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.

Scouting the Trade Market: Last Minute Rotation Targets

The Return of Big Bart? (Alex Goodlett/Getty)
The Return of Big Bart? (Alex Goodlett/Getty)

Now that James Shields has landed in San Diego, the top free agent starters are all off the board and the only guys left unsigned are hangers-on. Roberto Hernandez, Chris Young, Kevin Correia, guys like that. The Yankees passed on Shields, Max Scherzer, and Jon Lester because they didn’t want to hand out another big contract but they could still use another starter. Every team except the Nationals could, really.

Pitchers and catchers will start reporting to Spring Training next week, though there are still a handful of pitchers on the trade block who could be moved between now and then. Cole Hamels is the obvious one, but he’s a complicated case. I’m taking about back-end starters, guys who eat innings and wouldn’t cost much more than salary relief to acquire. The Yankees have shown no real interest in those types of guys but they could jump into the mix. Here are a few back-end arms who are definitely available right now.

RHP Bartolo Colon, Mets

ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2014 4.09 3.57 17.9% 3.6% 39.3% 8.8% .331 .299
2012-14 3.40 3.52 16.0% 3.6% 41.9% 7.9% .292 .309

When the Yankees plucked Colon out of winter ball back in 2011, who would have guessed he’d still be kicking around in 2015? Not me, that’s for sure. The Mets have an enviable collection of young starters and have been shopping their high-priced arms hard all winter, and the 41-year-old Colon is the highest priced of them all — he’s scheduled to earn $11M this coming season.

Colon has pitched well since returning to the big leagues four seasons ago but his fastball velocity has been slipping in recent years, and that’s pretty scary for a guy who throws about 85% four-seamers and sinkers. Here’s his velocity graph since resurfacing with the Yankees a few years ago, courtesy of Brooks Baseball:

Bartolo Colon velocity

His fastball velocity has been steadily declining and that is not at all surprising for a guy Colon’s age. It’s remarkable really that he is still throwing as hard as he is given the nearly 3,000 career innings he’s logged and the arm injuries he’s dealt with.

As the velocity has slipped, Bart has become increasingly fly ball and line drive prone according to the imperfect batted ball data we have. Opponents are squaring him up more often, basically, so it’s not necessarily a fluke his BABIP has climbed from .286 to .294 to .307 the last three seasons. And remember, he was pitching in two pitcher friendly parks (O.co Coliseum and Citi Field) the last three years.

At his age, you have to expect Colon to continue declining in 2015. At best, maybe he’ll be able to maintain last year’s performance. The guy is going to turn 42 in May and he’s an extremely fastball reliant pitcher who is having a harder time cracking 90 mph with each passing start. I think the Mets would give him away at this point as long as they shed themselves of his $11M salary, but he still feels more like a “all hell broke loose” last resort for the Yankees.

(Doug Pensinger/Getty)
(Doug Pensinger/Getty)

RHP Dillon Gee, Mets

ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2014 4.00 4.52 16.5% 7.5% 44.1% 11.5% .315 .321
2012-14 3.85 4.09 17.8% 6.4% 44.9% 11.1% .294 .341

Like I said, the Mets have been trying to unload a high-priced starter all offseason, and it’s sort of sad Gee’s $5.3M salary is considered high-priced for a New York team. (Gee will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2016 as well, so he’s not necessarily a one-year rental.) The 28-year-old has been a popular target this offseason as the Rockies, Padres, Giants, Nationals, Rays, Royals, and Twins had interest in him at various points.

There was a stretch from May 2013 through July 2014 where Gee was damn near ace-like, pitching to a 2.67 ERA (3.81 FIP) in 209 innings across 31 starts. Then he finished last year with a 5.10 ERA (4.83 FIP) in his final 13 starts and 77.2 innings. Gee’s had a bunch of shoulder problems over the years (labrum tear in 2009, blood clot in 2012, strain in 2014) and he’s not a big stuff guy, sitting in the upper-80s with his two and four-seam fastballs while also throwing low-80s sliders and changeups. He’s the quintessential “won’t kill you” mid-to-back-end starter, someone who will flash enough brilliance to make you think he can be something more.

