Scouting the Trade Market: Patrick Corbin

(Brian Davidson/Getty Images)
(Brian Davidson/Getty Images)

The Yankees have been linked to the Diamondbacks and Patrick Corbin several times over the last couple of days, and it has become clear that adding a starting pitcher is their top priority. Mike wrote about a bit about Corbin as a potential trade target last off-season, but another season of data post-Tommy John Surgery has shifted the calculus a bit.

Current Performance

Corbin was viewed as something of a buy low candidate this time last year, as his first full season removed from elbow surgery had less than inspiring results, and the Diamondbacks appeared to be going nowhere fast. And now, twelve months later, Corbin had a healthy, above-average season, and the Diamondbacks made it to the NLDS. There’s no indication that he isn’t available, though. Let’s take a look as these last two years:

capture

Keeping in mind that Chase Field is a big-time hitter’s park, Corbin’s 2017 was impressive on several levels. His 4.03 ERA translated into a 119 ERA+, which was tied for the 10th best in the National League, and in the top-30 in all of baseball. Corbin improved across the board in 2017, with only his groundball rate taking a step back – and, even then, it ranked 8th among all qualified starting pitchers. His strikeout and walk rates were above-average, as well. When you put that all together, he was basically the same pitcher that he was before 2016’s ugly campaign.

There were plenty of improvements that don’t show-up in traditional stats, too. His hard contact rate dropped from 38.5% to 31.6%, and his exit velocity went from 89.3 MPH to 87.3 MPH. While there are still some questions about the usability of this data regarding performance, it boils down to both rates going from comfortably below-average to right around league-average.

So, in short, Corbin became harder to hit in 2017, and, when he was hit, it was with far less authority. That’s a good precursor for success.

Current Stuff

Corbin is a four-pitch pitcher, working with a low-90s four-seamer, a low-90s sinker, a low-to-mid 80s change-up, and a low-80s slider. Take a look:

brooksbaseball-chart

There is something of a warning sign within this graphic, and that’s the noticeable dip in velocity over the coure of 2017. Corbin’s velocity ticked up throughout 2016, and he started 2017 in the same range; by the time the season was over, though, he had lost about 2.5 MPH from his heater. That’s not ideal, and it did appear to have an impact on his success. Corbin ran a 9.00 ERA in May, which stands out more than most anything – but he posted his worst walk rate (by far) in September, alongside big drops in strikeouts (7.0 K/9) and grounders (47.1%).

Could that have been a result of Corbin tiring? Absolutely. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014, missing the entire season, tossed 102 IP between rehab and the majors in 2015, and then 155.2 IP in 2016. The 189.2 IP he threw this year represented a big increase in workload, and it was the most innings that he had thrown since 2013 – so may’ve been straight-up gassed. It’s nevertheless something that any interested team will be thinking about.

Corbin throws all four of his pitches to both righties and lefties, with his slider being his primary weapon against right-handed hitters. He threw it about a third of the time last year, an increase of nearly 11 percentage points against 2016 – and righties hit just .179 with a .309 SLG against it. They basically tee-off against all of his other pitches, though, and that has been an issue throughout his career.

Injury History

As I said above, Corbin had Tommy John surgery in 2014, which kept him out for all of that season and much of 2015. And that’s something that you can’t ignore. However, he has otherwise been healthy throughout his professional career, which dates back to 2009.

Contract Status

Corbin is entering his final year of arbitration, which makes him a rental. MLB Trade Rumors projects an $8.3 MM salary for 2018.

What Would it Take?

The most comparable case of a deal for a starting pitcher with one year of arbitration eligibility remaining is probably Jeff Samardzija. He was coming off an All-Star appearance in his age-29 season, having posted a 2.99 ERA (125 ERA+) in 219.2 IP. The then-30-year-old was dealt by the A’s (alongside Michael Ynoa) to the White Sox for Marcus Semien, Josh Phegley, Chris Bassitt, and middling prospect Rangel Ravelo prior to the 2015 season.

Semien was the prize of the deal, as a former top-100 prospect (ranked 91 by BA heading into 2014) that had scuffled a bit in his first extended look in the majors. Phegley was viewed as a back-up catcher, Bassitt a back of the rotation starter or reliever, and Ravelo as a potential platoon player. It was viewed as a solid but unspectacular return, for what it’s worth.

The buzz around Samardzija then was almost certainly more than it is for Corbin now, but the difference in their production wasn’t all that different. A similar package from the Yankees is hard to cobble together, but it might start with a couple of guys in the back half of their top-10 (Thairo Estrada and Miguel Andujar?) and Luis Cessa. My trade proposal sucks.

Does He Make Sense for the Yankees?

