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Potential Yankees moves for ‘Ninja Cashman’

How many trades does one General Manger have to make during his career before teams start to get wise to his tricks?  Does such a number exist for Brian Cashman?  At this point, I don’t think it does.  He does it with trades whether it be Nick Swisher or Luke Voit.  He does it with under the radar free agency deals like DJ LeMahieu or Russell Martin.  He even does it with minor league signings like Gio Urshela, Freddy Garcia, and the immortal Bartolo Colon.  What can’t he do?  If you are a GM in Major League Baseball and you look at your cell phone and see Ninja Cashman is on the line, you can count on not winning whatever deal you are about to make.  With that said, let’s look at a couple of players who Cash could be eyeing during the upcoming offseason.

Gregory Polanco

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Let’s start with a “big name”, Gregory Polanco.  He has had a terrible year so far in 2020, not only statistically but also with his health due to a COVID-19 positive test back in July.  For now, we can focus on the statistics and they are not pretty.  In 44 games so far, Polanco has hit .150/.199/.321 and you can’t really frame that in a positive way.  2020 is a lost season for Polanco but are there any signs that he can bounce back?  If we look at the batted ball data, there is some sunlight breaking through the clouds.  His BABIP has been terrible and is currently sitting at .203.  However, his line drive percentage is slightly below league average at 21.3%, his fly ball percentage is way above league average at 45%, and his ground ball percentage is comfortably above league average at 33.8%.  This batted ball profile doesn’t play very well in a spacious stadium like PNC Park but those numbers could play up at Yankee Stadium III. 

Polanco’s plate discipline is the root cause of his lack of production.  His strikeout and walk rates have been trending in the wrong direction for the last three years.  In 2020, his walk rate is at 5.9% and his strikeout rate is sitting at a crazy 40.8%.  It’s going to be impossible for him to become a productive player again unless he can get back to producing better plate discipline numbers.  The good news is that he can and we don’t need to go back to far to see it.  In 2018 he was walking 11.4% and striking out 21.9% and both of those numbers would be well above league average this year. 

Is he going to be available?  The Pittsburgh Pirates currently have the worst record in baseball and are going nowhere in the near term.  Polanco is currently signed through 2021 with two player options for 2022 and 2023.  His salaries for the next three years are $11.6M, $12.5M, and $13.5M.  Is there is one team that needs to dump a salary and one player who needs to be jettisoned, it’s the Pittsburgh Pirates and Gregory Polanco.  With the Yankees’ bankroll and the need for a left-handed power hitter, it might be worth taking the chance.

Ryan McMahon

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We’ve had some success with Colorado Rockies hitters the last few years right?  LeMahieu has been a monster for the last two years and to a lesser extent, Mike Tauchman was at least a great replacement in 2019.  Why not take a shot at Ryan McMahon?  In 44 games so far, McMahon’s 2020 has taken a step back from his good 2019 season.  His triple slash sits at .208/.290/.389 showing some regression from his triple slash of .250/.329/.450 in 2019.  The reason for the regression is pretty simple to explain.  McMahon’s power numbers have taken a slight step back in 2020 and he currently has an ISO of .181 a year after posting an ISO of .200 in 2019.  Combine that with regression of his BABIP in 2020 compared to 2019 (.323 vs .291).  That’s not a huge drop in BABIP but when you combine that with regression in his walk rate (9.3% from 10.4% in 2019) and strikeout rate (36.4% from 29.7% in 2019) you get a bigger production drop-off. 

There is some upside though.  McMahon has shown that he can competently play three of the five infield positions (first base, second base, and third base) and he has shown this year that he can at least fake it at shortstop.  His defensive metrics are basically league average.  Also, like Polanco, he is a lefty hitter.  With some tweaking of his swing, he could turn into a solid hitter. 

Could the Yankees snag another potential All-Star from Colorado?  He’s got just over two years of Major League service time so he’s under team control through at least 2024.  The Rockies have a bit of a logjam in the infield with Garret Hampson (second base), Nolan Arenado (third base), Trevor Story (shortstop), and Daniel Murphy (first base).  That log jam could be alleviated if the Rockies or Murphy decide to decline the mutual option for 2021 but Ryan McMahon’s current batting profile doesn’t profile very well as a starting first baseman.  The hope, should the Yankees acquire him, is that he could become a solid utility man in the image of Ben Zobrist.  Although, I’ve been hearing that comparison used in reference to Tyler Wade so who knows how this trade would turn out in real life.

Hunter Dozier

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Finally, we have a player on another team bringing up the rear in their division, Hunter Dozier of the Kansas City Royals.  Is it just me or does that 2015 championship season feel like a weird dream?  This team is back to having a few standout players but no real direction or plan for the future.  Which makes a player like Dozier interesting when the offseason gets here.  Coming off a breakout year in 2019 in which he hit .279/.348/.522 with 26 home runs, Dozier has failed to build off of that production in 2020.  Instead, his triple slash took a backslide to .237/.324/.458.  Across the board, his numbers are down and you can really see it in his advanced metrics.  His pull percentage (40.8% in 2019 vs 37.2% in 2020) and fly ball percentage (43.9% in 2019 vs 39.4% in 2020) are slightly down but the biggest clue for Dozier’s failure this year can be seen with the change in his contact profile. 

In 2019 he was comfortably above league average with a hard-hit percentage of 45.3% and an above-average soft contact percentage of 13.9%.  This year, he’s lost 15.5 percentage points off his hard-hit rate bringing that number down to 29.8%.  That number is well below the league average and would help explain the drop off in his batting average generally.  Less hard contact and more soft contact means less luck from the BABIP gods.  Speaking of BABIP, that number dropped from .339 last year to .295 this year.  So what could we look forward to if trade were to be swung?  As we mentioned, prior to this year he had to straight years of having at least a 44.9% hard-hit rate. 

It’s not unrealistic that Dozier can get back to those numbers after a regular offseason/spring training and like Polanco, he tested positive for COVID-19 in July.  Another positive sign is that he is actually walking more this year.  While his strikeout rate is relatively the same, Dozier has a 14.5% walk rate this year after increasing it from 6.2% in 2018 to 9.4% in 2019.  His plate discipline numbers are all generally trending in the right direction and when you combine that with his contact profiles from 2018 and 2019 you can see that there is the possibility for not only a bounce back in 2021 but maybe even a higher ceiling to his production. 

Now, how hard would it be to get him?  Dozier was a late bloomer in the Royals’ organization and as a result, he won’t reach free agency until he is 32.  The Royals could decide to ride out his prime and a relatively low cost.  However, if Dozier returns to his production levels of 2019, he could get a little pricey in his second year of arbitration (in 2022).  Dozier is capable of playing first base, third base, and right field so his positional flexibility leaves something to be desired but if the Yankees can get him on a cheap enough deal, he might be a bat worth the risk.

Honestly, knowing Ninja Cashman, it’s likely none of these names will end up in pinstripes and it will someone who played 15 games with a random team that ends up lighting up Yankee Stadium in 2021.  Can any of you actually say you knew who Gio Urshela or Luke Voit was three years ago?  I can probably say yes to Gio because I know he was on the 2017 Cleveland Indians but that’s about it.  The “move of the offseason” will come out of nowhere then we will all make fun of it initially before realizing down the road how great Cashman is.  Just like Bret “The Hitman” Hart, he’s the best there is, was, and ever will be.