Could Aroldis Chapman’s stint with the Yankees be short-lived?

(Joe Robbins/Getty)
(Joe Robbins/Getty)

Earlier this week, the Yankees sent four non-top prospects to the Reds for super closer Aroldis Chapman. Chapman’s off-the-field history is kinda ugly, but he’s an impact player on the mound, and the Yankees are willing to look the other way for the sake of winning. That makes them like every other pro sports team these days.

The plan is to have Chapman join Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances in the bullpen according to Brian Cashman, though a trade is always possible. We all know that. Miller’s name has popped up in trade rumors all winter and I expect that to continue in the weeks leading up to Spring Training. No reason to think they’ll end.

But what if the trade doesn’t involve Miller? I have a hard time thinking the Yankees would trade Betances, though I suppose it’s always possible, but I was thinking of Chapman specifically. Could the Yankees have acquired Chapman with the idea of flipping him for the young starter they’ve been trying to get all winter? This caught my eye yesterday:

What would the Marlins want with one year of Chapman? Who in the world knows. That team never really seems to have a plan. The appeal of having a big name Cuban player in Miami is pretty obvious though, plus maybe the Marlins think they can re-sign him after the season. They do spend big on occasion and Chapman lives in Miami. I guess it’s not impossible.

The Marlins have some young starters to offer — Justin Nicolino, Jarred Cosart, Jose Urena, and Adam Conley jump to mind — and perhaps they’ve indicated a willingness to move one for Chapman. Or heck, maybe Chapman can be part of a Jose Fernandez trade. Package Chapman with, say, Aaron Judge and Jorge Mateo and a fourth piece, and maybe the Marlins budge with their ace. I’m just spitballin’ here.

This doesn’t have to be limited to the Marlins either. The Nationals reportedly had interest in Chapman after news of his domestic violence incident broke, so they’re a potential suitor. Would the Cubs have interest? They’re said to be looking for a reliever and might not have been able to get Chapman before because of the whole intra-division thing with the Reds. The Rangers? Angels? Mariners? What about the Mets?

A four-player package led by Eric Jagielo and Rookie Davis wasn’t going to net the Yankees any kind of stud young starter. Prospects are suspects until they do something in the big leagues. So instead the Yankees changed the shape of that trade value, so to speak. Both the package of four prospects and Chapman are worth X, but there’s more of a market for an elite reliever than a package of prospects. They’re still trading X, but now have more suitors to work with. Make sense?

I don’t think the Yankees acquired Chapman with the idea of flipping him elsewhere, but I wouldn’t rule it out either. Miller has been on the market all winter but there are reasons to keep him, namely his awesomeness and affordable contract. The Yankees were able to get Chapman at a discounted price, and now could be in position to both keep Miller and trade an elite reliever for a starter.

The Yankees, the Cubs, and the potential for a three-team blockbuster

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

For the second straight offseason, the Yankees have focused on improving their team through trades rather than free agency. They’ve made four trades so far this offseason, sending out a total of eight players in exchange for Aroldis Chapman, Starlin Castro, Aaron Hicks, Luis Cessa, and Chad Green. Chapman and Castro are the headliners, but the depth additions shouldn’t be overlooked either.

Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller have been the subject of trade rumors all offseason, mostly because they’re the most tradeable veterans on the club. They’re making real money and have positive trade value. Gardner and Miller represent opportunities to cut costs and add young talent. The cutting costs part is sorta dumb for a team with New York’s resources, but adding young talent? That always makes sense.

Meanwhile, a couple hundred miles west and in the other league, the Cubs have completed their rebuilding process and are now taking steps to improve their status as contenders. They’ve added John Lackey, Ben Zobrist, and Jason Heyward this offseason, plus Adam Warren and Trevor Cahill as depth pieces. The Cubs are where the Yankees want to be in the near future, albeit without all those messy fifth place finishes along the way.