Maybe. He will undoubtedly cost less than Michael Fulmer, Gerrit Cole, and Chris Archer, given his impending free agency, but he was as good or better than all three my some measures last year. If the Yankees are looking to bolster their odds of winning this year without dipping into their top-level prospects, Corbin may be the best of the bunch. And I am not too concerned about the drop in velocity (particularly when you see the warts on the other players they’ve expressed interest in).

That being said, if the Yankees are playing for the short and medium term – which they seem to be – then Corbin doesn’t make much sense, unless they’re holding their bullets for another move…

Looking at potential landing spots for Jacoby Ellsbury

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the very first time, I went into this offseason believing the Yankees would make a serious effort to move Jacoby Ellsbury. They’re going to have to eat money to do it, but that money is a sunk cost anyway. Either the Yankees pay Ellsbury and keep him on the roster, or they pay him to play elsewhere so they can put the roster spot to better use. Any savings are a bonus.

Aaron Hicks started in center field in the postseason and Brian Cashman made it clear a few weeks ago the Yankees plan to keep Hicks in center field next year. Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge aren’t going to be unseated in the corners, plus Clint Frazier is knocking on the door. Then the Yankees went out and traded for Giancarlo Stanton over the weekend, knocking Ellsbury further down the depth chart. Here is that outfield depth chart, which I think is better explained through tiers than a straight 1-6 ranking.

  • Tier One: Judge and Stanton
  • Tier Two: Gardner and Hicks
  • Tier Three: Ellsbury and Frazier

Ellsbury is at best fifth on the outfield depth chart and I am very willing to hear arguments that he’s really sixth behind Frazier. Point is, Ellsbury is getting pushed out, so it’s no surprise reports from the Winter Meetings indicate the Yankees are willing to eat half the $68M left on his contract to trade him. Will that be enough? Would Ellsbury get three years and $34M as a free agent? Probably not, but start by saying you’ll eat half, then go from there.

Ken Rosenthal floated the idea of the Yankees attaching prospects to Ellsbury in a trade, which I hate. Giving up prospects to rid yourself of a bad contract when you’re the richest team in the sport doesn’t sit well with me. This all started because the Yankees a) gave Ellsbury that ridiculous contract in the first place, and b) are adhering to the luxury tax threshold, thus voluntarily throwing away the financial advantage that comes with playing in New York.

Anyway, attached prospects or not, moving Ellsbury will not be easy given his production and contract, plus the whole no-trade clause thing. His market is very limited. How limited? Let’s look. Here are the teams that most stand out as potential Ellsbury suitors. (Given the way these things usually go, this means Ellsbury will be traded to a team not listed in this post at all.)

Arizona Diamondbacks

Current Outfield: A.J. Pollock, David Peralta, Yasmany Tomas

The D’Backs are likely to lose J.D. Martinez to free agency, and the new front office doesn’t seem particularly fond of Tomas, which is why I traded Ellsbury to Arizona in my offseason plan. I thought maybe there would be a fit, especially since Ellsbury and D’Backs manager Torey Lovullo were together on the 2013 Red Sox. (Lovullo was bench coach that year.) There’s a connection to Lovullo, an open outfield spot, and the D’Backs are good enough to contend, which might be enough to convince Ellsbury to waive his no-trade clause.

Chicago Cubs

Current Outfield: Jason Heyward, Albert Almora, Ben Zobrist, Kyle Schwarber

Zobrist has declined — he hit .232/.318/.375 (82 wRC+) in 2017, you know — Almora is a platoon player, Heyward is a younger version of Ellsbury, and Schwarber runs around the outfield like he has a full diaper. There’s also the connection to Theo Epstein and the rest of his front office crew, who drafted and developed Ellsbury back in the day. The Cubs are likely to lose Jon Jay, a left-handed hitting center fielder, to free agency. If the Yankees eat enough money — or kick in a pitching prospect, which the Cubs desperately need — would the Cubbies be interested in Ellsbury? I don’t think it would take much convincing to get him to waive his no-trade clause to join Chicago.

Cleveland Indians

Current Outfield: Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Bradley Zimmer, Brandon Guyer (Jason Kipnis?)

There’s a decent chance Brantley will spend more time at DH than in the outfield going forward given his injury problems the last two years, meaning Edwin Encarnacion will have to play first base. The Indians showed they’re willing to play Kipnis in the outfield despite his inexperience, so they could end up with Kipnis-Zimmer/Guyer platoon-Chisenhall in the outfield and Brantley at DH. Adding another outfielder isn’t an absolute necessity, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea. And, obviously, there’s the Ellsbury-Terry Francona connection from Boston. As always, the question with Cleveland is money. They don’t have much of it, so how much would the Yankee have to eat to make it happen?

