Phillies have interest in Austin Romine, though Yankees unlikely to get much in return

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to George King, the Phillies are among the teams with interest in catcher Austin Romine. Romine is out of minor league options and can’t be sent to Triple-A without first passing through waivers — chances are he would be claimed, catchers are hard to find — making a trade likely if he doesn’t manage to beat out John Ryan Murphy for the backup catcher’s job.

The Phillies have a clear cut starter in veteran backstop Carlos Ruiz. The backup situation is much more wide open, with 40-man roster players Cameron Rupp and Tommy Joseph competing against non-roster invitees John Hester, Koyie Hill, and Rene Garcia this spring. A trade won’t happen anytime soon — the Yankees will keep Romine until the very end of camp in case Murphy or Brian McCann gets hurt — but I’m sure the feeling out process has begun.

Romine, 26, reported to camp in great shape and said he intended to make the backup catcher decision difficult for the Yankees even though Murphy is considered the favorite. Romine is off to a 1-for-8 (.125) start to Grapefruit League play, and while that’s a really small sample, he needs to hit this spring to win the job. Hitting .275 in March won’t force the issue. Romine needs to mash if he wants a spot on the Opening Day roster.

Trades involving out of options players on the margins of the roster are not at all glamorous. The return is usually very small, something along the lines of a player to be named later or cash. The Yankees sent George Kontos, an up-and-down reliever, to the Giants for Chris Stewart when he was out of options at the end of Spring Training 2012. Jose Lobaton netted the Rays the interesting Nate Karns last winter, but Lobaton was coming off a 103 wRC+ in 2013. He had way more trade value that Romine does right now.

An out of options player for an out of options player trade is always possible but those are rare. It’s not often the needs and excess players of two teams match up that well. The Phillies have six out of options players in camp according to Todd Zolecki:

In Phillies camp there are six players without options: right-handers Jerome Williams, Justin De Fratus and Phillippe Aumont; left-hander Andy Oliver; and infielders Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez.

De Fratus is actually good (2.39 ERA and 3.11 FIP in 52.2 innings in 2014) so he’s not available. Galvis is penciled in as Philadelphia’s starting shortstop in the wake of the Jimmy Rollins trade and Williams signed a $2.5M deal this winter to bolster the pitching staff. Those two aren’t available either. Hernandez and Oliver don’t really move the needle for the Yankees given their internal options. That leaves Aumont.

Aumont, 26, was part of the Cliff Lee trade way back when, and he’s struggled in multiple cups of coffee the last three years (6.13 ERA and 4.44 FIP in 39.2 relief innings). His Triple-A numbers the last three years — 4.07 ERA (3.99 FIP) with way too many walks (17.9%) in 135 relief innings — aren’t all that good either. Aumont hits the trifecta for the Yankees though, and that’s important:

  1. Miss bats? Yes. Aumont has a 11.07 K/9 (26.7 K%) in Triple-A the last three years and 8.85 K/9 (20.0 K%) in his MLB time.
  2. Throw Hard? Yes. Aumont has averaged 95 mph with his fastball and topped out at nearly 99 mph at the MLB level according to PitchFX.
  3. Physically Huge? Also yes. Aumont is listed at 6-foot-7 and 240 lbs. The Yankees love big pitchers.

The last bullpen spot is currently up for grabs — it’s still way too early in camp to say if someone has taken over as the front-runner — and it could be two spots if Adam Warren or Esmil Rogers replaces the injured Chris Capuano in the rotation. The Yankees have no shortage of candidates for the bullpen job(s), but, if they’re going to lose Romine anyway, flipping him for Aumont and trying him for a few weeks might make more sense than accepting cash or some Grade-C prospect in Single-A.

Now, would the Phillies trade Aumont for Romine? Who knows. Aumont is in the running for a bullpen spot with Philadelphia, which means he would have to pitch pretty poorly in camp to not make the roster. And if he pitches poorly in camp, why would the Yankees want him? Then again, if Romine plays poorly in camp and doesn’t make the Yankees, why would the Phillies want him? The out of options player market is a weird one.

Sifting through depth charts, the Diamondbacks and Padres stand out as clubs that could use catching help along with the Phillies, meaning they’re potential trade candidates for Romine. There’s still three and a half weeks of Spring Training left, which means there’s three and a half weeks left for catchers to get hurt. (San Diego just lost backup catcher Tim Federowicz to a torn MCL.) Lots of time for the market to change.

Maybe things will break right for the Yankees and Romine will clear waivers and go to Triple-A before Opening Day. That would be pretty great, but the Yankees can’t count on it. History suggests trading Romine away rather than rolling the dice on waivers won’t bring much of a return, and, frankly, considering how the last few years have gone for him, there’s no reason to think he has much trade value anyway. Phillies or otherwise, Romine’s stint in the organization will likely come to an end in about three weeks, and the Yankees don’t figure to be left with much to show for it.

