By Andy Singer
It took the better part of three months, but it’s better late than never. It’s nice to finally have some real baseball news to discuss. The Jays finally got someone to take their money, and it sure seems like neither they nor the Mets are done yet. In our own backyard, I’m not so sure that the Yankees are quite finished either. I’m not sure we’re looking at any potential blockbusters, but I think there are still some interesting moves that can be made, assuming that the Yankees can move some pieces around to stay under their self-imposed budget (I won’t bore you with my usual rant – you all know what I think of the soft-ceiling luxury tax threshold). Even if the Yankees keep the roster as-is, I still think they’re the clear favorites in the AL East. Sure, I’d love to see a little more depth on the pitching staff and a 4th outfielder not named Mike Tauchman (unless you believe that Greg Allen is the next Gio Urshela), but when comparing the Yankees to the rest of the league, they’re near the top from a projection perspective. I feel good about this roster.
Thanks as always for the great questions, and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week’s mailbag, we’ll talk about what a Trevor Story trade might look like, discuss the likelihood of a Brett Gardner encore, and I’ll tell you my ideal batting order! Let’s get at it:
Fuster asks: it seems that trade acquisition cost for a shortstop would be rather low, given the number of top-tier ones who are approaching free agency.
given the modest return for Lindor and given that the Yankees are not urgently in need, perhaps the Yankees should explore acquiring Story.
what, Andy, do you see as a likely trade package for Trevor?
I need to start this answer with a disclaimer: it is really hard to project what Colorado will do given the fact that they are run in as strange a fashion as any team in baseball, and they may even take the crown as the worst-run team in baseball now that the Mets are inching their way towards semi-competence. The Rockies have one of the smallest analytics departments in the league, have consistently waited far too long to trade expiring assets, and have shown a stunning propensity to spend gobs of money on completely ineffective Free Agents since the 2015-2016 offseason. More to the point, it would seem that in order to get the team on track, they need to bulldoze the roster and start from scratch, now that the core is getting older and far more expensive. Really, their most valuable assets are Trevor Story and Nolan Arenado, and both have diminished value due to their current contract situations (Arenado has one of the largest contracts in baseball while Story can become a Free Agent following the 2021 season). The Rockies should be ready to move both players in order to begin a desperately needed rebuild, but time will tell if they can get something done.
Story’s trade value is diminished due to having just one year of team control remaining, and that one year is relatively expensive at $18.5 million, which surely will complicate a trade due to the Yankees’ self-imposed budget. Evaluating the player though, there are some obvious pros:
Story is just entering his prime, and 2021 will be his age-28 season.
Despite being a larger SS at 6’2”, 213 lbs., Story receives consistently excellent marks across a variety of metrics for his defense, and Statcast’s Sprint Speed metrics show that Story is one of the fastest players in baseball.
Story has consistently shown pop at the plate, posting elite offensive numbers for a SS.
Story wouldn’t be a long-term drain on the budget, as he would be a Free Agent after the 2021 season.
Story has generally been durable, surpassing 550 Plate Appearances in each full season since his rookie year.
There are some obvious cons, however:
Story, like all Rockies, has some scary looking home/away splits with a .994 OPS at Coors Field, and a .760 OPS everywhere else.
Additionally, Story’s wOBA consistently outperforms his xwOBA. While that would seem to indicate that Story is a good bet to continue outperforming his contact metrics, Story’s inflated statistics at home almost certainly accounts for the separation. While he is likely better than a .760 OPS guy in another uniform, I don’t think teams should expect more than above-average performance.
While they improved in a shortened 2020 season, Story’s whiff and strikeout rates have been consistently below-average throughout the rest of his career.
As I said in the pro column, Story would only come with 1 year of team control. Why would a team trade assets to acquire him for a reason other than need when they could spend money (as opposed to valuable player capital) after the season to acquire Story’s services?
Trevor Story is one of the more interesting trade commodities out there, and assuming he reaches Free Agency following the 2021 season, he will be one of the most fascinating Free Agent cases to follow. Comparing him to Francisco Lindor, widely considered the most elite SS in the game today, Story is in the tier just below Lindor with many of the same trade complications (for what it’s worth, ZiPS projects a 5.1 WAR for Lindor in 2021 as compared to 4.0 for Story…and 4.4 for current SS Gleyber Torres). For now, I’ll ignore the fit for Story on the current Yankee roster, as acquiring Story in 2021 would necessitate other moves, and I’ll just try to establish a comparative move.
