Scouting The Trade Market: Cubs’ Pitchers

Walk-off error sends Yankees to 7-6 loss to Blue Jays
Scouting The Trade Market: Cubs' Position Players

The non-waiver trade deadline is fiveweeks from tomorrow and there is no reason to think the Yankees won’t be an active buyer leading up to July 31st. They’re 3.5 games back of the AL East lead and 1.5 games back of a wildcard spot with 86 games to play. Brian Cashman has already said he expects to make some moves before the deadline because … well, duh. The Yankees need help. Rotation help, infield help, and offensive help in general.

Baseball’s league-wide mediocrity — I’m sorry, “competitive balance” — means more teams are in the postseason hunt than ever before, so very few clubs are willing to throw in the towel and sell right now. One club who will definitely be a seller in the coming weeks is the Cubs, who are far out of the race and have several desirable pieces to offer. The Theo Epstein-led regime has been selling since they got there.

The Yankees and Cubs hooked up for the Alfonso Soriano trade last July (they also made smaller deals involving Brent Lillibridge and Alberto Gonzalez last season), which is the only notable deal between the two clubs since the Matt Lawton swap in 2005. I had completely forgotten Matt Lawton was a Yankee. What do the Cubbies have to offer the Bronx Bombers? Let’s first look at the pitchers.

(Brian Kersey/Getty)
Samardzija. (Brian Kersey/Getty)

RHP Jeff Samardzija
Samardzija, 29, will be the best right-handed pitcher on the market this trade deadline. He recently rejected a five-year, $70-80M extension according to Jon Heyman, which makes sense in the wake of Homer Bailey’s six-year, $105M deal. Samardzija will earn $5.345M this season and remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player next year before hitting free agency. Whoever trades for him will be getting him for potentially two postseasons, not one.

In 16 starts and 103 innings this season, Samardzija owns a 2.53 ERA (2.89 FIP) with very good strikeout (8.48 K/9 and 22.8 K%), walk (2.71 BB/9 and 7.3 BB%), homerun (0.44 HR/9 and 6.6 HR/FB%), and ground ball (52.4%) rates. Lefties (.311 wOBA) have had a bit more success against him (.272 wOBA) than righties. Samardzija has made the jump from very good to elite on a rate basis this season, though I think it’s premature to call him an ace. Let’s see where that homer rate sits in a few weeks (1.04 HR/9 and 13.4 HR/FB% from 2012-13).

Samardzija has shown he can hold up under a starter’s workload after beginning his MLB career in the bullpen, throwing 174.2 innings in 2012 and 213.2 innings in 2013. It’s worth noting he’s never been on the disabled list and, after spending time as a standout wide receiver at Notre Dame, he’s pretty used to being in the limelight. The Yankees do value that. Here’s a PitchFX breakdown of Samardzija’s arsenal:

Four-Seam Sinker Cutter Slider Splitter
Avg. Velocity 95.6 95.6 94.2 86.4 86.9
% Thrown 21.6% 32.9% 11.4% 21.3% 12.4%
Whiff+ 119 117 130 105 122
GB+ 109 126 91 114 133

Whiff+ and GB+ are swing-and-miss and ground ball rates for the individual pitches relative to league average — 100 means average, the higher the better. It’s like ERA+. The swing-and-miss rate on Samardzija’s four-seamer is 19% better than league average. The ground ball rate on his cutter is 9% below league average. Simple enough, right?

As you can see from the table, Samardzija misses bats and gets ground balls at an above-average rate with just about his entire repertoire. He has high-end fastball velocity and I think the ability to simply reach back and throw a fastball by a hitter in a fastball count is underrated. It can help you escape a lot of jams. Samardzija has elite stuff, it really is ace-caliber power stuff, and it appears he has figured out how to turn it into ace-caliber production in his third full season as an MLB starter.

The Cubs managed to turn Matt Garza into two top 50 prospects (Mike Olt and C.J. Edwards), an MLB ready back-end starter/long man (Justin Grimm), and a near MLB ready bullpen prospect (Neil Ramirez) last summer. Garza is not only not as good as Samardzija, but he was also coming off a series of injuries (lat strain, elbow fracture) and was due to become a free agent after the season. You’re kidding yourself if you think the Yankees can land Samardzija with, like, John Ryan Murphy and Nik Turley. If you want him, it’s going to hurt. I don’t think New York has the prospects to win a bidding war.

