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.

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 acquire Aroldis Chapman from Reds in five-player trade

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The best end-game bullpen in baseball just got even better. The Yankees have acquired left-hander Aroldis Chapman from the Reds for four prospects, the team announced. Third baseman Eric Jagielo, righty Rookie Davis, righty Caleb Cotham, and second baseman Tony Renda are going to Cincinnati in the four-for-one swap. Both teams have announced the trade, so it’s a done deal. Official.

For what it’s worth, Brian Cashman confirmed the plan is add Chapman to Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances to form a Murderer’s Throw (h/t @rileysteele11) bullpen, not trade someone away. “We completed this trade with the intent of having Chapman, Miller, and Betances as a real force in the back-end of the bullpen,” said the GM on a conference call with reporters.

Chapman, 27, is currently being investigated by MLB under the new domestic violence policy due to an incident that occurred in October. Tim Brown and Jeff Passan have the details. Long story short, Chapman’s girlfriend said he choked her and threw her against a wall during an argument. He also fired eight shots in the garage of his Miami home. No arrests were made.

Cashman said the Yankees did their “due diligence” before the trade and noted the Reds had “modified” their “price point” in recent weeks, meaning they lowered their asking price following the incident. The incident caused a deal that would have sent Chapman to the Dodgers to fall apart a few weeks ago. MLB is investigating and there’s a chance Chapman may be suspended.

Chapman is currently scheduled to become a free agent next offseason and a suspension of at least 46 days would delay his free agency another year. The domestic violence policy is new so no precedents have been set yet. We’ll see what happens. MLBTR projects Chapman to earn $12.9M through arbitration next year, so it’s a hefty salary by reliever standards, but it is only a one-year commitment. (For now, anyway.)

On the field, Chapman is the hardest thrower in baseball history and one of the most dominant relievers in the game. He used a fastball that averaged 100.4 mph (!) to post a 1.63 ERA (1.94 FIP) and 116 strikeouts in 66.1 innings this past season. That 41.7% strikeout rate was actually Chapman’s lowest since his rookie season in 2011. He’s struck out 45.0% of the batters he’s faced the last four seasons. That’s just bonkers.

For all intents and purposes, the trade is Chapman for Jagielo and Davis. Cotham and Renda are basically throw-ins. Cotham was a 27-year-old rookie this past season who was stuck in an organization with more upper level bullpen depth than they know what to do with. Renda, who came over from the Nationals in the David Carpenter trade this summer, is a light-hitting contact guy whose arm relegates him to second base. He went unselected in the Rule 5 Draft a few weeks ago.

Jagielo, 23, was New York’s first round pick in 2013 (26th overall) and is the best prospect in the trade, in my opinion. He hit .284/.347/.495 (141 wRC+) with nine homers in 58 Double-A games this past season before jamming his knee sliding into home plate in June and needing season-ending arthroscopic surgery. The knee and an oblique strain have limited Jagielo to 143 games the last two years.

The 22-year-old Davis broke out with High-A Tampa this past season, pitching to a 3.70 ERA (2.22 FIP) in 97.1 innings before a late-season bump to Double-A Trenton. He was the Yankees’ 14th round pick in 2011. Davis is a huge guy (listed at 6-foot-3 and 235 lbs.) with a mid-90s fastball and a curveball. He made significant strides with his command in 2015 and earned himself a spot on the 40-man roster after the season.

The Yankees traded away Justin Wilson and Adam Warren earlier this offseason and Chapman more than makes up for the loss of Wilson. The team does still need rotation help however, preferably someone they could rely on to soak up innings. Betances, Miller, and Chapman are a hell of a thing, but Joe Girardi doesn’t want to have to use them every single day either.

2015 Trade Deadline Open Thread: Friday

Kimbrel. (Presswire)
Kimbrel. (Presswire)

Today’s the day. Specifically, 4pm ET is the time. Teams have until 4pm ET today to make non-waiver trades, which means there figures to be a flurry of activity in the next few hours even though big names like Johnny Cueto, David Price, and Troy Tulowitzki have already been moved. The Yankees made a relatively minor trade yesterday, sending Ramon Flores and Jose Ramirez to the Mariners for Dustin Ackley.

On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday this week we learned the Yankees are in the market for pitching help, both starters and relievers, but they’re not willing to give up their top prospects. They’ve been connected to all sorts of pitchers the last few days but those pitchers keep getting traded elsewhere. Hopefully they reel one or two in today, preferably a starter. They really need rotation help. We’ll keep tabs on all of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, as usual.

