With Mike Cameron now with the Red Sox and with Johnny Damon holding out for more cash, the Yanks have to explore new options to fill their left field vacancy. They might choose to sign a solid DH and keep Melky Cabrera in left field, but because they let Hideki Matsui sign with Anaheim, it appears they won’t explore that option immediately. Right now they’re looking for a solid left field option. There might not be a ton that interests them on the free agent market, but what about in a trade?
We’ve explored the trade market previously and have found little of interest. There are two names on the list, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus, who could, under the right circumstances, be attractive. The problem with both, though, is that they have two years left of team control at reasonable prices. Neither the Royals nor the Nationals have good reason to trade them, unless they got something significant in return — say, Austin Romine. That doesn’t make sense from the Yankees end. Why trade your No. 2 prospect for the relatively small upgrade from Melky to DeJesus or Willingham?
If the Yankees plan to upgrade their left field situation, they’ll have to sign a free agent — Damon, Matt Holliday, Jason Bay — or get creative with a trade. This might hurt. Since most of their top prospects aren’t near major league ready, they would probably have to deal a major league chip. For the Yankees, that means Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain. No, dealing either is not an ideal scenario, but perhaps the Yankees could find a situation where trading one of them would bring back a pitcher and a left fielder.
That means bringing back a bad contract — or at least an overvalued one. These trades get tricky, and chances are the Yankees wouldn’t want to take this path. With that in mind, these ideas are just for fun. They’re just different, albeit highly improbable, ways of acquiring a pitcher or left fielder. In fact, I’ll even call myself out before I start: my trade proposal sucks.
Would the Dodgers trade Matt Kemp?
With the Dodgers owners going through a complex and messy divorce situation, the team finds itself in a tough financial spot. Counting their obligations to players no longer on their team (Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre, Jon Garland), they owe $62 million to their 2010 team. That’s before their bevy of arbitration-eligible players. Matt Kemp, James Loney, Chad Billingsley, and Hong-Chich Kuo will all get big raises in their first arbitration years. Russell Martin, Andre Ethier, and Jon Broxton are in their second years. George Sherrill is in his third. This could end up costing the Dodgers a ton of money, so perhaps they’d be willing to trade one of those players for a most cost-controlled one.
Of the arbitration players, Matt Kemp is obviously the most attractive. Ethier put up good numbers as well this year, but he has poor lefty splits. For one player that’s not a big deal, but with Curtis Granderson in the fold, the Yankees should avoid any player with big platoon splits. Kemp can play good defense at a corner, and has a good bat. Would LA want more than just Hughes or Chamberlain, though? Kemp, after all, is the more known quantity. Or would they just accept a year of cheap production from Joba or Hughes? I’m figuring they’d want more, which makes this a bit tougher deal to stomach.
Would the Reds trade Jay Bruce and a pitcher?
One way to get more in a trade is by taking on a bad contract. The Reds have a couple of those in Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo. Neither is an ideal fit for the rotation, making any potential deal tougher to stomach. But if it meant bringing back Jay Bruce, would that make it more enticing?
In his short major league career, Bruce has been mostly a disappointment. He suffered a few injuries and had embarrassingly low on base percentages when healthy. He’s still just 22, 23 in April, so there’s time for his bat to develop. He’s particularly bad against lefties, or at least has been so far in his major league career, making him a bit tougher option. The Yanks would take a gamble not only on his development as a hitter in general, but also his ability to hit major league lefties.
Then there’s the pitching end. Arroyo has had his ups and downs in Cincinnati, and could be an option at the back of the rotation. Unfortunately, his salary is more in in with a No. 2 starter, $11 million next season with a $2 million buyout of his $11 million 2011 option. Is that a worthy trade-off for the gamble on Bruce? Probably not. The Reds would get a young pitcher in return, but would lose a young, promising outfielder. I have to wonder if they’d do this type of deal.
What about Josh Hamilton?
There’s little to no chance that the Rangers trade Josh Hamilton this off-season. He still has three years left of team control, and has been one of the team’s best run producers. Yet maybe, as Hamilton enters his first year of arbitration, the Rangers will look to cash in on him.
Hamilton has three years of service under his belt, but has amassed just 1406 plate appearances. He’s missed time in 2007 and 2009 with injuries, and in 2009 it appears that his injuries sapped his production. He fell from a .901 OPS in 2008 to .741 in 2009 and had just more than half the plate appearances. We know that Hamilton was disappointed with the Rangers’ contract extension proposal, so maybe, just maybe they’ll look to unload him now, hoping for a bigger return.
The Yanks would probably have to include more than Joba or Hughes, which, as with Bruce, is difficult when there’s such a risk involved. Hamilton is very good when healthy, but again, he has just a little over two years’ worth of plate appearances in three seasons. Still, he doesn’t demonstrate a terribly pronounced platoon split, and would likely see a power boost at Yankee Stadium. He’d fit perfectly at one of the corners and in the No. 5 spot in the lineup.
Of all the crazy, high-risk moves on this list, I like the Hamilton one the best. But, like the rest, it’s probably not feasible.
Outside option: Seth Smith
The Rockies probably have no reason to trade Garry Seth Smith. He has two more years of reserve-clause time, then three years of arbitration. But with Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, and Brad Hawpe in the outfield, it appears Smith is again destined for a reserve role. Maybe the Rockies would be better off cashing in on him now.
The issue is of matching on prospects. The Yankees would not trade Joba or Hughes for a player with Smith’s home/road splits: .998 OPS at Coors vs. a .770 one on the road. His platoon splits aren’t terrible, .745 OPS against lefties and a .898 against righties, which is good, but it still doesn’t justify the move. The Rockies have no reason to trade Smith on the cheap, and it’s unlikely the Yankees would overpay for that type of player.
Brad Hawpe has better home/road splits and similar platoon splits, but he’d cost even more in a trade, even though he’s 31 years old this season. For his production he’s still cheap, $7.5 million in 2010 with a $10 million 2011 option ($0.5 million buyout). I imagine the Rockies would want even more for Hawpe than for Smith, probably one of Hughes or Chamberlain. I’m not sure I’d do that. It would also mean signing another starter, of which there are few on the market.
What all this tells me is that the Yankees probably won’t deal for a left fielder. They’ll either re-sign Damon, sign Holliday, or sign a big DH and go into the season with Melky as the left fielder.