Archive for Brett Gardner
Thomas asks: Is there still any chance that the Yankees could trade Brett Gardner for a quality starting pitcher? Obviously the Yankees value him more than other teams but is Homer Bailey still an option if the Yankees were to throw in maybe Vidal Nuno and someone else?
In theory, yes, the Yankees still have plenty of time to trade Gardner for a starting pitcher. Spring Training is still six weeks away and Opening Day another seven weeks after that. They have three months to move him for a starter if they’re so inclined. Time isn’t the real issue here.
In order to trade Gardner for a starting pitcher, the Yankees have to find a trade partner that both needs an everyday outfielder and has a spare starter. There simply aren’t many teams out there that fill the bill. I count three:
- Red Sox
That’s it. Maybe I’m missing someone obvious, but I don’t think so. Those are the only teams I see that could use an outfielder and have extra pitching to trade.
A deal with Boston isn’t happening for obvious reasons, but they are a fit on paper. Gardner could step right in to replace Jacoby Ellsbury in center (and give Jackie Bradley Jr. some more time in the minors) and the Red Sox also have six starters for five spots: Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront, and Ryan Dempster. Gardner for Peavy or Lackey (both have one year left on their deal with an option for 2015) seems reasonable enough, but again, it’ll never happen.
As for the Twins, this is their outfield situation according to the team’s official site:
Josh Willingham is listed as the everyday left fielder but he and his bad left knee are expected to see the majority of their time at DH. Oswaldo Arcia has promise and definitely should play everyday, plus they could give Aaron Hicks another opportunity, but otherwise that’s a really thin outfield. Gardner would instantly be their top outfielder (and second best player behind Joe Mauer).
The problem with trading with the Twins is that the extra starters they do have pretty much stink. We’re talking about guys like Samuel Deduno, Andrew Albers, and Scott Diamond. None are upgrades over David Phelps, Adam Warren, or Nuno. Trading Gardner for even two of those guys would make the Yankees weaker overall unless you think one of them is some kind of hidden gem, which would put you in the extreme minority. The Twins didn’t spend over $80M on pitchers this winter to replace them for no reason. One more thing: why would they trade for one year of Gardner when they’re so far away from contention?
The Reds have been the most popular rumored destination for Gardner because they need both a center fielder and a leadoff man after losing Shin-Soo Choo to free agency. Brett makes a ton of sense for Cincinnati, so much so that they already tried to acquire him (the Yankees said no to their offer of Brandon Phillips). Bailey is the name most often brought up because, like Gardner, he is a year away from free agency and in that “not great but better than he gets credit for” category. Both teams would be robbing Peter to pay Paul with that trade.
I think the Reds would have to re-sign Bronson Arroyo before trading one of their starters because their rotation depth isn’t all that great. Tony Cingrani impressed last year and is now slated to be the fifth starter as Arroyo’s replacement. If they deal Bailey, the internal replacement would be an unproven youngster like lefty David Holmberg or righty Chad Rogers, neither of whom is a standout prospect. They’d almost have to sign Arroyo or a comparable free agent to make trading Bailey work, and anytime there are that many moving parts to a deal, the less likely it is to happen.
Joe wrote about the difficulty of trading Gardner last month and nothing has changed. He probably has more valuable to the Yankees than anyone they could reasonably get in return. There is a lot of age (Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Beltran, Ichiro Suzuki) and injury risk (Ellsbury, Beltran, Gardner himself) in the outfield and dumping someone of Gardner’s caliber doesn’t make sense unless they get a very good starter in return. There could always be a surprise suitor — Peter Gammons says a half-dozen teams have called about Gardner, including the Phillies and Tigers — but right now it appears the best move is to hold onto Gardner and address the pitching staff through free agency.
Via Ken Rosenthal: The players’ union expects Brett Gardner‘s salary for next season to be “considerably higher” than the $4M projected by Matt Swartz. Rosenthal notes Michael Bourn, a more prolific base-stealer who had a lower career OBP and SLG than Gardner, earned $6.845M in his final trip through arbitration two years ago.
