MLB Odds Bearish on Teixeira – Yankees Bullish on Catchers
Just last week, Mark Teixeira revealed that he hasn’t yet begin trusting his surgically-repaired wrist, noting that it will probably never be the same. After dropping two of three to the lowly Astros, punctuated by an 0 for 4, three strikeout performance by Teixeira – Yankees management must have concerns. In the greater context of a third-place finish in the AL East in 2013, little margin for error exists as Yankees’ fans expect a World Series every season.
The Yankees’ off-season spending spree left them financially limited. Signing Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, and Masahiro Tanaka cost close to a half billion dollars. The Bronx Bombers boast the second highest payroll in MLB — even without Alex Rodriguez‘ 20-million. Has the winter binge changed the Yankees’ MLB odds that once looked dismal? ESPN’s Jonah Keri is predicting another third-place finish in the AL East.
Boasting baseball’s oldest lineup at an average of 30.9 years, the Yankees have an age issue. Seven players on the Yankees’ 25-man roster are 34 years or older. Teixeira, and his troublesome wrist, will make eight next week. At his age, a gimpy wrist portends future disabled list stints this season (update: he just landed DL due to a hamstring strain). Fangraphs’ Jeff Zimmerman is not buying shares of Teixeira until the All-Star break, if not longer.
His slow start to the season so far (SSS alert: .250/.308/.250 in 13 PAs) only serves to strengthen the argument Teixeira is not a long-term solution in real life or fantasy anymore. Wrist injuries sap power, and in Teixeira’s case, power from the left side. Yankees Stadium is kinder to left-handed home runs (114 park factor) than righties (106). Plus, 2010-12 has seen a decline in plate appearances, on-base percentage, and wOBA (a measure of overall offensive production relative to league average).
While his batted ball numbers don’t suggest an imminent drop off in production, plate discipline data shows Teixeira’s swinging at more balls outside the zone (O-Swing%), while making less contact inside the zone (Z-Contact%) as well. Mix in the typical decline in power and plate discipline from new aging curve data and a Teixeira-Yankees scenario where he regains form is far fetched.
Life Without Teixeira: Yankees Options
Options for the Yankees regarding Teixeira are limited. His being guaranteed over $46.5mm for 2015-16, including a full no-trade clause makes a trade difficult to envision given his age, declining production and dollars owed. But with MLB revenue approaching $9b in 2014 it’s not inconceivable that someone would take a chance on him for a playoff run (e.g., Pirates) if the Yankees were willing to eat a significant amount of money.
Would a free agent like Kendrys Morales make sense later in the season. It would take a lengthy DL stint by Teixeira for that to happen, but it’s possible. However, this would force New York to tread water into June due to draft pick compensation. Why further deplete their already weakened minor-league system? Does an internal option exist where the Yankees can leverage an organizational strength to improve an area of weakness in the future? Would moving Brian McCann to first base and anointing Gary Sanchez the catcher of the future make sense?
McCann expressed interest in playing at first. McCann’s numbers would compare favorably to other first basemen in the league. In fact, McCann is an above-average option after comparing him against the top-20 at the position last season:
2013 First Basemen by WAR
PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA Top 20 1B 625 25 79 89 4 10.31% 20.23% 0.201 0.317 0.277 0.355 0.478 0.360 McCann 625 31 67 89 0 9.50% 14.50% 0.196 0.290 0.277 0.350 0.473 0.353
Considering McCann’s 39th overall batted ball distance in the league (293.4 ft), and a move to one of the best home run parks for lefties in baseball, McCann is a potential top-10 first baseman. Given McCann’s age and and how catcher’s decline in their 30’s, the Yankees would maximize the return on offensive production from the 5 year, $85mm contract given to McCann as a backstop.
However, therein lies the rub. What is the solution at catcher? Thankfully, the Yankees have a surplus of talent at the upper levels of the organization’s minor league system. The best option is Gary Sanchez, a top-100 prospect. In 2012 ROTOscouting’s Mike Newman noted some concerns in his overall skills but still considered him “one of the better minor league catchers in the game.” Jeff Reese also said this about Sanchez:
The bat remains his ticket to the majors; he shows a good feel for hitting to go with plus-plus raw power. The approach still needs to develop, but given the offensive ability and his age, there is certainly hope of that too rounding into form. The major question is still whether he can stick behind the plate. The Yankees have been more willing to endure mediocre defense behind home plate if it results in more offensive rewards; that is how Sanchez projects.
While his prospect stock has dipped, the offensive ceiling remains strong. Between High-A and Double-A, Sanchez posted a slash line of .252/.339/.400 with 15-home runs, 27-doubles, and and 87/41 strikeout-to-walk rate in just over 500 plate appearances. In Double-A, Sanchez’ ground ball percentage decreased 5.4% and his OBP climbed from .315 to .360, both encouraging signs at a crucial stage in his development. His slugging percentage dipped to .380, but the positives outweigh the negatives in the sample.
If Sanchez proves to be an above average offensive performer at the position, his right-handed bat would be a nice complement in a lefty-heavy lineup. His defense may peak at slightly below average compared to other MLB catchers, but the catch and throw skills are there. A breakout season in Trenton would force the Yankees to consider a September call up with a larger role in 2015.
Before Sanchez, Austin Romine was considered the Yankees catcher of the future. After scouting him in 2008 in Charleston Newman profiled him as a player “known more for his defensive ability than offensive punch” although neither his bat (career .238/.301/.352 line in four, Triple-A seasons) nor his glove (career 24% caught stealing rate in the minors) leave much reason for optimism or growth at this point. The Yankees consider him a backup behind Frank Cervelli, who will see time at first base with Teixeira out.
Plain and simple, Murphy is an offensive “tweener” anywhere on the diamond other than at catcher where his bat players quite well. If forced to move off of catcher, Murphy becomes a 1B/3B/LF/DH option and just does not project for the “thump” needed to make an impact. This storyline is going to stick with Murphy and will continue to come up in prospect conversations about him for years to come.
It is doubtful that he will make an impact long-term at the position although Marc Hulet thinks he’s the organization’s “best all-around catcher.” That being said his ceiling is probably that of a major league backup.
Conclusions for Fantasy Owners
What does this mean for the fantasy owner? First, it’s time to sell Teixeira — even for pennies on the dollar. Second, it’s time to look into the future and start scooping up heir apparents at catcher and first base. In betting on a McCann move to first base, Sanchez is the high ceiling play. Sanchez’ stock is down from 2012, creating a buy-low window. Jeff Reese sees this as a defining year for him, and the return on investment will be significant compared to his current price.
The Teixeira-Yankees story is in its final chapters. The smart fantasy owner will see this and check-mate his opponents. Acquiring Sanchez and moving Teixeira is the play.
7 Apr 2014 / Joseph Pytleski / 4
Categories: MLB Analysis
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