Houston Astros

Current Outfield: George Springer, Josh Reddick, Marwin Gonzalez, Jake Marisnick

A long shot, for sure. Springer and Reddick are locked into two of the three outfield spots and Gonzalez was too good last season to bump out of the lineup for Ellsbury. Marisnick is younger, cheaper, and better defensively than Ellsbury as well, so Ellsbury wouldn’t even fit as a reserve player. I have to think Ellsbury would okay a trade to the defending World Series champions, but the Astros don’t need him.

New York Mets

Current Outfield: Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Lagares, Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto (rehabbing from shoulder surgery)

Could you imagine the reaction if the Mets took on Ellsbury — essentially the Yankees’ scraps — after the Yankees traded for Stanton? It would be ugly, and for that reason I don’t think it would happen. Even the shameless Wilpons would consider the optics terrible, even though adding another center field capable outfielder wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. Would Ellsbury waive his no-trade clause to stay in New York? Something tells me he won’t even have to think about it.

San Francisco Giants

Current Outfield: Denard Span, Hunter Pence, Jarrett Parker, Mac Williamson

This past season Giants outfielders hit .253/.311/.374 (79 OPS+) with 38 home runs in a little over 2,000 plate appearances, if you can believe that. It’s no wonder why they were in on Stanton. Ellsbury’s defense would fit well in spacious AT&T Park, though I get the sense the Giants, who ranked dead last in MLB with 128 home runs in 2017, want a bigger bat. Maybe they’d take on Ellsbury on a secondary piece? Sign Jay Bruce or someone like that first, then trade for Ellsbury and a small piece of his contract for depth? An Ellsbury-for-Jeff Samardzija bad contract swap doesn’t make any sense for San Francisco since they need pitching too. Also, the Giants did lose 98 games this year. I’m not sure Ellsbury would waive his no-trade clause to join a team that far away from contention, despite their recent World Series titles. Stanton sure didn’t.

Texas Rangers

Current Outfield: Nomar Mazara, Delino DeShields Jr., Shin-Soo Choo, Willie Calhoun

That is a sneaky bad outfield. Choo and Calhoun would both be a full-time DH if they were on separate teams, but since they’re on the same team, one has to play the outfield, and that’s not good. Both DeShields and Mazara are young enough and talented enough to stay in the outfield full-time going forward. A Choo-for-Ellsbury bad contract swap makes sense for Texas — they’d be able to put Calhoun at DH and upgrade their outfield defense — but doesn’t help the Yankees at all. They’re looking to clear the roster spot for a younger player and save money, not rearrange the furniture with another bad contract. I don’t see much of a fit here, even before considering whether Ellsbury would waive his no-trade clause to join the Rangers.

Toronto Blue Jays

Current Outfield: Kevin Pillar, Steve Pearce, Teoscar Hernandez, Ezequiel Carrera

Goodness. That outfield. The whole intra-division thing complicates a potential trade, though I don’t think the Yankees would be afraid to dump Ellsbury on an AL East rival. I think they’d do it if that’s their best option. Would the Blue Jays take on Ellsbury in a salary dump? Would Ellsbury sign off on a trade to that sinking ship in Toronto? Despite the desperate need for outfield help north of the border, I don’t see the Blue Jays as a realistic fit for Ellsbury.

Washington Nationals

Current Outfield: Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton, Michael A. Taylor, Brian Goodwin

Jayson Werth’s contract just expired, but the Nationals don’t really need an outfielder to replace him because the guys who replaced Werth when he was on the disabled list this year (Taylor and Goodwin) were way better than him. The Nationals dried up as a potential Ellsbury landing spot as soon as they acquired Eaton last year. I think Ellsbury would okay a trade to Washington should a deal be worked out, plus the Nationals are a haven for unwanted Scott Boras clients, so I can’t completely rule them out as a possibility. I just think it’s unlikely.

* * *

Rebuilding teams like the Athletics, Padres, Phillies, Reds, Royals, Tigers, and White Sox would very likely be interested in trading for Ellsbury as long as a good prospect(s) is attached. Take on, say, $5M a season and get a prospect(s)? Why not. What caliber of prospect? Well, that’s up for debate. The Twins ate $4M or so to trade Jaime Garcia to the Yankees and they ended up with Zack Littell and Dietrich Enns, but that was $4M. We’re talking about eating $5M or so with Ellsbury each year for the next three years, so $15M total.

The bigger issue with that sort of trade is why in the world would Ellsbury agree to go to a rebuilding team? The solution could be releasing him. As a condition of accepting the trade, Ellsbury could ask his new team to release him, allowing him to sign anywhere for the prorated portion of the league minimum. The Yankees clear a roster spot and part of Ellsbury’s contract, the rebuilding team gets a prospect(s) for taking on some cash, and Ellsbury gets to pick his next team and offer his services at a dirt cheap price. A win-win-win? Not sure I’d go that far. But it could work.