Gardner, 30, hit .273/.344/.416 (108 wRC+) with eight homers and 24 steals this past season. His skillset — okay AVG, good OBP, little power, good amount of steals, great defense — is not one that pays well through the archaic arbitration system, which loves things like homers and RBI and awards. The injuries, particularly the lost 2012 season, will hurt his earning power as well. Gardner made $2.85M in 2013 and the projected $1.15M raise does seem a little light to me. We’ll find out how each side values him when they file their arbitration numbers next month.
When Peter Gammons mentioned talk about a swap of Brett Gardner and Austin Jackson, it seemed appalling for two reasons. First, why would Detroit entertain such an idea? Second, why did Gammons claim it “makes sense for both teams”? If this is indeed on the table, shouldn’t the Yankees take it?
In the Tigers, the Yankees might have found a team that doesn’t undervalue Brett Gardner. Swapping him for Jackson, who is three and a half years younger and has two more years of team control, would indicate that the Tigers do value Gardner*. It might also indicate that, as they did when they traded Curtis Granderson to the Yankees in exchange for Jackson, that they’re looking to get rid of a player before he becomes too expensive.
*Of course, that statement could look a whole lot different if the Yankees are supposed to send additional players to Detroit.
A year ago it might have seemed insane to even entertain the idea of trading Jackson. In his age-25 season he broke out to hit .300/.377/.479, upping his power while cutting down on his strikeouts significantly. A year later he looks slightly less impressive, having hit .272/.337/.417 in roughly the same number of PA. A hamstring injury did hamper him earlier in the season. Perhaps the Tigers saw something they didn’t like and now think that perhaps Jackson’s 2012 was a standout he’s not likely to repeat.
In Gardner the Tigers would lose a year of control, but they’d gain a valuable player who slots well into their lineup and helps balance their righty-heavy approach. This goes especially after they signed Rajai Davis to a two-year deal. Instead of having the first four hitters in their lineup bat righty — Jackson, Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, and Ian Kinsler, in some order — they can lead off with the lefty Gardner. They might also think it more possible to sign him to an extension at a far more affordable rate than Jackson.
Jackson would better balance the Yankees’ lineup as well. Instead of leading off with the lefties Jacoby Ellsbury and Gardner, they could go with Ellsbury and Jackson, followed by Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, and Alfonso Soriano, giving Joe Girardi his desired lefty-righty split (with interspersed switch hitters). Jackson, who by the eye and generally by the numbers, plays good defense, could show similar value to Gardner in left, since few left fielders can cover as much ground as those two.
The trade, then, makes a little more sense from each team’s perspective. The Tigers get a player they can perhaps sign to a reasonable extension (which is probably not possible with Jackson, a Scott Boras client). The Yankees get a young player who gives them an extra year of team control. Both teams gain balance. Yet this move can’t be high on the Yankees’ priority list currently. They have areas of need, and if they’re going to trade Gardner now it would have to help cover one of them.
There is no reason, currently, to trade Gardner for anything other than a mid-rotation starting pitcher or a decent second baseman. The latter seems pretty out of the question. The former becomes a difficult proposition if teams don’t value Gardner as the Yankees do. Still, they’ll almost certainly wait out the market, seeing what they can get in exchange for Gardner on that front.
If the Yankees sign Omar Infante and Masahiro Tanaka, the situation might change. But even then, I’d rather see the Yankees explore an extension with Gardner than trade him. Given his value, and the reality that he’ll probably get a reasonable contract, it would seem a better idea to keep Gardner for four or five years rather than trade him. If, on the other hand, Gardner isn’t open to an extension, if he would rather play center and lead off for another team, then it’s easy to see why the Yankees would pull the trigger. They get two years of a player with similar current value and a higher upside, at a slightly more expensive rate.
The rumor surfaced this week, because this is the week that rumors surface. But at this point, it doesn’t make much sense for the Yankees. Swapping a good outfielder for another good outfielder in order to gain a year of control and balance the lineup is nice, but it can’t be near the top of the priority list. The Yanks have other moves to make right now, and Gardner is valuable to them. If a move like this is to occur, and there is certainly some sense in it, chances are it would come far, far closer to spring training.
