Kelley trade means more moves are in the works, because more moves are always in the works

NYY - Kelley = Scherzer? Eh. (Leon Halip/Getty)
Yankees – Kelley = Scherzer? (Leon Halip/Getty)

Earlier this week, the Yankees shipped Shawn Kelley to the Padres for a Double-A reliever in a trade that sure looks like a pure salary dump. Kelley is projected to earn $2.5M through arbitration in 2015, so the team isn’t saving a ton of money, but they are saving money nonetheless. They also saved money in the Martin Prado/Nathan Eovaldi trade, in the Francisco Cervelli/Justin Wilson trade, and by replacing David Robertson with Andrew Miller.

I wrote about this at CBS the other day — the Yankees have been saving small amounts of money in almost all of their transactions over the last few months. Every team looks to be more cost efficient, so this isn’t some wild idea, but it’s rare to see the Yankees making moves like this. They usually take on salary, not shed it. Naturally, as soon as Kelley was dealt, more than a few people assumed the Yankees were clearing money to make another move. Kelley himself added fuel to the fire by telling Dan Barbarisi this after the trade:

“[Brian Cashman] said he hated to see me go, but they have some things they’re doing, some things they’re working on, and it was part of new plan,” Kelley said.

“They have some things they’re doing, some things they’re working on” is a fun quote! You can really let your imagination run wild with that one. Is all this saved money, the $1M or $2M at a time, going to eventually add up to Max Scherzer? James Shields? Yoan Moncada? Something else no one expects? The Yankees have a way of keeping things totally off the radar, you know.

And yet, Kelley’s quote really means nothing at all. It’s the “it’s not you, it’s me” of baseball breakups. Of course the Yankees are working on some things. They’re always working on things. Every team has an entire staff of people just working on things all the time. The real question is whether the savings from the Kelley trade — and the savings from the Cervelli trade, the Prado trade, letting Matt Thornton go on trade waivers in August, etc. — is earmarked for a specific move, or simply being set aside for future flexibility should something pop up.

Personally, I think the money is being set aside for later and not a specific move. The Yankees insist they are not in on Scherzer and while I do think they are sincere, I also understand Hal Steinbrenner & Co. could change their minds at a moment’s notice. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. I’m sure of it. I don’t believe saving a couple million 2015 dollars equals being more open to a massive six or seven-year contract, however. I think they’re more likely to make one or two small moves before Spring Training or save the money for a bigger midseason trade addition. That’s just me.

Shedding relatively small amounts of money through trades doesn’t have to be a precursor to anything. Dealing Kelley one year before free agency when you have a small army of MLB ready-ish relievers in Triple-A makes perfect sense. Unloading the injury prone Cervelli when you have John Ryan Murphy waiting for an opportunity? Totally sensible. Replacing Robertson with Miller and getting a draft pick in the process is a smart baseball move. Maybe an unpopular one, I love Robertson and I know a lot of you do too, but we’re all smart enough to get it. Trading Prado both added a hard-throwing starter and opened a spot for Rob Refsnyder. Two birds, one stone.

Saving money seems like a secondary concern to opening a roster spot for a young player with these moves, if you ask me. (With Miller/Robertson they’re adding a young player via the draft rather than opening a roster spot, but you catch my drift.) The Yankees have clearly focused on getting younger this offseason and these moves all help accomplish that. Freeing up money comes with the territory. Young players are cheap. That’s why everyone wants ‘em. Shedding salary by trading Kelley and whoever else doesn’t necessarily to mean something else is about to happen. It just means the Yankees are going in a different direction with their roster. A younger direction.

Tuesday Night Open Thread

Earlier today the Rays signed infielder Asdrubal Cabrera to a nice little one-year contract worth $8M or so. As I said a week or two ago, if Asdrubal was willing to take a one-year deal, I thought he would have made a ton of sense as a second base option for the Yankees. Easy to move if Rob Refsnyder forces the issue, provides some backup at shortstop in case Didi Gregorius doesn’t cut it, and a switch-hitter with some pop and speed for the lower third of the lineup. Oh well.

This is your open thread for the night. The Nets are playing and there is both college football and college baseball on as well. Talk about whatever here. Have at it.

