It almost felt like it was over before it even began, but with Dansby Swanson’s inking of a seven-year deal with the Cubs, all of the top-tier free agents are off the board. At this point, if a team is looking to make an impact addition this winter, they will have to refocus their attention on the trade market. The Yankees fulfilled two massive goals, keeping Aaron Judge in pinstripes while adding Carlos Rodón to an already stacked rotation, however left field remains as a pressing question mark on the roster.
That’s why the report from Joel Sherman of the New York Post that the Yankees and Diamondbacks held several discussions about trades involving Arizona’s surplus of young outfielders is of particular interest. We’ve analyzed the fits of Daulton Varsho and Alek Thomas in recent weeks. Today we’ll turn to the final member of the trio of D-back outfielders who could most plausibly be moved this winter: Jake McCarthy.
2022 Stats: 99 games, 354 PA, .283/.342/.427, eight HR, 43 RBI, 23 SB, 116 wRC+, 2.3 fWAR
2023 Contract Status: Still in first year of pre-arbitration-eligibility, projected to earn near the league minimum. Arbitration eligible in 2026, free agent following 2028 season.
Drafted by the Diamondbacks with the 39th overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, McCarthy rose quickly through their minor league system and earned his MLB debut in late-August 2021. He held his own during his 24-game cup of coffee, managing a 95 wRC+ in 70 plate appearances with a better-than-league-average walk rate albeit with elevated strikeout totals.
McCarthy was actually the best offensive contributor of the aforementioned trio, his 116 wRC+ clocking in ahead of Varsho’s 106 and Thomas’ 71. That said, he’s also the worst defender of the three, accruing -1 Outs Above Average vs. Varsho’s league-leading +18 and Thomas’ +7. He has only one outstanding tool, placing in the 98th percentile in sprint speed, so before this season one might consider him the next Tim Locastro.
But then something remarkable happened in 2022. He cut his walk rate in half and shaved over 10 points off his strikeout rate. You typically see one of those rates improve at the detriment of the other, so to see both improve is highly encouraging.
It sounds simple, but at the heart of it McCarthy needed to swing the bat more going from 2021 to 2022. He stopped being so selective at the plate and the results immediately followed. It’s not dissimilar to the adaptations we’ve seen Gleyber Torres go through over the last four years. Originally an aggressive hitter at the plate, Torres made a concerted effort to cut down on chase and swing and miss in 2020 and 2021 and his production cratered. Lo and behold, once he got back to his older, more attacking approach in 2022, he was back to the above-average hitter we saw during his rookie campaign in 2018.
The same goes for McCarthy. His swing rate went from 44.7 percent to 53.1 percent, zone swing rate from 68.7 percent to 74.7 percent, and first pitch swing rate from 27.1 percent to 41.2 percent. But it wasn’t enough to swing the bat more — McCarthy made more contact in 2022. His zone contact rate jumped from 66.3 percent all the way to 78 percent. Of course, with more swings comes a higher chase rate, but seeing his 6.7 point increase in chase rate accompanied by a massive decrease in whiff rate from 41.3 percent to 27.4 percent and increase in chase contact rate from 38.2 percent to 48.9 percent bodes well. That last number in particular tells me he was able to foul off pitchers’ pitches, increasing the chance that he gets a mistake as the plate appearance is extended.
As a result of this aggressive approach, McCarthy saw some of the best gains in the plate discipline department of any hitter.
On this list we see both MVPs from last season as well as a handful of All-Stars who bounced back from career low points, returning to the levels we’d become accustomed to them producing. One thing that many of them do is punish pitches thrown in advantageous hitting zones, and McCarthy’s new-found assertive approach allowed him to do the same, to the point that he saw the 20th-highest jump in Swing/Take Runs from 2021 to 2022. To see such massive leap forward derive from a firm foundation of concrete changes to approach hints at a sustainability to McCarthy’s above-average production at the plate.
Compared to his two teammates, McCarthy is likely the most attainable of the Diamondbacks outfielders. He may have just turned in the best offensive season of that trio, but he lacks the prospect pedigree of Varsho or Thomas — both placed within the top-five of Diamondbacks’ top prospects lists from several publications while McCarthy topped out at eighth on MLB Pipeline’s Top-30 list for Arizona in 2019. He’s a worse defender than either and falls short of their offensive ceilings, particularly in the power department.
That said, he still won’t come cheap. He comes with six years of team control remaining thanks to the Diamondbacks manipulating his service time in 2021 and to start 2022. Players with that many controllable years generally do not swap teams unless the return is sizable, and one has to think it would take one of the Yankees’ top-three prospects to really move the needle for Arizona. That may prove too steep an asking price, but depending on the Diamondbacks’ priorities, perhaps the Yankees could try for a quantity-over-quality approach in prospective trade packages. Given the upside and growth McCarthy demonstrated in 2022, the Yankees shouldn’t hang up the phone just yet.