Category: Yankees

Does a Jacoby Ellsbury for Johnny Cueto swap make sense?

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Jacoby Ellsbury’s tenure in pinstripes has been marred by injuries and ineffectiveness.

Brief thoughts on the trade idea floated today by ESPN’s Buster Olney:

In theory this makes sense. The Yankees have little use for OF Jacoby Ellsbury or his car-crash of a contract (two years, $42M). The Giants probably aren’t thrilled about SP Johnny Cueto and his contract (three years, $68M).

Ellsbury missed all of 2018 with an assortment of “injuries” best construed as “look, we’re good now and can’t afford to let you give away outs anymore.” He hasn’t cracked 2 fWAR since 2014. Cueto struggled through 53 innings (4.52 xFIP) before undergoing Tommy John surgery in August. It’s unlikely he’d be available at all in 2019. Unlike Ellsbury, he was pretty good as recently as 2016.

Again, if we dabble in theory, maybe a swap makes sense. The Giants have serious need of warm bodies in the outfield, and hey, Ellsbury can definitely (maybe) throw on a cap and grab a glove and trot out there. He probably can’t be productive after so many injuries and so much decline, but he’s available.

And for the Yankees, well, everyone needs pitching, right?. The thing is, Cueto’s north of 30, injury prone and already on the decline before blowing out his arm. Perhaps once healthy he could slide into CC Sabathia’s rotation spot, but even that might be up in the air. His HR/FB rate climbed in 2017 to 14% and stayed there in 2018 — above the league average. The velocity and strikeouts have been on the decline, too. That doesn’t play well in Yankee Stadium.

If the Giants were willing to do something to balance out the salary difference, this isn’t necessarily an awful idea. But let’s be real here, it’s unlikely either player is a significant part of a contender going forward. Odds are Ellsbury is essentially replacement level and Cueto’s declining years would look a lot prettier in a more forgiving division and ballpark than the Yankees can offer.

Perhaps both teams are better off just swallowing hard and stomaching their respective bad contracts.

One final season for CC Sabathia

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CC Sabathia announced late in 2018 that this upcoming season would be his last.

In the last twenty years, arguably no free agent signing meant more to the New York Yankees than CC Sabathia. Signed in the winter of 2008 to a 7-year, $161M contract, Sabathia immediately became the ace the Bombers sorely needed. In a four year span, the big lefty was a workhorse:

Season IP xFIP WAR
2009 230 3.77 5.9
2010 237.2 3.63 5.1
2011 237.1 3.02 6.4
2012 200 3.20 4.7

That’s money well spent. The thing with aces — and Sabathia was the unquestioned ace of the Bombers — is we expect certain things for them. We want a lot of innings at an above-average clip. We want the reliability. There’s almost a John Wayne quality to an ace, right? They ride into town and settle down all the kerfuffle. An ace toes the rubber in a tense situation and quiets the opponent.

Sabathia had those moments in pinstripes. In Game 5 of the 2012 ALDS against a feisty Baltimore Orioles team, as that era of Yankees’ teams was petering out, the big man grabbed the game by the throat and never let go:

Complete game, nine strikeouts, two walks and four hits. Yankees win.

In many ways, that night in October of 2012 was the last time CC Sabathia was CC Sabathia. In 2013, the strikeouts fell, the walks climbed and his ERA nearly touched five. In 2014, knee trouble kept him to just 46 MLB innings.

Sabathia’s 2015 ended up being a turning point for his career. I don’t particularly care about how well he did or did not pitch, and neither should you. What matters is how the season ended; Sabathia checked himself into an alcohol rehabilitation facility. It was a brave thing to do. The team supported it, the fans supported it.

Given that he’s healthy now, it isn’t much of a surprise that Sabathia has developed into a strong back of the rotation starter. His career has arced nicely. No, he doesn’t go deep into games and he certainly lacks the velocity he once carried, but Sabathia is clever and developed a nifty cutter. He generates a healthy amount of weak contact (as a result of that cutter) and doesn’t work himself into trouble. He successfully transformed himself after losing ticks off his fastball. Not everyone can pull it off.

