Thursday, October 25, 2018

Manny Machado vs. Bryce Harper, And The Rest Of The Offseason

"Hey, Bryan, what should I do this offseason?"

Contrary to what you read from some Yankees "fans" all season long, the Yankees are not that far from being a legit World Series title contender. We're not talking about the 2013 Yankees, who finished third in the AL East, 12 games behind the Red Sox. The 2018 Yankees, despite having flaws, still won a hundred games. While the 2013 team had just two guys, who had more than 250 at bats, finish with an OPS+ of 100 or more, the 2018 Yankees had six such players. While the 2013 Yankees had three pitchers, who started ten or more games, with an ERA+ over 100, the 2018 team had four. And as great as Mariano Rivera and David Robertson were in 2013, that team's bullpen was not nearly as good as the bullpen the 2018 Yankees had (9.7 fWAR vs. 3.4).

The offense next season will be without Didi Gregorius for a while, but the Yankees have a good shot at bringing in one of the biggest offensive threats in Major League Baseball. Hell, they may be able to bring in two of them.

The rotation will lose one of those pitchers that had an ERA+ over 100 next year but are the favorites to add a starter that finished 4th among all starting pitchers in fWAR in 2018.

And although the bullpen could lose one of its key members for this past season, there's a very good chance he'll return for 2019 and beyond.

To be completely honest, as high as expectations were before the 2018 season, I believe expectations on the 2019 team are going to be much higher. And for good reason.

While the offseason has yet to start, that doesn't mean there hasn't been some big news.

The Arizona Diamondbacks, who are ready to rebuild, have said they will listen to proposals for Paul Goldschmidt. For Yankees fans, that have been begging for their team to move on from Greg Bird and solidify the first base position, this seems like an excellent opportunity. And as attractive an option as Goldschmidt is, I believe the Yankees should pass. You see, to trade for Paul Goldschmidt would require a very nice package of players/prospects, and while I believe the Yankees could put together a nice enough package, I don't think it's necessary. Especially when you consider that Goldy is set to become a free agent after the 2019 season.

Like I've said, the lineup is already plenty good enough. The Yankees don't need to pay a steep price to acquire a first baseman for what very well could be just one season. All they need is someone that isn't to the offense, what a black hole is to the universe.

Now, it may be pretty hypocritical what I'm about to talk about, seeing as it's about signing a hitter, but there are differences. First of all, unlike Goldschmidt, all Bryce Harper or Manny Machado will cost the Yankees is money. And the Yankees have plenty of money laying around. Secondly, neither Harper nor Machado are going to be Yankees for just one year. And lastly, we're talking about two guys that are only 26 years old, which is actually younger than when the vast majority of baseball players hit their prime.

Machado vs. Harper... a bigger match-up than the Red Sox vs. the Dodgers.

There's just no way the Yankees, or anyone that has the money to spend, can pass up this chance. The only question Brian Cashman and his cronies should be asking themselves is "should we try and sign both of these guys?"

Of course, I don't think they should. Even if Giancarlo Stanton wasn't signed for another nine years (assuming he doesn't opt-out), having two players signed to big money contracts that last 10 or more years is not good for business. Having a lineup with Harper, Machado, Stanton, and Judge would be a dream come true. But it's just so unnecessary. This year's team had neither Bryce nor Manny, but they still finished second in MLB in runs scored. And that was despite the fact the Yankees seemed to fail with runners in scoring position nine out of ten times. So this isn't a case of trying to sign both, it's a case of which to sign.

I went back and forth when it came choosing between Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. On the one hand, Harper's left-handed power bat makes many Yankees fans salivate, and rightfully so. But when it comes to elite hitters like Harper, Machado, Judge, etc., I don't think the side they swing from really matters. And since Harper hasn't played left field since 2014, and isn't an elite defender already, he could end up costing us some runs on defense.

