Scouting the Trade Market: Gerrit Cole

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

One thing has become abundantly clear the last few weeks: the Yankees need pitching. All types. Starters, relievers, lefties, righties, the whole nine. Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery look like long-term keepers, though the remainder of the rotation is up in the air. CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda will be free agents after the season, and who knows what’ll happen with Masahiro Tanaka‘s opt-out.

The Yankees have the flexibility to fill out their rotation in multiple ways. Enough money is coming off the books after this season that they could sign a free agent or two. They also have the prospects to promote from within and/or make a trade. Brian Cashman and his staff will explore every avenue. That’s what they do. If a high-end starter with long-term control becomes available, they’ll get involved. I’m sure of it.

One such starter who may be made available at the deadline — but not definitely — is Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole, who the Yankees drafted in the first round in 2008. Cole didn’t sign, went to UCLA for three years, then came out as the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft. You know the story. That won’t stop the Yankees from pursuing Cole in a trade. There’s not enough quality pitching out there to hold grudges. Let’s break down Cole as a trade target.

The Performance

Somehow this is already Cole’s fifth season in the big leagues. He made his MLB debut in June 2013 and he has been in Pittsburgh’s rotation ever since. Here are his numbers over the years, real quick:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2013 117.1 3.22 2.91 21.3% 6.0% 49.1% 0.54 .294 .275
2014 138 3.65 3.23 24.2% 7.0% 49.2% 0.72 .294 .326
2015 208 2.60 2.66 24.3% 5.3% 48.0% 0.48 .283 .266
2016 116 3.88 3.33 19.4% 7.1% 45.6% 0.54 .285 .371
2017 96.1 4.11 4.57 19.7% 6.0% 46.7% 1.59 .285 .367

Two things immediately stand out. Well, three things, really. One, Cole is in the middle of his worst big league season, both in terms of ERA and FIP. Two, he’s been very home run prone this year. I mean, every pitcher has been home run prone, but Cole especially so. He’s allowed one additional homer per nine innings pitched compared to the last few seasons.

And three, left-handed batters have really hit Cole hard since the start of 2016. He’s still the same ol’ Gerrit Cole against righties, but after performing very well against lefties from 2013-15, Cole hasn’t been able to keep them in check since the start of last season. I’m sure the home runs have something to do with that — again, everyone is giving up more homers these days — but it’s still a red flag. Here’s the batted ball data against lefties, via FanGraphs:

gerrit-cole-vs-lhb

So yeah, home runs have definitely been a problem. Nearly one-quarter of all fly balls Cole has given up to lefties have left the yard this season. That’s insane. Lefties aren’t getting the ball in the air that much more often against Cole, but they are pulling the ball and make hard contact more often. That makes sense. Most hitters have their most power when they pull the ball.

Cole has already allowed 12 home runs — 12! — to left-handed batters this season. He allowed 16 total from 2013-16. Hit Tracker data says only five of those 12 home runs were “Just Enoughs,” meaning the ball cleared the fence by fewer than ten vertical feet. Those barely got over the fence. The other seven qualifies as “No Doubt” and “Plenty,” meaning they were bombs. Not cheap home runs. Hmmm.

If you’re reading this, you know a right-handed pitcher who has trouble keeping left-handed batters in the park is bad news in Yankee Stadium. The short right field porch is only going to exacerbate that home run problem. Is this fixable? Or is this who Cole is now? That’s something the Yankees will have to consider before pursuing a trade.

The Stuff

Cole has five distinct pitches, but he is more of a four-and-a-half pitch pitcher than a true five-pitch pitcher. His curveball is basically a get-me-over pitch he’ll use to steal a strike now and then. It’s not a put-away pitch like his slider and changeup. And his fastball, for that matter. Here are the average velocities, via Brooks Baseball:

gerrit-cole-velocity

Yep. Cole throws hard. We knew that already. His four-seamer and sinker are both consistently over 95 mph — he’s topped out at 100.2 mph with the four-seamer and 99.7 mph with the sinker this season — while the slider and changeup are both a touch shy of 90 mph. Cole is Severino, basically. Everything he throws is hard. A power pitcher all the way.

Reading about pitches and seeing them in action are two very different things, so here’s some video:

Because of the issues with left-handed hitters the last two years, it’s worth digging a little deeper here. PitchFX and Trackman data shows Cole is throwing fewer four-seam fastballs to lefties this year and more of everything else. Cole may have changed his pitch selection a bit after last season, or this could be sample size noise. If he did change his pitch selection against lefties intentionally, it’s not really working. They’re taking him deep on the regular this year.

Here are the swing-and-miss rates by lefties against Cole’s various pitches, via Brooks Baseball:

gerrit-cole-whiff-vs-lhb

Just about everything is down from where it was from 2013-15, the years Cole more than held his own against lefties. The curveball is way down, though he has only thrown 91 curveballs to lefties this season. That’s not much. Then again, he threw 91 curves to lefties all of last season. He is throwing that pitch more often to batters on the other side of the plate and they are not swinging and missing much at all.

The changeup and slider are the important pitches here. Especially the changeup, though Cole will also back foot his slider to lefties. The slider is still getting plenty of empty swings relative to previous years. The changeup? Not so much. Only two of those 12 home runs by lefties have come against the changeup, but if the pitch is not on par with previous years, hitters don’t have to worry about it as much. It has an effect on Cole’s entire arsenal.

Something has gone awry here. Cole’s stuff is relatively unchanged, yet he’s been unable to keep left-handed batters in check since the start of last season. Just about all 12 of the home runs he’s allowed to lefties this year have come on pitches right out over the plate (via Baseball Savant) …

gerrit-cole-home-run-locations

… so obviously location is an issue. Tanaka has given up a ton of dingers this season. Why? Because he’s left too many pitches out over the plate. That’s the easy part. Why has he left more pitches out over the plate? In Tanaka’s case, we can see his slider and splitter haven’t been breaking as much as usual. I haven’t watch Cole as closely as I’ve watched Tanaka the last few seasons. I don’t know if he’s simply missing his spots, or if his pitches are backing up.

I suppose the important thing here is that Cole is still throwing hard and he’s still using his his four-and-a-half pitches. When the velocity starts to slip or a guy starts to stay away from one pitch entirely, it’s a big red flag. That hasn’t happened with Cole. His issues with left-handed hitters are very real, especially his home run problems. As long as Cole’s stuff is still there, there’s reason to hope those issues can be fixed.

Injury History

Cole, who will turn 27 in September, has been on the disabled list twice in his career, and both stints came last season. He missed a month with a biceps strain, then his season ended in late-August with elbow inflammation. The Pirates were out of the race and they decided to play it safe, and shut their ace down completely. Cole healed up over the winter and had a normal Spring Training, and his elbow has been fine since.

The fact Cole had two arm injuries as recently as last season is sorta scary, and that could also explain the issues with lefties last season. If his arm was aching, he might not have had the same finish on his pitches. That, of course, wouldn’t explain his problems with lefties this season, assuming his arm is not hurt now. Point is, Cole had been perfectly healthy up until last season, when his biceps and later his elbow started barking.

Contract Situation

This is Cole’s first season of arbitration eligibility. He will earn $3.75M this year and remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2018 and 2019, so he’s a two-and-a-half year pickup. Trade for Cole at this year’s trade deadline and you get him for three postseason runs and two full seasons. That’s not super long-term control, but he’s not a rental either.

It is worth noting Cole is a devoted Scott Boras client and union guy, which means he is expected to chase down every last dollar when free agency comes during the 2019-20 offseason. That doesn’t necessarily mean he wouldn’t re-sign with the Yankees (or whoever trades for him) when the time comes. It just means they shouldn’t expect a discount. They’ll have to outbid everyone else.

(Also, Cole has all three minor league options remaining, though that means nothing. You’re not trading for this guy with the idea of sending him to the minors at some point. The options are close to meaningless.)

What Will It Take?

(Joe Sargent/Getty)
(Joe Sargent/Getty)

Plenty of high-end starting pitchers have been traded over the years, though not many have been traded at the deadline, and with two-and-a-half years of team control remaining. Most trades involving big time pitchers take place in the offseason. That leaves us very short on trade benchmarks. Here are some pitchers who were recently traded with two or three years of team control remaining:

  • Chris Sale (three years of control): Traded for a top five global prospect (Yoan Moncada), a top 25 global prospect (Michael Kopech), a top ten organizational prospect (Luis Alexander Basabe), and a top 30 organizational prospect (Victor Diaz).
  • Wade Miley (three years of control): Traded for a preseason top 50-100 global prospect (Allen Webster), a reclamation project former top 100 prospect (Rubby De La Rosa), and a organizational non-top 30 prospect (Raymel Flores).
  • Wade Miley (two years of control): Traded with an organizational top 30 prospect (Jonathan Aro) for a high-leverage MLB reliever with five years of control (Carson Smith) and a depth arm (Roenis Elias).
  • Nathan Eovaldi (two years of control): Traded with an organizational top ten prospect (Domingo German) and an MLB bench player (Garrett Jones) for an everyday MLB player (Martin Prado) and an MLB swingman (David Phelps).
  • Drew Smyly (two years of control): Traded for an organizational top ten prospect (Mallex Smith), an organizational top 30 prospect (Ryan Yarborough), and an organizational non-top 30 prospect (Carlos Vargas).

