- Even as they look for a deal to send out starter Sonny Gray, the Yankees are seeking another rotation asset, according to Jon Heyman of Fancred (Twitter link). It stands to reason that such a player would be a depth piece, whether a veteran on a minor-league deal or an optionable hurler acquired via trade, or perhaps a swingman type who’d initially work out of the bullpen. After all, even without Gray, the Yanks appear to have five rotation spots accounted for. It’s certainly understandable that the club would like to account for any starts that end up being missed by that unit, however. Otherwise, the New York org is said still to be looking at the relief market.
The Yankees announced Wednesday that they’ve traded infielder/outfielder Tim Locastro to the Diamondbacks in exchange for minor league lefty Ronald Roman and cash. Locastro was designated for assignment earlier this week in order to open a spot on the Yankees’ roster for DJ LeMahieu. Arizona’s acquisition of Locastro fills the team’s 40-man roster.
Locastro, 26, has just 15 MLB plate appearances to his name, but he’s a .307/.402/.443 hitter with six homers, 33 doubles, two triples and 30 stolen bases (in 34 attempts) in just 114 games of Triple-A experience in the Dodgers’ system. New York acquired him from the Dodgers earlier this offseason, but Locastro didn’t last the full offseason on the Yankees’ 40-man roster following several infield additions, including LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitzki.
Locastro has played all over the field in the minors and has spent most of his time at second base and shortstop. He does have a pair of options remaining, and he’ll give the D-backs some additional depth in both the infield and the outfield following today’s reported agreement with former Mets infielder Wilmer Flores (for which they’ll now need to make a corresponding move following the acquisition of Locastro).
As for the 17-year-old Roman, he’s yet to even begin his professional career with the D-backs in earnest. He signed as an international amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic back on July 2 when this year’s international class kicked off and has not pitched for any of the team’s Rookie-level affiliates. He’ll presumably head to the Yankees’ affiliate in the Dominican Summer League this coming season, where he’ll make his in-game pro debut.
- Appearing at a team-sponsored event, GM Alex Anthopoulos discussed the status of the team’s roster-building efforts, as attendee and SB Nation contributor Stacy Marlow documented (Twitter links). Unsurprisingly, he did not divulge much in the way of specifics, but did provide some worthwhile snippets. Anthopoulos suggested the team was not heavily engaged on a “quiet” catching market, but would not rule out a move if the right opportunity comes along. He also seemingly reiterated a familiar stance on free agent outfielder Nick Markakis, indicating that the sides are still keeping an open line and weighing a reunion.
- The Braves relief unit is certainly an area of potential improvement, but Anthopoulos’s comments suggest he has been lying in wait in hopes of securing good value in that area. He says that he only just spoke with a free agent reliever for the first time recently, indicating that the club has not been in on the quality pitchers that have already signed — many of them for fairly hefty salaries. Anthopoulos added that his expectation is that contract demands will begin to drop as Spring Training approaches. As we’ve often discussed over the past two years, teams are exhibiting much greater patience in free agency. Whether players and their agents can match that discipline and regain some leverage remains to be seen.
- Most tantalizing, however, were Anthopoulos’s comments regarding one possible swap that’s evidently in the works. “There’s one trade concept right now that 70% of the deal we would agree to, the 30% is probably where we are going back and forth,” he said. “I don’t know if we are going to get it done, but the main piece of the deal I think we ultimately would be ok, it’s the add on.” Certainly, this not-yet-completed arrangement could involve any number of possible players, but it’s at least notable to learn that there could soon be some action.
