The Yankees should remain in pursuit of Astros’ underutilized outfielder

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Houston Astros, chas mccormick, yankees
Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Ken Rosenthal reported that the New York Yankees and Houston Astros were discussing but never close to a deal that would have sent Chas McCormick to the Bronx. The Yankees have shown that they’re persistent in their pursuit of players on their radar, with Carlos Rodon, Joey Gallo, and Frankie Montas all being examples of players that the Yankees targeted multiple times before eventually acquiring them.

Chas McCormick doesn’t have an everyday role with the Houston Astros, and manager Dusty Baker isn’t a massive fan of his game.

The Yankees, who struggle to generate offense, could use his 117 wRC+ bat and strong baserunning, and while a right-handed bat may turn off some fans, the skills McCormick brings to the table fit exactly what the Yankees as a team need. With the Yankees trying to find long-term solutions and youth in their lineup, the Yankees should take advantage of the Astros’ misevaluation and add a well-balanced piece to their offense.

What Does Chas McCormick Provide at the Plate?

The most pressing question that fans will ask in regards to any player that the Yankees could look to acquire is regarding their offensive skillset.

To put it bluntly, the Yankees need to acquire bats. They’re one of baseball’s worst offenses, even after going on an offensive frenzy against the Oakland Athletics. Their 96 wRC+ is the 10th worst in baseball, and they have the fifth-worst OBP in the sport as well. To circumvent that, first and foremost, they’ll need their captain and the 2022 AL MVP Aaron Judge back, but some savvy additions are also in demand.

McCormick is an interesting hitter, not possessing overly elite power, having a high chase rate, and also possessing a pretty mediocre batting average as well. In spite of all of this, McCormick isn’t outright bad at anything either, and his complete skillset at the dish, coupled with his 72nd Percentile Sprint Speed, gels together to give him a career 113 wRC+. This isn’t a small sample size either, doing so over the course of 270 games and getting better each season.

His 119 wRC+ on the season is thanks in large part due to improved power numbers, and he’s finally developed into a more aggressive baserunner due to the bigger bases and new pickoff rules.

The Yankees are a poor baserunning squad as well, ranking 26th in the league in BsR and having one of the oldest position player groups in the league as well. The Yankees need to get younger and more dynamic, and this is a step in that direction.

dj lemahieu, yankees
Apr 5, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees second baseman DJ LeMahieu (26) slides safely into home plate on New York Yankees designated hitter Gleybor Torres (25) (not pictured) RBI single against the Philadelphia Phillies during the sixth inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Typically I preach about the importance of pulling flyballs, and while that still remains true, the ability to take the ball the other way as a right-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium is important as well.

McCormick excels at driving the ball to the opposite field, with a 41.1% opposite field rate on flyballs and a .706 wOBA, whereas the league-average for opposite field rate on flyballs is 36.6% at an abysmal .241 wOBA. Considering how Yankee Stadium plays to opposite-field flyballs from right-handed hitters, McCormick would be a perfect fit for the Bronx Bombers.

This is where being right-handed instead of left-handed becomes irrelevant, as the advantage McCormick would gain from the Bronx is similar to the one a left-handed hitter would.

Add on the fact that he still isn’t arbitration eligible and would have three years of control remaining at the conclusion of the 2023 season, and he’s suddenly a piece not just for the present but for the future as well. For those still wondering if the approach McCormick has would generate that significant of an advantage, let’s look at how Yankee Stadium ranks amongst all ballparks in opposite-field wOBA on flyballs hit by right-handed hitters.

Yankee Stadium is one of the few ballparks where hitting flyballs the other way for right-handers is actually beneficial, and since McCormick’s already generated plenty of success with his approach, one could presume that would translate well to the Bronx.

The Yankees seem to really like acquiring right-handed bats with that type of approach, and their track record with bats like DJ LeMahieu, Gio Urshela, and Luke Voit would suggest this is the type of move they find plenty of success with.

In terms of where McCormick would best profile for the lineup, his lack of overwhelming on-base skills wouldn’t allow him to leadoff, but as a 6th or 7th hitter to help the Yankees mop up RISP opportunities when their middle of the lineup is through, would certainly help.

Presenting all of this hype for someone who I call a 6th or 7th hitter seems underwhelming, but lineup depth is something the Yankees haven’t reliably had all season, and adding to that would only serve to benefit them.

The Yankees have an abysmal 68 wRC+ from their 6th spot, which places them 26th in all of baseball, and from the bottom third of the lineup (7-9), they have an 80 wRC+, which is the 22nd worst mark in the league. Improving that bottom of the order is going to be paramount to their success, as the return of Aaron Judge and guys like Stanton-Rizzo-Donaldson waking up could end up revitalizing this offense.

MLB: New York Yankees at Oakland Athletics
Jun 29, 2023; Oakland, California, USA; New York Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson (28) rounds the bases on a two-run home run against the Oakland Athletics during the sixth inning at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Another surging player is Anthony Volpe, whose new stance has allowed him to generate more damage contact and cut down on strikeouts. He’s attacking fastballs aggressively, generating hard-hit baseballs consistently, and reaching high exit velocities as well. His whiffs and chases are up, and both of those need improving before I’m ready to say the Yankees’ #1 prospect has truly arrived, but overall this is extremely encouraging.

With that being said, the Yankees would be acquiring McCormick to become part of this core for a while, so what’s his role on the defensive side of things?

Preparing To Potentially Lose Harrison Bader

One of the toughest decisions the Yankees will have to make is regarding their beloved centerfielder Harrison Bader. It’s going to be a difficult decision that splits the organization down the middle, as while he’s given the Yankees a 104 wRC+ and +6 OAA on the season, it’s come in just 36 games due to injury. Bader’s inability to stay healthy creates a dilemma with committing guaranteed money to the 29-year-old CF, who objectively plays excellent defense and brings a good bat as well, but also struggles to be a reliable everyday option.

Regardless of if they have an interest in bringing him back or not, they don’t have a great contingency plan in place if they were to lose him in free agency. Aaron Judge isn’t going to play CF full-time again, especially after the toe issue that’s come about following the collision at Dodger Stadium. Isiah Kiner-Falefa is a free agent at the end of the season as well, so he isn’t an option either. The Yankees could see if Jasson Dominguez progresses into an MLB-ready player by then, but I personally view him as an LF.

Everson Pereira is another interesting OF option, but the Yankees might like a less boom-or-bust player in their lineup to steady things.

The issue with Pereira, who has a 140 wRC+ on the season in Double-A, is that there still isn’t much certainty that he can handle CF full-time defensively. McCormick, on the other hand, has +23 OAA and +14 DRS in the outfield, with +10 OAA and +3 DRS in CF in his career. McCormick isn’t just a good defender; he’s one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball.

MLB: New York Mets at Houston Astros
Jun 21, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros center fielder Chas McCormick (20) catches a fly ball for an out against the New York Mets during the seventh inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Among all outfielders in baseball, since he debuted in 2021, McCormick is 5th in Outs Above Average, and he has a 5% Success Rate, which is the 2nd best among outfield as well. McCormick isn’t the defender that Harrison Bader is, but he’s still phenomenal out there. If they were to acquire him this season, the Yankees would easily have the best defensive outfield in the sport, and they’d have a contingency plan if they feel as if Bader isn’t the direction they want to go long-term.

The Yankees also need the help in LF, as they’re 27th in DRS (-6) and 16th in OAA (-2) defensively, and they’re also 28th in fWAR at 0.2. For as fun as Jake Bauers has been, who I still believe would get reps if they added an outfielder, his defense leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps Billy McKinney will emerge into a bigger role, but I think his outfield versatility could allow him to take over for IKF as the team’s fourth outfielder.

It again adds to their outfield depth and gives them plenty of options with their outfield if injuries flare up, especially considering that Aaron Judge’s timetable is still up in the air. The final question at hand, however is if the Yankees have an acceptable offer they could make to the Astros, who aren’t selling and would look for pieces that could help them right now.

Putting Together a Yankees-Astros Deal

The Yankees would obviously be entering this deal looking to acquire Chas McCormick, but what would the Astros look for? While the Astros have a strong bullpen ERA, they have a -0.36 Win Probability Added from their bullpen, suggesting that they struggle in high-leverage and lack reliable go-to options at the top of their bullpen. This is an area of strength for the Yankees, who have the best bullpen ERA in the sport despite a myriad of bullpen injuries and the departure of long-time closer Aroldis Chapman.

Clay Holmes is back, Ian Hamilton and Jimmy Cordero have emerged as unsung heroes, Tommy Kahnle has been a huge lift, and while Wandy Peralta and Michael King are struggling as of late, they’re still excellent options when they’re on. Albert Abreu and Nick Ramirez have both given the Yankees excellent innings in lower-leverage roles, with both possessing strong ERAs and the occasional big moment in a close game.

Overall, this is an area of strength, and lost in the discussion is Ron Marinaccio. His career 2.56 ERA and strong performance in high-leverage situations are enticing, but with Jonathan Loaisiga set to return at some point in the summer and arms like Rodon and Cortes pushing one of Schmidt or German out of the rotation, the Yankees are starting to run out of roster spots. Could the Yankees dangle Marinaccio’s control through the 2028 season?

ron marcinaccio, yankees
May 11, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Ron Marinaccio (97) pitches against the Tampa Bay Rays during the sixth inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Swapping a player, the Astros don’t really want for one they could definitely use is an idea, but is a reliever-for-outfielder swap really worth it for the Astros? The Yankees could attach a prospect, and the Astros could certainly use the farm help, but one could reasonably argue that if the roster fit is good enough, the Yankees might entice Houston.

This wouldn’t be their first trade involving an outfielder and reliever, as they dealt Myles Straw for Phil Maton in the middle of the 2021 season, and they could see history repeat itself once more. They also dealt Jose Siri for a rental 1B in Trey Mancini, so it’s clear that they view the position as an area they can trade out of for other key positions.

Drew Gilbert looks to conquer Double-A and put himself in the 2024 conversation, and with both Yordan Alvarez and Michael Brantley returning to join Kyle Tucker and Jake Meyers, they could reasonably absorb the loss of McCormick and strengthen an area of their team that desperately needs fixing. Corey Julks emerging as well seems to have garnered him some attention from Dusty Baker and the front office, as he has a 124 wRC+ in his last 29 games as he continues to develop in his rookie season.

Will the Yankees come around to completing a deal with their rivals in Houston? No one knows for certain, but if the Yankees and Astros can find the value they’re looking for, Chas McCormick might be the Yankees’ best bet for an outfielder this deadline.

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