SSTN Weekly Mailbag: Outfield Hypotheticals and Rule Changes!
By Andy Singer
We’re back! Most of us use baseball as an escape from the real world. Given that fact, all of us were both sick of discussing the finer points of negotiation strategy and labor rights and also how much baseball is missed. It came right down to the wire, but we’ll get a 162-game season. Everybody won in the end: the owners got new streams of revenue, the players got increased pay for young players and increased team spending under a more generous CBT structure, and the fans get baseball. Among the things that will not happen immediately is an International Draft. I felt relief upon hearing that the International Draft would continue to be discussed separately from the CBA, as the issue is too complex for a 1-2 day argument as the cherry on top of an agreement. The current international signing system is fraught with corruption, with buscones in the Dominican Republic and elsewhere in Latin America peddling young prospects to teams as young as 12 or 13 years old. Handshake agreements are made in secret to skirt the rules governing international signings codified in the previous CBA, and buscones and other hangers-on often steal from Latin American players and threaten their and their families’ personal well-being. I’m not sure an International Draft solves this issue in its entirety, but I do know for certain that the current system will take time to change given the bureaucracy and entrenchment of the current underworld. Players and owners need more time to study this issue to make positive change, so I’m glad that a decision wasn’t made in haste. An International Draft would be bad for the Yankees, as they have taken advantage of their scouting prowess and financial muscle in Latin America over the last decade plus, but change is clearly needed.
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 realistic hypothetical scenario in the outfield and possible rule changes! Let’s get at it:
Cary asks: Here’s a question for the next mailbag: (gulp) Let’s say that we have a season. (gasp) Now let’s say Aaron Hicks gets injured a month into the shortened season. How do the Yankees rearrange their outfield? Does Aaron Judge slide over while Giancarlo Stanton takes over in right field? Does Joey Gallo take over, possibly causing the Yankees to potentially extend him on a free agent deal? Do the Yankees sign Brett Gardner for depth and simply use him in center field? Do the Yankees bring up Estevan Florial? Or Ender Inciarte?
What is the first move the Yankees make and why?
Is it time to move on from Brett Gardner?
Considering Inciarte hasn’t been effective since 2018, is he even going to be a viable option?
Can the Jumbo package play 5 games a week or is that a recipe for disaster?
Well, Cary, at least we have baseball, so we can all stop gulping and gasping! Cary asked this question in response to my first article in a series examining the Yankees’ outfield depth as it stands currently. The Yankees need to plan for the eventuality that Aaron Hicks gets hurt because, well, he always does for some period of time. The first two posts in my series examined the 2022 outlook for both Estevan Florial and Ender Inciarte, the two players currently at the top of the depth chart in centerfield should Hicks get hurt again. While that’s better depth than the Yankees have had in a few years, it’s still likely short of what is needed given the injury concerns the Yankees have in the outfield.
I, for one, do not believe that Florial will realize his significant physical tools due to his deficiencies in pitch recognition. He may be a decent 4th outfielder who occasionally runs into some homers due to his bat path and significant raw power, but his bat will likely always be a net negative. Were he needed for more than a 15-20 game period, I wouldn’t trust that Florial could produce replacement level value, as I fear that MLB pitching would eat him up.
Ender Inciarte is an interesting case. He is reportedly as healthy as he has been since 2019, which hopefully will allow him to regain some of his lost speed. Inciarte was never much of a hitter, but he made tons of contact, didn’t strike out, ran the bases well, and played elite defense. That’s an interesting profile for the Yankees, given their lack of contact hitters who run well. Inciarte’s ceiling is likely that of an average player at this stage in his career, but he is a good option to push Aaron Hicks during Spring Training and to keep around as a possible option through the beginning of the year.
The interesting part of this question is the idea of a jumbo outfield. Regardless of Hicks’ injury status in 2022, I fully expect to see the jumbo outfield on occasion as a way to mix Stanton into the outfield, where he showed greater competence and offensive output late last season. In this scenario, the Yankees would certainly use Aaron Judge in centerfield again. Though Joey Gallo’s defensive metrics look good enough to fake it in centerfield on occasion, the Yankees clearly prefer Judge in that spot if needed. An extension for Gallo is a decision that will be made separate from where he plays in the outfield in 2022.
While the jumbo package gets everyone into the lineup in an interesting way, I would be surprised if it is used more than once or twice per week, and twice might be pushing it in an ideal world. I still expect Brett Gardner to be re-signed (that train is never late), and while the Yankees certainly need more performance than what Gardner could provide in a starting role, Gardner has huge value as a 4th outfielder who can play left field and centerfield competently and piece together tough at-bats. I’m ready for one more go-round with Gardy, but only in a significantly reduced role (and yes, I know we’ve heard that before).
Mark: Which of the new proposed rules do you like the most and which do you like the least? Which one is best and worst for the Yankees? The rule changes I’ve seen are: electronic strike zone, larger bases, banning the shift, and a pitch clock.
I’m happy with the game as it’s played today, so I’m not necessarily a proponent of any of the proposed rule changes in a vacuum. However, since MLB isn’t going to reimagine the bombardment of commercials that take place in-between innings and pitching changes I understand the proposal for pitch clocks. I also understand the theory behind larger bases, as both pitchers and catchers throw harder than ever before, so larger bases might encourage more stolen base attempts. Those two rule proposals are pretty close for me.
I hate the idea of banning the shift. Anything that limits strategy and creativity is inherently bad. Don’t like the shift? Beat it. Strategy in baseball is cyclical, and I have a hunch that over time, hitters will find ways to beat the shift, limiting its effectiveness.
That said, banning the shift would be huge for the current Yankee lineup, as Judge, Voit, Stanton, Gallo, and Sanchez would all be helped massively by banning the shift. An electronic strike zone would likely help Stanton and particularly Judge with the low strike that currently gets called on them constantly, but batting averages would go up significantly throughout the Yankee lineup if they banned the shift. Can you imagine how valuable Joey Gallo would be if he hit .250-.265?
The more I think about it now, the electronic strike zone would likely help Yankee prospects Austin Wells and Josh Breaux stick at catcher, as neither frames the ball well…so maybe banning the shift and the electronic strike zone are closer than I give them credit for.
I’m not sure there’s a rule change that would be bad for the Yankees, so I guess that’s a positive!