Scouting The Trade Market: Wilton Lopez

Third base in the short-term
Brewers designate George Kottaras for assignment

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 Pros

  • 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.

The Cons

  • 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.

Third base in the short-term
Brewers designate George Kottaras for assignment
  • Rich in NJ

    I think the pitching is ok, but for Qualls and that will be remedied once Joba is back. So I would look for offensive help at 3B and, of course, C, which is their most glaring weakness.

    • Ted Nelson

      Agreed. I don’t really think it’s a short-term need.

      Lopez might be an interesting longer-term option given his 3 years of control… Doubt it’s worth giving up a prospect compared to just going with other cheap options, but a dirt cheap BP would be huge for the $189 budget in 2014 and 15. Joba and DRob will start getting expensive. That’s a part of the reason I wasn’t too psyched about moving Mitchell for Ichiro. If he could have been a Mendoza/Aceves for 2014-15 dirt cheap… that would have been huge.

      There are probably enough prospects like Montgomery and Goody as well as scrap heap guys who will be cheaper than Lopez in terms of both $ and prospect cost, though. He’s hardly a lock himself, either.

      • Dan

        It seems like the Yankees have a number of minor leaguers that could end up filling that role too (ie. Montgomery and Goody both could be ready to contribute in the majors by 2014).

        • Ted Nelson

          Yeah, I listed both those guys specifically…

          • Brian S.

            I think Montgomery and Goody can contribute by 2014. What about you Ted?

            • Robinson “Ted” Tilapia

              Montgomery could even contribute by second half 2013. It seems like Goody is on the same fast track, although your 2014 estimate is more likely, as Montgomery’s got a year on him.

              • Bill

                If the Yankees really pushed him Montgomery could feasibly pitch in the majors this year. Now, I know they won’t, but he’s been in AA a short time but in that time he’s given up 1 hit with 8K’s in 5innings. If they wanted to he could definitely be a September callup. Now, I don’t see that happening and he’ll probably spend the rest of the season in AA, but he has the ability to move quickly if they really wanted him to. He’ll be in major league camp next spring training (or at least he should be) with a shot to break with the team and if not a midseason callup would be likely.

    • AC

      Qualls you would think will be DFA once Joba us activated. He seems to be odd man out

  • Steve (different one)

    Voluntary retirement?? What’s the story there?

    • Gonzo

      Ever see The Hustler with Paul Newman?

  • Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle

    I’m probably putting way to much stock in Joba returning as well as Phelp’s recent success, but with the impending return of the former and the high quality of pitching we are getting from the latter I think you’re over stating how much bullpen help we need mike. I’d much rather Cashman focus on upgrading the catching position as well as finding at least a competent counter part for a third base platoon with Chavez. That’s my opinion though.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      I’m with you. With the way the BP has performed and with the upcoming return of Joba, I have a hard time getting excted with this, as good as it appears on the surface. Address the more pressing needs if possible.

    • Jacob

      I don’t think you are overstating it but I understand what mike means to not expect a whole lot because of the surgery and all but I think with the way his rehab is going it is fair to think he will shore up the pen enough to not need a releiver to bad.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      This. This. This and, by the way, this.

      • jjyank

        Agreed with all you guys.

        • Brian S.

          I’m not agreeing with you guys.

          • Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle

            You’re entitled to your opinion, would you care to share your logic though?

  • Jacob

    I would say in order needs are:

    3B: Because the production will drop dramatically and Chavez is so injury prone they should not even risk it.

    C: Because stewie and russ are so bad I think stew should be released or something and get someone to platoon with martin

    NON OOGY RP: Because with Joba coming back and looking really good at the moment we definately have some releivers to try in the system and there is almost always a releiver on waivers.

  • Kev of Manchester

    What’s the latest on Aardsma? He’ll presumably be a useful addition to the bullpen once fully fit as well, won’t he?

    • Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle

      He had a set back shortly before the ASB and has been shut down until further notice IIRC.

  • not that mike

    The pen will be ok, especially with Joba around the corner, and the expanded rosters in a month to rest the key guys – providing the lead is secure.

