Surprise! It’s not Hector Noesi going down for Bartolo Colon, it’s Brian Gordon. Gordon will start for Triple-A Scranton, and Joe Girardi said during his pregame presser that they were concerned about him being rusty after not pitching for 11 days. I would have much rather seen Noesi go down so he could pitch regularly as a starter, but that’s just me.
Another day, another post about a potential trade target. A few days ago we broke down Heath Bell of the Padres, and now it’s time to look at his bullpen mate, Mike Adams. San Diego is on a nice little roll (won four straight), but they’re still ten games back of both the NL West crown and the NL Wildcard in the loss column. Given the demand for high-end relievers, the Padres have let it be known they’re willing to discuss anyone in their bullpen as long as they get the right pieces in return. Let’s take a look at what Adams can and can not do…
- You might not have heard of him, but Adams has been one of the very best relievers in all of baseball over the last few seasons. Since the start of the 2009 season (min. 120 IP), he leads all big league relievers with a 2.03 FIP, a quarter of a run better than the runner up (Bell). His 1.87 FIP this season is better than last year’s 2.31 mark, but lags behind 2009’s FIP of 1.66.
- Adams has struck out 10.16 batters per nine innings over the last two-plus seasons while walking just 2.31 per nine. If we remove intentional walks, it’s 2.06 per nine. His strikeout rate remains sky high this season (9.91 K/9), though his walk rate is his best ever (0.99 uIBB/9).
- A simple man, Adams works with two knockout pitches and a deceptive delivery that is all arms and legs and baggy jersey. His slider has such short and hard break that it looks like a cutter, and he’ll throw it anywhere from 80-90 mph. A two-seamer in the low-90’s is his other pitch, though I’ve seen him reach back and throw a straight four-seamer at 96 in the past.
- Unlike Bell, Adams is under team control next season as an arbitration-eligible player, which is a fantastic and valuable little piece of flexibility.
- Adams is not that young (33 at the end of July) and he has a lengthy injury history. He had surgery to repair a partially torn labrum after the 2008 season, and it kept him on the shelf until early-June 2009. Some soreness in the shoulder cost him basically all of September that year as well. Adams pitched through a minor but nagging oblique strain for four weeks last summer, and his minor league career is littered with injuries.
- Although he’s not an extreme fly ball guy, he doesn’t do a great job of keeping the ball on the ground. Since the start of 2009, Adams’ ground ball rate is just 43.8%. Since the start of last season it’s 41.6%. Of the five homers he’s given up since the start of 2009, three have come on the road away from Petco Park, included the two he’s allowed this season.
- A $2.535M salary is nothing to the Yankees but it is rather expensive for a middle reliever. He’ll earn about $422,500 a month from here on out, and that base salary could put him in line for a $4M payout next season.
- Adams has never pitched in the postseason, the closest he’s come is pitching in five consecutive days down the stretch last year, when the Padres were tying to fend off the Giants. He pitched in seven of San Diego’s final nine games last season.
As I said when we looked at Bell, adding another dominant, late-game reliever is more of a luxury than a requirement for the Yankees at the time. Both Jon Heyman and Joel Sherman have reported in recent days that the Yankees prefer Adams to Bell, which is good to hear because he’s no worse than Bell’s equal on the mound and is more than just a second half rental. I suspect the prospect cost would be similar, and if you’re going to go take the plunge and trade that much for a reliever, I’d rather do it for the guy you can keep beyond this season rather than pay a premium for the Proven Closer™, everything else being equal.
When the Yankees sought a pitcher to fill the spot reserved for Cliff Lee, Wandy Rodriguez’s name came up frequently. He’s a quality pitcher on a not-so-quality team, and he was just one year from free agency. While that might sound like a match on the surface, it misses a bigger point. With an already thin starting staff, Houston wasn’t about to give up its best pitcher before the season even started. Come trade deadline, though, he could become available.
Houston threw a wrench in the plan by signing Rodriguez to a three-year, $34 million contract with a $13 million fourth-year option. That doesn’t preclude them from trading him, since it’s a market value contract (and maybe a bit below market). But it does change the proposition, from acquiring a rental to acquiring an arm for the next few years. He’s someone who can help in that time, though. So far this year he has a 3.21 ERA and 3.94 FIP (3.48 xFIP) through 13 starts and 84 innings.
- From 2008 through 2010 he was the Astros best pitcher, posting an 8.4 K/9, 2.93 BB/9, and 0.85 HR/9, good for a 3.36 ERA and 3.55 FIP. That amounted to 10.2 WAR, best on the team by a full win.