Jason Heyward, Andrelton Simmons, and an alternate offseason universe

(Presswire)
Heyward and Simmons in pinstripes? The Yankees tried. (Presswire)

We get a fair amount of tips here at RAB. Well, we get a lot of emails that claim to be tips. Let’s put it that way. The vast majority of them turn out to be false — which is why we never post them, even the totally believable ones — but every so often one of ’em is true. When that happens my feeling is more “hey, neat” than “damn we should have posted that!”

A few weeks back we were tipped off that the Yankees had been discussing a massive trade with the Braves that would have brought Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons to New York. (I’m pretty sure we got the tip after Heyward was traded to the Cardinals.) Apparently this was one of those rare true tips. Andy Martino reported on the trade talks earlier this week:

According to two major league sources, the Yankees and Atlanta Braves were talking more than we knew over the winter, in addition to swapping Manny Banuelos and David Carpenter. The Yanks were interested in what would have been a blockbuster acquisition of outfielder Jason Heyward and shortstop Andrelton Simmons.

On Monday, Cashman would not confirm his offseason interest — it is rare for a GM to publicly discuss players belonging to other teams — but here is what we were able to gather elsewhere: Before the Yanks acquired shortstop Didi Gregorius, they asked Atlanta about Heyward and Simmons. It is not clear what the Braves would have wanted in return, and it is possible that talks never progressed to the concrete offer phase.

Heyward was traded to St. Louis on November 17th, so it was very early in the offseason. It was basically the first huge move of the winter. The Yankees were talking to the Braves about the potential Heyward/Simmons deal very early in the offseason, long before they traded for Gregorius and Nathan Eovaldi, signed Andrew Miller, re-signed Chase Headley, the whole nine.

On the surface this rumor makes total sense. The Yankees prioritized defense this winter and Heyward and Simmons are the best defensive right fielder and best defensive shortstop in baseball, respectively. They also focused on getting younger, and both Heyward and Simmons are only 25. Heyward also fits their model offensive profile — left-handed and patient will pull power. Simmons isn’t much of a hitter but they wanted his glove.

The Braves made it very clear they were seeking young high-end pitching early this offseason — Heyward (and Jordan Walden) was traded for Shelby Miller and a pitching prospect — and I’m guessing that’s where things fell apart. The Yankees don’t have enough young pitching to trade unless they were willing to part with Michael Pineda, and even his trade value is hurt by his injury problems. Shane Greene? Luis Severino? Bryan Mitchell? Manny Banuelos (who was traded to the Braves in January)? None of those guys have Shelby’s pedigree.

Anyway, as fun as this potential blockbuster is, I don’t want to focus too much on the rumor itself. Instead I want to discuss how the offseason would have changed had the Yankees managed to swing a deal for Heyward and Simmons. It’s hard to do that without knowing who would have gone to the Braves in the trade, so we’re going to have to make assumptions. Our tipster said the deal was built around prospects, so I’m going to say the package included:

  • Greene: Atlanta wanted MLB ready pitching based on the Miller (and later Mike Foltynewicz) pickup and the Yankees traded Greene for Gregorius, so I assume they were willing to trade him for Simmons too.
  • Severino: Again, the Braves wanted young high-end pitching, and Severino is not only New York’s top pitching prospect, he’s one of the best in the game. You don’t get Heyward and Simmons without trading someone like this.
  • Banuelos: He was eventually traded to the Braves, so clearly they had interest and clearly the Yankees were open to moving him. And, again, Atlanta wanted pitching.
  • Multiple Prospects: I’m going to say the rest of the trade package was filled out by prospects who aren’t expected to help the Yankees at the MLB level this year. Guys like Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Eric Jagielo, Luis Torrens, so on. I’m not saying all those guys would go in the deal. I’m just assuming the rest of the package included prospects like them who wouldn’t change the 2015 roster outlook.

That sound good? If it doesn’t, too bad. It’s my blog and we’re going to roll with this. Had the trade gone down as presented above, the Yankees would have been sitting on this projected 25-man roster in early-November:

Catcher Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
Brian McCann 1B Mark Teixeira LF Brett Gardner Masahiro Tanaka Dellin Betances
2B ? CF Jacoby Ellsbury Michael Pineda Adam Warren
DH SS Simmons RF Heyward CC Sabathia Shawn Kelley
Carlos Beltran 3B Martin Prado David Phelps Justin Wilson
? Esmil Rogers
BENCH DISABLED LIST David Huff
C John Ryan Murphy OF Chris Young Ivan Nova Preston Claiborne
IF Brendan Ryan DH A-Rod

The Yankees made a couple moves this winter that I think they would have made even with the Heyward/Simmons blockbuster. Re-signing Young, for example. He re-signed two weeks before Heyward was traded to the Cardinals and I think the Yankees would have done that anyway, especially since they would have had an all-left-handed hitting outfield with Heyward. Francisco Cervelli was traded for Wilson five days before the Heyward trade, and again, I think that’s a deal that happens anyway. That move was about bolstering the bullpen and clearing a spot for Murphy more than anything.

