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Ask Pinstripe Alley 9/16/17: Wild Card starters, Gary Sanchez, and Shohei Ohtani’s position

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We have answers for your Yankees questions.

Ask Pinstripe Alley

I put out a call for Yankees mailbag questions on Monday. You all came through big time — we received a dozen submissions! I’m going to take a swing at a few of them this afternoon. Although I can’t get to all of them today, don’t worry. Another editor might try their hand at it later on in the week.

HighFlyers28 asks: Say Luis Severino had to pitch the day before a Wild Card game, for whatever reason. Do you go with Sonny Gray, Masahiro Tanaka, or CC Sabathia for the do-or-die showdown?

I’m going to approach this question from a purely hypothetical standpoint. I’m holding for variables such as rotation order and proper rest. Assuming all starters are available, sans Severino, I would pick Gray over Tanaka. Both have been excellent since June, but Gray has the edge.

Pitching lines since June 1st

Pitcher IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP
Pitcher IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP
Masahiro Tanaka 104.2 10.06 1.81 1.55 3.78 3.87
Sonny Gray 113.1 8.89 2.94 0.79 2.70 3.39

Tanaka’s posted stronger strikeout and walk rates, but his propensity to give up the home run ball unsettles me in a Wild Card game. There’s no margin for error in a one-game playoff. Gray might walk a few too many, but his results are sterling. He’s a groundball machine and does a fine job of limiting the long ball. You really can’t go wrong with either, but if I had to choose, give me Gray.

Larry asks: Should the Yankees look into trading Aaron Hicks this offseason since his value is high and they have a logjam in the outfield?

Assuming all players are healthy, the Yankees essentially have five viable outfielders and only four spots to play them. You have to imagine one gets traded this winter. The question then becomes who? I think Brian Cashman would ideally prefer to move Jacoby Ellsbury, but his contract situation makes that complicated.

Hicks makes some sense as a trade candidate. He’s a relatively young, switch-hitting outfielder. He also made adjustments that give one reason to believe his newfound success is sustainable. Take his plate discipline for example. He’s swinging at fewer pitchers in general, and that’s especially the case when it comes to offerings outside of the strike zone. Some still aren’t sold on Hicks, but when healthy, he looks legit.

That said, the Yankees seem to love him. I think the front office wouldn’t hesitate to trade him for the right price, but that’s the key. They would need a strong return for Hicks, and I’m not sure they’ll find what they’re after. Instead, expect the “Will the Yankees trade Brett Gardner?” song and dance routine to continue this winter.

dpk875 asks: After seeing Gary Sanchez hit 50 home runs in his first 161 career games, do you think the Yankees could be in the market for a catcher who would free Gary up to DH and only catch 1-2 times a week? I wonder if the Royals, who are staring at a big rebuild, would part with Salvador Perez? Or less likely, if J.T. Realmuto could be had from the Marlins for the right price? It would have to be a quality catcher to make it worth it as part of Sanchez’s value comes from his big numbers at a position that most teams don’t count on for offense.

The short answer to this is no. I think that this might actually be the least of the Yankees’ concerns moving forward. Sanchez represents a franchise cornerstone. As you mentioned, he’s an elite bat at a premium position. That combination makes him one of the best values in all of baseball. I’m not exaggerating, either. Heading into Friday night’s game, he cracked the American League top 10 list in terms of fWAR.

Credit: FanGraphs

It’s incredible to think he missed a month with injury and still broke though the list. As Matt Provenzano mentioned earlier in the week, Sanchez’s early-career performance stands without historical precedent. There’s almost no way the Yankees move him. They will live with the growing pains behind the plate, which I would add are overblown.

Also, the Yankees would likely have to pay far more than what Perez or Realmuto are worth. Perez offers power, but that’s about it. He’s an average — at best — hitter in every other category. Fans would also disapprove of his high strikeout rate.

Credit: FanGraphs

He’s a name brand and has World Series experience, but pass. Realmuto, on the other hand, is older and less effective than Sanchez. These avenues don’t turn up much. Just let Sanchez be Sanchez.

jsharks1981 asks: If the Yankees sign Shohei Ohtani what would be his position with the team? Starting pitcher only, position player only, starting pitcher and designated hitter, reliever and DH, all the above and occasional hot dog vendor?

Rumors have circulated of late suggesting Ohtani may be posted this offseason. The Yankees seem to love the two-way superstar, going so far as to send Cashman on a scouting trip. While we don’t know if he will come over next season, let alone if he’ll land with the Bombers, it’s fun to speculate. The obvious answer? He’ll start, DH on the days he isn’t pitching, and make occasional appearances in the YES booth.