Sabathia’s posted sub-4 ERAs each of the past three seasons and can be safely relied on to deliver in big moments. No, you can’t ride him for 8 innings and 130 pitches like you might, say, Justin Verlander, but he can get you a clean 5 or 6 innings. Considering the heavy artillery sitting out in the Yankees’ bullpen, that’s more than fine.

Sabathia announced in November that 2019 will be his last season. One last rodeo for the Big Man. There will be time in the years to come to discuss his Hall of Fame candidacy (I think it’s pretty darn strong at first glance), but without question, he was a great pitcher in the biggest moments.

As teams discuss the merit of spending high dollar on premier free agents, Sabathia should be one of the first names mentioned as an example of it working out.

 

 

Clint Frazier is healthy and fans should rejoice

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Clint Frazier was a top prospect on quality of hair alone. NEWSDAY

As a prized prospect of the New York Yankees, one would assume Clint Frazier’s frightening battle with concussions last season made national news. And yet, I bet most of you didn’t know about this:

Clint Frazier said it was like being in “a state of euphoria,” though that barely describes what really happened to the Yankees outfielder last summer. A chronic concussion, which lingered for months, not only robbed Frazier of a year of his career but left him with black holes in his memory — entire swaths of 2018 he can’t recall.

“I felt like I wasn’t physically there, like something I couldn’t get out of. I was scared,” he said by telephone on Tuesday. “There were times I’d be driving, like I was on auto-pilot or something. I’d look around and think, ‘How did I get here?’ ”

Whoa. Concussions are typically viewed as an MMA, boxing, football or soccer problem, but the reality is sadly different. What happened to Frazier could happen to any outfielder — he crashed headfirst into the outfield wall attempting a diving catch during a Spring Training game. Unfortunately, it was labeled as a “mild concussion,” a terrible thing to say in any situation because all brain trauma is serious. This isn’t like a calf strain. In a sense, that phrase tainted Frazier’s 2018. He played in only 69 games last season across MLB, AAA and A+ ball.

Going into 2019, Frazier, 24, is optimistic about his health. Just look at what he tweeted after being cleared:

Isn’t that awesome?

In baseball terms, Clint Frazier is an outfielder and was a prized prospect. But it feels almost cruel to think of him only in those terms now. He’s a living, breathing human being full of hopes and fears, just like you and me. His story has really reminded me of that, especially in lieu of Yankee fans asking what Frazier might provide for the team in 2019. I’m going to gently get into that, but that’s not the story.

It’s simple. Clint Frazier is healthy, and that’s freaking awesome.

But, baseball rolls on. Given that the Bombers appear unlikely to sign Bryce Harper to man left field, Brett Gardner seems pegged for the role going into the season. Once an above-average regular, Gardner’s lost bat speed as all mid-30s hitters tend to do and is now really a fourth outfielder/pinch runner. He’s not a viable option for a World Series contender.

The obvious question is, what can Frazier provide?

The answer is no one knows. It’s silly to pretend otherwise. But the Yankees have clearly held Frazier in high-regard — GM Brian Cashman famously called Frazier’s bat speed “legendary” — and across baseball, he was routinely listed as a Top-50 prospect. There’s pedigree here.

But he’s also yet to have an extended look at the big league level. Aaron Judge’s injury last year presented an opportunity, but Frazier was injured, forcing Cashman to acquire Andrew McCutchen. Given Gardner’s age and the possibility of ineffectiveness, Frazier could see another window open this year.

As a prospect, Frazier profiled as (roughly) an above-average hitter, but a risky one. He’s dependent on carrying a high batting average to keep his on-base percentages high and to supplement an okay walk rate. Then again, his bat speed is ridiculous and might boost him into 20+ home runs. He’s got a future.

But for 2019, who knows what to expect? He could be a really valuable piece. He might not hit at all. Who is to say? I don’t know what the Yankees or Frazier expect out of the coming season. But, if the young outfielder can just stay healthy and get a year of regular playing time (either in New York or Scranton), it’d be a cause for celebration.