East Coast Bias: Urshela’s Meteoric Rise, Juan Show-To, Unlikely Contenders

AL East

The Replacements, Part II

Remember The Replacements? The movie about a football team that went on strike, so the owner hired a new coach to find replacement players a week before their first game? A perfect analogy this is not, but the Yankees have been put in a similar situation. 2019 saw names like Gio Urshela, Cameron Maybin, Clint Frazier, David Hale, Mike Tauchman and Nestor Cortes all step in and help the organization win 103 games en route to a first-place finish and a trip to the ALCS.

More than a quarter of the way into the 2020 season and Aaron Boone is filming the sequel, with Brian Cashman moonlighting as talent director.

Giancarlo Stanton has a calf strain and will be missing three to four weeks. Aaron Judge looked like the American League MVP through 17 games but a calf injury landed him on the IL. DJ LeMahieu, the Yankees’ most consistent hitter, joined Judge and Stanton on the injured list with a thumb sprain after Saturday’s game against the Red Sox.

Have no fear, the Replacements are here.

It may be the same faces, but they continue to do what they do best: pick up the pieces.

Mike Tauchman entered Sunday’s game as the Yankees’ three-hitter despite being the team’s fourth outfielder entering the season (fifth if you count Stanton, who has primarily been DH). He picked up right where he left off last season, as he’s hitting a robust .357 in 46 plate appearances, accompanied by 146 OPS+ and an on-base percentage of .413.

Clint Frazier, a one-time top prospect, fell all the way to seventh on the outfield depth chart, and it appeared as though he would only see Major League at-bats if injuries forced the issue. In what has become a theme with the Yankees, that’s exactly what happened. Frazier, one of the more polarizing players on the roster, joined the Yankees the only way Red Thunder could – with a home run on the fourth pitch he saw. He’s done nothing but produce in his four games in the Bronx, collecting two home runs, three doubles and eight RBI in just 15 at-bats.

Mike Ford has provided some power in the lineup. Luis Avilan has stepped up in the back end of the bullpen, as has Hale.

The Yankees are known for their star power. But with players injured and the likes of Gleyber Torres, Gary Sanchez and Brett Gardner struggling, the team is still well on their way to a playoff berth – thanks to the replacements.

From Replacement to Star

Speaking of replacements, there was none brighter last season than Urshela, who became the everyday third baseman after Miguel Andujar injured his shoulder, limiting him to just 12 games.

Urshela, who appeared in 167 games over parts on three seasons with the Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays, was always known for his slick fielding at the hot corner. Yankees evaluators thought there was potential in his bat, too, and Urshela awarded the ballclub with a downright dominant triple slash of .308/.356/.530 in 132 games.

I erred on the side of caution and was expecting Urshela to come back to earth in 2020. Instead, he’s turned me into a believer with his .866 OPS to go along with eight extra-base hits and 15 RBI.

Coupled with his Gold Glove-caliber defense, and he’s no longer just a replacement. He’s turning into a bona fide stud at the position.

I selected Anthony Rendon, Alex Bregman, Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado, Rafael Devers and Matt Chapman and compared Urshela, starting from Opening Day 2019 until present day.

In comparison, Urshela ranks second with 12.7% Brls/BBE (barrels per batted ball event).

In comparison, Urshela ranks third with a 132 OPS+.

In comparison, Urshela ranks third with a 132 wRC+.

In comparison, Urshela ranks fourth 41.6% hard-hit percentage.

In comparison, Urshela ranks fifth with a .369 wOBA.

He peppers the ball to all fields, including going the opposite way less than only Devers and Rendon. Both his batting average and BABIP top the list, and his glove isn’t so bad either…

Give the Yankees’ scouting department a ton of credit. They traded cash considerations to the Blue Jays for Urshela and is arbitration-eligible over the next three years.

Not bad for a starting third baseman that is looking more and more like one of the best the league has to offer.

Baltimore Britton

With all this talk about replacements, let’s finish this off with Zack Britton, who stepped into the closer role after Aroldis Chapman went down with COVID-19. It’s safe to assume Britton will never be as dominant as he was during a two-year stretch with the Orioles when he earned consecutive All-Star nods in 2015 and 2016, but he’s damn close in 2020.

Britton currently leads the league in saves and is doing so by allowing opposing hitters to bat just .138 against him. This is thanks in large part to his sinker, which is — erm — sinking at a career rate, resulting in a 33% soft contact percentage, his best since 2015.

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Chapman’s return is on the horizon, so Britton will be “losing” his job as closer. But that’s as good as a trade for the Yankees, giving the bullpen even more depth.

AL East Players(s) of the Week: The Baltimore Orioles

If the postseason was to start tonight, the Yankees would be matched up with the Baltimore Orioles.

