SSTN Weekly Mailbag: Stopgap SS Candidates and Trading For Torrens!
By Andy Singer
For the first time this offseason, we can see a glimmer of light in the ongoing labor standoff between the ownership and the players. Very few of the proposals that are now being considered significantly change the sport that all of us love, which I consider a positive, but one economic proposal that seems to be gaining traction has caught my attention. Both the players and ownership have put forward proposals that would create a bonus pool for the best pre-arbitration players on a yearly basis according to WAR. Much of the media attention has focused on sources for the money pool and the size of the pool, but I am far more intrigued by the idea of paying players based on WAR. It’s an idea that sounds really nice and logical when you throw it around, but the reality of using WAR standings in absolute terms to pay players is far more complicated. Among the list of issues that came up, off the top of my head: what WAR calculation would be used, as even the most respected publicly available metrics base value on very different factors, creating very different WAR totals? How will defense be measured, given that defensive metrics are all over the place, and one season of data is often too small a sample size to properly gauge defensive value? What happens if even the commonly accepted components of WAR calculations change? Will such change impact players pockets retroactively?
I was ready to write a post dedicated to these ideas and questions, but Russell Carleton over at Baseball Prospectus beat me to it, and does an excellent job of spelling out questions and ideas for how WAR can be used in this application. I think this is a well-meaning idea that is going to be very difficult to implement fairly, and this is coming from someone that believes very strongly in the mathematical concepts that back modern statistical analysis in baseball.
As always thanks for the great questions, and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll run through some stopgap shortstop candidates and discuss some trade ideas for Luis Torrens! Let’s get at it:
Cary asks (in response to my comments about seeing better stopgap shortstop options on the market than Andrelton Simmons): Which targets might the Yankees look towards to fill their area of need at shortstop?
Before I answer this question, I just want to give a shout-out to Ethan Semendinger’s series about 2022 shortstop targets, running every afternoon this week. His posts are very detailed and provide some really good insights into the players that could be considered for these roles. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should.
The big market options are obvious: Carlos Correa and Trevor Story. By now, all of you know the pros and cons of going with one of these guys, and there’s plenty of reason for the Yanks to make the investment in either player. Personally, I prefer Story dollar-for-dollar for reasons that extend beyond the Astros cheating scandal, but I’ve discussed those both on this blog and on the Bronx Beat Podcast, so I won’t bore you by rehashing my comparison of the two players. The Yankees can easily afford either player, so I’d be quite happy if the Yankees chose to wield their financial might again regardless of the prospects on the way, but I think it is increasingly likely that the Yankees will go in another direction.
The Yankees clearly believe strongly in Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe. While it’s wonderful to have good middle infield prospects on the cusp of the Majors, the Yankees’ window to win with this core is nearly shut, and they have to do something to secure shortstop for this season at a minimum. I’m a prospect hugger by nature, but even I’m not foolish enough to think that the Yankees should just twiddle their thumbs and wait for the arrival of Peraza or Volpe in 2022. Beyond Story and Correa, the Free Agent options at shortstop are uninspiring, so I’d look to the trade market for a stopgap solution at the position. Among my criteria for a stopgap solution at shortstop:
The player should be able to approach average value (1.7+ WAR over 500 AB) in 2022, likely with a defense-first profile.
The player should have at least one carrying tool at the plate.
The player should have years of team control beyond 2022.
The player should have the potential for utility beyond 2022.
With that in mind, here are the guys I like:
Isiah Kiner-Falefa, SS/3B/2B, TEX
I’ve talked a lot about Kiner-Falefa this offseason. Kiner-Falefa is a converted catcher who has played all over the infield for Texas since his call up in 2018. While his defense at catcher left much to be desired, Kiner-Falefa was surprisingly good defensively when pushed into playing everyday at shortstop in 2021, earning 10 Defensive Runs Saved in 156 games. The defensive metrics disagree regarding Kiner-Falefa’s defense, as Statcast rated him terribly at SS, but most of the major outlets agree that he was at least good at shortstop in 2021. Kiner-Falefa did rank in the 75th percentile in speed, using his wheels to swipe 20 bags in 2021. Kiner-Falefa also puts the ball in play at an above-average rate, displaying low strikeout and walk rates while posting strong contact numbers. Kiner-Falefa doesn’t have power, but it’s a profile that fits the current Yankee roster nicely.
The Rangers acquired both Corey Seager and Marcus Semien this offseason, so Kiner-Falefa’s role is a bit up in the air for 2022. For a team that believes in his defense at shortstop though, he has value in 2022, and is good enough defensively at multiple positions that he would fill a utility role nicely. Add in the fact that he has 3 years of team control remaining (including 2022), and Kiner-Falefa checks every box for me.