Hammel. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)
Hammel. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)

RHP Jason Hammel
Hammel has gone from an afterthought on the free agent pitching market to a suddenly desirable trade chip for few reasons, but I do think it’s funny how the perception has changed in just a few months. The Cubs gave the 31-year-old Hammel a one-year, $6M contract over the winter and he’s given them a 2.99 ERA (3.06 FIP) in 15 starts and 96.1 innings. His strikeout (8.50 K/9 and 23.9 K%) and walk (1.87 BB/9 and 5.3 BB%) rates are career bests while his grounder (40.1%) and homer (0.75 HR/9 and 8.2 HR/FB%) numbers are closer to his career norms.

The Cubs were able to sign Hammel so cheaply because he was pretty bad last year (4.97 ERA and 4.93 FIP) and hurt the last two years — he threw only 118 innings in 2012 due to knee surgery and 139.1 innings in 2013 because of a flexor mass strain in his elbow. He’s remained healthy this year and is going to pass his innings totals in each of the last two seasons within a month. Here’s the PitchFX breakdown of Hammel’s stuff:

Four-Seam Sinker Slider Curve Changeup
Avg. Velocity 93.5 93.6 84.7 77.4 86.9
% Thrown 33.5% 25.1% 31.9% 6.2% 3.0%
Whiff+ 136 132 126 54 98
GB+ 72 87 111 68 113

After going from the Rockies to the Orioles prior to the 2012 season, Hammel reinvented himself as a sinker/slider pitcher and it led to great success (3.43 ERA and 3.29 FIP). He threw more four-seamers and fewer offspeed pitches last year, possibly due to the elbow issue, but this year he’s really cranked up his slider usage while still throwing more four-seamers than sinkers. Hammel is a three-pitch guy with a show-me changeup and curveball, basically.

The Cubs traded Scott Feldman under very similar circumstances last year. They gave him that same one-year, $6M contract after he missed time with injury in previous years, then traded him after 91 innings of 3.46 ERA (3.93 FIP) ball. Hammel pitched better but his injury history is a little scarier. Feldman fetched an erratic reliever (Pedro Strop) and an inconsistent starter (Jake Arrieta) from Baltimore last summer. Hammel, who has AL East experience, shouldn’t cost much more.

Jackson. (Brian Kersey/Getty)
Jackson. (Brian Kersey/Getty)

RHP Edwin Jackson
I never got the appeal of Jackson beyond his value as a workhorse. He’s a classic example of a guy who has ace-caliber stuff but far from ace-caliber results. A lesser version of A.J. Burnett, basically. Burnett at least had some dominant years earlier in his career.

The Cubs bought the hype and signed Jackson to a four-year contract worth $52M two winters ago, and he’s since pitched to a 5.03 ERA (3.81 FIP) in 259.2 innings. Ouch. That includes a 5.12 ERA (3.86 FIP) in 84.1 innings this year. Jackson has underperformed his peripherals in each of the last five years (4.38 ERA and 3.77 FIP since 2010) and after 850+ innings, it’s not a fluke. That’s just who he is. Some guys consistently outperform their peripherals (Jeremy Guthrie), some consistently underperform their peripherals. Jackson’s the latter.

So far this year the 30-year-old Jackson has a career high strikeout rate (8.86 K/9 and 22.9 K%), though his walk (3.74 BB/9 and 9.5 BB%), homerun (0.96 HR/9 and 11.7 HR/FB), and ground ball (40.5%) rates are his worst in years. He is pretty durable, making at least 31 starts and throwing at least 175 innings every year since 2008. The Yankees could use an innings guy. Here’s the PitchFX breakdown of Jackson’s pitches because why not:

Four-Seam Sinker Slider Curve Changeup
Avg. Velocity 94 93.4 86.9 79.8 87.3
% Thrown 46.9% 13.8% 28.9% 7.2% 3.0%
Whiff+ 116 99 150 67 137
GB+ 108 101 90 51 105

Jackson has always had a strong fastball/slider combination, but again, he doesn’t get the most out of it. There is still approximately $28M left on his contract through 2016 and I think the Cubs would trade him in a heartbeat just to save some salary. Jackson would still require some kind of prospect return because he is relatively young and he will give you innings, if nothing else. It won’t be a pure salary dump.