  • 4:37pm ET: The Yankees were not only willing to include Jorge Mateo in a Craig Kimbrel trade, they also offered to take back Jedd Gyorko and his disaster contract. They never got an answer from the Padres, apparently. [Heyman]
  • 3:53pm ET: The Yankees are expected to stand pat at the deadline. Weak, if true. [Nightengale]
  • 3:28pm ET: The Yankees told the Padres they were willing to trade Jorge Mateo for Craig Kimbrel, but San Diego hasn’t responded. The assumption is Kimbrel is going elsewhere. [Rosenthal, Sherman]
  • 3:22pm ET: Once again, the Yankees and Padres have “no traction” for a Craig Kimbrel trade. They have had “no talks” recently. [Rosenthal, Sherman]
  • 3:02pm ET: Should the Craig Kimbrel deal not happen, the Yankees won’t work out a smaller trade involving Joaquin Benoit and Ian Kennedy. [Sherman]
  • 2:05pm ET: In addition to Jorge Mateo, the Padres would also want a pitcher back from the Yankees for Craig Kimbrel. [Sweeny Murti]
  • 1:56pm ET: The Yankees believe the Padres are working on a bigger trade involving Craig Kimbrel. Apparently San Diego will not trade Kimbrel to New York unless Jorge Mateo is in the deal. [Sherman]
  • 12:33pm ET: Apparently talks with the Padres for Craig Kimbrel broke down yesterday and have not been revived. They haven’t talked today. That’s why the Yankees are looking at guys like Carter Capps. [Rosenthal, Olney]
  • 12:21pm ET: The Yankees are the team in the “hottest” pursuit of Craig Kimbrel. It sure seems like the plan is to add another elite reliever. [Rosenthal]
  • 11:00am ET: The Marlins have coveted Greg Bird and would probably ask for him in a potential Carter Capps trade. I can’t see that happening given the Yankees’ reluctance to trade their close to MLB top prospects. [Joe Frisaro]
  • 10:56am ET: Although the Yankees did indeed check in, a trade for Aroldis Chapman is “not likely” to happen. Womp womp. That would have been fun. [Heyman]
  • 10:36am ET: The Yankees don’t like the idea of trading Jorge Mateo for a reliever, even one as good as Craig Kimbrel. If they do trade Mateo, they’re more likely to do so for a starting pitcher or everyday position player. [Sherman]
  • 10:12am ET: The Yankees continue to look for rotation help but feel “doubtful.” They believe Severino, Adam Warren, and Bryan Mitchell could hold down the fort in the second half if necessary. [Sherman]
  • 9:53am ET: The Yankees would consider trading Jorge Mateo but not top prospects closer to MLB like Aaron Judge and Luis Severino. That makes sense, I guess. Also, if they are willing to trade Mateo, they could seek more in return from the Padres than just Craig Kimbrel. It would also open doors to other deals. [Sherman]
  • 9:51am ET: The Yankees are talking to the Marlins about setup man Carter Capps, the guy with the jumpy delivery. That would be fun to watch, if nothing else. [Stark, Heyman]
  • 9:44am ET: The Yankees are one of five teams “aggressively” pursuing Aroldis Chapman, who would take over as closer. This all sounds like posturing — the price is too high for Kimbrel so we’ll say we’re in on Chapman, the Yankees aren’t offering enough for Kimbrel so we’ll get the Astros involved, etc. [Bob Nightengale]
  • 9:31am ET: The Yankees and Padres worked overnight on a Craig Kimbrel trade that would send a “good” prospect to San Diego with New York taking on all of the $28M or so left on Kimbrel’s contract. The Padres are looking for a young shortstop and have sought Jorge Mateo, who is supposedly off limits. Other clubs, specifically the Astros, are talking to the Padres about Kimbrel as well. [Rosenthal, Stark, Heyman, Buster Olney]
  • 9:30am ET: The Yankees remain interested in both Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman, but the prices are high. They want to add an impact pitcher however they can, and adding a reliever would allow them to more easily put Adam Warren in the rotation. [Joel Sherman, Ken Rosenthal, Jayson Stark]
  • The Yankees are one of several teams in pursuit of Yovani Gallardo, who they faced last night. Gallardo didn’t pitch too well last night but he’s had a strong season overall. The Cubs, Blue Jays, Dodgers, and Giants are also in on Gallardo, though San Francisco may be out of the picture after acquiring Mike Leake late last night. [Jon Heyman]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

