Saturday, August 1, 2015

Yankees: Why Dustin Ackley?

The New York Yankees seemed poised to make a deal Friday, the final day of the non-waiver trading period. The Yanks were linked to relievers Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman for parts of the day, hoping to make a splash by building a superpower bullpen. It wasn’t meant to be and the Yankees stayed pat on deadline day.

The Yankees were not entirely quiet, making one deal this week; trading outfielder Ramon Flores and right-handed reliever Jose Ramirez to the Seattle Mariners for utility player Dustin Ackley. The Yankees designated 1B/OF Garrett Jones for assignment to make space for Ackley on the active roster. Ackley, 27, can be used throughout the outfield as well as first and second base.

Ackley, a former first round pick (No. 2, 2009), has never truly lived up to expectations as a top-rated prospect in the Mariners’ system. Once Robinson Cano was signed for the 2014 season, Ackley was permanently shifted to the outfield from his natural position at second base.

Ackley’s major league career started off well in 2011 when he hit .273/.348/.417 with nine home runs and 36 RBIs in 376 plate appearances. He registered a 117 wRC+ and 3.0 fWAR in that rookie campaign. Unfortunately, he did not show improvement after coming on the scene. His wRC+ was just 75 in his first full season in 2012, which he followed up with an 87 wRC+ in 2013, and 97 in 2014. Ackley owns a .243/.306/.366 career line and a 90 wRC+. He’s accumulated 6.8 fWAR in his career.

That fWAR has actually decreased due to a -0.7 mark this season coming into Friday’s game. Ackley was batting just .215/.270/.366 with six home runs and 19 RBIs before the trade (77 wRC+), and went 0-for-2 in his Yankees’ debut as a late-game replacement Friday night.

So, you must be thinking why the need to trade two minor leaguers with some upside still lingering who had each spent time with the Yankees this season for Ackley? First, while promising they were expendable. Second, the Yankees have been high on Ackley for some time. And finally, the club felt Ackley’s ability to play multiple positions was a benefit over Jones who was not exactly lighting up the scoreboard either.

Flores was one of three left-handed hitting outfielders in the Yankees’ system who made an appearance for the club this season (Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams were the others) when Jacoby Ellsbury was on the disabled list. The team decided Flores was the odd man out. Ramirez, who owns a high-powered fastball, has battled control problems and the Yankees are incredibly deep where it concerns relief pitchers so he became an unnecessary commodity.

Jones seems to me to be the type of player who needs more plate appearances to get into some sort of rhythm. Jones had averaged 527 PA over the last five seasons which produced some decent power. Before being designated Friday, Jones was slashing .215/.267/.361 (67 wRC+) with five homers and 17 RBIs. Jones' abilities in the field are minute, playing right field and first base only.

Understand Ackley is not going to be seeing the field much more than Jones did, unless there is an injury to one of the regular outfielders or to first baseman Mark Teixeira. But, the Yankees hope when he does get some playing time the change of scenery will do him some good.

Ackley has battled some luck issues this season hitting .234 on batted balls in play, while his career mark is almost 50 points higher (.283). He’s drawing fewer walks per plate appearance (6.8 percent) than his career mark (8.2 percent), while striking out at virtually the same rate this season as his career (18.2 percent vs. 18.4 percent). Ackley’s line dive rate is down considerably this season (13.3 percent compared with 19.5 for his career).

The good news is Ackley owns a more enticing .296/.397/.481 slash line in 63 plate appearances at Yankee Stadium. Yes, that’s a small sample size, but anywhere near that production from Ackley combined with his versatility and some change in luck would provide the club with an upgrade over Jones.

Ackley is certainly not a high profile trade acquisition, but when a team is winning its division by six games and there are internal options to fit their main necessities, a bit player with the potential to outplay his predecessor can go a long way.