Like I said, I don’t love the idea of attaching prospects to Ellsbury to unload the contract, but that may be the Yankees’ only choice, unless one of those clubs listed above decides Ellsbury is worth a couple million bucks and trading a non-prospect or two. I do think the Yankees are very motivated to move him right now though, especially after the Stanton trade. Perhaps they believe they have a deep enough farm system that trading a prospect or two to free up cash at the MLB level is worthwhile.

2017 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Thursday

Machado. (Justin Berl/Getty)
Machado. (Justin Berl/Getty)

The Winter Meetings come to an end today and, really, they’ll be over before lunchtime. The Rule 5 Draft is this morning and everyone heads home after that. The Yankees will undoubtedly lose some players in the Rule 5 Draft. That tends to happen when you have a strong farm system. There’s a good chance Nestor Cortes, Anyelo Gomez, and J.P. Feyereisen will hear their names called today. Bryan Hoch says the Yankees won’t make a Rule 5 Draft pick themselves. They’re focused on adding pitching.

“We are accessing all opportunities and see if we can land a plane,” said Brian Cashman to Andrew Marchand yesterday. “Right now, we are circling the airport. We are waiting for clearance on the runway. That is not from ownership. That means that we’ve got the signal that it is a safe landing spot, that we are comfortable with it, excited by that. We have enough gas in that tank that we can keep circling for awhile.”

The Yankees were connected to basically every young controllable starting pitcher Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. That includes Gerrit Cole, Michael Fulmer, Danny Duffy, Patrick Corbin, you name it. Starting pitching is clearly the priority right now, even over an infielder. We’ll again keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors here, though I can’t promise much activity today. Keep check back for updates anyway. All timestamps are ET.

  • 3:14pm: The price of starting pitching is too damn high, according to the Yankees. Seems like general offseason machinations to me. We want this guy but price is too high, rinse and repeat. [Heyman]
  • 10:10am: The Yankees have checked in on Machado but have no expectation of Orioles owner Peter Angelos approving a trade. Angelos hates the Yankees. I think he’s sooner keep Machado and lose him as a free agent than trade him to the Yankees. [Jon Heyman]
  • 9:41am: Contract talks with CC Sabathia have moved at a slow pace. The Yankees are focused right now on adding a younger pitcher and are talking with multiple teams. [Jack Curry]
  • 9:00am: The Orioles are “moving aggressively” in Manny Machado trade talks and the Yankees are among the teams to make an offer. O’s GM Dan Duquette said the club is open to trading Machado to the Yankees, though I’m going to have to see it to believe it. The White Sox have emerged as the frontrunner for the time being. Would they trade for Machado then flip him to the Yankees?. [Bob Nightengale, Ken Rosenthal, Rich Dubroff]
  • 9:00am: The Pirates are “gathering names” of young Yankees players who could be included in a trade for Cole. In addition to Cole and Fulmer, the Yankees are also looking at Chris Archer. An intra-division trade would be tough. [Bill Brink]

(Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.)

2017 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Wednesday

Machado. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
Machado. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

The first two days of the Winter Meetings have been pretty eventful for the Yankees. On Monday they introduced Giancarlo Stanton with a press conference in Orlando. Then yesterday they salary dumped Chase Headley (and Bryan Mitchell) on the Padres. What will today bring? I’m not sure. All I know is the Yankees have been popped up in an awful lot rumors this week.

“We all know we have a stated desire to upgrade our starting pitching,” said Brian Cashman to George King yesterday. “We have more flexibility today than prior to (the Headley trade). We did it with knowledge that we have some hungry, talented, and inexperienced kids ready to prove they can take that next step. But at the same time there might be some opportunities that might exist via free agency or trade.”

On Monday and Tuesday the Yankees were connected to basically every possibly available starting pitcher, including Gerrit Cole, Danny Duffy, and Michael Fulmer. Also, we learned they touched base with Todd Frazier after the Headley trade. We’ll again keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so make sure you check back often for updated. All timestamps are ET.

