Weekly Mailbag: A Trade Proposal, Ellsbury, Sanchez, and the Replacements!
The SSTN inaugural mailbag features some great questions this week – thanks, and keep them coming! Below, you can find out what I think about a fascinating trade proposal, Jacoby Ellsbury, Gary Sanchez, and the cast of thousands that has been needed to cover for all of the Yankees’ extensive body count this season. Without further ado, here’s the mailbag:
Brad asks: If both are healthy and assuming equal contracts, do you think the Yankees would trade Aaron Judge for Mookie Betts?
Ooooh, this is a good one. Let’s start with a blind study of what each player has done since 2017:
Player A: .282/.409/.580, 160 OPS+, 14.8 bWAR, 14.3 fWAR, 30.5% K%, 17.2% BB%, 27 DRS, 15 Assists
Player B: .298/.386/.533, 141 OPS+, 18.0 bWAR, 15.9 fWAR, 13.1% K%, 12.1% BB%, 55 DRS, 16 Assists
The margins here are razor thin. Player A is the superior offensive presence, while Player B is consistently one of the best defensive players in all of baseball. Generally speaking, I think there is a lot of variability in the defensive metrics, and the two versions of WAR above bear this out: Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR gives Player B a definitive nod over player A due to defense, while Fangraphs puts the two players closer together. All of that being said, it could be reasonably argued that Player B is the better all-around player.
Player A is Aaron Judge, while Player B is Mookie Betts. Betts is more likely to age gracefully due to Judge’s monstrous proportions, and I’d be concerned about Judge’s strikeout rate ballooning to untenable levels the second he loses a hint of reaction time. In a vacuum, one might give Betts the slight edge.
However, we don’t live in a vacuum, and there are other points to consider here. I know that Brad’s question assumes equal contracts, but I’m going to cheat a bit and consider age and service time. Betts and Judge are both 26 going on 27 and entering their prime. Judge is under Yankee control through 2023, while Betts is only under Red Sox control through 2021. 2 extra, cheap prime seasons cannot be ignored. For that reason, the Yankees would keep Judge if the Red Sox picked up the phone about a straight 1-for-1 trade.
Mark asks the following questions about Jacoby Ellsbury: Where does he stand with baseball activities? What is the over/under for him ever playing another game in pinstripes? Do you figure the Yankees are just keeping him while insurance is paying his salary and then will release him once he has to be off the IL?
A bunch of people have asked about Ellsbury, and Mark distilled the primary questions perfectly. Ellsbury is nowhere near ready to even begin baseball-related activities. Aaron Boone even admitted during an interview earlier this week that Ellsbury has experienced additional setbacks on his road to a return, further delaying his return to baseball activities. At this point, it has been well over a year since Ellsbury has been close to being able to play professional baseball. I have genuine doubts that he’ll ever get healthy enough to play in the majors again.
That being said, the Yankees have been hit with more injuries than any other team in baseball this year, including significant injuries to their outfield. Prior to all of the injuries, I would have said that the chances Ellsbury played in a Yankee uniform again were less than 10%. Now, though? I might up his chances to 25%. Were Ellsbury healthy enough to play right now, Ellsbury would be on the roster. I’m not sure that would be the case if everyone else were healthy.
There’s no reason to release him while the Yankees can gain a financial benefit from leaving him on the IL. Collecting insurance on his salary makes goo sense. That said, unless Ellsbury shows an unlikely return to health and rounds into form, the Yankees will release Ellsbury if the rest of the outfield is healthy.
Much as I hate Ellsbury’s contract, I actually feel bad for Ellsbury. I don’t think that this is a Carl Pavano situation; Ellsbury is legitimately breaking down physically, and I really do believe that he is doing his best to make it back. Baseball creates a lot of wear and tear injuries, and Ellsbury found a couple of those injuries at once.
Mark also asks about Gary Sanchez: Is it wrong to feel more comfortable with Romine as the everyday catcher?
The short answer: yes. Gary Sanchez gets a bad rap for his struggles to block balls and he has been caught jogging to first base on at least one occasion. The reality is that Sanchez’s defense is average to above-average in every other facet. I am also not really concerned if a catcher does not run 100% on the basepaths all the time. Catching beats up your legs, so if jogging to first base when no one is on-base keeps Sanchez healthy, I don’t mind (trust me, after the way he got eviscerated by the media and fans, I don’t think Sanchez will get caught dogging it to first on a potential double-play anymore…although I also firmly believe he was playing hurt which led to the initial jogging, but I digress).
Already this year, Sanchez seems to have made real strides with his passed ball issue, and he sure looks closer to 2016/2017 Sanchez at the plate. With that combination, Sanchez is one of the 3-5 best all-around catchers in baseball.