On the other hand, you have Manny Machado, who would bat in the same spot as Harper would, helping to make an already dangerous heart of the order insane. The thing that really stuck with me when it came to Manny, though, is his defensive ability. Having an infield of Machado and Torres on the left side (yeah, I see Torres at SS, but more on that later) would be great. And I should add that his comments about not being Johnny Hustle do not bother me. The fact he admitted it is a problem makes me believe he's willing to work on that aspect of his game. If he'd simply said he'll likely never be a hustler and left it at that, then I'd be more concerned. But that's not the case. Besides, how often do players reach first base just because they hustled out of the box on a routine ground ball?

And the crotch-grabbing? I could do without things like that, but you'd think the guy was drowning cats or abusing children the way some people have reacted. Seriously. I haven't seen reactions like this since Ray Rice punched his fiance in an elevator, and what Manny has done doesn't come close to what Ray did. Athletes say and do stupid things, but that doesn't necessarily mean they should be blackballed in any way. Bryce Harper tried to choke his closer in the dugout during a game (it was Jonathan Papelbon, so I kind of get it, but still...), Alex Rodriguez knocked the ball out of a fielder's glove (among other dumb things that guy had done both on and off the field), and Aroldis Chapman was accused of domestic violence (I covered why the allegations were questionable). I don't like when these things happen, whether those involved are part of the Yankees organization or not, but they do happen. And as long as they aren't proven to be criminals, then the bottom line is can they help us win?

So back to Harper versus Machado...

The deciding factor in this decision was Miguel Andujar. Andujar's defense at third base is below average, but, as Daniel pointed out, he can improve in that area. And when it came to building the rest of the lineup, having Miggy there was more appealing than any other scenario that I believe is possible (see the thing about signing both Harper and Machado). See, if the Yankees signed Machado I don't think Miguel would be around in 2019. Sure, Andujar could move to first base or left field, but I just don't think that's a good plan. Changing positions like that is not easy. Hell, Miguel already has range issues at third base, imagine if he didn't get a good read on a fly ball to left field? That would absolutely lead to extra bases, while an error at third just leaves a runner at first. And with Andujar being the biggest trade piece not named "Aaron Judge" on the Yankees, I don't see why they wouldn't go after that ace starter they've craved for so long.


Sign Bryce Harper to a deal with an average annual value of $35 million a year for 10 or so years. I could see the deal being front-loaded, along with an opt-out after three to five years, assuring Bryce makes as much money as possible now with the ability to get more guaranteed money should he opt-out down the road. Not to mention doing what we can to keep the average annual value down as much as possible, so the Luxury Tax hit isn't too high.

I am a bit concerned with the fact that Harper has not played left field since 2014, as I mentioned earlier, however his combination of youth and athleticism makes me believe he can be at worst average out there, and more than likely a little better than average.

And for those of you that saw his low batting average this past season (.249), I'd like to point out that since July 1st Harper hit .279. And Bryce's on-base percentage has always been elite, as from July on this past season he got on base 41% of the time. Even when he doesn't drive in runs, Harper is able to put himself in position to be driven in by others. And in the Yankees lineup, where guys like Giancarlo Stanton and Miguel Andujar could be hitting directly behind him, that is great.

If you still don't think signing Harper instead of Machado is the way to go, that's fine. Perhaps my other offseason wishes will line up with your own...

Re-Sign Brett Gardner
The team should decline his option for 2019, but work out another contract for less money. Gardy's last contract was worth $13 million a season, which he signed after back-to-back seasons with an OPS+ of 110 and 111. So after being an average to below average hitter the past three years, and being 35 years old, I think a two to three-year deal worth $9 million a season would work. Then again, Gardner could sign for less than that, but I'd rather plan for the worst. Also, I wanted to bring back Gardner due to his history with the Yankees, and more importantly his ability to give Hicks some rest in center field.

Sign CC Sabathia
I would be perfectly fine with J.A. Happ returning instead, but Sabathia's work in New York the past three seasons has been good to very good. Sure, he may not get past the fifth inning, but with the Yankees' bullpen that isn't much of an issue. CC's a leader among the pitching staff and looked up to by everyone in the organization. Plus, management will like his price, as CC's likely to sign another one year deal for around $10 million, while others like Happ will get 2+ years and a higher AAV.

