Is Scott Downs worth the cost?

Link Dump: Catcher Defense, Downs, Greinke
City: SI Yanks owe $300K in payments
(Chris Gardner/AP)

If we’ve learned anything about the free agent market in the past few years, it’s that buying relief pitchers often leads to disappointment. Even Damaso Marte, who had been a solid pitcher throughout his career, crumbled after signing what was essentially a free agent contract. Chan Ho Park, who shined in the Phillies pen during the 2009 season, flopped horribly in 2010. The stories go on seemingly forever, extending back to the days of Paul Quantrill. Yet there’s always the temptation with at least one reliever on the market. This year it’s Scott Downs.

I’ll put this bluntly: I want Scott Downs in the Yankees bullpen. The guy is simply a beast. He strikes out his share of guys, he avoids walking too many batters, he keeps the ball on the ground, and he limits balls that leave the park. During the last three seasons he has produced a 2.83 ERA and 3.16 FIP, placing him easily within the top 20 relief pitchers of that period. What’s even better is that he’s a lefty who can hold his own against righties. But is he worth the cost to the Yankees?

Again, I’ll be blunt: No. It pains me to type those two letters. Downs is such a perfect fit for the 2011 bullpen. The Yankees need another lefty. Downs can fill that role, as well as a late-innings setup role. But the downsides to signing him outweigh the potential benefits he’d have over a replacement.

1. He’s a Type A free agent. The Blue Jays will undoubtedly offer him arbitration. He made $4 million in 2010, so even a $1 million raise makes him an affordable relief pitcher. If he declines, he’ll cost an acquiring team a first round draft pick. Chances are that will be a second rounder for the Yankees, but that might be even worse. Because the Yankees will almost certainly decline, for the third straight year, to offer any of their own free agents arbitration, they’ll receive no supplemental draft picks. That would push their first pick in the draft into the triple digits. That’s no way to build a strong farm system.

2. He’ll turn 35 before Opening Day. Even handing Downs a deal in the mold of Marte’s would be a risk, since it would mean he’d be on the team through his age-37 season.

3. His performance brings no guarantees. You can say this to varying degrees with any player, really, but especially with relief pitchers. Downs has been tremendous in the last four years. In fact, in the last three years only four relief pitchers have a better ERA than Downs: Joakim Soria, Mike Adams, Hong-Chih Kuo, and Mo. Only five relievers have a higher ground ball percentage, and Downs has a very low HR/FB ratio to go along with that. But that means nothing heading into next year. One bad year can make this a bad deal overall, especially when it involves a pitcher of Downs’s age.

On a one-year deal, Scott Downs would be the perfect addition to the Yankees’ bullpen. But as a Type A free agent he just doesn’t fit. Maybe, just maybe, the Yankees and Jays can pull off something similar to what the Braves and the Rays did last year after Rafael Soriano accepted arbitration. But considering the intra-division implications, I’m not sure that happens. Scott Downs could make a very nice setup man for a contending club next year. I’m sad it won’t be the Yanks.

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Link Dump: Catcher Defense, Downs, Greinke
City: SI Yanks owe $300K in payments
  • Sam P.

    Well, JP Richardi isn’t the Toronto GM any longer, so perhaps the astronomical value placed on their own players for an intra-divisional trade might be less than in other cases? I’m sure it still would take something creative for a trade, but you never know.

    • http://www.twitter.com/ngoral Jake LaMotta’s Left Hook

      Anthopoulos wanted either Montero, Iglesias or Kelly for Downs.

      Cashman’s and Epstein’s answer: **** no.

      Anthopoulos is going to ask for ridiculous pieces in return for anything player on the Jays.

      • Sam P.

        You know, I had forgotten that. I definitely agree w/ what you’re saying.

      • Ed

        Anthopoulos wanted either Montero, Iglesias or Kelly for Downs.

        That was his stance when he believed the alternative was keeping him and getting two high draft picks in a deep draft.

        Anthopoulos is going to ask for ridiculous pieces in return for anything player on the Jays.

        That may not hold after draft picks are no longer an option.

  • Mike R

    I’d rather go for Randy Choate as well.. Downs is good but far too costly… My Main question is why did Marte not undergo surgery when he was ruled out for the year? I mean obviously he’d still miss a little bit of the season but maybe we could of seen him back in May.. Not July..

