The 2020 offseason is well underway. All the big free agents are still out there waiting to be signed and given the economic state of the league due to the COVID pandemic, there is no way of knowing what some of the big contracts are going to look like. As far as which free agents the Yankees are looking at, DJ LeMahiue is the only one we know for sure is on their list. While the 2020 free agent market has a few stars here and there, the 2021 market could be filled with superstar options. Here are a couple of hitters that the Yankees may want to take a long look at signing.
If wanted to find a first baseman in the mold of the early 2000’s “Patient Masher’s”, you would be looking for a player like Freddie Freeman in 2020. Here is Jason Giambi’s MVP season from 2000 compared to Freddie Freeman’s probable MVP season in 2020:
Taking into account that Giambi produced those numbers over 152 games while Freeman produced his numbers over 60 games, the statistics look remarkably similar. Both players posted above average strikeout and walk rates (16.5 SO% and 9.6 BB% in 2000 vs 23.4 SO% and 9.2% BB% in 2020). Both players had an OPS over 1.100. Both players had basically the same OPS+ (187 for Giambi and 186 for Freeman.
The most impressive thing for Freeman is his strikeout rate related to the rest of the league. While Giambi’s 2000 strikeout rate was still comfortably above league average 20 years ago, Freeman’s 2020 SO% just blows the rest of the league out of the water. Freeman early career was filled with seasons where he’s carried a SO% somewhere in the low to mid 20% range. Since 2017 he has worked that rate down to below 19% and culminated with his 14.1% rate this past season. He has always been able to take his walks but this year represents a career best in that category. He’s also probably experiencing a peak with his power numbers as well. After hitting 38 home runs in 2019 and posting a home run per plate appearance rate (HR%) of 5.5% in 158 games, he followed up with 13 home runs and a 5.0 HR% in 60 games this year that would translate to about 35 home runs over a full season.
It remains to be seen whether the braves will let him reach free agency since he’s been the face of the franchise since Chipper Jones retired after the 2012 season. If he does hit the open market, the Yankees would have to take a hard look at their internal first base options and determine whether paying a premium for Freeman would make sense. Whichever team signs him long-term would be getting a hitter that doesn’t chase bad pitches, gets on base, and hits bombs when decides to swing.
The shortstop market in the 2021 offseason is going to be insane. Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager and Trevor Story could all hit the market and just ruin the bank accounts for several teams.
I want to focus on Trevor Story. He busted onto the scene as rookie with the Rockies in 2016 hitting homeruns in five of the team’s first six games. A thumb injury hampered his season in August of 2016 causing him to only play 97 games that season. He still managed to finish the year with 27 home runs and a .272/.341/.567 batting line. He failed to replicate that production in 2017 but did show he could stay healthy playing in 145 games. Then in 2018 he showed the best from both season playing in 157 games and hitting 37 home runs, 108 RBIs and producing a .291/.348/.567 batting line.
Another facet of his game emerged that year as well: speed and stolen bases. Story didn’t post double-digit steals in his first two seasons (8 in 2016 and 7 in 2017) but managed to steal 27 in 2018 while only getting caught 6 times. All of a sudden Story was power/speed player at a premium position. He did it again the next season by hitting 35 home runs and stealing 23 bases in 2019. After hitting 11 home runs and stealing 15 bases this past season, Story has firmly established himself as dual-threat shortstop.
There are three red flags when evaluating him moving forward. The first could be nothing and that’s the fact that he has spent his entire career thus far playing his home games at Coors Field. It is possible that Story will hit no matter where he plays his home games (see DJ LeMahieu) but here are his splits for home vs. away games:
Story goes from being an MVP candidate at Coors Field to being a below average hitter on the road. It’s possible that leaving the confines of a park like Coors Field makes Story a much worse hitter, but as we saw with LeMahieu coming to New York, going from one great hitter’s park to another could mean he still hits like a beast.
The second hole in Story’s game would be the strikeouts. He’s definitely improved from his first two years where he struck out over 30% of his plate appearances (including a 34.4% strikeout rate in 2017) but he’s still sitting around 25% over three seasons. He also has basically a league average walk rate which means his BABIP needs to be high in order to compensate for the lack of contact.
The final flag for Story is his defense. This past season he finished with the second most errors in all of baseball (10 errors behind only Rafael Devers’ 14 errors). Remember that everyone was upset that Gleyber Torres had 9 errors? There is some context that needs to be provided. This was the first year that Story finished outside the top ten in fielding percentage since his rookie year. Looking at the advanced metrics, Story finished inside the top ten for Range Factor per Game every year since his debut and has been number two overall the last two seasons. If his advanced defensive statistics look that good it could just be that he needs to shore up his defense by making the routine plays in order to become truly elite at the position.
If the Yankees do go after Trevor Story, it would require moving Torres off his natural position and assuming the Yankees bring back DJ LeMahieu for 2021 and beyond, I’m not sure where they can move the pieces to make room. Things can happen, though, when a player like Story becomes available.
If I told you that there was a catcher available that over the course of four seasons averaged an 18.9% K rate, 25 home runs, 4 passed balls, and a 37.2% caught stealing rate, how fast would you want to replace Gary Sanchez? Well, there is a catcher available after the 2021 season with those numbers, but the catch is that Salvador Perez produced those numbers from 2015 to 2018 with the Kansas City Royals, and by the time he hits the open market he will be 31 years old.
Perez also missed the entire 2019 season due to Tommy John Surgery on his throwing arm. Coming into 2020, it was a mystery as to what kind of player Perez would still be. Here is the stat line he delivered:
2020 was a huge bounce back for Perez. Those offensive numbers are amazing for any player, let alone a catcher. Here are his numbers extrapolated out as if he played 130 games during a regular season:
Those numbers probably win you a top three finish in the MVP race.
There are some things to watch out for moving forward. His strikeout rate during his first five years in the league (2011 to 2015) was below 15% but his last four full seasons have come with a strikeout rate of at least 19% and peaking this past season at 23.1%. If his strikeout rate continues to climb, and given the fact he doesn’t walk at all and ran an unusually high BABIP in 2020, I wouldn’t expect him to hit north of .300 again.
Looking at his defense, you still have a pretty good backstop. His caught stealing rate was about ten points below that four-year average (27.3% in 2020) but he committed no errors and had no passed balls and only 12 wild pitches. This is all great especially compared to any defensive metrics you look at from Gary Sanchez. If the Yankees give Gary Sanchez one more chance in 2021 and he doesn’t deliver, they could turn to Salvador Perez as a replacement. Given his age going into the 2022 season, the hope would be that the Yankees grab him on a two or three-year deal.
The last major contract the Yankees gave a catcher in his 30s was a five year, $85 million deal to Brian McCann and he was traded after the 2016 season with two years left on that deal. If the money and years are right, Perez could be a great remedy for the problems the Yankees have had at catcher recently.
We have no way of knowing if all (or any) of these players will make it to free agency after the 2021 season. If they do make to the open market, they all have the type of talent that can push them over the top if the money and terms are right.