- His fielding-independent performance has remained pretty consistent through his peak years, peaking at 3.62 and bottoming out at 3.50. He has also kept his ERA reasonably in line with the number, so it does appear that he is as good as his peripherals indicate.
- Since 2008 he ranks 16th in IP, 13th in ERA, 15th in FIP, 11th in xFIP, and 17th in WAR among NL pitchers with more than 350 IP. In other words, he’s a solid No. 2 – No. 3 pitcher.
- He eats lefties for breakfast, striking them out more, walking them less, and keeping the ball in the park more often. That’ll play well at the Stadium.
- He has a clause in his contract that turns the $13 million option into a player one if he’s traded. Put in a different context, that means the Yankees would be trading for a rental and then signing him to a three-year, $36 million contract — while giving up the players that reflect that they’re getting him for all those years.
- He’s a late bloomer and is actually 32 this season. That means the Yankees would have him for his age-33 through his age-35 seasons. It’s not the worst proposition, but it’s always dicey dealing with pitchers at that age.
- He’s been remarkably poor during interleague play during his career, with a lower strikeout rate and higher walk rate than his career numbers. This carries over to his good years, as he’s been horrible during the last three years of interleague play.
- He pitches quite a bit better at home than on the road, though that seems a bit odd, considering how hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park is, especially for righties. I’m not sure if that’s a big consideration in acquiring him, but it does stand out.
Left-handed pitching is clearly a priority for the Yankees, and Rodriguez fits that need well. He’s not just someone who throws with his left hand, but rather a high-strikeout, low-walk guy who can keep fellow lefties in check while handling righties just fine. In that way he appears to be a good target for the Yankees. But the cons list takes away a lot of his value. The Yankees would be making a significant commitment to him, and unless they’ve scouted him extensively, as they would a potential free agent signing, they might be disinclined to make a deal. The contract itself isn’t bad, and it would give the Yankees another lefty in the rotation for a few years. But it’s still a hefty commitment for a deadline deal.
If Rodriguez had not signed the extension, I would have thought a trade possible, or even likely. But the contract, especially the player option clause, complicates matters. There’s still an outside chance, but the more complexities you add to a trade the less likely it becomes. We might hear the Yankees inquiring on Rodriguez, but I’d have to put the chances of an actual trade at less than one percent.
Late last night word got out that Dodgers’ right-hander Hiroki Kuroda will require some kind of compensation to waive his no-trade clause at the deadline. Kuroda is expected to be one of the best available starters this summer, though Joel Sherman reports that the Yankees will not give the 36-year-old an extension to facilitate a trade. Kuroda is currently having his worst season in the States, but he still has a 3.10 ERA with a 3.82 FIP. I’ll take it.
The trade deadline is just 33 days away, but we have yet to see any major activity. Rumors continue to fly, but everything remains speculative at this point. The Yankees will surely inquire on any pitcher who can upgrade the rotation or bullpen, but all currently available pitchers are either a marginal upgrade at best, or carry major baggage. But that’s OK, says Brian Cashman. In the Post today Joel Sherman has some quotes from the Yanks GM, and he sounds pretty upbeat about his team’s chances.
“I don’t think I can trade for any starter that is better than Bartolo Colon or Phil Hughes, or a reliever better than Rafael Soriano,” he told Sherman. To an extent this is right. All three pitchers are on the disabled list, and all three are on the road to a Bronx return. The statement applies a bit less to Colon, since they lost him recently and still have the glaring hole in the rotation that he left. He will, in other words, retake his own spot. The real pick-ups, in terms of what we have become accustomed to this season, will be Hughes and Soriano. Both pitched poorly during their short times with the team, and both are far better than that. They’ll be major upgrades around deadline time.
With both Colon and Hughes off the DL, the Yankees rotation looks a bit more palatable. Either Freddy Garcia or Ivan Nova would move to the bullpen, which could help solidify that unit. Even after that, the Yankees could make another move to push the other of Garcia and Nova to the pen, to AAA. That’s not to say that neither of them is a fit for the Yanks as the No. 5 starter. It is to say that the Yankees probably won’t shy away from pitching this year just because they have five or six healthy arms. They know from recent experience how quickly that can change.
Last year at about this time the Yankees had five guys solidly in their rotation. A.J. Burnett’s wheels came off in June, but it’s not as though his rotation spot was in immediate jeopardy. Javy Vazquez, after a rough start, had turned in several fine performances. Phil Hughes was still going well. When the Yankees pursued Cliff Lee, one refrain we heard was that they already had five starters — the five starters they had on Opening Day. Was another one really necessary? As it turned out, yes, they did need another starter. Javy fell back off the cliff; Pettitte got hurt; Hughes struggled with the longball; Burnett pitched better but never really regained his form. By the time the playoffs rolled around the Yankees had one top flight pitcher followed by a guy who hadn’t completely recovered from injury, followed by a bunch of question marks.
