The case for trading Dellin Betances

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

In terms of the sheer number of transactions — not necessarily the magnitude of the moves — this has been the busiest Yankees’ offseason in quite some time. The team has already made six trades, one more than they made during the 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-14 offseasons combined. They’ve also made two notable free agent signings in Andrew Miller and Chase Headley. It’s been a busy winter thus far.

All those trades have more or less exhausted New York’s big league trade chips, meaning the players on the projected 25-man roster with actual trade value. (So not Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira, for example). The most notable exception is Brett Gardner, who seems unlikely to be dealt at this point. The other exception is Dellin Betances, who has not been seriously discussed as a trade chip this winter. So why don’t we do that now?

The case against trading Betances is pretty straight forward: he’s one of the five or six best relievers in the world, he’s cheap, and he’s under team control for another five years. That’s a core player a team can build around, even as a reliever. In fact, the Yankees (re)built their bullpen around Betances this offseason the way they built it around Mariano Rivera all those years. He was that dominant last season.

The case for trading Betances is much more complicated even though we all know no player is ever truly untouchable. There’s always a price. Don’t you think the Angels would listen if the Giants offered Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey for Mike Trout? I think they would. They’d be foolish not to. There are several reasons — some more valid than others — for the Yankees to consider dealing Betances. Let’s run ‘em down.

Injury & (Lack of) Command History

The 2014 season was the first time Betances did not have any sort of injury and/or command issues since 2006, his draft year. He spent parts of eight years in the minors and there were a lot of walks and injuries along the way. Let’s review:

  • 2006: Healthy and 7.8% walk rate after signing.
  • 2007: Missed two months with elbow inflammation and had a 15.0% walk rate.
  • 2008: Missed six weeks with shoulder inflammation and had a 11.7% walk rate.
  • 2009: Had a 13.1% walk rate then missed three months following Tommy John surgery.
  • 2010: Missed two months rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and had a 6.6% walk rate thereafter.
  • 2011: Missed three weeks with an unknown injury and had a 12.6% walk rate.
  • 2012: Missed three weeks with shoulder inflammation and had a 15.7% walk rate.
  • 2013: Healthy, 12.2% walk rate.
  • 2014: Healthy, 7.0 walk rate.

Like I said, lots of walks and lots of injuries. Arm injuries too. Betances has been healthy these last two years, plus his walk rate has been manageable since he moved into the bullpen full-time, though there’s too much ugly history here to ignore. One truly elite season doesn’t wipe this all away. Baseball history is littered with guys with bad command who figure it out for a season or three before falling apart. Look at Daniel Bard or Derrick Turnbow, for example.

He Can’t Possibly Be That Good Again, Right?

Here’s the list of full-time relievers with a sub-2.00 ERA, a sub-2.00 FIP, and 60+ innings in multiple seasons: Craig Kimbrel (2012-14), Greg Holland (2013-14), Eric Gagne (2002-03), and Dennis Eckersley (1990 and 1992). That’s it. Mariano Rivera never did it and David Robertson did it once (2011). Twenty-two others have done it in one season, including Betances last year, but only those four have done it multiple times.

If Betances repeats his 2014 dominance in 2015, he will buck a lot of history and join a very exclusive club. That isn’t to say Betances won’t be excellent in the future, I have no reason to believe he won’t be very good going forward, but it’s very likely he just had his career year. Robertson had a 1.08 ERA (1.84 FIP) in 66.2 innings during his age 26 season — the season Dellin just completed — and you know what? That was his career year. Robertson was very good during his age 27-29 season, but he never did repeat his age 26 performance.

“Selling high” isn’t really a thing — at least not in the sense that teams don’t see through superficial performance and know who is likely to decline going forward — because clubs make trades based on their own internal evaluations, not public opinion or FanGraphs stat pages, though Betances will have less trade value next winter. Even if he repeats his otherworldly performance — I suppose he could improve on it, but that’s damn near impossible — he’ll be one year closer to free agency and that matters.