Yeah. I don’t think any of those trades help us figure out what it’ll cost to get Cole. The Pirates will push for a Sale package, no doubt, but that’s not happening. Sale is much better than Cole, has no injury history, and he came with three full seasons of control, not two-and-a-half.

Both Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi recently reported the Pirates have no plans to tear things down and start a rebuild, making it unlikely they will trade Cole. They will, however, listen to offers. It never hurts to listen. Cole’s value is down at the moment — like I said, this is his worst MLB season — and while the idea of buying low sounds wonderful, I doubt the Pirates move him for pennies on the dollar.

This is what I think will happen: the Pirates will market Cole as an ace because he performed like one in the not-too-distant past, and they’ll seek multiple top prospects. Their ideal package probably includes two top prospects plus two nice secondary pieces. Can they get that? Hey, who knows. It only takes one team to say yes. Last year’s injury issues and this year’s homeritis will give teams pause. No doubt.

I don’t think it would be unreasonable for the Pirates to ask for Gleyber Torres in a Cole trade, and of course the Yankees will say no, even after his Tommy John surgery. A case can be made the three best non-Torres prospects in the farm system are outfielders: Clint Frazier, Blake Rutherford, and Dustin Fowler. The Pirates don’t need outfielders. They have Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco signed long-term, and they’re trying to trade Andrew McCutchen to open a spot for their Austin Meadows, their own top outfield prospect.

That said, when you trade a guy like Cole, the focus should be on getting as much talent as possible, not filling specific needs. If an outfielder is the best prospect they’re offered, they should take him, and figure out the rest later. The Yankees might have to build a package around Frazier, a strong secondary piece like Fowler or Chance Adams, plus two other players. Maybe an organizational 10-20 prospect (Domingo German? Dillon Tate?) and a 20-30 prospect (Josh Rogers? Zack Littell?). I’m spitballin’ here.

Does He Make Sense?

It depends on two things. One, the cost. Of course. The Pirates may market Cole as an ace but he is not an ace right now. Not with the way he’s performing and not with the way he’s been unable to neutralize lefties and keep balls in the park. He can be ace. But he’s not right now. The supply and demand nature of the trade deadline — will another pitcher as talented as Cole be available? — could push the price up into ace territory.

And two, are the problems with home runs and lefties fixable? That’s a huge question. Sticking a pitcher who can’t limit home runs and can’t handle left-handed hitters in Yankee Stadium — not mention in the DH league and in a division with three other hitter’s parks — is asking for trouble. Acquire this version of Cole and there are valid reasons to believe he’ll perform worse, not better. You have to be very confident in your ability to fix him.

The Yankees need rotation help beyond this season and the more high-upside starters they acquire, the better. Cole absolutely has the ability to be a top ten-ish pitcher in the big leagues. Every team would love to get their hands on this guy. There are enough red flags (injuries, homers, lefties) to make me skeptical, however. The Yankees drafted Cole, so they like him, though I wonder if they still like him enough to part with some of their best prospects.

Other teams are happy with trades they’ve made with the Yankees, and that’s a good thing

Goody. (Ed Zurga/Getty)
Goody. (Ed Zurga/Getty)

Now that the amateur draft is over, teams have shifted in trade deadline mode. Scouts are all over potential trade targets and front offices are talking to each other a little more often with each passing week. The trade deadline is five weeks and four days away now. So close and yet so far. Plenty of time for deal-making.

The Yankees, despite their recent issues winning games, are in good position heading into the trade deadline. They can take on money, as always, and they have a robust farm system with every type of prospect imaginable. Impact players close to MLB? Yep. Lower level lottery tickets? They have them too. Power arms? Toolsy projects? Sleepers? You name it and the Yankees have it. They can put together a competitive trade package for any player.

Another thing the Yankees have going for them leading into the deadline is their trade reputation. As fans, we spend an awful lot of time talking about who won or who lost a trade. It’s what we do. Ask folks in baseball though, especially those actually calling the shots and making trades, and they’ll tell you the best trades are the ones that benefit both teams. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read that over the years, an executive saying win-win trades are the best.

Over the last two or three years, the Yankees have made more than a few trades that have worked out pretty darn well for the other team. The notable exception is the Aaron Hicks trade. I have no idea what happened to John Ryan Murphy. The poor kid is hitting .231/.306/.362 (85 wRC+) in Triple-A. Hicks has broken out this year after a rough first season in pinstripes. Maybe Murphy will figure it out and this will go eventually down as a win-win. Right now it doesn’t look good for the Twins.

Here is a sampling of young players the Yankees have traded away since the start of the 2015-16 offseason. I’m emphasizing young players here because they’re typically unknowns. The Indians knew what they were getting in Andrew Miller, you know? Same with the Astros and Brian McCann, the Cubs and Aroldis Chapman, and the Rangers and Carlos Beltran. Anyway, here are some traded Yankees:

  • Nick Goody, Indians: 1.29 ERA (3.87 FIP) with 25.2% strikeouts in 28 innings.
  • James Pazos, Mariners: 2.01 ERA (2.87 FIP) with 29.7% strikeouts in 31.1 innings.
  • Ben Gamel, Mariners: .351/.411/.485 (146 wRC+) in 220 plate appearances.
  • Jose Pirela, Padres: .351/.422/.596 (170 wRC+) in 64 plate appearances since being called up.

Among those not listed are Johnny Barbato, Vicente Campos, and the four kids the Yankees sent to the Reds for Chapman. The Chapman trade was pretty unique in the grand scheme of things and I’m not sure we could ever count on something like that happening again. That deal didn’t work out too well for the Reds.

Anyway, the Yankees traded away those four players above — excess players on the margins of their 40-man roster — and now other teams are reaping the rewards. Gamel has been out of his mind with the Mariners. Goody and Pazos have been solid too. I suppose we shouldn’t count Pirela because he was non-tendered over the winter and could have signed with any team, but he’s still an ex-Yankee, and he’s playing well for the team they traded him too.

That all reflects well on the Yankees. Make a trade with New York, even for lower profile guy squeezed off their roster, and you have a chance to get a pretty useful player. And the Yankees have a lot of guys about to be squeezed off their roster! The upcoming 40-man roster/Rule 5 Draft crunch is real. Some of those guys will be put on the 40-man, some will be traded. And some guys on the 40-man now will be traded to clear roster space for those guys.

Back in the day the Braves had a reputation for trading pitchers who got hurt. Bubba Nelson, Dan Meyer, Jose Capellan … those dudes were all top 100 prospects with the Braves who got traded and broke down almost immediately. It happened so fast there was talk Atlanta traded them knowing they were injured. And, for a while, no teams wanted to trade with the Braves. The whole injured pitching prospects thing sullied their reputation.

It worked out for the Braves in that they traded those guys and got value out of them before they broke down, but, in the grand scheme of things, it hurt them in the long-term because making trades became that much more difficult. And maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe the goal should be to win every trade and make sure the other team loses the trade. I don’t agree with that though. Win-win trades are cool. The more people who end up happy, the better.

Over the next five weeks — really beyond that considering waiver trades — Brian Cashman and the Yankees will explore the trade market and look for ways to improve the roster. That could be short-term help for a playoff push or a long-term addition with a dynasty in mind. And when he’s talking trades, Cashman can point to his recent track record of sending teams good players. That does nothing but help. The club’s trade reputation is strong.

Scouting the Trade Market: Brad Hand

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

One thing has become clear in recent weeks: the Yankees need bullpen help. Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances are arguably the best closer/setup man tandem in baseball, though there are other innings that need to be pitched, and those other innings have cost the Yankees too many games of late. The middle relief is a major weakness.

The Yankees could try to address the middle relief from within, something I suspect they’ll try at some point, though going outside the organization for help is always an option too. Trading for bullpen help can be tricky though. Relievers inherently work in small samples and weird things can happen in small samples. Your process can be sound and your evaluations correct, but a few hangers can cost you games and bloat an ERA.

One reliever who we absolutely know will be available this summer is Padres left-hander Brad Hand, a workhorse strikeout artist (30.6%) with a 2.72 ERA (3.17 FIP) in 39.2 innings this year. Since joining San Diego and moving into a short relief role last year, Hand has a 2.89 ERA (3.12 FIP) with 30.6% strikeouts, 9.2% walks, and 47.5% grounders. The Padres are terrible and in a deep rebuild, so Hand is available. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be. Does he makes sense for the Yankees? Let’s look.

