Saturday, January 14, 2023

Who's Left? ...


Search for quality leftfielder continues…

When the offseason started, my team goals for the Yankees were simple. Bring back Aaron Judge, sign, or trade for a quality number two starter behind Gerrit Cole, add a high leverage reliever, and get a solid leftfielder who plays great defense and can hit a baseball with consistency. 

The first three were solved in December when the Yankees signed Judge (after the famed Jon Heyman ‘Arson Judge’ to the Giants tweet), Carlos Rodón, and Tommy Kahnle. I had optimism the Yankees would fill that last hole and make it a tremendous offseason. So far, it has not been meant to be.

A month away from Spring Training and our best hope for left field is Aaron Hicks. Maybe Hicks can rebound and play like he did earlier in his career while avoiding the Injured List. Yeah, that and ocean front property in Arizona look like awesome deals. Sorry, I am so done with Hicks. Trade the guy so that he can be closer to the golf courses near his Scottsdale, Arizona home.

I had been excited about the play of Andrew Benintendi last year when he started to get comfortable playing in left for the Yankees, then the disappointing injury. I will always wonder what could have been if Benny and DJ LeMahieu had been healthy last October. Maybe they still lose in the ALCS against the Houston Astros (probably), but it would have been extended to at least six or seven games. Go seven, then anything can happen.

I was cautiously optimistic the Yankees would re-sign Benny this offseason despite the rumors that he did not want to play for the Yankees, preferring a Midwestern team closer to his St Louis home. We may never know if that was true or not, but once the Yankees signed Rodón, it took the Yankees out of the market for Benny (who was looking for a five-year contract). Benny did find his new Midwestern home when the Chicago White Sox inked him to a five-year, $75 million deal (the largest contract in White Sox history which I still find humorous).

Brian Reynolds has been the favorite target of so many Yankee fans. Fuel was added earlier this offseason when he demanded a trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates which left so many fans salivating for him. Word the Yankees had engaged the Pirates in talks only further created unsubstantiated excitement. It was reported this week the Yankees have found the asking price too high as the Pirates were reportedly seeking multiple top five prospects plus we know Pittsburgh wants quality Major-League ready pitching which is not a Yankees’ strength in the upper levels of the farm system. There have been no substantive talks between the teams in recent weeks and the Pirates do not seem particularly motivated to move Reynolds. At best, he seems like a trade deadline candidate. I have dismissed the thought of Reynolds as a Yankee.

I had brief hope the Yankees would sign potential Comeback Player of the Year candidate Michael Conforto who missed all of last year due to injury. The Giants, after losing out on Arson Judge, snagged Conforto to remove his availability. If he has a successful 2023 campaign for the Giants, I will hold a little bit of envy. 

There have been various trade rumors about Minnesota’s Max Kepler which seems to excite no one except maybe Twins fans. 

The Yankees had eyes for Arizona’s Daulton Varsho until the Toronto Blue Jays snagged him with an overpay (talented top catching prospect Gabriel Moreno and veteran outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr.).

So, here we are with Aaron Hicks. Yay, us. The Yankees seem to view Oswaldo Cabrera like most of us, his best value is super-utility for both the infield and outfield. Cabrera, spelling Hicks from time to time, is not the worst scenario but it is not one I would like to see. It is not a knock against Cabrera. I enjoy his presence on the roster. He has earned his spot.

Aaron Judge, Oswaldo Cabrera, and Albert Abreu

For other teams, Everson Pereira would be a legitimate contender for an outfield role heading into Spring Training. Maybe he is with the Yankees, but they seem to prefer their prospects follow the traditional path of upward progression through success at each level before an ascension to the Majors. Watching the Atlanta Braves promote AA players must really boggle the minds of the Yankees’ brain trust. With Pereira, Jasson Dominguez, and Spencer Jones nearing Major League-ready status within the next few years, I get not wanting to sign extended contracts with veteran players. The Yankees just need a quality outfielder in left for the next one or two years, until the young guns are ready. 

The best remaining free agent target appears to be Jurickson Profar. Fans seem mixed about him. Profar, who turns 30 next month, is not a lefty and his 2023 projection per Fangraphs barely places him above league average. They have him playing 122 games with 525 plate appearances, hitting .241/.326/.389 with 13 home runs, 105 wRC+ and 1.3 fWAR. Is this better than Hicks? Maybe, maybe not. I know Cashman has liked Profar for years, but this probably should not be the time to pull the trigger. If the Yankees trade Hicks before he acquires 10-and-5 no trade rights this season, then maybe Profar looks better. As they say, the girls always get prettier at closing time.