Heyward and Simmons are relatively cheap but they do cost real money — Heyward will earn $7.8M in 2015 and Simmons will earn $3M as part of the extension that will pay him $56M through 2020. That’s $10.8M between the two of them and that’s not nothing. That’s more than the Yankees will pay Andrew Miller ($9M) and a little less than they’ll pay Headley ($13M) in 2015. Perhaps Hal Steinbrenner would okay an increased payroll because Heyward and Simmons are so young, but I have no reason to assume that. The money has to be balanced out somewhere.

Since the bullpen was such a focal point, my hunch is the Heyward/Simmons money means no Headley, not no Miller. No Headley means Prado plays third base — Alex Rodriguez playing third ain’t happening — and Prado playing third base means no Eovaldi for the rotation and no Domingo German to replenish the minor league prospect pipeline. Prado was traded to the Marlins but the Yankees didn’t dump his $11M salary — the money in the trade was structured so that it was a wash. That’s why the Yankees are sending Miami $3M this year and $3M next. It’s not like trading Prado clears money for Headley and boom, they still have Headley and Eovaldi. Had the Yankees swung the Prado trade even after Heyward/Simmons, they’d have Eovaldi, no third baseman, and basically the same payroll situation.

Without the Prado/Eovaldi trade, the Yankees would still have Phelps, who essentially takes Eovaldi’s rotation spot. The club would still need a fifth starter and re-signing Chris Capuano strikes me as a move the Yankees would still make even after the Heyward/Simmons deal. Maybe it’s not Capuano himself, but someone like him on a one-year, $5M-ish contract. Aaron Harang or Kyle Kendrick. Whoever. A veteran fifth starter type on a one-year contract to fill out the rotation. Perhaps they would have made a more aggressive play for Brett Anderson — or Justin Masterson, though he has Red Sox roots — but topping the $10M he got from the Dodgers seems really unlikely. I’m not sure any other team would have offered him that. The Yankees still would have needed a veteran back-end guy like Capuano.

The second base situation is somewhat interesting because the Yankees would be in the same spot as they were in real life after Prado was traded for Eovaldi, meaning they wouldn’t have had a true big league second baseman, just some prospects in Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela. (Assuming they weren’t traded for Heyward/Simmons!) Because the Yankees went out and re-signed Stephen Drew on the cheap even with Refsnyder and Pirela around, I think they would have done it again with Heyward/Simmons. It’s a boring answer but I honestly think that’s what happens. They’ve been after Drew for a few years now.

Huff was non-tendered and Claiborne was lost on waivers, but those are minor moves. (Remember, Claiborne was cut to make room for Gonzalez Germen, who was then cut for Chris Martin.) The Yankees were looking to upgrade those spots anyway, and ultimately they did with David Carpenter and Chasen Shreve. And that’s where it gets complicated, because those two came over from the Braves for Banuelos in January. Would they have been part of the Heyward/Simmons blockbuster? Maybe! I don’t think we can assume that though. The hypothetical Heyward/Simmons trade happened in early-November and the actual Banuelos trade happened in early-January. Lots can change in two months.

Instead, I think the Yankees would have looked to bolster their bullpen with smaller moves. Waivers claims and the like. Maybe they would have found a way to keep Claiborne and Germen and Martin, for example. (Who knows what the 40-man roster would have looked like after Heyward/Simmons.) And, also, no Carpenter likely means either Kelley isn’t traded or the Yankees find a similarly priced pitcher in free agency, say John Axford or Burke Badenhop or (gasp!) Joba Chamberlain. Miller and Wilson were the big reliever moves this winter. I think no Carpenter/Shreve means more scrap-heaping, not another trade for bonafide big leaguers.

The bench is pretty straight forward thanks to Young, Murphy, and Ryan. The A-Rod/Beltran dynamic at DH looks problematic but would probably take care of itself via injury — neither Beltran nor A-Rod is especially durable at this point of their careers — before long. Until then, there would probably be a DH rotation, a rotation that includes guys like McCann, Teixeira, and Prado too. The Yankees and Joe Girardi have made it clear they prefer a DH rotation to have one set DH. Basically all non-Red Sox AL teams are like they now.

