Welcome to Move to Improve, everyone’s favorite baseball-themed Game Show Network production. On Monday’s episode we saw the Atlanta Braves continue their attempt to put as many over-the-hill names on their roster as humanly possible before they open their new stadium, with the addition of Brandon Phillips to the roster.
This week’s contestants are the New York Yankees. The Yankees are fresh off an 84-78 season in which they missed out on the playoffs for the third time in four years. The last time the Yankees went three of four years without the playoffs (1990-1993), no one even thought twice about the words "white Bronco." This year’s Yankees are projected - by Fangraphs depth charts - to finish 83-79, a one win drop and once again on the outside looking in for the American League Playoffs.
However, it might not take much to move the Yankees from out of the playoffs to in the playoffs, as this year’s AL is shaping up to be mighty clustered after the top tier (Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros).
So for today’s entertainment, the Yankees will have to choose the best of three different routes to "improve the Yankees in 2017." Let’s see their options, folks:
Option 1: The Safe Route
This is the least dangerous route of the three. It’s the Subaru Outback of offseason moves. It’s not going to change anything much in either direction, but you can feel safe that you’re not screwing anything up in the long run.
The move here is to sign Pedro Alvarez to a one- or two-year deal. Give him $7.5 million (or $15 million over two years) to be a platoon DH. Alvarez can fill in more than adequately if anything goes wrong with the current Yankees lineup. In the last five seasons, Alvarez has posted an OPS+ over 100 in each of those years, with 133 home runs and a 112 OPS+ combined. Last year in Baltimore, Alvarez played 109 games and slugged .504 - that’s well worth $7.5 million/year. Right now the Yankees have Matt Holliday slotted in as their DH with Brett Gardner in left field, Jacoby Ellsbury in center field and Aaron Judge in right field. The chances of Judge being a serviceable every day outfielder while Gardner and Ellsbury stay healthy for 162 games is approximately 0.0001%. What seems a lot more likely is that something goes wrong with one of those three, and suddenly Matt Holliday is starting in the outfield. If (when) that happens, having Alvarez to pair with recently-signed Chris Carter is a perfect DH combo. Carter smashes lefties (career .796 OPS), and Alvarez smashes righties (career .801 OPS). If Girardi wants to, he can leave Carter in when there’s a righty with a reverse split - it’s a match made in heaven. This option is cost efficient and boosts the organizational depth, while giving a failsafe to the shaky outfield crew.
Option 2: The In Between
My last editor used to say there was no scenario in which "in between" was grammatically correct. Well, he also never assessed the 2017 Yankees. If the Yankees want to make a move, but not sell the farm, they can go with Option 2.
In Option 2, the Yankees make a move for Brian Dozier. Dozier isn’t going to come as easy as Alvarez, though. For one, he’s not a free agent, and he’s coming off a season in which he hit 42 home runs and was worth 6.5 bWAR. He’s also the most marketable player for a Twins franchise that is looking to make noise with a new front office in town. Dozier has been with the team since he was taken in the 2009 amateur draft, and he has been worth 18.4 bWAR in his career with the Twins.
That being said, there’s a very possible scenario in which the 2017 Minnesota Twins start the season in a similar fashion to last year (25-54, 24.0 games back by July 1) and the new front office decides it’s time for a complete overhaul. Dozier is signed to an extremely team-friendly contract ($6 million in 2017, $9 million in 2018), so that will drive up his price, but with one of the most loaded farm systems in all of baseball, the Yankees could make a move for Dozier (maybe Tyler Austin, Dustin Fowler and Dillon Tate) while still maintaining a plethora of young talent.
Dozier probably won’t hit 40+ home runs in 2017, but his power is legitimate and putting that kind of a righty pull hitter in Yankee Stadium 81 times a year would be terrifying for opposing pitchers. Right now the Yankees are getting the lowest projected fWAR from any starter at second base (Starlin Castro at 1.2 fWAR), and as much as we all love Rob Refsnyder, seeing Dozier take the second base mantle would be a glorious sight.
Option 3: Go All In
Yes, Votto is owed $172 million dollars through 2023. Yes, Votto has had a few nagging injuries pop up in seasons past. Yes, Votto is already 33 years old.
I don’t care about any of that. Votto is still one of the five best hitters in the game, and he possesses a skill set that is going to age gloriously. If we look at the final 111 games of his 2016 season (arbitrary endpoints and all, I know) the dude slashed .373/.472/.628. I just giggled when I wrote that. Despite an OPS below .700 on May 29, Votto ended up leading the National League in on-base percentage and OPS+ by season’s end. It was the fifth time he has led the league in OBP, and while it was only the first time he has led the league in OPS+, Votto has a career OPS+ of 157. Want to know where that ranks all time? Tied for 18th with a couple of guys names Albert Pujols and Tris Speaker. That figure is one spot ahead of Willie Mays and Frank Thomas. Willie Mays and Frank Thomas!
Votto is an all-timer and he’s still got it. His 2016 strikeout rate was lower than his career strikeout rate, and his 2016 hard hit ball rate (and line drive rate) were the third-highest they’ve been in any season. Votto has the type of baseball intellect and batting eye that guarantee a nice, smooth aging curve. As long as he stays healthy. The health is obviously the one factor that makes this a bit scary, but that’s why this is Option 3: Go All In.
The Reds are in full rebuild mode, so the Yankees could get Votto if they truly wanted. It would likely take two of their elite elite prospects (maybe Gleyber Torres and Jorge Mateo), and probably a couple lottery tickets (maybe Dermis Garcia and Tyler Wade). It’s giving up the farm to get the superstar the Yankees lack right now. Many Yankee fans wouldn’t make this move - prospects are hot commodities, but getting Joey Votto would change the landscape of the AL East and put the Yankees in the conversation as AL contenders. Are you willing to sacrifice the future for the present?
So what say you, Pinstripe Alley loyalists, what door do you choose in this week’s edition of Move to Improve? Personally, I like Options 1 and 3, but what do I know, I’m just a lowly game show host.