The final day of the lamest Winter Meetings I can remember is upon us. The Rule 5 Draft starts the day — J.J. Cooper has a preview, including notes on several Yankees farmhands who figure to be selected — but the Yankees do not have an open 40-man roster, so they won’t be able to make a pick. Clubs and their executives tend to leave around midday Thursday, so don’t expect there to be many rumors or transactions in the afternoon. For shame.
Here are Monday’s, Tuesday’s, and Wednesday’s rumors. Late last night we learned the Yankees rejected a Brett Gardner-for-Brandon Phillips trade offer from the Reds, who are looking to unload their second baseman and the $50M left on his contract. We’re going to keep track of Thursday’s worthwhile rumors right here. All times are ET.
- 9:26pm: The Yankees were involved in trade talks for Brett Anderson before he was dealt to the Rockies. [Susan Slusser]
- 5:31pm: While talking to Johan Santana’s agent, Brian Cashman showed some interest in hard-throwing but not-always-strike-throwing reliever Henry Rodriguez. [David Waldstein]
- 5:28pm: The Yankees made their offer to Infante after Robinson Cano agreed to sign with the Mariners and before the Winter Meetings, which basically means last weekend. [Olney]
- 2:49pm: Apparently there was a three way trade being discussed involving Gardner, Justin Masterson, and Didi Gregorius. Gardner would have wound up with the Indians, Masterson with the Diamondbacks, and Gregorius with the Yankees. Huh. [Sweeny Murti]
- 1:10pm: Mark Ellis is “on the radar” as an Infante alternative for the Yankees. I looked at him as a possible target yesterday. [Ken Rosenthal]
- 12:20pm: The team’s offer to Infante is in the three-year, $24M range. He’s seeking four years and $40M. [Sherman]
- 12:09pm: The Yankees have offered Omar Infante a three-year contract. He is still holding out for a fourth year. The Royals are in the mix as well. [Jon Heyman]
- 9:00am: Future talks about Gardner and Phillips could be expanded to include other players, but the Yankees have essentially told teams they will only trade Gardner for a starting pitcher. They listened on Phillips out of due diligence. [C. Trent Rosecrans & Joel Sherman]
- Masahiro Tanaka remains the team’s top pitching priority. The new posting system is expected to be ratified soon but it’ll probably be another week or so before we find out whether Tanaka will actually be posted. Maybe longer. [George King]
- The Yankees are one of Joaquin Benoit’s likeliest destinations along with the Indians, Padres, Mariners, and Cubs. He’s seeking $7-10M annually across multiple years. Matt looked at Benoit as a free agent target earlier this week. [Jeff Passan & Buster Olney]
- While talking to reporters yesterday, Brian Cashman said the pool of available of second baseman is “deeper” than it is at third. He also said he has not spoken to a bullpen candidate who demanded the closer’s job. [Chad Jennings]
Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.
The murmurs started when the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury, but grew much louder when they signed Carlos Beltran last Friday. Given the Yankees’ myriad needs, they could trade Brett Gardner to help shore up an area of weakness. While it might make sense in terms of the current roster construction, the proposition becomes much more difficult when viewing it from a resource allocation standpoint.
Just because the Yankees have something of a surplus does not mean they must trade it away. We’ve seen first hand how quickly a surplus can become a deficit. If the Yankees were to trade Gardner, and then saw Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, or Alfonso Soriano miss time due to injury, they’re facing time with Zoilo Almonte as a starting outfielder.
Injuries happen, of course, and it’s not as though teams are expected to have major-league-ready backups at every position. Perhaps the better point is that since both Beltran and Ellsbury have injury histories, keeping Gardner helps insure the Yankees against missing too much production if they do miss time. Beltran could need more than a few games at DH, and chances are the Yanks could use Soriano there for a non-trivial number of games as well. Keeping Gardner allows them to keep the DH spot rotating, perhaps helping keep everyone healthy.
Insurance and flexibility aren’t the only reason to consider keeping Gardner. They might not even be the strongest. If the Yankees can’t get back a player as valuable as Gardner, trading him becomes a liability. There are many different ways of assessing value, but by most measures Gardner has been an underrated player throughout his career, particularly since he took over as a starting outfielder in 2010.