  • Jimmy McNulty

    “No.” would have worked just as easily, instead of easily answerable questions like this, why not just have a column where you play fantasy GM for the other 29 teams in baseball?

    • Poopy Pants

      There’s been more of these lately. Slow news days.

      • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com/ bexarama

        It’s almost like baseball is over but the FAs haven’t really signed yet so we don’t have the full picture for next year. Hmmm.

    • Ted Nelson

      A rational, well-thought out explanation of why the answer is “No” is what separates this site from the rest…

      • Jimmy McNulty

        The lack of a need for a rational, well-thought out explanation is what separates this site’s readership from the rest.

        • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

          If you think the article is not needed then don’t read it. I don’t read every article that they post.

        • Ted Nelson

          A. I’m sure there are, or the RAB writers want there to be, casual fans who read the articles to gain insight.

          B. There is actually a counter-argument. If you expect Downs to continue to be a top relief pitcher for the length of his next contract, you sign him and give up a 2nd, and he delivers… you’ve won. You cannot expect the average late 2nd rounder to even make the majors for a full season. You also might actually get a deal based on his Type A status limiting demand.
          I agree with the argument laid out by Joe, that it is probably the best move not to sign him. However, if the situation and information/projections the Yankees have warrant it, there is a chance it could be the right thing to do. There is an opportunity cost to not signing Downs that has to at least be considered.

        • http://twitter.com/joero23 The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          TOO MUCH FREE CONTENT STOP MAKING ME COME TO THIS WEBSITE AND READ IT AND COMMENT ON IT!!!

          • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

            HOW DARE YOU PROCLAIM TO BE A FREE WEBSITE WHEN YOU ASK US TO DONATE TO YOU (MULTIPLE INTERROBANGS)

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          The lack of a DESIRE for a rational, well-thought out explanation FOR ANYTHING is what separates this site’s readership from other Yankee blogs readerships.

  • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

    Oh I wish.

  • http://twitter.com/dpatrickg Dirty Pena

    Wow. Would’ve never guessed how old he is. Makes it that much easier to pass on him.

    • Thomas

      Yeah I thought he was like 30 and didn’t realize he had played for the Cubs and the Expos before playing for the Jays.

  • BG90027

    My first reaction is to agree that you just don’t give up picks for set up relievers. I’m not so sure though. Playing devil’s advocate, if you were to trade for someone even close to Down’s pedigree at midseason wouldn’t you expect to give up a prospect at least as valuable as whoever you might pick with next year’s #2? Also, couldn’t they make up for the lack of a #1 and #2 by being more aggressive with international signings? If Downs is the right guy and his demands aren’t too steep, I’m not dead set against signing him just because of losing a #2. If they don’t sign Lee and it would cost a #1 then I definitely wouldn’t do it.

    • http://www.twitter.com/brandonholley B-Rando

      That is true, but if you were trading for him mid season, you wouldn’t be signing him to a new deal which is significantly more than he currently makes. So now youre paying twice for him…in prospects and money. The Yanks don’t like to do that.

      • Ted Nelson

        You could be trading for him with 2 or 3 years remaining, and he already makes $4 mill which as a Type A guy he’s probably not getting much more than on the market.

        I agree with Joe that the answer is almost definitely no, not just because of the pick but also the other age and performance Qs he raises. However, I don’t think it’s a total no-brainer. The Yankees are also considering signing Cliff Lee through his 36 year old season at probably 4, 5, or 6 times the money. If you are convinced Downs is the real deal Mike Stanton type… don’t really mind giving up a pick and giving him the money. Quite frankly I am not that comfortable with Boone Logan as a top set-up guy… What do I know, though.

        To play Devil’s advocate even further, if he is offered and rejects arbitration the Blue Jays might be the only team bidding… Maybe this means he won’t reject arbitration, but if he does the Yankees might actually get a deal in terms of the money he’s owed (another assumption being that the Jays want a pick more than Downs and will let the Yankees out-bid them…).

        I like the point about just upping the pot for international free agents if you lose a 2nd rounder. I know this is a deep draft class and I don’t know what the international crop is like, but you can just spend an extra mill to lock up a strong prospect there who you feel is as good as or better than whoever you would have drafted in the 2nd…

        • Ted Nelson

          “he Yankees are also considering signing Cliff Lee through his 36 year old season at probably 4, 5, or 6 times the money.”

          I realize what starters are worth vs. relievers, just saying that if you’ve got total deep weight the last year or two in both cases Lee is weighing a lot more heavily on your books.