That’s not a typo.

Who saw this coming? The O’s entered 2020 as one of the only teams that didn’t have a shot at the postseason. But the team sits at 12-9, including 5-2 record over the last week of games, thanks in large part to an offense that has four regulars in Pedro Severino, Hanser Alberto, Jose Iglesias and Renato Nunez hitting over .300 on the year. Alex Cobb has emerged as the team’s ace and should be a hot commodity come trade deadline while the bullpen has done its part, too. Kudos to the Orioles for making something out of nothing.

NL East

Franchise Players Old and New

The porch in right at Citi Field hangs over the lower-level seats, so that when a hitter deposits a ball into the right-field landing area, it definitely looks great, but it’s almost harder to hit a home run into the lower level.

But if you clear ALL the seats, that’s impressive full stop. Check out Juan Soto doing just that:

Poor Robert Gsellman. Pressed into starter duty because of injuries and opt-outs, he had to watch the Nationals’ wunderkind nearly leave the entire ballpark.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: If we’re talking about Washington tape-measure shots, we’re obligated to invoke The Capitol Punisher Frank Howard. As you were. –b.]

Soto, who missed the start of the season because of a positive coronavirus test, made up for lost time and then some during a dazzling week: a cool .462 average; an absurd .615 ISO; 5 home runs in 30 plate appearances; 12 runs; 12 RBI; a stunning 1.610 OPS; and a ridiculous .641 wOBA. Soto is the franchise now, and what a rep D.C. baseball has.

Their previous face (and hair) had himself a week, too. Bryce Harper hit .480/.567/1.447 (BA/OBP/OPS) with 2 home runs, 7 RBI, and 10 runs. When Harper is playing well, he seems to be moving twice the speed of the game around him, and he’s in that mode right now. Harper routinely took extra bases and collected a walk-off against the Mets midweek (with a little help from a great Roman Quinn slide/bad Wilson Ramos tag). He’s a constant threat: in 31 plate appearances, he reached base 18 times and helped the Phillies go 4-3 on the week (4-0 in the division).

Soto was part of the reason why Harper became expendable in Washington. It’s great to see him living up to the hype.

It’s equally great to see Harper live up to the hype that’s sometimes dogged him.

Good News for the Marlins

The Marlins are still without the majority of their Opening Day roster because of COVID. In eighth-ranked prospect Lewin Diaz’s first career start, he hit cleanup, which tells you a lot about where the roster is at the moment.

The good news is all 18 Marlins who missed time were cleared to return as of Sunday, and they’ll start coming back to the first-place Marlins soon enough.

Ace Attrition 

Max Scherzer missed time with a hamstring injury. Jacob deGrom was scratched from a start because of a neck issue. Marcus Stroman opted out. Mike Soroka suffered an extremely unfortunate Achilles tear. The NL East has some talented pitching, but like the rest of the league in 2020, their best hurlers have had some trouble staying on the mound.

A couple of guys have hung in there and excelled. Max Fried moved into the void left by Soroka’s devastating injury with aplomb. He opened the season 3-0 in five starts with a 1.24 ERA and a sub-1 WHIP, including a strong outing this week against Miami, spinning 6.1 shutout innings. He’s tied for the NL lead in pitcher fWAR and has thrown the most innings without giving up a home run in the senior circuit. He sports the ninth-lowest BABIP for NL pitchers with 20 or more innings and has yielded the sixth-highest soft contact rate. His barrel rate and hard-hit percentage are way down from career averages. He’s all over NL leaderboards.

And he’s usually behind Aaron Nola in nearly all of them. In two starts this past week, Nola went 2-0, throwing 15 combined innings of one-run, five-hit ball while striking out 18 and posting a measly .53 WHIP.

Philly’s bullpen is atrocious. Yet, as a total pitching unit, they’ve posted a positive fWAR on the strength of their starters (5th in the NL on fWAR), spearheaded by Nola’s fantastic start to the season. He gets lost in the annual deGrom-Scherzer Cy Young debate, but Nola is a true ace doing true ace things.

NL East Player of the Week: Juan Soto

With respect to Harper, who had the best week for arguably the best intra-division team, I’m going with Soto, because A) look at those numbers above, and B) just look at where this thing landed again:

Shouts to Harper, Nola, and Dominic Smith, but it was Soto’s week from start to finish.

 

Christian Yelich is major boon to Brewers current, future outfield

While the rest of the league was sitting by the hearth, quietly contemplating the balance of expenditure and analytics, David Stearns was in the kitchen, his fingers on the dial of the burner, waiting for the temperature to be just right to make a splash. By the time he was through, he had cooked up one of the best outfields in the NL and served it to the rest of the league on a silver platter.