Bullpen Depth

The Yankees have acquired a lot of bullpen depth not just this offseason, but over the last several years. They’ve done it through the draft (Betances, Adam Warren, Danny Burawa, Jacob Lindgren, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, etc.), through trades (Justin Wilson, Gonzalez Germen, Johnny Barbato, Chasen Shreve, David Carpenter), and via the scrap heap (Jose DePaula, Esmil Rogers). That’s not even all the upper level bullpen arms. Just most of them.

Although someone of Betances’ caliber is irreplaceable, the Yankees do have a small army of bullpen arms ready to step in and do the job. The drop off from Betances to the guy replacing him — meaning the last guy in the bullpen, not the guy who takes over the late-innings — isn’t as big as it would have been last year. It’s big, don’t get me wrong, just not as big as it would have been before this bullpen-heavy offseason. The Yankees have a ton of bullpen depth and are in position to deal from that depth to improve other parts of the roster. Betances has, by far, the most trade value among these bullpen arms.

Now, just to be clear, I am not advocated trading Betances. I think the Yankees should keep him as the bullpen cornerstone in the post-Mariano and post-Robertson years. That said, Brian Cashman & Co. wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t at least entertain the idea of improving the team by trading Betances. They’ve acquired all this bullpen depth for a reason. Betances’ trade value is tough to gauge because elite relievers with five years of team control are never traded, but he could be part of the package to get an ace like Cole Hamels or a young position player like Addison Russell, for example. (Just spitballing here.)

The Yankees have changed course and built up a decent group of young players heading into the 2015 season, especially up the middle and on the mound. Betances is a huge piece of that. There is still more rebuilding work to be done (lots of it, really), and using Betances as a trade chip could be the quickest way to complete that process. His injury history, his lack of command history, the general volatility of relievers, and the team’s bullpen depth are all reasons dealing Dellin makes some sense.

Trade Betances?

Scouting the Free Agent Market: Rickie Weeks and Gordon Beckham

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Two weeks ago the Yankees robbed Peter to pay Paul by trading their starting second baseman for rotation help. Martin Prado was swapped for Nathan Eovaldi, leaving the team with a bunch of low cost options at second base. As of right now, Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder are expected to compete with non-roster invitees like Nick Noonan, Cole Figueroa, and Jonathan Galvez for the second base job in Spring Training.

Of course, these are the Yankees, and they could always go into free agency and bring in a more veteran second baseman. I don’t think it will happen — the team definitely seems to be making a concerted effort to get younger this winter — but I wouldn’t rule it out completely either. Among the two most notable free agent second basemen still available are Rickie Weeks and Gordon Beckham, a pair of former elite prospects who didn’t quite live up to the hype. Is either a fit for the Yankees? Let’s look.

Recent Performance

He wasn’t Robinson Cano or anything, but from 2010-11, Weeks was a damn fine player, hitting .269/.360/.466 (126 wRC+) with 58 doubles, 49 homers, and 20 stolen bases in 278 total games. The last three seasons haven’t been nearly as productive, however.

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ BABIP K% BB% GB% wRC+ vs. RHP wRC+ vs. LHP
2012 677 .230/.328/.400 97 .285 25.0% 10.9% 45.1% 94 108
2013 399 .209/.306/.357 85 .268 26.3% 10.0% 49.4% 79 97
2014 286 .274/.357/.452 127 .355 25.5% 8.7% 56.7% 109 142

Weeks kinda stunk in 2012, got hurt in 2013, then was used mostly as a platoon player in 2014, with 47% of his plate appearances coming against southpaws. It’s also worth noting his walk rate has declined because he’s swinging at more and more pitches out of the zone — he swung at 18.6% of pitches out of the zone in 2012, and that shot up to 20.7% in 2013 and 25.2% in 2014. And when Weeks swings out of the zone, it can be ugly. Hilarious, but ugly:

(GIF via Getting Blanked)

As for Beckham, he had a very promising MLB debut in 2009, hitting .270/.346/.460 (109 wRC+) with 14 homers in 430 plate appearances just a year after being the eighth overall pick in the 2008 draft. Since then though, Beckham has hit an awful .241/.300/.361 (79 wRC+) in just over 2,500 plate appearances, including a career-worst 70 wRC+ in 2014. His strikeout (17.0%) and walk (6.4%) rates from 2010-14 were fine, nothing extreme, but he just didn’t hit at all. He doesn’t have a platoon split either: career 82 wRC+ against righties and 85 against lefties.