Remember when Estevan Florial was a top prospect and future star for the Yankees’ outfield. Yeah, those were exciting days. If he had progressed as we had hoped, he would be the left field answer. Period. End of story. He will get a chance in Spring Training but if anyone seems destined for failure in Pinstripes, it is him. I must place the usual caveat on it…I hope he proves me wrong. I would love for Florial to kill it in Tampa and head north with the Yankees in late March with a newfound skill of identifying pitches in the strike zone. 

Maybe GM Brian Cashman surprises us with a trade between now and the end of March. Maybe not. If not, the Yankees will probably be in the left field market again this coming July like they have been the last two years. I hate to think about the lost prospect capital with the failed acquisitions of Joey Gallo and Andrew Benintendi. Gallo cost us 2B Trevor Hauver, 3B Ezequiel Duran, RHP Glen Otto, and 3B/OF Josh Smith (although we did capture RHP Clayton Beeter in the Gallo trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers at last season’s trade deadline to recoup some value). Benintendi cost the Yankees RHP Chandler Champlain, LHP T.J. Sikkema, and RHP Beck Way. Clearly, the search for left field help has been expensive with the threat of becoming more costly.

In many ways, left field feels like second base did when Robinson Cano left, and the Yankees tried a series of unsuccessful options including former Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts and the legendary (um, not really) Stephen Drew.

I have no hope for optimism about left field today. It seems adequate will be acceptable for the front office which, in my humble opinion, does not help gain ground on the Astros. I keep hearing the word “if” when people are talking about the current Yankees roster. If I owned the Yankees, I would find a way to replace “if” with “when” as in when the Yankees win their twenty-eighth World Series championship.

So, left field, to be continued…

Arbitration Eligible

The Yankees were able to avoid arbitration with eleven of twelve players before Friday’s deadline. The players signed from the start of the offseason through yesterday were Frankie Montas ($7.5 million); Isiah Kiner-Falefa ($6 million); Lou Trivino ($4.1 million); Wandy Peralta ($3.35 million); Clay Holmes ($3.3 million); Domingo German ($2.6 million); Jonathan Loaisiga ($2.26 million); Kyle Higashioka ($1.4625 million); Nestor Cortes Jr ($3.2 million); Jose Trevino ($2.36 million); and Michael King ($1.3 million). Imagine, paying IKF more than Nasty Nestor and Trevi combined.

The player headed for arbitration is Gleyber Torres. The Yankees most likely will agree with Gleyber before they get to their contentious arbitration hearing. They have been good at arbitration avoidance since the acrimonious arbitration hearing between Dellin Betances and the Yankees, especially team President Randy Levine, a few years ago. I hope the Yankees keep Gleyber happy and primed for a tremendous 2023 season.

I am not sure why we keep hearing Gleyber’s name in trade rumors. Perhaps it is because his name was mentioned in a possible trade with the Miami Marlins at last year’s trade deadline. Or maybe the desire to keep DJ LeMahieu at one position to reduce his risk for injury. The ascension of Anthony Volpe to eventually lay claim to second base if Oswald Peraza takes shortstop is not far away, which may be another reason to unload Torres now.

Ethan and Gleyber Torres

I would prefer to see the Yankees hang onto Torres. I have concerns LeMahieu’s toe, or other aging body parts, may pose ongoing health challenges keeping him off the field. There is also the chance Josh Donaldson’s decline goes off the deep end to plummet further into oblivion. If that’s the case, LeMahieu is needed at third, and Gleyber must be the second baseman until Volpe’s arrival. I am sure there are some fans who want Oswaldo Cabrera as both the starting leftfielder and the starting second baseman. Sure, he is versatile. He can handle both positions at the same time. Seriously, I do not see a viable second base option outside of Gleyber until Volpe is ready. Place me in the camp who believes he needs a little more time in Triple A before he gets the call to the Bronx. Move Gleyber at the trading deadline if you must.

Spring Training is in the air

With temperatures in the mid-30s at Yankee Stadium today, it is hard to believe that Spring is right around the corner.

Steinbrenner Field

We are a month away from MLB reporting dates. Pitchers and catchers participating in the 2023 World Baseball Classic must report to their respective MLB camps by February 13th. For the Yankees, pitchers and catchers must report by February 16th, while position players have until February 20th.

No doubt Team Captain Aaron Judge will draw much media attention upon his arrival. The 2022 AL MVP, with the fresh $360 million contract in hand, will soon be honored with a key to the City of New York according to Mayor Eric Adams. Judge will certainly be the King of Tampa for a few weeks until he leads the team to Yankee Stadium to stake his latest claim on the greatest City in the World. 

I am hoping all the attention on Judge sets Giancarlo Stanton up for his biggest year in Pinstripes. It would be fun to see Stanton and Judge battle for the home run championship like Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle did in 1961.

As always, Go Yankees!