What’s changed with his stuff?

Before joining the Padres last spring — as a waiver claim, I might add — Hand was a swingman with the Marlins. He came up from the minors as a starter and threw 288.2 innings with a 4.71 ERA (4.54 FIP) in 43 starts and 47 relief appearances with Miami from 2011-15. Now he’s dominating. Look:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 WAR
with Marlins 288.2 4.71 4.54 15.2% 9.6% 44.0% 1.00 +0.4
with Padres 127.2 2.89 3.12 30.6% 9.2% 47.5% 0.85 +2.7

Mediocre starter/swingman becomes dominant reliever. We’ve seen this movie before. More times than I care to count. Why is Hand dominant now? What changed? His role, yes, but that alone doesn’t explain it. Usually the first time that comes to mind is velocity. The move into short relief allows the pitcher to air it out, he adds some oomph to his fastball, and it makes a big difference. That’s usually how this works. That isn’t the case with Hand, however. From Brooks Baseball:

brad-hand-velocity

Same average velocity! Weird. Same max velocity too. It’s not like Hand suddenly has 98-99 in his back pocket. He doesn’t. I guess this means he’s one of those rare pitchers whose stuff doesn’t tick up in the bullpen. Weird.

What has changed is Hand’s pitch selection. He’s shortened his repertoire as a one-inning reliever. As a starter and swingman, he threw everything. Fastball, slider, curveball, changeup, the works. Now he’s primarily fastball-slider with a few show-me curveballs. The changeup is gone. Here are Hand’s pitch selection rates, via Brooks Baseball:

brad-hand-pitch-selection

Hand is throwing a lot of sliders now. A lot. Almost exactly half the time this season (49.2%). It almost makes you wonder whether Hand is throwing the slider too much. Yeah, it’s working, but how long can this last before his elbow says “okay, stop you jerk”? Heavy doses of breaking balls and healthy elbows usually don’t mix. Then again, maybe Hand is the left-handed Luke Gregerson, throwing slider after slider and staying healthy.

The change in pitch selection and heavy emphasis on sliders explains Hand’s success with the Padres, even without a velocity spike. Hand has a great slider. Check it out:

Throw that slider as much as Hand and you’re going to get a lot of outs. Strikeouts and weak contact. It helps the fastball play up too because the hitter has that slider in the back of his mind at all times. No more crummy changeups, fewer mediocre curveballs, and many more sliders. Lots and lots of sliders. It’s not an Andrew Miller slider, but it is pretty damn good.

Thanks to that quality slider, Hand has basically no platoon split. He’s held left-handed hitters to a .145/.249/.255 (.228 wOBA) batting line with 31.8% strikeouts, 11.1% walks, and 40.0% grounders since the start of last season. Righties, meanwhile, have hit .226/.299/.355 (.284 wOBA) with 29.9% strikeouts, 8.2% walks, and 51.5% grounders. Okay, so Hand does have a platoon split. But he’s quite good against righties!

Point is, Hand can get out batters on both sides of the plate. He annihilates lefties and more than holds his own against righties. He’s someone his manager can use for a full inning. Limit him to left-on-left matchup work and you’re doing it wrong. Hand is a capable late-inning reliever who happens to be left-handed. His stuff has not necessarily changed with the move into short relief. He’s just throwing his best pitch much more often.

Injury history

Hand has been on the disabled list once in his career, for an ankle sprain in 2014. He missed a month. It was a phantom DL stint though. As Clark Spencer explains, the Marlins put Hand on the DL because he’s out of minor league options and they didn’t want to expose him on waivers in order to send him to the minors. The fake injury bought the team some time to get their roster figured out.

Aside from that, Hand has never been on the DL or injured. Not even in the minors. Completely healthy throughout his career. He’s a big dude (listed 6-foot-3 and 228 lbs.) with a strong frame that allowed him to make 82 appearances and throw 89.1 innings last season, most among all full-time relievers. Hand has thrown 39.2 innings so far this season, which has him in the top ten among all relievers. He’s healthy and he throws a ton of innings.

Contract situation

Over the winter Hand went through the arbitration process for the first time. He’ll make $1.375M this year and remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in both 2018 and 2019 as well. And because he’s a non-closer, Hand’s arbitration salaries won’t be too big. He’s looking at $3M or so next year and $5M or so the year after, even at this level of performance. Hand is out of minor league options, however. He can’t go to the minors without being placed on waivers, and that ain’t happening. Then again, if you trade for Hand and have to think about sending him to the minors at some point, something has gone wrong.

What’s it going to cost?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

You know, with Zach Britton on the disabled list, you could argue Hand is the second best left-handed reliever in baseball behind Miller. Well, Chapman is back, so third best. It’s either Hand or Felipe Rivero. Maybe Jake McGee. Hand is in the conversation though. I’m sure the Padres would love to get a Miller package for Hand, but that’s not happening. Miller was better and had thrived in a big market.

Ken Rosenthal recently reported the Padres want a “Will Smith-type return” for Hand, which is certainly more reasonable than an “Andrew Miller-type return.” At the time of the trade, Smith had a 2.95 ERA (2.94 FIP) in 85.1 innings from 2015-16. On par with Hand, though in way fewer innings. Also, Smith came with three-and-a-half seasons of control. Hand comes with two-and-a-half. That extra year is big. Here’s what the Giants sent to the Brewers in the Smith trade at last year’s deadline:

  • RHP Phil Bickford: Baseball America ranked Bickford, San Francisco’s first round pick in 2015, as the 50th best prospect in baseball in their midseason top 100 prospects list a few weeks before the trade. He had a 2.71 ERA (2.95 FIP) in 17 starts and 93 innings before the trade, all in Single-A.
  • C Andrew Susac: Post-hype prospect who snuck onto a few top 100 lists in 2015. Susac hit .240/.309/.407 (104 wRC+) in 243 big league plate appearances and .282/.355/.469 (119 wRC+) in 299 Triple-A plate appearances from 2015-16 before the trade. He was blocked by Buster Posey.

Sad trade is sad. Smith allowed six runs in 18.1 innings for the Giants last year before blowing out his elbow this spring and needing Tommy John surgery. Bickford has not pitched this season because he’s serving a suspension for a second positive test for a drug of abuse. Susac is hitting .146/.196/.292 (18 wRC+) in Triple-A. That trade has no winners.

Anyway, if that’s what the Padres want for Hand, I suppose the Yankees equivalent would be something like Justus Sheffield (mid-top 100 guy like Bickford) and maybe Tyler Austin (former fringe top 100 guy with no MLB spot)? The Yankees don’t really have a Susac. A spare quality young player at a hard-to-fill position. Give me Susac last year over Austin this year eight days a week and twice on Sunday.

The general theme here is the Padres want two players for Hand: one top 100 prospect and an MLB ready young player. If they’re using the Smith trade as a benchmark, that’s the package. That’s a lot! But gosh, Hand is really good, and adding another great reliever to the bullpen sure would be a big help. And he’s not a rental either.

Does he make sense for the Yankees?

In terms of adding Hand to the bullpen, yes, clearly. He’d improve literally every bullpen in baseball. At that cost though? Eh, that’s up for debate. I do worry about Hand’s limited track record — again, this guy was on waivers last spring — and how well he’ll hold up while throwing so many sliders. Relievers are really risky. Even the good ones. And the more you give up to get them, the more risk you assume.

Although Hand would improve the bullpen, my guess is the Yankees do not want to trade top prospects for a reliever, even a great one. They were reportedly hesitant to trade their best youngsters for a starting pitcher in the offseason, remember. Now they’re going to turn around and deal young players for a reliever? Eh. Can’t see. I mean, they could always have a change of heart, but yeah. I don’t see this happening.

The last few times the Yankees traded for a reliever, it was either a buy low trade (Chapman, Tyler Clippard) or a perfect “my strength matches your weakness” trade (Justin Wilson). The Yankees are more likely to look for the next Brad Hand, that interesting swingman who could thrive in short relief, than trade prospects for the actual Brad Hand. The Padres will have no shortage of suitors for Hand and I don’t see the Yankees getting involved in a bidding war.

Scouting the Trade Market: Yonder Alonso

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

Remember the offseason, when Greg Bird and various supporting cast members couldn’t possibly provide less production at first base than Mark Teixeira last year? Good times. We were so naive. So far this season Yankees first basemen are hitting .192/.291/.355 (54 OPS+) overall, easily the worst production in the league. This is the position with the highest offensive bar. It has been capital-B Bad.

