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Thoughts and Reflections – December 23, 2018

We have reached the “dog days” of the off-season. Following some early activity by the boys in pinstripes, the Yankees have stayed relatively quiet. Outside of an active trade market, some of which is active purely to clear salary, most teams are waiting to make their next move once Harper and Machado make decisions regarding their new homes for presumably the next 7-10 years. While teams, writers, and fans alike hold their collective breath, this is a good time to take stock of where the Yankees are, and where they might be in the first weeks of January. My scattered thoughts are in no particular order below:

Somehow I think the James Paxton trade has managed to fly way under the radar. Yes, Paxton has dealt with significant injury issues throughout his career and pitched a career-high 160.1 innings last season, but he produces like a 1/2 starter when healthy. He has increased the number of innings pitched at the Major League level each of the last 3 seasons, so maybe he is beginning to overcome some of the injury woes that have plagued him. More interestingly, many fans were really upset that the Yankees were outbid on Patrick Corbin. Let’s compare the two using their 2018 stats in a blind study. Player A: 11.1 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9, 7.3 H/9. Player B: 11.7 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 1.3 HR/9, 7.5 H/9. Looking at the back-of-the-baseball-card peripherals, these are similar pitchers, right? Player A is Patrick Corbin. Player B is James Paxton. Corbin threw more innings and limited homers a little better, while Paxton struck out batters at a higher rate. Additionally, Paxton’s 2018 peripherals cemented a year-over-year trend in which Paxton continued to improve up to his prime age (last season was Paxton’s age-28 season). Corbin’s stats are all over the map the last few years, and while 2018 could represent a breakout performance, 2018 could prove to be Corbin’s best effort. In short, I strongly prefer Paxton to Corbin. He has better stuff and a better track record. I accept that the durability concerns are significant, but Paxton could prove to be the missing piece in the Yankee rotation, and I do not regret that Corbin is not a Yankee.

A lot of talk over the last couple of days about the Dodgers. The Dodgers managed to dump significant salary obligations onto the Reds by dealing a third of their outfield and a pitcher that did not necessarily fit their plans moving forward. Why do I mention the Dodgers? The fact that they managed to clear salary now make them favorites to make some big moves on the free agent market, such as signing Bryce Harper. My take: baseball teams are flush with cash, none more so than the New York Yankees. Whatever concerns teams have about staying below the luxury tax threshold are rooted in keeping an extra couple of dollars in ownership’s pockets, relative to the bigger revenue/overhead picture. Any team currently trying to win in 2019 can afford the big free agents. The Dodgers’ moves the last couple of days does not change that., If the Yankees want Harper or Machado, money should not be an obstacle.

There has been a lot of chatter recently about David Robertson going to either the Phillies or the Red Sox. I admit to being distressed that the Yankees have not been part of the conversation, at least publicly. Much as I believe that there is untapped talent on the Yankee 40-man roster to help fill-out the bullpen, if there is one reliever on the market that is worth a big payday, it’s David Robertson. I would be very happy to see him back in pinstripes.

One last comment on the exhausted “Harper or Machado?” conversation. Putting personality aside, we are talking about two generation talents. Machado is a 7+ WAR player as a strong defensive SS/3B (although he is significantly more plus at 3B defensively) while putting up a strong offensive output, while Harper has generational bat speed, and has a relatively high floor due to his ability to hit for power and draw walks. However, what value will each player provide to a team at age 31? If Machado’s legs fail him and he becomes a lesser player defensively, his offense will not be enough to justify playing him at DH or 1B, particularly once he hits his decline phase offensively. Harper on the other hand will likely remain a worthwhile player well into a 10-year contract due to the fact that his value is tied almost entirely to his ability to hit a baseball. Harper could conceivably produce offensively at a rate worthy of DH or 1B. For that reason alone, Harper is a safer long-term buy, for a American League team, particularly if the rumors of 10-year contracts for both players are true.

Heart surgery of any kind is no laughing matter. I know that CC Sabathia is expected to be ready for Spring Training following heart surgery, but I just hope he does whatever the doctors ask him to do with regards to rest. Life is more important than baseball, and I wish CC all the best in his recovery.

As a Yankee fan, here is what I asked Santa to bring the Yankees for Christmas: Bryce Harper, David Robertson, and one of Marwin Gonzalez or Freddy Galvis. I am a patient person, so I am willing to wait until early 2019 for my presents, but the aforementioned list would be ideal. A haul like that would put the Yankees in the inner-circle of favorites to win the World Series in 2019.

Overall, I think the Yankees have had a strong off-season so far. I am hoping that the free agent market thaws a bit over the next few days so that the Yankees can finish building the roster, so that we can assess the finished product.


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