* * *

Epstein & Co. have made it clear they prefer quality to quantity. They don’t look to fill specific needs in trades, they simple hoard as much talent as possible. They’ve drafted (Kris Bryant) and traded for (Mike Olt and Christian Villanueva) several young third basemen in the last two years, for example. They just want talent, regardless of position. Unless the Cubs specifically target a catching prospect, I’m not sure that helps the Yankees.

Later today we’ll look at the position players Chicago has the offer, though their best available talent is on the mound. Samardzija and David Price are the only two impact guys who are realistically available, though Hammel has been solid this year. I wouldn’t go near Jackson, but that’s just me. Do the Yankees bite the bullet and give up prospects for Hammel at the deadline when he had trouble finding a job over the winter? They might not have a choice.

Walk-off error sends Yankees to 7-6 loss to Blue Jays
Scouting The Trade Market: Cubs' Position Players
  • Yankee$

    I’m going to Wrigley tonight. I’ll do some scouting.

  • Deddard Jeter

    And what good will these guys be if they only get 2 runs of support? They need bats. Cashman had a chance to pick up a Kendrys Morales, who is doing wonders up there in Minnesota. He did nothing.

    I say if they lose tonight blow the whole thing up. Coaches, players, managers, nobody is safe. If they win they’re right back in it and I’d go to the Phillies about Utley/Lee.

    • mitch

      Morales is doing wonders in Minny? He’s batting .222 with no power so far

    • Bavarian Yankee

      Morales has a slash of .222/.271/.333, he’s hitting even worse than Jeter or Roberts.

      But yeah, you have a point there: they need bats. They need pitchers too but those won’t help a lot if they get no run support.

      • FIPster Doofus

        I’m pretty sure you and mitch responded to a satirical post. As if the Morales comment wasn’t ridiculous enough, the second paragraph is a dead giveaway.

        • Kosmo

          just a note:
          Morales is in the midst of what could be considered spring training. I believe when signed he went directly to the Twins. We will see how that signing turns out down the road.

    • willie w

      morales is hitting on a pace that would be 70 RBI in a full year
      that is not very impressive

      • MB923

        I’m not sure why you judge players based on RBI’s. You can’t get RBI’s (unless you Homer) if the guys in front of you don’t get on base. Just like a pitcher cannot get Wins if he gets no run support.

        RBI’s are probably the most overrated stat on Offense in baseball. Runs scored is up there too but I think RBI are more overrated.

        • Mike HC

          While there still are many who overrate those stats, on the whole, I think they are now basically fairly rated. Or possibly getting even underrated.

  • Neil

    Hammel for Cervelli and Nuno?

    • FIPster Doofus

      That’s absolutely brutal for Chicago.

    • Yan Solo

      The only reasonable response I can conceive of to this suggestion is:
      “I’ll have whatever this guy is smoking!”

    • JGYank

      I think they would honestly rather have just Cervelli than both…

      • Preston

        NL, bigger park. They might think he can be useful.

    • willie w

      lets get that recommendation to theo and cashman

    • Jeff Sam

      Honestly I like chase Whitley and he’s done a very good job for us. But, it seems as if it only makes sense trade Whitley to the cubs because he’s a good hitter also and he would fit in. Idk I’d rather keep him but he’s destined for the NL.

    • IRememberCelerinoSanchez

      Based on Mike’s Feldman comparison, it would need to be a good but erratic reliever (Kelley?) and a young starter with potential (no Yankee really fits the bill … Whitley? Nova if he wasn’t hurt? Phelps?). Nuno is levels below what they’d have to give up.

  • Guest

    Jake Arrieta a potential trade target?

    Another guy who has seemingly reinvented himself with the Cubs. Then again, his stint in the AL East with the Orioles wasn’t pretty….

  • Baked McBride

    This club is like climate change – we can sit here and debate the causes but the fact is that it’s on an irreversible course to disaster

    • nyyankfan_7

      “This club is like climate change”

      So you’re saying the 2014 New York Yankees don’t exist?