- One significant factor in the development of the offseason for the Braves, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription link), is the team’s hesitation to part with a draft selection to sign a player who declined a qualifying offer. There were six such players, only two of whom have signed to this point. Several are at least hypothetical targets for Atlanta, with the team reportedly showing real interest in outfielder A.J. Pollock. Rosenthal writes that the Braves are worried about the draft compensation that would be required to land Pollock — in their case, a second-round pick that’ll end up being sixty-something overall. Specifically, he says, the Braves “value the selection more than most clubs” because of the amateur talent penalties the team was slapped with in late 2017. If that is indeed a position the team itself holds, it’s somewhat less than compelling. The Braves certainly aren’t alone in valuing draft selections. Like their competitors, they must consider the future talent pipeline. It’s especially tough to see the club as uniquely situated when it still possesses a bounty of young talent at the major and minor league levels.
- One possibility that’s seemingly still on the table for the Braves is a move to land Sonny Gray of the Yankees. Gabriel Burns of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently discussed the concept, on the heels of a report from Jon Heyman of Fancred (Twitter link) that suggested the Braves could still be pursuer as the New York org again tries to make a deal on the veteran righty. As Burns explains, it’s not exactly a perfect fit, given Gray’s recent struggles and the Braves’ own needs, but it’s possible to imagine a match and the org has clearly shown prior interest. What’s most interesting, perhaps, is what a hypothetical acquisition of Gray would mean for Julio Teheran — another still-youthful, not-inexpensive starter who is looking to regain his prior form. Understandably, the Braves do not appear to view the rotation as the first order of business. The opening in right field no doubt remains the top priority, with some of the other possibilities discussed above arguably also rating as greater needs. All said, there’s still quite a bit of work to do this winter for Anthopoulos and co.
In the final installment of our 3 Remaining Needs series, let’s take a look at the division that boasted the best and worst teams of the 2018 season. The AL East perfectly reflects the class warfare plaguing the American League, as the gap between the competitive upper class and, well, the Orioles could not be more stark. Even within the upper crust, however, there is plenty of variance, as the low-payroll Rays have done their best to keep pace with payroll behemoths in Boston and New York. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have taken a step back but are still looking to prepare their roster for an anticipated influx of premium young talent.
- Trade Mychal Givens. It’s a no-brainer for the Orioles to sell off their veteran pieces for prospects, only they don’t have much to sell off. Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner can be shopped, but they’d be salary dumps if they’re moveable at all and they might be better off providing a veteran base for a rotation that should have younger arms auditioning for at least two turns out of every five. The O’s have invested too much in Dylan Bundy over the years to trade him now for pennies on the dollar; better to hang onto the upside. That leaves Givens (10.3 K/9) as the most attractive piece on an otherwise barren roster. Once the major free agent bullpeners are off the market, teams should come calling for a hard-throwing late-inning arm with three seasons of control remaining.
- Sign trade bait for July. With a hugely uncertain roster situation, the Orioles should be willing to take some risks and snap up whatever the market leaves. While they’re not likely to snag any major free agents, even on pillow deals, they should be scouring the bargain bin for vets on one-year deals that could potentially bring something back at the trade deadline. Frankly, the particular position doesn’t matter so much as the value opportunity that’s presented. Needless to say, the same reasoning also supports active waiver-wire scanning, such as the team’s recent claims of Rio Ruiz and Hanser Alberto.
- Boost their international operations. The O’s longstanding aversion to spending on international amateur talent is well-documented. That was beginning to change before the club turned over the reins to new GM Mike Elias, but the org’s initial foray onto the market did not exactly go without a hitch as the club’s top reputed targets (Sandy Gaston and the Mesa brothers) landed elsewhere. That served as a reminder that bringing in top talent — not to mention, unearthing lower-cost gems — involves more than having and spending the available funds.
Boston Red Sox
- Replace/re-sign Craig Kimbrel. The Red Sox haven’t done much work to rebuild their bullpen as of yet, but the degree to which they’ll need to is still unknown. With no clear market developing for Kimbrel at this time, a reunion is not at all out of the question. If they don’t bring him back to Boston, they’ll need to do something to bolster a unit currently over-reliant on holdovers Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes.
