Scouting The Trade Market: Jair Jurrjens

As I mentioned yesterday, the trade market can offer viable alternatives to free agency during the offseason. There aren’t many quality starting pitchers available on the open market this winter, so trades could be the best and most efficient way for the Yankees to improve their rotation for 2012 and beyond.

MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reported yesterday afternoon that the Braves have informed teams they’re willing to trade right-hander Jair Jurrjens and utility guy Martin Prado, seeking to gain some financial flexibility. Brian Cashman and Frank Wren have gotten together for just one trade in the past (the ill-fated Javy Vazquez deal two winters ago), but I’m sure their working relationship is fine. Prado is of little interest to us, but Jurrjens is definitely someone worth looking into as a rotation candidate. Let’s see what he has to offer, starting with the positives…

The Pros

  • It feels like he’s been around forever, but Jurrjens is still really young. He’ll turn 26 in January, and he has two years of team control remaining. MLBTR projects a salary of $5.1M next season, which puts him in line for an $8-9M payday in 2013, his final trip through arbitration.
  • A true four-pitch pitcher, Jurrjens uses two fastballs in the 88-91 mph range (two- and four-seamer) to set up his low-80’s changeup and high-70’s slider. He’s got good control (2.79 uIBB/9 in the last three years), and the slide-piece is a put-away offering that he’s used to hold right-handed batters to measly .228/.280/.362 batting line with a 3.3 K/uIBB ratio over the last three seasons.

The Cons

  • Jurrjens has had a lot of trouble staying healthy in recent years, missing the final month in both of the last two seasons with right knee problems. He had surgery to repair a torn meniscus last September, then dealt with inflammation this August and September. He’s also missed time with an oblique strain (2011), a hamstring strain (2010), and shoulder inflammation (2007 and 2010), limiting him to just 43 starts and 268.1 IP over the last two years.
  • That 88-91 mph fastball used to be 92-94 mph, but Jurrjens’ velocity dropped off in a big way in 2011. The velocity graph is quite scary, actually. His offspeed stuff isn’t enough to compensate, which is why left-handed batters have tagged him for a healthy .273/.349/.424 batting line with a 1.4 K/uIBB ratio over the last three seasons.
  • Jurrjens is a fly ball pitcher (41.9% grounders last three seasons) and his strikeout numbers are not great (6.11 K/9 with 8.1% swings-and-misses last three seasons). That’s why there’s a considerable gap between his 3.20 ERA, 3.90 FIP, and 4.27 xFIP since the start of the 2009 season.

Bowman’s article says the Braves have already talked to the Royals about a Jurrjens trade, asking about upper-level bats like Wil Myers and Lorenzo Cain. Myers is one of the better prospects in the baseball and Cain is a big league ready center fielder, so that seems a little rich. The point is, they obviously want young position players in return, and the Yankees really aren’t loaded in that department outside of Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, and maybe Brandon Laird or Eduardo Nunez if you squint your eyes and look real hard.

Atlanta traded Derek Lowe earlier this week, so I find it pretty surprising that they’re willing to trade another one of their big league starters. They obviously have a lot of confidence in the young kids they have coming up (Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Mike Minor, and former Yankee farmhand Arodys Vizcaino), but isn’t this also a bit of a red flag? It’s not like Jurrjens is making a ton of money. Some guys peak early, and I’m worried that the Braves realize this and are trying to move him before his value declines any further.

There are two major red flags here as far as I’m concerned: the velocity drop and all the injury problems, specifically the recurring knee issues. The two problems might be related, since it is his push-off leg. If he can’t push-off properly, you have to worry about him overcompensating and possibly hurting his arm. You want to like Jurrjens, a young hurler who’s put up a sub-3.00 ERA in two of the last three seasons, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Given the injuries, underwhelming peripherals, and declining velocity, I really have a hard time valuing Jurrjens as anything more than a glorified Phil Hughes, and the Yankees don’t need another guy like that at this point.

Mailbag: Sizemore, Spilborghs, Coghlan, More

I was in the writing mood when I put this together yesterday, so you’re getting seven questions and close to 2,000 words worth of mailbag this morning. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in your questions.

(AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

Many, many people asked: What about Grady Sizemore in some capacity?