2015 Trade Deadline Open Thread: Wednesday

Samardzija. (Jim Rogash/Getty)
Samardzija. (Jim Rogash/Getty)

Just three days left now. The 2015 non-waiver trade deadline is this Friday at 4pm ET, and while the Yankees have not yet made any moves, I’m sure they will at some point in the next few days. Pitching is a bit of an issue — I’d rather not see Chris Capuano make another spot start — and second base could use an upgrade as well. Maybe another righty bat too.

On Monday and Tuesday we learned the Yankees are engaged in the pitching market, both starters and relievers. They had conversations with the Reds about Johnny Cueto before he was traded to the Royals, and they were also in the hunt for Ben Zobrist before he joined Cueto in Kansas City. Final offers for Cole Hamels are reportedly due today as well. We’ll keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here.

  • 7:04pm ET: The Mat Latos trade from earlier is currently on hold because of someone’s medicals. Not necessarily Latos’. So he could, in fact, still be an option for the Yankees. [Wittenmyer]
  • 4:33pm ET: The Yankees will indeed talk to the Tigers about David Price. They remain unwilling to part with top prospects — the Phillies against asked about Aaron Judge and Luis Severino — but I’m sure at least part of that is just posturing. [Heyman]
  • 4:31pm ET: The Phillies had a scout watching Ivan Nova on Monday. The Yankees did discuss Cueto with the Reds during Johnny Cueto talks, so it stands to reason he would be available for Cole Hamels as well. [Mark Feinsand]
  • 3:32pm ET: The Tigers called teams today to tell them they are “rebooting” and willing to listen on David Price, Yoenis Cespedes, and others. I certainly expect the Yankees to make a run at Price. [Stark]
  • 2:56pm ET: If the Phillies do indeed trade Cole Hamels, it is unlikely to happen today. Any trade would have to wait until Thursday or even Friday as the Phillies mull over offers. [Jayson Stark]
  • 2:23pm ET: The Padres requested shortstop prospect Jorge Mateo in trade talks about Craig Kimbrel, but the Yankees said no. New York is willing to eat the entire $28M left on Kimbrel’s contract, but they won’t surrender top prospects. [Jon Heyman]
  • 11:24pm ET: Mat Latos is apparently off the board. The Marlins are reportedly trading the right-hander (and others) to the Dodgers for prospects. Earlier this week we heard the Yankees had some interest in Latos. [Gordon Wittenmyer]
  • 9:30am ET: The White Sox still have not given any indication they will trade Jeff Samardzija. They Yankees have had their eye on him for a few weeks now. The ChiSox are now only 3.5 games back of a wildcard spot, so they might hold on to Samardzija and go for it, knowing they’ll get at least a draft pick for him after the season. [Jerry Crasnick]
  • The Reds are fielding offers for Aroldis Chapman but are not devoted to trading him because he’s under team control next season. They moved Cueto because they were going to lose him to free agency. The Yankees are said to be open to adding another high-end reliever. [Buster Olney]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

Scouting The Trade Market: Cincinnati Reds

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

Now that the draft is complete, MLB front offices have turned their attention to the trade deadline to look for ways to improve their big league rosters. The deadline is only six weeks away now, you know. There are going to be more buyers than sellers this summer — the Cardinals have the best record in MLB and the next 16 teams are all within six games of each other in the standings — which means the demand will be greater than the supply.

The Reds figure to sell before the trade deadline because they’re both bad (30-35) and stuck in an extremely competitive division. Having to catch St. Louis would be one thing, but they also have to compete with the red hot Pirates (20-5 in their last 25 games!) and upstart Cubs as well. Cincinnati doesn’t have a ton of pieces that would fit with the Yankees — the Yankees don’t need Jay Bruce or Joey Votto, and Todd Frazier is presumably off limits — but they do have a few. Let’s run ’em down.

