Scouting The Trade Market: Aaron Hill

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

Over the last few years the Yankees have made a habit of bringing in low cost, potentially washed up veterans late in the offseason to see if they can strike gold. Sometimes it works (Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez), sometimes it doesn’t (Vernon Wells). Such is life. With a one open bench spot — and a backup third baseman in theory only — the Yankees could make a similar move in the coming weeks.

One apparently washed up veteran who could be a fit for that open bench spot is Diamondbacks infielder Aaron Hill, who Jon Heyman says is on the trade block. Arizona wants to move him because they have a younger and better option in Brandon Drury. Hill hasn’t been good for two years now, but he could have something left to offer in a limited role as the 25th man on the roster. Should the Yankees be interested? Let’s see.

The Performance

Like I said, Hill has not been very good the last two seasons. He hit .244/.287/.367 (78 wRC+) with ten home runs in 541 plate appearances in 2014, then followed it up by hitting .230/.295/.345 (71 wRC+) with six home runs in 353 trips to the plate last season. Yikes. That’s a .238/.290/.359 (75 wRC+) batting line in his last 894 plate appearances.

The last time Hill was actually good was the 2013 season, when he hit .291/.356/.462 (124 wRC+) with 11 homers in 362 plate appearances. Interestingly, Hill pulled the ball much more often that season than he has the last two years. Check it out:

Aaron Hill batted balls

Hill’s soft and hard contact rates have held fairly steady the last four years and they’ve been better than average as well. (League averages are 18.6 Soft% and 28.6 Hard%.) The drop in pull rate is the biggest difference — Hill’s ground ball and fly ball rates have stayed in the same range the last few seasons — which could be an indication his bat is slowing. He might not be able to get around on the ball as quickly as he once did.

At the very least, you’d want someone in what would be Hill’s role to be able to hit pitchers of the opposite hand. He’s a right-handed batter, and, well, his numbers against lefties the last few seasons are not good at all.

Aaron Hill lefties

Hill actually hit righties (77 wRC+) better than lefties (58 wRC+) last season. And man, those walk and strikeout rates are bad news. They’re both going in the wrong direction.

It’s not even clear Hill is a potential platoon candidate at this point. Not great! Second basemen have been known to completely fall off a cliff in their early-30s, and it looks like that may have happened with Hill. Two years ago he was incredibly productive. The last two seasons have been a total disaster.

The Defense

Like most big league second baseman, Hill came up through the minors as a shortstop before shifting to the other side of the bag. He was a full-time second baseman from 2007-13 before the D-Backs stopped playing him everyday in the second half of 2014 because he stopped hitting. Hill has played a little over 1,350 innings at second base and roughly 350 innings at third base the last two years.

The defensive stats were always split on Hill at second base. UZR liked him there while DRS said he was below-average, for example. Based on the eye test, he seemed solid at second, not great but not a liability either. The stats are also split on his work at third base in that tiny sample. Point is, Hill is not some kind of standout gloveman like, say, Juan Uribe. He’s also not unplayable like Pedro Alvarez. You can run him out there at second and third bases on occasion and he won’t kill you.

Injury History

Hill doesn’t have any significant long-term injury concerns like, say, Alex Rodriguez‘s hips. He missed a few games last September with a hamstring pull and missed two months in 2013 when he took a pitch to the hand and broke a bone. Otherwise Hill has dealt with nothing more than random day-to-day stuff the last few seasons. A tight hammy, jammed fingers from sliding into a base, that sort of stuff.

Contract Status

The D’Backs gave Hill a three-year extension worth $35M back in February 2013 — he had one year left on his current deal at the time, so they tacked another three years on top of it — and so far that deal has been a disaster. It started in 2014. Woof. Hill is owed $12M next season, the final year on that contract. He’ll be a free agent next winter.

What Would It Take?

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

I don’t know what it would take, but I do know what it should take: almost nothing. An Aaron Hill trade should be similar to the Vernon Wells trade in that the acquiring team gives up nothing in particular and takes on a little bit of cash. The Yankees ate 25% of the money owed to Wells in that trade, and 25% of the money owed to Hill is $3M. Even that seems a little pricey. The D’Backs are in no position to demand something of value for Hill. They’re looking to shed as much of his contract as possible. That’s all.

Wrapping Up

There’s very little to like about Hill at this point of his career, right? He hasn’t hit in two years — not even lefties! — and while his defense is acceptable, it’s not enough to make up for the expected lack of offense. Plus he’s expensive. Hill would fill a need as a backup third baseman, but so what? He’s been so bad.

And yet, I can’t shake the feeling the Yankees might have some interest in Hill. They have a history of rolling the dice on veterans who looked to be done by sticking them in part-time roles, and Hill does fill a need and have a history of righty pop. And he’s familiar with the AL East from his days in Toronto. I feel like that can only help him.

