm moving forward. Tanaka has increasingly lost the feel for his once dominant splitter, and I’m not sure how Tanaka will fair as his velocity declines, despite the fact that he rarely uses the fastball anymore. More to the point, the Yankees have a better sense of what Tanaka’s medicals look like than anyone, so I think the ticking time bomb that is Tanaka’s elbow could be of greater concern than we realize. All of these factors mitigate both Tanaka’s value on the open market and his future value to the Yankees.
Kluber has been banged up the last two seasons, but he doesn’t depend on velocity to perform, and all signs indicate that Kluber’s stuff is back to something approaching his previous levels. Even 120 innings of peak Kluber is worth more than a standard season of Tanaka at this point. The Yankees are in win-now mode, and I think the time has come to take some risks. The Yankees have pitchers who can likely fill the Tanaka role (calling Jordan Montgomery…), so I think taking a risk on Kluber with the money that could have gone to Tanaka makes sense. More to the point, given Tanaka’s reported contract demands in excess of $15 million per season, I would definitely take the combination of Kluber and Taillon over Tanaka.
I loved Tanaka, and I’ll miss him greatly, but the Yankees’ risk here makes sense.
Fuster asks: I agree that it’s preferable for the Yankees to go after pitching rather than a star shortstop, as of now.
however, I don’t know that any pitcher as good as Tanaka is available in trade at a reasonable cost
and I’m currently thinking that it might be better to pursue top-tier relief pitchers.
perhaps for the next mailbag you might consider the cost of acquiring Hader.
Josh Hader is a guy that is generating a lot of buzz in certain circles. He has been a dominant reliever with unquestionably great stuff. There are a lot of facets to acquiring Hader, and in a major media market like New York, I think there would be enhanced spotlight on Hader’s social media activity as a teenager. For now, I am going to concentrate on the baseball side of the equation, because there is enough there to keep us busy.
Here’s the good stuff: Hader has as good a slider as anyone in baseball. He also is generally good at commanding the pitch low and away to left-handed batters and backdoor to right-handed hitters. Hader’s velocity has also been remarkably consistent over the last few seasons, so there’s expectation that his stuff will hold up for the next couple of years. Hader has also been very durable, and comes with cost certainty with 3 more years of team control. In short, Hader is one of the most valuable bullpen arms in baseball.
The bad: Hader walks a very fine line as a pitcher, and the signs point to the reality that Hader is toeing and even thinner line as a pitcher recently. Barrel rates have gone up against Hader steadily over the past 3 seasons, all of which easily rank among the worst barrel rates against for any pitcher in baseball. More worrisome is the fact that when Hader gets barreled up, the ball generally launches in the air, as hitters launch the ball over 20 degrees on average. Additionally, while Hader’s strikeout rate remains elite, it did diminish somewhat in 2020. Hader has also has struggled with walks throughout his career, but saw that number grow to nearly unsustainable levels in 2020, as his walk rate soared to 12.8%. I am generally willing to give players the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their numbers in 2020, but Hader’s struggles fall in line with existing trends. In short, Hader is an excellent bullpen arm that could implode at any moment. In fact, I would classify him as a more volatile version of late career Dellin Betances (in pinstripes, anyway).
We also need to deal with the fact that the Brewers, despite the fact that they haven’t done anything to improve their roster this winter, still projects to be one of the two best teams in the NL Central, and likely are competing for a playoff spot in 2021. Giving up Hader does not help them achieve that goal without a significant return.
What might that return look like? I think the Brewers would look for a young arm with upside who they could slot into the rotation immediately, and an MLB-ready position player. I think the Brewers would ask for Garcia/Schmidt, Frazier, and some lottery ticket help from the low minors in exchange for Hader. I don’t think they’d be wrong to ask for that kind of return, but I also think the Yankees would be crazy to do something like that. Hader is too volatile to provide anything approaching an elite return, particularly given the fact that players needed to complete a deal like this will be needed to compete for a World Series in 2021.
I too would have preferred another elite bullpen arm in the Yankee bullpen in 2021, but I’m also willing to put my money where my mouth is and accept letting some of the kids fill meaningful roles in the bullpen. In that sense, I think that both Nick Nelson and Clarke Schmidt will be very important to the 2021 roster. Nelson is a guy that I think could be the bullpen breakout candidate of the year, and I think Schmidt could finish his development as a multi-inning threat out of the bullpen. For now, unless the price tag drops, I’m firm no on Hader.
Dave asks: A lot of mixed feelings on Monty from a lot of people – what’s the most likely outcome for him in 2021?
I really think that Monty is the steady force the Yankees need at the back of the rotation. Had 2020 been a longer season, I think he would have shown that he was ready for a bigger role, and I think the Yankees recognize this as well, hence their willingness to part with Tanaka. Monty has gotten a little bump in his fastball velocity, and that has allowed his other pitches to play up. He is another year further from TJS, so I think he can be counted on for innings in 2021. I think Monty will be a 2-3 WAR pitcher in 2021, and I think that’s a pretty safe projection based on what I saw from him in 2020.