Even after all those moves, the Cubs still have some roster issues. They’re in great shape, probably the best team in baseball at this very moment, but there are always upgrades to be made. The Cubbies could really use a center fielder to push Heyward back to this natural right field — can you imagine their outfield defense when Heyward is out of the lineup? goodness — and another high-end reliever wouldn’t hurt. In fact, Bruce Levine says the Cubs are “hell bent” on improving the bullpen.

The Yankees, as it just so happens, have both a center fielder (Gardner!) and a high-end reliever (Miller!) to offer. The Cubs asked about Gardner early in the Castro trade talks, so we know they have some level of interest in him. As for Miller, well, every team wants him. He’s great and he’s affordable. If he weren’t a Yankee, we’d be talking about ways the Yankees might be able to get him. Brett Taylor at Bleacher Nation did a great job breaking down the Miller/Cubs stuff.

The potential for a trade is so obvious. The Yankees could send Gardner and/or Miller to the Cubs and the Cubs could send some young players to the Yankees. There’s a slight problem with that though. The Yankees have been focusing on young starting pitching in any Gardner or Miller trade — it’s a clear organizational need — and Chicago doesn’t have any to offer. The closest is Kyle Hendricks, who’s a fine pitcher, but is the kind of upper-80s fastball guy who goes from high-3.00s ERA/low-3.00s FIP in the NL to mid-4.00s ERA/high-3.00s FIP in Yankee Stadium and the AL East.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Yankees match up well with the Cubs but the Cubs don’t necessarily match up well with the Yankees, not unless the Yankees change their plans and stop prioritizing young pitching. When you’re talking about an above-average everyday player like Gardner and an elite player like Miller, I don’t think it would be wrong to focus on getting the most talent regardless of position. That said, the Yankees don’t have to trade Gardner or Miller. Trading them almost certainly makes the 2016 (and 2017?) Yankees worse.

If the Yankees are going to stick to their guns and continue to ask for a young pitcher, then a direct trade with the Cubs probably won’t happen. That said, Brian Cashman and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein have both shown they are very willing to get creative, so I do think the potential for a three-team trade exists. Gardner and/or Miller go to the Cubs, the Cubs send young players to the third team, and the third team sends a young pitcher to the Yankees. That seems … doable? I guess so. There are two hurdles to clear.

1. Who is the third team?

The elephant in the room. The third team will need to have a young starter they’re willing to move for a young position player(s) to make this work. (Since the Cubs have no young arms, position players it is.) These are the clubs that jump to mind:

  • Angels: Need a left fielder and a second baseman, the cheaper the better. Could spare Nick Tropeano or even Andrew Heaney if the price is right. The Cashman-Billy Eppler connection doesn’t necessarily mean talks would go smoothly.
  • Athletics: The A’s are in a perpetual rebuild and will take any decent young players they can get their hands on. Sonny Gray ain’t happening. What about Jesse Hahn or Kendall Graveman?
  • Indians: Need outfielders, also the cheaper the better. They have plenty of young pitching, both high-end (Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar) and low-end (Cody Anderson, Josh Tomlin).
  • Nationals: Need an outfielder to replace Denard Span, preferably a center fielder but it’s not imperative. (Bryce Harper can play center.) Joe Ross and A.J. Cole are among their youngins. The Yankees could probably do a direct trade with Washington. No need for three-team fanciness.
  • Rays: They’ll take pretty much anyone who’s young and have been listening to offers for both Alex Cobb and Jake Odorizzi this offseason. Would they do a deal with the Yankees and vice versa? I think it’s unlikely.

So that’s my list. I came up with five teams that could fit as the third team in a Yankees-Cubs three-team swap, and one of those five teams is the Rays. I would be surprised if the Yankees and Rays are open to dealing with each other. So in reality, it’s four teams: the Angels, A’s, Indians, and Nationals. I didn’t miss anyone obvious, did I?

2. What wouldn’t the Cubs just keep the young starter for themselves?

A good question! The Cubs have been looking for a young starter themselves this offseason. Joel Sherman says they offered Jorge Soler for Shelby Miller and were the runner-up to get him. Marc Topkin says they talked to the Rays about sending Javier Baez to Tampa for Cobb. So the Cubbies are out there trying to get a young starter themselves.