The vast majority of the questions we got this week were about Sizemore, either as a fourth outfielder or a full-time corner guy with Nick Swisher or Brett Gardner being traded away. From 2005-2008, Sizemore was arguably the best player in the game, hitting .281/.372/.496 (.376 wOBA) with power (107 homers) and speed (115 steals) to go along with very strong defense in center field. His 27.4 fWAR and 24.4 bWAR during those four years were both the fourth highest in the game. He’s a free agent because the Tribe declined his $9M club option earlier in the week.

The now 29-year-old Sizemore is a shell of his former self due to injuries, specifically to his knees. He had microfracture surgery on his left knee in 2010 (and then some setbacks), and had an arthroscopic procedure on his right knee just a few weeks ago. He’s also needed surgery for two sports hernias (2009 and 2011) and for a debridement in his elbow (2009). All those injuries have limited Sizemore to just 210 games over the last three years (no more than 106 in a single season), during which time he’s hit .234/.314/.413 without any of the speed he showed before (just 17-for-29 in steal attempts). Over the last two years, it’s a .220/.280/.379 line with four steals in eight attempts in 104 games.

I don’t see the fourth outfielder thing working for the Yankees because he’s a left-handed hitter, and they have enough of those in the outfield already. They need a right-handed bat that can step into the lineup against tough southpaws, especially the AL East guys like David Price, Jon Lester, and Ricky Romero. I also don’t see any reason to believe that Sizemore can hold up for a full season playing everyday, he hasn’t done that in three years now. He’s a sexy name because he was legitimately one of the best players in the sport at one time, but Sizemore isn’t that guy anymore and there’s not much evidence that he’s coming back. I expect him to sign with some team that guarantees him a bunch of playing time, then is left scrambling when he gets hurt again.

Ed asks: Let’s say the Rockies non-tender Ryan Spilborghs this offseason, should the Yanks sign him to replace Andruw Jones for the 2012 season? Spilborghs has a career .277/.357/.443 line against lefties, and is a decent fielder.

Spilborghs is okay, but he got wildly overrated a few years ago because he had some dramatic hits during the Rockies’ run to the World Series in 2007. I don’t even think he even qualifies as a platoon bat anymore, he’s hit just .236/.332/.401 against lefties over the last three seasons (.258/.317/.384 vs. RHP), so the majority of his career damage against southpaws came 4+ years ago. Spilborghs is a big step down from Jones, who works the count well and (more importantly) can really hit for power.

As an aside, my all-time favorite Ryan Spilborghs moment was when Woody Paige said the Rockies should trade Matt Holliday (in June 2008) so Spilborghs could become “a full-time starting outfielder who could be the next Holliday.” Nice thought, if it wasn’t for the fact that Spliborghs is four months older than Holliday. Fire Joe Morgan did a number on that one.

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Curtis Granderson named AL Outstanding Player of the Year

The Players Choice Awards were handed out tonight, and Curtis Granderson was named the 2011 AL Outstanding Player of the Year. He beat out Jose Bautista and Adrian Gonzalez for the award. Bartolo Colon was nominated for AL Comeback Player of the Year, but he lost out to Jacoby Ellsbury. No shame in that. Chad Jennings has the full list of winners, which were voted on by the players (hence Players Choice Awards). Congrats to the Grandyman on the well-deserved honor.

Orioles have asked to interview Oppenheimer about GM gig

Via Buster Olney, the Orioles have asked the Yankees for permission to interview amateur scouting director Damon Oppenheimer for their still vacant GM job. Olney says they might also have interest in pro scouting director Billy Eppler, who was the runner-up to Jerry Dipoto for the Angels GM position.

Baltimore has already offered the job to two very qualified candidates (Dipoto and Blue Jays’ assistant GM Tony LaCava), but both have turned it down. These are highly-coveted gigs, there are only 30 GM jobs out there, and to have two people turn it down is pretty damning for the O’s. Danny Knobler reported yesterday that owner Peter Angelos would not let LaCava bring in his own front office people, which is just mind-numbingly stupid. Be glad you weren’t born an Orioles fan, folks.

Open Thread: Season Review Recap

(Ben Platt/MLB.com)

Now that free agency is open for business, we are officially turning the page on the 2011 season. Our somewhat drawn-out season review wrapped up yesterday, so in case you missed anything, here’s one last link back to all the posts…

What Went Right

What Went Wrong

What Went As Expected

Misc.

