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Yankees mailbag: Jon Gray trade, Felix Hernandez, Brett Gardner

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The answers to this week’s mailbag are here.

Miami Marlins v Colorado Rockies Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Hello, everyone, and welcome to a special Black Friday edition of the Ask Pinstripe Alley mailbag! Need a break from the mall? Take a breather with these Yankees questions and answers. If you would like to be featured in an upcoming mailbag, leave your submissions in our weekly call or by e-mail to pinstripealleyblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

Many have asked: What about trading for Jon Gray?

Gray, 28, makes for an interesting trade target. The right-hander shook off a nightmare 2018 season—one that saw him demoted to Triple-A and miss the postseason roster—by pitching to a 3.84 ERA (4.06 FIP) over 150 innings. Believe it or not, he actually pitched better at Coors Field than on the road, with a 3.46 ERA (3.71 FIP) at home.

The right-hander works primarily with a fourseam fastball that has elite velocity, averaging 96.19 mph in 2019. Statcast grades that out as 89th percentile stuff. He uses a slider as an out pitch, and it had a 22.56% whiff rate last year.

If the Rockies shop the right-hander, and they just might considering their financial situaiton, expect the Yankees to have interest. Big velocity fastball and a slider? That jives with the team’s modus operandi. Under team control? The club values that. A $5.6 million million salary, as projected by MLB Trade Rumors? That would fit nicely in any luxury tax scenario. Plus, the Bombers used their tenth-round pick on him in the 2011 draft.

What would it cost to get Gray? Well, the James Paxton trade makes for a pretty good benchmark. They both represented high-upside pitchers with notable injury histories and two years of team control. The benchmark then is one top-50 prospect, an organizational top-30 prospect, and a throw-in player. It’s kind of funny how similar the scenarios are. We’ll have more on Gray soon in a full trade-target post.

Mark asks: Any guesses on who might be the 2020 equivalent of the Troy Tulowitzki signing?

Jacoby Ellsbury could be someone else’s 2019 Tulowitzki!

As for the Yankees, I keep going back to Felix Hernandez for this question. The 33-year-old pitched to a 6.40 ERA (6.00 FIP) over 71.2 innings in 2019. Sadly that wasn’t an outlier year. In 314 innings since the start of 2017, he owns a 129 ERA-. King Felix is a shell of his former self now, and that makes me sad.

The right-hander had a hero’s sendoff in Seattle, complete with a rousing ovation. He hit free agency though and appears ready to move on from the Mariners. “We’ll see if I can find a job,” Hernandez told Larry Stone.“But I’m not retiring. You saw me pitch today. I can still go out there and compete.”

Fans once longed to see Hernandez pitching in pinstripes. Back in 2011, Ken Rosenthal wrote about a dream trade between the Yankees and Mariners. Now, though, a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training feels an awful lot like a Tulowitzki signing.

Chuck asks: Are you surprised it is taking so long to sign Brett Gardner? Is it all about money? I am assuming so since likely a one year contract. Is there a chance he goes elsewhere with such a slim marker for players that can play center? Does he really have that much left in the tank at his age to replicate this year?

Yeah, I thought Gardner would have been back in the fold by Thanksgiving for sure. Last year he signed on Halloween! There was a club option involved, so that probably expedited things, but still, this feels prolonged.

I can think of two reasons to explain why Gardner has yet to sign. First, the Yankees are trying to pay him at a rate commensurate with his expected performance, perhaps with the removal of the juiced ball in mind. In that scenario, Gardner would be holding out for a larger deal.

On the other hand, maybe Gardner has bigger offers on the table. Perhaps he has a two year-deal in his possession? In that case, he could be waiting for the Yankees to match those deals.

At 36 years old, there is obviously reason for concern. He’s coming off a career year, but his expected numbers don’t inspire much confidence.

I still think they get a contract worked out eventually. They make a lot of sense for each other. We’ll have more on Gardner this weekend.

Stephen asks: Now that the season is over, are we ever going to learn what the four-finger salute after every hit represents? I have to admit, it’s one of the best kept secrets I’ve ever seen and I’m dying to know.

You and me both, Stephen. I’ve long wanted to know what it means, but the players are keeping that information to themselves. Fans asked CC Sabathia about it on a few different occasions on the R2C2 podcast, and he always declined to answer. This might just might be a clubhouse only thing.