While a large portion of Gardner’s value comes from his defense, which is difficult to quantify, he’s no slouch on offense. Since he became a starter in 2010, Gardner has produced 35.2 runs with his bat. He’s no Jose Bautista or Ryan Braun, but he has still created the 39th (out of 117) most runs in the majors in that time span. In 2013 his 8.3 runs on offense ranked 29th out of 50 qualified OF. That’s not bad for a guy who creates most of his value with the glove.
Speaking of his glove, Gardner has proven his value in left field. While he started there, in 2010 and 2011, he was far and away the best defensive LF in baseball by every available measure. A move to left field actually increases that overall value,* since Gardner is orders of magnitude better than the average MLB left fielder. All of this makes it difficult to get a real grasp of Gardner’s actual value.
*Yes, the defensive stats at FanGraphs are all flawed in ways. You can plug in plenty of numbers and come to this conclusion, but for this exercise we’ll just use FG’s. In 2011, Gardner produced 26.7 runs with his glove. Since he played in left field, he got a -5.8 positional adjustment, for a total defensive value of 20.9 runs. In 2013, in center field, he produced -0.5 runs with his glove, and got a positional adjustment of +1.8 runs, for a total of 1.3 runs. The points are 1) Gardner is much better compared to the league average left fielder than his is the average center fielder, and 2) even if Gardner produced 18 runs with his glove in center, he’d still be a wash with his value in left. It’s not the most airtight argument in the world, but from it we can discern the premise: playing a player with a great glove and decent bat in left field can pay dividends.
If Gardner reaches free agency next off-season, what are the chances he gets a contract within $100 million of Ellsbury’s deal? While his market could change between now and then, especially with a strong 2014 at the plate, I can see him getting a four-year, $50 million contract. That would represent one of the greatest bargains on the market, given what other, less valuable outfielders have gotten. If this is Gardner’s perceived value around the game, he could very well be more valuable playing for the Yankees than in a trade for another player.
On trade possibility making its rounds is Gardner for Homer Bailey. With the expected departure of Shin-Soo Choo, the Reds need a center fielder and a leadoff hitter. The Yankees need pitching, so the swap seems reasonable on the surface. It’s when we examine the issue through the lens of actual vs. perceived value that we see discrepancies.
From the commentary I’ve read, the idea is Gardner and a prospect for Bailey. That certainly represents Bailey’s and Gardner’s perceived values, but in terms of actual value it’s tough to justify. After years of struggling, Bailey has rounded into form the last two seasons, producing a 111 ERA+ in 417 innings. That is, he’s a solid No. 3 on a first-division team, an asset the Yankees could certainly use.
For his part, Gardner has been a solid starting outfielder no matter his position. His bat might not rank among the best, but it’s better than is generally perceived. If that value isn’t reflected in his trade value, then he could be worth more playing for the Yankees, in a season when they’ll almost certainly need four outfielders, than as a trade chip, even for a position of need. That goes especially if the Yankees can lock him up on a reasonable deal. Given the sizes of left and center fields at Yankee Stadium, they might need two guys like Ellsbury and Gardner to cover ground.
If the possibility came up and Walt Jocketty offered Brian Cashman Bailey for Gardner, straight up, Cashman would have a difficult time refusing. He needs a reliable starting pitcher, and Bailey has proved himself as such in the last two years. Entering his age-28 season, he could be poised for a career year. At the same time, Gardner has plenty of unperceived value on the field. It’s not as though he’ll languish on the bench and get two starts a week. If he stays he’ll get at least 550 at-bats and plenty of time in the field.
The question of perceived vs. actual value makes the idea of trading Gardner a complex one. If he’s more valuable than the player coming back, then why would the Yankees trade him? Unless they’re desperate to fill a position of need, they should probably refrain. Which is to say, I don’t think they’re going to trade Gardner in the next few weeks unless someone offers a player within Gardner’s actual value range.