Unlike Colon, the Yankees would actually have to give up something of value for Gee, who is young, affordable, and a bonafide Major League starting pitcher. Two and a half years of Bud Norris was traded for a low level pitching prospect and an MLB ready utility man a few years ago, which might be a point of reference for a Gee trade. One year of Ross Detwiler cost two low level prospects, guys on the back half of their team’s top 30 prospects list. Gee shouldn’t cost much more than that.

Jackson. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Jackson. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

RHP Edwin Jackson, Cubs

ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2014 6.33 4.45 19.4% 10.0% 39.4% 11.9% .358 .404
2012-14 5.00 4.00 19.4% 8.2% 46.6% 11.2% .323 .357

Somewhere out there, someone is still waiting for Jackson’s ERA to catch up to his FIP. He’s only 31, it’ll happen any day now! Except that when a guy has had a considerably higher ERA (4.57) than FIP (4.17) in his last 1,500 innings (1,473 to be exact), it’s time to say that’s just who he is. That’s Jackson. Ricky Nolasco is the same way. Some guys are sabermetric teases.

Jackson has been flat out terrible for the Cubs these last two years, pitching to 5.58 ERA (4.09 FIP!) in 316 innings since signing a four-year, $52M contract during the 2012-13 offseason. A total of 865 different pitchers have appeared in at least one MLB game since the start of last season and Jackson ranks 865th with -3.6 bWAR. Dead last. He’s been that bad. The only good thing you can say about him at this point is that he still throws hard, averaging 94 mph with his four-seamer last year. The stuff is still there and that’s something.

The Cubs have their top three starters (Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel) and they have a small army of pitchers set to compete for the last two rotation spots: Kyle Hendricks, Tsuyoshi Wada, Jacob Turner, Kyle Hendricks, Felix Doubront, Travis Wood, and Jackson. They been shopping Jackson for weeks with no luck, and I don’t think that’s surprising. He’s so pricey and unproductive that there’s no way a team could justify giving up something of value for him. If the Cubbies are willing to eat a huge chunk of that $26M, great, otherwise there is very little reason to kick the tires on Jackson.

Niese. (Andy Marlin/Getty)
Niese. (Andy Marlin/Getty)

LHP Jon Niese, Mets

ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2014 3.40 3.67 17.6% 5.7% 47.7% 9.8% .329 .289
2012-14 3.49 3.69 18.1% 6.5% 49.0% 10.4% .317 .292

Another Met because hey, these guys are available. The Yankees and Mets haven’t gotten together for a real trade (sorry, Gonzalez Germen) since the Mike Stanton/Felix Heredia swap in December 2004, but I don’t think either Brian Cashman or Sandy Alderson would let the crosstown thing get in the way of a deal that improves their club. Neither seems to care all that much about fan or media scrutiny, and if they think they can best help their team by trading with each other, it’ll happen.

Anyway, Niese is 28 and he’s the best pitcher between himself, Colon, and Gee. He’s been very good for three years running now and has averaged 170.1 innings in his five full MLB seasons. Plus his contract is rock solid: Niese is owed $7M in 2015 and $9M in 2016 before team options for 2017 ($10M) and 2018 ($11M) come into play. (Both options include a $500,000 buyout.) So he’s pretty young, pretty good, and signed affordably. Lots to like here. But, of course, there’s a catch.

The single biggest concern with Niese is health. Despite averaging those 170.1 innings the last five years, the southpaw has had on and off arm problems, including both elbow and shoulder issues. He missed time with shoulder inflammation in 2013, a shoulder strain later in 2013, shoulder soreness in 2014, a hyper-extended elbow in 2014, and then more shoulder inflammation later in 2014. The Mets’ willingness to trade Niese seems to be as much about clearing a spot for a young pitcher as it is moving him before his arm completely blows out.

The good news is that most of Niese’s arm issues were very minor and sidelined him for no longer than two weeks (the shoulder strain cost him two months), though that’s just putting lipstick on a pig. His health is a big concern going forward and why trading for him is quite risky even though he’s the most effective non-Hamels pitcher realistically available right now. I think the Detwiler and Norris trades I mentioned for Gee work as references for Niese, though the prospects would likely have to be of a higher quality.