The question right now, and for the foreseeable future, is of whom the Yankees can target. Right now there appears to be nothing, and as Cashman says, he “can’t make it happen if it is not there.” Perhaps the most relieving part of Sherman’s column comes around the middle, when he says that the Yankees “have shown no interest in high-cost veterans with dubious stuff.” He then lists the pitchers from non-contenders who have been mentioned in trade talks: Brett Myers, Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Edwin Jackson, Livan Hernandez, and Jason Marquis. While there might be some upside to discuss in Dempster and Jackson, chances are the cost of acquiring them won’t be worth the value they’d add over what the Yankees currently carry. And that, really, hits the point of this entire trade season.
There will come a time in the next 33 days when the Yankees talk to a team about a pitcher who can make a difference. It might not be a bona fide ace, but the Yankees don’t necessarily need one of those; they already have one. It’s good to hear that the Yankees won’t make a move for a high-priced veteran with a recognizable name just because they can. That’s not going to help anyone. The market will develop from here, and the Yankees patient approach should pay off come July 31st.
Although Rafael Soriano is expected back from his elbow injury reasonably soon (he’s eligible to come off the disabled list shortly after the All-Star break), Joba Chamberlain’s injury leaves a rather sizable hole in the back of the Yankees’ bullpen. David Robertson has stepped up and performed better than expected, but there’s no such thing as too many quality bullpen arms.
One quality bullpen arm that will almost certainly be available this summer is Heath Bell of the Padres, a team that is eleven games back in the loss column of the top spot in the NL West and ten games back of the wildcard. They’ve won four of their last five games but lost six in a row and nine of ten immediately prior to that. San Diego also sports one of the very worst offenses in baseball (.291 wOBA) and they don’t exactly have the wherewithal (or motivation, given their deficit) to go out at the deadline and add the bat or three they need to contend. Let’s break down the good and the bad…
- With no significant platoon split and a four-plus year track record of excellence (2.59 FIP from 2007-2010), Bell is about as safe as relievers come. He misses bats with a 92-95 mph fastball, low-80’s curveball combination, and has been very consistent when it comes to his walk rate (between 3.10 and 3.60 BB/9 from 2007-2010) and ground ball rate (44% to 48% over those four years) since getting to San Diego.
- He’s not just a product of spacious Petco Park, for those wondering. Since the start of the 2009 season, Bell has held opponents to a .220/.301/.289 batting line at home and .211/.273/.268 on the road. Of the four homers he’s given up in that time, three have actually come in Petco.
- Bell is very durable, having never visited the disabled list in his big league career and throwing no fewer than 69.2 IP in any season since getting to San Diego. His fastball velocity is holding up fine as well. I guess 6-foot-3, 260 lb. right-handers are built for innings.
- He’s done it all for the Padres. Bell started out as a low leverage middle relief guy before working his way into Trevor Hoffman’s top setup man, then he took over for the likely Hall of Famer three years ago. I’m not sure the whole “he needs to get used to not having the adrenaline rush of the ninth inning” argument would hold water here.
- Bell is just a rental and won’t eat up 2012 payroll. He projects to be a Type-A free agent (rather comfortably) at the moment, so he could bring two draft picks after the season.
- Bell’s strikeouts are down considerably this year. After whiffing 11.06 batters per nine innings last year (10.21 K/9 in 2010), he’s dropped down to just 6.97 K/9 this year. His swing-and-miss rate is still above average at 9.1%, but that is down from double digits in the last few years.
- He doesn’t have any traditional playoff experience, the closest thing is 2.2 IP in Game 163 against the Rockies back in 2007. Bell did pitch in each of the Padres’ last four games last season (and in six of their final ten), which were essentially playoff games as they tried to hold off the Giants. I don’t put much stock into this stuff, but some October experience is better than none.
- Bell is not cheap, at least not on the reliever pay scale. His $7.5M salary this year is broken down into $1.25M per month, give or take a few hundred thousand.
The Yankees could use one more late game reliever and Bell is as good as they come, but I can’t help feel like the cost will greatly outweigh the production. Some similar (and recent) trades that come to mind include Eric Gagne (Rangers to Red Sox), Matt Capps, and Brandon League, though none of them are perfect comparisons. Gagne was the only other rental, plus Bell was straight up better than all three of those guys. Regardless, they all required at least one premium piece going the other way, and I can’t see why the Padres would expect something less for what amounts to the best reliever in the National League over the last four or so seasons.