LHP Aroldis Chapman

Brian Cashman says the Yankees are looking for a right-handed reliever but I’m sure they’d make an exception for Chapman, who is actually having his worse season since taking over as closer in terms of allowing base-runners. Still, the 27-year-old has an unreal strikeout rate and is generally awesome, and he’d make any bullpen better. Here are the numbers:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 Whiff% BABIP
2013 63.2 2.54 2.47 43.4% 11.2% 33.6% 0.99 16.5% .280
2014 54.0 2.00 0.89 52.5% 11.9% 43.5% 0.17 20.2% .290
2015 30.1 2.08 2.02 40.1% 13.6% 30.5% 0.30 18.8% .345

Squint your eyes and there are some red flags. His strikeout rate is down (but still great), his swing-and-miss rate is down (but still great), his ground ball rate is down (but he isn’t giving up homers), and his walk rate is up (got nothing there). Chapman is still throwing insanely hard and he’s healthy as far as we know. Give him enough innings and I’m sure that BABIP issue will correct itself. Otherwise everything looks pretty swell.

By elite closer standards, Chapman is a bargain at $8.05M this year with another year of arbitration left next year, when his salary figures to climb into the $12M range. He’ll be a free agent after the 2016 season. Cincinnati’s best chance to get maximum value is right now, when the acquiring team would be getting Chapman for two potential postseason runs, not one. They’d also limit their risk because relievers like to melt down without warning.

Not many relievers of Chapman’s caliber have been traded recently — Craig Kimbrel was under contract for three more years plus an option for a fourth at the time of his trade — so there aren’t any deals we can reference. Half a season of Andrew Miller was traded for a pretty good pitching prospect last year, and Chapman’s track record as an elite reliever is much longer than Miller’s. That’s about as close as it gets.

My guess — and I emphasize that this is a guess — is the Reds would want three players for their ace closer: a top prospect, an MLB ready piece, and a good but not great secondary prospect. That’s where I’d probably start if I was them. Give me someone I could put on my roster right now, a really good prospect, and then another guy too. Negotiate from there. Chapman’s awesome. Would creating the best three-headed bullpen monster in history be worth it at that price to the Yankees?

RHP Johnny Cueto

Cueto, 29, is going to be the top pitching prize at the trade deadline. Yeah, Cole Hamels is great too, but his contract takes some teams right out of the running. Cueto is a rent-an-ace owed about $6M the rest of the season. Every single team could find a way to make that work financially. Do all of them have the prospects to make a deal happen? That’s a different story. I think the Yankees would be able to get it done, for what it’s worth.

Anyway, unless the Reds unexpectedly sign Cueto to an extension — that’s probably not going to happen at this point, mostly because the team is already bumping up against their tight payroll limit — they’ll trade him before the deadline because they simply can’t settle for a draft pick after the season. That’s not enough. Cueto’s probably a goner either way, trade or free agency, and they need to get as much as possible for someone of his caliber. Here are his numbers:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 Whiff% BABIP
2013 60.2 2.82 3.81 21.1% 7.4% 50.9% 1.04 11.1% .236
2014 243.2 2.25 3.30 25.2% 6.8% 46.2% 0.81 9.9% .238
2015 90.2 2.98 3.27 24.1% 4.5% 40.7% 0.99 10.8% .248

A series of lat strains limited Cueto to those 60.2 innings two years ago but he was healthy before that and has been healthy since then. The decline in ground ball rate isn’t all that scary because grounders were never his thing anyway — Cueto’s a weak pop-up pitcher who consistently keeps hitters off balance and misses the sweet spot (third lowest hard contact rate since 2011). We’re going to need some visual aids here. To the action footage:

Cueto goes full Luis Tiant and turns his back on the hitter. That deception, the wide range of velocity, the assortment of pitches, the ability to pitch to both sides of the plate … pitching is about disrupting the hitter’s timing and few do it as well as Cueto. The guy throws five pitches at least 11% of the time: low-to-mid-90s two and four-seamers, upper-80s cutters, mid-80s changeups, and low-80s sliders. I mean, come on. It’s not hard to see why he’s so successful.

Cueto did miss two starts earlier this season with elbow inflammation and that’s a concern. He’s been fine since, but still, any time a pitcher feels a twinge in his elbow, it’s a red flag. The risk is somewhat mitigated by Cueto’s impending free agency — if you trade for him and his elbow gives out, you can walk away after the season and not have a long-term problem — but you’re still going to have to hold your breath and hope he holds up down the stretch. It’s only natural to feel that way once an elbow starts barking.