So I guess the answer to the question is … the Cubs are in win-now mode and they don’t need a young starter to win in 2016. That make sense? Their rotation is full as it is and they have some depth as well (Travis Wood, Warren, Cahill). They need the center fielder and top notch reliever more than a future rotation piece at the moment. The Yankees are kinda sorta trying to contend in 2016 but are mostly focusing on 2017 and beyond.

* * *

This is where I acknowledge the odds of a Gardner/Miller Yankees/Cubs three-team trade are very small. Three-team deals are complicated, and at this point of the offseason, most teams have handled their major business and aren’t looking to shake up their roster.

The potential for such a trade does exist though. The Yankees have the pieces to address Chicago’s biggest needs, and the Cubs have the kind of young talent that can pry loose a young starter. Given Cashman’s and Epstein’s willingness to get creative and made big deals, don’t be surprised if the two sides explore a three-team blockbuster as a way of getting what they need.

Wednesday Night Open Thread

According to multiple reports, the Nationals agreed to a one-year deal worth $3M with Stephen Drew last night. Laugh if you want, but he’s replacing Dan Uggla (!) on their bench, so it’s an upgrade. The Yankees do have one open bench spot and I thought there was a chance they would bring Drew back if he was still sitting there unsigned in the days leading up to Spring Training. Alas. We’ll have to find a new infielder to hate in 2016.

Here is your open thread for the night. The (hockey) Rangers, Devils, and Nets are all playing. There’s also some college hoops and football on too, so talk about any of that here. Go nuts.

Andrew Miller on Aroldis Chapman trade: “I’m here to help in any capacity that I can”

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

Earlier this week, the Yankees acquired Aroldis Chapman from the Reds in one of their classic out of nowhere trades. The whole thing went down in about an hour, from first rumor to press release. The Yankees added Chapman without giving up significant prospects or dealing anyone off their MLB roster.

Right now the Yankees plan to have Chapman join Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances in the bullpen, forming the most dominant reliever trio in history. That’s not hyperbole either. The early-to-mid-2000s Astros had a great bullpen threesome in Billy Wagner, Octavio Dotel, and Brad Lidge, but not even they were as dominant as Chapman, Miller, and Betances.

My guess is Chapman will take over as the closer next season, mostly because he’s been one of the best closers in the game for a few years now. Miller was awesome in that role last season, so it’s not like he’s being replaced because he didn’t do the job, it just seems like Chapman will get the ninth inning based on reputation. And Miller is perfectly fine with that. Here’s what he told Brendan Kuty after the Chapman deal:

“I signed with the Yankees to win and I’m not stupid, he’s a heck of a pitcher,” Miller told NJ Advance Media in a phone interview Tuesday. “This is what I signed up for. I signed up to play for the Yankees, to win championships, and if (general manager Brian) Cashman and the Steinbrenners and whoever is part of the decision-making process thinks this is part of the answer, and that this is the way to go about it, that’s fine by me.”

Miller never did make any kind of stink about being the closer last season. He came to Spring Training and said he would do whatever the team asked, and it just so happened they needed him to close. “For what they’re paying me, I’ll do anything,” he said in early-May, after Joe Girardi finally declared him the closer.

Reports circulated saying Chapman wants to close when it appeared he was headed to the Dodgers a few weeks ago, though I’m not sure how true that is. Saves do pay, though I think at this point everyone knows Chapman is great and he’ll get paid accordingly in free agency next winter regardless of his 2016 saves total. That said, even the possibility of losing money due to a lack of saves may be enough to make Chapman uncomfortable.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no wrong answer in the late innings. Girardi could use Chapman or Miller or Betances to close and it would be perfectly fine with me. How could anyone think there’s a wrong answer here? They’re all great. If Chapman is more comfortable closing, then let him close and put him in the best position to succeed. Works for me.

