Breaking down the Yankees’ return in their trade with the Dodgers

MLB: Spring Training-Los Angeles Dodgers at Milwaukee Brewers
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As the Yankees gear up to enter a bidding war for Yoshinobu Yamamoto, they’ve made some under-the-radar additions on the trade front. In a deal that allowed the Los Angeles Dodgers to clear the 40-man roster space they needed to formally announce the signing of Shohei Ohtani, New York would bolster both their infield depth and bullpen depth for 2024 and beyond. Trading former first-round pick Trey Sweeney to the West Coast, the Yankees would receive left-handed reliever Victor Gonzalez and left-handed hitter Jorbit Vivas.

Both players will be placed on the Yankees’ 40-man roster for 2024 and could be impact players on this ballclub for the future as the Yankees look to get younger and more affordable around their superstar talent.

Could the Yankees See Another Contact-First Bat Breakout?

Syndication: The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City’s Jorbit Vivas (2) scores in the second inning during the PCL Championship Series baseball game between the Oklahoma City Dodgers and the Round Rock Express at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023.

Jorbit Vivas was signed out of Venezuela in 2017, where the left-handed hitting infielder had a strong season at Double-A with the Tulsa Drillers that resulted in him getting the promotion to Triple-A to end the season, where he’d struggle. As a whole, Vivas would put up a 111 wRC+ with a .381 OBP and 25 steals in 30 attempts across 135 games, a solid campaign for a hitter who wore down following a rather aggressive promotion late in the season. Standing at just 5’10 ” and 171 pounds, contact is certainly his strong suit over raw power, with his 11.6% strikeout rate being the 10th-lowest mark for any MiLB hitter (min. 450 plate appearances).

Contact is often not a trait associated with the Bronx Bombers, but the Yankees had plenty of success with a contact-first profile last season as well. Caleb Durbin, who we recently interviewed in both video and article format, had put up an excellent 2023 campaign following a trade from the Braves, as he would post a 132 wRC+ between High-A and Double-A before finishing the season in the Arizona Fall League where he had a 1.045 OPS in 23 games. His power improved throughout the season, hitting seven home runs and 21 doubles in 70 games between AA and the AFL.

When we discussed what Durbin did, he mentioned the Yankees emphasizing quality of contact and swing decisions as two of the biggest skills for him to work on, and he made massive strides in both. Vivas, unlike Durbin, already possesses enough power to have double-digit home runs over a season and makes great swing decisions as well, with a swing that one would envision playing well in the Bronx. The tricky part here is that Vivas is coming from an excellent organization in terms of hitting development, but perhaps it’s new scenery that allows him to tap into that aggressive lefty swing.

He’s displayed the ability to hit for power, but never consistently enough for one to grade his game power as anything better than a 40-45 FV. One of the biggest skills the Yankees develop well is power, with MLB examples like Billy McKinney and Jake Bauers, who became barrel machines after entering the organization. The big difference here is that Vivas has an excellent hit tool that allows him to generate enough loft while putting the ball in play a ton to sacrifice a little quantity for quality in the contact department.

Generating higher exit velocities could be seen as a must, but I’d argue just consistent pulled contact in the air will make a massive difference here. Realistically, this is a hitter who you hope can just find some semblance of reliable game power because posting an ISO of roughly .150 at the Major League level would be a huge improvement over what he’s expected to be. Steamer projects him for a .674 OPS (89 wRC+), but with a .150 ISO, he’d be projected to put up a .712 OPS, the type of gain that pushes a player from roster fodder to a nice piece to have on your bench.

Base stealing has been an area of improvement for Jorbit Vivas, who swiped 25 bases in 30 attempts this past season after stealing no more than 16 in his career and stealing just two bases in 128 games the year prior. Vivas is a strong athlete who can help the Yankees improve their running game even further, and that mobility translated to a whopping +7.4 Defensive Runs Prevented on Baseball Prospectus playing 2B/3B at Double-A and Triple-A.

