The Yankees have fielded offers for Michael Pineda, but it might not be a good time to trade him

(Denis Poroy/Getty)
(Denis Poroy/Getty)

For the first time in nearly three decades, the Yankees decided to sell at the trade deadline last year, and it helped them build one of the game’s best farm systems. The selling continued this offseason with the Brian McCann trade and it could continue to, uh, continue with a Brett Gardner and/or Chase Headley trade. Those two have popped up in more than a few rumors this winter.

One Yankee who hasn’t been mentioned in trade rumors but has generated interest is right-hander Michael Pineda. Andrew Marchand reports the Yankees have “fielded plenty of trade offers” for Pineda this winter as clubs look to buy low and get him on the cheap, but so far Brian Cashman & Co. have held on to the frustrating and enigmatic (frustratingly enigmatic?) right-hander.

Trading Pineda makes sense from a big picture perspective. He’ll be a free agent next winter and probably isn’t a long-term piece — so far there have been zero indications the Yankees want to sign him to an extension — so if the Yankees can turn him into a prospect or two, then do it. It would fit right into the rebuilding transitioning plan. Pineda wouldn’t be that hard to replace, right?

At the same time, this might not be the best time to trade Pineda. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the Yankees shouldn’t trade him. By all means, if some team comes along and makes a nice offer, go for it. Pineda should not be off limits. I’m just not convinced that will actually happen though. Here are a few reasons why the time might not be right to trade Pineda.

1. The free agent pitching class stinks. But Mike, if the free agent class stinks, isn’t that a good thing for a potential Pineda trade? Yes, in theory. The problem is Pineda himself kinda stinks. He has a 4.60 ERA (91 ERA+) in 59 starts and 336.1 innings over the last two years, and we haven’t see him make any improvements. Pineda is still the same guy right now that he was two seasons ago. If anything, he’s gone backwards.

Pineda’s underlying stats are really great, which is why he’s so frustrating. Over the last two seasons the guy has a 25.5% strikeout rate and a 5.2% walk rate, numbers that are incredible for a starting pitcher. And yet, Pineda seems incapable of limiting hard contact and is far more hittable than his cutter/slider combination would lead you to believe. He’s a tough guy to figure out. He really is.

Pineda is not a long-term buy. He’s a one-year rental, and if you’re looking for a one-year rental, the free agent market offers plenty of alternatives. Why trade an actual prospect(s) for Pineda when you could sign, say, Jason Hammel, who has reportedly received nothing but one-year offers? Jake Peavy, Jon Niese, Doug Fister … you could sign one of those dudes for a year and possibly get similar-ish production as Pineda.

Of course, the difference between Pineda and guys like Hammel and Peavy and Fister is upside, or the illusion of upside. Pineda will turn 28 in two weeks and is right in the middle of what should be the prime of his career. All those other guys have seen their best days already. Still, if given the choice between trading a prospect(s) for Pineda or giving up nothing but cash to get Hammel or Fister for a year, how many would take Pineda?

(Counterpoint: It only takes one team to say “I’ll take Pineda over the free agents, here’s a quality prospect or two” for a trade to happen.)

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

2. Offers could be better at the trade deadline. Teams seem much more willing to be patient and let things play out in the offseason. Give the fifth starter’s spot to the unheralded prospect with great stats and only 23 innings above Double-A? That sounds like a great idea in December and January. He’s a Rookie of the Year sleeper candidate! Everyone else is underrating him!

Things are often much different come June and July though, once that prospect has a chance to fail and, well, fails, because baseball is all about failing. Teams are ostensibly more willing to pay big to get the help they need at the trade deadline, when the standings are staring them in the face and fans are impatient and there’s more urgency. That’s why a half-season of Aroldis Chapman fetches four prospects in July while a full season of Wade Davis fetches one Jorge Soler in December. Yeah.

There are risks with keeping Pineda and waiting until the deadline to trade him, obviously. His value would tank should he get hurt or pitch poorly, two things Pineda is known to do from time to time. But, if he stays healthy and pitches averagely, the Yankees might be able to turn him into a nice young player at the deadline. Teams always need pitching. It’s not like the demand will disappear.

3. The Yankees are short on pitching themselves. As it stands, the Yankees are poised to go into the season with two kids at the back of the rotation. Trading Pineda would make it three and, uh, yikes. That could get a little dicey. Sure, the Yankees could trade Pineda for prospects then sign one of those many one-year free agent candidates I mentioned earlier, but any time you add a second step to the equation, things get complicated.

The Yankees insist they’re trying to contend while rebuilding, and nearly all the moves they’ve made this offseason support that plan. Subtracting pitching would go against the “trying to contend” idea. The Yankees need to add pitching, really. Going young in two rotation spots makes me nervous, even if I am excited about the youth movement. I worry about innings limits and five-and-fly starts and things like that. Imagine going young in three rotation spots. Gosh.

* * *

Like I said earlier, if another team comes along and makes a good offer for Pineda this offseason, then trade him. Carrying him into the season in hopes of getting better offers at the deadline is too risky to pass on a quality offer now. I don’t think that good offer is coming in the next few weeks though, in which case keeping Pineda is not just the best option, it’s the only option.

