The Yankees abhor trading a player when his value is down. They create a concept of worth for their players and do not deviate much even when there is decline, waiting to see if there is a rebound rather than cutting bait — or should that be cutting bat in the case of players such as Miguel Andujar, Clint Frazier, Gary Sanchez and Luke Voit?
All are now trade or non-tender candidates this offseason.
They face a similar debate this offseason with Joey Gallo — hold in a downturn or cut bat?
The Yankees must decide what two-plus jittery, unsatisfactory months in New York meant. Was it just about acclimation? Aberration? Will it all be better for Gallo here with a full offseason, spring training and then season?
Or is this the hitting version of Sonny Gray? After acquiring the pitcher in the July 2017 trade market, the Yankees ignored signs that Gray really didn’t want to be in New York and how that was going to inhibit his best performance. They brought Gray back for a full season that did not go well before conceding and trading him to Cincinnati.
There is no waiting an extra season to learn about Gallo. He is entering his walk year. So the Yanks have to decide this offseason if they want to try to put Gallo in left field or on another roster.
This would not be an easy U-turn. The Yanks had a multi-year obsession with obtaining Gallo and gave up four well-regarded prospects (and also received Joely Rodriguez) to finally land him. The Yanks can probably expect less in return because Gallo now has one year left to free agency rather than 1 ½. Plus, he is coming off a Yankees tenure in which his paltry .223 Rangers average dropped 63 points to .160. Sixty-three points!
What helps the Yankees? Many teams in the industry love what the Yankees did in acquiring Gallo, adding a lefty power bat who walks and plays defense.
But will Gray matter (see what I did there?)? The Yanks learned over time that Gray did not want to be here from the outset, and there is plenty of buzz in the game that the same is true for Gallo — that New York was not his desired landing spot. Perhaps the industry will see shades of Gray (again, see what I did there?). In Cincinnati, Gray has been an above-average to excellent pitcher. Gallo can go someplace else and be an All-Star again. He could get to that status as a Yankee. Again, he is talented. But the Yankees have to decide if he is built to endure within a realm in which fans already have a negative perception of him.
If they decide to move on, where do the Yankees pivot?
The Rangers offered Gallo a contract of five years at just north of $80 million, recognized that Gallo saw his value as considerably higher and decided — as a non-contender — to trade him. Eight teams showed particularly strong interest in July from what I have learned. The Yankees won out.
The field that would be interested in Gallo very likely would change from July. Some contenders were looking to fortify for the stretch run and could be out while some 2021 non-contenders could have interest in a full season of Gallo. Also, there are free agents now who can just be bought — for example, would a team just as soon buy Michael Conforto’s corner lefty bat? Perhaps Minnesota’s Byron Buxton returns to the trade market, too, enticing teams who would prefer to gamble on a game-changing but injury-prone center fielder.
But since I know the identity of the runners-up interested in Gallo from July let’s begin there. Normally we do 3Up here, but for this it will be 7UP (no beverage jokes) as I try to imagine matches with the Yankees.
But before we get started, a proviso: These are concepts conjured from my own brain. None of these are offers made (though I bet multiple aggregating sites are already describing it as such). These should be seen as potential jumping-off points. Also, I am imagining the Yankees trying to address 2022 needs and not dealing Gallo to replenish prospects. OK, now that we know all of that will be ignored, dive in:
1. Rays: The Yankees did make a trade with their nemesis this year, sending Mike Ford to Tampa Bay in June. And though Gallo hit too similarly to Ford as a Yankee, this would be no easy transaction. The Yankees have to worry about trading Gallo to a hated rival and — in less stressed environs — seeing Gallo thrive in the AL East.
But Tampa Bay also had multi-year interest in Gallo. And the Yanks (and Mets) did talk to the Rays about center fielders — Kevin Kiermaier, Brett Phillips and Manuel Margot — as recently as the trade deadline without approaching a deal.
I wonder if there are the rudiments of a trade with Kiermaier and Gallo. For the purposes of this exercise, we will use MLB Trade Rumors’ arbitration projections, which has Gallo at $10.2 million for 2022. Kiermaier is owed $14.5 million by Tampa via a $12 million salary in 2022 and a $2.5 million buyout on a $13 million club option in 2023. So the ever financially conscious Rays would save a few million to earmark elsewhere.
However, I just don’t see it. Due to Kiermaier’s defensive brilliance, Tampa Bay values him higher than do most outside teams. The Yanks clearly will not see Kiermaier alone as enough of a return for Gallo. Kiermaier’s elite center field glove and overall aggressiveness really would help the Yanks. Against righties, the Yanks could have Aaron Hicks in left, Kiermaier in center and Aaron Judge in right, then vs. lefties put Giancarlo Stanton in left with Hicks in center with Kiermaier to play defense late with leads.
The only way I could see this happening is if the deal widened to include more elements than just these two players. And what are the chances these two organizations dance at that level?
2. White Sox: Chicago was missing two outfielders most of the season after injuries sidelined Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, so the need for Gallo this past summer was more of the moment. Still, the White Sox could make Jimenez the DH and put Gallo’s strong glove in a corner outfield slot. If I were the Yankees, I would ask about the White Sox’s controllable lefty relievers Aaron Bummer (a younger version of Zack Britton) and Garrett Crochet (who still might end up a starter).