As for Betances, what does he think about the Chapman addition? “I’m thinking about the game where we each pitch an inning and K all nine hitters we face,” he said to John Harper. Mmmhmmm.

Yankees lack reliability in the rotation, but not upside

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

So far this offseason the Yankees have worked to improve their lineup (Starlin Castro), their bench (Aaron Hicks), and their bullpen (Aroldis Chapman). They’ve been looking for rotation help all winter, particularly a young starter they can control beyond 2017, but so far they’ve come up empty. With another seven weeks until Spring Training, the Yankees still have time to find another starter.

At the moment, the Yankees do have six starters for five spots, so they have some depth. I’d call it warm body depth rather than quality depth, but depth is depth. And the Yankees are going to need that depth too, because no team gets through a season using only five starters these days. Heck, teams are lucky if they get through a season using only seven starters. That’s the nature of the beast.

The concern with the rotation is the dubious health of the incumbent starters. Every one of them except Luis Severino missed time with an injury last season. All of them except Severino and CC Sabathia had an arm injury. Masahiro Tanaka is coming off surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow and Michael Pineda still hasn’t made it through a full season in one piece in his four years with the Yankees.

“I think there’s depth there but there’s questions about health,” said Joe Girardi at the Winter Meetings. “You have Tanaka coming off a minor surgery — I guess you can say there’s no surgery that’s really minor when it’s to a pitcher’s arm — you have Michael coming back after throwing a lot of innings last year. (Ivan Nova) should be better a year removed from his surgery. I think until you see him throwing in Spring Training and throwing the ball like he’s capable of, you wonder a little bit.”

The health concerns with the rotation are legitimate. The Yankees don’t have anyone they can reasonably count on to stay healthy and take the ball every fifth day without incident. Yes, all pitchers are injury risks, but you can safely pencil guys like David Price and Zack Greinke and Jeff Samardzija in for 30 starts a year. They have the track record of durability. The Yankees don’t have anyone like that. At least not with Sabathia at this point of his career.

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

What the Yankees do have, however, is a lot of upside in their rotation. I feel like this is getting overlooked this offseason. Tanaka is a true difference maker when healthy. He’s an ace on his best days, and even on his worst days he’s merely ordinary and not awful. Severino has all the potential in the world and we’ve seen Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi have extended stretches of dominance (Pineda in 2014, Eovaldi in 2015).

I don’t have high expectations for Sabathia, not even with the new knee brace, but at least Nova will be further away from Tommy John surgery. He’s been very up and down in his career. The ups have been really good though! The downs? Well they’re why he’s the sixth starter and not assured a rotation spot. And who knows, maybe the new knee brace is the magic cure-all Sabathia needs. Even becoming a league average innings eater would be a huge upgrade.

Tanaka turned 27 last month and is the third oldest of the team’s six starters. Sabathia is the elder statesman at 35 and Nova’s the second oldest. He’ll be 29 in two weeks. Pineda (26) and Eovaldi (25) are in their mid-20s and Severino’s just a kid at 21. It would be one thing if the Yankees had a rotation full of Sabathias — veteran guys trying to stave off Father Time and remain effective in their twilight years. That’s not the case. The rotation is pretty young aside from CC.

The best way to describe the Yankees rotation is boom or bust. There’s a lot of injury risk and the bust rate is quite high. Much higher than I think anyone feels comfortable with. There’s also the boom potential that is being ignored for whatever reason. Tanaka, Severino, Pineda, and Eovaldi are a helluva quartet. That’s three young power starters with swing-and-miss stuff — now that Eovaldi has the splitter — plus Tanaka, a master at getting hitters to chase.

The rotation as is doesn’t make me feel very comfortable because there are so many health question marks. I’m not sure adding a reliable innings guy would make me feel much better though. The Yankees may add a young controllable starter, but, for the most part, they’ll sink or swim with this rotation in 2016. The injury risk is scary. But don’t forget the upside either.