Via Andy McCullough: The Yankees are receiving “significant interest” in Brett Gardner following the Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran signings. It’s unclear which teams have expressed that interest. New York is not shopping their incumbent center fielder, but they will listen to offers and are open to trading him. That goes for pretty much everyone.
Gardner, 30, hit .273/.344/.416 (108 wRC+) with 24 stolen bases in 145 games this past season while playing his usual stellar defense. He will become a free agent next winter and I think his trade value is similar to Norichika Aoki’s and Seth Smith’s, probably a bit higher since he’s a better defender. Aoki and Smith are both a year away from free agency as well and were traded this week for a five years of lefty reliever and one year of an ace setup man, respectively. As I said this morning, if some team wants to blow the Yankees away and offer a good starter for Gardner, great. Go for it. If not, keep him as a heavily used fourth outfielder. They have the leverage here.
This was, without question, the craziest week of hot stove action I can remember. That includes the Winter Meetings. Teams just didn’t want to wait for Orlando next week to take care of business, and one of those teams was the Yankees. With Brian McCann, Kelly Johnson, and Jacoby Ellsbury already on board, the team added both Carlos Beltran (three years, $45M) and Hiroki Kuroda (one year, $16M). yesterday. Of course, they also lost Robinson Cano to the Mariners after they offered a tenth year and $240M. Bittersweet day (mostly bitter), to say the least. Here are some thoughts.
1. As soon as the Yankees splurged for Ellsbury, I honestly did not think they would let Cano walk. Spending that much money on a very good but not elite player like Ellsbury only to let your homegrown superstar leave doesn’t make much sense. They held the line at seven years and $175M and I truly believed they would bump their offer up to (and maybe over) $200M if push came to shove. It’s a huge blow to the Yankees short-term — I’d say the next two years at the very least, probably more like four or five — but it will help in the long-term, when they aren’t saddled with a huge albatross contract. I just can’t believe Cano’s leaving. Man, who thought this would actually happen?
2. The Mariners made it very, very easy for the Yankees to walk away. They’re a desperate franchise and desperate franchises do desperate things, like offer $65M more than the next highest bidder. Of course, Seattle had to blow everyone else out of the water if they wanted to land a premium player like Cano. The city itself is great and Safeco Field is gorgeous, but it’s a tough place to hit. The team itself stinks and the travel is awful (the Mariners fly more miles than every other club each season because they’re so isolated in the Pacific Northwest). Add all that together and you get a place that doesn’t attract many free agent hitters. Not many good ones, anyway. The Mariners blew Cano away with the offer and that makes his departure easier to swallow. It sucks he’s gone, don’t get me wrong. But at that price? Had to let him go. No-brainer.
3. I’m pretty sure the Yankees will go hard after Omar Infante to replace Robbie — what’s the over/under on the contract, three years and $30M? sounds about right — and he’s probably the best realistic second base option. I’d greatly prefer a trade for Howie Kendrick, who has two years and $20M left on his deal, but the Angels are looking for pitching and the Yankees just don’t have any to give up. David Phelps and a prospect ain’t gonna get it done. I don’t want any part of Brandon Phillips for reasons Joe already outlined and if Infante’s demands are unreasonable (he and his agent could jack up the price hoping to capitalize on the team’s potential desperation), I think Mark Ellis would be a tolerable one-year stopgap. He’s a very good defender and not a total zero at the plate (92 wRC+ in 2013). Infante is no better of a player today than he was two days ago. The Yankees shouldn’t go all out to sign him just because he’s the best available option with Robbie off the board.
4. I was thinking about this last night: Cano doesn’t really have a “signature moment,” does he? Derek Jeter has the flip play (and a bunch of other moments), Jorge Posada has the double off Pedro Martinez in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS (and a bunch of other moments), so on and so forth. Cano doesn’t really have one. That’s not meant to be a knock against him, it’s just one of those things. Winning the 2011 Homerun Derby doesn’t really count, and, according to WPA, his best game in pinstripes came on July 1st of this past season. He went 3-for-4 with two homers and a double in a blowout win over the Twins. Meh. I guess his game-winning homer off George Sherrill in 2010 stands out (video) — that was the game in which the Yankees broke Jonathan Broxton with a big ninth inning comeback, which I’m sure you remember — but that isn’t anything special. When I think of Cano, I don’t think of a singular moment. I think of that sweet swing more than anything. Like this one. B-e-a-utiful.