  • Avi

    Great Scott Downs coverage. As usual great analysis from the RAB guys!
    Downs has truly been an elite middle reliever. My only concern with him is how much longer he’ll be able to do this, as he turns 35 in March. If the yanks signed him to a three year deal and they get two years of his current level of effectiveness, i think it’s a good deal. Three years $11M (total) is something I’d go for.
    The Type A status doesn’t bother me. After all the Yanks might take a 10th rounder like Culver with that pick, just as they did this year.
    The Yanks got their best player in this year’s draft in the FOURTH round according to Baseball America (Mason Williams).
    With the draft having so much to do with contract demands and sign-ability these days, picking at #45 or #100 isn’t all that different.
    It’s not like the yanks are gonna have a shot at Rendon, Purke or Gerrit Cole.

    • Avi

      Futhermore the Yanks do the international FA thing better than anyone and go over slot in later rounds to swoop up first round talent that has slipped by.
      Of the Yankees top ten prospects only Brackman (#5) and Slade Heathcott (#9) were first round picks.

      • Ted Nelson

        I agree with a lot of your points to an extent.

        However, how many 1st rounders have the Yankees had vs. other teams? They’ve lost a lot of 1sts as compensatory picks, so I don’t think that’s a very fair measuring stick.

        Also, let’s wait a couple of years before we decide how the Yankees 2010 draft went…

        • Avi

          Here’s a list of every fisrt found pick since ’98:
          ’98 Andy Brown
          ’99 David Walling
          ’00 David Parrish
          ’01 John-Ford Griffin
          ’01 Bronson Sardinha (supplemental first round)
          ’01 Jon Skaggs (supplemental first round)
          ’02 No first round pick
          ’03 Eric Duncan
          ’04 Phillip Hughes
          ’04 Jonathan Poterson (supplemental first round)
          ’04 Jeffrey Marquez (supplemental first round)
          ’05 Carl (CJ) Henry
          ’06 Ian Kennedy
          ’06 Joba Chamberlain (supplemental first round)
          ’07 Andrew Brackman
          ’08 Gerrit Cole – The one that got away
          ’08 Jeremy Bleich (supplemental first round)
          ’09 Slade Heathcott
          ’10 Cito
          That’s enough of a sample size to say that there’s not much of a difference between picking at #70 (about where the Yankees’ second round pick will end up) and #100 (about where there third rounder will be)

          “Also, let’s wait a couple of years before we decide how the Yankees 2010 draft went…”
          Fair enough. Sure, in general a few months is way to early to pass judgment on high schoolers. My twelve years of prospect obsession though tells me Culver won’t come close to the big leagues. Neither will Heatcott.

          • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

            My twelve years of prospect obsession though tells me Culver won’t come close to the big leagues. Neither will Heatcott.

            This isn’t really a reflection on the draft though, it’s a reflection on drafting 18 year old kids. Most of them don’t get to the big leagues. I say Heathcott will definitely get to the majors and Culver will at least get close.

          • Ted Nelson

            A. When talking about the current top 10 or prospects in general, prospects from 1998 are 100% irrelevant. Even a 17 year old then is about 29 now. Different decision makers within the Yankee organization, too.

            B. That list is pretty impressive since 2004, actually. You have 4 major leaguers. 3 good prospects from the past 4 drafts. And a super-prospect they couldn’t sign. I’m pretty sure this list works against your point. Yankees 3rd rounders since 2004 are not nearly as impressive, with Brett Gardner being the only ML player.

            C. You have to actually show something to do with the 2nd and 3rd round (and a much larger sample) or say anything about #70 vs. #100…

            D. Clearly the odds are against any non-elite HS prospect in the low minors–doesn’t take 12 years to figure that one out–but I could really care less what your 12 years of whatever tell you… I will stick with what the Yankees FO thinks for now.

    • Hughesus Christo

      So Scott Downs is going to reject a 5 mil guarantee in arbitration to make under 4 a year with the Yankees?

      Almost as good as your Jeter “proposals”

      • Ted Nelson

        Not saying he is or isn’t willing to do anything or Avi doesn’t come across very strongly in most comments, but… At Downs age he might be wise to go for a long-term deal. He might more than make up for the $1 mill he loses up front when he’s 37…

      • Avi

        ” So Scott Downs is going to reject a 5 mil guarantee in arbitration to make under 4 a year with the Yankees?”