Pitching remains atop the Yankees’ shopping list for the remainder of the offseason

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Welcome to 2017. Six weeks from today Yankees pitchers and catchers will report to Tampa for Spring Training, and the long journey that is the new season will begin. Six weeks sounds so close, doesn’t it? And yet, it’s still so far.

A lot can and will happen over the next six weeks, and hey, maybe some of it will even involve the Yankees. Word on the street is they need to clear payroll before making any other moves, though my guess is there’s still enough cash in the coffers for a small signing, should something present itself. I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.

Aside from two signings (Matt Holliday and Aroldis Chapman) and one trade (Brian McCann), the Yankees have been relatively quiet this winter. They signed Ruben Tejada and re-signed Donovan Solano to serve as infield depth, cleared out some 40-man roster clutter (Nick Goody, James Pazos, etc.), and that’s about it. Nothing too exciting.

And yet, there are still several key items remaining on New York’s offseason agenda, and there are still six weeks to accomplish them. This is typically the bargain hunting time of the offseason. Teams look for lower cost pickups to reinforce their roster after New Years, and the Yankees are no different. Here are their most important remaining pieces of offseason business.

Keep shopping Gardner and Headley

The Yankees have reportedly been shopping both Brett Gardner and Chase Headley this offseason — since the trade deadline, really — to no avail. Brian Cashman insists he’s rejected trade offers for both in recent weeks. I assume those offers were of the “we’ll give you this fringe prospect if you eat a ton of money” variety.

It sure seems like there are few landing spots for Gardner and even fewer for Headley. Aside from shedding salary, there’s no real urgency to unload Headley. It’s not like the Yankees have a young third baseman ready to step into the lineup. (I like Ronald Torreyes as much as anyone, but c’mon.) Keeping Headley is perfectly reasonable.

The outfield is a different story. The Yankees have a ton of young players who could step in to replace Gardner, including Aaron Hicks, Mason Williams, and Clint Frazier. We shouldn’t rule out Tyler Austin or Rob Refsnyder either. Jacoby Ellsbury is close to unmovable, making Gardner the obvious trade candidate.

Try to dig up a starting pitcher

Last season Yankees starters ranked 15th in baseball in innings (915), 16th in FIP (4.40), and 19th in ERA (4.44) despite getting a damn near Cy Young caliber performance from Masahiro Tanaka and far more from CC Sabathia than anyone expected. And so far this offseason, the Yankees have made no moves to bolster the rotation.

Tanaka, Sabathia, and Michael Pineda are the three veterans who will be expected to lead the starting staff. The list of back-end starter candidates includes, but is not limited to, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino, and Luis Cessa. And you know what? We’re probably going to see all of them in 2017. No team makes it through a season with only five starters these days.

The free agent pitching market is really weak, especially now that Rich Hill and Ivan Nova are off the board, but there are no shortage of one-year contract candidates. There are reclamation projects (Brett Anderson, Tyson Ross), hangers-on (Jorge De La Rosa, Doug Fister), reliever-to-starter conversion candidates (Travis Wood, Trevor Cahill), and more.

Anderson. (Jamie Sabau/Getty)
Anderson. (Jamie Sabau/Getty)

Keep in mind young pitchers need their workloads monitored, and if the Yankees go into the season counting on the kids to fill two rotation spots as Hal Steinbrenner suggested, they could run into some workload trouble come August and September. Imagine needing to shut two or three starters down in September because they’ve hit their innings limit. Yikes.

There is no such thing as too much rotation depth, and the Yankees would be wise to scoop up a starter at some point, even a cheap one-year contract guy to soak up innings. Ideally the Yankees would trade for a young starter with upside and several years of team control remaining. That seems unlikely, so a low-cost veteran free agent is the next best thing.

Add more bullpen depth

Three bullpen spots are accounted for at the moment. Chapman is the closer with Dellin Betances and Tyler Clippard his primary setup men. Adam Warren will also be in the bullpen if he doesn’t win a rotation spot in Spring Training. Here are the candidates for the remaining bullpen spots:

Obviously some of those guys are more realistic bullpen candidates than others. German and Ramirez have yet to pitch above High-A. Pinder is still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Adams and Montgomery are legitimate starting pitcher prospects who would benefit most from opening next season in the Triple-A Scranton rotation.

Layne, as a 32-year-old veteran who had success with the Yankees in his limited time last year, is by far most likely among those reliever candidates to wind up on the Opening Day roster, I think. Everyone else? Well, do your best in camp and you could win a spot. And even if you don’t win an Opening Day spot, you can put yourself in position for an early call-up. Adding some extra arms, even as non-roster invitees, is a no-brainer.

Fill out the Triple-A roster

As a huge baseball nerd, I’m always excited to see the list of non-roster invitees each year. The Yankees tend to announce their non-roster players very late in the offseason — we know they’ve signed four players to minor league deals so far (Tejada, Solano, Jason Gurka, Kellin Deglan) — so the suspense builds all winter. It was a total surprise when the Yankees brought Eric Chavez to camp a few years ago, for example.