This isn’t a small sample either. We have nearly 3,000 plate appearances telling us Beckham flat out can not hit MLB caliber pitching. That 2009 debut was nice, but it happened so long ago that it’s not even relevant anymore. At this point, the only reasons Beckham remains interesting are his age (just turned 28) and his status as a former elite prospect. And, just for the record, Baseball America ranked Beckham has the 20th best prospect in baseball before the 2009 season, a few spots behind Lars Anderson and a few spots ahead of Matt LaPorta. Yeah, it’s been a while since he was a prospect.

Defense & Versatility

One thing Beckham has on Weeks is his versatility. He’s spent the vast majority of his career at second base, but he’s also played some third base and shortstop, including after being traded to the Angels this past August. Weeks, on the other hand, has never played a position other than second base in his career. In fact, the Brewers asked him to try left field this past season and Weeks said no. That’s … not good.

The various defense stats say Beckham has been about average at second base throughout his career, and the samples aren’t nearly big enough for the numbers to mean anything about his abilities at short and third. The fact that he’s actually willing to play elsewhere is a plus though, at least compared to Weeks. The defense stats crush Weeks at second, by the way. Far below average. Defense and versatility are easily advantage Beckham.

Injury Histories

Weeks missed the final two months of the 2013 season after tearing his left hamstring running out a ground ball, an injury that was severe enough to require surgery. He also has a history of wrist problems: tendon surgery (right wrist) in 2006, inflammation (right wrist) in 2007, and tendon sheath surgery (left wrist) in 2009. Weeks also visited the DL for a knee sprain in 2008 and an ankle sprain in 2011. During his time as an everyday player from 2006-13, Weeks played in only 918 of 1,296 possible games, or 71%. At age 32, he probably isn’t getting any healthier.

Beckham, on the other hand, missed a month with an oblique strain this past season and two months with a broken hamate bone in his right wrist early last season. (The hamate required surgery.) Otherwise Beckham has been healthy throughout his career. Some minor day-to-day stuff, but that’s it. Oblique and hamstring injuries happen, the wrist injuries are much more worrisome, and Weeks has a longer history of ‘em.

Contract Estimates

Both Weeks and Beckham were cut loose by their former teams earlier this offseason — the Brewers declined their $11.5M club option for Weeks while the Angels opted to non-tender Beckham rather than pay him a projected $5M salary in 2015. Both moves were expected and understandable. Because Beckham did not become a free agent until late-November, there are no contract estimates for him anywhere. Here’s what we have for Weeks:

Weeks definitely seems like a one-year contract candidate, but, then again, we live in a world where Omar Infante got four years and Brendan Ryan got two years (and a player option!). I wouldn’t be surprised if Weeks ends up with two guaranteed years. Also, it’s probably worth noting Weeks is very close friends with CC Sabathia dating back to Sabathia’s short stint with the Brewers — the photo of super skinny CC that went around last offseason was taken at Weeks’ wedding — so, if nothing else, Sabathia could probably serve as a recruiter if the Yankees have interest.

I have to think Beckham is a one-year deal guy — 2015 would have been his final year of arbitration-eligibility, so he won’t remain under control in 2016 or anything like that — because he simply hasn’t hit for five years now. At least Weeks was pretty good in a limited role this past season. The going rate for free agent utility infielders seems to be $2M or so annually, which makes sense for Beckham. Maybe he gets a little more because he’s still young and teams like to spend money. Two years though? For a no hit, average defender? Eh. Hard to see that.

Both Weeks and Beckham will presumably look to join a team that will let them play everyday — the Cardinals reportedly had interest in Weeks as a utility guy but that went nowhere — and the Yankees could give them that opportunity if they really wanted. As I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of handing non-elite prospects like Pirela and Refsnyder a job out of Spring Training. A veteran to add depth and a safety net ain’t a bad idea in my opinion.