The Yankees scouted Cueto over the weekend and then again last night according to Jon Morosi, though I’m guessing that was due diligence more than anything at this point. Either way, Cueto is a capital-A Ace who would instantly improve any rotation. As I pointed out the other day, rental aces are rarely traded, mostly because those guys don’t get to free agency in their primes all that often. The 2012 Zack Greinke and 2008 CC Sabathia trades are the best reference points we have, and they indicate it will take 3-4 good prospects to get a deal done.

There are two ways to look at this. One, the Yankees should get Cueto right now to improve their postseason chances. The longer they wait, the fewer starts they get out of him. Two, the Yankees should wait, see where they are at the deadline, then decide whether to pull the trigger. This isn’t a Cliff Lee situation — the 2010 Yankees were a World Series caliber team looking to add a rental ace to push themselves over the top. The 2015 Yankees are just trying to scratch and claw their way into October. Is gutting the farm system for two or three months of Cueto worth it?

Leake (and Matt Carpenter). (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
Leake (and Matt Carpenter). (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

RHP Mike Leake

The 27-year-old Leake is the Reds other impending free agent hurler, though he’s no ace like Cueto. Leake is a perfectly fine mid-rotation starter who helps hold down the fort, not push you over the top. The Yankees were scouting him along with Cueto over the weekend, but again, due diligence, not necessarily serious interest. Let’s get the numbers out of the way:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 Whiff% BABIP
2013 192.1 3.37 4.04 15.2% 6.0% 48.7% 0.98 6.9% .285
2014 214.1 3.70 3.88 18.2% 5.5% 53.4% 0.97 7.0% .298
2015 82.2 4.35 4.86 13.9% 6.7% 52.4% 1.42 5.9% .262

Leake got off to a tremendous start this season then crashed back to Earth hard and fast. The home run issues probably won’t be as extreme all year (19.7 HR/FB% vs. career 14.1%) and his strikeout rate isn’t that far removed from his career norm (16.1%), so even though his ERA continues to trend in the wrong direction, the underlying performance isn’t all that different. Leake is still limiting walks and keeping the ball on the ground. That’s what he does.

Believe it or not, Leake’s salary this season is almost exactly the same as Cueto’s ($10M vs. $9.775M), though it’ll obviously cost much less to acquire him. Lots of mid-rotation guys get traded prior to free agency — Brandon McCarthy, Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Justin Masterson, and Ricky Nolasco were all dealt at the deadline of their walk year in the not too distant past. The return package was anything from one okay prospect to four good prospects. Let’s split the middle and say two prospects will get it done. Sound good?

Acquiring pitching depth is never a bad thing, but how exactly would Leake help the Yankees? As things stand right now, he barely moves the needle. I think the only way pursuing Leake makes sense for New York is if they lose a few starters to injury these next few weeks, which is always possible. Masahiro Tanaka (elbow), CC Sabathia (knee), and Michael Pineda (shoulder) are perpetual injury risks and we still have no idea what Ivan Nova (elbow) will look like when he returns. Leake is available. At this point in time his usefulness to the Yankees is limited.

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

2B Brandon Phillips

I suppose it’s time for our annual “say no to Brandon Phillips” post. Phillips is actually having an okay year with the bat, hitting .295/.333/.364 (92 wRC+) overall, which makes it his best offensive season since 2012. But still, we’re talking about a player who a) turns 34 in less than two weeks, b) is owed roughly $35M through 2017, c) is slipping in the field according to every available metric, d) is battling more and more nagging injuries (groin and toe this year), and e) is losing power each year:


Source: FanGraphsBrandon Phillips

There’s a lot of value in batting average and putting the ball in play, two things Phillips is doing well this season, but he is clearly a player in decline. A player in decline who is owed a lot of money and tends to be a distraction when things aren’t going his way. The Reds offered Phillips for Brett Gardner straight up during the 2013-14 offseason and the Yankees wisely said no.

Yes, Stephen Drew is terrible and no, there is no reason to expect him to stop being terrible. Drew’s a problem and the Yankees need an upgrade. Locking themselves into two and a half years of the declining and overpriced Phillips should not be the solution, however, even if he comes in what amounts to a salary dump trade. Phillips has had a heck of a career and he was a very good player for many years, but he is no longer that player despite being paid to be that player. The Reds have been trying to move him for a while now, and, as bad as Drew is, the Yankees shouldn’t let Cincinnati off the hook. This is a contract they’ll have to live with.