Here is your open thread for the evening.  The second game of the 2011 Taiwan All-Star Series will be broadcast (on a delay) at 9pm ET on MLB Network, but if you want to know what happens ahead of time, here’s the game recap. All three hockey locals are also in action. Talk about anything you want here, the thread is yours.

Discussion Question: What is Joe Girardi‘s biggest flaw in terms of his in-game management? If you think it’s “the binder,” please be more specific.

Self-Promotion: Free Agent Forecast, Sabathia, Brackman

Sorry folks, but it’s time for a little shameless self-promotion. With free agency now open for business, Joe took part in a three-person panel over at the YES Network, attempting to predict the landing spots of twenty of this winter’s top free agents. This is different that his top 50 predictions from earlier this week, so make sure you check it you.

As for me, I’ve got a pair of posts up at FanGraphs covering two recent Yankees’ transactions: CC Sabathia’s extension and Andrew Brackman’s release. Over at The Yankee Analysts, Hannah wrote about how Sabathia’s deal gives us Yankees fans some piece of mind heading into the offseason. Ain’t that the truth?

Why the Mariners won’t trade Felix, redux

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

It’s been a ritual for the past few years, and it’s not going to stop any time soon. The off-season is a time to dream on what the Yankees can become, and normally those dreams start with Felix Hernandez atop the rotation. The Mariners finished in the AL West cellar for the second straight year, and that will lead people to believe that they’d trade their ace — who is perhaps the AL’s best pitcher — in order to start a rebuilding effort. If the Mariners ever made Felix available, the Yankees would likely stand in front of the bidding line.

Last winter, following a flurry of comments and emails suggesting the Yankees pry Felix from the Mariners, I wrote a post on why the Mariners will not trade him. Predictably, he remained in Seattle all year. But after another last place finish will the Mariners finally part with their ace and start a true rebuilding process? Unfortunately, I am here to rain on the parade again. The Mariners will again retain Hernandez’s services this off-season.

The Mariners Situation

It’s easy to look at the Mariners and write them off as a team in need of a rebuild. Again, they’ve finished last in the AL West for two straight seasons and can’t seem to muster any semblance of offense. It might seem as though they’d benefit by trading their most tradable commodity in exchange for some high-end bats.

At the same time, the Mariners do have some reinforcements. Dustin Ackley established himself with a fine rookie campaign and will likely hold down second base, and a premium lineup spot, for years to come. Justin Smoak flashed his potential at the outset in 2011. Guys such as Kyle Seagar and Trayvon Robinson could provide support. The Mariners also have a good crop of pitchers — even after trading Doug Fister their starters ranked 8th in the majors in WAR — with more help on the way.

The pitching-heavy nature of the franchise might suggest an arms-for-bats trade, but, as we’ll explore in further depth, Felix is not the guy to get the job done. He’s the guy they want out in front of the kids as they come up through the minors and eventually help the big league club.

Felix’s Contract

In 2012 Hernandez enters the third year of the five-year, $78 million extension he signed with the Mariners. That means he’s theirs for the next three seasons, though he’s not quite a bargain anymore. The Mariners will pay a little more than $60 million for his services. Again, wouldn’t a bad team want to shed that kind of contract and rebuild?

For a player of lesser ability than Felix that might be true. But for the Mariners, Felix’s contract can actually be seen as a blessing. On the open market he’d surely get the highest average annual value and greatest overall package of any pitcher in history — think seven years and around $170 million. That is, the Mariners are getting him at a discount of around $12 million over these next three years.

Make no mistake: the Mariners can spend. Their payroll reached its apex, $117 million, in 2008. If they’re contending it can approach those levels again. While Felix’s salary would still constitute a significant portion of such a high payroll, he’d still be worth it. There just aren’t many pitchers who can provide his kind of value. The Mariners also find themselves in a favorable payroll situation. They have only $59.5 million committed to 2012, and after the season Ichiro‘s deal expires. That leaves them with plenty of room to not only house Felix’s salary, but also to add free agents around him.

