SSTN Weekly Mailbag: More Didi, Distilling The Labor Dispute, And The 2022 Yankee Bench and Outfield
By Andy Singer
The Super Bowl has come and gone, and still we don’t have any Major League Baseball to which we can look forward. As far as I’m concerned, ownership pretty clearly should take the bulk of blame for this situation (after all, it is the owners who have locked out the players rather than attempting to patch a temporary agreement together). The owners took negotiations to DEFCON5 right off the bat, and the sport deserves to be right where they are today. Despite knowing all of this logically, emotionally I was still greatly saddened by watching the date for pitchers and catchers pass with nary a hint of a soft-toss fastball in Tampa by a Yankee. I knew that this was where we were heading, but it still makes me sad.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll discuss a trade proposal for Didi Gregorius, talk about the impact of the labor dispute on the Yankees and the sport at a macro level, and reverse engineer the 2022 team from the bench forward! Let’s get at it:
Felix proposes the following trade: Zach Britton to the Philadelphia Phillies for Didi Gregorius.
As many of you are aware, Didi was my favorite Yankee position player of the post-Jeter Yankees. We’ve discussed the pros and cons of acquiring Didi as a stopgap solution at shortstop for the 2022 season, and while he’s far from my top choice at shortstop in a stopgap role, he’s not my least favorite either. Didi seems to have fallen out of favor with the Phillies and likely isn’t in position to start their in 2022, so he can likely be acquired relatively cheaply.
Unfortunately, Britton for Didi doesn’t work at all. Britton’s contract is up at the end of this year, and he’ll miss the majority of it (at least) while recovering from Tommy John Surgery. The Phillies need pitching everywhere, but Britton doesn’t help them this year, and without further years of control, there’s no reason for the Phillies to do this deal.
In reality, I think one of the swingmen at AA/AAA is likely fair value for Didi, but I’m not sure that’s the direction I’d like to go either. For the Yankees to part with more prospects, the team needs to be noticeably improved, and I don’t think dealing for Didi meets that threshold.
Mark S. asks: Can you give a sort of real life explanation of the labor talks? How would it impact the 2022 Yankees team? It seems with all the push and pulling both sides are fighting for, the net is zero gained by either the owners or players…. Except the fans have to pay more money.
This is a really good question, and one that I’m not sure mainstream media outlets have done a great job at explaining to baseball fans. Let’s break it down as simply as possible.
Ownership wants the following:
Decreased costs relative to revenue
Example: Static or shrinking luxury tax thresholds over the life of the CBA term
Discretion to further shrink minor league costs
Cost controls for acquisition of international talent
Example: international draft
Protections for small market teams
This is ownership’s claim, anyway…I don’t buy it, but I’ll include it here.
The Players want:
Intentional tanking has been a significant part of the game in the luxury tax era.
Current amateur draft system incentivizes teams on the bubble to tank for better draft position.
No current minimum salary threshold
Increased revenue split
Revenues in baseball have soared over the course of the last decade, yet player salaries expressed as a share of revenue have decreased significantly.
The vast majority of players never reach Free Agency and never make $1 million; minimum salaries have been relatively static despite increased revenues.
Close loopholes for service time manipulation
See: Kris Bryant
Yankee relief pitcher Albert Abreu was optioned 11 times in 2021 both to manage the roster and manipulate service time.
In a vacuum, I think it’s pretty obvious which side has a better argument, but labor negotiations do not take place in a vacuum. The players have been underrepresented for over a decade, and have sustained significant losses in both monetary gains and leverage over the course of the most recent CBA negotiations. The players may be right in their arguments, but they will not be able to recoup everything in one negotiation, in all likelihood.
My take on all of it? Rather than an overhaul, I think we are going to see incremental change when all is said and done, but the devil is in the details.
How does this affect the Yankees in 2022? Critically. The Yankees have significant holes in their lineup, and their financial might could be part of the solution to that problem. However, like many other owners, the Steinbrenners have largely viewed the first tier of the luxury tax threshold as a pretty hard cap in recent years. Defining that luxury tax threshold for the next few years will have huge implications on how the Yankees build their roster for the future. If the luxury tax remains relatively static, Brian Cashman will be forced to be more creative and largely go dumpster diving over the next few years. If the luxury tax goes up a modest amount (the best case scenario right now), then Cashman has more flexibility.
More critically, if the season is delayed and Spring Training is shortened, I have real concerns about the increased likelihood for injuries and underperformance due to the fast ramp up, as we saw in 2020.
There is a lot at stake in these negotiations for the players, and I don’t fault them for pushing the owners to make real concessions. At the end of the day, the owners have largely proven that they don’t care about the fans for years, and prices rise regardless of what happens in these negotiations. Remember that every time the seats behind home plate at Yankee Stadium are empty.
Cary asks: Reverse engineering the roster and starting with the bench, imagine switch hitting UIF Oswaldo Cabrera, Aaron Hicks as the UOF, Higgy as the defensive-minded backup catcher and one of either Ender Inciarte or Estevan Florial as your speed component. I have a question for you – who would you like to see on the bench for 2022 (potential trades included). Do you see an opportunity for an Adrew Benintendi trade still? Or, do you like Inciarte as insurance, with Florial in earn-it mode?
Cary asked this question as part of a response in the comments section of his post summarizing the Yankees’ positional value compared to other AL East teams (check it out, it’s a great series). The bench is the best place the Yankees can improve in 2022 (other than shortstop).
Cary took my dark horse for the Yankees’ utility infielder. I love Oswaldo Cabrera (a bit more than most public prospect rankings), and think he’s ideally suited for a utility role on a championship caliber team. He has a lot of pop, great hands at all infield positions other than catcher and first base, and has maintained his ability to run the bases. He may post some low on-base percentages, but the pop and defensive value should cover for that issue. I think Cabrera could easily help the Yankees in 2022 at some point,
I am also resigned to Higgy as the backup catcher, though I’d still be on the lookout for an upgrade. I’ve been on record as saying that I love Hicks as a 4th outfielder, but I’m not sure it happens before the start of the season. I love Inciarte – I think he’s healthy for the first time in a long time, and he is brilliant defensively, so I’m fine with him as the 4th outfielder as long as he stays healthy. As far as Benintendi is concerned, I don’t think the Royals will deal him right now, and I’m not sure he fits the Yankee roster right now – he can’t play CF, and the Yanks have the corners covered. While Gallo and Judge can spell at CF, I’m not sure we want to see that more than once or twice per week.