Alright, so after all those hypothetical moves, the 25-man roster coming into Spring Training would look something like this in the wake of the Heyward/Simmons blockbuster:

Catcher Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
McCann 1B Teixeira LF Gardner Tanaka Betances
2B Drew CF Ellsbury Pineda Miller
DH SS Simmons RF Heyward Sabathia Warren
A-Rod/Beltran 3B Prado Phelps Kelley
Capuano Wilson
BENCH DISABLED LIST Rogers
C Murphy OF Young Nova Claiborne, Etc.
IF Ryan A-Rod/Beltran

Now for the twist ending: I’d rather have the current Yankees than the Heyward/Simmons Yankees, especially since the Heyward/Simmons Yankees would have a gutted farm system. Heyward is a terrific player, but he’s going to be a free agent after the season. The Yankees would only be acquiring one year of him. Any extension will cost free agent dollars too, otherwise there’s no reason for him to sign it. Simmons is better than Gregorius, but yeah, give me Headley and Eovaldi over Prado and Phelps all day, every day.

The farm system angle is very important. The Yankees wouldn’t just be trading Severino, they’d be trading several other prospects as well. Good ones too. Maybe Judge, maybe Bird, maybe Jacob Lindgren. Maybe all three. Guys like Heyward and Simmons don’t come cheap. The Yankees would be better in right field (for a year) and better at shortstop with potentially weaker options at third base (Headley vs. Prado), in the rotation (Eovaldi vs. Phelps), in the bullpen (Carpenter/Shreve vs. Claiborne, etc.), and have fewer top prospects to trade to fill other needs.

I assume that because the Yankees were looking to trade for Heyward, they were also willing to extend him at a handsome price. They could still have him at that handsome price after the season in real life though. That’s the thing. Again, he fits what they look for these days — young, great defense, lefty power and patience — and he’ll be a free agent in a few months. Maybe the Cardinals extend him first. That’s possible. More possible than Heyward saying “I’m so damn close to free agency, I owe it to myself to wait until after the season to see what the market has to offer me at age 26?” Nah.

The Heyward/Simmons trade sure would have qualified as a blockbuster — it would have been the biggest Yankees trade since what, A-Rod? — and man it would have been fun to analyze and dissect from every angle. I’m just not convinced the trade and a potential chain of events afterward would have automatically resulted in a better Yankees team going forward.

Yankees have “come the closest” to landing Cole Hamels according to obvious Phillies’ smokescreen

Hole Camels. (Presswire)
Hole Camels. (Presswire)

The regular season begins four weeks from today, which means we have potentially four more weeks of Cole Hamels trade rumors until he gets the ball for the Phillies on Opening Day. Back in January we heard the Yankees had inquired but were not seriously pursuing Philadelphia’s lefty ace, who does not have New York on his 21-team no-trade list.

Over the weekend, Nick Cafardo reported the Yankees have “come the closest” to landing Hamels among all of the clubs trying to get him. Here’s the full blurb from Cafardo just so there’s nothing lost in translation:

According to one Phillies source, the Yankees have come the closest to landing Hamels, offering a package of prospects that at least has given the Phillies a baseline for future talks.

Yesterday afternoon, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. followed Cafardo’s report by telling Jake Kaplan one team has “stepped up and has shown more particular interest” in Hamels in recent days. Cafardo says his info came from the Phillies and Kaplan spoke to Amaro directly, so there’s no confusion here. This is all coming from the Phillies.

It’s pretty obvious Philadelphia is negotiating through the media now and are trying to put the pressure on … someone. The Red Sox have been linked to Hamels the most in recent weeks and months, reportedly balking at an asking price that includes catcher prospect Blake Swihart, so hey, pulling Boston’s archrival into the mix is a smart move by the Phillies. This is an obvious smokescreen.

I think the Phillies are trying to drive up the price in general, not specifically for the Red Sox. They don’t really care where they trade Hamels — they shouldn’t anyway, the trade is too important to the future of the franchise to handicap things by refusing to trade with certain teams — they want the best possible return. If that’s from the Red Sox, great. If it’s from the Yankees or Rangers or Padres, fine. Whatever. The Phillies simply want the best package of players.

For what it’s worth, Jon Heyman reported yesterday the Yankees have never been particularly close to acquiring Hamels, though he did add some names to the trade rumor mix. From Heyman:

While Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that they’ve never received a “definite request,” and another person familiar with the talks suggested “it was a feel out … nothing solid,” it is known the Phillies like Yankees righthanded pitching prospect Luis Severino and power prospect Aaron Judge … It is believed the Phillies might be interested in a package along the lines of Severino, Judge and perhaps infielder Rob Refsnyder for Hamels.

The Yankees could use a pitcher like Hamels because every team could use a pitcher like Hamels. He’s excellent. Legitimately a top ten pitcher in baseball. Plus he’s signed to a favorable contract — Hamels is owed $94M through 2018 with a vesting option for 2019, which is about two-thirds of what he would get as a free agent. Now that Cliff Lee’s elbow is acting up again, there’s no realistically available alternative to Hamels if you want a top starter.