Anyway, the Yankees still need to bring in some more non-roster players, the guys who will take any spare at-bats or innings during Grapefruit League play, and inevitably be sent to Triple-A Scranton when the season begins. More infield depth (even after Tejada and Solano), a veteran catcher to back up Kyle Higashioka, a journeyman innings guy, and miscellaneous arms are the most likely additions based on the team’s recent approach to Triple-A roster building.

Reports: Yankees may or may not be expanding Quintana trade talks to include David Robertson

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Bob Nightengale, the Yankees have expanded their Jose Quintana trade talks with the White Sox to include David Robertson. They want Chicago to eat some of the $25M left on Robertson’s contract, however. Joel Sherman, meanwhile, says the Yanks aren’t working on a Quintana/Robertson trade. /shrugs

I’ve said pretty much all I have to say about Quintana at this point. He’s very good and signed cheap for another four years, so he fits right in with the rebuild transition. There aren’t many players I want the Yankees to trade top prospects to acquire. Quintana is one of them. The Robertson angle, assuming there is some truth to Nightengale’s report (a dubious assumption), adds a fun little wrinkle. Let’s dive in.

1. This passes the sniff test. The first question with any trade rumor: does it make sense? There are so many reports these days that it’s difficult to tell what’s legitimate and what’s nonsense planted by a team for leverage purposes. It gets overwhelming at times. Reporters write it all up because it’s their job and it makes for great #content, and fans eat it up. I get it.

Sometimes it’s important to take a step back and think about whether a rumor actually makes sense. Does adding Robertson to a potential Quintana trade pass the sniff test? Yes, I think it does. First and foremost, we know the Yankees love the idea of a super-bullpen. Also, they know Robertson from his time in New York and did claim him on trade waivers two years ago, so they’re willing to bring him back. (You don’t claim a high-priced player on trade waivers unless you’re willing to take on the money.)

That’s enough for me to believe there’s some legitimacy to this rumor. Does that mean the Yankees desperately want Robertson and are willing to pay big to get him back? Of course not. It just means they’re open to the idea. He fits their roster — as a good reliever, Robertson fits any roster — and their current team-building strategy, which is essentially “have the best bullpen possible to protect whatever leads the rest of the team manages to create.”

2. This past season was Robertson’s worst since 2010. The 2016 season was Robertson’s worst since before his breakout 2011 campaign in pinstripes. He had a 3.47 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 62.1 innings in 2016, and beyond that his strikeout rate (28.1%) was his lowest since 2010 and his walk rate (12.0%) was his highest since 2011. Robertson walked a lot of batters early in his career (12.2% from 2008-11) before cutting his walk rate to 7.2% from 2012-15. Was 2016 a one-year blip, or the return of the old Robertson?

PitchFX indicates Robertson’s raw stuff is relatively unchanged. His cutter has sat in the 92.3 mph to 92.8 mph average velocity range every year since 2012, and he’s getting more swings and misses with his curveball than ever before. From Brooks Baseball:

david-robertson-whiffs

The good news is the cutter/curveball combination Robertson worked with his past season was basically the same as three years ago. It would be a red flag had he lost velocity or hitters stopped swinging and missing at the curve. His issues in 2016, namely the decline in strikeouts and increase in walks, could be related to a mechanical issue. Or maybe crappy pitch-framing.

Either way, this year was Robertson’s worst season in quite some time and we can’t ignore that. He’ll turn 32 shortly after Opening Day, and while he’s never had any serious injury problems — Robertson has made at least 60 appearances and thrown at least 60 innings in each of the last seven seasons — he’s about to enter what are typically a player’s decline years. There’s risk here.

3. Robertson won’t lower the asking price for Quintana. Robertson is not a negative asset. The White Sox could trade him for actual prospects right now. They might not be top prospects like Gleyber Torres or Clint Frazier, and Chicago might have to eat a couple bucks to facilitate a trade, but Robertson has value. Plenty of contending teams need bullpen help, and heck, with relievers now getting $16M+ a year, Robertson’s contract isn’t awful.

I know the first inclination is to think taking on Robertson would lower the cost for Quintana, but I can’t imagine that would actually be the case, especially if the Yankees insist the White Sox eat some money. (Presumably to lessen the 2018 luxury tax hit.) Chicago could trade Quintana and Robertson separately and land a bunch of prospects. Packaging them together shouldn’t equal fewer prospects. The Yankees might not be willing to trade, say, Torres and Frazier for Quintana alone. But if the deal is expanded to include Robertson, it could be easier to swallow.

(I’m not advocating trading Torres and Frazier for Quintana. I’m just throwing it out there for discussion purposes. Don’t bite my head off.)

4. Could adding Robertson lead to another reliever trade? We know the Yankees love the idea of a super-bullpen with multiple closer-caliber relievers. Robertson is not Andrew Miller, but he is better than most, and he’d slot into the eighth inning nicely between Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances to create that powerhouse seventh-eighth-ninth inning trio. (Robertson’s been a closer, which is why he gets the eighth over Betances. This is Joe Girardi we’re talking about here.)

That said, I can’t help but wonder if acquiring Robertson could lead to another reliever being dealt for prospects, like Betances or Tyler Clippard. There are a ton of contending teams in need of bullpen help. Off the top of my head, the Dodgers, Nationals, Mets, Cardinals, Giants, and Mariners could all use another setup reliever. Perhaps the Yankees would take a wait and see approach. Go into the season with the bullpen intact, see where they are come July, and if they’re out of the race, look to cash these guys in as trade chips like they did this year. They don’t have to rush into a trade.