There are other options: Adam Engel is a high-end fourth outfielder with legit center field skills. Would Gavin Sheets be a lefty bat answer at first base if the Yanks did not re-sign Anthony Rizzo? Again, these are players that would intrigue in areas of potential Yankees need and not necessarily comprise a whole trade.
3. Braves: Like the White Sox, Atlanta had outfield openings in July with Ronald Acuña Jr. having blown out his knee and Marcell Ozuna on administrative leave via MLB’s domestic abuse protocols. Both could be back next year, removing any urgency for Gallo.
Also, I don’t think Atlanta — even with other items included — would be interested in my walk-year player for walk-year player cornerstone for a deal: Gallo for Dansby Swanson. Like Kiermaier, Swanson’s offense is league average-ish. But his defense is terrific. And I have to admit the bias of being in the park regularly when Tampa Bay and Atlanta are in town. Kiermaier and Swanson so regularly play well in front of me, I always feel they are players who are better than the standard numbers. They help their teams win. Having a stop-gap high-end gloveman with power at short like Swanson for one year to give more apprentice time for the arrival of top prospects Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe fits the Yankees timeline well. Again, unless the Yanks really sweetened the deal, it would create too much of a hole at shortstop for the Braves.
4. Brewers: Milwaukee has contemplated trading reliever Josh Hader the last few seasons as his salary grew. He will be due about $10 million next year. So this could finally be the offseason the Brewers blink.
Trading him for Gallo is salary neutral. But do the Yankees have easier access to Hader — or maybe even shortstop Willy Adames — if they were willing to take on the $18 million Lorenzo Cain is due next year?
OK, I have a similar, long-running bias when it comes to appreciating Cain. He is not the player of his prime. But he can still defend in center field, still can run, still can hit about league average and still is a positive force with a team. He can help a contender. The $18 million is too much for his current skill set, but more palatable if adding him would mean — in this scenario — gaining access to a more desirable player while Milwaukee cleans up its payroll for multiple additions.
5. Giants: Would San Francisco see Gallo as more valuable for one season than having multiple years of Mike Yastrzemski or Steven Duggar? Both are just entering the arbitration process this offseason. Would the Yanks see those extra years as more valuable than having Gallo for just 2022?
Yastrzemski is 31 and just had the worst of his three big league seasons. But he is a lefty hitter, a tough at-bat with power and has the ability to handle center. Duggar also is a lefty bat, perhaps one with more upside than fully revealed yet. But the bigger attraction is an ability to really play center field.
6. Padres: No surprise that San Diego had interest because GM A.J. Preller was part of the decision-making group in Texas that drafted Gallo.
Like with Milwaukee, the Yankees, besides giving up Gallo, would have to take on a dubious contract(s) to have access to the players that would be their best fit — the lefty bat of Jake Cronenworth or Trent Grisham. And even then these are core-ish players that San Diego might have no interest in dealing even to clean up payroll.
If the Yanks don’t bring back Rizzo, would they take on the four years at $59 million of Eric Hosmer to play first? I wouldn’t. But I would take the risk on Yu Darvish’s health that comes with his two years at $37 million left.
Cronenworth is not even arbitration-eligible until after the 2022 season, and I think he could handle shortstop short-term, eventually hand off the position to Peraza or Volpe and then become one of the best jack-of-all-trades in the sport. Grisham also will not be arbitration-eligible until after the 2022 season. His offense took a downturn last year, but he can really handle center field.
Again, so much of this is about which teams dismiss Gallo’s flaws and see a high-end star.
7. Phillies: I don’t think my concept would fly with Phillies head of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, whose history is as a linear thinker who sees a problem and addresses it. But I view the Phillies’ problem as they have a lot of problems — and not a good farm system to help address them immediately. I am not sure they can simply buy their way out of it, and I don’t think — with the longest playoff drought in the NL — they are willing to not try to go for it.
OK, I will stop stalling. I would offer Gallo, Luis Gil and Chad Green for Aaron Nola. I would essentially be giving the Phillies a starting corner outfielder for 2022 in Gallo, a late-game piece for 2022 in Green (who can be a free agent after this season) and a high-end starting prospect in Gil with six years of control for Nola, who has a $15 million salary for 2022 and a $16.5 million team option for 2023 or a $4.25 million buyout. So the Phillies would get a bit of salary relief, too, to use in free agency.
Even with Nola coming off of his worst season (4.63 ERA and seven starts of fewer than five innings), this probably is not enough from the Yankees. Because Nola is a workhorse who takes the ball and has high-end stuff. I would consider moving more into the pot to help solve those multiple Phillies problems if I were the Yankees.
If Gallo had trouble handling New York, would Philly be better? The one advantage is he would be sharing an outfield and clubhouse with Bryce Harper, who has been his friend since they played youth baseball together as 8-year-olds in Las Vegas.
It would give the Yanks a rotation with Nola joining Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery, Luis Severino and Jameson Taillon. There is real upside there with Nestor Cortes, Domingo German and Michael King as a starter safety net.
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