Bird has been on the disabled list since early May with an ankle issue, and last week he suffered a setback that will sideline him for an unknown length of time. He saw a specialist yesterday and we’ve yet to get an update. Given the setback and Chris Carter‘s inability to find sustained success, it’s time for the Yankees to begin looking outside the organization for first base help. Carter isn’t cutting it and the Yankees have to give Bird all the time he needs to get healthy.

One first baseman who is very likely to be available at the trade deadline is Athletics masher Yonder Alonso, an impending free agent having a career year offensively. The 30-year-old is hitting .299/.392/.619 (168 wRC+) with a career high 17 home runs already. His previous career high was nine homers back in 2012. The Athletics have the worst record in the American League and it stands to reason they’ll, at the very least, listen to offers for Alonso.

Does Alonso make sense for the Yankees? Well, yes. That’s easy. A left-handed hitter with those numbers and solid defense is pretty much exactly what the Yankees need. That’s what they hoped to get from Bird! There are two questions here. One, why should we expect Alonso to keep up this level of production? He’s never done it before. And two, what’s it going to cost? Let’s try to answer those.

The Fly Ball Revolution

Thanks largely to Statcast, there’s a lot of talk these days about launch angle and a renewed emphasis on getting the ball airborne. I refuse to believe Major Leaguers are just now figuring out that hitting home runs and getting the ball in the air are good things, though now we can better quantify that, and perhaps that helps in some way. I’m certain teams use this data to educate their players and make mechanical tweaks.

Alonso, maybe moreso than any player in the league, has not only bought into the fly ball revolution, he’s also excelled at putting it into practice. It’s one thing to say or know you need to do something. It’s another to actually do it. Baseball is hard! Becoming an extreme fly ball hitter is not like flipping a light switch. Here are Alonso’s batted ball rates over the years:

yonder-alonso-batted-balls

Yup. Before this season, Alonso’s career low ground ball rate was 41.8% in 2011. His career high fly ball rate was 38.5% in 2014. So far this season he’s at 28.1% ground balls and 50.7% fly balls. Statcast data goes back to 2015, so here are Alonso’s 2015-16 launch angles and his 2017 launch angles:

yonder-alonso-launch-angles1

The ideal launch angle is 10-30 degrees. Below that and you hit a grounder. Above that and you hit a pop-up. Anything from 10-25 degrees is likely a line drive (depending on how hard the ball is struck, i.e. exit velocity). Most home runs fall in the 25-30 degree range. From 2015-16, Alonso’s average launch angle was 9.1 degrees. 9.1! This year it’s 21.8 degrees.

It’s also worth noting Alonso’s hard contact rate (36.3%) and strikeout rate (22.5%) are career highs for a full season as well, which perhaps indicate he’s selling out for power a bit. (Like Matt Holliday?) In an effort to get the ball in the air, he’s swinging harder than ever, which inevitably leads to more whiffs.

Here’s a look at 2016 Alonso vs. 2017 Alonso. If a guy is hitting way more fly balls and way fewer ground balls, in addition to more hard contact and strikeouts, surely his swing is going to look a little different, right? I’d assume so. 2016 Alonso is on the left. 2017 Alonso is on the right.

2016-17-yonder-alonso-swing1

Looks … pretty much exactly the same? Dammit. I hate when that happens. Yonder has always had a pretty swing. That’s one of the main reasons he was the seventh overall pick in the 2008 draft. He just never developed the power many expected. At least not until this season. Before this year, he was basically James Loney 2.0.

Anyway, as for the GIFs, Alonso still uses both one-handed and two-handed follow-throughs regularly, so that’s not it. The GIFs are synced up at the moment his front foot touches down, and it does seem his leg lift is a little shorter this year. His leg hangs in the air a little longer in the GIF on the left, from 2016. Also, Alonso’s head is much more still in the 2017 GIF. Last year there was some herky-jerkiness in there. Keeping your head still is kinda important.

Ken Rosenthal recently profiled Alonso, who did some soul-searching this past offseason and was not happy with the way his career was playing out. From Rosenthal:

“It’s pretty simple,” Alonso says. “I was heading in a direction where I saw my career on the downfall. I think in August and September of last year I realized that if I don’t make some adjustments, I will be heading into a backup role, not get the at-bats that I want.

“I’m 30 years old. I’m in my prime. I pretty much was very truthful honest with myself. I realized that if you’re going to play first base, you’ve got to make sure you’re doing everything to make yourself valuable. I needed to work on my hitting.”

Alonso told Rosenthal he consulted with many former teammates and players around the league in the offseason. Everyone from Joey Votto to Rougned Odor to Danny Valencia to Carlos Beltran. Rosenthal and Susan Slusser say Alonso even sent video of his at-bats to Votto and Beltran for advice. This is a player who was not happy with his career, sought help, made changes, and is now reaping the rewards. Hooray hard work!

The Yonder Alonso we’re seeing this year is not the same Yonder Alonso as the past five years. He has made a drastic change to his batted ball profile and is now hitting the ball harder and in the air far more often than ever before. The difference is enormous. The power spike is not necessarily a fluke. It would be if Alonso were the same hitter with the same batted ball profile as in the past. That’s not the case though. He’s a different hitter. Because of that, there is reason to believe this version of Alonso is here to stay.

What’s it going to cost?

Alonso is a rental, not a long-term buy, which takes a bite out of his trade value. The A’s can still market him as an impact hitter, however. Here’s a list of rental bats traded at the deadline the last two years:

  • Jay Bruce: Traded for an up-and-down depth infielder (Dilson Herrera) and one organizational top 20 prospect (Max Wotell). (Bruce’s contract did in include a club option for another year.)
  • Carlos Beltran: Traded for a preseason top 50-75 global prospect (Dillon Tate) and two non-top 30 organizational prospects (Erik Swanson, Nick Green).
  • Yoenis Cespedes: Traded for a preseason top 50-75 global prospect (Michael Fulmer) and a top 20 organizational prospect (Luis Cessa).
  • Gerardo Parra: Traded for an organizational top ten prospect (Zach Davies).
  • Ben Zobrist: Traded for a preseason top 50-75 global prospect (Sean Manaea) and an up-and-down depth arm (Aaron Brooks).

Decent sample! The best comparable to Alonso is probably Parra, right? Beltran, Cespedes, and Zobrist were all high-end producers with long track records at the time of the trade. Bruce had some pretty great years earlier in career before slipping a bit, partly due to injuries.

Parra, meanwhile, was a solid player from 2009-14 who was an average-ish hitter and an above-average defender. He then had a huge first half with the Brewers in 2015, hitting .328/.369/.517 (137 wRC+) in 100 games, which is when they flipped him to the Orioles. Parra then hit .237/.268/.357 (66 wRC+) with the O’s. Heh.

There was no real reason to believe Parra was a changed hitter, however. That 2015 first half was a .372 BABIP fueled hot streak. Baltimore then dealt with the correction. With Alonso, there are tangible reasons to believe he is a different hitter now, specifically the sudden surge in fly balls. Parra had a hot streak. Alonso is a new player.

Davies actually represented the Orioles in the 2015 Futures Game, though he was by no means a top prospect. He was a good prospect in a bad farm system. Davies was a top ten prospect in that system. Bring a top ten prospect in the Yankees’ system means being in the conversation for top 100 lists. Davies is not comparable to, say, Chance Adams. Not close.

The current Yankees equivalent of Davies is probably Domingo German, though they are very different pitchers. (Davies is finesse, German is power.) German for Alonso? I’d do it, which probably means the A’s would not. Then again, the Athletics have made some terrible trades of late, so who knows. Maybe they’d go nuts for Tyler Austin or Rob Refsnyder. They seem like “random players the A’s build a trade around” players, no?

Keep in mind Matt Adams, a pretty similar player to Alonso, was traded straight up for a non-top 30 lower level prospect a few weeks ago (Juan Yepez). How many of these first base masher types were unsigned in February? The market for them is not robust. Alonso is better than Adams — he’s performing better at the time of the trade, plus he can play defense — but not so much better that it’ll take a top prospect to get him.

There aren’t many teams in need of first base or DH help at the moment. That could always change with an injury, but looking around the league, the only contenders with a need at either position right now are … the Yankees? That’s about it. Maybe the Cardinals if they’re willing to put Matt Carpenter at third and Jedd Gyorko at second. I suppose the Mariners could be in the mix too. That’s pretty much it.

So, given the overall lack of suitors and the fact Alonso’s track record is not long at all, it should not take a top prospect to get him. It might take two okay prospects, but not a great prospect. Not a top seven or eight prospect in the system. The Yankees have a ton of minor league depth and using some of it to improve the big league team through trades only makes sense.

Okay, so does Alonso still make sense?

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

I’m a big believer in not paying for outlier performance at the trade deadline. Example: Parra! Also: Xavier Nady. He had a huge first half with the Pirates in 2008, then went back to being regular ol’ Xavier Nady after getting traded to the Yankees. You remember that, don’t you?