- Explore upgrades at catcher. Boston somehow managed to win a World Series in a season where its catchers batted a combined .194/.246/.288 in 619 plate appearances. Regardless of the defensive Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon can frame and throw with the best of them, and Blake Swihart (if he ever catches) may yet turn into something if given any semblance of an opportunity, but the catcher position in Boston was an utter black hole on offense last season. It wasn’t quite as bad as having a pitcher hit each time through the order, but it was closer than any AL team should be. That the team hasn’t done anything to this point suggests it may not be at the top of the priority list, but it’s hard to deny that there’s an opportunity to improve. Speaking of backstops …
- Resolve the status of Blake Swihart. The Red Sox need to finally determine if Swihart has any kind of real role with the team. Again, it’s tough to criticize a team that won a World Series in 2018, but even Boston’s most steadfast defenders have to concede that the team didn’t exactly manage its roster all that effectively as pertains to Swihart. Boston wouldn’t put Swihart behind the plate, wouldn’t put him in the field and wouldn’t DH him. Swihart had just 48 plate appearances through May 31 in 2018 despite not spending a single day on the disabled list or in the minors. He had 99 PAs prior to the All-Star break — again, without a DL stint or any time in the minors. He can’t be optioned, and the Sox clearly don’t have a spot for him. It may have worked in 2018, but the Sox were effectively operating with a 24-man roster for a good chunk of 2018. They need more flexibility, and Swihart probably would like a chance to actually play somewhere.
New York Yankees
- Trade Sonny Gray. Once Brian Cashman began the offseason by declaring Gray would be traded, there seemed little room for negotiation. The market for Gray may not fully materialize until all of the top starting arms are off the market, but there doesn’t seem to be much value in bringing him back to New York. There’s no room in the rotation at present, even if there are questions around the age and durability of their top five. Still, the Yanks are not shy about in-season acquisitions and they have depth in Triple A they can rely on. Specifically, Domingo German (5.57 ERA) and Luis Cessa (5.24 ERA) underperformed last season relative to advanced metrics like FIP and xFIP.
- Seriously pursue a premium free agent. No, the Yanks do not need Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. The club won 100 games last year and is a threat to do so again (in a highly stratified American League) without making further upgrades. Still, this division — more so than the two other wings of the AL — promises to host a year-long battle. And … well … this is the Yankees we are talking about. What good is it being a financial behemoth if you can’t use your might to elbow out other teams when rare market opportunities come along? We’re not here to say that the Yankees must land one of these two players, or that they simply have to pursue both even if it makes a mess of the team’s roster and financial planning. But it would be odd if the Yanks didn’t at least put in a strong bid for either or both. With the allure of the pinstripes and New York City helping the cause, they just might come away with a bargain.
- Add another relief arm. Whether or not the club makes any other notable roster moves, this seems like an easy way to improve. The bullpen has been a notable strength in the Bronx of late, and that promises to continue. But the deeper the unit is, the more support it can provide to a highly talented but somewhat risky rotation. Limiting the wear and tear on the starting unit will not only max out its results all year long, but give the Yankees the best chance of having a powerful staff when crunch time comes late in the season.
Tampa Bay Rays
- Make another free agent splash. A big name would surely help the club draw some fans to the park, and perhaps help jump start a still-flagging ballpark effort. More importantly, the team can still tap into some funds to improve its chances of sneaking up on the BoSox and Yanks. As things stand, there’s still just under $60MM on the books for 2019. With a number of quality free agents still out there and awaiting a deal, the Rays should be willing to be aggressive in doling out short-term money to get significant pieces. Charlie Morton could deliver great value, and adding Avisail Garcia may be a decent risk, but there’s no reason to stop there.
- Make a run at J.T. Realmuto. Whether or not the free agent market offers another golden opportunity, the Rays should see if they can pull of an intra-state coup by coaxing the Marlins to send their star backstop up the coast. There’s nothing wrong with a Mike Zunino–Michael Perez pairing behind the dish, but Realmuto is the game’s best. The Tampa Bay front office would have flexibility in resolving the preexisting options, particularly since Perez can still be optioned. He’d be a nice depth piece and could perhaps also remain on the roster as part of a three-catcher mix. Alternatively, the Rays could still deal away Zunino.