Felix’s Preference for Seattle

Had Felix not signed his extension in early 2010, he’d have just hit free agency. That is, he was just two years away when he signed his deal. Surely the long-term security of a $78 million deal played a large role in his decision. But he’s also professed a desire to continue pitching in Seattle. That could keep him up there for not only the three remaining years of his contract, but for many years after that.

That’s not to say that the’ll give the Mariners a significant hometown discount. They’ll have to pay top dollar in order to retain Hernandez. But, again, given his rare abilities combined with Seattle’s ability to spend, it’s not hard to imagine him spending the rest of his career in the Pacific Nothwest. Given his preference for his current team, he could certainly walk the same path as Cliff Lee, taking “enough” money from the Mariners while spurning slightly more lucrative offers to move east. Remember, unlike Lee, and many other free agent pitchers, Felix will already have earned over $80 million by the time he hits free agency.

Even if the Mariners sign him to the aforementioned seven-year, $170 million contract, they’ll still be getting a pitcher in his prime. Hernandez turns 26 around Opening Day, meaning the seven-year contract will cover his age-29 through age-35 seasons. While any long-term pitching contract brings risks, paying for a pitcher’s prime years mitigates some of that risk.

Felix’s Rare Ability

While I’ve soured on WAR for a number of reasons, one big reason is that it understates the value of high-WAR players. That is, players worth seven wins over replacement per season are exceedingly rare. They are worth far, far more than double a 3.5-win player, because 3.5-win players are far more common. To take this further, a team with one 7-win player and one 0-win player is in a far better position than a team with two 3.5-win players. The first team can replace the 0-win player, but the second team will have trouble finding reasonable, and reasonably priced, upgrades over the 3.5-win players.

In the last three seasons Felix easily ranks as a top-five pitcher in the bigs. His 18.5 WAR, in fact, ranks fifth. He has thrown the second-most innings and ranks fourth in ERA and eighth in FIP. The only pitchers who compare to him are Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, Justin Verlander, and Zack Greinke. That’s some pretty elite company. That actually brings us into the next point.

Get Value Now, Trade Later

If the Mariners do plan to trade Felix, why would they do so now? We’ve already seen that there is simply no way they could get anything approaching equal value right now. They could get a prospect who has the potential to produce seven-win seasons. But prospects bring no guarantees. Chances are they’d get a package with a number of high-end prospects. But chances are they’d be looking at two 3.5-win players, rather than a single seven-win player.

If they can’t get equal value right now, and if they don’t have payroll issues, why trade him? Why not wait until later, when they can still pluck a premium prospect? In the meantime they could still make a run. If they, for instance, signed Prince Fielder this off-season there’s a chance they could make a run for the AL West crown in 2012. Why trade Felix now when that chance is potentially on the horizon?

The Mariners know Felix’s trade value first hand. Look at what they got for Cliff Lee at the 2010 trade deadline. He had just a half year of team control remaining, and they managed to trade him for the No. 13 prospect in the game. At the trade deadline in 2014 they could pull similar haul for Felix. If they traded him the winter prior they could get an even larger haul. Teams, especially rich teams like the Yankees, can afford to pay premiums for rare talents such as Felix.

In Sum

If the Mariners had payroll issues this might be a different story. But they don’t. If the Mariners had a barren farm system they might reconsider. But they don’t. If Felix was heading for free agency after the 2012 season maybe they’d seek to trade him. But he isn’t. If Felix were a solid No. 1/No. 2-type pitcher they might find an attractive package of prospects from another team. But he’s not. All of these factors conspire to keep Felix in Seattle.

The Mariners have a rare commodity on their hands, rarer still because he’s so young in addition to being so good. There is no way they can get anything resembling equal value for him right now. They could get a few gambles, but the chances of them landing even one future seven-win player, never mind multiple, are slim to nil. At the same time, they could likely get a considerable return for Felix in a few years time. Why would they trade him now for what they could probably get in a year or two?

As Yankees fans we dream of the elite. The very best is all that will do. Felix certainly ranks among the very best. We’d all love to see him on the roster for 2012 and beyond. Unfortunately, he is property of a team that has no incentive to deal him right now. Perhaps in the future the Yankees can pry Felix away from the Mariners. But right now, as a 26-year-old with three years remaining of team control, he’s staying in Seattle.