Sign Patrick Corbin 
This would give the Yankees a strong starter at the top of the rotation to go with Luis Severino (no way am I giving up on Sevy being an "ace"). Patrick would also give the Yankees a second lefty in the rotation, balancing things out... particularly in a postseason series. I'd say more about this signing, but there has already been a ton said about the top starting pitcher in free agency already, and will likely be even more. Although I see no need to, as this signing is a no-brainer.

Sign David Robertson
The Yankees need to keep their excellent bullpen going, so re-signing Robertson or Britton is a must. With that said, I don't like Britton as his control is iffy and he doesn't miss bats like David can (7.5 K/9 vs 11.8). D-Rob's velocity is still there and shows no signs of decline. Robertson's never had great control, but his walk rate is no worse than it's been in the past. The fact is, when the Yankees bring Robertson into a game, I feel pretty good.

Sign Justin Wilson
Signing another reliever, preferably a lefty, would be ideal. Justin Wilson has had some control issues the last two seasons, but before that, he wasn't bad in that area. Wilson misses bats well so I can see him being close to the lefty version of Robertson. Justin also played for the Yankees in 2015, so he's familiar with the pressure of wearing pinstripes. Jake Diekman and Andrew Miller are other possibilities, but I like Wilson a bit better. If it wasn't for Britton likely getting a closer role, and a larger contract, from another team I wouldn't be opposed to bringing him back.

Before getting to the rest I want to say that the Yankees need to rid themselves of Jacoby Ellsbury. Do whatever it takes, because the fact is he's a waste of roster space. I honestly don't know who would be interested in him, or what the Yankees would get in return. I'll guess that the Yankees end up paying about half of his salary, or about $11m in 2019 and again in 2020, and get back minor league filler.

I wish you the best in the rest of your career, I just hope it's not with the Yankees.

There's one more move I want to make before taking a final look at the Opening Day Active Roster. Before getting into it, though, I will admit that a big-time trade like this would be tough. However, I think it makes sense for both sides. So here it is...

Trade Sonny Gray, Clint Frazier, Jonathan Loaisiga, and Tyler Wade, to the Philadelphia Phillies for Nick Pivetta, Justin Bour, and Cesar Hernandez.

As for reasons the Phillies would be on board:

1. Cesar Hernandez will become a high-priced bench player as he's set to make just under $9 million in his final season of being arbitration eligible. Scott Kingery will enter into the second season of a six-year deal, and JP Crawford is considered a big part of the Phillies' future. So there's no doubt the Phillies would like to deal away Hernandez for something useful.

2. With Carlos Santana making big money (he's entering year two of a three-year contract worth $60 million), he'll certainly continue to be the starting 1B for the Phillies. Sure, the Phillies would love to get that deal off the books as they look to rebuild, but I'm going to bet the Phillies don't find a taker (although I can see another team dealing for Carlos at the trade deadline). That leaves Justin Bour (set to make over $5 million in arbitration) who, like Hernandez, would be another expensive bench player.

3. The Phillies are loaded with young pitching, so while losing Pivetta is probably not ideal for them, they can afford to lose him thanks to already having Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, and now Sonny Gray, to go along with even more strong pitching prospects.

4. With bullpens becoming so important to the game, I could see the Phillies very interested in adding Loaisiga. None of their current top relievers went more than 2.1 innings in a game last season, which could Loaisiga a nice addition to their bullpen. And there's still a good chance Johnny Lasagna becomes a starter.

For the Yankees, we already know Cashman is looking to trade away Sonny Gray. Meanwhile, Clint Frazier has no spot on the team after they sign Harper. Loaisiga could have a future as a starter or long reliever for the Yanks, but the team can surely deal with that loss. And with Torres, Andujar, and the high likelihood the Yankees extend Gregorius, Wade has no starting role on the team and is not needed as a backup thanks to Torreyes. 

For those of you that don't know much about the Phillies or Nick Pivetta, Nick will turn 26 soon, has less than 300 MLB innings on his arm, and has never had any serious injuries.

