The Yankees have not played a game in twenty-four days, and it feels even longer than that – which is unfortunate, because we’re still 156 days away from Opening Day (against those dastardly Astros, to boot). The off-season has begun for the Yankees, at least in earnest, and yet we’re still a couple of weeks away from the “real” off-season kicking off. As such, we’re stuck twiddling our thumbs as we await the beginning of hot stove season. And that gives us plenty of time to tackle rumors and rosterbate with a bit more than a simple glance at the available free agents.
In the interim, we decided to discuss moves that could be made to prepare the Yankees for 2016, and hopefully set them up to stay healthy and competitive for the entire season. Or, failing that, preparing them for the future. A few of us chipped in with three ideas apiece, which range from simple and (ostensibly) cheap, to somewhat laughable and/or expensive. Without further ado:
1) Try to trade Mark Teixeira. Yep, he was terrific for 111 games, which is about the best case for a brittle 36 year-old in 2016. But he’ll be 36, so he’s not likely to post the .900 OPS he logged in 2009 and 2015, but no other years between. We’ve seen enough of Bird to expect better than the 100-120 games of a 100-120 OPS+ that Teixeira is very unlikely to exceed. Not sure what Teixeira would fetch, but in 2015 a lesser player with a similar skill set (Brandon Moss) fetched a top lefty pitching prospect, so it’s worth a try for Cashman to work the phones.
2) Figure out whether J.R. Murphy or Eric Jagielo can play 3B, because Headley is on life support. It’s hard to overstate how troubling Headley’s 2015 was. It was both his worst offensive year ever and his worst defensive 3B year ever, and he’s under contract three more years. There’s no cause for optimism about the age 32-34 years of an average but declining hitter, and a declining fielder, at a rough position, who’s had back problems. He may turn into a backup 3B/1B awfully soon. So the Yankees’ two talented but very flawed 3B options are worth exploring. Jagielo looks like a big-league hitter, but at high-A and AA, his fielding percentages were .887 and .883, with bad range factors; he may have enough bat to make up for mildly subpar defense, but can he improve to “mildly subpar”? Murphy may be the opposite: he’s just an average hitter, but it’s worth exploring whether he could play a solid 3B. Murphy probably was shifted to catcher not because a subpar defensive 3B projected well at a harder position like catcher, but just because anyone who plausibly could play catcher is usually more valuable there. With Gary Sanchez about ready for MLB, Murphy’s higher-value use could be as Headley’s backup or replacement. A defensive catcher with the quality hands, arm, and agility of Murphy might well play a strong 3B, but can he re-learn a position he hasn’t played in years?
3) Devote maybe two million dollars to soft-tissue-injury management and, I don’t know, pilates? For all we know they’re already secretly doing this tactic Red Sox reportedly have thrown a lot of resources at mastering, but I suspect not – or, at least, they haven’t done it effectively yet. All applause to Cashman for getting a tick younger in the past few years by landing Eovaldi, Gregorious, and Pineda, and for giving shots to Severino, Bird, and about 14 young righty relievers – but they’re still an old, brittle team. Beltran, Ellsbury, Gardner, A-Rod, Headley, Teixeira, and McCann all are valuable when healthy, but they’re all prone to a mix of major injuries, nagging injuries, and late-season fatigue. Maybe the team has been doing its best already on this front – but it hasn’t been working, and the cost of maxing out the investment in cutting-edge staff, equipment, and techniques is chump change compared to these guys’ hundred-million-plus salaries.
1) Take The Reins Off Their Starters
I know there were a lot of health concerns in the rotation this season, and I applaud the Yankees for attempting to manage that risk with extra rest and the 6th starter here and there. But they can’t expect to seriously contend when they need 8-12 outs from their bullpen every game. They need more length from Tanaka, Pineda, and Eovaldi next year and Joe needs to be willing to lean on them for more outs.
2) Add Another Starter
The injury risk isn’t going away anytime soon. Tanaka just had elbow surgery, and Pineda and Eovaldi both spent time on the DL this past season with arm injuries. Luis Severino is legit, but he’s going to experience growing pains, and the tandem of Nova and Sabathia is nothing more than a pair of injury risky 5th starters at this point. This team needs more starting pitching and it needs that in the form of something much better than Chris Capuano.