“I think our guys are capable of getting it done. But the thing is, you have to keep them out there for 30 to 32 starts,” said Girardi. “I think our rotation has a chance to be good. But we’ve got to keep them out there.”

Prospect Profile: Chad Green

(Joel Bissell/MLive.com)
(Joel Bissell/MLive.com)

Chad Green | RHP

Background
Green, 24, grew up in Effingham, Illinois, which is roughly halfway between St. Louis and Indianapolis. He played both baseball and basketball at Effingham High School, where he was a three-time All-Conference and two-time All-Area honoree. Chad’s twin brother Chase also played baseball, and went on to use up all five years of eligibility at Southern Illinois.

Baseball America (subs. req’d) did not rank Green among their top 200 prospects for the 2010 draft, but they did rank him the No. 12 prospect in Illinois. The Blue Jays selected Green out of high school with their 37th round pick but failed to sign him. He instead followed through on his commitment to Louisville and stepped into a low-leverage relief role as a freshman.

Green posted a 1.93 ERA with 23 strikeouts and 16 walks in 42 innings in his first year on campus. He remained in the bullpen as a sophomore, throwing 46.2 innings with a 2.70 ERA and 42/23 K/BB. After the season, Green headed to the Cape Cod League, where he really broke out with a Bourne Braves. He pitched to a 2.79 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 42 innings against the top college players in the country.

The Cardinals moved Green into the rotation his junior year. He threw 104.1 innings across 18 starts, posting a 2.42 ERA with 74 strikeouts and 27 walks. That earned him Second Team All-Big East honors. Green allowed five runs in 12 innings in two postseason starts, both wins. Louisville advanced to the College World Series but was eliminated after losing their first two games, so Green didn’t get a chance to pitch in Omaha.

Green left Louisville after 193 innings with a 2.38 ERA, the best in school history at the time. Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked him as the ninth best prospect in Kentucky and the 267th best prospect in the 2013 draft class. The Tigers selected him in the 11th round (336th overall) and signed him for $100,000. The Yankees acquired Green from Detroit in the Justin Wilson trade earlier this month.

Pro Career
The Tigers had Green start his pro career with their High Class-A affiliate — he went for a quick tune-up with their rookie Gulf Coast League affiliate first — where he worked as a reliever following his big workload in school. Green had a 3.54 ERA (3.22 FIP) with 16 strikeouts and six walks in 20.1 pro innings in 2013.

Despite the solid showing in High-A, the Tigers sent Green to their Low Class-A affiliate for the 2014 season. He spent the entire year at the level, throwing 130.1 innings with a 3.11 ERA (3.08 FIP). Green struck out 23.9% of batters faced and walked 5.4%. Baseball America ranked him as the team’s 29th best prospect following the season in their 2015 Prospect Handbook.

The Tigers jumped Green straight to Double-A this past season — High-A to Low-A to Double-A is an atypical development path, I’d say — where he had a 3.93 ERA (3.22 FIP) in 148.2 innings. He had solid strikeout (20.9%) and walk (6.6%) rates while being about six months younger than the average Eastern League player.

Scouting Report
At 6-foot-3 and 210 lbs., Green is a big and physical right-hander with a low-90s sinker that is his key to success. He throws a lot of strikes with the pitch and consistently locates it at the knees. The Tigers introduced Green to a splitter last season and it has since emerged as his top secondary offering. He’s still working to gain consistency with the pitch.

Green also throws a sharp low-80s slider that he struggles to locate on the outer edge to righties. He tends to miss way off the plate or hang it over the middle. The split-finger, which replaced a changeup, is Green’s put-away pitch against both righties and lefties at the moment. There’s not much video of him available, so here’s a clip from April 2014, when he was in Low Class-A with the Tigers.

Green’s delivery is pretty simple and in-line with the plate, allowing him to throw strikes with his fastball with ease. He’s been praised for his ability to outsmart hitters and keep them off balance. Also of note: Green’s a very good athlete and a strong fielder, which is not insignificant for a ground ball pitcher.

