SSTN Weekly Mailbag: Story vs. Correa, My Favorite Baseball Books, and the Inciarte Signing!
By Andy Singer
Off-season no-man’s land. That’s where we are right now. Sure, we have some minor league signings, roster construction theories, prospect evaluations, the Hall of Fame, and labor negotiations to discuss, but news is moving at a snail’s pace right now with the lockout. My impression is that whenever the lockout (mercifully) ends, we’ll have a fast and furious flurry of news to talk about, so I hope that we’ll look back on this December as the calm before the storm. In any case, I think the Yankees will be in a very interesting position when the lockout ends, so we still have plenty to discuss leading up to that time. The Yankees have some very clear needs, a farm system that’s stocked with talent (though rankings of the farm system are wildly divergent, with some services ranking the Yankees’ farm system in the top-8, and others ranking the Yankees closer to the middle-of-the-pack with so many high-risk prospects in the low minors), and deals via trade and signing out there for the taking. Let’s hope that January brings more activity.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll discuss my plan at shortstop, baseball books, and the Ender Inciarte signing! Let’s get at it:
Fuster asks: who would you have playing shortstop [for] the Yanks next season? would you shell out the heavy money for Correa, go for Story short-term and be more creative?
I am not a Carlos Correa fan, I’ll get that out of the way out front. Correa’s public comments and attitude following the Astros’ cheating scandal were deplorable, and I will always have a hard time rooting for him after that. However, from a pure baseball perspective, he is pretty clearly the best Free Agent remaining on the market, and if the Yankees are willing to use their financial might to sign the best shortstop on the market, I’m not going to be upset. However, I think there are real baseball reasons to look elsewhere relative to cost. If we take the MLB Trade Rumors projections as pretty close to the ballpark from a numbers perspective (10 years/$320 for Correa and 6 years/$126 million for Story), then choosing between the two becomes more difficult.
I talked about this in-depth on the Bronx Beat Podcast earlier this week, but I think it’s very interesting that Carlos Correa gets a pass from the media this offseason for his lack of durability throughout his career while Trevor Story gets hit with the durability storyline as part of any conversation about his Free Agent candidacy. Correa has been banged up and spent significant time on the IL in every season from 2017-2019, displaying poor performance relative to the standards one would expect from a player of his caliber in 2018 and 2020. The reality is that Correa has not been a consistent performer throughout his early career despite offensive and defensive peripheral statistics through Statcast, Baseball-Reference, and Fangraphs that indicate that he’s been a similar player since 2017. Relative to cost, I would be concerned projecting Correa to be a decent value relative to the money that will be paid over the course of that contract. I do believe that Correa will be an excellent defender when he’s on the field over the next 4+ seasons, but I just have a hard time buying that he will be a consistent offensive presence.
I began this offseason hoping for Corey Seager as the Yankee shortstop for at least the 2022 season, but the more I’ve dug into Story’s career, the more intrigued I am by the possibility of acquiring him on either a long-term deal at a favorable AAV or a short-term “prove-it” contract. Story has been every bit the defender that Correa has been according to advanced metrics since 2017. Story’s throwing issues in 2021 were scary to any team looking to sign him this offseason, but those issues were tied to an elbow injury that sources have said is now healed completely. Story struggled early in the year with an awful lineup around him, and the data suggests he was overly aggressive at the plate despite seeing the lowest percentage of strikes he had seen to that point in his career. However, from August on Story produced a 125 wRC+, and he maintained really solid plate discipline statistics relative to his offensive profile. Meanwhile, despite the public perception, Trevor Story has actually been more durable than Carlos Correa since his rookie season. Story has 500+ AB in every season since his rookie year and has been a plus offensive and defensive contributor in every one of his MLB seasons other than his 2nd big league season. From a pure value perspective, a 6-year deal would take Story through his age-34 season, and I would expect Story to be a great bet to actually play up to or beyond his contract value throughout the length of the deal. For the money, I think Story is possibly the best value on the Free Agent market right now.
Story also would obviously allow the Yankees greater financial flexibility to pursue upgrades elsewhere around the diamond. If the Yankees are serious about adding salary, which I expect this offseason, I think Story and a first baseman would represent a great offseason.
Mike asks: What are your favorite books about baseball? I’m coming up with gift ideas for the holiday season and I have a few baseball fans in the family.
I have read so many fantastic books about baseball in my short life that it would be really difficult to make a representative list here. However, here are some of my favorites that I’ve read in the last 10 years:
1. Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy by Jules Tygiel
2. Only the Ball Was White by Robert Peterson
3. Satch, Dizzy, and Rapid Robert: The Wild Saga of Interracial Baseball Before Jackie Robinson by Timothy Gay
4. Smart Baseball by Keith Law
5. The Only Rule Is It Has To Work by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller
6. The Last Best League by Jim Collins
7. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
This list represents a nice cross-section of books: baseball history, the intersection between statistics, humans, and what happens on the field, trying to get noticed as an amateur in the best summer league in the country, and my favorite recent work of baseball fiction. I give each of the 7 books above an A+, and all of them have had an impact on my thoughts about baseball.
Bryan asks: I know this is a late question, so it’s ok if you want to save it for next week’s mailbag – what do you think of the Yankees signing Ender Inciarte and does it impact cf next year or resigning Brett Gardner?
Ender Inciarte was a hot name a few years ago, so it’s still pretty jarring to see his name come across the wire as a minor league signing. Inciarte was a major piece of the Braves’ return in the blockbuster trade that sent Shelby Miller to the D’Backs. Inciarte was an excellent complimentary piece in centerfield for the Braves initially, so much so that the Braves gave Inciarte a modest long-term deal in his mid-20s. Unfortunately, Inciarte has battled injuries, and since the beginning of the 2020 season, underperformance offensively. Obviously, this is not a player that the Yankees should be counting on to replace Aaron Hicks in centerfield. However, Inciarte is more interesting than what initially meets the eye.
Inciarte is the opposite of the type of player the Yankees typically covet. Inciarte makes gobs of contact, making contact on swings on pitches in the strike zone well above league average for his career, though his average and peak exit velocities are well-below average. Despite that, Inciarte’s average launch angles give him the best chance for success with those modest numbers, slapping liners around the field. Inciarte also typically strikes out at a rate well below the league average while walking at a roughly average rate. At his best, Inciarte is a contact-oriented bat who is roughly league average. Inciarte hasn’t been near his best since 2019, but with better health, Inciarte is still close enough to his prime that there’s legitimate hope for a rebound.
Defense is where Inciarte makes his money. Inciarte is a defensive standout in centerfield, and the limited numbers that we have on his performance in the last couple of injury plagued seasons indicate that he is still above-average out there. Sprint Speed measured by Statcast indicates that Inciarte has lost a couple of steps in the last couple of years, but his range plays above his speed due to good jumps on balls in play.
Inciarte is a nice fallback option should the Yankees have trouble in centerfield again. I don’t think Inciarte will keep the Yankees from a reunion with Brett Gardner, but I think Inciarte is more legitimate insurance than what has been around in the last couple of seasons.