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Yankees Mailbag: Trades for Robbie Ray, Marco Gonzales, beating Justin Verlander

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The answers to this week’s mailbag are in!

Ask Pinstripe Alley

Hello, all, and happy Friday! We have six questions for this week’s mailbag. Unfortunately next week’s schedule is hectic, so I’ll have to skip a mailbag post. I’ll try to get back to it the following week, with a call for questions on Monday, July 29.

SJComic asks: Do you think the Diamondbacks will be out of the Wild Card race by the trade deadline? If they are, do you think they would put Robbie Ray on the blocks? What kind of package do you feel they would accept from the Yankees for him?

As of Thursday night, the Diamondbacks sport a 46-45 record. They trail the Dodgers in the NL West by 13.5 games, but a comically weak field has them only 1.5 games behind in the Wild Card chase. Nevertheless, FanGraphs only gives them a 17% chance of making the postseason. Mike Hazen and the Arizona front office will have a difficult decision to make in the coming days.

If they do elect to sell, Ray would make for an intriguing trade chip. The Bombers would figure to be interested in him, too. “The Yankees and other teams historically have liked Ray not simply because he is left-handed,” says Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription required), “but also because his career 28.3 percent strikeout rate is higher than that of Clayton Kershaw (27.4), Madison Bumgarner (23.9) and Patrick Corbin (22.9).”

Ray, 27, has pitched to a 3.96 ERA (4.05 FIP) with his usual strikeout stuff (11.78 K/9) and control issues (4.64 BB/9). With 1.5 years of control left, one could expect a Sonny Gray type of haul for the left-hander. That would mean a back-end top-100 prospect and two organizational top-30 prospects. The bidding might go even higher if there’s competition.

Bob asks: What do you think of the Yankees exploring a trade for Marco Gonzales, the left-hander from Seattle?

Fun fact: I wanted the Yankees to draft Gonzales back in 2013. He’s been a personal favorite for a long, long time. The 27-year-old hasn’t made a great impression in the big leagues, though. He owns a career 4.39 ERA (3.98 FIP) over 358.2 innings. This season he hasn’t been much better, with a 4.24 ERA (4.07 FIP) and peripherals that are down from his career norms across the board.

Jerry Dipoto recently said that he’s holding a clearance sale on veteran players, but he wants to keep the younger core around. I’d imagine that extends to Gonzales. Even if he were available, I’m not sure he’d make for an upgrade in the Yankees’ rotation.

lowrider225 asks: What do the Yankees have to do to effectively solve Justin Verlander?

Verlander, 36, owns a 2.98 ERA (4.19 FIP) over 126.2 innings so far in 2019. He’s still getting ace-caliber results, but his numbers under the hood look a little more mortal. In fact, he’s allowing a ton of home runs this years. His 1.85 HR/9 checks in as the sixth-worst mark among all qualified starters.

Houston’s ace attributes his struggles to the baseballs themselves. “We all know what happened,” the right-hander said over the All-Star break. “[Rob] Manfred the first time he came in, what’d he say? He said we want more offense. All of a sudden he comes in, the balls are juiced? It’s not coincidence. We’re not idiots.”

The Yankees, then, should take this to mind. They’re not going to play small ball and beat Verlander. They have to take him deep and hope to out-pitch the Astros. For what it’s worth, he’s most susceptible to the long ball the first time through the order, and particularly on fastballs up in the zone.

Credit: Baseball Savant

Swing early, especially when the ball is up.

thehiro19 asks: Create an All-Star team using Yankees of past and present. Who is at each position?

This is fun! I’m going to go with a full lineup—nine position players and one starting pitcher—for a total of 10 names. That gives us an even mix of past and present, five 2019 Yankees and five from across history.

The historic Yankees make it a little easy. I would use Babe Ruth as the designated hitter, Lou Gehrig at first base, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle in the outfield, and Derek Jeter at shortstop. From the 2019 Yankees, I would use Aaron Judge to complete the outfield, Gary Sanchez at catcher, Gleyber Torres at second base, and DJ LeMahieu at third. A healthy Luis Severino would make the most sense as the starter, but from the healthy players, I’d choose Masahiro Tanaka. To be honest, Austin Romine could probably pitch with that lineup behind him.

Consider the most optimized lineup, as suggested by Baseball Musings’ Lineup Analysis tool:

DH Babe Ruth
CF Mickey Mantle
SS Derek Jeter
1B Lou Gehrig
LF Joe DiMaggio
2B Gleyber Torres
RF Aaron Judge
C Gary Sanchez
3B DJ LeMahieu

RHP Masahiro Tanaka

That lineup would score, on average, 7.964 runs per game, or 1290 runs per season. The least optimal lineup would produce 1215 runs in a 162-game season. For context, as noted by Josh Diemert, the single-season record for runs scored belongs to the 1931 Yankees. They managed 1067 runs on the year. For crying out loud.

Ken asks: I still can’t understand All-Stars DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres sitting out a regular season game last Sunday. For what, to rest for the All-Star Game? A one-run loss to a team that’s not going away—The Yankees could lose home-field advantage in the playoffs by one game. Please explain to me and all Yankees fans how that was justified?

Aaron Boone caught a lot of flack last weekend for resting players ahead of the All-Star break. I get where fans are coming from. Those games against the Rays count! That said, I also trust Boone. I’ve come around to him as a manager and trust his judgement for a number of reasons.

In one of the most compelling parts of Inside the Empire, Bob Klapisch and Paul Solotaroff detail Boone’s clubhouse presence. He is an excellent interpersonal manager and has buy-in from the entire roster. He knows the players better than anyone. If he thinks some guys needed a breather, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s a long season and load management is important. The “one game could cost the Yankees” mentality will only lead to unnecessary stress.

Relatedly, I recommend Russell Carleton’s book The Shift. He has a terrific chapter on what it takes to be a manager at the MLB level. It’s easy to say what Boone should do from our vantage point. but those decisions have so many more variables than one would think.

Bernie asks: Suppose the Yankees, or any other team, started paying pre-arbitration players significantly more than the minimum. It looks like that would be a way to make signing more attractive to draftees and IFAs while staying within the various limits on bonuses. Is there any rule that would prevent such a strategy? What guarantees are teams allowed to make to potential signees?

Technically speaking, nothing prohibits the Yankees from paying pre-arbitration players at a higher rate than the league minimum. They could implement a team policy tomorrow that says the Yankees’ team minimum salary is $1 million. That would catch the attention of free agents and compel a lot more draftees to sign.

The problem, here, however, is that MLB would frown upon this decision. According to Marc Carig of The Athletic (subscription required), the league awards a toy wrestling belt to teams that do the best job of minimizing arbitration payouts. That’s the milieu in which front offices operate.

Baseball owners stick together. No one would want to break away and ruffle feathers, even if it gave them a competitive advantage. Realistically, the rest of the league would exert too much pressure to make it worthwhile for the club.

That said, my position echoes that of longtime PSA writer Kunj Shah: pay them all. And while they’re at it, the Yankees might as well try to pull off the most ingenious draft coup ever concocted, as explained by Jeff Passan.