Do the Yankees actually need another lefty reliever?

Layne. (Presswire)
Layne. (Presswire)

For much of the offseason, most Yankees-related rumors involved their search for a new designated hitter and their pursuit of Aroldis Chapman. Since the Matt Holliday and Chapman signings, most of the talk has focused on the team’s search for middle relief, particularly left-handers. They Yankees have been connected to Justin Wilson, Boone Logan, Mike Dunn, and Brett Cecil, among others.

Chapman gives the Yankees one of the top lefty relievers in baseball. Arguably the best and no worse than the third best behind Andrew Miller and Zach Britton, though he’s not someone Joe Girardi will bring in to face, say, Chris Davis in the sixth inning. Chapman’s the closer and the ninth inning is his domain. The innings before that are up to lesser relievers. Here is New York’s lefty reliever depth chart behind Chapman:

  1. Tommy Layne
  2. Chasen Shreve
  3. Richard Bleier
  4. Dietrich Enns
  5. Joe Mantiply (re-signed to minor league deal)
  6. Jason Gurka (signed to minor league deal)

Think Bleier belongs above Shreve? I won’t argue with you. Bleier did see some higher leverage work down the stretch in September while Shreve hasn’t been very good since July 2015. Either way, Layne is at the top and everyone else is behind him in whatever order. Jacob Lindgren (non-tender), James Pazos (trade), and Tyler Webb (Rule 5 Draft) are all gone.

Looking at that depth chart, it’s easy to understand why the Yankees would seek a better left-hander for the bullpen, and there are several available. Is it worth investing money and a roster spot in another southpaw though? Given the state of the roster, I don’t think another lefty is a necessity at all, for a few reasons.

1. Layne might actually be pretty good. Guys like Layne are very hit or miss. He’s 32-year-old journeyman who didn’t make his MLB debut until age 27, and he’s been in four organizations (Diamondbacks, Padres, Red Sox, Yankees) in the last five seasons. He’s been traded for cash, non-tendered, and released. Layne is the definition of freely available talent. You don’t give up anything of value to get players like him.

The thing is, Layne is above replacement level, at least when it comes to facing left-handed batters. We all saw him last year, he’s a quintessential funky lefty with an 80-something mile-an-hour fastball and a sweepy breaking ball, yet he makes his work. His numbers against lefties the last three seasons:

BF AVG/OBP/SLG wOBA K% BB% GB% HR/9
2014 48 .159/.229/.182 .196 22.9% 8.3% 51.5% 0.00
2015 102 .144/.248/.170 .203 26.5% 10.8% 60.0% 0.00
2016 101 .214/.310/.261 .265 20.8% 9.9% 51.6% 0.36
Total 251 .175/.269/.209 .227 23.5% 10.0% 54.8% 0.14

Not a huge sample size, but that’s not Layne’s fault. That’s just the life of a left-on-left matchup guy. Overall though, he’s been pretty darn effective against same-side hitters. The walks are kinda annoying (you had one job!) but Layne has gotten enough strikeouts and grounders to compensate. If a free agent had those numbers, he’d have our attention.

The Yankees have flushed a lot of money down the toilet on proven veteran lefties like Pedro Feliciano and Damaso Marte and Matt Thornton over the years, and those guys serve as reminders that there is no such thing as a proven reliever. Even the most established veterans can go poof in an instant. Layne has been pretty damn effective in his limited MLB time against lefties and he costs basically nothing. Why sign a free agent who might not even be an upgrade?

2. The Yankees have righties who can get out lefties. For most of this past season, the Yankees didn’t have a true matchup lefty in the bullpen. Shreve was on the roster a bunch and so was Bleier, but, for the most part, they were lower leverage relievers. Whenever there was a lefty at the plate in a big spot in the late innings, Miller was on the mound. Or Dellin Betances.

Betances, like fellow bullpen mates Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren, has actually been better against lefties than righties the last few years. Crazy, I know. A righty who can get out lefties. What a time to be alive. Here are their platoon splits over the last three seasons:

vs. RHB vs. LHB
Betances .160/.261/.264 (.242 wOBA) .173/.244/.243 (.221 wOBA)
Clippard .195/.287/.333 (.276 wOBA) .202/.277/.336 (.270 wOBA)
Warren .250/.320/.394 (.314 wOBA) .197/.275/.310 (.255 wOBA)

Betances overpowers everyone, Clippard has that dead fish changeup, and Warren still uses four pitches as a reliever. It’s not difficult to understand why all three of them have had success against lefties the last few years. Now, will they continue to have that level of success going forward? That’s the big question. I’m not all that confident in Clippard maintaining that level of production, but Dellin and Warren? Not too worried.

Point is, the Yankees shouldn’t be desperate for a left-on-left matchup reliever because they have several righties who can get lefties out too. I know Girardi loves his matchups, so much so that he overdoes it at times, but sometimes bringing in the lefty pitcher to face a lefty hitter just isn’t necessary. Betances, Clippard, and Warren can get the job done themselves.