  • Kosmo

    An over the top trade proposal:

    NY trades Gardner, who happens to have a very team friendly contract which might appeal to the Cubs, along with a mid level prospect to the Cubs for The Shark, Jackson, Valbuena and Christian Villanueva.

    Yanks would then have to get creative to replace Gardner either via a trade (Rios or Seth Smith)or in house with Almonte and Pirela.

    Yanks would pick up a versatile INF in Valbuena and a blocked 3B prospect in Villanueva. Also NY could eat a portion of Jackson´s remaining contract and flip him for a bat.

    just spitballing.

    • FIPster Doofus

      No interest in trading Gardner for that. Chi certainly doesn’t do it either. They want youth in a Samardzija package. Gardner’s 30. What good would he be to them?

      • Kosmo

        a good leadoff hitter signed for the next few years. Do the Cubs have a leadoff hitter to speak of ? Cubs have plenty of youth and one of the deepest farm systems. OF prospects in Soler and Almora and Bryant, Baez and Alcantara in the INF to go along with Rizzo and Castro.
        I understand the Cubs will want pitching prospects in return for the Shark and of course there must be a handful of teams willing to go that route. My sense is the Cubs could dump Jackson´s contract on NY which would help even up the trade.
        Gardner is about a 4+WAR player.
        You´re undoubtedly right. DTP.

        • mitch

          Most teams would love to have Gardner, but I don’t think the Cubs would be interested. He definitely has a few good years left, but CHC is in a pretty long term rebuilding project. I don’t see them being competitive any time soon

    • Paisa

      Gardner will not be traded, nor should he! End of story.

  • Yan Solo

    I just want to know why all of sudden coming to New York means the collective sounds of careers and money being flushed down the toilet? Are we sure there aren’t more Ortiz jerseys buried in concrete somewhere?!

    • BigDavey88

      I’d like to think the World Series we won in ’09 canceled that out.

  • The Great Gonzo

    OK, Imma say it. If we are mentioning Edwin Jackson as the lesser AJ Burnett, then why aren’t we talking about just biting the bullet and trading for AJ Burnett?

    He would cost next to nothing as a salary dump and can plug the hole in the dike for only 4 months instead of 4 years.

    OK, let me have it.

    • mitch

      i’d take him

    • ALZ

      So we paid Pittsburgh massive money to take him off our hands, and now we will trade prospects to bring him back?

      • The Great Gonzo

        Not horribly different than us giving up prospects for a guy who couldn’t find a job 2 months ago in Hammel.

        Just saying

  • Matt DiBari

    I feel like we’d immediately regret trading for Hammel or especially Edwin Jackson. I agree with Mike. I never “got” the Edwin Jackson love.

    • Kosmo

      if NY approached the Cubs and said they would take Jackson off the Cub`s hands if Hammel were traded to them for a slight discount, do you thing the Cubs would consider it ? Yanks could in turn eat a portion of Jackson´s remaining contract and flip him for a bat.

      • The Great Gonzo

        Why wouldn’t Chicago just trade him for a bat?

        • Kosmo

          because Jackson is owed about 27 million for 2+ seasons. Who is going to take up a contract like that ? What kind of bat is available for an overpriced #5 SP . Cubs would have to eat about 17+ to make it happen. If anything NY can take on contracts.

          • ALZ

            Because Cubs could just eat money to trade Jackson. Cubs are a large market team with $92MM payroll, I don’t think their biggest concern is a little extra money.

            • Kosmo

              true. They could also wish to pass the problem on to some other team. I could be wrong but I doubt anyone is banging at Theo´s door for a heavily discounted #5 SP.

              • Mike HC

                The Cubs aren’t just going to give Jackson away with 3 years left on his deal. He still has the pure stuff, so they can just wait for him to go on a hot streak next year, or the year after, and sell him then when he has some value.

  • the Other Steve S.

    “Hammel pitched better but his injury history is a little scarier. Feldman fetched an erratic reliever (Pedro Strop) and an inconsistent starter (Jake Arrieta) from Baltimore last summer.”

    Erratic relievers and inconsistent starters we have in spades.

    • Kosmo

      but we need to add one with an “injury history“ to complete the set.