2016 Outlook
After pitching well and spending the entire season in Double-A in 2015, Green is ticketed for the Triple-A Scranton rotation next season. I’m guessing he’ll get an invite to big league Spring Training so the coaching staff and front office can see him up close. Assuming he pitches well with the RailRiders, Green figures to make his MLB debut at some point next year, even if he’s only an up-and-down arm at first. He’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible next offseason, so a 40-man roster spot hangs in the balance.

My Take
Pitching prospects like Green don’t excite me much but the Yankees seem to have success with guys like this, guys who can throw strikes and pitch off their fastball. David Phelps and Adam Warren are the most notable recent examples. The Yankees worked with both to develop secondary stuff. Green’s new-ish splitter is promising and I’m guessing tightening up the slider will be a point of emphasis going forward. There’s nothing sexy about back-end starters, but the Yankees need cheap rotation help, and Green just might be able to help in that capacity.

Scouting The Trade Market: Chad Bettis

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

Despite their perpetual interest, the Yankees have yet to land a young starting pitcher controllable beyond 2017 this offseason. They have reportedly focused on acquiring such a player in trade talks involving Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller. The closest they’ve come to getting a young starter is picking up Luis Cessa and Chad Green in the Justin Wilson trade.

The Rockies seem like a team that should be focused on adding young pitching, not trading it away, but GM Jeff Bridich told Patrick Saunders he is “open to whatever, I mean it” earlier this offseason. Open to whatever as long as it helps improve the team, of course. Right-hander Chad Bettis could be a possible under-the-radar trade target for the Yankees as they look to add that controllable pitcher to their rotation. Is he a fit? Let’s take a look.

The Performance

Might as well start with some background information. Bettis, 26, was Colorado’s second round pick in the 2010 draft out of Texas Tech. Baseball America ranked him as the 86th best prospect in the game prior to the 2012 season — he was one spot behind Mason Williams — and Bettis made his big league debut late in 2013. He spent 2014 going up and down before spending the majority of 2015 in the team’s rotation. Here are his overall MLB stats.

G GS IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2013 16 8 44.2 5.64 4.93 14.4% 9.6% 46.7% .395 .351
2014 21  0 24.2 9.12 5.52 10.2% 7.9% 45.9% .488 .394
2015 20 20 115.0 4.23 3.85 19.5% 8.4% 49.3% .345 .323
TOTAL 57 28 184.1 5.22 4.33 16.9% 8.6% 48.1% .380 .340

Bettis was called up two seasons ago and came down with a case of Coors Field. He was limited to relief work last year and it was the first time he worked out of the bullpen in his career. Those 2013-14 numbers are ugly. No doubt about it.

I’m choosing to focus on Bettis’ 2015 performance because it’s most recent, and also because it was the first time he was given an opportunity to stay in the rotation for an extended period of time. Going up and down sucks. Once he had a chance to settle in, Bettis posted an average strikeout rate and an above-average ground ball rate, which is a nice starting point.

Coors Field uglified his overall numbers — Bettis had a 4.99 ERA (3.90 FIP) at home and a 3.35 ERA (3.79 FIP) on the road in 2015 — because that’s what it does, though I’m not one of those people who thinks road performance indicates the true talent level of a player who just so happens to be stuck on the Rockies. After all, Dodger Stadium, Petco Park, and AT&T Park are pretty great places to pitch.

Bettis is not a big guy — he’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 200 lbs. on the team’s official site — and the usual concern with pitchers that size is they’re unable to get good downward plane on their fastball and thus become fly ball prone. Bettis has gotten a good amount of grounders in his career to date, so that doesn’t really seem to be a problem. He had a 0.86 HR/9 (11.0 HR/FB%) this past season and 1.03 HR/9 (11.8 HR/FB%) over the last three years, which is average or a tick better. Maybe more than a tick considering his home park.

