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Yankees mailbag: Gerrit Cole, Winter Meetings predictions, Gio Urshela

The answers to this week’s mailbag are in.

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MLB: ALCS-New York Yankees at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Hi, everyone, and happy Friday! We have a solid mailbag for you this week: six questions and answers. I’m taking next week off because of Winter Meetings coverage, but keep the submissions coming. You can always send them to pinstripealleyblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

Wombat21 asks: There has been a lot of advocating for both, but is it more important to bring back departing free agents (Dellin Betances, Didi Gregorius, Austin Romine, Brett Gardner) or to get the big fish in Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg?

Let the record show that my answer is sign them all. They’re the Yankees; they can make it work. In terms of importance though, I say prioritize Cole or Strasburg. It’s better to sign one seven-WAR star than a collection of players who would add up to that win total.

Yanks4ever asks: The Winter Meetings are historically the most hectic period of the offseason. What major moves do you predict Brian Cashman to do while he’s there?

To quote a certain commenter on this board, go get Cole! Other than that, I can see a J.A. Happ trade going down. I’m hoping that the Winter Meetings are more active this year. Last offseason the Yankees found themselves in a few wild rumors—Noah Syndergaard and a three-team trade—but nothing else. Give me round-the-clock action, please.

Mike asks: Everyone, including Cashman, has seemingly handed Gio Urshela the starting third base job in 2020, stating that Urshela has similar offensive numbers and a better glove than Andujar. While the latter may be true, we seem to be forgetting that Urshela’s “breakout” coincided with a juiced ball, while Andujar put up similar (if not better) offensive numbers without the juiced ball. Isn’t it more likely that Urshela turns back into the pumpkin he was prior to 2019 when the ball is changed again?

Fans will remember the 2019 season for a number of reasons, chief among them the home-run explosion. There were 6,776 dingers in 2019, an all-time high. Compare that to the 5,585 long balls launched in 2018. It seemed like everyone had a 20-homer season, including Gio Urshela. The former light-hitting infielder slugged 21 bombs en route to a 132 wRC+ campaign.

The juiced ball obviously goes a way towards explaining Urshela’s breakout season, but I wouldn’t dismiss his performance out of hand. The 28-year-old made notable changes to his approach, and that shift in process could spell sustained success. I wrote about it a bit last summer.

Consider his Statcast profile:

Gio Urshela’s Statcast Numbers

Year Launch Angle Exit Velo xwOBA
Year Launch Angle Exit Velo xwOBA
2015 14.4 87 .300
2017 9.1 87 .293
2018 18.2 85.7 .266
2019 13.6 90.5 .353

Urshela scorched the ball in 2019; he ranked in the 60th percentile in terms of hard-hit percentage. In an era where teams invest big money in player development, where they seek to squeeze every last drop of potential out of a player, it’s not unrealistic to think breakouts could be legitimate. J.D. Martinez did it, so did Justin Turner. The MVP Machine has plenty more examples. I’m all on board with Urshela being the real deal.

Vincent asks: How did re-signing Gregorius become questionable? I have been a Yankees fan since Mantle, and Did is one of the best two-way shortstops the team has ever had. He not only immediately filled those big shoes left by Derek Jeter, the Jeter hype, but he showed no signs of the pressure and improved offensively every year prior to injury. So, why isn’t keeping him on the team a priority instead of the question mark the media is making it out to be? Happy Holidays to Yankee Fans .

That’s a great question, Vincent. Matt wrote up Gregorius yesterday in a potential free agent target post, so I won’t belabor the point. My impression, however, has to do with the current landscape of the baseball economy. A few years ago, front offices caught on to the notion that it’s not efficient to pay for past production. Instead, they’re interested in future value, and for Gregorius, given his age, it’s unclear how much of that he can bring. It sucks big time because Sir Didi is the man and should be a Yankee for life.

Jake asks: Who will have the best 2020 at the big-league level: Jordan Montgomery, Mike King, or Deivi Garcia?

Jordan Montgomery wins by default here because he has a track record of success in the big leagues. He demonstrated over a full season and part of 2018 that he can pitch well at the game’s highest level. He doesn’t have frontline potential, but when healthy, he’s a quality arm.

Garcia, meanwhile, offers the most upside. A lot of scouts and prospect rankings love him. That said, he has more question marks around him than Montgomery, and some think his future resides in the bullpen.

David asks: We keep hearing that “the analytics people love Kyle Higashioka.” What exactly are they looking at in terms of metrics? It certainly isn’t translating on the offensive side.

Higashioka, 29, has yet to hit in the majors, but he does have a track record of success in Triple-A. He posted a 129 wRC+ in 70 games for the RailRiders in 2019 after all. When it comes to the analytics, though, Higgy grades out as an adept pitch framer. According to StatCorner, he bought the Yankees 24 extra calls. In a report in The Athletic (subscription required), Higashioka said that framing is “...probably why I’m still around.” He can catch with the best of them.