Look at his career numbers, and this season is a clear outlier for Alonso. He’s never come close to doing anything like this in the past. Unlike Parra and Nady, however, there are some indicators Alonso has changed his hitting approach in a way that allows him to hit for more power. There are reasons to believe this is all very real.

If you buy into the new Alonso — I do, the Yankees may not — then yeah, he’d be a wonderful fit for the 2017 Yankees, especially since it probably won’t cost an arm and a leg to acquire him. Carter has been mostly terrible and who knows when Bird will be healthy. Given everything Bird has been through the last 18 months or so, it would behoove the team to be cautious and patient with him.

One thing I should note is that Alonso wants to remain with the Athletics long-term, so much so that he is open to foregoing free agency to sign an extension midseason. “I think that there is a great chance that I stay here. I really do mean that,” he said to Rosenthal. That gives the A’s some leverage in trade talks. They don’t have to trade him. They could keep him and try to re-sign now, before he hits free agency.

That all said, given their shoestring budget and the fact they have other first base options in house (Ryon Healy, Matt Olson), it would make sense for the A’s to at least listen to offers for Alonso. Billy Beane has a history of making trades early in the season too. This one might not have to wait until the July 31st deadline. The Yankees or any other team could probably get Alonso before the end of the month and squeeze that many more at-bats out of him.

Trading for a rental like Yonder is a win now move, and it’ll be up to the Yankees to decide whether they want to do something like that. They may decide to stay the course and go with the kids, and hope Bird gets healthy soon. Or they could decide that yes, they’re in the race, and yes, they have some excess prospects to trade. If they decide to make the win now move, Alonso would be pretty much the ideal first base target in my idiot blogger opinion.

Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: June 2012

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

The trade deadline is inching closer and closer, and now that we’re in June, it’s time for another trip through the MLB Trade Rumors archives. June is typically when trade chatter starts to pick up, and usually we see a few deals as well. For the most part though, the month of June is about laying the groundwork. Scouting players, seeing who’s available, that sort of thing.

On the morning of June 1st, 2012, the Yankees were 27-23 and in third place in the AL East, only 1.5 games back of the Rays and Orioles, who had identical 29-22 records. The Yankees closed out May with six wins in eight games. At that point of the season, the Yankees had already suffered three major injuries: Michael Pineda (shoulder), Brett Gardner (elbow), and Mariano Rivera (knee). There was no real shortage of needs. Let’s jump into the MLBTR archives.

June 1st, 2012: Yankees Eyeing Matt Garza

Matt Garza interests the Yankees more than other potentially available starters, so GM Brian Cashman could pursue the right-hander this summer, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. The Red Sox could also pursue Garza, Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com notes (on Twitter).

I remember being all about Garza in the weeks leading up to the 2012 trade deadline. He was only 27 at the time, and he was coming off a 3.32 ERA (2.95 FIP) in 198 innings in 2011. Plus he was under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2013. It was a chance to get a high-end starter with AL East experience in the middle of his prime.

The Yankees and many other teams reportedly remained engaged with the Cubs about Garza — the Cubbies went 61-101 that season and were clear sellers — though all the trade talk was put on hold when he left his July 21st start with elbow stiffness. Shortly thereafter he was diagnosed with a stress reaction and shut down for the season. Good thing the Yankees didn’t make a deal in June, huh? I was very much on board with going after Garza before the injury.

June 2nd, 2012: Orioles Acquire Steve Pearce, DFA Bill Hall

The Orioles have acquired first baseman Steve Pearce from the Yankees and designated utility man Bill Hall for assignment, according to Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com (via Twitter).  The Yankees will receive cash considerations in return, tweets Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com.

A quick recap of Steve Pearce’s 2012 season:

  • March 27th: Released by the Twins.
  • March 29th: Signed minor league deal with the Yankees.
  • June 2nd: Traded to the Orioles for cash.
  • July 28: Claimed off waivers by the Astros.
  • August 27: Traded to the Yankees for cash.
  • September 29: Claimed off waivers by the Orioles.

That couldn’t have been fun for Pearce. Imagine if the recent Ruben Tejada trade plays out the same way. The Yankees trade a superfluous Triple-A depth player to the O’s in early June, then he inexplicably hits .258/.339/.482 (127 wRC+) the next three seasons.

June 7th, 2012: AL East Notes: Reyes, Rundles, Blue Jays

The Yankees have signed 22-year-old Dominican right-hander Manolo Reyes, reports Ben Badler of Baseball America.  The contract is worth $600K but is contingent on Reyes obtaining a visa and passing an MLB investigation into his identity and age, as Reyes has already served one year-long suspension due to problems with his paperwork.  Reyes was originally signed by the Braves in 2009.

Manolo! Reyes threw extremely hard. He was one of the hardest throwers in the farm system at the time, routinely hitting 99-100 mph. He also had no idea where the ball was going. Reyes was with the Yankees from 2013-16, and during that time he had a 4.14 ERA (3.78 FIP) in 87 total innings, none above High-A ball. He walked 65 (16.3% of batters faced) and struck out 90 (22.5%). The Yankees released Reyes last year and, as far as I can tell, he hasn’t hooked on anywhere since. They paid him a $600,000 bonus plus however much in annual salary for 87 Single-A innings. It’s good work if you can get it.

June 9th, 2012: Yankees Not Looking For Outfield Help

Left fielder Brett Gardner has played just nine games this season due to a right elbow strain, and today he suffered a setback that will likely keep him out through the All-Star break. Despite that, Yankees GM Brian Cashman told reporters (including Chad Jennings of The Journal News) that he hasn’t looked into trading for outfield help just yet.

“I haven’t been looking,” said Cashman. “That doesn’t mean that (it’s out of the question). Now you’ve passed the draft, people will be more interested in having conversations. I have not had any conversations with anybody about anything.”

Gardner hurt his elbow making a sliding catch in April and it just wasn’t getting any better. He eventually had surgery in July and was able to return very late in the season. The injury pushed Raul Ibanez into left field on a nearly full-time basis before the Yankees swung the trade for Ichiro Suzuki. Eight different players started a game in left field for New York that year:

  1. Raul Ibanez: 65 starts in left
  2. Andruw Jones: 41
  3. Ichiro Suzuki: 26
  4. Dewayne Wise: 9
  5. Jayson Nix: 9
  6. Brett Gardner: 8
  7. Eduardo Nunez: 3
  8. Chris Dickerson: 1

Don’t forget Darnell McDonald either! He played one game in left field during his four days as a Yankees, though he did not start. The Yankees got a .241/.312/.415 (92 OPS+) batting line from their left fielders that season, which was a) not that awful considering the personnel, and b) their least productive position. The 2012 Yankees could score some damn runs.

June 13th, 2012: Ben Sheets Throws For Team

Righty Ben Sheets threw for scouts today in Monroe, Louisiana, MLBTR has learned.  Scouts from the Phillies, Braves, Yankees, and Angels were in attendance.

Oh man, I loved Ben Sheets. His 2004 season is one of the best pitching seasons no one talks about. Injuries completely ruined his career — he threw 119.1 innings from 2009-11, all in 2010 — but when he was young and healthy, he was dominant. Dude was tough as nails and his curveball was as pretty as it gets:

The Yankees never did sign Sheets that year. He wound up hooking on with the Braves and throwing 49.1 innings in nine starts with a 3.47 ERA (4.11 FIP). I have absolutely zero recollection of Sheets in Atlanta. He never pitched again after that. Sheets is still only 38, you know. He’s basically the same age as John Lackey.

June 14th, 2012: Yankees Notes: Quentin, Swisher, Nunez

The Yankees don’t consider Carlos Quentin as a fit for their needs, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.  The Yankees would want to fill left field with someone “speedier” than Quentin, which probably also means someone more defensively capable (Quentin has a career UZR/150 of – 9.1). 

I didn’t love the idea of Quentin, but I understood it. The Yankees needed a left fielder in the wake of Gardner’s injury, and Quentin was hitting .421/.542/.921 (290 wRC+) on the day of this report. That was small sample size noise though. Quentin didn’t make his season debut until May 28th after having knee surgery in March. He finished the season with a .261/.374/.504 (146 wRC+) line and 16 homers in 340 plate appearances.

The two biggest reasons I wasn’t a fan of trading for Quentin were his defense and his injury history. He was a brutal outfielder, especially after knee surgery. One of the few players who was as bad or worse than Ibanez. And the guy got hurt all the time, partially because he was so prone to getting hit by pitches (127 HBP in 834 games). Only three times in nine MLB seasons did he play at least 100 games. The Padres never did trade Quentin. They signed him to a three-year extension in July instead. He played 132 games during the three-year deal.