The injury concerns in New York’s rotation mean they would benefit more from acquiring Hamels than some other teams. They shied away from spending this winter in years more than dollars — they didn’t want to hand out any massive six or seven-year contracts. I think they would be willing to pay the right player $20M+ annually for the right number of years, which may or may not mean Hamels. But would they take on the money and trade top prospects too? They Yankees have been hesitant to do that in the recent past.

My opinion: If the Yankees can get Hamels without giving up Judge, they should jump all over it. That isn’t to say Judge should be untouchable, just that I’m hugging him the most out of the club’s prospects. Ideally, on an ideal situation, something like Severino, Refsnyder, and Gary Sanchez would get it done, but I doubt that happens. Hamels is elite and you’re not going to find any other pitchers of this caliber with that favorable a contract. He helps the Yankees not only in 2015, but 2016-18 as well.

Jimmy Rollins contradicts himself about willingness to join Yankees

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Heading into the offseason, the Yankees had the daunting task of finding a new starting shortstop, something they hadn’t had to do in two decades. The free agent market had some possible solutions — none of them great — and the same was true of the trade market. Eventually Brian Cashman parted with Shane Greene to get Didi Gregorius.

But, weeks before the Gregorius trade, the Yankees placed a call into the rebuilding Phillies about veteran shortstop Jimmy Rollins. That made sense. Even at age 36, Rollins had a good year in 2013, hitting .243/.323/.394 (102 wRC+) with 17 homers, 28 steals, and his typically solid defense. Plus he only has one year and $11M left on his contract, so Rollins was a perfect one-year stopgap candidate in my opinion.

The Yankees reportedly moved on from Rollins because the asking price was simply too high, which isn’t surprising giving GM Ruben Amaro Jr.’s track record. He always seems to ask for the moon and other clubs have complained about his negotiating style. That pushed New York towards Gregorius. Who knows who else they tried to acquire between Rollins and Didi.

Rollins was eventually traded to the Dodgers for two good but not great pitching prospects (righty Zach Eflin and lefty Tom Windle), and during his first conference call with reporters after the trade, he told Mark Saxon he would have only waived his ten-and-five no-trade protection to go to the Dodgers, Yankees, and Mets. But, earlier this week, Rollins told Jon Heyman was not willing to come to the Bronx. From Heyman:

As for the Yankees, the timing wasn’t right as far as Rollins was concerned.

“I wasn’t going to go after (Derek) Jeter,” Rollins, who made his debut in a Dodgers uniform Wednesday here against the White Sox, said. “If I was 26, Ok. But I’m 36. There was not enough time.”

People are allowed to change their mind. Rollins could have been open to coming to the Yankees at the outset of the offseason before deciding against it when he had more time to think things out. But then again, he made both comments after everything played out and he was traded to the Dodgers. Something doesn’t add up!

Anyway, none of this really matters because the Yankees got their shortstop in Gregorius and I greatly prefer trading for the younger, potential long-term shortstop than plugging the hole for a year with Rollins. If the Yankees couldn’t come up with a young shortstop though, Rollins was at the very top of my stopgap list. I’d have taken him over Stephen Drew, Asdrubal Cabrera, whoever. Too bad he didn’t want to come to the Yankees. Or maybe he did. Who knows?

Out of options market could provide Yankees with some temporary rotation depth

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

In about a month, teams will scramble to finalize their Opening Day rosters and decide their final roster spots. Many players who just miss the cut will to go Triple-A and wait for a call-up. Sometimes the team doesn’t have that luxury though because the player is out of minor league options, meaning he can’t go to Triple-A without passing through waivers.

The Yankees have two out of options players in camp this spring: righty Esmil Rogers and catcher Austin Romine. Rogers seems like a lock for the Opening Day roster even if he’s nothing more than a long man, but Romine’s spot is much more uncertain. All signs point to John Ryan Murphy being Brian McCann‘s backup right now. If Romine doesn’t make the team, he’ll either go on waivers or be traded in a minor deal. That’s usually what happens with out of options players who don’t make the team.

On the other side of the coin, there are out of options players around the league who could interest the Yankees, especially given the injury concerns in their rotation. Any pickups don’t need to be long-term solutions, just temporary stopgaps until Ivan Nova gets healthy or a better option comes along. Earlier this week Joel Sherman ran down some of the potentially available out of options pitchers:

Others to keep an eye on are the Cubs’ Felix Doubront and Jacob Turner, Arizona’s Randall Delgado, Pittsburgh’s Stolmy Pimentel, Oakland’s Jesse Chavez, Miami’s Brad Hand and Toronto’s Kyle Drabek.

Pimentel and Chavez are both considered very likely to crack their respective team’s Opening Day roster, so it would be a surprise if either becomes available. Hand is less certain to make the Marlins but should be able to make the team as a long reliever. Drabek has lost all his prospect luster and hasn’t been the same since undergoing his second Tommy John surgery two years ago. Besides, the Blue Jays sure as hell aren’t making a trade with the Yankees. That leaves three others, so let’s quickly break them down.

