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Yankees mailbag: Trading for Jose Urena, the Luke Voit trade, Kendrys Morales

This week’s mailbag answers are in!

Ask Pinstripe Alley

Welcome to another Friday mailbag! This week we have four questions because a few answers are on the lengthy side. If I missed out on your question, don’t worry. Keep submitting and I’ll try to get to it next time.

Steve asks: The Marlins are rumored to have Jose Urena on the trade block. In 2017 and 2018, he pitched over 150 innings with a sub-4.00 ERA. What can the Marlins expect to get back if he’s traded?

The Marlins have indeed been contacted by teams interested in Urena, who has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining after this season. The right-hander got off to a rough start to the year, which explains his 4.11 ERA (4.17 FIP). That said, the underlying numbers suggest that he isn’t much better than that. He sports a career 6.04 K/9 rate, and that’s low for a pitcher with a big fastball like Urena. His other peripherals aren’t dazzling either.

Credit: Baseball Savant

It proves difficult to come up with a good trade comp for Urena, because teams tend to swing deals for impending free agents or players with three-plus years of control remaining. When it comes to pitchers who have a little more than two years of control, a pair of recent trades come to mind:

Athletics trade Sonny Gray to Yankees for Dustin Fowler, James Kaprielian, Jorge Mateo
Padres trade Drew Pomeranz to Red Sox for Anderson Espinoza

Both Gray and Pomeranz had a longer track record of success than Urena. The Padres landed a top prospect—Baseball America ranked Espinoza as the number 15 prospect on their 2016 midseason top 100 list—while the A’s received a top-100 player in Fowler and two organizational top-15 players.

In the case of Urena, maybe a single, top-100 player gets it done, or two organizational top-30 prospects. I’m not sure if it’s worth the effort, though, especially when he’s best known for this.

thedozen asks: Did the Cardinals improperly value Luke Voit when they traded him away? Or has Voit simply raised his game a couple of notches since the Yankees acquired him?

I think the answer comes down to a little of both. The Cardinals probably found Voit expendable, considering they had Matt Carpenter and Jose Martinez entrenched at first base in 2018. Sure, they traded for Paul Goldschmidt in the offseason, but that move had more to do with adding an impact bat than it did with finding a long-term first baseman.

At the time of the trade, Beyond the Box Score delivered a prescient assessment of Voit’s season to date. He tore the cover off the ball at the Pacific Coast League, but he probably wasn’t a great fit for the Cardinals’ roster. His skill set fits better at Yankee Stadium, and the Yankees likely recognized that. Consider his batted profile over the last two years at Busch Stadium compared to in the Bronx.

Baseball Savant and Baseball Savant

Funny enough, he doesn’t lose any home runs, but he gains a few singles at Yankee Stadium. Who’d have guessed that?

Overall, though. the roster crunch proves key. Voit needed to play every day to be successful. The Cardinals didn’t have room for the first baseman, so trading him made sense. They just happened to sell far, far too low on him.

Kyle Ren asks: At this point and from what we have already seen out of the guy, should the Yankees just release Kendrys Morales and call up Mike Ford until Didi returns?

Morales, 35, appears to have run out of gas. When the Yankees picked him up from the A’s, he had a 63 wRC+ on the year. In 45 plate appearances with the Yankees, he sports a 57 wRC+. Josh explained why the move didn’t inspire a lot of confidence at the time, and eh, he cost the prorated version of league minimum. No harm, no foul. With Didi Gregorius slated to return on the road trip, it probably makes sense to just hang on to Morales until then. Bringing up Ford just to send him down doesn’t sound like it’s worth the effort.

A different Steve asks: When Yankees hitters get a hit this year, they often turn toward the dugout and hold up eight fingers. What does this signify? Just curious.

CC Sabathia was asked about that on this week’s R2C2 podcast. He wasn’t keen on elaborating:

“Aww, man, that’s inside joke. That’s a great fan, though, paying attention to detail and seeing that, right?! But I can’t tell people what that is. [Laughs] Yankee fans are good fans and they pick up on stuff like that. We’ve been doing it all year, but it’s an inside clubhouse joke.”

We don’t know what it means, but we all want to see more of it.