Inbox: How far will Yanks go for 'pen depth?

Beat reporter Bryan Hoch answers questions from New York fans

January 3rd, 2020

Should the Yankees use Miguel Andújar and Clint Frazier as trade bait to land Josh Hader from the Brewers? Is this a good deal for the Yankees?
-- Taylor S., via Twitter

The Yankees’ interest in Hader has been detailed frequently in recent weeks, though there is a sense that those discussions remain preliminary in nature -- the Brewers have seemed to be more “dangling versus shopping” Hader to see how rich the offers could be, as one industry source recently put it. The Dodgers and Mets were also listed among the interested clubs.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has said that he believes it would be difficult to improve the roster past the blockbuster addition of Gerrit Cole, but the bullpen is an area where they have not been shy about upgrading in recent years. Adding Hader to a group that already includes Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Tommy Kahnle and Adam Ottavino would be impressive indeed.

That said, the Brewers have made it clear that they value Hader as one of the best relief pitchers in the game, and any trade enticing them to waive four years of control would have to net a significant return. Andújar makes sense because Milwaukee is in the market for a long-term solution at third base, but the Brewers probably couldn’t make that trade without getting No. 1 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, Deivi Garcia from New York, and perhaps more.

How will the Yankees handle Jordan Montgomery in 2020? Is he likely to be in the rotation, the bullpen or stashed in Triple-A for depth?
-- Evan G., via Facebook

The Yankees continue to project Montgomery as a starting pitcher, and it was encouraging that he was able to return from Tommy John surgery to pitch four innings at the end of the 2019 season. Montgomery (who turned 27 on Dec. 27) projects to enter Spring Training in competition for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. If he isn’t on the Opening Day roster, I’d expect to see him as a starting pitcher at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, vying for a callup.

Is the leadership lost from CC Sabathia and Didi Gregorius underrated?
-- Scott M., Harrisonburg, Va.

Their presence surely will be missed, particularly Sabathia, who has been a clubhouse constant since the new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009. Sabathia seemed to be the rare pitcher who could also command respect from the position players, but the game continues on, as it did following Derek Jeter’s retirement. Brett Gardner’s return provides continuity, and Aaron Judge has taken on more leadership responsibilities each year.

Any thoughts on the left-handed bat situation?
-- Mark L., via Twitter

With Gregorius’ departure, the Yankees’ Opening Day lineup projects to be extremely right-handed beyond Gardner and perhaps Mike Tauchman. I asked Aaron Boone about that recently, and he seemed to indicate that they believe they will score plenty of runs even without perfect balance:

“You always want to have balance, but you want to be as good a team as you can be, so you're always trying to kind of improve where you can. Nothing turns out perfect. You're not always going to have the perfect roster, but we feel like whichever way we go -- and especially with Aaron Hicks out to start the first couple of months -- there is certainly a chance that we could be very right-handed. But we also know there is a really good chance that we will be a really good offense.”

How do you feel about electronic strike zone umpiring?
-- Alec D., McAllen, Texas

I’m curious to see how the technology can be implemented in the Majors, though according to reports, it likely wouldn’t happen before 2022. I understand the allure of the "human element," and that was one of my main arguments against the implementation of replay years back, but in practice replay (while not perfect) has been a net positive. As with replay, my take is that the most important thing is getting the calls right. If MLB can improve that accuracy, I’m all for it.

Any progress on a J.A. Happ trade?
-- Tyler N., Los Angeles

It has been quiet since the Winter Meetings, and since there is no real deadline to make a move, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Yankees keep Happ into Spring Training (and possibly even the regular season). With a $17 million salary for 2020, plus a '21 option at the same amount that vests if Happ registers 165 innings or 27 starts, Happ doesn’t exactly represent great value coming off a largely disappointing season. The Yankees would likely have to eat a large portion of that salary if they intend to offload him quickly. One interested club may be the Blue Jays, who appear primed to contend for an American League Wild Card spot this year.

Can Gio Urshela play shortstop in limited duty? If not, what is the Yankees’ plan to back up Gleyber Torres?
-- Noah F., Columbia, S.C.

Urshela certainly could handle the position on a fill-in basis; while the Yankees didn’t use him there in 2019, he appeared in 13 big league games as a shortstop for the Indians and Blue Jays. Considering Urshela is viewed as the probable Opening Day third baseman, Thairo Estrada and Tyler Wade project as the more likely in-house backups for Torres. The Yanks are also open to adding an experienced middle-infield option, preferably on a Minor League agreement.