- Add some veteran bullpen pieces. The Rays’ fascinating bullpen usage has shown no small amount of promise. Part of the strategy, of course, is to lean on a high volume of young pitching. But it’s hard to deny the value of veteran leadership and of established, steady performance. The current Tampa Bay bullpen unit features just one player — Chaz Roe — with more than three years of MLB service time. Allocating some remaining funds to one or more quality free agents would seem to make sense. Old friend Sergio Romo is among the many remaining possibilities.
Toronto Blue Jays
- Prepare for potential spring trades. Entering the winter, it seemed that veteran first baseman Justin Smoak would pop up in the rumor mill with some frequency. We broke down his potential suitors in anticipation of just that, but nothing of note has materialized to this point. There has been more chatter surrounding righty Marcus Stroman, but no indication to date that there’s any momentum toward a deal. Things may be quiet now, but more and more of the offseason business is stretching up to and into Spring Training, when teams will see their rosters in the flesh and injuries will begin to pop up. The Jays should anticipate some late-breaking interest in these players and be ready to pounce on any good opportunities that come up.
- Put the payroll space to work. Neither Smoak nor Stroman need to be moved for purely financial reasons. Indeed, the Jays should also be willing at least to poke around for bargains on the market. The Jays are only projected to have a payroll of roughly $110MM next season right now, well below recent levels of spending. The team has a variety of players who have a decent amount of MLB experience but who have yet to establish themselves fully. It’s fine to give opportunities to players of that kind, but that shouldn’t be allowed to clog things up if there’s a chance to add better talent — even if it costs a bit of money. The Toronto organization could find some opportunities to acquire talent as teams make final payroll decisions, whether that takes the form of snagging unwanted arbitration-year players or taking on an under-water contract that’s packaged with prospects.
- Add to the bullpen. The Jays have little in the way of established arms at the back of the ’pen, and even if they don’t realistically expect to contend, there’s value in having a few stabilizing pieces to prevent a constant churn of DFAs and other various 40-man machinations throughout the course of the season. Scooping up some useful arms on one- or even two-year deals can also always yield a viable summer trade chip. Last year, the club enjoyed some opportunities at the trade deadline due to its arsenal of veteran relievers, and there’s good reason to pursue a similar course again.
The pitching market continues to proceed at a steady but unhurried pace, with today’s reunion between the Giants and Derek Holland marking the latest signing of note. Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle was among those to cover the news from the team’s perspective. While the organization has undergone front office changes since Holland wrapped up a solid performance on a one-year deal in 2018, new president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi still made the call to bring back the southpaw. That was due in no small part to the club’s positive experience with him last year, both on and off the field. Zaidi emphasized that the team still wants to find more rotation depth this winter, though it’s far from clear that any further MLB signings will be pursued. It certainly seems possible that the club will add plausible rotation pieces via trade or on minor-league deals.
Here’s the latest on the pitching market:
- Talks surrounding Sonny Gray have “ramped up” since Yankees’ lefty CC Sabathia was cleared to resume baseball activities last week, Fancred’s Jon Heyman tweets. The Yankees are discussing Gray with six teams, including the Reds, per Heyman, though previous reports had indicated that Cincinnati’s interest had cooled off since adding Alex Wood and Tanner Roark. Gray agreed to a $7.5MM salary over the weekend, falling shy of MLBTR’s $9.1MM projection and perhaps making him a bit more appealing to clubs who’ve already added a fair bit of payroll this offseason.