3) Come Up With a Proactive Rest Plan for Their Older Players
Certified old guys A-Rod, Beltran, and Teix will all be back next year, as will semi-older regulars like McCann and Headley. The Yankees need to figure out a way to get all of those players enough regular rest to get them through the full season and keep them productive through the full season. That’s going to require a lot of planning and a deeper and more flexible bench, but it would be time and money well spent to get the most out of these aging bats and big money contracts. Using the upper-level MiL talent as part of this plan would be a smart way to bridge to the future.
1) Attempt to trade any or all of Gardner, Teixeira, McCann, Ellsbury, Beltran. The Yankees are an old team, on the decline. Luckily, every contract above is in some way tradeable. They might not get rid of everyone, but should be able to get some kind of return.
2) Play the young guys. Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez, Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, and possibly Aaron Judge and Eric Jagielo are all fine replacements for the above veterans. They may be slight downgrades, but not huge ones, and have considerable upside. This isn’t a hard rebuild. In many cases, they have a better Steamer projection than the veterans.
3) If you’re going to aim for $189 million, aim for it this year. Otherwise, sign Jason Heyward. Ownership has indicated that they still want the Yankees to get under the threshold. Some have looked at the 2017 season as the likely year, after some big contracts expire. But if the Yankees can trade enough players, they can get it done this year. Then, in 2017, they can assess what they have off the farm, and start building a true powerhouse. But if I’m wrong, sign Jayson Heyward. Unlike the guys you’re trading away, he’s going to be good for a long time.
1) Forget About the $189 Million Threshold
The Yankees stopped being the Yankees once they started worrying about the luxury tax. It’s no coincidence they stopped winning at the same point they started caring more about the bottom line. This is a much better free agent class this year then next when they have money coming off. They will continue to hide behind their second largest payroll even though they’re middle of the pack in percentage of revenue spent in payroll.
2) Trade Brett Gardner
Gardner is a fan favorite, but what good is he if he can’t be productive in the second half of seasons? This seems like a trend that Gardner can’t last a whole season. I don’t see Mark Teixeira or Carlos Beltran waiving their no trade clauses. Gardner should be able to get back something nice.
3) Get Right-Handed Bats
The Yankees should always be more of a lefty team because of their ballpark but the current lineup has gotten out of hand with A-Rod being the only true righty. You have to have more balance than that.They’re always going to have major trouble against lefties like they did at the end of the year. This is another reason to trade Gardner unless you want to replace him with Jason Heyward.
1) Don’t trade Brett Gardner
Let’s get some basic facts out of the way, some of which you’ve heard already:
· The team needs to get younger
· The teams needs to be more athletic
· Brett Gardner had another bad second half
Trading Brett Gardner in order to sign Jason Heyward or another OF is not the right decision, even though I seriously love Heyward. Brett Gardner is on a reasonable contract*, provides decent speed (which should be better utilized, see #2), and is generally regarded as a very good OF although he grades out far better in center than left. Trading Gardner to allow a defensively challenged Beltran to play more is a short-sighted mistake and one this team should never make. I’d soon see the Yanks pay half whatever it takes of Beltran’s contract and send him away to get Heyward. Please do not trade Brett Gardner**.
* Gardner’s remaining contractual obligations:
2016 $13.5M (age 32)
2017 $12.5M (33)
2018 $11.5M (34)
2019 $12.5M (35), team option for $12.5M or $2M buyout; net $10.5M decision
** Unless we’re getting at least a #2 SP, and even then…
Now, if you can somehow find a way to get Teixeira to agree to be traded and find a team willing to spend a few million on him, do it now. I don’t care what we get back.
2) Run, Brett, RUN!