In all likelihood, no, the Yankees will not pursue Hill, even though he figures to come so insanely cheap it would be close to a no risk move. If he stinks, cut him and move on. The D’Backs can’t expect actual prospects and/or significant salary relief in return. I don’t see much upside in Hill, even in a part-time role, but I’ve said that about several other veterans who have gone on to be productive in pinstripes.

Recent free agent signings clear up trade possibilities for Brett Gardner

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Over the last week, the two best unsigned free agent outfielders came off the board when Justin Upton signed with the Tigers and Yoenis Cespedes agreed to return to the Mets. Others like Alex Gordon and Denard Span signed a few weeks back, so, with Spring Training a little less than a month away, Dexter Fowler (tied to draft pick compensation) and Austin Jackson are the top available free agent outfielders.

The Upton and Cespedes signings took away two potential trade partners for Brett Gardner, though a trade with the Mets was never all that likely. I think Brian Cashman and Sandy Alderson would do a deal if they felt it improved their teams, but a crosstown trade might make the ownership groups a little queasy. No one wants to lose a trade to their geographic rival.

Anyway, with Upton and Cespedes (and Gordon and Span) off the board, the trade market for Gardner has become a little more clear. Gardner has been on the market all winter as the Yankees look for ways to land a young pitcher, though the crowded free agent outfield class complicated things. Now the free agent market isn’t so crowded. Here are the teams that could be in play for Gardner.

Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles did bring back Chris Davis recently, yet their outfield situation remains Adam Jones and some combination of Hyun-Soo Kim, Nolan Reimold, L.J. Hoes, and Rule 5 Draft pick Joey Rickard. And I guess Mark Trumbo too. There’s a clear fit for Gardner in Baltimore — the O’s could bat him leadoff and drop Manny Machado into a run-producing lineup spot — but the chances of a major Yankees-Orioles trade are tiny.

Chicago Cubs
The Cubbies have been after Gardner for a while — they originally wanted Gardner in the Starlin Castro trade — and they could still use a true center fielder and leadoff hitter. Chicago does have a full outfield at the moment (Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, Jorge Soler), though Soler’s name has popped up trade rumors, so a Gardner deal could rekindle those efforts. But, again, the problem with a Cubs trade all winter has been their lack of young pitching to offer. I’d argue the Yankees should focus on getting the best possible talent for Gardner regardless of position, but they’re focused on arms.

Chicago White Sox
Reports indicate the White Sox were in on both Upton and Cespedes in recent weeks, though they were not willing to extend their offer beyond three years. The ChiSox have added both Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie this offseason in an effort to fix one of MLB’s least productive infields, and they shouldn’t stop there. They’re not good enough to be AL Central favorites and not bad enough to rebuild. With Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Jose Abreu in their primes, the White Sox should continue adding in an effort to contend, and Gardner would be a massive upgrade over Avisail Garcia. Quintana or Carlos Rodon for Gardner isn’t happening, but could Erik Johnson? That’s the extent of Chicago’s pitching depth.

Cleveland Indians
The Indians, again. They talked to the Yankees about an outfielder for pitcher trade earlier this winter, though obviously nothing came of it. Cleveland has plenty of pitching to spare and they need outfield help — Michael Brantley will be out until at least May following shoulder surgery, so their outfield mix right now is Rajai Davis, Abe Almonte, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Collin Cowgill — so it seems like there should be a match. The problem? The Indians operate with a very strict budget and don’t have room for a $13M a year outfielder. The Yankees would have to pay down some of Gardner’s salary, which of course means they should expect more in return. The Tribe likely have their eyes on cheaper outfield options.

Los Angeles Angels
It never seemed like the Angels were going to make a serious run at Cespedes or Upton. They have a clear need for a left fielder — the currently have a Daniel Nava/Craig Gentry platoon planned, and yikes — and some pitching depth to spare, namely Nick Tropeano, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, and Matt Shoemaker. Some are more available than others, obviously. (Heaney’s close to untouchable, I think.)

Calhoun. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)
Calhoun. (Stephen Dunn/Getty)

I think there’s a real possibility for an Angels trade right now. Angels GM Billy Eppler is said to be a big Gardner fan and the Halos really need both a leadoff hitter and another lefty bat. Gardner would push Kole Calhoun into a middle of the lineup spot. He’s a great fit for them, assuming it works financially. (The Angels want to stay under the luxury tax threshold and have about $12M in wiggle room.) I don’t think I would call a trade likely, but I do think if Gardner is dealt, the Angels are the favorite to land him.