Pivetta is 6'5", and weighs roughly 220 pounds, which is the body type the Yankees are known to covet. Nick did have a high ERA last season (4.77), but his FIP of 3.80 tells a much different story, as the Phillies had one of the worst defenses in all of MLB last season. Nick also struck out 10.3 batters per nine innings in 2018, to go along with a solid walk rate of 2.8 per nine innings. Furthermore, Nick's ground ball rate was very good (35th out of 128 pitchers that threw at least 100 innings in 2018). In my opinion, he would fit into the Yankees perfectly.

Some have speculated that Pivetta would be better served out of the Phillies' bullpen, due to him having trouble the second time through the opponent's lineup during the second half of this season. But as young as he is, and with so few innings in MLB, I think that would be a mistake. None-the-less, that is why I'm not only offering a starter to help solidify the Philadelphia rotation (Gray), but also another pitcher that could fill a starting or long relief spot (Loaisiga).

And one thing that Hal Steinbrenner will certainly like... Pivetta isn't even arbitration eligible until 2021.

"Guys, I'm not that cheap."

Keep in mind that Jordan Montgomery is set to return sometime in 2019, along with youngsters Justus Sheffield, Chance Adams, and Mike King knocking on the door to MLB. So even if they have to deal with an injury or two, like every team nearly every season, the Yankees starting rotation should be perfectly okay. Even if they end up needing a top starter at the trade deadline, the return of Didi would allow the Yankees to shop Cesar Hernadez along with others.

Well, there's what I'd like to see the Yankees do this offseason. Before I wrap this up by showing the full 2019 Active Roster as I'd like to see it, I wanted to say that trade proposals like my own are unlikely to happen. So even if that big trade doesn't happen, I would still like to see the team trade for a lefty-hitting first baseman (I really like Justin Bour), a young starter with high upside like Nick Pivetta, and a second baseman or shortstop like Cesar Hernandez (his switch-hitting ability would be sweet).

Also, I decided not to talk about contract extensions. As you'll see at the end of this post, there's plenty of room in team salary to extend guys such as Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, and Aaron Judge. I'm sure to talk about that later, but for right now just know that I want to see them in pinstripes again in 2019 and beyond.

So here is the Opening Day Active Roster as I'd like to see it, which includes the player's salaries and total team payroll on Opening Day (note that I used actual salaries, which do not necessarily equate to the salaries used for Luxury Tax purposes).

2019 Opening Day Active Roster 
Note: 2019 salary/projected arbitration salary (provided by MLBTradeRumors)/projected pre-arbitration salary in parenthesis

*=left-handed hitter/pitcher

Starting Lineup
1. Aaron Hicks# - CF ($6.2m)
2. Aaron Judge - RF ($.8m)
3. Bryce Harper* - LF ($35m)
4. Giancarlo Stanton - DH ($25m)
5. Miguel Andujar - 3B ($.6m)
6. Justin Bour* - 1B ($5.2m)
7. Gary Sanchez - C ($.7m)
8. Cesar Hernandez# - 2B ($8.9m)
9. Gleyber Torres - SS ($.6m)

Brett Gardner* OF ($9m)
Ronald Torreyes 2B, SS, 3B ($.9m)
Luke Voit 1B ($.6m)
Austin Romine C ($2m)

Starting Rotation
Luis Severino ($5.1m)
Patrick Corbin* ($20m)
Masahiro Tanaka ($22m)
CC Sabathia* ($10)
Nick Pivetta ($.6m)

Relief Pitchers
Aroldis Chapman* ($17.2)
Dellin Betances ($6.4m)
David Robertson ($11m)
Justin Wilson* ($9m)
Chad Green ($.6m)
Jonathan Holder ($.6m)
Stephen Tarpley* ($.6m)

Jacoby Ellsbury - portion of salary paid for by the Yankees ($11m)

Total 25-Man Opening Day Payroll - $209.6 million 
Note: Last season's 25-Man Opening Day Payroll was $166.1m. For comparison, the Boston Red Sox 25-Man Opening Day payroll in 2018 was $233.8m (both figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts).