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2019 1B Dilemma: Bird, Voit, or someone else?

The Yankees have failed to solidify the first base position ever since Mark Teixeira retired after the 2016 season. Over the last three seasons, New York has gotten nowhere near the production the 2015 All-Star Teixeira gave them. That year, he slashed .255/.357/.548 with 22 doubles, 31 home runs, and 79 RBI before his season was cut short to a broken leg.
Many believed 2011 fifth-round pick Greg Bird was the solution at first base as he tore up the minors in 2013-2015, leading to a mid-August call up to the bigs in 2015. Bird started 44 games in August and September amid some Teixeira injuries, and he hit .261 with 11 homers and 30 RBI.

The Yankees' next big fish: The Bryce Harper and Manny Machado question

The scene was set for the young budding Bomber squad last fall after finishing their season a game away from a World Series berth. They were the team that arrived a year too early, and another deep playoff run would be the goal, but then an old friend threw a wrench in those plans. Derek Jeter put gargantuan slugger Giancarlo Stanton on the market, and Stanton dictated his transfer with a full no-trade clause. The Giants and Cardinals among others threw their name into the ring, but who did he choose? The Yankees and Dodgers, it seemed to be a battle of baseballs powerhouses, but the Yankees had an advantage over their former neighbors, payroll flexibility. They were able to use this into an absolute steal of the reigning NL MVP, and the Yankees were thrust into a world series or bust year. The season was historic, they set the season home run record without Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, Greg Bird, and Aaron Judge for most if not all of the year, but it ended in a bust at the hands of their most bitter rivals.


NJ.com


Now the Yankees have a choice, continue the plan set by Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman of building the team underbudget from within, or return to their bank-breaking tactics that only the Yankees can do. You can almost guarantee the front office will bring in more than one talented arms to their starting rotation, the likely target being the Patrick Corbin of the market, but what about the big fish of this market? The generational position players, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, would instantly make any lineup better, but can the Bombers record-setting lineup improve that much, should they even spend the money to find out? Of course, you can! Imagine an outfield of Harper, Judge and Aaron Hicks with Stanton at DH, almost unstoppable. How about an infield of Machado, Didi, Gleyber Torres, Sanchez, Luke Voit, and Miguel Andujar at DH or first base, a steamroller. The Yankees lineup was historic, but they can reach new heights in 2019 if they make the right moves. The question remains, who do you choose? The club could theoretically take both of them with ease, but let's assume they only select one for the sake of argument.

Let’s get to know the players shall we? Starting with Manny Machado.


Newsday.com

The SS/3B plays with a serious edge to him, arguably too much, but even with his admittedly lack of hustle, he handles the media with ease. Machado wishes to play shortstop, but is statistically a far better third baseman only posting one year, 2017, with negative runs saved metric while never posting a positive grade as a shortstop. With Gregorius set at short, Machado will have to play third base, like his longtime idol, Alex Rodriguez, did for his Yankee career. His versatility will not be wasted, Gregorius will miss a large chunk of 2019 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in October so that Manny can slide over to short until Didi’s return. What about the hitter?
Machado's career numbers are as follows

BA/OPB/OPS
HR average
RBI average
BB/K
OPS+
WAR
.282/.335/.822
31
90
0.422
121
33.8

An impressive stat line for the 26-year-old, but what about the postseason? Stanton and Rodríguez faced plenty of heat for their early postseason struggles. It is currently ongoing, but after 17 games and 71 plate appearance, it looks like this

BA/OPB/OPS
HR/G
RBI/G
BB/K
R/G
.206/.254/.698
0.24
0.65
0.278
0.47

Not great, but he is on the upswing, improving greatly with the Dodgers in 2018, and he’s not finished yet.

How about Harper?


(AP/Alex Brandon)

The former NL MVP and current Home Run Derby Champion plays with a swagger that is as polarizing as it is infectious. Harper also has some history of laziness on the base paths, but not the same as Machado. However, there was the fight with Jonathan Papelbon in 2015, showing that some teammates may not like Harper's demeanor. The 26-year-old does not boast the same glove as Machado but packs plenty the same punch, and his career numbers are as follows:

BA/OPB/OPS
HR average
RBI average
BB/K
OPS+
WAR
.279/.388/.900
32
91
0.701
139
27.4

His postseason stats over 19 games and 89 plate appearances:

BA/OPB/OPS
HR/G
RBI/G
BB/K
R/G
.211/.315/.801
0.6
0.53
0.478
0.63

To say we are splitting hairs between the two at the plate is an understatement, both players rake as well as any player in the game. It may come down to preference, Machado has the higher batting average and WAR, but Harper has the top OPS, fewer strikeouts, more walks, and more home runs. The same goes for the postseason for both players, after a similar amount of games.