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

LHP Travis Wood, Cubs

ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/FB% RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2014 5.03 4.38 18.7% 9.7% 34.4% 8.8% .371 .276
2012-14 4.08 4.33 18.2% 8.7% 33.9% 9.2% .331 .274

Nothing but Mets and Cubs pitchers in this post. What can you do? They’re the teams with spare starters to trade right now. Wood will make $5.686M this coming season and remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2016 as well, though, given his recent performance, he might be a non-tender candidate next winter. That’s why the Cubbies could look to trade him now and get something in return.

Wood had an excellent season in 2013, pitching to a 3.11 ERA (3.89 FIP) in exactly 200 innings, but he had a 4.50 ERA (4.53 FIP) in the 262 innings before that and a 5.03 ERA (4.38 FIP) in the 173.2 innings since. Looking at his career since breaking into MLB full-time back in 2011, the 2013 season is the outlier, not 2014. Wood is a small stuff lefty, sitting in the mid-to-upper-80s with his fastball and throwing his cutter once out of every three pitches. His ground ball rate is tiny but he does have one of the highest infield pop-up rates in baseball since 2011, so it’s not like he’s giving up a ton of scary fly balls.

As I mentioned before, the Cubs have a ton of back of the rotation options, but Wood is affordable and has averaged 176.2 innings the last three years, so he’s someone they could easily justify keeping. He just turned 28 last week and his soft stuff limits his upside, especially since he has such a big platoon split, though there’s just enough here to keep him interesting. Wood might only be a younger version of Chris Capuano and that’s not someone you give up a ton to get, yet his recent All-Star season and age might mean it’ll take a real live prospect or two to pry him loose.

* * *

There’s a reason all five of these guys make some kind of sense for the Yankees. Colon and Jackson could provide innings and would come almost free. Niese is a pretty damn good pitcher when healthy. Gee and Wood are low upside but affordable innings guys who wouldn’t require an arm and a leg to acquire. Based on the way the Cubs and Mets have operated this winter, all five guys are available right now, in the days leading up to camp, and this might is be best time to acquire one of them, before pitchers around the league start getting hurt in Spring Training and the demand rises.

Cotillo: Padres sign James Shields to four-year contract; 2015 draft order finalized

(Jamie Squire/Getty)
(Jamie Squire/Getty)

According to Chris Cotillo, the Padres have signed right-hander James Shields to a four-year contract in the $72M to $76M range. It’s been a foregone conclusion that Shields, who grew up in the San Diego area, would sign with the Padres for about a week now. The two had been connected quite a bit. The Cubs, Marlins, and Blue Jays were also said to be in the mix these last few weeks.

As with Max Scherzer and Jon Lester, the Yankees were never seriously connected to Shields this offseason despite their obvious need for rotation help. Ownership and Brian Cashman said they were going to avoid big money long-term contracts that bought decline years in bulk this winter and they stuck to their guns. Can’t imagine many people expected that.

At this point the best free agent starter left on the market is righty Brandon Beachy, who is working his way back from his second Tommy John surgery and isn’t expected to be ready for the start of the season. After Beachy, the best available free agent hurlers are Roberto Hernandez, Chris Young, Joe Saunders, and Kevin Correia, all of whom are minor league contract guys. I don’t expect New York to get involved with any of them at this point.

The Padres are forfeiting the 13th overall pick to sign Shields, and, because of that, the Yankees’ first two picks in the 2015 draft move up a slot. Their natural first rounder moves up from 17th overall to 16th overall, and their supplemental first rounder (the compensation pick for David Robertson) moves from 31st to 30th overall. Based on last year’s slot values, the 16th and 30th overall picks come with $2.34M and $1.76M bonus slots, respectively.

The Yankees haven’t picked as high as 16th overall since taking Florida high school righty Matt Drews with the 13th overall pick in 1993. They haven’t had two of the top 30 picks since 1978, when they took California high school shortstop Rex Hudler and New York high school outfielder Matt Winters with 18th and 24th overall picks, respectively. Yeah, it’s been a while.

Now that Shields is off the board, all of the top non-Yoan Moncada free agents are signed and the 2015 draft order is more or less finalized. (The competitive balance lottery picks can still be traded before the draft.) The offseason is basically over barring a surprise trade. Pitchers and catchers will start reporting to Spring Training next week and the 2015 season will start to get underway. It’s about time.