  • JGYank

    I really feel a position player should be the priority. Tired of waiting for McCann and Beltran to rebound. The infield defense clearly needs improvement and the lineup hasn’t done enough. Needs more power and OBP. Would been great to fix the lineup and defense at the same time, but it’s hard to see that happening. Still getting bad defense and below average offense from the position players.

    The rotation needs work too and anything would be an improvement over Nuno. CC has become unreliable and we can’t wait for Pineda to come back in August or even later if he comes back at all. I would definitely take Samardzija or Hammel, but there’s going to be a huge bidding war for the former. I would think putting together a deal for Hammel wouldn’t be hard, and he seems like a decent pitcher so why not go for him? Jackson isn’t good and has a somewhat expensive contract attached to him. Great stuff, still better than Nuno and I’m sure the Cubs would love to get rid of him and pay for some of the contract, but if he can’t succeed in the NL at Wrigley how is he going to succeed here? What other options are there? McCarthy? Price is going to cost more than Samardzija and probably won’t be traded within the division. Warren seems to have found a home in the pen. Any others?

    If we get another starter and CC and Pineda come back, that gives 5 starters we could use in the postseason. One more than we need, but we’ll worry about that later and they need to get there first. Might sort itself out anyway.

  • ChuckIt

    Price,Hammel,Samardzija, We need one of them,and a big time BAT.Unfortunately,every team knows that,& will look to exploit the situation.Even though stupid deadline deals have been curtailed since the passing of the Boss,it looks like,to get any kind of value,Reynolds,Betances,O’Brien,& any other top prospect is going to be included in any decent deal.

  • TWTR

    They already made one bad trade with the Cubs for Soriano. No need to make another one.

    • I’m One

      I don’t consider the trade for Soriano a bad one. He was worth the cost for what he produced last season. I consider the fact that he is still with the team with no apparent viable replacement that the team is willing to use a bad decision.

      • TWTR

        No, he wasn’t worth it.

        You don’t trade a promising young pitcher for a 37 year old lottery ticket, and given Soriano’s “streakiness,” that is exactly what he is and was.

        That is why Cashman, to his credit, was against the move.

        Smart teams implement plans to achieve a multi-year goal.

        They don’t make a show of contending just to appease the instant gratification segment of the fanbase.

        • Kosmo

          To some extent I understand the Soriano trade. It was sort of a panic move. On the other hand I agree Corey Black could turn out to be a solid mid-rotation SP.

          • TWTR

            Oh, I understand why ownership/Levine panic. But that “mindset” is a large part of the reason why they spend $200m and have a very mediocre team.

            • Mike HC

              It is obvious at this point that ticket sales, merchandise and relevancy are a major part of their team building plan. It is not solely about building the best team over the long term.

              • TWTR

                Right, but I think the question is whether or not their strategy is really working. Reportedly, ticket sales and viewership have been trending down for a few years.

                So yes, they make a ton of money, but if maximizing revenue is their goal, perhaps they should adopt a more forward-looking strategy rather than the “field a team that can win the WS every single year” nonsense that Hal likes to spout.

                • Mike HC

                  Fair points. But I assume it is working, because I will tune in and follow a mediocre team that battles for a playoff spot even if they are likely to fall short. But a 60-70 win ball club I would barely waste my time with at all. I would still be fan and generally know what is going on with the team, but on a much smaller scale.

                  • TWTR

                    I am not saying they should start over and do a complete rebuild. My point is that when you spend $200m, and a lot more on development, not only should you be able to buy a floor that avoids a 70 win season, you should be able to buy a higher ceiling than currently exists as well.

                    • Mike HC

                      The best players don’t hit free agency anymore until they are in their decline years. So spending 200 million is not going to guarantee anything but having a bunch of former superstar, declining players.

                      I don’t have the solution. And neither do the Yanks apparently.

                    • Mike HC

                      The best solution I can think of is to lobby MLB and the players association to change the team control rules. Players are massively underpaid during their best years, and massively overpaid during their decline. Instead of controlling players for 6 years, how about dropping that to 4. Top prospects are offered these deals with devil, giving them the trade off of financial stability for being massively underpaid until they are almost 30. Something is wrong there.