RHP Randall Delgado

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB%
2014 77.2 4.87 3.39 25.4% 10.3% 35.2% 6.5%
Career as SP 257.1 4.23 4.65 16.1% 7.9% 44.0% 13.0%
Career as RP 64.1 4.48 3.18 30.7% 10.2% 34.4% 8.7%

Delgado, who just turned 25 last month, went to Arizona in the Justin Upton trade and has flashed some skills, but he’s mostly teetered on replacement level-dom since. He made only four starts last season — 61.1 of those 64.1 career relief innings came in 2014 — and clearly has had more success in the bullpen (despite the ERA). His strikeout rate nearly doubled out of the bullpen, more than compensating for the uptick in walk rate and step down in ground ball rate.

PitchFX says Delgado has been a four-pitch pitcher most of his career, sitting in the 93-94 mph range with his four-seamer (even as a starter), a tick below that with his sinker, and also mixing in changeups and curveballs. He is a former top prospect — Baseball America (subs. req’d) called him an “eventual No. 3 starter with a ceiling of a No. 2″ prior to 2012, the last time he was prospect-eligible — and he’s still young, though he hasn’t given anyone a reason to think he can succeed as a big league starter these last two years.

The Diamondbacks have just an awful catching situation — the only catchers on their 40-man roster are minor league journeyman Tuffy Gosewich and Rule 5 Draft pick Oscar Hernandez — so maybe there’s a Romine-for-Delgado trade to be made at the end of camp. I’m just not sure that would help the rotation situation if someone does get hurt. Delgado could be interesting as a reliever though.

Doubront. (Presswire)
Doubront. (Presswire)

LHP Felix Doubront

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB%
2014 79.2 5.54 5.13 14.0% 9.1% 38.0% 11.2%
Career as SP 402.2 4.45 4.24 20.0% 9.9% 43.5% 11.1%
Career as RP 35.5 8.58 5.01 19.1% 10.4% 42.9% 14.0%

The Cubs have a strong rotation front three in Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and Jason Hammel. Then they have a small army of pitchers for the fourth and fifth spots, including Doubront, Turner, Kyle Hendricks, Tsuyoshi Wada, Edwin Jackson, and Travis Wood. Hendricks and Wada were pretty good last year, Wood the year before that, and Jackson is owed a ton of money. There’s reasons to keep them around.

We’re all familiar with Doubront from his time with the Red Sox. He was actually pretty good in 2013, posting a 4.32 ERA (3.78 FIP) in 162.1 innings, but he stunk last year and was shipped to the Cubbies for a light hitting Single-A infield prospect. Doubront did miss time with shoulder problems last year — three weeks with inflammation in Spring Training and a month with a strain in late-May — and that’s notable because look at his velocity since becoming a full-time big leaguer in 2012 (via Brooks Baseball):

Brooksbaseball-Chart

Doubront’s velocity is disappearing and that’s not good. His four-seamer — he uses it more than 40% of the time and his sinker roughly 15% of the time — averaged 93.6 mph in 2012, 91.4 mph in 2013, and 90.7 mph in 2014. He’s a young guy (turned 27 in October) who’s had some shoulder problems and has lost three full miles an hour off his fastball in two years. That, ladies and gents, is a red flag.

I’m guessing at least some of you are saying to yourselves “but he could be healthy this spring and get some of that velocity back.” It’s okay, I did that too. And I think the only reason that crossed our minds is because Doubront was once a Red Sox. If he had been with, say, the Mariners or Twins the last few years, we’d probably be moving on already. Doubront was okay in his two healthy years from 2012-13 and the Yankees might have some use for an okay pitcher. But right now we don’t have much evidence this version of Doubront can even be okay.

RHP Jacob Turner

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB%
2014 113.0 6.13 4.16 14.2% 6.6% 49.1% 10.3%
Career as SP 278.2 4.97 4.63 14.5% 8.5% 46.1% 11.4%
Career as RP 20.0 4.95 2.08 17.4% 3.5% 55.2% 0.0%

Like Doubront, Turner is in that group of pitchers competing for one of Chicago’s final two rotation spots. He’s a former top prospect — Baseball America ranked him one of the 26 best prospects in the game each year from 2010-12 — who never had gaudy minor league stats. His 3.12 ERA (3.62 FIP) in the minors from 2010-12 came with only 285 strikeouts in 361 innings (7.11 K/9 and 19.1 K%).

Turner. (Presswire)
Turner. (Presswire)

At his prospect peak, Turner was all potential thanks to a big fastball and hammer breaking ball, but it hasn’t translated like everyone hoped. Turner hasn’t missed bats in the big leagues — even his shiny 3.74 ERA in 118 innings in 2013 came with a 4.43 FIP and a 1.43 K/BB ratio — but his stuff has held firm. He still sits in the mid-90s and uses his slider, curveball, and changeup regularly. That just hasn’t produced results.