5. I’ve said this a few times in recent weeks, but I am a bit nervous about Kuroda heading into next season. He’s getting up there in age and man, he looked like toast late last season. Hitters were squaring him up constantly and he couldn’t locate anything. I guess poor location is better than his stuff falling off — Kuroda’s velocity actually ticked up a bit late in the season — but it’s still a red flag. They still need to add another starter, Brian Cashman has acknowledged that already, and hopefully it’ll be Masahiro Tanaka. I think he’s a really good fit given his age and all that stuff. If that doesn’t work out, I’d rather see a short-term Bartolo Colon reunion than a long-term marriage with Matt Garza or Ubaldo Jimenez. Either way, the Yankees have some decent back-end depth with Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno. Michael Pineda is the real wildcard. He could give the rotation a big boost or not throw a single pitch for the big league team for the third straight season.
6. Beltran definitely gives me a Randy Johnson vibe, meaning the Yankees are adding the right player, just nine years too late. He can still hit, there isn’t much doubt about that, but his defense is below-average and his knees are grenades with the pins pulled. the Yankees will be able to give him time at DH and are going to have to to keep him healthy. If I had known the Yankees were going to sign two outfielders coming into the winter, I probably would have pushed for Shin-Soo Choo and Curtis Granderson. The club opted for Ellsbury and Beltran, which is perfectly reasonable but definitely the riskier option health-wise. Probably more expensive too. This is definitely a high-risk, high-reward roster at the moment. It could be great but it could also be really, really ugly if Father Time comes back to wreak more havoc in 2014.
7. One thing that I do like is the diversity the Yankees have added to lineup. McCann is a brute masher and Ellsbury is a speed guy while Beltran is an all-around hitter who will hit for average and power. He also gives them a switch-hitter, something they didn’t have at last season. Almost literally not at all — Mark Teixeira and Zoilo Almonte combined for 176 plate appearances and that’s it, they were the only switch-hitters the Yankees had this summer. Crazy. Ellsbury, McCann, Beltran, and Johnson all work the count well and that’s pretty important. The Yankees didn’t have enough guys who could put together good at-bats and wear down the starter this year. There were an awful lot of quick at-bats and quick innings. That should change next summer with those four plus Brett Gardner, Mark Teixeira, and Derek Jeter returning.
8. Speaking of Gardner, I’d absolutely keep him unless some team offers a starting pitcher that is just too good to pass up. (Lots of people asked about Gardner for Homer Bailey and I don’t see anyway Cincinnati entertains that as one-for-one swap. Gardner’s trade value is along the lines of Norichika Aoki’s and Seth Smith’s, and look at what those two were traded for this week.) Both Ellsbury and Beltran are injury concerns for different reasons, plus Beltran and Soriano figure to get regular turns at DH. Keeping Gardner as a heavily used fourth outfielder who could step into the lineup everyday if someone gets hurt makes an awful lot of sense. If the Reds will trade Bailey for him or another team comes along with a comparable offer, then by all means, pull the trigger. Otherwise keep him around and enjoy the depth. There is no doubt in my mind there will be a time next season the team will be happy they kept him around.
For years we’ve seen comparisons drawn between new Yankee Jacoby Ellsbury and entrenched Yankee Brett Gardner. Naturally, people speculated that the Yankees might trade the latter, given their $153 million commitment to the former. “Absolutely not,” according to an ESPN NY source. The source further speculated that both will bat atop the order, which might mean an ego hit for Derek Jeter (though Jeter could presumably hit second against lefties). It’s certainly an interesting approach, both atop of the order and in the outfield. Much of the success, I imagine, rests on the power that Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, Alfonso Soriano, and hopefully Robinson Cano, generate behind these guys.
The offseason has yet to really get underway, but there has already been talk of the Yankees going on a big spending spree to address their many needs this winter. I’m not sure where that money is coming from after putting together my most recent payroll breakdown, but that’s besides the point. New York has been connected to a ton of free agents so far, both big names like Brian McCann and Shin-Soo Choo and secondary players like Eric Chavez and Omar Infante. Needless to say, they’re getting around.