On the surface, it looks like a pick’em, but let’s look deeper into the numbers. Machado may be slightly more consistent, but Harper offers the highest ceiling as a hitter. Machado's highest OPS is .963, and his highest BA is .297, Harper boasts an MVP .330 and 1.109, and his second best is .319 and 1.008, a massive jump from Machado's ceiling. Now is Harper boom or bust and Machado is Mr. Steady? Not really, Harper is reasonably consistent in his “off” season around .270 BA and .850 OPS, with two outliers of about .246 and .829 in a reportedly unhealthy 2016 and a lost 2018 season.

Who finished stronger with a great contract year? Again on the surface, it seems Machado who slashed .297/.367/.905 and 37 HRs with 107 RBIs, to Harpers .249/.393/.899 and 34 HRs with 100 RBIs had the much better 2018, but again let's look deeper. Over the second half of the year, Machado dropped from .315/.387/.963 and 0.312 HR/G and 0.844 RBI/G to .273/.338/.825 with 0.155 HR/G and 0.5 RBI/G. Harper, on the other hand, surged from a paltry .214/.365/.833 with 0.247 HR/G and 0.581 RBI/G to .300/.538/.972 with 0.177 HR/G and 0.742 RBI/G. Both players dropped in HR rate, but Harper increased his BA, OPS, OPB, RBI/G, and improved his already impressive BB/K rate, while Machado got worse. Even in a lost season for Harper, he improved his consistency while Machado was inserted into a pennant race and only worsened.

The numbers may be close, but Harper has the edge in my book where it matters. After going in-depth, let's look at the big picture or the overall fit of each player. Machado plays third, where the Yankees have Miguel Andujar, who would have to be either moved to first with Greg Bird and Luke Voit, a DH/LF rotation or shipped off for more pitching talent. Harper, on the other hand, would slide in nicely in Brett Gardner’s and Andrew McCutchen’s role in LF while filling in at CF, RF, and DH when needed. What about at the plate? Harper is a lefty, and a power hitting lefty at that, he could fulfill the role the Yankees envisioned for Greg Bird and exceed it by tenfold. Machado would make the already righty-heavy lineup even more righty dominant. Now, the Yankees are getting a lot of flak for hitting with RISP, so how do they match up? For RISP it is pretty much like their season splits, Machado wins the average (.330 vs .290) category while Harper exceeds in OPS (.982vs.966) and OPB (.458vs.427). Since the OPB and OPS are so close, the Bombers would greatly benefit from a higher average hitter with their already heavy slugger lineup.


MLB.com

No matter how you slice it, either player would be a massive addition to the Yankee lineup, but in this debate, we can only choose one. Outside of production and lineup fit, there is team fit. As mentioned before, Machado’s recent comments about hustle won't endear Yankee fans who routinely complain about the team's lack of urgency. The club has young players who already seem to have some lapse of concentration or hustle moments, like Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez, and adding someone who openly doesn’t care about that may not be a good influence on them. Harper isn’t perfect in this either, so maybe that doesn’t matter as much as people like to make it out to be. What about the dirty plays by Machado? I don’t think anyone would condone possibly harming another player, and no I don’t think the Yankees need a ‘villain’ like the media seems to want, but the team could use a little edge at times. Look how Tyler Austin’s borderline slide in Boston fired up the team and its fanbase. Again Harper is similar in this edge, as the cocky demeanor of the outfielder embodies the player you love to hate until he is on your team.


NYDN.com

What about the teammates? This is where I think the most significant difference comes in, how does the roster and lineup change with the addition of each player. Brett Gardner has a team option going into 2019, but the 35-year-old noticeably lost a step this year, losing his leadoff spot to Aaron Hicks and Andrew McCutchen by the end of the season. The Yankees have said they are open to resigning McCutchen for the right price, showing they are anticipating adding another outfielder this offseason. Clint Frazier would be a prime candidate to replace Gardner in the outfield, but his concussion issues seem to be very serious and don’t have the history of production to wait out that injury. Adding Harper would sure up left field spot, a position he played early in his career, while not displacing a proven producer in the lineup. Machado on the other hand, as previously mentioned, would mean Andujar is playing elsewhere in 2019 or would have to move to another position. This move causes plenty of questions for the team, but they are good questions to have.




The Yankees need pitching, pitching, and more pitching. This team will go nowhere unless they ensure their starting rotation to take advantage of their historical lineup and juggernaut of a bullpen. As for Harper and Machado, you can’t go wrong with either, and if the Bombers genuinely want to return to their old ways, adding both wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. If I could only choose one, bringing back the longtime Yankee fan who wears 34 as a subtle tribute to his all-time favorite player, Micky Mantle (3+4=7), would cause the least amount of issues while only improving the Yankees strengths even more.


Article by: Maxx Hotton

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