- The Rangers are maintaining interest in adding some free-agent arms to their bullpen and have been in recent contact with the representatives for right-handers Adam Ottavino and Cody Allen, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (Twitter links). However, the likelier route is that the Rangers will add multiple lower-cost relievers rather than one higher-end piece. Rosenthal adds Adam Warren to the list of potential Texas targets and notes that the Rangers are also still looking to add an infielder. Meanwhile, La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes that the Twins still have interest in Allen. Minnesota was connected to Allen earlier this winter and has since signed Blake Parker, though they’re still in the market for additional relief help. Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey knows Allen quite well from his days in the Indians’ front office.
- Free-agent lefty Marc Rzepczynski is hosting a showcase for big league teams tomorrow, tweets Fancred’s Jon Heyman. The 33-year-old southpaw struggled tremendously in 2018 both at the Majors and in Triple-A, and he’ll look to audition for clubs on what figures to be a minor league deal with a chance to reestablish himself as a credible option. “Scrabble” has worked as a lefty specialist for the bulk of his career, as he hasn’t topped 50 innings since 2011 despite averaging 64 MLB appearances per season from 2012-17. In his career, he’s held lefties to an awful .225/.296/.305 batting line through 857 plate appearances.
The Yankees announced Monday that they have designated infielder/outfielder Tim Locastro for assignment. His spot on the 40-man roster will to to veteran DJ LeMahieu, whose previously reported two-year deal is now official.
New York acquired the 26-year-old Locastro from the Dodgers earlier this season, sending minor league righty Drew Finley to Los Angeles in return. Locastro, however, doesn’t appear as though he’ll get the opportunity to suit up for the Yankees unless he clears waivers and works his way back into the MLB picture following an outright assignment.
Locastro has just 15 MLB plate appearances to his name, but he’s a .307/.402/.443 hitter with six homers, 33 doubles, two triples and 30 stolen bases (in 34 attempts) in just 114 games of Triple-A experience. The Yankees referred to Locastro as an outfielder only, likely indicative of how they planned to use him, but he’s played all over the field in the minors and has spent most of his time at second base and shortstop. He does have a pair of options remaining, so he could be viewed as a depth piece by another club.
Jan. 14: The Yankees have now announced the deal.
Jan. 11, 7:50pm: The deal promises LeMahieu $12MM in each of its two seasons, Jon Heyman of Fancred tweets.
11:43am: LeMahieu is heading to the Yankees, tweets Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. His contract is believed to be a two-year deal with a guarantee in the range of $24MM.
11:40am: The Yankees are closing in on a two-year contract with free-agent second baseman DJ LeMahieu, reports Jack Curry of the YES Network (Twitter links). New York’s plan for LeMahieu is to use him as a multi-positional asset, where he’ll see time at second base, third base and even at first base, per Curry.
With LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitzki now in the fold, Manny Machado looks to be less of a fit in the Bronx than ever, although the addition of those two players certainly doesn’t preclude a signing. There’s been talk earlier this winter of the possibility that the Yanks could yet move an infielder, and Tulowitzki’s league-minimum salary doesn’t represent much of an impediment if the Yankees decide to alter their course. That said, there’s no denying that today’s agreement with LeMahieu does seem to make that long-speculated match with Machado considerably less plausible.
The Yankees’ infield now likely consists of Miguel Andujar at third base, Tulowitzki at short, Gleyber Torres at second base and Luke Voit at first, with LeMahieu filling in as a versatile super-sub and Greg Bird also on hand as an option at first base. Didi Gregorius, of course, will join that mix later this season when he is sufficiently recovered from Tommy John surgery. It’s a crowded mix but a deep and highly talented one that should provide the Yankees plenty of insurance against injury while also allowing them to field a strong lineup even on days when their top bats are resting.
LeMahieu, 29, is perennially among the game’s premier defensive second baseman and has consistently hit for average, though his overall production has wavered somewhat on a year-over-year basis. LeMahieu won a surprise National League batting title when he hit .348/.416/.495 in a career year back in 2016, but while he followed that up with a high-quality .310 average in 2017, his power fell off, as he slugged just .409 that season and posted a .099 ISO (slugging minus batting average). This past season, most of his pop returned, but his overall output checked in at .276/.321/.428 — rather pedestrian production when considering his hitter-friendly home setting (86 wRC+).