        I don’t know where the market on Downs is gonna be. But i think most people in his position would take the 3 year $11M contract over the one year $5M.

  • emac2

    Am I missing something?

    Don’t we lose our number 1 for Lee and thus only lose a 2nd rounder for Downs?

    • Avi

      Yeah, Joe said in his article that the pick they lose will most likely be a second rounder (if they sign Downs)

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joe Pawlikowski

      Did I not spell that out in the post?

      • http://www.twitter.com/tomzig Tom Zig

        I don’t read the posts, I just come to the comments section.

        • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

          I only read replies to comments.

  • Marc

    35 by opening day? Unless I miss something he was born 03/17/1978.

  • Poopy Pants

    NO! But it would be fun to see Post and Daily News headlines featuring Downs when he’s signed.
    “They’ve got Downs!”

    /If ‘horrendously retarded’ is ok, then my comment is ok.

    • nsalem

      That was so funny. Did you think of that by yourself or did
      someone write it for you. Be honest now.

  • MattG

    Why is it foregone that Toronto offers him arb? 35 year old middle relievers used to get multi-year deals, sure, but those days should be gone. It’s likely they’ll offer, and its likely Downs will decline. Its not a sure thing.

    • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

      Arbitration for a middle reliever won’t get him much money, he’ll almost certainly get a better offer from someone.

      • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

        Plus, him declining it is the whole point. You only get draft picks if arbitration is offered and declined.

      • MattG

        He’ll get $5 million for sure.

        What’s the value of a draft pick? Even a second rounder, at say #75?

        Smart offices are more savvy now. I don’t think too many GMs are eager to give a 35-year old middle reliever a multi-year deal and surrender their first pick.

        It’s best for Downs if Toronto declines. If Toronto offers, it might be best for Downs to accept.

        • Ted Nelson

          Agreed… The market is probably going to be somewhat limited…

    • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

      It’s a sure thing. If he accepts they have a trade chip on a 1 year deal. If not they get a pick. And it’s almost a sure thing he wouldn’t accept unless he thinks the Type A status will severely crush his market.

      • MattG

        Or, if Toronto declines to offer, that’s $5 million they can put to use elsewhere right away. No one knows Toronto’s off-season plan. If they have that money earmarked for something else, I don’t think they risk Downs blowing up plan A by accepting arbitration.

        I don’t disagree though. It is most likely going to happen as it is written here, but there are good reasons why it wouldn’t, too.

        • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

          They could still move him on a 1year/5m deal

          • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

            Very, very easily.

            In the even that he accepts, for a team like the Yankees you’d much rather have him year to year, then you can offer him arbitration again next year and go thru the same thing. Get him back on another 1 year deal or get picks.

          • MattG

            That’d take time and they might have to kick in money. Life is different when the Steinbrothers aren’t the ones signing the checks. Have you forgotten Millwood-for-Estrada?

            • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

              Kyle Farnsworth got a 2 year/$9.25 million contract last year. I think know the Jays could swing 1/$5 million (for a few months) for Downs.

              • http://www.twitter.com/jordansmed JGS

                In fairness, he signed a 2/9.25M contract with Kansas City.

                • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

                  I was saying it more as a reflection on the market. If Downs accepts and gets a 1/$5 million deal the Jays can easily pay him and easily trade him if they don’t want to pay him.

    • Ed

      We’re assuming Toronto offers him arbitration because of their trade deadline stance. They wouldn’t trade him unless they got a top prospect back. From that we can infer that they expect to get draft picks when he leaves – otherwise, why not trade him for the best offer you get, regardless of what the offer is?

      • MattG

        Yes, but…I…

        STFU!

  • Xstar7

    Another quality left handed reliever the Yanks could go for is Pedro Feliciano. He’s consistent, and has an ERA in the low three’s. Although he did give up a tad too many hits and had a WHIP of 1.53 last year, he’s still someone the Yankees should consider since he’s a free agent. And he’s younger than Scott Downs. (5 months probably doesnt make that much of a difference though.)

    • JobaWockeeZ

      I’d like him too but Sandy is actually smart so no doubt he’s going for him.

  • Yank the Frank

    The Jays would never trade him to the Yankees without trying to take us to the cleaners. Pass.

    • Ted Nelson

      Luckily he’s a free agent…

  • DSFC

    I would just like to point out that Paul Quantrill pitched very well before a certain manager abused the hell outta his arm.