June 15th, 2012: Yankees Like Dempster; Dodgers Eyeing Garza

Several contenders, including the Yankees and Dodgers, covet Dempster, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

Unlike Garza, Ryan Dempster was an impending free agent in 2012, so the Cubs pretty much had to move him. He was having a good year too. A 2.11 ERA (3.28 FIP) through 12 starts and 81 innings following his start on the day of this report. The Yankees stuck to their guns and didn’t trade for any rotation help in 2012. They won 95 games and rode it out with what they had.

Dempster, meanwhile, was traded to the Rangers at the deadline for a package that included Kyle Hendricks. Dempster with the Cubs: 2.25 ERA (3.43 FIP) in 104 innings. Dempster with the Rangers: 5.09 ERA (4.08 FIP) in 69 innings. Reminder: don’t pay for outlier performance at the trade deadline. This was Dempster’s final start with Texas:

That game, Game 162 in 2012 to decide the AL West, was easily one of the most fun and exciting non-Yankees games of the last ten years. As long as you weren’t rooting for the Rangers, that is.

June 15th, 2012: East Notes: Blue Jays, Phillies, Braves, Soler

The Braves were right there with the Cubs and willing to spend $30MM on Jorge Soler, tweets Peter Gammons of MLB.com.  The White Sox and Yankees, meanwhile, had bids that fell between $25MM and $30MM.

The Yankees tried and failed to sign Soler, which has become a bit of a pattern with the top Cuban prospects over the years. Soler was billed as the ultra-talented superstar in waiting, as all young Cuban players are, and five years later, he’s basically the next Jose Guillen. Lots of power, too much swing and miss, awful defense. I remain absolutely stunned the Cubs were able to trade him straight up for one year of Wade Davis. How?

June 18th, 2012: Quick Hits: Padres, Phillies, Drabek, Vlad

GM Brian Cashman told Jim Bowden on MLB Network Radio that the Yankees haven’t pursued contract extensions for Robinson Cano or Curtis Granderson, but aim to keep both players long-term (Twitter link).

Welp.

June 20th, 2012: Astros Will Listen On Wandy Rodriguez

The Astros will listen to offers for left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, and teams are watching the left-hander in anticipation of the July 31st trade deadline, Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports writes. The Yankees, Giants and Blue Jays had representatives in attendance for Rodriguez’s start against the Royals last night, Morosi reports.

The Astros were still in the National League at the time, and there was a lot of concern Rodriguez, a finesse southpaw on the wrong side of 30, wouldn’t be able to cut it in the so-called Junior Circuit. He had been a solid pitcher for a while though:

  • 2009: 3.02 ERA  and 3.54 FIP in 205.2 innings
  • 2010: 3.60 ERA and 3.50 FIP in 195 innings
  • 2011: 3.49 ERA and 4.15 FIP in 191 innings

On the day of this report, he had a 3.29 ERA (4.20 FIP) in 95.2 innings. He finished the season with a Wandy-esque 3.76 ERA (3.93 FIP) in 205.2 total innings and was traded to the Pirates at the deadline. Wandy bounced around a bit at the end of his career, and his final big league appearance was a one-inning, seven-run disaster in this game:

That was a fun game. I didn’t realize it effectively ended Wandy Rodriguez’s career.

June 20th, 2012: Yankees To Sign Omar Luis

4:23pm: The left-hander will obtain a $4MM bonus, Ben Badler of Baseball America reports. He has five pitches, including a fastball that ranges from 86-92 mph, and a competitive approach.

Luis was the last Cuban player the Yankees signed before the new international bonus pools kicked in on July 2nd. He might have been the last player they signed before the bonus pools period. Anyway, Luis was a total dud. He had a 4.80 ERA (5.11 FIP) with nearly as many walks (75) as strikeouts (86) in 99.1 lower level innings before being released following the 2015 season. He’s been out of baseball since. Also, his $4M bonus was later reduced to $2.5M after the Yankees saw something they didn’t like in his physical. A swing and a miss, this was.

June 26th, 2012: Yankees Claim Danny Farquhar Off Waivers

The Yankees have claimed Danny Farquhar off waivers from the Athletics, the team announced. Oakland designated the right-hander for assignment over the weekend.

How often does a player go from waiver claim to trade bait within a month? That’s what happened with Farquhar. The Yankees grabbed him on waivers, he spent a few weeks with Double-A Trenton (11 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 14 K!), then he went to the Mariners in the Ichiro deal. Farquhar has carved out a nice little career for himself as a middle reliever/sometimes setup guy. Grabbing a dude on waivers then trading him for a future Hall of Famer the next month is some video game roster building stuff. I’m pretty sure I’ve done that in MLB: The Show a few times over the years.

June 28th, 2012: Zack Greinke Rumors: Thursday

“A couple of teams,” including the Yankees, feel that Greinke may not be suited for pitching in a large market, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.  Greinke did tell the Yankees he would pitch for them when he was in the process of being dealt from the Royals to the Brewers. 

Does anyone still believe this “Greinke can’t handle a big market” nonsense? I hope not. That ridiculous assertion was made by people who really have no idea what social anxiety disorder, something Greinke battled way back in the day with the Royals, actually is. He had a 2.30 ERA (2.97 FIP) in three years with the large market Dodgers, including a 2.38 ERA with a .186/.217/.310 batting line against in six postseason starts, all while pitching with a monster contract. Not sure he can handle the spotlight, you guys. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a truly great player — Greinke’s going to end up a borderline Hall of Famer when it’s all said and gone — be more unfairly characterized as Greinke.

June 29th, 2012: Yankees Claim Schwinden, Designate Farquhar

The Yankees claimed right-hander Chris Schwinden off of waivers from Cleveland, the Indians announced. The Yankees designated Danny Farquhar for assignment in a related move, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reports (on Twitter).

My favorite part of these MLBTR Archives posts is being reminded of players I had completely forgotten about, like Schwinden. This was a one-month stretch of his life in 2012:

  • June 2nd: Claimed off waivers by Blue Jays from Mets.
  • June 6th: Claimed off waivers by Indians from Blue Jays.
  • June 29th: Claimed off waivers by Yankees from Indians:
  • July 5th: Claimed off waivers by Mets from Yankees.

Hopefully he got some airline miles and hotel points out of that. Schwinden appeared in one game as a member of the Yankees organization, allowing four runs in four innings in a spot start for Triple-A Scranton. He’s been out of baseball since 2014, though at least he got to get a taste of the show with the Mets in 2011 and 2012.

June 29th, 2012: Quick Hits: Thome, Blue Jays, Oliver, Orioles

As the Phillies look for a place to move Jim Thome, the Rays and Yankees are not interested, sources tell Buster Olney of ESPN.com (via Twitter). 

JIM THOME. Man, that would have been fun. Because Ibanez was playing so much left field in the wake of the Gardner injury, the Yankees had an opening at DH, and they rotated players in and out at the position all season. Seventeen different players saw time at DH in 2012. 17! Among them were — and I’m not joking — Ramiro Pena and Melky Mesa. They could have used Thome at DH. Jimmer Jammer was with the Phillies as a bench bat at the time, and they later traded him to the Orioles, where he hit .257/.348/.396 (102 wRC+) with three homers in 115 plate appearances. That was the final chapter of his should-be Hall of Fame career. The Yankees ended it in the ALDS that October.

The Yanks are reportedly looking for a third baseman because Chase Headley isn’t giving them much of a choice

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

At some point soon, perhaps tomorrow, the Yankees will get some help at first base. Their first basemen have hit a combined .162/.275/.288 (32 OPS+) so far this season, which is easily the worst production from the position in baseball. Thankfully both Tyler Austin and Greg Bird are on minor league rehab assignments, and Austin could be activated very soon. Bird shouldn’t be too far behind.

Third base is another matter. Everyone is healthy and the Yankees have still received a .223/.292/.330 (68 OPS+) batting line from the position. And that’s with Chase Headley‘s amazing April. He’s crashed hard these last six or seven weeks. It’s actually pretty amazing the Yankees are in first place with the second best run differential in the league despite getting so little from the corner infield positions.

Anyway, according to Nick Cafardo, the Yankees are in the market for a new third baseman. “The Yankees are shopping for a third baseman, according to major league sources,” says Cafardo’s one-sentence report. We’ve already heard the Yankees are grooming Gleyber Torres to take over at the hot corner this year, and now we’re hearing they’re looking for outside help. Let’s talk about this.

1. Does this pass the sniff test? The important question with every rumor. Yes, this one passes the sniff test. Headley has been terrible and it’s only logical that the Yankees would look for an upgrade, especially since they’re in contention. Maybe if they were having the down rebuilding year many expected, they wouldn’t worry about it too much and ride things out with Headley until Torres or whoever was ready. That isn’t the case though. Third base is a major weakness for a first place team, and that first place team is looking for help.