That defensive value, coupled with an offensive profile that could produce a wRC+ close to 100 and some steals, would certainly help the team at either 2B or 3B, where they have either long-term or short-term questions. He’s a solid addition to the roster that replaces Trey Sweeney in Triple-A, but the second player they received in this package will be of use as soon as Opening Day.

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Bullpen Gets Much-Needed Left-Handed Support

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Philadelphia Phillies
Jun 9, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Victor Gonzalez (81) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The second component of this trade is the one with the most immediate impact, and that’s left-handed reliever Victor Gonzalez. Hailing from Tuxapan in Nayarit, Mexico, the southpaw put up a 4.01 ERA (94 ERA-) and 3.40 FIP (77 FIP-) through 33.2 innings pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers, spending some time in Triple-A as well. This was his first season back on the mound since 2021, as he dealt with a myriad of elbow issues throughout 2022 that kept him on the sidelines.

Groundballs are his specialty, with a 54.3% groundball rate this past season due to a sinker he relies upon 63.7% of the time, a pitch that generated a -5 ° launch angle for him. This allowed him to have just a 0.50 HR/9 in his career, and a 0.53 HR/9 this past season. The Yankees have been known to build bullpens around groundballs and contact prevention, as their bullpen in 2023 finished with the highest groundball rate in the sport (50.6%), a huge reason why they were first in ERA (3.34) and barrel rate (6.0%) this year.

While Stuff+ doesn’t love Gonzalez, sporting just an 81 Stuff+ this past season, he still excels at generating soft contact and some swing-and-miss. The aforementioned 54.3% groundball rate is great, but pair that with a 28.8% whiff rate, and suddenly, you have a pitcher who does two of the most important aspects of damage prevention. That first comes with not allowing much contact, and a 22.2% strikeout rate is close enough to average that batters don’t have extremely high ball-in-play rates, and even when they do, it’s usually harmless.

A fiery personality on the mound, this is the type of pitcher who is perfect for the bravado that comes with being a reliever. The Yankees also desperately needed left-handed relief help, and Gonzalez pitches well in matchups against both left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters as well. In his career, he’s performed better against left-handed hitters (.564 OPS) than against right-handed batters (.668 OPS), but he’s still reliable in any matchups. The sinker is truly a hard pitch to track for hitters, and Gonzalez can freeze a lot of hitters with it.

With an 18.3% called strike rate, and with a slider that generates plenty of whiffs (46.8%), and a changeup that he can throw against right-handed hitters, his arsenal has enough tricks to keep hitters honest. The goal would be for Gonzalez to be closer to his career ERA of 3.22 (77 ERA-), and given the mere 3.18 xERA this past season, there’s reason to believe he’s a positive regression candidate for 2024. Steamer projects Gonzalez to put up a 3.86 ERA next season, which would certainly be a nice improvement to the Yankees’ bullpen/

Questions have risen about whether this spells the end for Wandy Peralta in pinstripes, and while a return is financially feasible, the Yankees could go for a more affordable option from the right-handed side. Peralta has been an excellent reliever for the team, but increased walk rates and poor quality of contact numbers make his outlook for 2024 muddy, and the team could go after an arm like Jordan Hicks instead, who might cost a bit more but comes with a dominant arsenal that would take the Yankees’ bullpen over the top.

Victor Gonzalez is a strong addition to the Yankees’ bullpen, as the Yankees look to strengthen that unit further in free agency and through their farm system. In this deal, the Yankees definitely walked away a more talented team overall, as while Trey Sweeney certainly has some upside, he’s a year older than Vivas and wasn’t going to be an everyday MLB option for the team soon. Instead, the Yankees are able to flip him for a reliever who helps them right away and has three years of control alongside an infield prospect who can play two different spots and get better with the bat in 2024.

It’s a hard trade to hate if you’re a Yankees fan, as the team continues to add depth to their roster following a mediocre 82-80 season which exposed the lack of depth at the Major League level that season.