(No one bothered to make a Shawn Kelley highlight video, so instead the video is what I consider to be his best performance in pinstripes. Later, Shawn.)

Mailbag: Chad Billingsley

(Mike McGinnis/Getty)
(Mike McGinnis/Getty)

Nick asks: Do you have any interest in Chad Billingsley?

Even if they go out and surprisingly sign Max Scherzer or James Shields, I think the Yankees have a place for a reclamation project arm like Billingsley. Nathan Eovaldi added some innings to the rotation but CC Sabathia (knee) and Masahiro Tanaka (elbow) are still major injury risks, so much so that they might not even make it through Spring Training healthy. Ivan Nova will be back eventually, but perhaps not until June.

The 30-year-old Billingsley made two starts in April 2013 before blowing out his elbow and needing Tommy John surgery. He made two minor league rehab starts this summer before suffering a setback and having surgery to repair his flexor tendon in June. At the time of the surgery, Ken Gurnick reported Billingsley would resume throwing in December and was expected to be ready in time for Spring Training. I haven’t been able to find a more recent update other than agent Steve Hilliard telling Jack Magruder his client is in no hurry to sign.

Because he barely pitched these last two years, the Dodgers declined their $14M club option for Billingsley after the season and instead paid him a $3M buyout. At this point the only club said to have interest in him is the Diamondbacks, who are now run by GM Dave Stewart, Billingsley’s former agent. (Stewart had to unload his clients once he joined a team.) I could have sworn the Yankees had interest in trading for Billingsley once upon a time, but apparently not. It must have been speculation.

During the 2012 season, his last full season before his elbow gave out, Billingsley pitched to a 3.55 ERA (3.34 FIP) with okay strikeout (7.70 K/9 and 20.2 K%), walk (2.71 BB/9 and 7.1 BB%), and ground ball (45.4%) rates in 149.2 innings. (He missed some time with elbow trouble.) He’s been a guy who has consistently underperformed his peripheral stats in recent years — Billingsley had a 3.86 ERA and 3.53 FIP in 725.2 innings from 2009-12. After that many innings, that’s just who he is.

As with any major surgery, there’s no real way of knowing how Billingsley will perform next season. He’s still reasonably young and you’d like to assume he’d return to his pre-Tommy John surgery form, but that’s not a guarantee. Plus the flexor tendon injury complicates things. If projections are your thing, Steamer pegs Billingsley for a 4.32 ERA (4.23 FIP) in 125 innings next year. That seems … reasonable? I guess so. It’s considerably worse than his career rates (3.65 ERA and 3.67 FIP), which reflects the injury risk.

The reclamation project starter market has already been set this offseason, giving us plenty of comparable deals. Here’s the list of contracts relevant to Billingsley:

  • Kris Medlen, Royals: Two years, $8.5M plus $10M in incentives and a $10M mutual option ($1M) after missing all of 2014 following his second career Tommy John surgery.
  • Gavin Floyd, Indians: One year, $4M plus $6M in incentives after throwing only 54.1 innings in 2014. He returned from Tommy John surgery then broke his elbow and needed surgery.
  • Brandon Morrow, Padres: One year, $2.5M plus $2.5M in incentives after throwing only 27.1 innings in 2014 due to a tendon sheath injury in his right index finger.
  • Josh Johnson, Padres: One year, $1M plus $6.25M in incentives after missing all of 2014 following his second career Tommy John surgery.

Brett Anderson could also be included here (one year, $10M with the Dodgers), but he’s significantly younger than all of these guys and the consensus seems to be that he got more money than expected. He’s a bit of an outlier. Medlen is also an outlier by virtue of getting two guaranteed years, then again he was the damn near ace-like in 2013 before blowing out his elbow in Spring Training earlier this year.

The Floyd, Morrow, and Johnson contracts seem most applicable to Billingsley, and those contracts average $2.5M guaranteed with about $5M in incentives. That seems more than reasonable to me. The Yankees have some nice depth rotation arms in Bryan Mitchell, Jose DePaula, and maybe Manny Banuelos, but there’s always room for a reclamation project guy like Billingsley. Remember though, the team has a full 40-man roster and would need to cut someone to accommodate a new player. (Eury Perez seems most likely to go.)