All in all, LeMahieu generally rates as an average or better overall hitter with premium defensive skills. He’s batted a combined .309/.369/.429 across the past four seasons and been one of the toughest strikeouts in the league over that span, punching out in just 14.2 percent of his plate appearances. And while some will make a point to note that his home/road splits are rather pronounced, he’ll be moving from Coors Field to yet another one of the game’s premier hitters’ parks, Yankee Stadium.
In the wake of the Yankees’ agreement with infielder DJ LeMahieu, their talks with free agent Manny Machado “are either dormant or completely dead,” ESPN’s Buster Olney writes (subscription required). Although Machado would greatly improve the Yankees’ infield, they haven’t been willing to approach his exorbitant asking price, and there’s no obvious free spot in their infield with LeMahieu and Troy Tulowitzki having come aboard this offseason. While the Yankees could trade third baseman Miguel Andujar to open up room for Machado, it seems they’re more inclined to bet on the former, as Olney details. Andujar excelled at the plate in 2018, his rookie year, but had a horrific time in the field. However, Andujar has consistently demonstrated a willingness to better his defense – including this winter – and the Yankees are confident his work will yield positive results in 2019. If not, Olney posits the Yankees could make a run at Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado should he reach free agency a year from now.
The deadline for players and teams to exchange arbitration figures passed at 1pm ET yesterday, meaning over the next few hours, there will be a landslide of settlements on one-year deals to avoid an arbitration hearing. We’ll track today’s minor settlements from the American League in this post. Once all of the day’s settlements have filtered in, I’ll organize them by division to make them a bit easier to parse.
It’s worth mentioning that the vast majority of teams have adopted a “file and trial” approach to arbitration, meaning that once arbitration figures are exchanged with a player, negotiations on a one-year deal will cease. The two parties may still discuss a multi-year deal after that point, but the majority of players who exchange figures with their team today will head to an arbitration hearing.
- Yankees 1B Greg Bird will make $1.2 MM next season, per Bob Nightengale on Twitter.
- The controversial Roberto Osuna will make $6.5MM next season, per Feinsand. Teammate Jake Marisnick, who again scuffled in ’18 after a promising 2017, will make $2.2125MM.
- Per Mark Feinsand on Twitter, A’s lefty Sean Manaea $3.15MM in what’s sure to be an injury-marred 2019.
- Hard-throwing reliever Mychal Givens will make $2.15MM, per Eduardo A. Encina of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter), with additional incentives for making the All-Star team or placing in the Top-3 for the Rivera/Hoffman Reliever of the Year Awards, added MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand (via Twitter).
- The Mariners agreed on a $1.95MM deal with outfielder Domingo Santana, per MLB.com’s Greg Johns (via Twitter). Santana is the second and last of the Mariners’ arbitration-eligible players.
- The Angels agreed to contracts with a pair of players yesterday, per Maria Torres of the LA Times (via Twitter). Reliever Hansel Robles signed for $1.4MM. Robles threw 36 1/3 innings of 2.97 ERA baseball after the Angels claimed him off waivers from the Mets in June. Luis Garcia, acquired via trade from the Phillies this winter, signed for $1.675MM.
- The Tigers and reliever Shane Greene settled on $4MM, per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale (via Twitter).
- The Yankees reached an agreement with Sonny Gray for $7.5MM, per Nightengale. Gray, of course, has been involved trade rumors most of the winter, but for the time being, he stands to play a role in the Yankee pen while providing insurance for the rotation.
- Didi Gregorius has also come to an agreement with the Yankees on a one-year, $11.75MM deal in his final season before free agency, per USA Today’s Bob Nightengale (Twitter links).
