This week, Inside the Clubhouse looks at the Yankees’ infield, the bad luck of Jacob deGrom, the Padres bet on Joe Musgrove paying off and more.
The Great Free-Agent Shortstop Class of 2021-2022 is currently slated to feature names such as Carlos Correa, Javier Baez, Trevor Story and Corey Seager.
Could the New York Yankees be involved?
The Yankees have long envisioned Gleyber Torres being their long-term shortstop, but his continued struggles could force them to pivot and reconfigure their infield alignment. There are many possibilities, as Lindsey Adler of The Athletic recently laid out, but the possibility of the Yankees being players for the top free-agent shortstops next offseason is something that multiple rival executives have brought up in recent days.
One option could be moving Torres to second base and shifting D.J. LeMahieu to first base to make room for an acquisition. They could even put Torres at third base. But while his ability to play shortstop has come into question, the Yankees maintain that he remains an immensely talented player who figures into their long-term plans.
How Torres, 24, performs in the coming weeks and months will determine just how aggressive they need to be addressing the shortstop position. Do they go all-in and pull a midseason trade for Story, who is a near certainty to be traded? Or do they wait until the offseason and have their pick of a shortstop class widely regarded as the best in baseball history?
Again, this is all just hypotheticals for now. But the longer Torres’ struggles continue, the louder the conversation that the Yankees need reinforcements will become.
Jacob deGrom still can’t get any run support
After a 3-0 loss to the Miami Marlins in which ace Jacob deGrom allowed one run while striking out 14 batters over eight innings, New York Mets manager Luis Rojas said that “an outing like that, you could call it a waste.”
But these Mets have a history of wasting deGrom’s dominance. He has a 2.06 ERA since 2018. He has 649 strikeouts and 110 walks in 503 innings in that span. In those starts, the Mets are 36-42.
Tom Verducci recently wrote that Clayton Kershaw, not deGrom, is the most hard-lucked pitcher in baseball. But it is hard to recall a pitcher as dominant as deGrom, who has clearly established himself as the best pitcher on the planet, that has received as little help from his supporting cast as him.
It’s simply unacceptable. For Mets owner Steve Cohen, who has made his aspirations of winning a World Series in the next 3-5 seasons clear, maximizing deGrom’s prime needs to be his top priority going forward. Maybe that’s by adding an elite bat to pair with Francisco Lindor. Maybe it’s addressing a bullpen that has long failed deGrom and the Mets pitching staff. Maybe it’s both.
But the Mets, who have promised change under Cohen, cannot continue to let this happen. After the offense let deGrom down once again, Mets reliever Trevor May said that deGrom “shouldn’t have to do everything himself.”
The reality is that he might.
The Joe Musgrove bet is paying off
When the San Diego Padres targeted Joe Musgrove this winter, they believed he was a prime breakout candidate. They viewed him as a strong mid-rotation arm who could potentially grow into a top-of-the-rotation arm.
So far, their bet in trading four prospects and pitcher Joey Lucchesi for Musgrove has paid off. He threw six shutout innings in his debut against the Arizona Diamondbacks. In his next outing against the Texas Rangers, he became the first Padres pitcher in team history to throw a no-hitter.
Musgrove, 28, began his ascent last season by increasing the usage and spin rates of his curveball and slider. He has continued that this season (he’s throwing his slider the most of any pitch) and is using his fastball only 12.6 percent through two starts, according to Baseball Savant, nearly a 14 percent drop from last season, while placing a greater emphasis on his cutter under the recommendation of pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
The early results prompted one rival scout to say that Musgrove could have a breakout like Gerrit Cole when the Pirates traded him in 2018. While the scout noted that Musgrove is not the same caliber of pitcher as Cole, the Padres were among multiple teams that identified Musgrove as a breakout candidate and expressed interest in trading for the right-hander this winter.
But the Padres coveted Musgrove even after acquiring Yu Darvish and Blake Snell. His first two outings in San Diego underscore why and provide a glimpse at what’s to come.
What’s wrong with Keston Hiura?
After taking the league by storm in his rookie year, Hiura has regressed to the point of being one of the worst second basemen in baseball since last season. He hit .212/.297/.410 in 59 games. His hard-hit rate plummeted to 39.8 percent. His strikeout rate soared to 34.6 percent.
Hiura, 24, has actually been worse in the first seven games this season. He’s hitting .107/.138/.250. His hard-hit rate is an underwhelming 31.3 percent. His strikeout rate is at an alarming 41.4 percent.
“It’s a continuation of last year,” a rival scout who has watched Hiura extensively said.
The scout believes Hiura’s struggles are simply a product of pitchers adjusting and exploiting his weaknesses at the plate. The Brewers are being careful not to overreact to such a small sample size and believe it will not be long until he counters those adjustments, pointing to his mental makeup and sustained success at UC-Irvine where he showed a consistent ability to control the strike zone.
But as Hiura attempts to bounce back at the plate, he’s also tasked with learning a new defensive position on the fly. His transition to first base has not been smooth. He quickly committed his first error on an errant throw to second base against the Minnesota Twins, something that plagued him when he was their second baseman and why they were open to signing Kolten Wong this winter.
Hiura has shown signs of breaking out his slump, hitting a home run and making hard contact in each of his five at-bats on Saturday against the St. Louis Cardinals. But with Christian Yelich dealing with another back injury, the Brewers will need Hiura to step up. Their chances of competing with the Cardinals would seem to depend on it.
A few things I think:
- I think Ronald Acuña Jr. has entered the conversation of best players in baseball. He is hitting .444/.462/.917 this season and beat out an infield single on a ball with a 109 mph exit velocity, hit directly at the shortstop who fielded it cleanly and made a strong throw to first base. Ex-pitcher Brandon McCarthy tweeted that “Acuña is starting to play on planet Trout.”
- I think Travis Shaw’s one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Milwaukee Brewers could be one of the biggest steals of the offseason.
- I think this story by Will Sammon of The Athletic on the rich, colorful and (sometimes) profane history of lineup card exchanges is one of the best things that I’ve read all year.