Personally, I prefer Beckham over Weeks because he’s better able to slide into a traditional utility role and can at least catch the ball. Weeks is terrible in the field and, given the last few years, it’s not safe to assume he will hit when playing everyday either. That Beckham is several years younger and figures to cost less are secondary concerns. Based on what they are at this point in time, Beckham seems to be a better fit for the roster. The Yankees haven’t shown interest in either as far as we know, but they are among the available options.

Hot Stove Notes: Tulo, Hamels, Rollins, Upton, Kuroda

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

Aside from the never-ending tinkering and miscellaneous depth additions, the Yankees seem to be more or less done with their major offseason business. They could always surprise us and do something big, they have a way of keeping things under wraps, but I’m not expecting anything significant. Here are some stray pieces of hot stove news.

Yankees checked in on Troy Tulowitzki recently

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees checked in with the Rockies about Troy Tulowitzki late last week. It’s unclear if this was before or after they traded Martin Prado to the Marlins on Friday. Heyman says there is still a big gap in talks about Tulowitzki and not just with the Yankees, but with every team looking to acquire him. I’m pretty sure the Bombers were just doing their due diligence after reports surfaced saying the Mets were after Tulo last week.

As scary as is his injury history is, Tulowitzki is a bargain with six years and $118M left on his contract. That’s basically the Pablo Sandoval contract with one extra year.  The 30-year-old Tulowitzki has hit .316/.399/.551 (park-adjusted 146 wRC+) these last three years and has been by far the most valuable shortstop in the game on a rate basis. One hundred games of Tulo and 62 games of Brendan Ryan would equal elite shortstop production. That said, the Yankees have done a nice job of getting younger this offseason, and Tulowitzki would just be another big contract on the pile. If they were closer to being serious contenders, I’d be all for it. But they’re not, so let’s see what Didi Gregorius can do.

Yankees not on Cole Hamels’ no-trade list

The Yankees are not one of the 21 teams on Cole Hamels’ no-trade list, reports Bob Nightengale. We heard this back in July, but Hamels can change his no-trade list each year and apparently the Bombers are not on it again. That’s surprising. Players usually include big market teams like the Yankees on their no-trade lists because those are the teams more likely to pay something in exchange approving a trade. For example, Hamels could demand that his $20M option for 2019 be exercised before agreeing to a deal.

Hamels, who turns 31 on Saturday, had a 2.46 ERA (3.07 FIP) in 204.2 innings this past season. He’s thrown 200+ innings in five straight years and 180+ innings in eight straight years. Hamels and Jon Lester were born eleven days apart and are basically the same pitcher, but Lester signed for six years and $155M this winter while Hamels has four years and $100M left on his deal, plus the option for 2019. The Phillies are understandably asking for a huge return for their ace and the Yankees have not been connected to him this winter, but boy oh boy would Hamels be huge addition.

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

Jimmy Rollins would have approved trade to Yankees

Earlier this offseason we heard the Yankees called the Phillies about shortstop Jimmy Rollins, but soon moved on because the asking price was too high. Rollins had ten-and-five no-trade protection and he told Mark Saxon he only would have accepted a trade to the Yankees, Mets, or Dodgers, with the Dodgers being his first choice. Los Angeles acquired Rollins for minor league pitchers Zach Eflin and Tom Windle last week.

I really liked the idea of Rollins as a one-year stopgap — there’s only one year and $11M left on his contract — but only if the Yankees were unable to acquire a younger shortstop, which they did in Gregorius. Eflin and Windle are good but not great prospects. Something like Manny Banuelos and Ty Hensley might have been the equivalent Yankees’ package, but it’s not a perfect comparison. Banuelos is two level higher than both Eflin and Windle and those two are healthier than Hensley. Either way, the Yankees and Dodgers now have their new shortstops.