    Plus, if Feliciano and/or AArdsma can return, even if its just a few appearances before the playoffs to get tuned up, the Yanks will have a much deeper pen when they need it, especially if Hughes/Garcia are in the pen during the playoffs……and if the Yanks need to go to their 13th pitcher in the playoffs, there are likely bigger problems abound :)

  • BK2ATL

    What’s the difference between this guy and a Phelps or Warren???

    No need to do anything with the bullpen until Joba’s back and we see what he’s got.

    • Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle

      He has real major league experience and some success at that. Warren, and to a lesser extent Phelps, haven’t had a lot of success at the major league level yet. Don’t get me wrong, Phelps has been phenomenal of late, but it’s still his rookie year and for all we know he’s pitching way over his head and way past his abilities and could prove that tomorrow or in game 5 of the LDS.

      • BK2ATL

        But do we really need to trade for this guy??? Whose spot does he take?

        • Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle

          Not at all, I actually agree with you. I was just stating the difference between him and Phelps/Warren.

  • Sarl

    It would not surprise me if Montgomery is not in the major by the middle or the end of next years. He reminds me so much of D-Rob. I saw him pitch several times in Tampa and I have seen his twice at Trenton. He is “da truth.” His fastball seems to jump out at you and his curve and or slider he uses, makes his fast ball look even livlier. I don’t know much about Goody other than his stats and what I have read. But Montgomery has R-Rob same “bulldog” mentality.

  • vin

    Sure, more is always better than less… however, if everyone stays healthy, this seems like a lateral move. And if someone gets injured… well, you can’t really make moves assuming players will get injured and need to be replaced. This isn’t MLB 2k-whatever. That’s why you have depth.

  • Jose M. Vazquez

    Most of us concur that we need a catcher, preferably left-handed hitting (Kotaras has been mentioned) and perhaps a right handed hitting third baseman. We could get by without the latter using Nunez, Nix, Laird and even Pena till Arod gets back. I do not think the BP is a big problem at this time.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    If Joba comes back strong, and Phelps gets the high-leverage innings, the bullpen should be fine for the stretch run. Shit’s always going to happen. Focus on an improved insurance policy for Chavez and, if you can upgrade BUC, go for it.

  • fin

    Yea, I see no need for this guy right now. It looks like Phelps is in the pen for good, Joba is comming back and in a month or so when Petite comes back, Garcia will be in the pen as well. Not to mention Wade looks like hes doing well in the minors. Right now there doesnt seem to be any need to give up even an average prospect for a guy who doesnt seem to have any place to pitch on the Yankees.

  • Brian S.

    George Kottaras please.

    • Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle

      Been saying/thinking it since he got DFA’d earlier this afternoon. I don’t think he’s going to be moved till the zero hour though. The Brew Crew’s front office is going to get more than good value for him, as in anybody who gets him is going to have to over pay a bit IMO

      • Bill

        I can’t see the Yankees making a move on him. Kottaras is bad behind the plate and there’s no way he maintains a .400 OBP hitting .200. Sure he’d be a big improvement over Stewart offensively, but Girardi and Cash are big on defense at the C position.

  • Bill

    I agree with most here that the bullpen is not a real need right now. The back-end is great, we have good matchup guys before them. We have a good long/swing man in Phelps. Joba should return soon. Wade has pitched 13 scoreless in AAA so he could be called back up at any time.

    Besides there will be plenty of relievers available for trade in August. Sure probably no back-end cost controlled guys, but you don’t give up good prospects for bullpen arms because they’re simply not consistent. I mean look at what happened to Melancon this year coming from Houston to the AL East or going back to 2008 Latroy Hawkins was terrible for us and then after being DFA’d he went on to pitch very well in Houston the rest of the year and the year after. Not saying the same thing would happen to Lopez, but there a very few sure things in the bullpen especially when switching from NL to AL.

  • pistol pete

    Need to pry Wiggington from Philly to play 3rd. The recent Polonco injury might hamper that trade but Philly’s toast 9.5 out in the WC and should be dealing. He’d fit great and his contract is over at the end of the year. He’d be a perfect fit. He’s also a right handed bat something sorely needed. With Chavez batting left and our main DH (Ibanez) batting left combined with the Ichiro trade (another left handed hitter) the Yankees are far too left handed.

  • tommy cassella

    i agree with pistol pete 2000%. wiggington is a profesional hitter who can help the yanks in a big way.