Again, more facts, or facts according to me:
· Brett Gardner is fast
· Brett Gardner does not steal many bases
· Brett Gardner should be stealing more bases
Over the last three years, Gardner has averaged just 21.5 SB per year, getting caught roughly one out of every 4 attempts (65; 18). This is not very good. We’ve all seen Gardner looking tentative on the bases, missing opportunities to run or choosing the wrong pitches to run on. Way back in 2010-11, Gardner stole a combined 96 bases. Has he slowed down? Or is just not a good base runner? Can he learn to be a better base stealer? It’s worth bring a guy like Rickey Henderson or someone else in to work with Brett on the nuances of base stealing. If Gardner is getting on base 34+% of the time, popping 15-18 home runs, and stealing 35-45 bases, he will provide the team with a tremendous boost. The first two are more than achievable. The last one is the difference-maker and the biggest question mark.
3) Figure out a way to keep these guys healthy
a. Design and gain buy-in on a scheduled plan for the old guys (Beltran, Teixeira, ARod), the by-product of which is more playing time for the younger guys (Bird, Judge, etc.)
b. Proactively rest/treat/pre-hab the brittle guys (Headley, Ellsbury, Gardner), the by-product of which is more playing time for the younger guys (Heathcott, Judge, etc.)
c. Figure out how to take the governors of Eovaldi, Pineda, Warren, Nova, etc. and just let them go. Treat/pre-hab them so they can make 33 starts. Stop worrying and let them pitch. Babying them clearly isn’t helping so let’s let them build up the strength required to repeatedly throw the ball 200 innings.
d. Furthering the Brett Gardner theme and monitoring his health so this doesn’t happen yet again (career splits, not just last year):
1) Wrap Jacoby Ellsbury in bubble wrap so he doesn’t suffer some weird injury that will make him unavailable for weeks at a time and make him less productive when he comes back. The Yankees needed him in the second half and he did a tremendous disappearing act which brings us to #2 on my list…
2) Get a sports psychologist to examine Brett Gardner’s head so he, and the rest of us, can find out why he can’t ever seem to perform in the second half. If the Yankees do that, and Gardner can be productive both before and after the All-Star break, it could help the lineup a lot in 2016.
3) Find a second baseman and stick with him. In other words, sign someone who can actually play second every day. If not, bring up one of the kids to do it and call it a day. The Yankees started more second baseman in 2015 than Bewitched had Darrens, Roseanne had Beckys and Valerie, Valerie’s Family and Hogan Family shows had name changes. Enough is enough!
1) If the plan is to break the bank eventually, do it sooner rather than later. This off-season has several high-quality pieces that will not cost a draft pick to sign – David Price, Johnny Cueto, and Ben Zobrist represent massive upgrades in areas of need, and would not do anything to harm the team’s movement towards youth. Price and Zobrist may break the bank, but their combined contracts would look less egregious once Teixeira and Beltran come off of the books after 2016. And, if a repeat of the 2008-2009 off-season is in the cards, Jason Heyward could be a legitimate cornerstone for the next great Yankees team.
2) For heaven’s sake, build a real bench. As it stands, the bench on most days would probably be John Ryan Murphy, Rob Refsnyder, Brendan Ryan, and a token RHH outfielder to be named. Murphy and [Chris Young? Drew Stubbs? Chris Denorfia? Rajai Davis] make sense; but the idea of having a defensively-challenged second baseman that might be able to pick up some innings in the outfield and an offensive zero with declining defense representing half of the bench is frightening. I do not like the idea of having a platoon at second, particularly when half of the platoon is not a versatile defender. Having Ackley starting and Refsnyder on the bench represents a real competitive disadvantage. It is for this reason that I would endorse signing or trading for a full-time second baseman, as it should improve both the lineup and the bench.
3) Don’t hesitate to cash-in on Teixeira and Beltran as trade chips (if at all possible). Both players are free agents to be, and both played well-enough in 2015 to have regained some luster – and that is especially true as one-year rentals. Their injury histories are scary, but if a team would be willing to part with a solid prospect or two, or a moderate upgrade anywhere else on the field, the Yankees have a chance to replace most of both players’ production with in-house options. Bird can start at first (and perhaps Murphy or Gary Sanchez can learn the position to platoon, if necessary), and Heathcott, Williams, Ben Gamel, and Jake Cave can battle it out to play right (and platoon with the aforementioned token RHH OF). It may not be ideal, but neither is counting on Teixeira and Beltran to remain healthy and productive.