Free agency is the easiest way to address needs but it’s not the only way. The Yankees could also explore the trade market, a trade market that will reportedly feature high-end starters like Max Scherzer and David Price, young middle infielders like Jurickson Profar and Elvis Andrus, and pretty much everything in between. The trade market is like free agency — there’s a solution for every roster problem available if you’re willing to meet the asking price.
Therein lies the rub: the Yankees can’t meet too many asking prices these days. Not won’t meet asking prices, can’t. They don’t have many tradeable commodities either on the big league roster or in the farm system, and last winter’s Justin Upton trade talks showed how that can handicap them. The Diamondbacks reportedly did not like the prospects New York had to offer, so the young, power-hitting outfielder signing to a reasonable contract went to the Braves instead.
“I just don’t see it,” said one rival executive to Andy McCullough when asked whether the Yankees had the prospect inventory to swing a major trade this offseason. “I’m not excited about any of them making an impact next year,” added another evaluator while discussing the team’s top prospects while describing them as “solid guys, but not stars.”
The Yankees do have limited trade commodities right now but they aren’t completely devoid of marketable players. Some are just more marketable than others, or, as Brian Cashman likes to say, no one is unavailable but some are more available that others. Here’s a highly subjective rundown of New York’s best trade chips. Remember, at the end of the day, a player’s trade value is only as great as the other team’s evaluation of him.
Best Chip: Ivan Nova
In my opinion, Nova is the team’s best trade chip at this point in time. He turns 27 in January and has shown flashes of brilliance over the last three years. Ivan has not yet put together a full, productive season from start to finish, but he’s had stretches that make you think he could be very good if things ever completely click. It’s also worth noting Nova has thrown at least 150 innings every year since 2010 and at least 130 innings every year since 2008. Teams do value the ability to take the ball every fifth day.
Nova’s trade value is not as great as it was a year or two ago because he’s entering his arbitration years and is no longer dirt cheap, like league minimum dirt cheap. His projected $2.8M salary in 2014 is still a relative bargain, but trading for a guy owed $15M or so over the next three years isn’t as desirable as trading for the same guy when he is owed $16M or so over five years. This isn’t Nova’s fault obviously and getting three cheap years of a durable right-hander is still pretty awesome, but his years of team control are ticking away and he’s yet to really establish himself as … anything. He’s still a question mark.
Rentals: Brett Gardner and David Robertson
Both Gardner and Robertson are due to become free agents next winter, meaning they’re just rental players. Both will earn reasonable salaries next year — Gardner is projected for $4M, Robertson for $5.5M — and they both have their limitations on the field. Gardner is a defense-first outfielder who doesn’t hit for power and doesn’t steal as many bases as people think he can. Robertson is a late-inning reliever, meaning you’re only get 65 or so innings out of him. He’s a very good late-inning reliever of course, but one year of a reliever usually doesn’t fetch a huge package in return. The Yankees could flip these two for solid prospects or a similar rental player, but they’re not going to get that elite prospect or young big leaguer with several years of control remaining.
Warm Bodies: David Phelps and Adam Warren (maybe Vidal Nuno)
There will always be a market for cheap and young pitching. Phelps and Warren have four and five years of team control remaining, respectively, and they’ve had varying levels of success in the show. They’re far from established but have shown they belong in some capacity, either as back-end starters or relievers. Nuno has six full years of control left but is basically a complete unknown at the big league level. He is as close to ready as a pitcher can get, however. Every team needs cheap young arms to fill out a staff, but these guys are okay second and good third pieces in a significant trade, not centerpieces. Far from it.
Prospects: Gary Sanchez, Slade Heathcott, J.R. Murphy and Rafael DePaula
Baseball has become a young player’s game these last five or six years or so, but I think we’ve reached the point where prospects and (especially) draft picks are being overvalued. Don’t get me wrong, they’re important and you need them to succeed, but they’re being valued higher than established big leaguers and that isn’t always the case. Not even close.