St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals have a lot of outfielders (Matt Holliday, Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty, Brandon Moss) but no true center fielder. Grichuk’s the most athletic of the group so he has the center field job by default. St. Louis doesn’t strike me as the kind of organization to make a knee-jerk reactionary move, but it’s tough to ignore all the improvements the Cubs made this winter, so the Cardinals could feel some pressure to keep pace. Gardner would solve a clear roster problem and the Cards have some young pitching to offer (Marco Gonzales, Tim Cooney). Money is no issue either — St. Louis bid big for Heyward and David Price, and were in the market for Chris Davis, yet they’ve only walked away with Mike Leake this offseason.

Washington Nationals
I’m not sure the Nationals are a possibility for Gardner following the Ben Revere trade. Yes, they made a run at Cespedes, so they’re still willing to add an outfielder, but Gardner and Cespedes are very different types of players. Washington might not want another left-handed hitting leadoff type with Revere on board. Never say never, but it appears the Nationals are no longer a match for Gardner following the Revere trade.

* * *

Keep in mind the Yankees are not the only team with a spare outfielder at the moment. The Dodgers would probably love to move Andre Ethier before he gains ten-and-five rights in April, plus the Rockies have four outfielders for three spots (Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson, Gerardo Parra). The outfield trade market is not limited solely to Gardner. Outfield needy teams have options.

Realistically, the Angels and Cardinals appear to be the best possible fits for Gardner. The White Sox, Cubs, and Indians are also potential suitors to a lesser extent. I still don’t expect the Yankees to trade Gardner before Spring Training, but at least now the trade market is a bit more clear with the big name free agents off the board. That also means there are fewer suitors, though there are still several clubs out there in need of outfield help.

Cashman doesn’t anticipate any significant moves before Spring Training

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

The Yankees have completed six trades this winter, including acquiring two former All-Stars, yet it still feels like this has been a slow offseason. The team has yet to sign a big league free agent — they’ve never gone a full offseason without signing a free agent to a Major League contract — and it doesn’t sound like one is on the way either.

“I don’t (expect any more significant moves this offseason),” said Brian Cashman during a YES Network interview (video link). “I’m open to anything, but I don’t anticipate anything developing between now and pitchers and catchers showing up in Spring Training. Keep your fingers crossed. If there’s a good opportunity we’ll jump on it, but I think we’ve exhausted all opportunities so far.”

Cashman said the Yankees did “float a lot of weather balloons” this offseason, meaning trade proposals, including deals involving Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller. “Nothing took place because nothing presented themselves as an opportunity to pull down. So, we move forward,” added the GM.

Obviously Cashman wouldn’t come out and say a big move is on the way, that doesn’t benefit the team at all, but it does truly seem like the Yankees might be done for the offseason. (Aside from small moves like waiver claims and whatnot.) Then again, the Yankees are very good at keeping things close to the vest, so who really knows?

At the moment the Yankees have no glaring needs on the MLB roster. They have an open bench spot and several open bullpen spots, but have plenty of internal candidates for both. Yes, they could stand to upgrade some positions. That’s true of every team. Right now though, the roster seems kinda set.

Curry: Indications are Yankees will not pursue Doug Fister

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

According to Jack Curry, indications are the Yankees will not pursue free agent right-hander Doug Fister. He’s said to be seeking a two-year deal worth $10M to $11M per season, and hey, in this market, who can blame him? You can’t get what you don’t ask for.

Fister, 31, battled injury and ineffectiveness last season. He had a 4.19 ERA (4.55 FIP) in 103 innings spread across 15 starts and ten relief appearances with the Nationals. His strikeout (14.0%) and ground ball (44.6%) rates were both way down as well. A forearm/flexor tendon injury sidelined him for a month at midseason.

Even at his peak, Fister was never much of a hard-thrower. He was one of those guys with a deep arsenal who located well and kept hitters off balance. Last year through, his fastball velocity dipped into the mid-80s as a starter, which is really scary (via Brooks Baseball):

Brooksbaseball-ChartA year ago at this time I thought Fister would be the Yankees’ top free agent target. For starters, they drafted him in the sixth round of the 2005 draft (he didn’t sign), so I figured he still had some supporters in the organization. Also, Fister is super tall (6-foot-8) and he never walks anyone (career 4.7 BB%), two traits the Yankees love.

Obviously the poor 2015 season changed everything. Fister is a reclamation project now, and reclamation project pitchers usually don’t sign with the Yankees unless they have no other option. (Think Bartolo Colon.) Yankee Stadium and the AL East is no place for a pitcher to rebuild value.

I do think Fister would be a good signing in the “you can never have too much pitching” sense, though it’s hard to see him as someone who moves the needle a whole lot. I do think he’s a bounceback candidate, but two years? Nah. The Yankees are said to be looking for a starter on a minor league contract. I don’t think they’ll do much more than that.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Tyler Clippard

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

It is now the middle of January, and several big name free agents remain unsigned. The market has picked up in recent days (Justin Upton, Chris Davis, Ian Kennedy, etc.) but there are still several quality players on the board. Thirteen of MLBTR’s top 50 free agents are still unsigned as of this writing, including three of the top 20.