While there is no equivalency in the Yankee system to the trade the Mets made for Lindor, I said a couple of weeks ago that a similar trade from a value and composition perspective would have been Clint Frazier, Deivi Garcia or Clarke Schmidt, and two of Peraza/Duran/Alcantara/Gil/Gomez. That’s too rich for Story, who’s value is mitigated by similar factors to Lindor’s trade value, while showing on-the-field value that’s clearly a step beneath what Lindor offers.
While it’s light for a player of Story’s caliber, in light of the situation, I think that Frazier, Garcia, and Schmidt would be off the table for a team like the Yankees (though, a contending team in need of a SS would likely be willing to include a player of that caliber for Story). I think the Yankees would go to the tier beneath Garcia and Schmidt as the headliner, which means a deal that looks something like this:
Miguel Yajure, RHP
2 of Peraza/Duran/Alcantara/Gil/Gomez
1 low-level lottery ticket
Colorado really tanked Story’s value by waiting this long, and the recent Lindor trade only decreases Story’s value further by comparison. Even at a price this cheap, I wouldn’t make the trade if I were the Yankees, particularly in light of the fact that pitching depth will be needed in 2021.
Now signing Story next offseason? That’s a different discussion for another time…
John asks: I’ve seen reports that Brett Gardner is likely coming back to the Yankees. They don’t seem to have any room for him in the budget so how might this happen?
I feel less certain than ever that Gardner will make a return, as both Greg Allen and Mike Tauchman look like players who could fill the 4th outfielder role quite admirably. That said, I love Brett Gardner, and really want to see him get one last shot, and an opportunity to say goodbye in front of Yankee fans. Gardner is one of the most underrated Yankees of the last quarter-century, and I’d love to see him back.
Obviously, were Gardner to return, it would be at a drastically reduced salary. While his final numbers were solid, much of that was buoyed by a hot 2 weeks to end the season. Clint Frazier has earned the chance to play everyday, so Gardner would have to accept a true 4th outfielder role, though he’d likely play a lot as the Yanks look to preserve Hicks, Judge, and Stanton throughout the season.
How does Gardner fit? I really think we’re going to see an Adam Ottavino salary dump at some point this offseason. At best, that clears roughly $9 million from the balance sheet, which leaves the Yanks more than enough room for Gardner and then some. The real question is whether or not Gardner and the Yanks can find a number that makes sense for both sides, but clearing salary space for Gardy seems doable.
Alex S. asks: What does the ideal lineup look like for the Yankees this season?
I think the Yankees are pretty close to finished on the offensive side this offseason, so we can answer this one now. Complicating matters is the fact that on most nights, the only batter who could hit from the left side against right-handed pitching is Aaron Hicks. To me, Hicks is an ideal lead-off man given that he sees a ton of pitches, produces low strikeout rates, and gets on-base consistently. I reserve the right to shift things around if the lineup needs a spark, but for now, my instinct tells me:
Aaron Hicks, CF
DJ LeMahieu, 2B
Luke Voit, 1B
Aaron Judge, RF
Giancarlo Stanton, DH
Gleyber Torres, SS
Gio Urshela, 3B
Gary Sanchez, C
Clint Frazier, LF
LeMahieu and Hicks both get on-base and make things happen at the top of the order. Voit has been one of the best hitters in baseball since his arrival in NY (whether people choose to notice or not), and doesn’t have the same strikeout issues as the other Yankee bombers, so he gets the nod at #3. Judge bats cleanup, though I thought about batting him #2 given that he has the highest ceiling of any Yankee hitter. I see Stanton and Torres as interchangeable. When Stanton is hot, the best thing you can do is bat him next to Judge. When either is struggling, I think the worst thing you can do is bat them next to one another. I have a gut feeling Torres is going to push everyone at the top of the lineup, so #6 is a good spot for him. Likewise, #7-9 is interchangeable. Any of those guys could get hot and force their way to the top…or get so cold we don’t want to bat them at all.
Realistically, optimized lineups are only worth a few runs per season relatively speaking, but maybe it steals a game here and there. It’s still fun to think about.