It’s no secret that this is a bad crop of free agents. Unfortunately for the Yankees, though, it seems impossible to upgrade without tapping into this pool of talent. In an article from Brendan Kuty at NJ.com, he hints at who the Yankees are targeting:
“ So it makes sense that the Yankees will target power. Where will they get it, though? They would like to upgrade at third base and Justin Turner will be a free agent, but moving Chase Headley and the $26 million he's due the next two years might not be easy. Several bats who profile well at DH will be available, too, such as Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Mark Trumbo.”
That’s very interesting. The Yankees, at least in recent years, have tried to steer clear of older power hitters; the only exception would be the Carlos Beltran contract. Power, nonetheless, is still a need.
In 2016, the Yankees have been 21st in ISO, 19th in home runs, and 22nd in slugging percentage. For a team that has hit at a 92 wRC+ clip, and with the park they have, getting players with some punch seems like a necessity. Let’s take a look at these options.
Encarnacion, who Caitlin talked about on Wednesday, is a tough sell. He wouldn’t be able to play first base, both because of his defensive ineptitude and the return of Greg Bird, and he’s already entering his age 34 season. In the post-steroid era, players of that caliber don’t do well past 35. I think he’s a great player—and most projection systems think he’s a 133 wRC+ true talent hitter, which would have an immediate impact—but at what cost? The Yankees have been down this road before, and it doesn’t work out.
Bautista is a bit of a different story. This guy is a bona fide superstar, but he has some recent injury concerns. He missed almost 50 games with a sprained knee, a strained toe, and a strained shoulder, and he isn’t getting any younger—he’ll be entering his age 36 season. Still, though, there’s a difference. He can play a position, unlike Encarnacion. There is Aaron Judge and Clint Frazier, but good players always find a way to play their way onto a club.
He also could be a bargain—if you bet on the injuries correctly. Jon Heyman predicts he’ll sign for something like $60 million over three years, which would be a bargain if he even puts up one season like 2013-2015. And like Encarnacion, the man can hit. Projection systems also peg him as a 133 wRC+ hitter, which I’d sign up for $20 million a year. I think avoiding him would be in line with their recent goals, but I wouldn’t oppose it if they went after him.
Then there’s Trumbo, who I wouldn’t touch, honestly. He can’t play a lick of defense (he’s been worth -24 defensive runs saved in his career), and even though his home run total is impressive, it only adds up to 121 wRC+. It’s home runs or bust, and I’m not betting over $40 million on that.
Justin Turner is another outside option, but that would mean the Yankees would have to trade Chase Headley. I think Turner is the best third baseman to hit the market in a while, and think about the money the likes of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez received. Even though eating Headley’s contract would hurt, Turner has been worth 6.7 rWAR per 650 plate appearances since 2014. Even if he regresses a couple of wins, it’s still a huge upgrade over Headley.
It’s going to be a strange offseason. While the market has a dearth of talent, it could also mean that there are a wealth of opportunities. There aren’t going to be any guarantees, but I bet that a few teams will be able to walk away with huge steals. The teams that win the free agent lottery will get low-cost, high-reward players on relatively short contracts.
For a team like the Yankees, where their power since 2013 has been abysmal (aside from last year), taking a risk might be worth it. They have a ton of money coming off the books and they have youngsters to supplement. Older power hitters can always be a risk, but also consider: how far would the Yankees have gone without Beltran this year?