3. How many great lefty hitters are in the AL East anyway? David Ortiz is retired. James F. Loney is gone. Carlos Delgado and Carlos Pena have been out of the game for years now. The days of the AL East housing the most fearsome left-handed hitters in baseball are pretty much over. Here are the projected left-handed hitting regulars among the four division rivals:

  • Blue Jays: Ezequiel Carrera
  • Orioles: Chris Davis, Hyun-Soo Kim
  • Rays: Corey Dickerson, Kevin Kiermaier, Brad Miller
  • Red Sox: Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mitch Moreland

Davis is the one dude who is legitimately terrifying because he can hit the ball a mile when he connects. Benintendi is going to be really good one day, I think, perhaps as soon as 2017, but otherwise we’re looking at players who are nuisances more than major threats. Maybe I’m selling Bradley short, but even if you include him in a group with Davis and Benintendi, there still aren’t many lefty hitters in the AL East you dread seeing at the plate in a big spot.

Yes, the Yankees do play games outside the division. Lots of them, in fact. But 75 of their 162 games next season will be against the Blue Jays, Orioles, Rays, and Red Sox. Nearly half the schedule. And aside from Davis and Benintendi (and Bradley), there aren’t many AL East left-handed hitters who make a shutdown left-on-left reliever a necessity.

4. Is there even room in the bullpen for a LOOGY? This, to me, is the biggest point in this post. Can the Yankees afford to dedicate a roster spot to a true matchup reliever? A guy who comes in, faces one or two batters, then bolts. Someone who finishes the season with 34 innings in 78 appearances. That kinda thing. I’m not so sure.

(Martin Griff/Pinstriped Prospects)
A lefty who can throw multiple innings, like Enns, may be ideal. (Martin Griff/Pinstriped Prospects)

Everything in baseball is trending towards using pitchers less and less. Part of that is trying to keep them healthy, and part of that is maximizing effectiveness. Teams have begun pulling their fourth and fifth starters after the second time through the lineup to avoiding giving hitters a third look at them. CC Sabathia‘s effectiveness waned noticeably when his pitch count climbed over 80-85 in 2016.

Thing is, teams still need guys to throw all those innings, and dedicating a bullpen spot to a one-batter matchup reliever means those innings fall on other relievers. The Yankees had 121 games in which the starter did not throw more than 100 pitches this year. That blows my mind. That was the eighth most in baseball and second most in the AL. Only the Angels got fewer 101+ pitch starts from their rotation. That puts a lot of responsibility on the bullpen.

As it stands right now, the Yankees have one bonafide ace in Masahiro Tanaka, who the team treats with kid gloves. Sabathia really should be limited to 85 pitches or so these days, and Michael Pineda had a hard time completing five innings by the end of 2016. Then you have a bunch of kids lined up for the fourth and fifth spots. Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, Chad Green … we’re going to see all of them next year.

Chances are the Yankees are going to ask their bullpen to soak up a lot of inning next season, to the point where carrying two long relievers might not be such a bad idea. Having a left-on-left matchup guy might not be practical. The seven bullpen spots may need to go to pitchers who can throw full innings, not five (pitches) and fly.

Reports: Yankees need to clear salary before making more moves this offseason

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The Yankees are tapped out. Or at least that’s what they’re telling everyone right now. Both Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman say the Yankees are telling agents they need to clear salary before making any more moves this offseason. I estimated New York’s luxury tax payroll for next season at roughly $214M, which is down from $243.8M in 2016.

Needless to say, reports like this will fuel the “Hal Steinbrenner is cheap!” narrative, which is ridiculous. Is it fair to say the Yankees should spend more given the little we know about their revenues? Yeah, I guess. But that doesn’t make a franchise that has given away $325M over the last 14 years cheap. Anyway, I have some thoughts on these payroll reports.

1. This could all be posturing. What do we hear every offseason? Teams say they don’t have money to spend and they don’t want to trade young players. Same old story. The Yankees telling free agents they don’t have money to spend could be more of the same. The team is trying to create some leverage during contract talks. What good could come out of saying “we have a lot of money to spend!” anyway?

2. The team’s recent activity make this more believable. The key to any good fake rumor is making it believable. The Yankees want agents to believe they don’t have much cash to spend? Well, trading Brian McCann for two Single-A prospects and salary relief supports that theory. So does shopping Brett Gardner and Chase Headley. And going young at three positions (catcher, first base, right field). Those moves are geared towards saving money.

Of course, the Yankees spent big to sign Aroldis Chapman this offseason, so there are reasons to be skeptical about their spending limitations. Matt Holliday wasn’t cheap either in terms of annual salary. Even with those signings, Hal has made it very clear he wants to get under the luxury tax threshold soon, and almost every move the Yankees have made since July has been made with an eye on the 2018 payroll. The Yankees are out of money? It sounds silly, but it’s also kinda believable.

3. If it is true, spending all that money on a closer makes even less sense. Now, if it is true the Yankees can’t take on any more payroll, the Chapman signing looks even more questionable. I understand the signing, I do, I just don’t think it was the best use of (apparently limited) resources at this point in time. Signing a closer for $17.2M a year is a move you make when you’re ready to win right now, not a year or two down the line. Banking on a reliever aging well, even one as great as Chapman, is dubious at best. The fact that move could be hindering the Yankees’ ability to make other moves is, dare I say, problematic.

