Mailbag: Scooter Gennett, Brett Gardner, Kyle Schwarber, Paxton Extension

Happy Friday and Happy New Year everyone. We have now officially reached the offseason heatwave days, with little news or rumors. On the bright side, there are only 40 days left until pitchers and catchers show up for spring training on February 12. It’s not that bad, is it?

Either way, we have four good questions for today’s mailbag despite the offseason slump. As always, send your questions to viewsfrom314 [at] Gmail [dot] com to be included in future mail bags. We review our favorites every week.

Khantzian asks: How would Scooter Gennett be as a rebound candidate? The Yankees are interested in the past. Plus, if he comes back in form, he could be a solid left bat.

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Gennett absolutely makes sense as a rebound candidate. He suffered injuries in 2019, limiting him to just 42 .226 / .245 / .323 (44 wRC +) ball games. Yikes! It’s not great. Pretty awful, actually. But that’s not really representative of what he had achieved over the past two seasons, when he put together a .303 / .351 / .508 (124 wRC +) line in nearly 300 games. He’s not too far off from being a very good MLB player.

Steamer plans to hit .261 / .311 / .421 (90 wRC +) for 0.6 fWAR in 2020, for what it’s worth. He’s a left-handed bat and he’s versatile, at least in theory. He has primarily been a second baseman in his career, but he has also played in the outfield and in other positions across the Diamond. It’s worth going deeper into at some point, but I think it might make sense as a rebound contender, especially if injuries are to blame for his poor 2019 (but who knows if that’s true. .)

The Yankees have a way of creating something from scratch with bats these days, and while Gennett was a zero in 2019, he’s been pretty good offensively lately. Stepping into the Yankees lab on a low-cost one-year contract might just be what he needs to get his career back on track. In fact, if this marriage happens, it is exactly what I would expect. This is how these things work now, benefit from the doubt etc.

Jon asks: Am I crazy for seeming to be the only person excited about the possibility of Kyle Schwarber? From what I’ve seen, his batting profile is amazing and he’s had a solid production to match. Could he even be a super-utility guy – LF, DH, 1B and emergency catcher? What am I missing?

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No, you are certainly not crazy. By removing everything else, Schwarber definitely makes sense as a business candidate. He’s a .235 / .339 / .490 (115 wRC +) lifelong hitter with power (.254 ISO) and patience (13% walk rate). As you mentioned, he also has an impressive batting profile, consistently hitting the ball harder than everyone else; in fact, it has never been ranked below the 92nd percentile in terms of exit speed. The fact that he’s left-handed only helps things, obviously, despite the defensive positioning / ability. He is, in every sense of the word, exactly the type of player the Yankees always covet. I have no doubt that he would thrive in New York.

That said, there are reasons to temper your excitement here. Mainly, this is because there is a very small chance that an exchange will even occur. The Yankees and Cubs have been discussing Schwarber at every possible opportunity since 2016 and it has never happened. (Thanks to Theo, by the way, for refusing to trade Schwarber for Chapman and instead of giving the Yankees Gleyber Torres!) I don’t think it’s much different now either – it just sounds like one of those ‘we checked the player’ type rumors. The Cubs may be “blowing up”, of course, but they haven’t yet. Even if they do, I find this move unlikely. This is the only reason, however. Otherwise, he would do just fine, although I think your characterization of him as a “super utility” type is a bit of an exaggeration.

Paul asks: How long before the Gardy party becomes official? DFA or trade to make room on the 40?

I’m really surprised Gardner’s signing is yet to be official. He arrived three weeks ago now. I’ve seen several people suggest that the team is waiting for a Happ swap to complete before making this move official, but I just don’t see it. As a good relationship between the Yankees and Gardner, I would be very surprised if Gardner was willing to wait that long. Remember the ordeal of Sonny Gray last year? These transactions can take a lot longer than expected and the Yankees have shown time and time again that they are willing to be patient even if it is obvious they are moving someone. Even though the free agent pitching market has evaporated now, which should open up the trading market, there is no guarantee that a Happ move will happen anytime soon. (The Angels, the Twins, and maybe even the Blue Jays, however, should be all over him in my opinion.)

Maybe vacation, vacation, etc. were what slowed this down. It’s not like there aren’t any players out of the 40 untouchable men here. Stephen Tarpley or Ben Heller are obvious cutoff candidates for Gardner, in my opinion. It seems like a no-brainer, really. I guess this gets stuck sooner rather than later – and before a possible Happ swap – but who knows. This has already lasted a lot longer than I expected.

Robert asks: Should the Yankees be looking to extend Paxton now before he becomes a free agent next year? The throwing options available don’t look too promising in the free agent class and he’s been pretty good so far. What would it also take to keep it?

I’ve thought about it a lot in the last few days, actually. Not only does the market for free agent pitchers look bleak, Masahiro Tanaka’s contract expires after the season as well. Even after adding Cole, losing Tanaka and Paxton would be a big blow to the rotation. Extending Paxton now could be a good way to mitigate this result and keep a really good pitcher for longer during a title window.

And Paxton is just that: a really good pitcher. He turned a serious corner in the second half after making adjustments to his pitch usage and looking at every bit like an ace. Although he mostly struggled in his three starts – with the exception of the one where he didn’t have at all – Paxton absolutely deserved this start to ALDS Game 1. With the addition of new coach Matt Blake to the staff, the Yankees might think they can unleash Paxton’s obvious potential and keep him both healthy and at this level. Even though he inconsistently looks like an ace, I think it’s worth giving Paxton an expansion.

What that would look like is a much more difficult question, of course. There aren’t many good comparisons for Paxton in recent years in terms of expansion at this point. Zack Wheeler is an interesting comparison, although he clearly hasn’t been extended. Check out their career numbers:

  • Zack Wheeler: 749.1 IP, 3.77 ERA, 22.8% K%, 8.5% BB%, .687 OPS versus, 9.7 bWAR
  • James Paxton: 733 IP, 3.50 ERA, 26.5% K%, 7.4% BB%, 0.670 OPS vs., 12.9 bWAR

Both struggled with injury and both obviously have some good things with speed. Paxton was a better pitcher than Wheeler, although he was a year older. Wheeler, of course, just got a five-year, $ 118 million contract from the Phillies for a $ 23.6 million AAV. This is the latest in a clear trend: Teams are paying for what a pitcher will do tomorrow, not what he did yesterday.

What that means for a Paxton expansion isn’t clear, honestly. Extensions tend to be below the market, so maybe he would agree to a five-year, $ 87.5 million deal, including 2020? This would increase CBT’s current success, obviously, but would amount to an additional four years and $ 70 million guaranteed. Seems a bit light after Wheeler’s signing, doesn’t it? Still, it’s a good chunk of change and it might make sense for Paxton to collect that payday now and have some job / life security for the next half decade. Guess we’ll find out in the next few weeks, but if I was Paxton I’d look at what Wheeler got and put my services on the open market.


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