One of those 13 players is former Yankee Tyler Clippard, who was involved in one of the most lopsided trades in recent memory. The Yankees shipped him to the Nationals for Jonathan Albaladejo in December 2007. Clippard went on to become an elite reliever while Albaladejo gave the Yankees 59.1 replacement level innings before being released in 2010. Not Brian Cashman‘s finest moment.

The Yankees improved the back-end of their bullpen by replacing Justin Wilson with Aroldis Chapman, but the middle innings did take a hit with the trade of Adam Warren. The club has a ton of internal candidates for the open bullpen spots, though outside of Chasen Shreve, none have had much MLB success in their careers. Could Clippard be part of the middle innings solution? Let’s look.

The Performance

Clippard, now 30, spent the 2008 season in the minors with the Nationals before breaking out as a reliever in 2009. From 2009-14 he led all relievers in innings (by a lot) and ranked sixth in WAR. Clippard was a high-leverage workhorse. Here’s what he’s done the last three years:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% HR/9 RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2013 71.0 2.41 3.82 26.6% 8.7% 1.14 .240 .232
2014 70.1 2.18 2.75 29.5% 8.3% 0.64 .191 .292
2015 71.0 2.92 4.28 21.3% 10.3% 1.01 .327 .211

Clippard is a proven FIP beater. Since becoming a full-time reliever in 2009 he has a 2.68 ERA and a 3.52 FIP in 524.2 innings. It’s not an accident. Clippard has demonstrated the ability to outperform his peripherals over a period of several years now.

How has he done it? By being an extreme fly ball pitcher who excels at getting hitters to pop the ball up on the infield. Clippard’s career ground ball rate is 27.9%, the second lowest among pitchers who’ve thrown at least 500 innings since batted ball data started being recorded in 2002. (Chris Young is the lowest at 26.4%.) His 15.6% infield pop-up rate is third highest during that time, behind Mariano Rivera (16.1%) and Al Leiter (15.7%).

Infield pop-ups are as close to an automatic out as it gets for balls in play. For much of his career Clippard has had an excellent strikeout rate and an excellent pop-up rate. Those are the two best possible outcomes for a pitcher. It’s no wonder why he’s been so successful. That’s a great formula.

Now, that said, Clippard’s strikeout rate took a big step back last season. He struck out close to 30% of batters faced the last few years before dropping down to a league average-ish strikeout rate in 2015. That’s kinda scary. Furthermore, his fly ball and pop-up rate declined as well.

BABIP GB% FB% LD% IFFB% HR/FB%
2013 .170 27.9% 55.8% 16.3% 18.8% 9.4%
2014 .251 36.9% 49.4% 13.7% 19.3% 6.0%
2015 .211 21.2% 60.6% 18.2% 13.3% 6.7%

The super low BABIP is the result of all the pop-ups. (His career BABIP is .232.) Last season Clippard posted a career high fly ball rate and his lowest pop-up rate in five years, which means more of those fly balls were traveling to the outfield. His HR/FB% didn’t spike, but he was giving up way more fly balls, hence the jump from a 0.64 HR/9 in 2014 to a 1.01 HR/9 in 2015.

There are some definite red flags here. Clippard’s strikeout and infield pop-up rates dropped while his walk rate increased. That’s bad, especially for a guy who’s endured such a big workload. It suggests Clippard wasn’t fooling hitters as well as he has the last few seasons. Right now this is just a one year sample. Whoever signs him will hope it isn’t the start of a trend.

The Stuff

Clippard has more or less shelved his little cutter/slider in recent years, so he’s now basically a two-pitch pitcher: low-90s heater and a split-changeup hybrid right around 80 mph. That split-change has helped him neutralize lefties throughout his career. No one has bothered to make a 2015 Clippard highlight video, so here’s a really short video from late-July:

It’s important to note Clippard has tremendous deception in his delivery, which helps his stuff play up. You can see it in the video — he’s all arms and legs (he’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 lbs.), and he hides the ball very well. The radar gun says 91-92 mph but hitters seem to react like it’s 95-96. That deception is a big reason why he’s been so good.

The only significant red flag in Clippard’s stuff is the swing-and-miss rate on his split-change, which dropped to 15.3% last season after sitting around 21.0% from 2012-14. That’s still an above-average whiff rate — the average whiff rate on changeups is 14.9% — but it’s not nearly as good as before. Clippard’s velocity has held fairly steady over the years too.

Watching him pitch over the years, I think Clippard’s biggest problem last season was his location. His stuff seemed good enough, he just had trouble throwing to the desired target. His first pitch strike rate dropped to 55.8% after sitting closer to 63.0% for a few years, so he was behind in the count more often, which could explain the diminished the effectiveness of his split-change.