Also, despite the higher than average walk rates — that was the case all throughout the minors as well — Bettis has a reputation for pitching aggressively. “Bettis is tenacious and attacks hitters with everything he throws,” wrote Baseball America in their 2013 Prospect Handbook. The walk rates are the result of control issues, not an unwillingness to go after hitters. Walks are annoying. Walks because the pitcher nibbles are even more annoying.

I’m not sure anyone has come up with a good way to normalize the Coors Field effect. (There’s evidence simple park factors don’t fully adjust for the thin mountain air.) Given the sample size and his home ballpark, I’m inclined to outright ignore what Bettis has done to date, at least when trying to project what he’ll be going forward. Too many complicated variables at play.

The Stuff

To me, the scouting report is much more important than the stats with Bettis. It’s almost like he’s a prospect at this point. Bettis is a five-pitch pitcher who throws three fastballs (four-seamer, sinker, cutter), a curveball, and a changeup. The cutter is often misclassified as a slider by PitchFX for whatever reason.

Here is some PitchFX data on Bettis’ arsenal. This is 2015 data only because it’s the most recent, and also because he spent time in the bullpen the two previous years. That can screw things up. Pitchers rarely throw all their pitches in relief. (Adam Warren was a notable exception.) The MLB averages are in parentheses.

% Thrown Avg. Velo. Whiff% GB%
Four-Seam 48.9% 92.8 (92.4) 5.6% (6.9%) 48.4% (37.9%)
Sinker 10.8% 91.7 (90.8) 5.9% (5.4%) 57.1% (49.5%)
Cutter 9.6% 87.9 (88.0) 20.7% (9.7%) 65.7% (43.0%)
Curveball 15.0% 74.7 (77.8) 13.9% (11.1%) 25.6% (48.7%)
Changeup 15.8% 85.6 (83.3) 19.6% (14.9%) 73.5% (47.8%)

Bettis’ fastball velocity is more or less average — PitchFX says he topped out at 97.2 mph and 96.5 mph with the four-seamer and sinker this past season, respectively — and he gets an above-average number of ground balls with both his four-seamer and sinker, but not many swings and misses.

The cutter looks like a well-above-average pitch given the rate of whiffs and grounders, but he only threw it 9.6% of the time in 2015, so it could be sample size noise. In fact, Bettis threw only 179 cutters this past season, so yeah. The changeup is interesting. It looks like a great pitch based on whiffs and grounders, yet left-handed batters hit Bettis kind hard this season.

This could be a sample size issue, though I do think the velocity might have something to do with it too. Ideally a pitcher would have a 10 mph or so separation between his fastball and changeup. Bettis approximately had a 7 mph separation in 2015, less if you look at the sinker. The lack of big time separation could indicate the pitch is more hittable than the swing-and-miss and grounder numbers indicate. Here’s some video:

I suppose it’s only fair to point out the extreme separation between Bettis’ fastball and curveball after talking about the lack of separation with the changeup. He got some ugly swings with that slow curve in the video.

Playing at altitude doesn’t only allow the ball travel farther when hit, it also changes a pitcher’s stuff. It’s a physics issue — in the thin air, the ball encounters less resistance as it spins towards the plate. I don’t want to get too nerdy, but the interaction between the spinning seams and the molecules in the air determines how the ball moves. That interaction at sea level is different than it is on top of a mountain.

That’s a big reason why the Rockies have had such a hard time finding pitchers who can have consistent success in their home ballpark — they don’t know how their stuff will behave in the thin air until they get there. Bettis has a track record of missing bats all throughout the minors and the PitchFX data suggests he has options to get whiffs and grounders. Get him out of Coors Field and his stuff may firm up.

Injury History

Bettis has had some arm problems in his career, most notably losing the entire 2012 season to a strained muscle behind his shoulder. Didn’t throw a single pitch that year. Bettis did not have surgery and he hasn’t had any shoulder trouble since, and his velocity has returned to it’s pre-injury levels. (He lost 2-3 mph in 2013 but it has since returned.)