Paul DeJong, SS, STL
DeJong is widely considered a solid to above-average shortstop defensively whose offensive profile has some very real risk. DeJong does not make a lot of contact and has not produced a season that approached average offensively since 2019. However, while DeJong won’t hit for contact and strikes out more than you’d like to see, he does walk at an above-average rate and he has one carrying tool: power. Outside of his outlier 2020 season, DeJong has not produced an ISO under .194 in his career. If he can find a way to make even a little more contact, DeJong can be an average all-around player, and even in his down 2021 season, he was worth 1.6 bWAR/fWAR.
DeJong technically has 4 more years of team control remaining, though the last two seasons are expensive team option years with relatively small buyout options. DeJong has been rumored to be on the market all offseason, but I have a hard time believing that the Cardinals will deal him unless they land one of Correa or Story. Still, DeJong would be a useful player in the short term who could have value moving forward.
Nick Ahmed, SS, ARI
Nick Ahmed is a fantastic defensive shortstop who has never really put all of the pieces together offensively. He’s on the backside of his prime, and the Diamondbacks look like they might be ready to rebuild. Defense is Ahmed’s carrying tool, and that defense likely plays at positions other than shortstop should a team need it beyond 2022. At the plate, Ahmed showed some pop in 2018 and 2019, but that is looking more like a product of the gopher ball than it was of any intrinsic pop that Ahmed had discovered with mechanical changes at the plate. Ahmed doesn’t meet all of my criteria, as he really doesn’t have a carrying tool offensively, unless the power spike suddenly returns.
Ahmed has $18.25 million remaining on the final two years of his deal. At the very least, Ahmed would be a good defender who could potentially have upside if the Yankees can find a way to tap into the power Ahmed showed in 2018 or 2019.
Personally, I think all 3 of these players are preferable to Andrelton Simmons in 2022, but I continue to hope that the Yankees find a way to work out a deal for Kiner-Falefa.
Referencing a post I wrote about targeting Luis Torrens on the trade market, SRB asks: Interesting, Andy, but what would the price be?
This is a tricky question because Torrens’ value is entirely tied to whether or not you believe that he is still a catcher going forward. I strongly believe that Torrens can still catch if he goes back to catching from the crouch as opposed to the one knee set-up that coaching staffs in San Diego and Seattle have Torrens using since 2020. If Torrens can get back to being even a slightly below-average defensive catcher paired with the offense he showed from June through the end of the season in 2021, he’s a guy that could push Gary Sanchez for playing time and have more total value than Kyle Higashioka, while having positional versatility to play 1B/3B/DH on days that Sanchez catches.
Seattle made it pretty clear in 2021 that they prefer the combination of Tom Murphy and prospect Cal Raleigh at catcher over any combination that includes Torrens. That’s not to say that the Mariners don’t value Torrens, as he still played everyday at DH and 1B down the stretch, but they need to be realistic moving forward. The Mariners won 90 games in 2021, and they’ve given every indication that they’re going for it in 2022, as they signaled by signing Robbie Ray to a big Free Agent deal. If they hope to contend in 2022, the Mariners have some very big holes to fill. Right now, I couldn’t begin to tell you where they’re going to get power from in that offense unless Cal Raleigh and Evan White really step up in 2022, so they need a power bat. The Mariners could also use another couple of solid starters in the starting rotation. These are big asks, which is why I believe the Mariners would be willing to deal Torrens, who really is a mismatched part on that roster as currently constructed.
Given the fact that Torrens’ value is really hard to pin down, finding a fair trade between the Yankees and Mariners is a real challenge, which is why I didn’t tackle this question as part of my post about Torrens. Looking at it from a macro perspective, here are players that I think could be of interest to the Mariners, based on their current needs:
Notice I didn’t include any true prospects on this list (Schmidt still has prospect status, but he’s already had a couple of cups of coffee and is MLB-ready). The Mariners are in win-now mode and want MLB talent. Voit and German make the most sense right now for the Mariners, who need a bopper and starting pitching. Voit, when healthy, is a middle-of-the-order hitter who can anchor a lineup and German can provide average or better value out of the rotation over a full season. I would fully expect the Mariners to target one or both in a trade for Torrens.
Torrens alone would not net German, while I think a Voit-for-Torrens swap might be fair value given each team’s needs. For German, I would want Torrens and possibly a guy with good prospect pedigree, with good tools, but with some holes in his swing – Taylor Trammell.
My two trade proposals are as follows:
Luke Voit for Luis Torrens
Domingo German for Luis Torrens and Taylor Trammell
I’m not including MLB Trade Values figures for either trade, because I think the value metrics are way off. In any case, I think there’s a match here, should the Yankees and Mariners choose to link up.