The third base situation figures to get a lot of attention in the days leading up to the trade deadline thanks to Alex Rodriguez‘s broken hand, but the Yankees still have a need for a non-matchup reliever in their bullpen. Joba Chamberlain‘s return from elbow and ankle surgery is so close that he’s actually going to be with the team in New York this weekend to show the brain trust what he can do in a bullpen session. His activation off the DL may or may not immediately follow.
Non-contenders are always the first place to look for help at the trade deadline and no one is non-contending like the Astros. They’ve won just two (!) of their last 22 games and 12 of their last 54 games since “peaking” at 22-23 in late-May. Carlos Lee is gone, Brett Myers is gone, and Wandy Rodriguez is gone. Could setup man Wilton Lopez be next? It’s certainly possible. Let’s see if he’s a fit for the Yankees.
- The Yankees are familiar with Lopez because he actually spent some time (2002-2007) in their farm system. He only made it into nine games during that time in part due to injuries, but also because he had a lengthy stint (2005-2007) on the voluntarily retired list. Lopez un-retired and spent two seasons in the Padres’ system before being claimed off waivers by Houston in 2009, where he’s been ever since.
- The 29-year-old Lopez succeeds by limiting walks (career 1.66 BB/9 and 4.5 BB%) and getting ground balls (career 58.6%). His performance this season has been even better — 1.18 BB/9 (3.3 BB) and 59.6%.
- A fastball-sinker-splitter pitcher, Lopez sits in the low-90s with the two fastballs and in the mid-80s with the split. A low-80s slider is a very rarely used fourth offering. The splitter helps prevent him from having a significant platoon split — he’s holding lefties to a .222 wOBA (.323 career) and righties to a .301 wOBA (career .291) this year.
- Lopez is in his final pre-arbitration year and is making just $516k this season. He can’t become a free agent until after 2015 and he has at least one minor league option remaining. It might be two, I’m not 100% sure, but it’s definitely at least one.
- Lopez is not much of a strikeout pitcher. His 7.11 K/9 (20.0 K%) this year is actually a career-high but still below the league average for relievers. He gets plenty of swings and misses (9.9% this year, 9.3% career), but he’s around the plate so much that the ball gets put in play.
- The health track record isn’t pretty. Lopez missed almost all of June with an elbow strain, most of Spring Training with forearm soreness, and about two weeks with nerve inflammation in the elbow last year. That doesn’t include all the stuff that happened years ago.
There’s no indication that the Astros are actually open to trade Lopez, I’m just working under the assumption that everyone on their roster is available. Seems reasonable given their record and recent moves. The recently acquired Francisco Cordero is already 2-for-2 in blown save opportunities though, so I suppose there’s a chance they’d prefer to install Lopez as closer for the rest of the season in hopes of boosting his trade value for the winter. Teams are always willing to pay for saves.
Middle relievers get traded all the time, for anything from cash considerations on the low end to a pair of strong prospects on the high end (think Mike Adams). Lopez is in the middle and probably a little closer to the high-end than the average. Giving up a real prospect for a reliever bites, but at least in this instance you’re getting a guy under control for three more years with a minor league option. That’s a lot of flexibility and potential future value. If the Yankees want to add a bullpen arm in addition to a possible return from Joba, bring Lopez back for a second tour of duty with the organization would be a fine target.