So, to the answer the question, yes I have interest in Billingsley at our $2.5M+$5M guesstimate. The real question is whether Billingsley has interest in the Yankees. Yankee Stadium isn’t the best place in the world for a pitcher to rebuild value, and that could work against them. One NL team is said to have interest in Billingsley (D’Backs) and I’m sure more will pop up in the coming weeks. The Phillies, Braves, Dodgers, Giants, and Rockies could all use another starter, for example. Aside from Colorado, those are better destinations for a reclamation starter than New York.

Doubling down on rotation injury risk might not seem like the best idea for the Yankees, but, at this point, the only safe bets left in free agency are Scherzer and Shields. Bringing in someone like Billingsley — or Paul Maholm or Felipe Paulino or one of many other reclamation project starters — to add some depth is never a bad move, especially since it only costs a little bit of money. I’d be in favor of the Yankees signing him if he’s willing to come to New York.

Prospect Profile: Domingo German

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Domingo German | RHP

Background
The Marlins signed the 22-year-old German out of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic during the 2009-10 international signing period. He signed at age 17 and received a $40,000 signing bonus, a very small bonus and especially so before the spending restrictions were implemented three years ago.

Pro Career
Because he was unrefined and a low-profile signing, the Marlins had German spend both the 2010 and 2011 seasons with their Dominican Summer League affiliate. He pitched to a 2.89 ERA (3.08 FIP) with 83 strikeouts and 40 walks in 81 innings spread across six starts and 20 relief appearances those two seasons.

German came to the United States for the 2012 season and threw 22.1 innings — all in relief — for the team’s Rookie level Gulf Coast League affiliate after opening the year in Extended Spring Training. He had a 1.61 ERA (2.99 FIP) with 29 strikeouts, though his 16 walks worked out to an unsightly 6.45 BB/9 (16.5 BB%).

The Marlins sent German back to the GCL in 2013 but bumped him up to their Short Season NY-Penn League affiliate in Batavia after five dominant starts: 1.38 ERA (2.69 FIP) with 27/5 K/BB in 26 innings. With Batavia, German posted a 1.76 ERA (2.10 FIP) with 34/5 K/BB eight starts and 41 innings. All told, he pitched to a 1.61 ERA (2.32 FIP) with 61 strikeouts (8.19 K/9 and 23.2 K%) and ten walks (1.34 BB/9 and 3.8 BB%) in 67 innings during the 2013 season.

German made his full season ball debut in the Low-A South Atlantic League this past season. He spent the entire year in the Greensboro Grasshoppers’ rotation and posted a 2.48 ERA (3.26 FIP) in 25 starts and 123.1 innings. German struck out 113 (8.25 K/9 and 22.4 K%) and walked only 25 (1.25 BB/9 and 5.0 BB%). He was the Marlins’ lone representative at the 2014 Futures Game and, after the season, Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked him as the 16th best prospect in the Sally League, one spot behind Yankees lefty prospect Ian Clarkin.

Although he has yet to pitch above Low Class-A, German was Rule 5 Draft eligible this offseason because he has already been a pro for five full years. The Marlins added him to their 40-man roster before the deadline in November. The Yankees acquired German on December 19th along with Nathan Eovaldi and Garrett Jones in exchange for Martin Prado and David Phelps.

Scouting Report
German is tall and slender at 6-foot-2 and 175 lbs., and his fastball sits in the 91-95 mph range with some serious natural sink. His fastball touched 97 mph on the regular this summer, even late in the season as his workload climbed into uncharted territory. German throws both a low-80s changeup and a sweepy low-80s breaking ball, the latter of which is inconsistent and his clear third pitch.

During his one-inning appearance at the Futures Game this summer, German struck out Cubs third base prospect Kris Bryant with a sinker and Rangers third base prospect Joey Gallo with a breaking ball. Here’s the video:

More than anything, German stands out for his athleticism and easy, compact delivery. That efficient motion allows him to fill the strike zone with his sinker, hence his excellent walk rates these last two years. He’s also never had an arm injury as a pro. German has a live arm and a simple delivery, though he must improve his secondary pitches and learn the nuances of pitching — holding runners, setting hitters up, etc. — to remain a starter long-term.