Continue reading “Christian Yelich is major boon to Brewers current, future outfield”

The rich get richer: Why we don’t like the New York Yankees getting Giancarlo Stanton

“The Yankees are talented, well-developed and returning to the form with which we’re all familiar. It’s a great team and, for the first time in a long time, for the outsider, they’re likeable. Give Cashman credit: he’s reinvented himself in real-time and built a next-generation Yankees team that, save for pitching, is reminiscent of those teams that started the last dynasty.”

That would be yours truly, on October 5, previewing the ALDS.

Yes, hell was freezing over. The New York Yankees–the Yankees!–weren’t the team everyone loves to hate. They had retooled the team the right way–no more massive free agent contracts, homegrown talent, had to play their way into the postseason and caught fire against the Minnesota Twins in the Wild Card Game. The 2017 Yankees were the good guys for once.

Fast forward two months, and most of us outside of the five boroughs feel a bit snookered. Cashman swooped in after Giancarlo Stanton rebuffed the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, offered the Miami Marlins an offer that could be easily-enough refused, and the team–whose face is now Yankee legend Derek Jeter–was allowed by their superstar to make the deal. It will be formally announced Monday.

And I hate it.

I’m admittedly being a little melodramatic, but the optics on this deal just don’t *ahem* look good.

***

In 2011, the then-New Orleans Hornets, Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers agreed to a complex deal to send Chris Paul to the Southland. It was so lopsided, commissioner (and Dark Lord of the Sith) David Stern vetoed it.

In fairness, it’s to a significant extent apples and oranges: different sport, different CBA, different economics. Stanton flexed his muscle through a total no-trade clause freely agreed to between himself and Marlins management (then overseen by Jeff Loria) in a mammoth 13-year, $325M contract signed in 2014. In so doing, he nixed reported deals with the San Francisco Giants (which made sense, the Giants are currently a tire fire) and St. Louis Cardinals (which makes no sense, Stanton goes to a hitter-friendly division, a team that needs a single plus-bat to be instantly competitive and he would have been revered as a god in baseball-happy St. Louis and I’m freely conceding these points as a Milwaukee Brewers fan!)

So, no: the Yankees aren’t the culprits here. Doesn’t mean we have to like it.

Further, on paper, of course this makes the Yankees a better team: the team already had solid bats in Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez, speed and upside in Aaron Hicks, big upside in Greg Bird and a mutant beast in Aaron Judge. When news started circulating, Yankees Twitter started in on how this would be the new Murderer’s Row, how Jeter should get a ring for his part in the 2018 World Series pennant, etc.

Stanton is an all-world talent and the reigning National League MVP, but he struck out at a 2:1 ratio to taking walks, set a personal low for outs in a season (447, by far his highest to date), grounded into 13 double plays (after totaling 11 in 2015 and ’16 combined) and likely will not see the field in AL play.

The Yankees have also agreed to take on the overwhelming majority of Stanton’s remaining contract, which is straight out of the old spend-spend-spend playbook that turned the Yankees into full-on baseball heels. Further, if there are injuries (not out of the question) or he underperforms (see also: Giambi, Jason, Ellsbury, Jacoby, Johnson, Randy), Stanton has zero incentive to opt-out in 2020. The Yankees have tied a significant part of their future to a star who is showing signs of beginning to trend in the wrong direction and won’t help in the field.

I’m not in any way convinced that Stanton will absolutely make the Yankees better than they would be by staying the course. We’ll never know now; nevertheless, that’s a lot of money for a player who hasn’t played meaningful homestretch baseball, much less in October.

And let’s be real: Giancarlo Stanton is a great ballplayer, but he’s not Bryce Harper and he’s certainly not Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle or Babe Ruth. For the Yankees, this is a clearance rack bargain in the same way that your local Marshalls isn’t a Nordstrom Rack.

We can hate the Yankees, but we all can agree that this was the deal they really couldn’t not make. For that, we can hate Jeff Loria more than we already do: after all, Loria allegedly tanked the Montreal Expos (Hi, Jonah Keri!) and sold them to Major League baseball, only to pull a Bill Veeck and acquire the Florida Marlins, hold Miami and Dade County over a barrel and build an atrocity of a stadium with an eyesore they call artwork in left-center, and then sold the team for a reported $1.2 billion dollars to the current, Jeter-led regime.

No, it’s not the Yankees being the evil empire. But it’s not ideal for those of us genuinely enjoying the Yankees’ success playing the same fiscal game as (most of) the rest of Baseball.

Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.

The New York Yankees and Giancarlo Stanton: An Offer Cashman Couldn’t Refuse

When the New York Yankees were eliminated in Game 7 of the American League Championship series, it was quite clear the team didn’t necessarily need any major changes.