Injury History

This will be short: Clippard has never been on the DL. He missed one game with lower back tightness in September, and way back in 2011 he missed three games with what was described as shoulder fatigue. Clippard’s had no arm problems since and he’s never had any kind of significant injury in general.

Contract Projections

I have to think Clippard and his agent came into the offseason hoping for an Andrew Miller contract. Clippard’s been an elite reliever for a few years now, so he has the track record, and he’s been durable. That’s probably the best case scenario, but the free agent reliever market stunk this winter, and Clippard was arguably the biggest name.

The only contract estimate we have for Clippard comes from MLBTR. They pegged him for three years and $18M. Five relievers have signed contracts of at least three years this offseason: Shawn Kelley (three years, $15M), Tony Sipp (three years, $18M), Ryan Madson (three years, $22M), Joakim Soria (three years, $25M), and Darren O’Day (four years, $32M). I have to think Clippard’s holding out for at least three years, right?

Things have been extremely quite around Clippard this winter. His archive at MLBTR includes only six posts since the start of November, and three are blurbs mentioning the Mets are open to re-signing him to a one-year contract. That’s all. I’m sure there’s plenty going on behind the scenes, but geez, very little public interest in Clippard.

Wrapping Up

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

I’m mentioning Clippard as a possible target because there has been so little interest in him this offseason. Spring Training is only a month away and he might be more open to a one or two-year contract. The Yankees aren’t going to spend big on a free agent, that much is clear, but what if Clippard will take a one-year deal at $5M or so? Or a two-year deal at $10M with an opt-out?

The Yankees do have three open bullpen spots as it is — it could be four come Opening Day if Aroldis Chapman is suspended — and Clippard would give the team some quality middle relief depth. I do think the declining strikeout, walk, and pop-up rates are a sign of decline more than a one-year blip, but on a low cost contract, it’s worth the chance. Clippard could be a real difference maker.

At the same time, if Clippard is open to a low cost deal, why would he come to the Yankees? Yankee Stadium and the AL East is not a place for pitchers looking to build value on short-term deals, especially not fly ball pitchers. And Clippard’s not oblivious, he knows he would be no better than fourth on the bullpen depth chart behind Chapman, Miller, and Dellin Betances.

Clippard is a potential fit for the Yankees but the Yankees are not a fit for Clippard. If he’s going to take a relatively small contract, he’s going to go somewhere with a big ballpark and where he’d be no worse than the primary setup man. There are still way too many clubs in need of bullpen help right now to think Clippard’s price has dropped so low that he’d settle for an undesirable situation in the Bronx.

Scouting The Trade Market: Tyler Skaggs

(Jeff Gross/Getty)
(Jeff Gross/Getty)

For much of the winter the Yankees have been looking for a young controllable starter, so much so that Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller have been dangled in trade talks. They have not yet acquired such a pitcher, but I don’t think it’s been due to a lack of effort. The Yankees are looking. They just haven’t found anything that makes sense.

The Angels, who hired former Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler to be their new GM earlier this offseason, are one of the few teams with starting pitching depth. The club needs another bat and they don’t want to exceed the luxury tax threshold — they have about $12M in wiggle room after projected arbitration raises — making a big free agent signing unlikely. Trading a starter for a bat has been mentioned as a possibility.

Understandably, Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney are as close to off limits as it gets. Neither Jered Weaver nor C.J. Wilson make sense for the Yankees, ditto Hector Santiago, albeit to a lesser extent. That leaves Matt Shoemaker (blah), Nick Tropeano (already discussed), and lefty Tyler Skaggs. Does Skaggs make any sense for the pitching needy Yankees? Let’s look.

The Performance

Let’s start with some background. Skaggs, 24, was a supplemental first round pick (40th overall) out of a Santa Monica high school back in 2009. The Angels traded him to the Diamondbacks in the Dan Haren deal in 2010, then re-acquired him from Arizona in the Mark Trumbo trade in 2013. Baseball America ranked Skaggs as a top 15 global prospect in both 2012 (No. 13) and 2013 (No. 12).

Skaggs received cups of coffee with the D’Backs in 2012 and 2013 before opening the 2014 season in Anaheim’s rotation. He made 18 starts before blowing out his elbow that July, ending his season. Skaggs had Tommy John surgery shortly thereafter and hasn’t pitched since. Since his big league time was limited in both 2012 and 2013, let’s focus on his 2014 performance, the only time he held a regular rotation spot.

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 Opp. wOBA
vs. RHB 91 3.54 18.9% 6.6% 51.7% 0.69 .292
vs. LHB 22 3.59 17.2% 6.1% 44.6% 0.82 .326
Overall 113 4.30 3.55 18.5% 6.5% 50.1% 0.72 .299

Pretty good! It doesn’t knock your socks off, but Skaggs was 22 years old for most of those 113 innings, and when a 22-year-old southpaw does something like that, it’s pretty exciting. He limited walks, missed a fair amount of bats, got a bunch of grounders, and kept the ball in the park. Very nice.