2. What are the conditions? Now, that all said, I don’t think the Yankees are going to go all out for third base help. They’re still identifying themselves as a team in transition with a focus on getting younger. Also, the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold soon (i.e. 2018) is still very much in place. That means these two statements are very likely true:

  1. The Yankees are not going to take on a sizeable multi-year contract.
  2. The Yankees aren’t going to trade any of their top prospects.

There are always exceptions — I don’t think they’d run away if, say, the Mariners made Kyle Seager available — though for the most part, I think those two statements are true. The Yankees are not going to trade their best prospects and they’re not going to jeopardize the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold. Other considerations like handedness (a lefty would help balance the lineup) and hitting style (high strikeout vs. high contact, etc.) are secondary.

3. So who’s available? Alright, let’s get down to business. The Yankees reportedly want a new third baseman, so would could be available? The best place to start is always with the last place teams since they’re most likely to sell, though I get the sense the Blue Jays won’t be open to trading Josh Donaldson to the Yankees. Here is a preliminary list of third base trade candidates, listed alphabetically:

  • Todd Frazier, White Sox: A solid defender and he’ll be a free agent after the season, which fits the luxury tax plan, but he’s also hitting .195/.306/.396 (88 wRC+). Name value > actual production.
  • David Freese, Pirates: Hitting .258/.361/.411 (109 wRC+) this year with his usual okay-ish defense. Freese is owed a reasonable $4.25M next year with a $6M option for 2019.
  • Jed Lowrie, Athletics: Lowrie, a switch-hitter, was a regular third baseman as recently as 2015, and he’s hitting .293/.360/.483 (132 wRC+). His contract includes a $6M option for 2018. Hmmm.
  • Mike Moustakas, Royals: Almost certainly the best third baseman likely to be available. He’s a rental, he’s hitting .255/.295/.510 (109 wRC+), and he can play the hell out of the hot corner.
  • Martin Prado, Marlins: Currently on the DL with a nagging hamstring issue that has limited him to only 17 games this year. Prado is owed $28.5M from 2018-19, which is a bit of a problem.
  • Trevor Plouffe, Athletics: Meh. Another rental, so that’s good, but Plouffe is hitting .216/.278/.351 (71 wRC+) and has been trending downward for a while now. Plus he’s a crummy defender.
  • Yangervis Solarte, Padres: Never Nervous Yangervis is hitting .250/.329/.353 (86 wRC+) while primarily playing second base this year. He’s due $4.125M next year with club options for 2019 ($5.5M) and 2020 ($8M).

So that’s the list for now. Things can and will change in the coming weeks as teams fall out of the race/get back into it, players get hurt, rookies emerge, that sort of thing. I’d say Freese and Prado are the least likely players on that list to be traded before the deadline.

The way I see it, Frazier is the big name, Moustakas is the best player, and Lowrie is the most sensible target. The Yankees might be able to pry Lowrie loose without trading one of their top ten prospects, and he wouldn’t threaten the luxury tax plan since this is the final guaranteed year on his contract. Both Ken Rosenthal and Susan Slusser say the A’s are likely to trade him. Hmmm indeed.

Moose tacos. (Brian Blanco/Getty)
Moose tacos. (Brian Blanco/Getty)

4. Whither Headley? Okay, so the Yankees go out and get a new third baseman. What do they do with their old third baseman? Pretty much the only thing they can do. Turn him into a bench player. Headley would be a backup at first and third bases, and maybe a defensive replacement at the hot corner in the late innings, depending who the Yankees acquire. (Plouffe would need a defensive caddy, for example.)

Last season the Yankees showed they are willing to reduce a pricey veteran’s playing time when a better option emerges. Brian McCann lost playing time to Gary Sanchez. Mark Teixeira lost playing time to Tyler Austin. That said, pushing aside a veteran for an up-and-coming kid is different than pushing aside a veteran for another veteran picked up in a trade. I don’t think the Yankees will have any trouble doing that though. The Yankees are out there looking for third base help because Headley is forcing them to.

5. Whither Gleyber? I can see it now. The Yankees trade for a third baseman and everyone wonders why they didn’t just call up Torres. “The Yankees hate young players!” will be said by someone, somewhere, as Sanchez and Aaron Judge hit balls to the moon and Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery start two out of every five days. It’s inevitable. If the Yankees add a veteran, many folks will wonder why they blocked Torres. Take it to the bank.

In reality though, Torres is a 20-year-old who has played only 43 games above Single-A ball. He’s a very good 20-year-old! But he’s still a 20-year-old. And his first two weeks in Triple-A have produced an .194/.356/.222 (80 wRC+) batting line and four errors in eleven games. Trading for a veteran third baseman and keeping Torres in Triple-A would be a completely reasonable move that would in no way indicate the Yankees have soured on Gleyber or anything like that. The Yankees are reportedly grooming Torres to take over at third base, but only if he forces the issue. Right now, he’s not.

* * *

The longer the Yankees stay in the race and the longer Headley continues to do this, the louder the cries with be for a new third baseman, whether it’s Torres or a trade target or whoever. Now that we’re into June, trade discussions figure to heat up as the rebuilders resign themselves to, well, another year of rebuilding. My guess is the Yankees would prefer to go with Torres at third base later this year, so I think they’ll be patient, see how Gleyber adjusts to Triple-A, and let the third base trade market come to them over the next few weeks.

Revisiting the MLBTR Archives: May 2012

(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

We’re in a new month, which means it’s time to once again go back through the MLB Trade Rumors archives. Five years ago was May 2012. May is kind of a weird month for trade rumors. There are very few free agent rumors, and at this point of the season, teams are still evaluating their rosters and internal depth options. They’re not yet aggressively pursuing outside help.

The Yankees went into May 2012 with a 13-9 record and a +18 run differential, which had them right behind the 15-8 Rays in the AL East. Michael Pineda, their prized offseason pickup, had already been lost for the season with a shoulder injury. Hiroki Kuroda, the other prized offseason pickup, got off to a slow start in pinstripes — “He’s just another NL pitcher!” was a thing that was said at the time — before turning it around. Let’s dive into the May 2012 archives, shall we?

May 2nd, 2012: Yankees Sign Adonis Garcia

9:21pm: Garcia signed a one-year minor league contract worth $400K according to Marc Carig of The Star Ledger (on Sulia).

4:16pm: The Yankees have signed Cuban outfielder Adonis Garcia, Ben Badler of Baseball America reports. The 26-year-old became a free agent in February and drew interest from a number of teams.

Adonis! I didn’t realize he received such a large bonus. Well, large by normal people standards, not by baseball player standards. Garcia was in the farm system from 2012-14 and spent most of his time with Triple-A Scranton, hitting .286/.329/.429 (110 wRC+) in 844 plate appearances. The Yankees released him following that 2014 season.

The Braves have a thing for ex-Yankees, so they scooped up Garcia, and a few weeks later he was their starting third baseman. The Yankees signed him as an outfielder and he reached the show as a third baseman. Garcia hit .273/.311/.406 (90 wRC+) last year and was basically replacement level due to his defense: +0.9 fWAR and +0.2 bWAR. Atlanta is still running him out there at the hot corner while they wait for a long-term option to emerge.

May 3rd, 2012: New York Notes: Rivera, Chamberlain, Harvey, Bay

Joba Chamberlain has been transferred to the 60-day DL, the Yankees announced today.  In corresponding moves, Jayson Nix has been called up from Triple-A and Eric Chavez has been put on the seven-day DL due to a possible concussion.

And thus begins the Jayson Nix, Ballplayer™ era. It all started with a Chavez concussion. The Yankees had signed Nix to a minor league contract over the winter — it was one of their very first offseason moves, so they were in a hurry to sign him, apparently — and he wound up playing 161 games and getting 505 plate appearances with the Yankees from 2012-13. Basically a full season’s worth of playing time, at a variety of positions. Nix hit .239/.307/.340 (78 wRC+) with +1.2 bWAR and +1.2 fWAR during that time. He hasn’t played in MLB since 2014 or anywhere since 2015. With all due respect to Nixie, Ronald Torreyes is much more fun utility guy.

May 4th, 2012: Mariano Rivera Suffers Torn ACL

THURSDAY: Rivera told reporters that he plans to return to baseball, tweets Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News“I am coming back. Write it down in big letters. … I’m not going out like this,” said the closer.

WEDNESDAY, 11:40pm: Mariano Rivera appears to have suffered a torn ACL in his right knee, Yankees manager Joe Girardi told reporters after tonight’s 4-3 loss in Kansas City.  Rivera suffered the injury while chasing a fly ball during batting practice earlier today, a pre-game ritual that Rivera has undertaken throughout his entire career. The ace closer will consult with doctors tomorrow in New York and, if the initial diagnosis is confirmed, Rivera will miss the rest of the 2012 season. 

