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Yankees mailbag: Austin Hedges trade, Braves, Didi Gregorius

The answers to this week’s mailbag have arrived

San Diego Padres v Colorado Rockies Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Hi, everyone, happy Friday! I have five questions for you this week. As always, send in your mailbag submissions to our weekly call or by e-mail to pinstripealleyblog [at] gmail [dot] com. Enjoy!

imramet asks: As backup catcher, would you rather go with Kyle Higashioka, or trade for Austin Hedges, who is being shopped?

Back in December, Kevin Acee reported that the Padres were looking to move Austin Hedges. The 27-year-old stood out as arguably the best defensive catcher in baseball in 2019. At the very least, he ranked as the game’s top pitch framer with a 54.1% strike rate. In terms of pop time, he ranked fourth. It’s tough to name a better catcher with the glove than Hedges, who projects to earn $2.9 million through arbitration this year, and comes with two additional years of control.

That said, Hedges can’t hit. Like at all. Seriously. The catcher had a disastrous season at the plate in 2019, batting .176/.252/.311 with 11 home runs over 347 plate appearances. Among batters with a minimum of 300 plate appearances, his 47 wRC+ ranked dead last. His batted-ball data provides no silver lining, either.

You can’t squint your eyes, tilt your head, and say he fell victim to bad luck. Hedges has always been a poor hitter—a career 67 wRC+ entering the 2019 season—so last year wasn’t an anomaly. Maybe the Yankees can work their magic on him like they did with Gio Urshela, but even he had decidedly better Statcast numbers.

Acee says the Padres are having trouble finding takers for Hedges, and I can’t imagine the Yankees would have interest. It’s not in their MO to pay for backup catchers; they just let Austin Romine walk for a one-year, $4.1 million deal with the Tigers. I think they will just roll the dice with Higashioka, a strong framer himself. While he may be older, he offers greater upside at the plate than Hedges.

blindy8 asks: Last year was sobering by the number of people on the IL. Two years ago, the stocked outfield ended up with Shane Robinson. Does anyone really think they’re going to go through the season without injuries? That said, I find it hard to understand not re-signing Didi Gregorius. Was it that the team felt he wouldn’t recover to form, or that Tyler Wade would be enough? Personally, I think Didi is going to be fine, and the Phillies will benefit; I think not re-signing him was a mistake, as I don’t see any available infielders who could be as great as a replacement. They’re not getting Francisco Lindor, so I can’t understand this move.

I still find it hard to believe the Yankees won’t have Didi suiting up for them in 2020. After the way he took over for Derek Jeter and emerged as a borderline-All-Star, it seemed like he would be a Yankees lifer. That he only signed a one-year deal makes it even tougher to grasp.

Did the Bombers let him walk because of how he played after Tommy John surgery? Maybe. Gregorius was a disaster at the plate in 2019, hitting .238/.276/.441 with 16 home runs (84 wRC+). He still had some pop (thanks to the rabbit ball?) but, yikes, that on-base percentage screams trouble. Never an exit-velocity darling, you could sort of see why the Yankees wouldn’t want to lock him into a long-term deal. Middle infielders have a tendency to fall off a cliff as they age, and Gregorius turns 30 next month. There are some legitimate baseball red flags in his profile.

Again, though, he only signed a one-year deal, and at a reasonable $14 million price. The Yankees didn’t need to give him four years and worry about him breaking down. They could have just been a better team in 2020. So, no, I don’t think they’re sold on Tyler Wade being a solution, but something tells me they appreciate his essentially league-minimum salary.

stinkydino asks: It looks like the Braves and Nationals each need a third baseman. The Yankees have two. Is there a deal here? What could the Yankees get?

The Nationals sure seem like a team who know they lost out on Josh Donaldson. In the last week or so they went out and signed Starlin Castro and Asdrubal Cabrera. Perhaps they have interest in Miguel Andujar, but they seem more comfortable handling their business in through free agency.

The Braves, on the other hand, they feel like a natural trade partner. They could use an impact bat in a bad way, and they have an opening at third base. Atlanta also has a stockpile of young arms. Any one of their pitching prospects would make sense for the Yankees, who have James Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka hitting free agency at season’s end. That said, Andujar profiles mostly as a DH moving forward, making a trade to a National League team difficult. The Braves also seem to be the favorites to re-sign Donaldson, so it’s probably a moot point anyway.

Many have asked: Why rush to trade J.A. Happ?

Plain and simple, the Yankees want to move Happ to clear salary space. After signing Gerrit Cole, the team finds itself right around the third tier of the luxury tax. That’s something the team would like to avoid. “It’s a big deal,” Hal Steinbrenner said last month. “It’s something we would certainly prefer not to do because there are June-draft ramifications, there are numerous ramifications. But that is something I would consider.”

Happ, 37, had a nightmare year in 2019. He pitched to a 4.91 ERA (5.22 FIP) with a sky-high 1.90 HR/9. The southpaw will make $17 million in 2020, so a trade would essentially be a salary dump. From 2015-2018, Happ carved out a role as a pretty solid starter. One could maybe see a scenario where the rabbit ball disappears and he returns to form. He isn’t getting any younger though, and my guess is he will play for another club come Opening Day.

Steve Hodowsky asks: What’s the status of Cameron Maybin?

Maybin, 32, hit .285/.364/.494 with 11 home runs in 2019. That was good for a career-best 127 wRC+. He stepped up in a big way when the Yankees faced an injury crisis, and he became one of my favorite players in the process.

Things have been pretty quiet for Maybin since, though. The latest entry on his MLB Trade Rumors page comes from October 2, when he expressed interest in re-signing with the Yankees. Brian Cashman name dropped him in December, but that seemed more like a negotiating tactic with Brett Gardner. He looks like a minor-league signing for someone at this point.