There was nothing that made you think Skaggs’ elbow was about to give out before his injury. He allowed one run in 5.2 innings against the Tigers in the start prior to getting hurt, and in the actual start when he blew out, Skaggs had struck out seven in 4.2 no-hit innings against the Orioles. He threw a pitch, called for the trainer, and walked off the mound. That was it.

Prior to getting hurt, Skaggs showed an awful lot of promise and was arguably the second best pitcher in Anaheim’s rotation behind Richards. He was a high-end prospect who was starting to deliver on the hype. When that happens, it’s pretty fun to watch.

The Stuff

Skaggs was a four-pitch pitcher before getting hurt. He averaged 93 mph with both his two and four-seam fastballs, topping out at 96. Skaggs also threw a sharp upper-70s curveball that was his calling card as a prospect. It’s the pitch that got him drafted so high. He also has a mid-80s changeup. Here’s video of the kid in action:

The delivery looks fine to me, right? Some guys have Tommy John surgery and you can tell why — their deliveries are all herky jerky. I don’t think that is the case with Skaggs. It’s pretty simple. You can tell he’s a good athlete. Skaggs seems to be fully in control of his body while delivering the baseball.

The Angels worked with Skaggs to develop a cutter, though he didn’t take to the pitch at all. He threw maybe one or two a start before blowing out his elbow. That’s it. Skaggs is a four-pitch pitcher even without the cutter, and both the changeup and curveball give him good weapons against right-handed batters.

Here’s some more information on Skaggs’ arsenal from 2014, his only regular action in the show. League averages are in parentheses:

% Thrown Avg. Velo Whiff % GB%
Four-Seamer 37.9% 92.9 (91.9) 7.3% (6.9%) 37.8% (37.9%)
Two-Seamer 27.4% 92.8 (91.3) 6.1% (5.4%) 52.1% (49.5%)
Curveball 24.3% 77.5 (77.3) 13.1% (11.1%) 68.1% (48.7%)
Changeup 9.4% 85.1 (83.3) 16.1% (14.9%) 58.6% (47.8%)

Across the board, Skaggs’ pitches were more or less average at getting swings and misses. He didn’t have a knockout pitch with a 20% whiff rate or anything like that. At the same time, getting an average-ish amount of empty swings with four different pitches is pretty darn good. Both his curveball and changeup were good ground ball pitches while the fastballs were average. Nothing really sexy there, but it’s effective. Four average or better pitches is rock solid.

In addition to the impressive raw stuff, Skaggs has drawn praise for some of the less than obvious aspects of pitching. Here’s what Baseball America (subs. req’d) had to say back in 2013, the last time Skaggs was prospect-eligible:

Skaggs also stands out for his composure on the mound and his idea of what he needs to do with each hitter. He holds runners well with a strong pickoff move, permitting just five steals in eight attempts last year. He didn’t give up a single stolen base in his six major league starts and he uses his athleticism to field his position well.

That stuff is easy to overlook but it matters. Skaggs has four quality pitches, an ostensibly good delivery, and he does the little things well like hold runners and field his position. It’s no wonder this guy was once considered one of the best prospects in baseball.

Injury History

Like I said, Skaggs has not pitched since having Tommy John surgery in August 2014, which is a big deal. The Angels have taken it slow with his rehab, so Skaggs is going to go about 20 months between surgery and pitching in regular season games. His rehab is going well though — Eppler told Mike DiGiovanna that Skaggs threw a six-inning, 90-pitch bullpen session in early-December and “was getting after it.”

Elbow reconstruction is obviously the most serious injury in Skaggs’ career. He did also miss a month with a hamstring strain in June 2014, and during his minor league days he missed a start in 2012 with a sore shoulder, but that’s it. The shoulder has given him no trouble since and while the hamstring sucks, it was only a hamstring. Players pull them from time to time. The biggest concern is the Tommy John surgery and the fact he hasn’t pitched in a competitive game in 17 months now.

Contract Status

Skaggs currently has two years and 66 days of service time. That means he has four years of team control remaining: one as a pre-arbitration player and then three of arbitration-eligibility. As best I can tell, Skaggs has two minor league options remaining, which is good. If he needs more time to shake off the rust following Tommy John surgery, his team can send him to Triple-A for more reps. Roughly 78 days in the minors would delay Skaggs’ free agency another year.

What Would It Take?

The Tommy John surgery makes it very tough to gauge Skaggs’ trade value. As I mentioned when I examined Alex Wood last week, pitchers like Shelby Miller, Gio Gonzalez, and Jake Arrieta have been traded when they were four years from free agency in recent years. None were coming off Tommy John surgery. Miller and Gonzalez were good and healthy while Arrieta was very bad with close to zero MLB success at the time of his trade. Skaggs fits into none of those buckets.