2015 Outlook
German will open next season in the High-A Tampa rotation and I think he’s likely to stay there all season. He’s not nearly as advanced as Luis Severino — Severino is 18 months younger than German, by the way — and shouldn’t be on the same fast track. Even though he is already on the 40-man roster, I would be surprised if German received a September call-up in 2015. His secondary pitches would have to make major strides early in 2015 for him to make that kind of jump.

My Take
The Marlins are a very good player development organization and German is a success story for them — he was a low-profile signing who developed into a quality prospect they were able to use as a trade chip. As for the Yankees, German fills a need in their position player-heavy farm system and gives them a young arm with big upside, something the system is short on at the moment. I like German because of his high-end fastball and easy delivery, plus he seems like a high probability big leaguer, even if it’s as nothing more than a reliever. German’s not a finished product, he still has a lot of development ahead of him, but he’s also a quality pitching prospect with upside.

Scouting the Free Agent Market: Rickie Weeks and Gordon Beckham

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Two weeks ago the Yankees robbed Peter to pay Paul by trading their starting second baseman for rotation help. Martin Prado was swapped for Nathan Eovaldi, leaving the team with a bunch of low cost options at second base. As of right now, Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder are expected to compete with non-roster invitees like Nick Noonan, Cole Figueroa, and Jonathan Galvez for the second base job in Spring Training.

Of course, these are the Yankees, and they could always go into free agency and bring in a more veteran second baseman. I don’t think it will happen — the team definitely seems to be making a concerted effort to get younger this winter — but I wouldn’t rule it out completely either. Among the two most notable free agent second basemen still available are Rickie Weeks and Gordon Beckham, a pair of former elite prospects who didn’t quite live up to the hype. Is either a fit for the Yankees? Let’s look.

Recent Performance

He wasn’t Robinson Cano or anything, but from 2010-11, Weeks was a damn fine player, hitting .269/.360/.466 (126 wRC+) with 58 doubles, 49 homers, and 20 stolen bases in 278 total games. The last three seasons haven’t been nearly as productive, however.

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ BABIP K% BB% GB% wRC+ vs. RHP wRC+ vs. LHP
2012 677 .230/.328/.400 97 .285 25.0% 10.9% 45.1% 94 108
2013 399 .209/.306/.357 85 .268 26.3% 10.0% 49.4% 79 97
2014 286 .274/.357/.452 127 .355 25.5% 8.7% 56.7% 109 142

Weeks kinda stunk in 2012, got hurt in 2013, then was used mostly as a platoon player in 2014, with 47% of his plate appearances coming against southpaws. It’s also worth noting his walk rate has declined because he’s swinging at more and more pitches out of the zone — he swung at 18.6% of pitches out of the zone in 2012, and that shot up to 20.7% in 2013 and 25.2% in 2014. And when Weeks swings out of the zone, it can be ugly. Hilarious, but ugly:

(GIF via Getting Blanked)

As for Beckham, he had a very promising MLB debut in 2009, hitting .270/.346/.460 (109 wRC+) with 14 homers in 430 plate appearances just a year after being the eighth overall pick in the 2008 draft. Since then though, Beckham has hit an awful .241/.300/.361 (79 wRC+) in just over 2,500 plate appearances, including a career-worst 70 wRC+ in 2014. His strikeout (17.0%) and walk (6.4%) rates from 2010-14 were fine, nothing extreme, but he just didn’t hit at all. He doesn’t have a platoon split either: career 82 wRC+ against righties and 85 against lefties.

This isn’t a small sample either. We have nearly 3,000 plate appearances telling us Beckham flat out can not hit MLB caliber pitching. That 2009 debut was nice, but it happened so long ago that it’s not even relevant anymore. At this point, the only reasons Beckham remains interesting are his age (just turned 28) and his status as a former elite prospect. And, just for the record, Baseball America ranked Beckham has the 20th best prospect in baseball before the 2009 season, a few spots behind Lars Anderson and a few spots ahead of Matt LaPorta. Yeah, it’s been a while since he was a prospect.