What an awful day that was. Rivera took a misstep chasing after a fly ball during batting practice and blew out his knee on the Kauffman Stadium warning track. Here’s the video:

I remember being in denial. “He’ll be fine, he just rolled his ankle or something,” I said to myself as Mo clutched his knee in pain. After the game we found out it was a torn ACL and that his season was over. It felt like the Yankees’ season was over! Rivera was so important to their success over the years that he seemed irreplaceable. The security blanket was gone. Those easy, stress-free ninth innings would turn into nail-biters. No one could do what Mo did!

There’s a lot of unnecessary panic in baseball, I’ve learned. The Rivera injury was a legitimate panic-inducing moment.

May 4th, 2012: Quick Hits: Rivera, Yankees, Contracts

Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com hears that the Yankees will not aggressively pursue a reliever in a trade in the wake of Rivera’s injury (Twitter link). They are confident in David Robertson and Rafael Soriano in the late innings.

No surprise here. I mentioned this last week in the Adam Eaton post. Any time a team suffers a major injury, they always come out and say they will replace the player from within. No need to go outside the organization! They don’t want to look desperate because that only creates more problems. Suddenly prices will go up.

Robertson had his insane breakout year in 2011 and Soriano was a Proven Closer™, meaning the Yankees would be in good shape. Robertson actually got the first chance to replace Rivera. Not Soriano. His first save chance was a typical Houdini act — one hit and two walks in a scoreless innings — but the second was a disaster. Robertson allowed four runs, including three on a Matt Joyce homer, to turn a 1-0 ninth inning lead into a 4-1 loss.

Robertson hit the disabled list with an oblique strain after that, pushing Soriano into the closer’s role. He kept it the rest of the season. Soriano went 42-for-46 in save chances the rest of the way and had a 2.26 ERA (3.36 FIP) in 55.2 innings. That’s when #untuck became a thing.

(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)
(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

Robertson served as Soriano’s setup man and was excellent. Even without Mo, the Yankees had a dominant setup/closer tandem. That ninth inning success pushed Soriano to opt-out of his contract after the season. He hooked on with the Nationals and the Yankees used the compensation draft pick on Ian Clarkin.

The Rivera injury was bad. Don’t get me wrong. Losing an elite closer would be a devastating blow to just about every team. The Yankees were able to survive and thrive thanks to Soriano, who had a so-so first season in pinstripes in 2011. Some guys just need the adrenaline rush of the ninth inning to be at their best, I guess.

Soriano, by the way, announced his retirement this past winter. He last pitched in 2015, allowing four runs in 5.2 innings with the Cubs.

May 7th, 2012: Rosenthal On Ethier, Santana, Blue Jays, D’Backs

A scout tells Rosenthal that Andy Pettitte “does not look close to ready” and will need several more minor league starts before he’s ready to return to the Yankees.

May 7th: A scout says Pettitte “does not look close to ready.” May 13th: Pettitte allows four runs in 6.1 innings in his return to the big leagues. Eh. But! May 18th: Pettitte strikes out nine in eight shutout innings. I guess he needed that one last tune-up start to get ready.

In his return to baseball, Pettitte pitched to a 3.22 ERA (3.40 FIP) in nine starts and 58.2 innings before a comebacker broke his leg at the end of June. Blah. It was a great story before it got cut short. Andy did return in September to make three starts (three runs in 16.2 innings total) and he made two postseason starts too. Three runs in seven innings against the Orioles in the ALDS, then two runs in six innings against the Tigers in the ALCS.

That broken leg pushed Pettitte to come back in 2013 though. Andy said initially he thought he would get it all out of his system in 2012 and go back into retirement, but, after the injury, he wanted to give it another go. Pettitte made 30 starts with a 3.74 ERA (3.70 FIP) in 185.1 innings in 2013. He tossed a complete game in his final big league start.

That 2013 season was pretty crummy overall. But at least we got some very memorable farewells out of it between Pettitte and Mo.

May 12th, 2012: Yankees Claim Justin Thomas Off Waivers

The Yankees have claimed left-handed reliever Justin Thomas off of waivers from the Red Sox, Marc Carig of the Star-Ledger confirms (via Twitter).  The move was first reported by Maureen Mullen of CSNNE.com (via Twitter). 

The never-ending search for reliable lefty relief led the Yankees to Thomas, who wound up spending most of the season in Triple-A. He got a September call-up and allowed three runs in three innings. He hasn’t pitched in the big league since. Thomas ended up in Japan in 2013 and Korea in 2014. He’s been out of baseball since.

May 17th, 2012: Yankees Claim Matt Antonelli

The Yankees have claimed infielder Matt Antonelli off of waivers from the Orioles, Marc Carig of the Star-Ledger tweets. Antonelli, who was designated for assignment four days ago, will report to Triple-A.

The Yankees went a little waiver crazy in mid-May. Antonelli was a former first round pick and top prospect with Padres who, by this point in time, was on his fourth organization in the previous three years. Antonelli never did play for the Yankees. He appeared in 15 games with Triple-A Scranton, went 12-for-61 (.197), then was released in July. Antonelli played a handful of Triple-A games with the Indians in 2013 before retiring. At least he made it to the show, appearing in 21 games with the 2008 Padres. I remember being excited about this pickup, thinking he could be a late bloomer. So much for that.

May 18th, 2012: Oswalt Worked Out For Phillies, Red Sox

11:48am: Rosenthal reports (on Twitter) that neither the Yankees or Tigers are in the mix for Oswalt at this time. The righty intends to sign soon, possibly within the week, and pitch in MLB by mid or late June, Rosenthal tweets.

The Yankees were connected to Oswalt every year from roughly 2006-14. Either at the trade deadline or free agency. That sound about right? At this point Oswalt was 34 and coming off a solid season with the Phillies, throwing 139 innings with a 3.69 ERA (3.44 FIP) in 23 starts. And yet, no one signed him during the 2011-12 offseason.

Eventually Oswalt signed with the Rangers at midseason, people were mad the Yankees missed out, then he threw 59 innings with a 5.80 ERA (4.23 FIP) for Texas, and people were less mad the Yankees missed out. That was pretty much it for Oswalt. He allowed 31 runs in 32.1 innings for the Rockies in 2013 and has not pitched since. Oswalt went from finishing sixth in the 2010 NL Cy Young voting to dunzo in 2013.

The Yankees, meanwhile, never did bring in any rotation reinforcements in 2012. Not even after losing Pineda to season-ending shoulder surgery. They got Pettitte back and that was it. They stuck it out with what they had in-house, and hey, it helped get them to the ALCS.

May 25th, 2012: Minor Moves: Maine, Hernandez, Lindsay

The Yankees will sign right-hander John Maine to a minor league deal, Evan Drellich of MLB.com tweets. The Red Sox recently released the 31-year-old, who has missed considerable time with shoulder injuries. He posted a 7.43 ERA in 46 innings with the Rockies’ top affiliate in 2011 before signing with the Red Sox this January.

John Maine! Okay, so maybe I was wrong about the whole “they never brought in any rotation help” thing. They tried. Maine never did pitch for the Yankees though. He spent the season with Triple-A Scranton, throwing 79.2 innings with a 4.97 ERA (3.96 FIP). The Yankees cut Maine loose after the season, he hooked on with the Marlins, and actually got back to MLB in 2013, allowing ten runs in 7.1 innings in Miami. He did not pitch in the show at all in 2011 or 2012 before resurfacing in 2013. The Marlins released Maine at the end of April 2013 and that was it. He’s been out of baseball since. The Yankees haven’t had to go out and sign a veteran starter hanger-on like Maine this year because of their farm system depth. If anything, they have more starters than rotation spots at the upper levels.

May 29th, 2012: Yankees Claim Ryota Igarashi

The Yankees claimed right-hander Ryota Igarashi from the Blue Jays, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reports (Twitter links). The Yankees transferred right-hander Brad Meyers to the 60-day disabled list to create 40-man roster space for Igarashi, who will report to Triple-A.

Igarashi was a bit of a big deal back in the day. The success of Akinori Otsuka had teams scouring Japan for bullpen arms. The Mets gave Igarashi a two-year, $3M deal in December 2009, then he threw 69 innings with a 5.87 ERA (4.41 FIP) from 2010-11. So it goes. Igarashi spent most of the 2012 season in Triple-A with the Yankees, throwing 36.2 innings with a 2.45 ERA (2.07 FIP). They called him up twice in shuttle moves and he allowed four runs in three innings.

By the way, Igarashi is still active. He returned to Japan following that 2012 season and has been there since. So far this season Igarashi, now 37, has allowed two runs in 13 innings with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. The Yankees went through a lot of random relievers in 2012. We haven’t even gotten to Chad Qualls and David Aardsma and Derek Lowe yet.