Anyway, Sanchez and Murphy are probably the Yankees’ two best prospect trade chips because a) Sanchez is their very best prospect, and b) Murphy is a big league ready-ish catcher. Quality young catchers are very hard to find and teams have consistently shown they will overpay — either in trades or by reaching in the draft — to get their hands on one. DePaula is the team’s best pitching prospect but he’s still in Single-A ball. Heathcott had an up-and-down season in Double-A but has a lengthy injury history. High ceiling but also high risk. Sanchez and Murphy could headline a package for a non-star player, but Heathcott and DePaula are closer to throw-ins in the grand scheme of things.
Suspects: Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, and Jose Ramirez
Injury of ineffectiveness — Austin, Williams, and Ramirez all had down 2013 seasons for one of those two reasons. Sometimes both. They’re basically buy low candidates, prospects with considerable ceilings who either need to get healthy or fix their mechanics or have their attitude adjusted. If I was another club and talking trade with the Yankees, these are the guys I would be asking for as the final piece in a trade package. Take a shot on one without the deal hinging on their success. There are too many question marks for any of them to be the top guy in a deal for an established big leaguer at this point. I just don’t see how another club would go for that.
As we spend far too much time trying to figure out how the Yankees will rebuild themselves into a contender while staying under the $189M luxury tax threshold next season, there has always been one great big unknown throwing a wrench into things: arbitration salaries. These go to players with more than three years but fewer than six years of service time; the guys who have been in the league long enough to earn a decent salary but not long enough to qualify for free agency.
Arbitration salaries are very tough to pin down (or estimate, for that matter) but can be substantial in some cases, especially as the player moves closer to free agency. Thankfully, Matt Swartz developed an insanely accurate model — it’s been within 5% or so overall — for projecting arbitration salaries, and the information has been available at MLBTR these last three years. Projections for the Yankees’ seven arbitration-eligible players were released over the weekend:
Arbitration Eligible Players (service time in parentheses)
Update: Here are the updated projections. Only Robertson’s changed.
Nova ($2.22M raise), Robertson ($2.4M), and Gardner ($1.15M) are all projected to receive healthy raises from last season. The other four guys are projected to receive $640k salary increases or less. Nova is arbitration-eligible for the very first time, meaning he’s coming off what amounts to a league minimum salary in 2013. I have to think that’s a pretty great moment for a young-ish player — that first year of arbitration, when your annual salary goes from mid-six-figures to several million bucks.
Anyway, at the projected salaries, I think both Nix and Stewart are obvious non-tender candidates, meaning the Yankees should cut them loose and allow them to become free agents rather than pay that salary. Nix is a perfectly fine utility infielder who played way too much this past season, when he earned $900k. The projected $1.4M is a real stretch for me. If he’s willing to re-sign with the team for $1M or so, great. If not, move on. There are better ways to spend $1.4M, especially considering the team’s self-imposed budget constraints. Same goes for Stewart. No way should the Yankees pay him a seven-figure salary in 2014. That’s madness.
So, assuming the Yankees non-tender Nix and Stewart but keep everyone else, their arbitration class projects to cost $14.8M next season. They currently have six players under contract with a combined $84.9M “tax hit” for 2014 and that includes Alex Rodriguez, who may or may not be suspended. It doesn’t include Derek Jeter, who figures to pick up his player option. So, between the guys under contract and the arbitration-eligible players, the Yankees have eleven players slated to earn $99.7M in 2014, pending decisions by Jeter and the arbitrator overseeing A-Rod‘s appeal.
That leaves the team with roughly $77.3M to spend on the 29 remaining 40-man roster spots (plus leaving space for midseason additions) when you factor in ~$12M or so for player benefits, which count against the tax. If A-Rod is suspended for the entire season, it’ll be $104.8M for 30 remaining roster spots. That sounds like a lot, but remember, Jeter and the inevitable Robinson Cano contract will soak up about $35M of that leftover money all by themselves. Without A-Rod but with Cano and Jeter, it’s more like $70M for 28 roster spots plus midseason additions. Doable, certainly, but that $300M spending spree might be more myth that reality.