Weekly Mailbag: Aaron Hicks’ TJS, Chapman’s Opt-Out, and Extending Gleyber!
It’s been almost a week now since the Yankees lost Game 6 of the ALCS to the Astros, and I have to admit, the wound is still fresh for me. Admittedly, I’m sure it’s much worse for all of the people and players who work for the Yankee organization, but I really thought this year had a chance to be special. I took a break from writing for a couple of days to take a breath and allow myself to get to a place where I could be rational and analytical again, so you’ll see a fair amount of writing from me over the off-season: season recaps by position, statistical analysis, transaction reactions, etc. This is definitely going to be one of the more interesting off-seasons in recent memory, so I think we’ll have plenty to talk about.
In this week’s mailbag, we’ll talk about Aaron Hicks’ impending surgery, debate what Chapman’s opt-out would mean for the Yankees, and discuss extending Gleyber Torres. Let’s get at it:
Brian asks: We know now that Aaron Hicks will be getting Tommy John Surgery. How does this impact the Yankees’ plans for the off-season? Are there any outside the box options we’re not thinking of right now?
In case you missed it, the Yankees announced that Aaron Hicks will, in fact, get Tommy John surgery in the next couple of days and miss the next 8-10 months. Much like Didi the year prior, Hicks did everything he could to play with a compromised elbow, and he did as much to keep the Yankees in the ALCS as anyone. That said, I’m glad to hear that Hicks will get his elbow fixed properly – from Hicks’ interviews during the playoffs, it was clear that Tommy John Surgery was needed, whether he was able to grit through it enough to throw from the outfield or not.
Currently, the only outfielders under Yankee control for 2020 are Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Tauchman, Aaron Judge, and Clint Frazier. And no, I do not consider Estevan Florial an option for the Yankees in 2020. Florial struggled with injuries, and when he did play at A+ Tampa, Florial struggled to make an impact at the plate and struck out at 32.5% clip. That is not someone who is likely to play Major League Baseball at an everyday level next year. I’d love for Florial to prove me wrong, but he’s missed a ton of development time, and remains really green.
Many people would like to see the Yankees pencil Tauchman into CF on a day-to-day basis for at least the start of the year. I think that this would be a mistake. Despite Tauchman’s hot play in June and July, the Yankees continued to play a 36-year-old Brett Gardner over Tauchman in CF even when both were in the lineup together, suggesting that their internal analysis matches the eye test: Tauchman is not a great defensive centerfielder.
The obvious answer is to re-sign Brett Gardner. We’ve been through this a bunch this year, but this was truly a renaissance year for Gardy. Obviously, as an older player, it’s fair to wonder when the bottom will fall out of his game, but Gardner remains an excellent fielding centerfielder, even if this year’s power surge evaporates somewhat.
As far as surprise options are concerned, it’s hard to really find any. The Free Agent market in CF is…not good, unless you think that Juan Lagares or Jarrod Dyson are upgrades. The closest thing to an interesting trade that I could see is Starling Marte. Marte has a team-friendly option for this year, but the Pirates are rebuilding, so it may make a lot of sense for the Pirates to shop him. I can squint and be convinced that Marte would be a good target for the Yankees. While Marte is an above-average player in the aggregate, his defensive reputation in CF is well below his proven wizardry in LF. On the plus side, Marte would play out his age-31 season as a rental, if traded. I may be talking myself into this being a good idea, given his varied skills, but I am skeptical of Marte’s defensive fit for the Yankees. This is even before we talk about possible compensation in the trade.
At the end of the day, sometimes the best solution is the one right in front of you. Personally, I would re-sign Brett Gardner and focus on adding depth and acquiring pitching.
Jeff asks: I know that Yankee fans want Chapman to opt-out, but I’m not sure that’s a great idea for either side. Why would the Yankees want Chapman to opt-out? Can Chapman get more money by opting out?
Obviously, Yankee fans have a complicated relationship with Aroldis Chapman. There is no question but that Chapman is incredibly talented, and he has been one of the best relievers in baseball over the course of the last decade. However, some fans (myself included) strongly detest the ugly set of circumstances that brought Chapman to the Yankees on the cheap. By extension, I was also not in favor of re-signing Chapman when he finally got his big deal. Add-in the fact that Chapman gave up the biggest homer of the year, it’s pretty easy to see why many Yankee fans feel the way they do about Chapman.
On the field, there are still plenty of reasons to think that Chapman is a good reliever, but there are also signs that point to the beginning of decline. Chapman’s velocity, while still elite, is steadily falling; he has battled chronic knee issues; and the Yankees would be paying premium prices for a declining reliever. By opting out, Chapman would be leaving 2 years and $34.4 million on the table. The Yankees will also be up against the luxury tax this year, and if that still matters to Yankee ownership (all signs indicate that it does), Chapman’s opt-out saves the Yankees roughly $17 million against the soft cap.
As far as Chapman is concerned, I think he’d be crazy to opt-out. The Free Agent market has been terribly volatile the last couple of years, and there is little guarantee that he would even match his current AAV on the open market. Personally, I think that Chapman and his representation is trying to work an extra year or two into either his current deal or on a Free Agent deal, whether or not the AAV drops. If that is what Chapman wants, I think that the Yankees should let him walk. Committing more than 2 years to a declining reliever does not make sense, and the Yankees have plenty of bullpen depth.
I think it is time to allow Jonathan Loaisiga to actually train as a reliever in the off-season, and see what he has in shorter stints. Between guys like Loaisiga, Kahnle, Britton, Ottavino, and Betances (assuming he returns on a prove-it contract), the Yankees can put together a bullpen that is every bit as effective as the Yankees’ 2019 bullpen.
Tom asks: Should the Yankees extend Gleyber?
I’m sure the Yankees would love to give Gleyber the Ozzie Albies extension (7 years/$35 million with 2 team options for $7 million per year). Few people would be crazy enough to even entertain an offer like that, but I do wonder how desperate some players will be now that the Free Agent market has become such a barren wasteland for all but the best players. Albies obviously undersold his value by a wide margin, and his extension is considered by many to be one of the most team-friendly extensions ever signed in MLB. That said, given what has happened on the Free Agent market, I’m not sure I blame a guy for taking money now.
The poster boy for this is Dellin Betances – baseball’s system of team control and antiquated standards for evaluating relievers allowed Betances to play out the prime of his career for peanuts (relatively speaking) despite being one of the best relievers in baseball. When he finally had a chance to cash in, Betances spent the whole season hurt, and will now likely never approach the Free Agent contract he dreamed of. Betances’ situation is a cautionary tale for players who hold out for a big Free Agent payday. It is also a commentary on the lack of fairness for the players in the current system, but I digress as this is a conversation for a separate space.
This brings us back to Gleyber. Gleyber is on the precipice of becoming a superstar, but he is not eligible for Arbitration until 2021. I think an extension this off-season is unlikely because of that, since the Yankees can simply renew his contract for a rock-bottom rate. All bets are off next year, though, and I think that it would make a lot of sense to make a deal then.
There is one guy on the Yankees who I think is a prime candidate for an extension, but I’ll talk about that in a separate article this off-season. You’ll probably be able to guess who I’m talking about.
That’s all for this week! As always, thanks for your questions, and send them in to firstname.lastname@example.org. Now that the off-season is here, I’ll probably start sending out reminders mid-week again for questions – if you’ve asked questions before, great! Keep sending them in! If you’ve never asked a question before – bring it on! We welcome everyone, so don’t be shy. I don’t bite…much.