Turner doesn’t turn 24 until late-May and he’s listed at 6-foot-5 and 215 lbs., so he’s both very young and huge, which the Yankees like. He’s also healthy, unlike Doubront. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has a history of helping pitchers improve strikeout rates, so maybe he could help Turner. Then again, the Marlins are really good at developing young players, and they couldn’t get Turner figured out before dumping him last summer.

* * *

Despite his wholly underwhelming big league career to date, I think I like Turner the most between him, Doubront, and Delgado because he’s the youngest, the healthiest, and has the best natural tools. I also wouldn’t give up much of anything to get him in a trade. If the Yankees can get him off waivers, great. But that’s about it.

As usual, it doesn’t appear the out of options market has much help to offer. There’s a reason these guys are freely available each year at the end of camp. If all hell breaks loose and the Yankees become desperate for rotation help later this month, they won’t have many avenues to add players. These three are the best of the out of options market.

Yankees may have missed an opportunity to bring back Brandon McCarthy

McCarthy in his new digs. (Jon SooHoo)
McCarthy in his new digs. (Jon SooHoo)

At the start of the offseason, it seemed like the most sensible moves for the Yankees were to bring back the guys they acquired at the trade deadline last year, specifically Chase Headley and Brandon McCarthy. Stephen Drew on a cheap one-year deal is fine but those other two made the most sense. They filled pressing needs and weren’t going to require a massive long-term deal.

The Yankees eventually did re-sign Headley, and while they expressed interest in re-signing McCarthy, it didn’t happen and he signed with the Dodgers. Brian Cashman confirmed the team never made him an offer back in December, saying he “figured the market would take him at a level that we couldn’t play on.” That’s sort of a silly thing for a Yankees executive to say but whatever.

McCarthy made it no secret he enjoyed playing in New York at the end of last season, enough that returning to the Yankees was his top priority going into the winter. Here’s what McCarthy told Andy Martino a few days ago:

“In my mind, I thought (re-signing with the Yankees) definitely was going to be the case,” he says, sitting at his locker at the Dodgers’ complex. “At least that’s where I was saying I wanted to go. At that point, I wasn’t considering anywhere else. It was perfect. It’s the Yankees. You don’t think money is going to be an issue. This is just going to be, ‘we’ll just find a way to make this fit.’”

“That was my hope, in that five-day window after the postseason before everybody becomes free — I was really hoping, this is where something gets done.”

Not only did McCarthy want to return to New York, he was willing to re-sign during the five-day exclusive negotiating period before free agency to make it happen. That no doubt made his agent cringe. McCarthy had just completed his first 200-inning season and finished strong in pinstripes. His agent surely wanted to get him out onto the open market to create a bidding war. Ultimately, that’s what happened.

Going into the offseason, I thought a three-year contract would get it done with McCarthy — regardless of whether he re-signed with the Yankees or not — but he ended up with a four-year deal from the Dodgers. McCarthy did tell Martino he would have at least considered a three-year contract with the Yankees.

“That’s a good question (whether he would have taken a three-year deal),” he says. “At that point, probably … (My agent) knew full well going in that ‘I want to go to the Yankees, and we need to make it work.’ And I think that five-day window just passed, and it became — It wasn’t like ‘you’re priority one, let’s do this.’ That’s where we started to open up and say, ‘Ok, what are plans B and C?’”

“It’s hard to say (if I would have taken it) for sure, but I certainly would have had a long discussion about it,” he said.

It’s unclear whether the Yankees engaged McCarthy in any serious contract talks during the exclusive negotiating period — his comments make it sound like they didn’t — but obviously he was open to doing so, and this may have been a missed opportunity for New York. Potentially keeping him off the open market and away from a bidding war is a pretty significant piece of news. He would have had less leverage and the Yankees might have been able to strike a favorable deal to shore up the rotation.

McCarthy ended up with four years and $48M. Let’s say the Yankees would have been able to retain him with a strong three-year offer, say three years and $39M. With both Headley and Andrew Miller, the Yankees ultimately caved and added the fourth year in exchange for a lower average annual value, suggesting they would have been open to paying more per year if the deal was shorter. Three years and $39M seems realistic to me give McCarthy’s desire to return to New York.

How would re-signing McCarthy have affected the rest of the offseason? That’s a complicated question we can’t really answer. Re-signing McCarthy could have meant no Headley since the money had been spent. (I think the Yankees would have signed Miller anyway, it seems like a high-end reliever was a priority.) No Headley means Martin Prado is probably the third baseman, and that means no Nathan Eovaldi. Or maybe it makes no difference whatsoever and the Yankees re-sign Headley anyway and still trade Prado. Re-signing McCarthy during the exclusive negotiating period changes the entire offseason dynamic.

