Weekly Mailbag: Paxton’s Injury, Betts Trade Impact, and Jasson Dominguez!
Pitchers and Catchers report to Tampa in just 4 days, ending the long winter (in my mind, at least). It seems a little hard to believe as I stare outside my hotel window, watching as the world outside gets pounded by snow. At least we can say pretty definitively that this off-season has been the most active and interesting off-season in the last few years. I won’t recap any of it right now, since some of today’s questions deal with some of the fireworks from the last few days. As fascinated as I am by roster movements, I am ready to hear the smacking of balls against mitts.
Great questions this week, as always. Remember to email your mailbag questions to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. I’ll answer the best 3-5 questions each week.
In this week’s mailbag, we’ll talk about Paxton’s injury, the implications of the Mookie Betts trade, and Jasson Dominguez! Let’s get at it:
Mark asks: Do you think Happ wasn’t actively shopped because of Paxton’s back surgery?
Mark asked this question before Brian Cashman confirmed as much in an interview. This development was a smack in the face for every Yankee fan who has spent the off-season dreaming about the World Series this year. While James Paxton is an imperfect pitcher, he is a main cog in the Yankee rotation who was projected to be the third starter behind Gerrit Cole and Luis Severino. I would venture to say that Paxton is one of the best third starters in all of baseball. In the 2020 ZIPS Projections for the New York Yankees, the conservative projection system pegged Paxton for 2.7 WAR in just shy of 150 innings pitched, which is within striking distance of Severino’s projection on a rate basis.
I think that ZIPS was appropriately conservative with Paxton’s innings pitched projection given the litany of injuries that Paxton has sustained throughout his career. Sadly, Paxton doesn’t even look likely to hit that conservative mark. Back injuries are notoriously difficult to recover from and treat. For Paxton’s sake, I hope his recovery goes smoothly, because a bad back can affect a person’s daily life even beyond baseball. The surgery that Paxton had recently was not altogether different from the first of many surgeries that Tiger Woods had on his back, for reference. I am not a doctor, but I’ve known enough serious athletes with back injuries to know that once you sustain a serious injury to your back, it’s never quite the same again, even with the best medical outcome.
With all of that being said, I don’t think that we can reasonably put a timetable on Paxton’s return. I know that the Yankees have made all kinds of changes to their training and rehabilitation staff in the off-season, but those changes likely take time to affect real change to recovery outcomes. Given that fact, and despite my reticence to predict significant improvement from JA Happ this year, the Yankees were smart to hang on to him. JA Happ projects to be a near-average starting pitcher this year, and a pitcher like that can ably fill a role in the rotation for a chunk of the 2020 season.
More importantly, Happ’s presence gives the Yankees time to allow some of their young guns waiting in the minor leagues to finish their development. I am particularly excited to see what Deivi Garcia, Nick Nelson, and Mike King can do for the 2020 team. Maybe one of them can pull a 2017 Jordan Montgomery and force their way into the rotation out of Spring Training. That said, if none of them are ready for big league roles at the start of the season, the presence of Happ allows each of those guys time to pitch in the minors.
Speaking of Monty, I think the injury to Paxton will also give Jordan Montgomery a chance to pitch some Major League innings early in the year to remember how to get big league hitters out, given all of the time that he has missed due to Tommy John Surgery in 2018. I see it as highly unlikely that Monty doesn’t break camp with the Yankees now, so this will give him a longer leash to get his feet back underneath him.
Certainly, the injury to Paxton is a problem, but the Yankees finally have enough depth to absorb the loss. If all goes well, and Paxton comes back healthy before mid-season and the kids develop quickly, the Yankees can still choose to turn around and deal Happ to a pitching-needy team at the trading deadline. Cashman confirmed that teams called about Happ this winter, so assuming that his skills don’t deteriorate in 2020, he will retain some value on the trade market if the rotation can spare some depth at some point this year.
Brian asks: Mookie Betts and David Price are out of the AL East now. What do you think about the Red Sox decision to make a trade based solely on money and how does the trade affect the Yankees?
For one, I really never thought that the Red Sox were going to pull the trigger on dealing Betts prior to the trade deadline this year. The fact that they decided to attach David Price to a Betts deal to ensure that they eliminate the maximum amount of salary while diminishing their return? It was disgusting as far as I am concerned. The closest the Yankees have ever come to making a decision like that was the 2016 trade deadline when the Yankees dealt Chapman, Miller, Beltran, and Nova to re-stock the farm system. However, that was not a straight salary dump; the Yankees were likely out of the race in 2016, and they set themselves up to be a good team for years with the returns from those deals. I should probably write a post about the impact of those trades on today’s roster, but we’ll talk about that another time.
Unless the names change after issues were discovered in Graterol’s medical exam, the Red Sox acquired a young outfielder who projects to be an average-to-fringe-all-star caliber player with 4 years of team control and Brusdar Graterol, a young flamethrower who debuted for a couple of cameo appearances at the end of the year in 2019 flashing a 100 MPH fastball out of the bullpen. However, Graterol struggles with injuries, command, and his change-up, and will likelier end up as a bullpen arm than he will a main cog in a starting rotation. This is a miniscule return for 1 year of the 2nd best player in baseball. I have seen some people say that this return is comparable in value to Clint Frazier and Deivi Garcia, I think even that is a bit overstated, depending on how you project Frazier and Garcia. This was a money move, plain and simple.
The repercussions for the Yankees are interesting. The Red Sox obviously got weaker, although I will miss watching the Yankees turn David Price into the most valuable Yankee a few times per year. However, the Twins and the Angels became much more formidable. Kenta Maeda is a very steady, solid starting pitcher who will help stabilize the Twins rotation that killed them in the 2019 postseason. The Angels gain an above-average outfielder in Joc Pederson and a steady starter/bullpen arm in Ross Stripling. This trade beefs up the AL at the Red Sox’s expense.
We could talk about the potential match-up between the Yankees and the Dodgers in the World Series, but I don’t want to jinx anything – let’s let the chips fall where they may. Any way you look at it, this trade is just bad baseball for the Red Sox.
John asks: I watched the new video about Jasson Dominguez that the Yankees came out with. I know that the hype around this guy is insane, but did you see what he looked like in that video?!? He looks like a running back more than an outfielder. Is there any concern that his size will cause a problem for his development?
John got this question in before I even had a chance to watch the video. Luckily, it was pretty easy to find. Check it out:
Let’s just marvel for a second at the physical specimen that Dominguez certainly appears to be. The more I watch videos about Dominguez, the more convinced I become that Dominguez really might be as special as people are saying. I think that Dominguez is athletic without being overly bulky. He looks so developed physically, that I am not sure how much more growth that we can reasonably project for him. I know that most scouting reports list Dominguez at 6’0”, 190 pounds, but he looks a bit heavier than that now. Either way, watching him move, he looks fluid and quick, so no, I’m not worried that he will get too bulky. Dominguez is working with world class trainers, and he seems to have the right attitude.
For now, I’m going to allow myself to dream about what Dominguez can eventually become. I can’t wait for him to play some real baseball games this year.
That’s all for this week! Thanks for all of the great questions, and for those of you in the Northeast, stay safe through the snow. I’ll be back with another mailbag next week, at which point, the boys will be back in town. Welcome back, baseball.