Players can be traded while injured — the Braves acquired Max Fried, Chris Withrow, and Bronson Arroyo while they were rehabbing from Tommy John surgery last year, for example — as long as the commissioner approves, which is never really an issue. That part isn’t a problem. It’s properly valuing Skaggs, who was very good when healthy but hasn’t been healthy in a year and a half now. Hard to think the Angels would get maximum value for him at this point.

Wrapping Up

Skaggs is pretty much everything the Yankees look for these days. Young and talented? Check. Tall — he’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 215 lbs. on the team’s official site — power pitcher with a history of limiting walks and getting grounders? Also check. A chance to buy low because of injury or poor performance or something else (coughChapmancough)? Another check. He fits!

(Bob Levey/Getty )
(Bob Levey/Getty )

The Tommy John surgery is an obvious and serious red flag. Skaggs’ stuff may never bounce back all the way, or it could take longer than expected to get back to 100%, or he could continue to have elbow problems. I know elbow reconstruction has become pretty routine, but it’s still a big risk. That has to be factored into the evaluation and price. It’s easy to assume Skaggs will bounce back and be fine, but man, you never know until you see it happen.

The Gardner for Skaggs framework seems to work, in theory. The Yankees would get their young controllable starter, albeit one coming off a major injury. The Angels would get their much-needed left fielder, one who would help balance their righty heavy lineup and also hit leadoff, allowing Kole Calhoun to move into a more traditional run-producing lineup spot. Both teams would be dealing from a position of depth to address a need.

The Yankees could always kick in some cash to offset Gardner’s salary, allowing the Angels to steer clear of the luxury tax. There’s also the potential to expand this as well. The Angels could use a second baseman and the Yankees have a spare Rob Refsnyder lying around. The Yankees need a backup third baseman/utility guy and the Halos have Kyle Kubitza, who may or may not be expendable.

Either way, these two clubs appear to match up well for a trade. The Angels have an obvious need for a player like Gardner and the Yankees are in perpetual search of a young starter. Whether the two sides — specifically Brian Cashman and Eppler, his former top lieutenant — can agree to a deal is another matter. The Angels might not want to sell low on Skaggs, which is understandable. Even after surgery, he’s worth a shot if Eppler does make him available.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Juan Uribe

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

It is entirely possible the Yankees are done making moves this offseason. They have a full lineup, a full rotation, more than enough bodies for the bullpen, and three-fourths of a bench. The team has some internal candidates for that final bench spot, and really, how they fill that spot will depend on Starlin Castro‘s ability to play third. He hasn’t manned the hot corner aside from a handful of games back in rookie ball.

Castro is still relatively new to second base — he only played 258 innings at second last season — and asking him to learn third base as well might be too much, too soon. Using that final bench spot for a proper backup third baseman sure seems like a good idea, no? Veteran infielder Juan Uribe remains available as a free agent and is a candidate to provide depth at third as well as another right-handed bat. Let’s see if he makes sense for the Yankees.

The Offense

A few years ago it looked like Uribe was done. Like done done. The now 36-year-old hit .204/.264/.293 (56 wRC+) with the Dodgers in 2011, then followed it up by hitting .191/.258/.284 (52 wRC+) in 2012. Yikes. The Dodgers were on the verge of releasing Uribe early in 2013, though he rebounded that season to hit .278/.331/.438 (116 wRC+), reviving his career. Here are his three most recent seasons.

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR K% BB% wRC+ vs. RHP wRC+ vs. LHP
2013 426 .278/.331/.438 116 12 19.0% 7.0% 115 118
2014 404 .311/.337/.440 121 9 19.1% 3.7% 125 106
2015 397 .253/.320/.417 104 14 20.2% 8.6% 90 146
Total 1,227 .281/.329/.432 114 35 19.4% 6.4% 110 124

After spending the 2013-14 seasons with the Dodgers, Uribe split the 2015 season with the Dodgers, Braves, and Mets. The Dodgers sent him to Atlanta in a very weird trade — the primary piece they got back was up-and-down lefty Ian Thomas — then the Braves shipped him to the Mets at the trade deadline for actual prospects. The Mets grabbed Uribe to beef up their bench down the stretch.

Uribe faced left-handers primarily after landing with the Mets last season, hence the massive platoon split. He simply didn’t play a whole lot against righties. Given his age, I’m not sure you could realistically expect Uribe to be a regular against same-side pitchers at this point of his career. Sure, he might be able to do it once in a while, but it’s not the best idea. I’m guessing most view Uribe as a righty platoon bat going forward.

Generally speaking, Uribe has some pop against southpaws (.209 ISO from 2013-15) and he tends to draw more walks (8.4%) against them as well. He doesn’t provide much value on the bases — Uribe has attempted eight steals over the last three years and he’s taken the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) only 37% of the time, below the 41% league average — so his offensive value comes exclusively from his bat. That’s fine. That makes him like most other players.