4. The free agent class stinks anyway. The Yankees are going young wherever possible and that’s cool, though there are still some obvious needs on the roster. Another veteran starter to soak up innings would be swell, as would a middle reliever or two. There’s always room for another pitcher(s), especially on a young staff in which innings will need to be monitored.

The current free agent class really stinks though, and it’s entirely possible that even if the Yankees had money to spend, they wouldn’t be comfortable spending it on any of the available players. The apparent need to shed payroll before making another move might not actually be preventing the Yankees from doing anything right now. I’m sure they’d love to do something else, but it’s not like there are a ton of high quality free agents out there waiting to be signed.

Morosi: Yankees have interest in Jose Quintana

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

From the no duh department: the Yankees have some level of interest in White Sox lefty Jose Quintana, according to Jon Morosi. How serious is their interest? Who knows. Could be minimal, could be serious. The White Sox are very much in sell mode at the moment and Quintana is their top trade chip now that Chris Sale and Adam Eaton have been traded away.

Here is my Scouting The Market post on Quintana from earlier this month. The short version: he’s very good with a great contract, and there are no obvious reasons to believe his performance is about to decline. Every team in baseball wants Quintana in their rotation. Not every team has the wherewithal to acquire him though. Anyway, I have some thoughts on this.

1. The Yankees definitely have the prospects to make the trade. The Yankees have a dynamite farm system right now, arguably the best in baseball, so they have the prospects to acquire Quintana. Heck, they could offer the White Sox a package of three top 100 prospects and still have no fewer than three top 100 guys left in the system. Does Chicago want outfielders? Shortstops? Pitchers? Whatever it is, the Yankees have it. The trade chips are there.

2. The Yankees should be open to trading prospects. I know the Yankees are in the middle of a youth movement and all these prospects are important to their long-term future, but they should not be averse to trading a few of them either. Not all these prospects are going to work out. That’s baseball. Some of them will end up having zero MLB value and the Yankees will regret not cashing them in as trade chips. The tricky part is figuring out which prospects are worth keeping and which should be traded.

3. The price is going to be very high. After the Sale and Eaton trades, White Sox GM Rick Hahn said he focused on acquiring the best talent possible and not filling specific needs. That’s what the Yankees did at the deadline and what every rebuilding team should do, really. Hahn traded Eaton for three pitching prospects even though he needs long-term second base and outfield help, for example.

Sale is the bigger name but his trade value shouldn’t be much higher than Quintana’s. Strip away their names and your preconceived notions of each, and they’re pretty damn similar. Check out their 2014-16 performances:

Ages IP ERA FIP bWAR fWAR
Pitcher A 25-27 609.1 3.03 2.96 +14.8 +16.6
Pitcher B 25-27 614.2 3.29 3.19 +12.6 +14.7

Pretty much indistinguishable. The difference between the two is +2 WAR across three seasons, which a) isn’t much at all, and b) doesn’t matter because you’re not acquiring the 2014-16 version of either pitcher. You’re getting the 2017 and beyond versions. Quintana, who is Pitcher B in the table, is under control one more year than Sale, which is pretty big.

Point is, the Yankees are smart to have interest in Quintana, even after letting him go for nothing as a minor league free agent however many years ago. If they want him though, it’s going to hurt. They’re going to have to give up multiple top prospects to add this guy to the rotation.

4. Quintana is exactly the kind of pitcher the Yankees need. The Yankees have basically no established big league starters under control beyond 2017. CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda will be free agents next winter, and if Masahiro Tanaka is still around after next season, it means something went wrong and he didn’t opt-out. Maybe one of the kids will emerge as a reliable starter next summer. Maybe two will. That’d be cool.

Either way, the Yankees have a clear need for long-term rotation help, and when you put together a checklist for the type of pitcher they’d like to acquire, it probably looks something like this:

  1. Young
  2. Track record of excellence
  3. No injury history
  4. Affordable long-term contract
  5. Preferably left-handed for Yankee Stadium

That’s it, right? That’s the kind of pitcher the Yankees want to acquire. Well, Quintana is all of those things. He’s only 27, he’s never been hurt, he’s signed through 2020 for about what the Diamondbacks will pay Zack Greinke in 2017 alone, and he’s a southpaw with a history of success in the DH league.

The Yankees are probably hesitant to dip into their farm system and trade multiple top prospects for an established big leaguer, and I get it. But, if they’re going to make a move like that, Quintana is the type of player you do it for. He checks every box.

Scouting the Free Agent Market: Left-Handed Relievers

noboone.jpg (Justin Edmonds/Getty)
noboone.jpg (Justin Edmonds/Getty)

The Yankees came into the offseason seemingly determined to land a big money closer, and they did exactly that two weeks ago, when they inked Aroldis Chapman to a five-year contract. Chapman joins Dellin Betances and Tyler Clippard in the bullpen, probably Adam Warren too. The remaining bullpen spots are up for grabs with a whole bunch of young pitchers in the running.