  • 2:08pm: The Yankees are “possibly” in the mix for Eduardo Nunez. I figured this was coming at some point. They need help at second and third bases and Nunez can play either. Not well, but he can stand there. [Heyman]
  • 2:02pm: Right now the Yankees are focused on adding a starting pitcher and Todd Frazier is on the back-burner. He could be someone they pursue more aggressively if they shed more money. [Sherman]
  • 1:57pm: The Yankees are one of ten teams on Ian Kinsler’s no-trade list. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’d reject a deal to New York, of course. Would he want something (i.e. an extension) in exchange for waiving the no-trade clause though? [Sherman]
  • 1:47pm: Jabari Blash, who came over in the Headley trade, may wind up with a team in Japan. I get the sense he is not long for the 40-man roster either way. [David Waldstein]
  • 10:50am: In addition to Patrick Corbin, the Yankees have also talked to the Diamondbacks about infielder Brandon Drury. The 25-year-old hit .267/.317/.447 (92 wRC+) this season while playing second, third, and left field. [Sherman]
  • 9:43am: Hoping for a Michael Pineda reunion? Well, don’t. He’s inked a two-year deal worth $10M with the Twins, the team announced. They’ll rehab him in 2018 and hope he can help in 2019.
  • 9:00am: The Yankees are among the teams interested in Manny Machado, who is available. Those involved say a trade is unlikely, however. I can’t imagine Orioles owner Peter Angelos would okay a trade sending Machado to the Yankees. [Buster Olney, Joel Sherman]
  • 9:00am: The Yankees are still talking to CC Sabathia about he a reunion. He did meet with the Blue Jays yesterday though, a few days after meeting with the Angels. Hmmm. [Jon Heyman, George King]

(Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.)

Scouting the Free Agent Market: Neil Walker

(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The Yankees have (for the best of reasons) unexpectedly found themselves in need of a second baseman and/or a third baseman. That is, unless you expect them to go into 2018 with a rookie at one of those positions, and Ronald Torreyes at the other; suffice it to say that I don’t. Barring a trade for Manny Machado, the free agent market may be the best place to go for a short-term and palatable solution. And Neil Walker – who the Yankees allegedly backed out of a deal for at the trade deadline – is probably the best option.

Offensive Performance

Walker has rather quietly put together a solid eight-year career. A switch-hitter, he owns a career .272/.341/.437 line (115 wRC+) in over four-thousand plate appearances, and he hasn’t posted a wRC+ below 106 since his 40 PA cup of coffee in 2009. He’s been rather consistent, too, with his wRC+ checking in between 106 and 130 in each of his full seasons. And the last two years have been no exception:

screen-shot-2017-12-12-at-10-01-19-pm

The discrepancy in his power and walk rate do stick out a little bit, but those represent the largest swings in his career. Moreover, neither is the negative sort of outlier that suggests a decline, or anything of that nature – and his .174 ISO in 2017 was still a tick above his career ISO, so it isn’t as if his power is disappearing.

Walker’s performance against LHP does stick out like a sore thumb, and does appear to make a liar out of me, regarding his consistency. However, 2016 is the outlier here, as he has always been much better against righties. He has a 121 wRC+ against righties for his career, as compared to a 91 against southpaws. Walker might be best-suited as a platoon option, and that’s essentially how he has been used over the last several seasons.

It’s as a LHH that Walker hits for most of his power, and he does so to the pull side. Take a look as his spray chart as a LHH for the last two seasons:

screen-shot-2017-12-12-at-10-19-31-pm

Just under 45% of his batted balls go to right or right center, but he’s still tough to shift against as he is more than capable of driving pitches back up the middle. As per FanGraphs, he’s only see the shift in 414 PA for his career, and he has a career .323 against it (including .285 last year). Both points suggest that his bat would play well in Yankee Stadium … and he does have 2 HR and a 1.031 OPS in 21 PA there.

Defensive Performance

Walker is a second baseman by trade, and the metrics are all over the place. He has been a tick below-average there overall, with career rates of -2 DRS/150 and -3.7 UZR/150. He hasn’t been consistent on that side of the ball, though:

  • 2015: -2 DRS, -8.8 UZR/150
  • 2016: 0 DRS, 11.1 UZR/150
  • 2017: -5 DRS, -2.1 UZR/150

Over the last three years he has been anywhere between awful and awesome, and the two go-to defensive metrics disagree with each other within each season. The reality is likely that he is a tick below-average but competent at the keystone.

He is somewhat versatile, as well, having logged 86.1 innings at first and 34.1 innings at third this year. It was his first time playing a position other than second since 2010, but he played both positions in the minors. Walker actually came up as a third baseman, and has played 444 games at the hot corner in his professional career. The sample sizes at the big league level are small and spread out over several years, so it’s tough to take much away from them (they’re not good, though). Whether or not he could be counted on to play either position for an extended period of time is an open-ended question.

Injury History

The Yankees backed out of the deal for Walker due to his slow recovery from a partially torn hamstring, which kept him out for about six weeks over the summer. That wasn’t his first brush with the injury bug, either, as he missed the last month of 2016 with a back injury, which required surgery. Walker has missed time in almost every season with nagging injuries, but those are the two big baseball-related ones. This is probably the biggest knock against him as a free agent, as he’s 32 and has missed a month and change with injuries in back-to-back seasons.