* * *

The Yankees and Reds might actually match up well for a trade. Cincinnati needs outfielders even with top prospect Jesse Winker on the way because Bruce is trade bait and Billy Hamilton simply can’t get on base, plus Marlon Byrd is hurt and an impending free agent. They’ve had Ivan DeJesus Jr., Brennan Boesch, Kris Negron, and Skip Schumaker start games in the outfield recently. Yikes. The Yankees have lots of upper level outfielders — Mason Williams, Ramon Flores, Tyler Austin, Ben Gamel — so Cincinnati can take their pick.

I am decidedly anti-Phillips and Leake doesn’t help much, but Chapman and Cueto are difference-makers the Yankees have to at least consider pursuing. Maybe there’s a Nathan Eovaldi plus Luis Severino plus Aaron Judge plus other stuff for Chapman and Cueto trade to be made. (My trade proposal sucks.) The Reds are going to be sellers at the trade deadline and both Chapman and Cueto are extremely desirable pieces who would help any team, including the Yankees.

Mailbag: A-Rod, Kazmir, Chapman, Valbuena, Murphy

Massive mailbag this week. Maybe the biggest in RAB history. Thirteen questions total, so I tried (and mostly succeeded) to keep the answers short. You can send us questions via the “For the Mailbag” form in the sidebar. I know it doesn’t look like the question goes through, but trust me, it does.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Vinny asks: Alex Rodriguez: hitting coach. Discuss.

It’ll never ever ever ever happen for a million different reasons, but I think A-Rod would make a pretty good hitting coach. The guy was put on this planet to play baseball. He knows as much about baseball as one person could possibly know and has worked tirelessly on his swing throughout his career. I’m sure he can help players with their offense. The real question is whether his communication skills are good enough. Coaching is as much about communication as it is knowing the ins and outs of the craft. But, like I said, it’ll never happen. The Yankees would sooner not have a hitting coach than hire A-Rod in any kind of authority role.

Daniel asks: Alex Rodriguez currently sits at 2,939 career hits. He will very likely reach 3,000 hits in 2015 even with a bad season. The media will be unbearable. The Yankees front office will be so awkward. Barry Bonds set the HR record after his BALCO scandal, and he was still celebrated. But that was uncharted territory and so much has happened since. How do you think this all gets handled?

I wouldn’t say it’s “very likely” Alex will get those 61 hits next year, but it is definitely possible. He’s way to much of an injury risk to count on him staying on the field that long. Anyway, it’ll be incredibly weird whenever A-Rod gets to 3,000 hits. Bonds was absolutely loved in San Francisco, which is part of the reason why his homer chase was celebrated. Everyone hates Rodriguez, even Yankees fans. Also, unlike Bonds, Alex has actually admitted and been suspended for his PED stuff, which changes the equation. My guess is the accomplishment will be downplayed as much as possible and we’ll get another round of articles saying it is morally wrong to take PEDs. But the Yankees will probably still sell some A-Rod3K merchandise. Cash, as the kids say, rules everything around me.

Bhavin asks: It seems like every time the Yankees are interested in a player there are other teams involved and “raising the price” to sign a free agent. How come Brian Cashman doesn’t do the same for other teams? Would it be a smart strategy to make your competitors spend more money than they are comfortable for the same player even if NYY are not interested?

Oh the Yankees definitely do this. Heck, earlier this week Cashman said the only reason they said they were still interested in re-signing Robertson was to drive up the price. (That was much as thank you to Robertson as it was trying to get a competitor to spend more.) Even when the Yankees aren’t involved, agents float rumors saying the Yankees are interested in their clients too because it helps inflate the market. That’s why they’re connected to almost every big free agent each winter. The Yankees absolutely 100% do this.

Kazmir. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
Kazmir. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

Hunter asks: Since the Yankees need some starting pitching, what are the chances that they trade for Scott Kazmir? Billy Beane seems apt to trade him considering he’s in his walk year. Would it be a good move for New York, and who do you think it would take to get him?

For what it’s worth, Joel Sherman says the Athletics aren’t looking to move Kazmir. The A’s do still need someone to pitch innings and he’s both effective (3.35 ERA and 3.55 FIP in 2014) and reasonably priced ($13M in 2015). The fact that he’s faded big time in the second half the last two years and is a fly ball pitcher scares me, but let’s roll with it.