Reports indicate the Yankees are still looking to add bullpen help — well, every team is looking for bullpen help, but you know what I mean — particularly a left-hander. They were in touch with Brett Cecil before he signed with the Cardinals, and they had interest in Mike Dunn before he signed with the Rockies. Here is New York’s lefty reliever depth chart at the moment:

  1. Aroldis Chapman
  2. Tommy Layne
  3. Chasen Shreve
  4. Richard Bleier
  5. Dietrich Enns

Chapman is the closer and won’t be used in left-on-left matchup situations in the middle innings. Right now Layne is that guy, and while he did nice work for the Yankees this past season, I’m not sure he’s someone they could count on going forward. The other three guys aren’t all that reliable either. They might prove to be next summer, but right now, I can’t imagine anyone wants to go into the season with one of those three as the top middle innings southpaw.

The current free agent class is not very good, especially now that most of the top players are off the board, but it does offer a few quality left-handed bullpen options. They won’t come cheap — Cecil got four years and Dunn got three years, so yikes — which might keep the Yankees out of the market all together. Still though, if a nice opportunity presents itself, the Yankees could pounce. Let’s review the available options.

Jerry Blevins

Blevins. (Greg Fiume/Getty)
Blevins. (Greg Fiume/Getty)

2016 Performance: Blevins, 33, spent the 2016 season with the Mets and pitched to a 2.79 ERA (3.05 FIP) in 42 innings spread across 73 innings, which tells you how he was used. He held left-handed hitters to a .250/.313/.324 (.283 wOBA) batting line against with 31.0% strikeouts, 7.1% walks, and 49.3% grounders. Blevins was actually much more effective against righties (.245 wOBA), but that was a big outlier compared to the rest of his career (.312 wOBA).

2016 Stuff: As with most relievers, Blevins is a two-pitch pitcher who relies on his fastball and breaking ball, in this case a curve. He has thrown a changeup on occasion in the past, but it’s not a big part of his arsenal. Here’s the PitchFX data from his past season. This numbers are against lefties only since we’re looking at matchup guys:

% Thrown Avg Velo Whiff% GB%
Fastball 63.0% 89.9 4.2% 59.5%
Curveball 35.7% 71.3 25.6% 32.0%

The fastball swing-and-miss rate is below-average (MLB AVG: 6.9%) while the curveball swing-and-miss rate is comfortably above-average (MLB AVG: 11.1%). Blevins got a ton of grounders with his fastball this year (MLB AVG: 37.9%), always has, while his curve is the opposite. It has a lower than average ground ball rate (MLB AVG: 48.7%) and has throughout his career.

The Skinny: There are very few consistently reliable matchup left-handers in baseball and Blevins is one of them. Since reaching the show for good in 2012, he’s held lefty batters to a sub-.285 wOBA four times in five years. Despite his success this year, Blevins isn’t effective against righties, and there’s nothing to indicate this year’s success was anything more than sample size noise (he faced only 65 righties). If the Yankees want a pure specialist, Blevins is one of the best out there.

J.P. Howell

2016 Performance: Last offseason Howell exercised a $6.25M player option in his contract to remain with the Dodgers. The 33-year-old had a 4.09 ERA (3.50 FIP) in 50.2 innings and 64 appearances overall, and lefties roughed him up pretty good too: .299/.340/.412 (.328 wOBA) with 21.4% strikeouts, 3.9% walks, and 66.7% grounders. Righties had success against Howell this year as well (.304 wOBA). Just a year ago he held lefties to a .237 wOBA, however.

2016 Stuff: Howell is another two-pitch reliever. He’s a sinker/curveball guy with kind of a funky delivery that adds some deception. Here’s how Howell’s stuff played against lefties in 2016:

% Thrown Avg Velo Whiff% GB%
Sinker 50.6% 85.9 4.7% 73.7%
Curveball 49.2% 79.1 11.7% 58.8%

Howell is a ground ball guy, not a bat-misser. Ground balls are fine, but when the guy’s primary job is to get out lefties, you’d like him to be able to do it without relying on his defense so much. A ground ball doesn’t help much when there is a runner on third with less than two outs. Howell is the not the type of pitcher who can come in and get you that strikeout.

The Skinny: Howell fell so far out of favor with the Dodgers this year that he wasn’t even on their postseason roster. Manager Dave Roberts went with rookie Grant Dayton and veteran Luis Avilan as his two lefty relievers in October. Howell is a finesse pitcher with no track record of big strikeout numbers, so there’s no reason to expect that going forward. Want him to get a lefty out? Chances are he’ll need his defense to make a play behind him.

Boone Logan

2016 Performance: Shoulder inflammation sidelined the 32-year-old Logan for two weeks at the end of May, and around that, he had a 3.69 ERA (3.23 FIP) in 46.1 innings and 66 appearances. He absolutely dominated lefties. They hit .139/.222/.255 (.215 wOBA) against him with 33.6% strikeouts, 7.6% walks, and 60.6% grounders. Nearly 70% of the lefties Logan faced this summer either struck out or hit the ball on the ground. Righties has more success against him, naturally (.305 wOBA).