Contract Estimates

Walker is said to be looking for a four-year deal, but there are no dollar figures tied to that just yet. MLB Trade Rumors went with 2-years, $20 MM, and FanGraphs’ Crowdsourcing projected 3-years, $39 MM. Last year’s market saw just two non-first base infielders get multiyear deals: Sean Rodriguez (2-years, $11 MM), Luis Valbuena (2-years, $15 MM), and Justin Turner (4-years, $64 MM). If the market unfolds similarly, one has to imagine that he’d be closer to Turner than to Valbuena or Rodriguez. Given that and his injuries, I think the FanGraphs number is close to the mark.

Does He Make Sense for the Yankees?

Walker checks pretty much every box if the Yankees are looking for a veteran at second – he hits, he works the count, he hits for power, he’s a capable defender, he’s a switch-hitter, and he might have some defensive versatility. The injuries would need to be looked into thoroughly, and his struggles against lefties might mean that Torreyes plays more than we’d like – but I don’t think either is a dealbreaker.

The issue is money. Brian Cashman has $30+ MM to play with, which means that he could easily fit in this year, even with a $13 MM price tag – and I could even see next year working out, with some finagling. But adding a third year is undoubtedly out of the question. If he’s available for the MLBTR projection, I’d be all-in; if he won’t settle for anything less than three-years, I’d be out. And I’m confident that the Yankees will be, too.

Scouting the Trade Market: Michael Fulmer

(Justin Edmonds/Getty)
(Justin Edmonds/Getty)

Within the last week the Yankees have added the reigning NL MVP, traded away their starting second and third basemen, and freed up some payroll space under the $197M luxury tax threshold. It’s been a busy few days. And the Yankees aren’t done either. Yesterday’s Chase Headley salary dump was so very clearly a precursor to something else. The Yankees cleared that $13M in salary obligation so they could use it elsewhere.

Starting pitching was a priority coming into the winter and, even after these busy few days, it remains a priority. Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, and Jordan Montgomery are a quality top four. The best top four in the AL East, I’d say. But the fifth spot is open and the Yankees might want to handle that top four carefully given their big 2017 workloads. There’s even talk the Yankees could acquire two starting pitchers this offseason, not just one.

One name floating around over the last 24 hours or so is Tigers righty Michael Fulmer, who beat out Gary Sanchez for the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year award, not that I’m still bitter or anything. The Tigers are dreadful — they went 64-98 in 2017 and went 13-41 of their final 54 games, if you can believe that — and they’re just now starting their rebuild, so keeping Fulmer means hoping he stays healthy the next few years before they’re ready to contend. That’s risky.

The Yankees certainly have the prospects to trade for Fulmer — “There are a handful of teams out there that have the players to do it,” said Tigers GM Al Avila to Jason Beck earlier this week about the possibility of a trade — plus they have the motivation. He’s good, he’s young, he’s cheap, and he’s under control for a while. Fulmer would help the Yankees win now and later. Let’s break him down as a trade candidate, shall we?

Current Performance

Fulmer’s sophomore season was not quite as good as his 2016 debut, though he was still effective and a quality starting pitcher. Here are the overall numbers the last two seasons:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2016 159 3.06 3.76 20.4% 6.5% 49.1% 0.91 .295 .276
2017 164.2 3.83 3.67 16.9% 5.9% 49.2% 0.71 .268 .292
Total 323.2 3.45 3.71 18.6% 6.2% 49.2% 0.81 .281 .284

Very good overall. Fulmer is more of a ground ball guy that a strike out guy, and while the Yankees tend to seek out pitchers who can get both, I think they’d be willing to bet on Fulmer being able to increase his strikeout rate going forward through various tweaks and pitch selection changes, things like that. His quality of contact rates held steady from 2016 to 2017:

2016 hard contact rate: 30.4% (31.4% league average)
2017 hard contact rate: 30.0% (31.0% league average)

2016 soft contact rate: 19.2% (18.8% league average)
2017 soft contact rate: 18.1% (18.9% league average)

2016 average exit velocity: 87.0 mph (87.7 mph league average)
2017 average exit velocity: 85.7 mph (86.6 mph league average)

The biggest difference between 2016 Fulmer and 2017 Fulmer is strand rate. He had a 79.0% strand rate in 2016 and a 65.6% strand rate in 2017. The league average is 72.6%. Strand rate is a pitcher skill but only to a certain degree. A lot of is tied to sequencing and general baseball randomness. Sometimes you give up a walk, a bloop, and a blast. Others you give up a blast, a bloop, and a walk.

Strand rate can fluctuate wildly from year-to-year, like it did for Fulmer. Chances are his true talent strand rate is somewhere between 2016 and 2017, which would put him at basically the league average. The decline in strikeout rate could certainly explain the strand rate drop to some degree — fewer strikeouts means more balls in play, and inevitably more hits falling in — but a 3.5 percentage point drop in strikeout rate and a 13.4 percentage point drop in strand rate? Nah. The strikeout rate doesn’t explain all that.