Yankees were not involved in Justin Upton sweepstakes

Before he was traded to the Padres last week, the Yankees were not involved in the bidding for outfielder Justin Upton, according to Buster Olney. New York has tried to trade for the good Upton several times in the past, but their starting outfield is set and earlier this winter they re-signed Chris Young to come off the bench. Plus they just acquired Garrett Jones, who can also play right field. Upton will be a free agent next offseason, when he will still be only 28 years old. He’s going to get a monster contract and the Yankees could in the mix then.

Still no update on Hiroki Kuroda

And finally, last week Brian Cashman told Jack Curry the team still has no idea if Hiroki Kuroda will pitch next season. Cashman also said the money has to work for them to add another pitcher, which isn’t surprising given their current contract commitments. The rotation is ostensibly full right now, but there’s a ton of injury risk and Chris Capuano could always slide into the bullpen. I do think the Yankees would welcome Kuroda back with open arms — the “money has to work” comment could just be posturing — but they obviously aren’t planning on him coming back either.

Rojas: Asdrubal Cabrera may be open to one-year contract

(Mitchell Layton/Getty )
(Mitchell Layton/Getty)

According to Enrique Rojas (translated article), free agent infielder Asdrubal Cabrera may be open to taking a one-year contract and testing the market again next offseason if he can’t get the deal he wants this winter. “If Asdrubal can not get a contract for at least four years, then he probably would sign only for one season to reset his market. Surely many other teams will be interested if that happens,” said a source to Rojas.

Rojas says the Yankees were among the teams with interest in Cabrera — a few weeks ago we heard they didn’t have interest in him, but things change — though this report is more than a week old now, dating back to before the team re-signed Chase Headley. They have since traded away Martin Prado though, so the Yankees still have an opening on the infield, just now at second base instead of third.

With Headley back and Prado gone, Asdrubal on a one-year contract to play second base sure sounds like a swell idea to me. I wouldn’t like giving him three or four years, but one? I’d do that in a heartbeat. Cabrera could play second, provide some shortstop depth in case Didi Gregorius doesn’t work out, and perhaps become a trade chip if Rob Refsnyder forces the issue. Best case scenario, Asdrubal mashes and the Yankees get either a quality prospect at the deadline or a draft pick next offseason. Worst case, they release him and give the job to Refsnyder.

Cabrera, who turned 29 last month, split this past season between the Indians and Nationals — he played 823.2 innings at short and 432 innings at second, his first action at a non-shortstop position since 2009 — and hit .241/.307/.387 (97 wRC+) with 14 homers and ten steals. He had two very good years from 2011-12 (116 wRC+) but has been a tick below average at the plate in the two years since (96 wRC+).

Of course, whether Cabrera’s market fails to develop remains to be seen. He’s the best infielder left on the market and my guess is he would take a lower annual salary on a two or three-year deal before taking a one-year deal. That’s what I’d do, anyway. Cabrera hasn’t been above-average either at the plate or in the field for two years now, but as a one-year flier in a small ballpark? All day errday, baby. There’s no such thing as too many middle infielders.

Yankees no longer interested in Jason Grilli

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are no longer interested in free agent right-hander Jason Grilli, his agent Gary Sheffield confirmed to George King. (Yes, that Gary Sheffield.) “We talked to (Brian Cashman) and he said ‘not at the moment.’ We will sit back with the offers we have and wait,” said Sheff. “I don’t see a reason why he isn’t a fit. He can close and pitch the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.”

A few weeks ago we heard the Yankees had some interest in Grilli, though that was before they signed Andrew Miller. They could have been discussing Grilli out of due diligence in case the worst case scenario played out and they failed to sign either Miller or David Robertson. Now with Miller signed and both Chris Capuano and Esmil Rogers re-signed, adding a bullpen arm isn’t as high a priority.

Out of the crop of veteran late-inning relievers, Grilli will probably be the cheapest because he’s old (38) and didn’t have a great 2014 season (4.00 ERA and 3.37 FIP). Sergio Romo re-signed for two years and $15M just yesterday, which helps set the market for Rafael Soriano. Casey Janssen will probably come in a little lower than that, and Francisco Rodriguez even lower than that. The rest of the free agent bullpen market is journeymen.