- New Yankee James Paxton signed for $8.575, per Nightengale (via Twitter). Paxton is under contract for the 2020 season as well.
- The Houston Astros came to an agreement with Collin McHugh for $5.8MM, per Nightengale (via Twitter). McHugh could be moving back into the rotation after a stellar season in the pen, either way this will be his final season of arb eligibility before hitting the open market.
- Jonathan Villar comes away with $4.825MM for what will be his first full season in Baltimore, per Nightengale (via Twitter).
On Thursday, news broke that the Mets, one of the few teams who’d continued to kindle the Hot Stove throughout the winter, were again firing up, with the signing of 34-year-old Jed Lowrie. And then on Friday, amidst a chaotic deluge of arbitration settlements, the Yankees added to perhaps the league’s most crowded infield mix, signing second baseman (and now, perhaps, utility infielder) DJ LeMahieu.
On the surface, both deals were head-scratchers: the Mets, of course, just replaced a pop-up option at the keystone with a potential hall-of-famer, and already seemed set at third and short. First base was tentatively reserved for a Peter Alonso/Dominic Smith/J.D. Davis mix, and the team had spent much of this month assembling depth options of every sort. So where would Lowrie fit? And why wouldn’t the team have used its (ostensibly) few remaining resources where it needed it most, viz. in center field, or to tighten a loose mid-relief corps?
The Yankees, then, may have seized the enigmatic upper hand with Friday’s LeMahieu signing. Gleyber Torres, an early-season option at shortstop during Didi Gregorius’ absence, looked to have second-base on lock for the next half-dozen years at least, and the team has young, good, and very cheap options at the corner spots. Plus, there’s the addition of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, brought in to hold down the early-season fort if he can make his way to the field, who seemed interested in New York only because of its clear path to playing time. LeMahieu has played positions other than his native second before, but none since 2014, since which time he’s entrenched himself as (arguably) the game’s premier defender at the position. Utility men don’t typically make $12MM a year, especially on the heels of two below-league-average offensive seasons, so perhaps the signing is a mere precursor to a move on a larger scale.
Lowrie has been excellent over the last two seasons, accruing 8.5 fWAR in 310 games. He appeared in more games last season, though, than he did from 2015-16, and nearly as many games in ’17 as he did from ’10-’12. Injuries have always been a major part of the profile, and the soon-to-be 35-year-old had mostly dropped the utility moniker in recent years, appearing only in cameo roles at positions other than second. So where will the team deploy him? Third base is an option, but that’d move Todd Frazier to first, where, after three middling offensive seasons, he seems a disjointed fit at best. Such a move, too, would likely keep Peter Alonso in the minors, where the recurrence of a demolition tour would seem of little benefit to anyone. Lowrie probably doesn’t have the range for short at this point in his career, and a utility role wouldn’t be appropriate for someone of his pay grade. Perhaps Frazier will shift full-time to the bench, where the club already has much younger and much cheaper options, or is sent away in a back-page trade, netting a fringe return at best. Steamer, for its part, forecasts Lowrie to be just two percent better offensively than Frazier next season, so hoping for a straight upgrade seems presumptuous.
LeMahieu is part of the rare breed, since Statcast data was made public, to post well-above-average exit velocities and a well-below-average launch angle. The combo works for Christian Yelich, but for most others – Eric Hosmer, Ian Desmond – it spells disaster. If the Yanks can rework LeMahieu’s swing – he already boasts an opposite-field-dominated approach that should fit perfectly in their park – and transplant his defensive wizardry at second to another position(s), the club may have a bargain on its hand, but such an outcome seems unlikely. He doesn’t fit at first, and the club has now lost leverage in a potential Miguel Andujar trade. If the rookie-of-the-year runner-up can shore-up his defensive woes and find a bit better control of the strike zone, the Yankees are looking at a perennial all-star. With a value nowhere near his potential peak, shipping out Andujar now – or moving him to first base – seems altogether shortsighted.
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