The tools are there for Fulmer to be successful and he has been successful in his MLB career to date. He doesn’t walk many batters and he gets an above-average number of ground balls. That’s a pretty great starting point for a guy who doesn’t turn 25 until March. Fulmer did strike out hitters at a below-average rate in his two seasons, though not so far below-average that it’s a big red flag. It’s not like he was running a 10.6% strikeout rate like Ty Blach, you know?

Current Stuff

Fulmer is a no nonsense pitcher. He throws everything hard. His four-seamer and sinker both sit in the mid-90s, and both his slider and changeup sit in the upper-80s. He’s not unlike Severino in terms of velocity. Everything is hard. And Fulmer throws all four pitches regularly.

michael-fulmer-pitch-selection

That pitch mix is why Fulmer has had success against both righties and lefties in his career. He has a quality slider for righties and a quality changeup for lefties, and there’s plenty of velocity on the two fastballs for everyone. Here’s some video from his past season, just so you can see what Fulmer’s stuff looks like:

Given his fastball velocity and the way he likes to bury his slider and changeup in the dirt, I can’t help but wonder whether Fulmer would be able to increase his strikeout rate by climbing the ladder with two strikes and getting hitters to chase heaters up at eye level. Here are the pitch locations of all his swings and misses in 2017:

michael-fulmer-whiffsMost of Fulmer’s swings and misses came on sliders and changeups down in the zone. There aren’t many on fastballs up in the zone or even up and out of the zone. Fulmer generally pounds the bottom of the strike zone with everything, hence the ground balls. There’s something to be said for elevating and changing eye levels though. The Red Sox helped Rick Porcello win a Cy Young (lol) by getting him to elevate his heater, so there is precedent for acquiring a talented young Tigers pitcher, making that adjustment, and reaping the rewards.

Injury History

Fulmer does have a bit of an injury history, including a pair of elbow surgeries. Neither was Tommy John surgery though. Here are his injuries:

  • 2013: Surgery for a torn meniscus in his knee.
  • 2014: Surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow after the season.
  • 2017: Missed a week with shoulder fatigue, then missed two weeks with elbow irritation, then had season-ending ulnar nerve transposition surgery in early-September.

I suppose the good news is Fulmer’s elbow is structurally sound. They ran all the tests when his elbow starting barking and everything came back clean. The ulnar nerve transposition surgery means they literally moved a nerve to a different spot to avoid irritation. Jacob deGrom had the same procedure last offseason and was ready for Opening Day, and had a great season. Fulmer is expected to ready for Spring Training. Still though, there are a few too many arm injuries in there for such a young guy.

Contract Status

The Tigers called Fulmer up late last April, which was late enough to push his free agency back a year, so that’s cool. He is under team control for another five seasons, so through 2022. Fulmer will be a Super Two — he’ll be arbitration-eligible for the first time next year — so his arbitration years will be more expensive than usual, but the most important thing is those five years of control. You’re getting this guy for five seasons before he can become a free agent.

Also, Fulmer has two minor league options remaining, so he can be sent to Triple-A, if necessary. Then again, if you trade for him and need to send him down, something went wrong. You don’t want to have to use those options.

What Would It Take?

Acquiring five years of a young and very good starting pitcher is going to cost you, no doubt. You’re not getting Fulmer for some 40-man roster scraps, even with him currently on the mend from elbow surgery. Not too many guys like Fulmer get traded, so I had a tough time coming up with trade benchmarks. I found two.

  • Max Scherzer: Traded with a lefty reliever (Daniel Schlereth) for Ian Kennedy and Edwin Jackson in a three-team deal way back in the day. This was a few years before he became three-time Cy Young award winner Max freaking Scherzer.
  • Michael Pineda: Traded for a top five global prospect (Jesus Montero) with some other players (Vicente Campos and Hector Noesi) involved. You remember this trade.

I’m not sure those trades help us much. Then Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik was supposedly fixated on getting Montero. He went to the Yankees asking for Montero, and the Yankees named their price. The Yankees didn’t go to Zduriencik asking for Pineda. Simple supply and demand will control Fulmer’s market. The more teams in the mix, the more expensive he’ll be.

Avila will surely ask for Gleyber Torres. That’s what I’d do. Ask for Gleyber, see what happens, and if you have to negotiate down from there, so be. The Giancarlo Stanton trade likely makes Clint Frazier very available. Can the Yankees build a trade package around Frazier and some lesser secondary pieces? Or will the Tigers push for that strong secondary piece, like Justus Sheffield or Chance Adams? Whatever they want, it’ll hurt. Guys like Fulmer should be hard to get.

Does He Make Sense For The Yankees?