There was youth up and down the roster — whether that be in the lineup, starting rotation, bullpen or stashed away in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Trenton, Tampa, Charleston or Staten Island. The logical addition was Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani: not only is he considered the Babe Ruth of his homeland but the 23-year-old pitcher and outfielder figured to upgrade an already strong starting rotation while also serving as the Yankees’ primary designated hitter.

So when Ohtani surprisingly spurned the Bronx — and the entire East Coast, for that matter — many questioned where the front office would look next.

Despite the Yankees becoming a feel-good baseball story throughout the 2017 season due to properly rebuilding their farm system while also shedding a majority of their big contracts, Brian Cashman made a move that would have made the late George Steinbrenner proud.

He traded for the reigning National League Most Valuable Player: Giancarlo Stanton.

While this move screams mid-2000s pinstripes — similar to when they added reigning AL MVP Alex Rodriguez before the 2004 season — it’s not the “Evil Empire” of bygone days. It was just last week when it seemed as though Stanton was either St. Louis or San Francisco-bound,but when the outfielder exercised his blanket no-trade clause, refused a deal to neither the Cardinals nor the Giants, and selected the Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros as his preferred destinations, it was only right that Cashman made the call to former Yankee great and current Miami Marlins principal owner Derek Jeter.

But when the deal was struck in the early hours of December 9, it wasn’t necessarily a slam dunk.

Would you rather pay Stanton 10 years and nearly $300 million at age 28? Especially when Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will be available next winter? Sure, Stanton’s current contract will be a bargain compared to what that talented young duo would sign. But Harper’s swagger and violent left-handed swing would’ve played perfectly in the comfy confines of Yankee Stadium while Machado’s terrific defensive ability and balanced offensive skills would’ve been worth the payday. It could be compellingly argued that both would’ve been better fits in pinstripes.

At a time when the Yankees have generally avoided long-term deals that hardly work, possibly paying Stanton $25 million when he’s 39 could give fans PTSD about the days of Jason Giambi and Jacoby Ellsbury more than dreams of him crushing home runs over the Green Monster.

And that’s not all. Whether it’s due to freak accidents or not, Stanton falls into the injury prone category. He’s dealt with issues involving his face, knee, hamstring and wrist, amongst others, and has missed 310 games in his eight-year career. Over that same span, he’s hit above .265 just three times and has averaged 142 strikeouts per year.

There are obvious negatives about this deal. Stanton is far from the perfect fit.

But all things considered, there is no way Cashman and the rest of the front office could pass up on this opportunity.

When new ownership of the Marlins decided moving Stanton’s contract was their number one priority, a prospect package worthy of being relinquished for an MVP was out of the question. But even though names like Gleyber Torres, Justus Sheffield, Estevan Florial and Albert Abreu were off the table, cult favorites in Clint Frazier, Miguel Andujar, Jordan Montgomery and Chance Adams were expected to have their talents shipped to South Beach.

When it was announced that the Yankees only had to relinquish All-Star second baseman Starlin Castro and prospects Jorge Guzman and Jose Devers, the transaction was even more of a positive.

Castro was a nice player for the Yankees in his two years in pinstripes but the 27-year-old never had a future in New York. Second base is now open for top prospect Gleyber Torres to become the latest Baby Bomber to shine under the bright lights in the Bronx. Guzman is the most valuable player joining the Marlins — he was the Yankees’ ninth-rated prospect overall according to MLB Pipeline — but he was widely considered the sixth-best pitching prospect in the system.

The Yankees aren’t hurting for marketing ideas but this story also writes itself in terms of promotion. Stanton and Aaron Judge were compared to one another all season long. Their body types, size and skillset mirror one another. Whether they go with Bash Bros Part Two, M&M Boys 2.0 or, most likely, something a lot more creative, it’ll be popular amongst younger fans, an audience all of Major League Baseball is trying to target.

But lost in this entire saga is simply what Stanton brings on the field. His .281 batting average, 1.007 OPS, 59 home runs and 132 RBI will be added to a lineup that is already considered one of the deepest and most powerful in all of baseball. While the duo of Stanton and Judge will steal most of the headlines, players like Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Didi Gregorius, Brett Gardner and Aaron Hicks will largely fly under the radar — something that can be of their advantage.

In an ideal world, Stanton walks away in three years when his opt out clause kicks in: the Yankees won’t have to worry about a long-term commitment, and if Stanton helps them win one or multiple pennant(s), the return on investment will have been worth it.

Either way, expectations for the Yankees were already high heading into 2018. Many believe they’ll be one of the favorites to win number 28 next season — in the second year of a rebuild, no less. The addition of Stanton will only add fuel to that fire.

This trade clearly wasn’t one the Yankees had to make.

It became one they just couldn’t pass up.

Dan Federico is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.