Uribe has a reputation for being a clutch hitter, though the stats don’t really bear that out. He does have two World Series rings (2005 White Sox, 2010 Giants) but is a career .209/.246/.342 (57 wRC+) hitter in 170 postseason at-bats. Uribe has also hit .282/.348/.392 (105 wRC+) with men in scoring position the last three seasons and .274/.338/.395 (103 wRC+) in high-leverage spots, which is right in line with his overall numbers.

The clutch stuff is just noise. The most important thing is Uribe’s ability to hit left-handed pitchers and do so while playing part-time. Being a bench player is hard. Players aren’t used to sitting around for a few days between at-bats. Uribe did it for the Mets late last season (especially after David Wright returned from the DL) and that’s not nothing. He’s a quality bench hitter against left-handed pitchers.

The Defense

Although he’s on the portly side — listed at 6-foot-0 and 235 lbs. — Uribe is a shocking great defender at the hot corner. Both DRS and UZR have rated him as well-above-average at third base in recent years, and the eye test agrees as well. Uribe has good range, vacuum cleaner hands, and a very strong arm. There are some defensive plays in this highlight reel:

Uribe originally came up as a shortstop but he hasn’t played the position regularly since 2010 or at all since 2012. The Mets did use him at second base some last season — he hadn’t played the position at all since 2011 — and he held his own. He wasn’t great but he wasn’t a disaster there. Uribe is primarily a third baseman who can play second base in a pinch, so he doesn’t offer a ton of defensive versatility.

Injury History

A chest injury kept Uribe out for the final few weeks of the regular season as well as the NLDS and NLCS last year. (The Mets didn’t add him to their postseason roster until the World Series.) It was a fluke injury — Uribe dove for a ball (against the Yankees) and landed hard. He had some bruising that didn’t allow him to swing or throw properly, and it took time to heal.

Aside from that, Uribe has had some on and off hamstring issues the last few years, including pulls that required two separate DL stints in 2014. That’s really it. Uribe had some wrist issues back in 2012 and a sports hernia in 2011, neither of which has given him trouble since. The nagging hamstring trouble is a bit of a red flag but not a deal breaker. He’s not a pitcher with a history of arm problems or anything like that.

Contract Projections

Uribe was not eligible for the qualifying offer because he was traded (twice) at midseason, though he wasn’t a candidate to receive one anyway. There’s no draft pick to consider. FanGraphs was the only publication to consider Uribe a top 50 free agent and their crowdsourcing results spit out a two-year contract at $8M per year. That’s cheap starting infielder money.

Obviously there’s no reason for the Yankees to seriously consider Uribe at that price. That’s way too expensive for a bench player, even a potentially very good one. It’s starting to get a little late in the offseason, and off the top of my head, the only teams potentially in need of a starter at third base are the Indians, Angels, Braves, Reds, Brewers, and Pirates. The Braves, Reds, and Brewers are rebuilding teams with younger and cheaper options, so they’re long shots.

Uribe’s market appears to be pretty limited — teams in need of third base help may prefer the still unsigned David Freese because he’s several years younger — so that two-year, $16M projection seems pretty far-fetched. He’ll probably have to settle for a smaller one-year contract, similar to Mike Aviles ($2M), Gordon Beckham ($1.25M), Stephen Drew ($3M), Kelly Johnson ($2M), and Sean Rodriguez ($2.5M). Playing time and being with a contender may be bigger priorities at this point of Uribe’s career than cash.

Wrapping Up

One thing I have to mention that doesn’t fit in any of the previous categories is Uribe’s reputation for being a Grade A teammate and fan favorite. He’s ultra-popular. Many players have called Uribe their favorite teammate over the years and he has a knack for colorful quotes — “I have to get another contract to buy more cars,” he said to David O’Brien last summer when asked about his upcoming free agency. And then there’s the jazz hands:

Juan Uribe jazz hands

Outstanding. He does that after almost every swing too. Uribe reacts like he hit a home run every time he puts a ball in play. It’s pretty fun. None of this affects his on-field value, though being a great teammate and a fan favorite is not nothing either.

Anyway, even with his limited defensive versatility, Uribe seems like he would be a really great fit for that final bench spot. He’d give the Yankees a true backup third baseman and another right-handed hitter to help combat southpaws, who chewed the the team up down the stretch last season. That Uribe has experience being a bench player and going long stretches of time without playing is a plus in by book as well. No adjustment period.

Price and playing time may be an issue, however. Uribe has been pretty productive in recent years and he could be holding out for a starting spot — and a starter’s salary — which I understand. It might not be realistic at this point, but I get it. If Uribe is willing to take a low base salary one-year contract and serve as a backup/platoon bat, the Yankees would be wise to scoop him up for that final bench spot.