Ken Davidoff reported yesterday that the Yankees have called the Padres to discuss Bell’s availability, but they haven’t been as aggressive as some other clubs. That sounds like due diligence more than anything. Another bullpen arm would certainly be a welcome addition, especially one of Bell’s caliber, but the Yankees have bigger fish to fry at the trade deadline, namely a starter that can legitimately pass for a number two. Bell’s just a luxury at the moment.
The Yankees’ perpetual search for pitching takes us to Ryan Dempster today, who we got to see firsthand over the weekend. He wasn’t very good, walking six and allowing eight hits in just 5.1 IP on Saturday, and the three runs scored had more to do with the Yankees not getting the job done with men on base than Dempster bearing down and pitching his way out of jams. A recent report indicated that there’s “no likely scenario” in which the Cubs trade him, but we’ve heard that about so many players in recent years that it’s tough to take it seriously. Let’s break it down…
- Dempster has proven himself as a bonafide workhorse over the last few years, throwing at least 200 innings every year since 2008 (he’s on pace to do that again this year). Although he had a lot of elbow issues early in his career, his only trip to the disabled list in recent years was due to a broken toe he suffered climbing over the dugout fence in 2009. That qualifies as a fluke.
- His fastball velocity has held up well over the years, still sitting in the low-90’s regularly. He’ll use both a two and four-seamer, though Dempster’s bread-and-butter is a mid-80’s slider that he throws 35.5% of the time. He’ll also throw his low-80’s changeup one out of every ten pitches. Since the start of the 2009 season, his slider has an 18.1% whiff rate, the changeup 20.2%. That’s pretty damn good.
- Since returning to the rotation in 2008, Dempster’s been above eight strikeouts per nine innings in three of the last four years (it was 7.74 K/9 in the one exception year, which is still close to eight per nine). His ground ball rate has hovered between 47.1% and 48.1% every year since 2007. Hooray for consistency.
- This is the last guaranteed year of his contract and he projects to be a Type-A free agent at the moment.
- Dempster does have a considerable platoon split since returning to the rotation. He’s held right-handed batters to a .240/.304/.375 batting line with 19.8% strikeouts and 7.3% unintentional walks since the start of 2008, but lefties have gotten to him for a .259/.339/.409 batting line with 24.0% strikeouts (very good) and 9.8% unintentional walks (not very good). His unintentional walk rate since 2008 is solid (3.18), but he’s been around 3.50 both this year and last. That’s nothing special.
- He’s become increasingly more homer prone over the last several years and is well-below-average at 1.27 HR/9 this year. His 15.1% HR/FB ratio is a touch high compared to recent years, and it’s worth noting that eight of the 13 homers he’s allowed this year came in his first five starts. He’s allowed just five homers in eleven starts since.
- I’m not sure how much (if any) stock to put in this, but Dempster is a career National Leaguer and has gotten hit around during Interleague play: 4.98 ERA, ~4.55 FIP in 202.1 career innings against the AL. We saw that on display last weekend and it’s not an insignificant amount of innings, but they’re spread out over 14 seasons (so an average of 14.5 IP per season, which is nothing). For what it’s worth, he has just one career playoff start to his credit, this one back in 2007.
- Dempster has a $14M player option for 2012 in his contract, and player options are alwaysbad news because the team has zero control over what happens. Any team that acquires him has to assume he’ll pick it up. He’ll earn $13.5M this year (about $2.25M per month) and there are a series of escalators built in the contract that are based on award finishes, etc.
The Yankees reportedly have no interest in Dempster (or teammate Carlos Zambrano), but we know they were at least scouting the Cubs recently. Plus “no interest” has led to an introductory press conference a number of times over the last few seasons, so I have a hard time believing that report. The player option is a killer because he could come over, completely stink, then eat up $14M of payroll next year. That said, at least Dempster’s option is market value; you don’t have to try all that hard to envision him going out on the market after the season and getting that kind of money. If he comes over, pitches well and picks it up, hey that’s freaking awesome. But that’s just one possible scenario out of many.
As for similar players traded recently, all I can come up with are Ted Lilly (Cubs to Dodgers), Javy Vazquez (Braves to Yankees), and Jake Westbrook (Indians to Cardinals), though I think we can all agree that Dempster is a notch above those two. They also aren’t perfect comparisons because of the player option (plus Javy was not a midseason trade). Those three required packages of multiple young players/prospects, which is probably what it would take to acquire Dempster. Anyway, I’m not sure what to think here. There are obviously pluses and some definite red flags, but I think it’s safe to say he passes the “better than Freddy Garcia” test. But is the cost and risk worth it?