Defense & Versatility

One thing Beckham has on Weeks is his versatility. He’s spent the vast majority of his career at second base, but he’s also played some third base and shortstop, including after being traded to the Angels this past August. Weeks, on the other hand, has never played a position other than second base in his career. In fact, the Brewers asked him to try left field this past season and Weeks said no. That’s … not good.

The various defense stats say Beckham has been about average at second base throughout his career, and the samples aren’t nearly big enough for the numbers to mean anything about his abilities at short and third. The fact that he’s actually willing to play elsewhere is a plus though, at least compared to Weeks. The defense stats crush Weeks at second, by the way. Far below average. Defense and versatility are easily advantage Beckham.

Injury Histories

Weeks missed the final two months of the 2013 season after tearing his left hamstring running out a ground ball, an injury that was severe enough to require surgery. He also has a history of wrist problems: tendon surgery (right wrist) in 2006, inflammation (right wrist) in 2007, and tendon sheath surgery (left wrist) in 2009. Weeks also visited the DL for a knee sprain in 2008 and an ankle sprain in 2011. During his time as an everyday player from 2006-13, Weeks played in only 918 of 1,296 possible games, or 71%. At age 32, he probably isn’t getting any healthier.

Beckham, on the other hand, missed a month with an oblique strain this past season and two months with a broken hamate bone in his right wrist early last season. (The hamate required surgery.) Otherwise Beckham has been healthy throughout his career. Some minor day-to-day stuff, but that’s it. Oblique and hamstring injuries happen, the wrist injuries are much more worrisome, and Weeks has a longer history of ‘em.

Contract Estimates

Both Weeks and Beckham were cut loose by their former teams earlier this offseason — the Brewers declined their $11.5M club option for Weeks while the Angels opted to non-tender Beckham rather than pay him a projected $5M salary in 2015. Both moves were expected and understandable. Because Beckham did not become a free agent until late-November, there are no contract estimates for him anywhere. Here’s what we have for Weeks:

Weeks definitely seems like a one-year contract candidate, but, then again, we live in a world where Omar Infante got four years and Brendan Ryan got two years (and a player option!). I wouldn’t be surprised if Weeks ends up with two guaranteed years. Also, it’s probably worth noting Weeks is very close friends with CC Sabathia dating back to Sabathia’s short stint with the Brewers — the photo of super skinny CC that went around last offseason was taken at Weeks’ wedding — so, if nothing else, Sabathia could probably serve as a recruiter if the Yankees have interest.

I have to think Beckham is a one-year deal guy — 2015 would have been his final year of arbitration-eligibility, so he won’t remain under control in 2016 or anything like that — because he simply hasn’t hit for five years now. At least Weeks was pretty good in a limited role this past season. The going rate for free agent utility infielders seems to be $2M or so annually, which makes sense for Beckham. Maybe he gets a little more because he’s still young and teams like to spend money. Two years though? For a no hit, average defender? Eh. Hard to see that.

Both Weeks and Beckham will presumably look to join a team that will let them play everyday — the Cardinals reportedly had interest in Weeks as a utility guy but that went nowhere — and the Yankees could give them that opportunity if they really wanted. As I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of handing non-elite prospects like Pirela and Refsnyder a job out of Spring Training. A veteran to add depth and a safety net ain’t a bad idea in my opinion.

Personally, I prefer Beckham over Weeks because he’s better able to slide into a traditional utility role and can at least catch the ball. Weeks is terrible in the field and, given the last few years, it’s not safe to assume he will hit when playing everyday either. That Beckham is several years younger and figures to cost less are secondary concerns. Based on what they are at this point in time, Beckham seems to be a better fit for the roster. The Yankees haven’t shown interest in either as far as we know, but they are among the available options.

Monday Night Open Thread

Over the weekend we learned Hiroki Kuroda is returning to the Hiroshima Toyo Carp for the 2015 season, and, according to Dylan Hernandez, Kuroda took a big pay cut to make it happen. He will earn only $3.3M next season, down from $15M-ish he made these last three years in New York. Also, Patrick Newman says Kuroda told reporters that returning to the Carp was the “last decision of my baseball life.” Sure sounds like Hiroki made this decision with his heart and 2015 will be his last year as a player. Helluva career for that guy. I’m gonna miss him.