Three pitchers with one year of control were just traded in Jeff Samardzija, Mat Latos, and Rick Porcello. Of those three, Kazmir is most similar to Latos in my opinion. Latos fetched a good MLB ready pitching prospect (Anthony DeSclafani) and a good Single-A catching prospect (Chad Wallach). Not great prospects, not fringy prospects, good prospects. I guess the Yankees equivalent would be Bryan Mitchell and Luis Torrens, though that’s not a perfect match because Torrens is five years younger than Wallach. Of course, Kazmir is somehow the healthier of the two between him and Latos.

Anyway, that doesn’t mean Mitchell and Torrens will be enough to get Latos. Different teams have different demands and different player valuations, and Oakland seems to be prioritizing quantity over quality in their deals so far this winter, with the caveat that most of the quantity be MLB ready. Maybe that means they would want Mitchell, Ramon Flores, and Jose Pirela instead? I dunno. Kazmir’s not a perfect fit for the Yankees but he would be an upgrade for the rotation for the one year they’d have him.

Peter asks: Is a C.J. Wilson trade worth a shot? Lots of available pitching out there and if the Angels refuse to eat salary, maybe Cashman get him without giving up much. Do the Yanks and Angels even match up anywhere?

Wilson had a rough 2014 season, with a 4.51 ERA (4.31 FIP) and an AL-leading 85 walks in 175.2 innings. He’s owed $18M in 2015 and $20M in 2016 as well, so it’s no surprise the Halos are reportedly looking to deal him. Wilson was very good in 2013 (3.39 ERA and 3.51 FIP) and he had a run of four straight 200+ inning seasons from 2010-13 before an ankle sprain sidelined him for three weeks this summer. If the Angels eat enough money to make Wilson, say, an $8M per year pitcher these next two seasons, isn’t it worth at least exploring? (I wouldn’t touch him if I had to pay all that money.) He eats innings, gets grounders (47.8% in 2014), has some rebound potential (.306 BABIP in 2014 after .286 from 2010-13), and should some cheap. Maybe it can be similar to the A.J. Burnett trade, only with the Yankees playing the role of the Pirates.

Brad asks: I know the Yankees are a business and don’t place a high premium on fielding a “likable” team, but the 2014 team was joyless and terrible. And Derek Jeter was still around. Shouldn’t the Yankees have placed a higher priority on retaining David Robertson?

You answered your own question there. The Yankees can’t worry about likeability, they have to focus on putting the best team on the field. Letting Robertson walk so you can replace him with a cheaper Andrew Miller and get a draft pick is a perfectly sensible baseball move, albeit an unpopular one with the locals. These Yankees are pretty bland and unlikeable though, you’re right. At least that’s how I feel. The only players on the roster I won’t actively hate next year are Dellin Betances, Michael Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka, Brett Gardner, maybe Didi Gregorius, and CC Sabathia whenever he isn’t hurt. (I may or may not be joking.)

Chapman. (Joe Robbins/Getty)
Chapman. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

Ward asks: With rumors that the Reds may be trying to trade some of their pitchers to save money, what could the Yankees give up to get Chapman?

The Reds cleared some salary yesterday with the Mat Latos — by the way, Mat Latos has a cat named Cat Latos — and Alfredo Simon trades, though it’s unclear if they hit their payroll target or still have work to do. Chapman isn’t all that expensive (owed $5M in 2015 and will probably make $10M+ through arbitration in 2016 before becoming a free agent) but he would bring back a major haul. He’s no worse than the second best reliever in baseball right now and a true difference maker. Lesser relievers like Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey were traded for decent hauls a few years before free agency and I assume Chapman would blow those deals out of the water. My hunch is it would take one very good young MLB player, one top of the line prospect, plus a third lesser piece. For the Yankees, I guess that means … Pineda, Luis Severino, and maybe John Ryan Murphy? That feels light. I’m not sure they could put together a package good enough to bring Chapman to New York.

Sam asks: With the acquisition of Didi Gregorius, will the Yankees still go after Yoan Moncada? If they do, does he work at short or third in the Minors?

I don’t think the Gregorius trade will change anything with the team’s pursuit of Moncada. It shouldn’t, anyway. Moncada is still just a 19-year-old kid who is expected to start his pro career in Single-A. He’s not someone you worry about when building your MLB roster. Just about everything I’ve seen says Moncada has the potential to play just about anywhere on the field other than shortstop, though I suspect whichever team signs him will keep here there for a little while. If that doesn’t work, second base seems like the next logical spot.