Furthermore, elbow inflammation cost Bettis a little more than a month this past season. He got hurt in late-July, rehabbed for a month after an MRI showed no structural damage, then returned to the mound in late-September and pitched with no issues the rest of the season. Little bit of a scare there. Bettis also missed two months with an oblique strain in 2013, though that’s not a concern. It happens.

The shoulder and elbow injuries are, however, red flags. The only good news is that his shoulder injury only involved a muscle and not his labrum or the tendons in his rotator cuff. Also, the elbow MRI showed his ulnar collateral ligament was intact as recently as this past July. Shoulder and elbow injuries are always bad. Bettis’ appear to have been less bad than they could have been.

Contract Status

(Bob Levey/Getty)
(Bob Levey/Getty)

Thanks to all the up-and-down action the last three years, Bettis has accrued one year and 96 days of service time, commonly written as 1.096. He has five years of team control remaining. Two as a pre-arbitration player and three as an arbitration-eligible player. I suppose he could qualify as a Super Two following next season if the cutoff falls low enough, but that seems very unlikely.

Bettis has one minor league option remaining. The Rockies purchased his contract and called him up for the first time in August 2013, and he spent the rest of the year in the big leagues. He burned his first option going up and down in 2014, then burned his second when he was sent to Triple-A to start 2015. That means he has one left, unless he somehow qualifies for a fourth option. Either way, a team that trades for him hopes the options are a moot point. They’ll want to stick him in their rotation and leave him there.

What Would It Take?

Bettis is a former mid-range prospect with five years of team control left, and those guys are usually traded in packages for an established big leaguer, so we have an interesting dynamic here. The Rockies are rebuilding (I think) and presumably want young pieces in return. They have no use for 32-year-old Brett Gardner or 30-year-old Andrew Miller.

Recent trades involving pitchers five years from free agency include …

  • Roenis Elias: Traded as second piece in a deal for Wade Miley.
  • Nate Karns: Traded as headliner in three-player package for Brad Miller, Logan Morrison, and Danny Farquhar.
  • Dan Straily: Traded with Luis Valbuena for one year of Dexter Fowler.
  • Jarred Cosart: Traded with two spare parts for three prospects, most notably Colin Moran and Jake Marisnick.

… and none of that really helps us. The Cosart trade is probably most applicable, which, at the time, boiled down to Cosart for Moran and Marisnick with other stuff thrown in. Baseball America ranked Moran and Marisnick as the Nos. 61 and 79 prospects prior to 2014, the year of the trade. At the same time, Cosart was more highly regarded than Bettis. He was twice ranked as a top 100 prospect by Baseball America, topping out at No. 50 in 2012.

The Yankees traded six years of Shane Greene for five years of Didi Gregorius, and that might be the framework for a Bettis trade. My promising young player for your promising young player. The Rockies need basically everything at this point. Gary Sanchez for Bettis may seem like an overpay but that could be what it takes. Perhaps they can talk them down to, say, Rob Refsnyder, something like that. My trade proposal sucks, I know.

Point is, this isn’t a Gardner or Miller for Bettis plus stuff trade. The Rockies don’t need those guys. If they do trade Bettis, they’re going to trade him for young players. Also, here’s a weird factor to consider: Bettis has not fallen out of favor with the Rockies. The Yankees have targeted guys who have fallen out of favor with their previous teams during their on-the-fly rebuild (Gregorius, Dustin Ackley, Starlin Castro, etc.) so they don’t have to pay full freight. Bettis doesn’t fit that mold.

Wrapping Up

I know there’s nothing sexy about Bettis as a trade target, and you can always come with a reason to not trade for anyone, but look at what he offers. He’s only 26, he has five years of control, he throws five pitches, he gets grounders, he has a history of missing bats, and he has experience pitching in an extreme hitter’s environment. Those are all pluses in my book.

The injury history is a red flag, no doubt about it, as is the history of average at best control. There’s risk. That’s true of every pitcher. The Rockies have indicated a willingness to move just about anyone in an effort to improve, and Bettis is a potential long-term rotation piece with solid stuff who seems like someone pitching coach Larry Rothschild could help take to the next level.