Here is your open thread for the night. There’s no Monday Night Football because the season’s over, but the Nets and all three local hockey teams are in action. There’s also some college football and basketball on as well. Talk about those games, Kuroda’s return to Japan, or anything else right here. Have at it.

(The video is Kuroda’s best start for the Yankees — and third best during his MLB career overall — by Game Score. Here’s the list.)

Yankees trade Shawn Kelley to the Padres for minor league reliever Johnny Barbato

Barbato. (Screen grab via MLBpipeline.com)
Barbato. (Screen grab via MLBpipeline.com)

3:01pm: Done deal, the Yankees have announced the trade. It’s Kelley for Barbato, straight up. So long, Shawn. I’ll remember you for the horse head.

1:56pm: The quasi-youth movement continues. The Yankees have traded Shawn Kelley to the Padres for minor league reliever Johnny Barbato, according to Jack Curry. It appears the deal is straight up, one-for-one. Neither team has announced the trade just yet. The Yankees clear a 40-man roster spot with the move.

Kelley, who is set to become a free agent next offseason, was projected to earn $2.5M through arbitration in 2015, so the Yankees are shedding a little bit of money. With Andrew Miller replacing David Robertson in the bullpen, Kelley figured to again be in the seventh inning mix next year. That job belongs to Adam Warren now.

At the moment, the bullpen includes Miller, Warren, Dellin Betances, Justin Wilson, and Esmil Rogers, leaving two open spots, one of which figures to go to a long man. The Yankee have no shortage of in-house candidates for those last two spots, with Jacob Lindgren, Branden Pinder, Danny Burawa, Chase Whitley, Gonzalez Germen, Jose Ramirez, Bryan Mitchell, Jose DePaula, and possibly even Manny Banuelos among the notables. Obviously a trade or free agent signing is always possible.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Kelley, 30, originally came over from the Mariners in exchange for Abe Almonte just before the start of Spring Training 2013. He spent two seasons in New York and had a 4.46 ERA (3.33 FIP) with 138 strikeouts in 105 innings. At his best, Kelley was a shutdown late-inning reliever. At his worst, he was very homer prone and unreliable. I guess that makes him like every other middle reliever in baseball.

The Padres drafted Barbato out of a Miami high school in the sixth round of the 2010 draft and paid him a well above slot $1.4M bonus, easily the largest bonus they gave out that year. He’s spent the majority of his pro career in the bullpen because of a herky jerky delivery and the lack of a reliable third pitch. Baseball America ranked Barbato as the 30th best prospect in a stacked San Diego system prior to 2014 in their Prospect Handbook. Here’s a scouting report from their trade analysis (no subs. req’d):

He pitches with mid-90s velocity and verve, attacking hitters with a live fastball that sinks and runs as it nears the plate. He throws a true curveball in the high 70s that features extreme break through the zone, and he locates and mixes his two pitches well enough to boast a career strikeout rate of 9.2 per nine innings … Barbato has the raw stuff to zoom to [New York] in 2015 and gradually work his way up to a setup role.

Barbato, 22, had a 2.87 ERA (3.31 FIP) with good strikeout (9.48 K/9 and 25.6 K%) and walk (2.87 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%) rates in 31.1 Double-A innings this season. His season ended in mid-June because of elbow soreness, and, as Curry notes, there is some concern Barbato may need Tommy John surgery. If healthy, he figures to start the year with Triple-A Scranton and be a call-up candidate at some point next summer.

So far this offseason the Yankees have replaced Kelley with Barbato, Martin Prado with Jose Pirela/Rob Refsnyder, Shane Greene with Nathan Eovaldi, Francisco Cervelli with John Ryan Murphy, and Derek Jeter with Didi Gregorius, getting younger each time. Joe Girardi, Brian Cashman, and Hal Steinbrenner all said after the season the team will be younger next year, and that is definitely the case.

Kelley was a nice little find for the Yankees — going from Almonte to two years of Kelley to Barbato is a fun transaction tree — but he’s not exactly impossible to replace. Dealing middle relievers one year away from free agency for a Triple-A ready prospect is a move the Yankees should always look to make. New York saves some money, gets younger, and clears a 40-man roster spot. It’s not a move that will make or break the 2015 season but does give the team some more flexibility.