                  • Looser trader droids FotD™

                    For me it’d depend on who was winning those 60-70 games. If the roster looked like the 2013 team then I’d do as you say…know what was going on but not be particularly invested. But if it were a roster comprised of a bunch of kids with real upside (not necessarily saying we have those…) then I’d be quite into it.

                    • Mike HC

                      It would probably take 2-3 years of sucking to even get those real upside kids close to big league ready. Then another 1-2 of growing pains before we even get back to playoff contenders again.

                      Like I said before. I don’t know what the answer is, other than change the team control rules to something more modern.

        • The Great Gonzo

          I would be more than happy to eat my words if I am wrong, but I fairly comfortable saying there is a ZERO PERCENT chance that Corey Black makes or breaks the future of any franchise, directly or indirectly.

          • TWTR

            That isn’t the issue. The issue is maximizing the return for every asset, and the best way to do that is keeping him until you know what is ceiling actually is. That is why Cashman wanted to keep him.

            • Tom K

              Corey Black’s value was not likely very high. Fans have this thing with overrating their team’s prospects. Black isn’t doing much of anything for the Cubs and wasn’t setting the world on fire here. What exactly would you consider maximum value for a smallish pitcher who walks the ballpark that seems to be heading down the road of nothing more than a middling relief prospect?

          • FLYER7

            Corey Black was considered expendable…he was slotted behind Warren, Phelps, Betances, Whitley, Burawa, Greene, and a few others. He was more a depth piece than a frontline MLB starter prospect.

  • mick taylor

    yanks should sign cuban tomas as soon as he is available. if he is this year, i would immediately put him in right field and let him sink or swim.

    • mitch

      and if he’s not immediately as good as Puig let’s send him on the first boat back to Cuba and blame Cashman.

      Seriously, though, i’d be interested in any highly rated defecting Cuban. The recent track record is pretty damn good.

  • fred robbins

    It’s a pretty tough hole when you need pitching, but unless a few bats that can really hit are added, the pitching won’t be of much help.

    I can’t think of any really good bats that are available that are any better risk/reward that bringing up some of the AAA players that are doing well.

    Are there any really good tradable position players out there? And what are the Yankees going to do with Beltran? Is he here to stay or be released when the time comes?

    • Kosmo

      Fred, if one can go on the rumor mill for a moment the names being mentioned are Alex Rios, Beltre, Aaron Hill, Mark Trumbo, Seth Smith, John Mayberry to name just a few I´ve read about.

      • fred robbins

        Thanks Kosmo… If Rios could give the Yankees what he’s done the last 2 years that would help…
        appreciate it!

  • Wayne

    I heard arizona is having a fire sale .
    Is there anybody on that team worth trading for?
    Why trade major pitching prospects for Jason Hammel?
    Then when a major starting pitcher is available in the future we have to give up every major starting pitching prospect?
    Makes no sense.

    • FLYER7

      Parra ?

  • Mike

    We need a bat … CC and Pineda are coming back

    • FIPster Doofus

      They need both. CC seems shot and Pineda’s still an enigma.

  • Derek Jeter

    I dont see any of these options making this team a playoff contender.

    • TheRealGreg

      There are too many holes to fill, most of which lie at the door of Brian Cashman.

      • IRememberCelerinoSanchez

        I would lay it at the door of ownership that decided to cut payroll two straight years just as other teams were spending more.

        Do you think Cashman really wanted to spend a total of $5.5 million on second and third?

        Plus, it wasn’t Cashman who wanted to spend approx. $15 million this year on Ichiro and Soriano (both ownership deals).

  • Adam

    Martin Prado can help this year and especially next year

  • mick taylor

    for those who were against yanks signing josh hamilton, yanks could have had him for the money spent on mccann , vernon wells and ichiro

  • nycsportzfan

    I’m sorry, i’m still wondering what Mikes talking about with the Garza trade. Mike Olt was playing embaressingly bad when he was traded. He was hitting like 200BA in the minors or something. He had lost some serious luster by the time that trade went through. I don’t know who was still calling him a top 50 prospect at that point anyways?

    CJ Edwards haden’t even pitched in Triple A at the time of the trade, and Justin Grimm was just a back end rotation prospect. I can think of ten trades with Yank prospects i’d want more then that.