2016 Stuff: As I’m sure you remember from his time with the Yankees, Logan is a four-seamer/sinker/slider pitcher with good velocity and a breaking ball that, when thrown right, is allergic to bats. Here are the numbers against lefties from 2016:

% Thrown Avg Velo Whiff% GB%
Four-Seam 31.7% 93.9 8.9% 42.9%
Sinker 12.4% 93.9 3.2% 70.6%
Slider 55.5% 84.2 27.8% 66.7%

Logan throws a ton of sliders, always has and always will. That pitch is the reason he’s in the big leagues. The slider gets a ton of swings and misses and a ton of grounders. The four-seamer gets an above-average amount of both too. Now that Dunn and Cecil are off the board, Logan is the only true power lefty remaining in free agency. He can throw the ball by hitters, which sure is a nice skill to have.

The Skinny: Logan never dominated lefties as thoroughly as he did this year. A season ago he held them to a .222/.349/.254 (.286 wOBA) batting line, which is nothing to write home about. His 2016 performance was a great big outlier compared to the rest of his career. That said, Logan has been generally serviceable against left-handed batters in his career, and his slider is probably the single best pitch among current free agent lefties.

Javier Lopez

Lopez. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty)
Lopez. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty)

2016 Performance: Lopez, the stalwart southpaw who was a key part of all those championship bullpens with the Giants, had a 4.05 ERA (5.40 FIP) at age 39 in 2016. He threw 26.2 innings across 68 appearances (lol), and lefties hit .208/.318/.316 (.289 wOBA) against him with 66.2% grounders and the same number of walks as strikeouts (11.2%). Righties absolutely clobbered Lopez this past season (.413 wOBA).

2016 Stuff: Lopez is a classic left-on-left matchup guy with little velocity, a sweepy breaking ball, and a funky sidearm delivery. The stereotypical LOOGY. PitchFX credits Lopez with both a slider and a curveball even though they’re the same pitch. He just varies the shape of his breaking ball. Anyway, here are the numbers against lefties from 2016:

% Thrown Avg Velo Whiff% GB%
Sinker 72.8% 85.0 6.2% 76.9%
Slider 21.3% 78.5 6.7% 50.0%
Curveball 5.4% 72.4 15.8% 0.0%

Well, the good news is Lopez is able to get ground balls with two pitches. Swings and misses though? It’s not happening. The curve, which is just a variation of his slider, got a good amount of whiffs, though he didn’t throw it all that much. Like Howell, Lopez is a guy who is going to put his defense to work to get outs.

The Skinny: Guys like Lopez scare the crap out of me. I know he spent all those years as a high-leverage matchup guy on championship teams, but, at this point of his career, Lopez is pushing 40 with no way to miss bats, even against lefties. The Giants had a miserable bullpen this past season and they’re walking away from a guy who was a key part of their bullpen through the title years. That’s kinda telling.

Travis Wood

2016 Performance: Unlike the other guys in this post, Wood has had success as a starter in his career. He made nine starts for the Cubs as recently as 2015 before moving to the bullpen full-time. This past season the 29-year-old had a 2.95 ERA (4.54 FIP) in 61 innings and 77 appearances. Wood was excellent against lefties, holding them to a .128/.208/.239 (.203 wOBA) batting line with 19.2% strikeouts, 9.2% walks, and 38.4% grounders. (And a .143 BABIP.) Righties hit him pretty hard though (.362 wOBA).

2016 Stuff: Even in relief, Wood used three pitches against lefties this summer. He attacked them with two fastballs (four-seamer and cutter) and a breaking ball (slider). And every once in a while he spun a curveball, but not often. Here’s how his stuff played against same-side hitters in 2016:

% Thrown Avg Velo Whiff% GB%
Four-seam 58.3% 91.5 9.8% 26.4%
Cutter 23.2% 87.7 6.2% 55.6%
Slider 13.7% 82.7 14.3% 53.3%

Whereas Logan has one excellent pitch in his slider, Wood has three good pitches but no truly dominant offering. I find it interesting Wood attacks lefties primarily with a four-seamer and cutter and not his slider. Does he front door the cutter? Or aim it at the outside corner and let it cut off the plate? Intrigue!

The Skinny: The free agent pitching market is so thin right now that I wonder if a team will look to sign Wood as a starter. He opened the 2015 season in the Cubs rotation and made at least 26 starts each year from 2012-14, so he has a lot of experience in that role. Either way, I don’t buy him being a true talent .203 wOBA pitcher against lefties, not with those strikeout and ground ball numbers, and especially without Chicago’s defense behind him. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad pitcher. I just don’t think Wood is really as good as he was in 2016.

* * *

To me, Blevins and Logan and Wood are at the head of the class here. Howell and especially Lopez are players I wouldn’t consider on anything more than a minor league deal. There are an awful lot of red flags with those two. Blevins is reliable, Logan brings that nasty slider, and Wood might have a chance to be something more than a pure left-on-left matchup guy.

As always, it’s going to come down to cost. Bullpen help is not cheap these days. Cecil signed for four years and $7.625M annually. Dunn received $6.33M per year across three years. Remember when the Yankees gave Matt Thornton two years and $7M total and it seemed kinda crazy? Those days are long gone. Decent middle relief help will cost you $6M a year or more. The Yankees might not be willing to commit that much to a lefty reliever, especially with no true shutdown guy available.