With the obvious caveat that we don’t know how the rest of the offseason would have shaken out, the Yankees’ rotation would look much sturdier with McCarthy than it does without it. I mean, duh. A four-year deal for someone with his injury history is bonkers in my opinion — McCarthy did change his offseason workout routine last winter and believes it led to staying healthy for a full season the first time in his career, for what it’s worth — but three years would have been much easier to swallow. That’s the market these days.

If nothing else, I think the Yankees should have been a little more aggressive during the exclusive negotiating period. The injury concerns in the rotation were no secret, we all knew about Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow and CC Sabathia‘s knee in October, so trying to get out in front of the market and seeing if McCarthy would return on favorable terms would have been a smart move. I also don’t think letting him go was a catastrophic decision either. At the end of the day, he would have another injury concern in a rotation full of ’em, albeit a very talented one.

Baseball’s newest trend could benefit Yankees after last summer’s international spending spree

Dermis Garcia, one of the Yankees' top international signings last year. (MLB.com)
Dermis Garcia, one of the Yankees’ top international signings last year. (MLB.com)

Last summer the Yankees sent shockwaves through the industry with their massive international spending spree, which netting the team most of the top amateur talent available in Latin America. New York signed the No. 1, 2, 5, 7, and 9 prospects on the market according to MLB.com, plus several others. All told, the team spent upwards of $30M on international amateurs between bonuses and penalty taxes.

Obviously the Yankees are hoping this influx of high-end talent will result in the core of the next great Yankees dynasty, either by developing into big league players they can stick on the roster or promising prospects they can use in trades. That’s what prospects are for, after all. But, because we’re talking about 16-year-old kids, the Yankees will have to wait several years for these prospects to develop into usable pieces. International free agency is not a place for instant gratification.

MLB-ready and close to MLB-ready prospects have more trade value than a bunch low level minor leaguers for obvious reasons, but over the last year or so we’ve seen more low level prospects included in trades for real live big leaguers. I’m talking about guys down in rookie ball, not even if a full season league yet. Here’s the list of very low level minor leaguers traded for actual MLB players within the last year:

  • RHP Marcos Diplan: 64 career innings, all in the Dominican Summer League. Traded from Rangers to Brewers as part of the Yovani Gallardo deal. Diplan hasn’t even pitched in the U.S. yet!
  • IF Domingo Leyba: 124 career games, including 30 at Low Class-A and the rest in rookie ball. Leyba went from the Tigers to the D’Backs in the Shane Greene/Didi Gregorius three-team trade.
  • RHP Jeferson Mejia: 49 career innings, all in rookie ball. One of two players traded from the Cubs to the Diamondbacks for Miguel Montero.
  • LHP Gabe Speier: 33 career innings, all in rookie ball. Traded from the Red Sox to the Tigers as part of the Yoenis Cespedes/Rick Porcello trade.
  • RHP Stephen Tarpley: 87 career innings, all in rookie ball and the short season NY-Penn League. Traded from the Orioles to the Pirates for Travis Snider.

That list doesn’t include LHP Ricardo Sanchez, who was traded from the Angels to the Braves for Double-A third base prospect Kyle Kubitza despite having 38.2 pro innings under his belt, all in rookie ball. That was a rare prospect for prospect trade, and the principle piece going from Anaheim to Atlanta was a rookie ball pitcher. It’s also worth noting IF Willy Adames had 158 career games (60 in rookie ball, 98 in Low Class-A) when he was dealt from the Tigers to the Rays for David Price.

Not including Sanchez and Adames, that’s five trades within the last eight months in which one piece was a highly touted prospect in the lowest levels of the minors. In this age when young players are so highly valued, it appears clubs are looking to add talented low level prospects before they have a chance to blossom into top shelf guys. Instead of paying full price to get a top prospect, they’re getting them super young as the second or third piece in a trade and hoping they develop under their watch. It’s a smart move. Super risky because these guys are so far away from MLB and so much can still go wrong, but there’s some serious potential reward.

In his top ten Yankees prospects write-up, Keith Law noted shortstop prospect Jorge Mateo is “so well-regarded in the industry that other teams have already targeted him in trade talks.” Mateo is one of New York’s better prospects but he is still only a 19-year-old kid with 93 pro games under his belt, 15 in the rookie Gulf Coast League and the rest in the Dominican Summer League. He’s a good prospect now and teams are trying to get him before he turns into a great prospect, like the Brewers did with Diplan or the Pirates did with Tarpley.

Thanks to last summer’s spending spree, the Yankees have more of these high upside rookie ball prospects than any other team in baseball. If this recent trend of targeting low minors prospects in trades continues, they’ll have plenty of ammunition to make deals work. These low level prospects are not going to be headliners, but they can be — and have been based on recent transactions — second and third pieces in a trade. The Yankees wouldn’t necessarily have to wait to use some of their new prospects as trade bait. They might be able to get an MLB level return from them as soon as this year.