Austin Romine is a decent (but overrated) backup catcher. He plays acceptable defense, calls a good game behind the plate, and has an occasional moment at the plate. Every time Romine gets consistent playing time, it becomes immediately apparent that he is in over his head. He does not hit enough, and his defense does not cover the difference anywhere close to enough, to be an everyday catcher in the big leagues.
Catchers who put up middle-of-the-order offensive numbers are a handful a decade. Yankee fans should be thankful that the Yankees have a young catcher with this much talent on the roster.
Albert asks: Do you think the Yankees can keep up their current production with such a depleted lineup?
The series of injuries that have struck the Yankees this season has certainly been the storyline in the early going. I have been reasonably impressed by the performance of the Yankees’ 3rd, 4th, and 5th string options thus far, and it’s been fun to watch another wave of young talent make its mark. As much fun as it’s been to watch, regression to the mean will eventually occur. Gio Urshela has been so much better than could be reasonably expected, and the Yankees have needed him, but does anyone expect him to hit .283/.358/.435 over a full season? Is Thairo Estrada really ready for an extended big league gig? Is Kyle Higashioka one of the 50 best catchers in baseball? Is Joe Harvey part of a championship bullpen in 2019? I think we all know the answers to these questions – over a larger sample size, each of these players, for one reason or another, will be over-exposed at the MLB level.
That said, the Yanks’ early season performance with half of their Scranton roster speaks to the Yankees’ incredible depth even after using much of their upper minor league depth for trades over the last two years. How many teams could have survived with as many as 13 guys on the IL at one time for an extended period? The only team that has close to enough depth to withstand it is the Astros, but I’m not even sure they have the same depth stashed at AAA as the Yankees. The Yankees have had enough capital to package near-ready, legitimate Major League caliber talent in trades for high-risk, young prospects currently in A ball and below just to clear their 40-man roster crunch.
Despite knowing that the Yankees have more depth than basically any other team in the league, I am still amazed that they have been this competitive early on. Help is coming, as Sanchez returned last night, and it appears that Hicks and Tulowitzki are close to playing in rehab games. Regression to the mean is coming, but I think this roster can tread water for another week or so without reinforcements.
Brian asks: Given the recent long list of injuries, there have been multiple new faces on this Yankees team. Let’s say the Yankees have 90 to 95 percent of their roster back before the All-Star break; if the current roster keeps performing well and maintain good standing in the East, who do you see staying with the big club when the regulars eventually return?
This question synchronizes nicely with Albert’s question. While many of the guys who have kept the Yankees alive early will surely be sent down without a second thought once the big guns get healthy, there are a few names that have proved their worth for the long haul.
Mike Ford has been exactly what I expected him to be. He has elite plate discipline, he works counts, and he has hit the ball hard. His results outside of his BB/K rate and OBP do not show it yet, but Ford has shown enough to earn a longer look. I mentioned regression to the mean in my last response – Ford is a candidate for positive regression to the mean. His BABIP is just .143, an unsustainably low number. According to Statcast, Ford’s average exit velocity is 93.1 MPH, almost 6 MPH higher than the MLB average, with an average launch angle of 18.1 (right in the happy zone for a power hitting first baseman). It could be small sample size noise, but Ford looks like the guy I’ve thought he’d be, and he’s earned a longer look.
Tyler Wade is also, finally, coming into his own. Wade is a good infielder, and his ability to play the outfield is proving its worth now. The question has always been whether Wade would hit enough. Wade has hit the ball with more authority the last couple of games, and last night’s game showed what Wade can do at his best. Wade stroked liners all over the field, and created a run nearly by himself with his legs, stealing 2nd and 3rd to engineer the Yanks’ first run. Wade is the best utility man on the Yankee 40-man roster.
Mike Tauchman has been the biggest surprise to me. I really thought he was a throw-away depth piece given the injury to Aaron Hicks, but he is a better player than I gave him credit for. Tauchman has pop at the plate, and he plays solid defense at 3 outfield positions. He has a shot to stick around.
Beyond that, I think that we all knew that Harvey and Loaisiga would shuttle between AAA and the majors this season. German sure seems to be here to stay. I won’t lie, I feel vindicated that German has been this good. I soft-pedaled my German prediction in my pre-season prediction post, but I’ve always believed strongly in his talent.
Each of these guys will be around in some capacity for the rest of the year.
Brian also asks: With Cameron Maybin joining the Yankees, how will this affect the current outfield rotation? Is there room in the lineup for Tyler Wade or should the Yankees consider using him in the infield or off the bench?
Cameron Maybin is a warm body to use as a late defensive replacement or in case of further injury-related doom. As soon as one or two outfielders get healthy, Maybin will be DFA’d. As mentioned previously, if Tyler Wade hits, he’ll get opportunities to play.
Thanks again for all the great questions, everyone! Keep sending in questions for consideration in next week’s mailbag.