The best way for the Yankees to improve their bullpen right now is to improve their rotation, and I don’t necessarily mean get more innings out of the starters or anything like that. Adding someone to the rotation pushed David Phelps into the bullpen, where he’s been pretty good throughout his career. He’d join Shawn Kelley, Adam Warren, and Justin Wilson to form a fine complement to Miller and Dellin Betances. Another reliever would be nice. Another starter would be even better.

Reports: Yanks were among runners-up for Brett Anderson

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

According to Jeff Passan and Buster Olney, the Yankees were among the runners-up for left-hander Brett Anderson, who signed with the Dodgers earlier this week. The Braves, Royals, and Athletics were also after him. The Dodgers gave Anderson a one-year contract worth $10M with a bunch of incentives a few days ago.

As noted in our Scouting The Market post a few weeks ago, the Yankees tried to acquire Anderson several times in the past, so their interest in him as a free agent this winter is no surprise. They tried to get him from the Athletics last offseason and again from the Rockies at the trade deadline this past season. Anderson, who will turn 27 in February, was the youngest free agent on the market this winter.

I’d love to know what the Yankees were willing to offer Anderson — chances are we’ll never find out, of course — because that $10M deal seems a little crazy for a guy with his injury history. (Anderson has thrown only 206.1 innings since 2011.) Most contract estimates pegged him for a $7M salary on a one-year deal coming into the winter. I guess $10M isn’t all that crazy then. Reclamation projects don’t cost $1M or $2M anymore.

The Yankees re-signed Chris Capuano yesterday and I suppose that could be a direct result of losing out on Anderson. Once they realized they weren’t getting Anderson, they turned around and gave the money to Capuano. That sort of thing. The Yankees do need multiple starters this winter though, so maybe they would have signed Capuano even if they had landed Anderson. Who knows.

Anderson is still really young and has upside remaining — the upside being he continues to pitch exactly like he has but actually stays healthy all year — but there is no shortage of reclamation project arms still available. Chad Billingsley, Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, Josh Johnson, and Alexi Ogando have all had a bunch of injury problems in recent years and remain on the market. Still plenty of opportunity for the Yankees to add even more injury risk to the rotation.

Cashman: “I don’t think Yankee fans will be looking at Max Scherzer” in 2015

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

During a recent television appearance, Brian Cashman reiterated what we’ve been hearing all offseason: the Yankees are unlikely to be major players for Max Scherzer. Cashman is the first team official to actually go on record saying the club is unlikely to pursue the free agent right-hander though. “I don’t think Yankee fans will be looking at Max Scherzer,” said the GM flatly, according to Brendan Kuty.

Of course, this could all be nothing more than posturing. If Cashman or anyone else involved with the Yankees comes out and says they’re planning to pursue Scherzer, the price will only go up. Scherzer is represented by Scott Boras, and Boras is no dummy. He’ll use anything he can as leverage against a team to get the most possible money, even a stupid little quote from the GM on a local television broadcast.

“The idea of them having a No. 1 pitcher certainly would add protection to where their current pitchers are, to take innings off them, give them a little bit an umbrella, somebody to be the No. 1,” said Boras at the Winter Meetings last week. “I can’t predict what the Yankees are going to do, but a guy like Max fits in with their starting rotation to develop a World Series-caliber set, similar to what they’ve had in the past.”

Boras is right. Scherzer would be a tremendous addition to the rotation. There’s zero doubt about that. But, as I said this morning, the team needs more than one starter and they have almost no money coming off the books next winter, so spending huge bucks on Scherzer would essentially take them out of the running for any of next year’s top free agents without a huge increase in payroll. I prefer signing two or three pitchers — inferior pitchers to Scherzer, to be sure — to smaller deals than handing out the one huge contract.

It’s hard to see a non-Yankees team that could be in the mix for Scherzer at this point, but it’s only a matter of time until Boras finds a desperate owner and gets a near record contract for the righty. The Tigers, Nationals, Dodgers, Rangers, Red Sox, and Scherzer’s hometown Cardinals could all be in the mix. The Yankees say they’re out on Scherzer, but I won’t believe it until he signs with another team.