Richard asks: Why didn’t the Yankees go after Josh Donaldson?

How do you know they didn’t? The Indians asked about Donaldson but the Athletics said they weren’t seriously considering moving him, according to Terry Pluto. This Donaldson deal is reminiscent of last year’s Doug Fister trade; there seem to be a lot of people wondering why the A’s didn’t shop around and get a better deal. Seems like they just really wanted the guys they got from the Blue Jays. Besides, the Yankees don’t have a player on par with Brett Lawrie they could have offered as a center piece.

Alex asks: Knowing that trades with the Mets are rare, what about trading for Daniel Murphy to fill in 1B/2B/3B? Power numbers should go up. If you can lock him up, trading Gardner for him could work for both NY teams.

Murphy would make a lot of sense for the Yankees, who could use him at every non-shortstop infield position if necessary. He might hit a few more homers in Yankee Stadium but his offensive game is more about spray line drives to left field, so I wouldn’t expect a huge boost in power. That said, he’s consistently been a .285+ AVG, .330+ OBP, 10+ homer, 10+ steals guy these last few years. The Yankees could definitely use someone like that, even if his defense stinks. I wouldn’t trade Gardner for him — Murphy will be a free agent next winter and there’s no sense in paying the Mets for the right to extend him (the “right to extend” is inherently included in every trade ever)  — but I do think Murphy’s a fit.

Valbuena. (David Banks/Getty)
Valbuena. (David Banks/Getty)

Dustin asks: If the Yankees miss on Chase Headley, would trading for Luis Valbuena be a good move? Or would you prefer starting Martin Prado and Rob Refsnyder?

Valbuena is probably the best third base option on the trade market. He doesn’t have the name recognition of Chris Johnson but he hit .249/.341/.435 (116 wRC+) with 16 homers and an 11.6% walk rate last year. That’s pretty damn good. Valbuena just turned 29, has gotten better at the plate every year since breaking into the show five years ago, and the various stats say he’s a passable defender at second and third. He’s a nice little underrated player who’s cheap (projected to make $3.1M in 2015) and under team control through 2016. I’d prefer Prado/Valbuena to Prado/Refsnyder this coming season — it’s not really an either or because Refsnyder is still in the organization — and if the Yankees miss out on Headley, I hope their next call would be to Chicago about Valbuena. Even if he is only a league average hitter in 2015 (as the projections project), that’s still a nice upgrade for New York.

Evan asks: Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce are both great fits. Brandon Phillips isn’t because he’s declining and his brutal contract.  But assuming you had to take Phillips to get Bruce or Frazier what would that deal look like?

I wouldn’t take on Phillips to facilitate a trade for either of the other two. I hate the idea of taking a bad contract to get a discount for another player — the bad contract negates the discount and, if you’re only trading prospects, there’s at least a chance they won’t come back to bite you whereas the bad contract will definitely hurt. I’d rather just pay full price for Frazier or Bruce than get saddled with more dead weight in Phillips.

Bruce is a nice rebound candidate coming off knee surgery and Frazier is just a perfect fit for the Yankees — right-handed power, quality hitter, can play the two corner infield positions plus left field, under control through 2017, super high character guy, and he’s a local dude from New Jersey. What’s not to like? It’ll take a haul to get him after the year he just had though. Unless the Yankees are willing to talk about Severino or Aaron Judge, I don’t think they have the pieces to make it worth Cincinnati’s while. Man would Frazier be a great though.

P.J. asks: Let me preface this by saying that I absolutely don’t want this to happen. That said, what would Dellin Betances be worth on the trade market? What if he was a FA (non-QO)?

If he was a free agent, he’d probably get Andrew Miller/David Robertson money. He was awesome in 2014 but has no track record whatsoever. In a trade … that’s really tough to answer. When was the last time a player like Betances traded? An elite reliever with five years of team control remaining? The Athletics traded pre-shoulder mush Andrew Bailey when he had three years of control remaining and they received an adequate everyday player (Josh Reddick) and two nondescript minor leaguers. Do the two extra years of team control mean Betances fetches better prospects in addition to the okay regular? It’s really tough to gauge his trade value. I don’t think he can be a centerpiece in a blockbuster because, at the end of the day, he’s still a reliever, but maybe he can be the number two piece in a deal for an ace or a young, above-average everyday player. If that is the case, he is worth more to the 2015 and beyond Yankees as a trade chip, or in their bullpen?