Last week I put out a call for Yankees mailbag questions. You delivered big, as always, submitting over a dozen questions! I’m going to take a swing at a few of them this morning. If I miss yours, don’t take it personally. Another editor may answer it during another installment of the mailbag series.
chip renner asks: Last year I had heard what a great deal the Sonny Gray was for the Yankees. Yet whenever I watched, he seemed to let up a big inning or two, especially on the opposition’s long ball aspirations. How did he really fare playing for the Yankees? At home vs away? Is he better off as trade bait considering it would be nice to get a solid #1 or 2 starter. Where does he fit into next years team?
There’s a lot to unpack here, but it essentially boils down to Sonny Gray’s career in pinstripes. How did he actually do? What can the Yankees expect from him moving forward? That’s what I’m getting from this question.
In terms of his performance on the mound, Gray pitched well for the Yankees. He owned a 3.72 ERA over 65.1 innings. His peripherals ran all over the place, though. The 4.87 FIP and 1.52 HR/9 are complete eyesores, but they don’t tell the full story. The right-hander’s numbers skewed greatly due to a rough September finish.
Gray posted a 2.74 ERA with a 4.07 FIP across his first seven starts with the Yankees. His 1.05 HR/9 was just a tick above league average. The final four starts, however, proved disastrous. There he labored to a 5.56 ERA with a 6.38 FIP. He also surrendered an inordinate amount of home runs, running up a 2.38 HR/9. That explains why the overall numbers played rather mediocrely.
Earlier this season, I noted that Gray had a difficult time pitching at Yankee Stadium. The short porch didn’t take kindly to the 28-year-old, and his home run rates inflated accordingly. I think that scared him off the plate, leading to the frustration of many fans. I share their pain, but I don’t believe that’s a long-term problem. Gray’s a smart pitcher, one capable of pitching at the top of the rotation, who will adjust accordingly.
With that in mind, the Yankees would be foolish to trade him. They acquired Gray not only for 2017, but to solidify the rotation for years to come. The team would be significantly worse without him. It may not have looked like it down the stretch in September, but Gray could very well be the frontline starter you want.
Justin asks: Does the potential and low cost of players like Andujar/Frazier have any bearing on whether the Yankees go after Machado/Harper? Or do they become movable pieces to bolster other areas of need?
Oh, of course. The Yankees would love Miguel Andujar and Clint Frazier to develop into impact major leaguers. They would save an enormous amount of money passing on either Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. It’s the difference between a pre-arbitraiton player and a record-shattering free agent contract. We’re talking tens of millions of dollars in savings each year.
In terms of pure baseball moves, Machado and Harper represent major upgrades. They’re entering their primes and have long histories of success. They are two generational talents, whereas Frazier and Andujar have the makings of good big leaguers. They would certainly be attractive pieces in trade discussions and could shore up other areas of need.
That said, these decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. Hal Steinbrenner likes to remind everyone that a team doesn’t need to spend $200 million to win a championship. In that sense, it’s not crazy to think the Bombers go with the in-house options.
dpk875 asks: If the Yankees miss on Ohtani, how do you spend the $3.5M, all in on Maitan, or spread the wealth across multiple players from the Braves situation and the other players available late in the signing period?
With a manager locked up, the next item on the Yankees’ offseason agenda is landing Shohei Ohtani. Brian Cashman confirmed as much yesterday. “We have been preparing for this and thinking through this for quite some time,” he told reporters, “and we’re trying to leave no stone unturned in doing so.” Ohtani clearly represents the team’s top target this offseason.
If the two-way sensation sign elsewhere, though, the Bombers have other options. They could shift their attention to the 13 prospects recently freed by the Braves after an international pool money scandal. That list is topped by Kevin Maitan, a 17-year-old shortstop from Venezuela who was named the top international free agent prior to the 2016 signing period. Other high profile names include Abrahan Gutierrez and Yunior Severino.
Maitan struggled during his first professional season, hitting .241/.290/.340 with very little power. His tools, however, grade out at the highest levels. He’s a consensus top-50 prospect in all of baseball, and has drawn comparisons to Miguel Cabrera. That’s lofty company, isn't it?
If the Yankees miss Ohtani, they should pull out all the stops for Maitan. I would always take the one elite talent over a group of good players. When it comes to prospects, quality is better than quantity. Of course, they could always sign both Ohtani and Maitan, considering teams can use next season’s pool money to sign the former Braves. That would be the best case scenario if you ask me.