For sure. Fulmer is young, he’s very good, and he’s under control for five more years. Five more years! He’s also received positive reviews for his work ethic and competitiveness throughout his pro career. The arm injuries are an obvious red flag, though at least his recent elbow woes are not structural, and involve a procedure with recent precedent for a pitcher quickly coming back at full strength (deGrom).

I get the decline in strikeouts is a concern, though I think that is something can be solved with tweaks to Fulmer’s pitch selection and approach, namely using that fastball up in the zone more often. His power stuff is great. The tools to get strikeouts are there. It’s just a matter of a young pitcher gaining experience. That sort of thing. Fulmer is not a Nathan Eovaldi type who throws hard and gets hit hard. He’s been quite successful doing what he’s been doing.

Now, the elephant in the room is the brawlgame with the Tigers this summer. That all started when Fulmer drilled Sanchez in the third game of a three-game series in which Sanchez was whacking monster home runs all over the park. Was it intentional? Maybe not. But it sure seemed fishy. If the Yankees were to make a trade for Fulmer, I would think they’d go to Sanchez first, and see what he thinks. If there’s a grudge there, it might be a problem.

The J.D. Martinez, Justin Verlander, and Justin Upton trades were widely panned this summer because pundits did not believe the Tigers received enough, especially for Martinez and Verlander. Will Avila try to make up for that by knocking it out of the park with an Fulmer trade, or is there is a disconnect somewhere? Do the Tigers value their players less than everyone else, or are they overrating everyone else’s prospects? Does anyone know anything or anything, or all we all just faking it?

If nothing else, Brian Cashman and the Yankees have shown they are pretty excellent dealmakers these last few years. They came out on the wrong end of the Eovaldi trade. There’s no doubt about that. But look at all the other trades they’ve made. Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hicks, Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Chapman again, now Stanton. If the Yankees deem Fulmer worth pursuing, I trust Cashman & Co. to make a good trade.

2017 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Tuesday

Cole. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
Cole. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

The first day of the Winter Meetings came and went with little activity. At least aside from that big Giancarlo Stanton press conference, of course. There were a few low-profile signings and the usual array of rumors, yet most of the top free agents remain unsigned. That’ll change soon enough. Will the Yankees sign one of those free agents? Eh, hard to see it after Stanton.

“We have to do more. We have unfinished business,” said Brian Cashman following the Stanton press conference yesterday. “We have payroll space because we have more work to do. (The Stanton trade) fits because we still have room to accomplish all of our stated goals, but obviously it takes up some of that space, clearly.”

Yesterday we learned the Yankees have interest their 2008 first round pick, Pirates righty Gerrit Cole. Pitching help was mentioned more than a few times after the Stanton press conference. Once again, we’re going to keep track of all the day’s Yankees-related rumors from the Winter Meetings right here, so make sure you check back for updates. All timestamps are ET.

  • 5:18pm: The Yankees are working hard to add a starting pitcher, so says Aaron Boone. Boone is still new here. I don’t know if he’s just saying that to say it, or because the Yankees are moving down the line with a trade or free agent. Probably the former. [Kuty]
  • 4:47pm: Brian Cashman has been talking to Frazier’s agent now that third base is open. [Bryan Hoch]
  • 2:46pm: It is very possible the Yankees will add two starting pitchers. In all likelihood, they’d trade for a younger pitcher under control and re-sign CC Sabathia [Kuty]
  • 2:31pm: The Yankees are one of several teams to check in with the Royals about lefty Danny Duffy. There is currently no traction with any team, though that can change quick. [Joel Sherman]
  • 12:20pm: If you’re thinking about a Todd Frazier reunion in the wake of the Headley trade, Frazier has let teams know he wants a multi-year contract. [Brendan Kuty]
  • 11:17am: The Yankees have traded Chase Headley and Bryan Mitchell to the Padres for Jabari Blash. The deal clears Headley’s entire $13M salary. Here’s our post.
  • 10:27am: The Yankees are trying to trade for a starter and have both Michael Fulmer and Patrick Corbin “on their radar in early talks.” Corbin will be a free agent next year. Fulmer is under control for another few years. [Bob Nightengale]
  • 9:30am: The Pirates are willing to listen to offers for Cole, though they are not actively shopping him and they do not appear to be particularly motivated to trade him this week. [Buster Olney, Rob Biertempfel]
  • 9:30am: It is “unlikely” Jacoby Ellsbury will waive his no-trade clause to leave the Yankees. He is no higher than fifth on the outfield depth chart, but hey, the Yankees look pretty good. I wouldn’t want to leave either. [Mark Feinsand]
  • 9:30am: At some point between the Shohei Ohtani rejection and the Stanton trade, the Yankees expressed interest in Carlo Santana. That’s not happening now, obviously. [Ken Davidoff]

(Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.)