    • Ted Nelson

      I don’t know why you put it on Torre… He was already 35 and had led the league in games pitched for 3 straight seasons BEFORE ever coming to NY. He pitched MORE games in LA the season before.

      • vin

        ’01: 80 G, 83 IP, 1,266 pitches
        ’02: 86 G, 76.2 IP, 1,318 pitches
        ’03: 89 G, 77.1 IP, 1,080 pitches
        ’04: 86 G, 95.1 IP, 1,512 pitches

        Comparing the number of games he pitched in ’04 is mostly irrelevant. He had been a 1 inning guy in 6 of the previous 7 seasons before getting to NY.

        Torre recklessly increased his workload in 2004.

        • Ted Nelson

          200 extra pitches over the course of a season is a “reckless increase???” On what planet?

          Games are, in fact, relevant. He’s throwing 16 pitches per inning. He’s throwing more balls than that to warm up in the bullpen and 1/2 that number on the mound every time he warms up.

          You just cannot say definitively that a 35 year old with that kind of wear on him was ruined by an extra 200 pitches. It was bound to happen at some point.

          • vin

            Perhaps, but at the same time, asking a 35 year old to throw 430 more pitches than he did the previous season doesn’t seem like a good idea. Maybe he was bound to break down, but the way he was used in 2004 probably hastened the process.

  • Ross

    Previous post: Yanks won’t go after Scott Downs.
    This post: Yanks shouldn’t go after Scott Downs.

    Why write content about something the Yanks won’t be doing? Especially when it’s something the author feels they shouldn’t do? Huge RAB fan, but still waiting for the authors to turn the corner re: content for the sake of content.

    • Ted Nelson

      I disagree with this. Downs is a name that is bound to pop up in conversations and fans minds and the MSM given that Cashman is on record saying he wants another LHRP. I think it’s totally relevant to discuss whether or not Downs is the guy, given that he’s the top LHRP on the FA market.

    • http://www.twitter.com/deanezag Zack

      It’s called addressing speculation of a possible move.

  • mbonzo

    Why haven’t we talked more about Feliciano? I feel like he’s decent at keeping walks down, he’s a great lefty specialist, he gives up like no homeruns, and he can be more than a specialist if we need him to. He’s only a type B free agent.

    • mbonzo

      Feliciano has a lower career HR/9 (he only gave up 1 HR last year in 92 games), lower career ERA, younger, better career SO/9 and better career lefty splits than Downs. They have basically the same career WHIP yet Feliciano produce .5 more BB/9. Downs is coming off a better year and also produced a lot of those number in AL East, but Feliciano is more valuable since he won’t cost a draft pick and has about the same potential. Feliciano will probably be more likely to want to come to the Yankees since he’s already accustomed to playing and living in NY.

  • cranky

    I agree on Downs. He be a great acquisition, but not at the cost of the farm system.
    I would, however, take a gamble on Brian Fuentes, whom I have never liked as a closer but think is a good set-up reliever. And he’s a “B” free agent, not an “A.”

    If i were Brian Cashman, I would–especially if I were not going to pursue Downs or Fuentes–look into a trade with the Dodgers to bring Hon-Chih Kuo to NY. He was the best LH reliever in the biz last year and I think there’s a good chance he’s going to be good for a while.
    I also think that Hisanori Takahashi would be a good acquisition, both for his L arm and his versatility. I don’t think he’s an “A” free agent, either. As a straight LH reliever, I’d put him a slight notch below Downs, but he’s probably more capable than Downs would be of pitching three innings in the middle of a game. Takahashi could be, for the Yankees, like a LH version of Ramiro Mendoza.

    • MattG

      I’m bullish on Takahashi, too. I love me the swing men, and this one throws from the south. That’s two birds with one stone: left-hander #2, and 6th starter.

  • Chris

    No way I would give up a high draft pick to sign Scott Downs when they could get a comparable lefty like Brian Fuentes and give up nothing.

  • M

    No way is Downs worth any draft pick, nor a multi year multi mill $ deal… Why not take a chance on a guy like Tallet, just filed for FA today, Blue jays seemed to use him incorrectly, and with Logan, a second LOOGY that is cheap and has the ability to be decently effective in the AL East is worth a shot… I woudl jump on Tallet and not worry about all the other over hyped high costing guys like Downs