First pitcher off the board: Cubs acquire Jose Quintana

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

The first major trade domino has fallen. This morning the Cubs and White Sox announced left-hander Jose Quintana is heading to the north side for a package of four prospects, including top prospects Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease. Quintana’s been on the block for a while and the Cubbies desperate need rotation help, both short and long-term, so the two Chicago teams got together for a blockbuster.

My quick take on the trade: it’s fair for both sides. Boring, I know, but it is what it is. Jimenez is very good, one of the top prospects in the sport, and Cease has a ton of upside despite some arm problems. Quintana is excellent and has been for years now. Even after a slow start to this season, he’s settled in nicely the last few weeks and has dragged his numbers down to 4.49 ERA (4.01 FIP) in 104.1 innings. Plus he’s signed affordably through 2020.

The Yankees have been connected to Quintana in recent weeks and months (and years). Baseball America recently ranked Jimenez and Cease as the 5th and 83rd best prospects in baseball, respectively. The other two prospects in the trade, first baseman Matt Rose and infielder Bryant Flete, weren’t among the Cubs’ top 30 prospects. An equivalent Yankees package would have been something like Gleyber Torres, Justus Sheffield, and two others.

For all intents and purposes, the White Sox traded Quintana for the Andrew Miller package. Two top 100 prospects plus two others. The Yankees have been hesitant to trade their top prospects this far and I’m not surprised they declined to get into a bidding war for Quintana, no matter how much he would have helped them now and going forward. The White Sox have prioritized upside in their recent trades and they’re doing a great job restocking the system.

With Quintana off the board, the best available starting pitcher at the trade deadline will be, uh, Sonny Gray? Maybe Gerrit Cole? We have to see how the market develops. I’d take Quintana over either Gray or Cole, and I love Sonny Gray, at least when he’s healthy. Anyway, the trade deadline is now 18 days away and the first domino just fell. The floodgates could open soon.

5/5 to 5/7 Preview: Chicago Cubs

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America)

Despite being a Yankees fan, there is something special about writing “the Yankees are visiting the defending World Series Champions this weekend” as a means to describe the Cubs. They are teetering dangerously close to being a team that everyone outside of Chicago hates (perhaps replacing the Cardinals and St. Louis at some point in the near future), but for now they remain a genuinely likable team. And, yes, it pains me to write that, considering the people that pull the strings in their organization.

The Last Time They Met

The Yankees visit the Cubs from May 20 through May 21, 2014 for a two-game set, and ended up with the split. They had beat the Cubs in back-to-back games in Yankee Stadium back in April, though, so they won the season series 3-1. Here are some notes about the in-game action:

  • Masahiro Tanaka pitched an absolute gem in the first game – 8 IP, 2 H,  R, 1 BB, 10 K – as the Yankees won 3-0.
  • The lineup in that first game is an interesting time capsule. Alfonso Soriano started at DH and hit cleanup, and the infield was manned by Kelly Johnson (1B), Yangervis Solarte (2B), Scott Sizemore (3B), and Dean Anna (SS).
  • Starlin Castro went 3-for-17 (all singles) with an RBI against his team-to-be.
  • The Yankees used eight pitchers in the final game of the series, a 4-2 victory. Chase Whitley started the game and held the Cubs to one run, but only went 4.1 IP (it was the second start of his big league career, and he was on a pitch count). Preston Claiborne picked up the win, and former Yankee Jose Veras took the loss.

Injury Report

Kris Bryant, the reigning NL MVP, left Tuesday’s game early with tightness in his calf, but he’s already back in the lineup. The team is healthy otherwise.

Their Story So Far

The Cubs have been far from the dominant force that many expected this season, owing to underperformance throughout the team. The starting five has combined for a 4.68 ERA through 28 games, a far cry from last season’s incredible 2.96 ERA, and has routinely made it through only five innings. This has led to the bullpen being taxed at times (more on that later), as well. Some of this may be blamed on the defense, as well, as last year’s record-setting .254 BABIP allowed has been followed-up with a league-average-ish .307 mark. The offense outside of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo has largely disappointed, as well, particularly Kyle Schwarber (77 wRC+), Addison Russell (83 wRC+), and Willson Contreras (85 wRC+).

They are nevertheless 16-12, and sit atop the NL Central by two games. If this is what a slump looks like for a great team, sign me up.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Joe Maddon has been fairly consistent with his lineups this year, with the first six spots in the lineup being all but set in stone. However, he does maximize the positional versatility of Ben Zobrist, and he utilizes a three-person show in center, with Albert Almora, Jason Heyward, and Jon Jay all starting seven-plus games out there. The lineup will probably look something like this, though:

  1. Kyle Schwarber, LF
  2. Bryant, 3B
  3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
  4. Zobrist, 2B/RF
  5. Addison Russell, SS
  6. Jason Heyward, RF/CF
  7. Wilson Contreras, C
  8. [starting pitcher]
  9. Jon Jay, CF or Albert Almora, CF or Javier Baez, 2B

Confused? I am too.

The Pitchers We Will See

Friday (2:20 PM EST): RHP Michael Pineda vs. RHP Kyle Hendricks

A great deal was written about Hendricks last year, most of which revolved around whether a pitcher that throws 89 MPH fastballs could possibly sustain his level of success. He did last year, finishing 3rd in Cy Young balloting after posting a league-leading 188 ERA+ in 190 IP. It has been a different story this year, though, as he currently sits on a 4.18 ERA (100 ERA+). His strikeout (22.8% to 19.3%) and walk (5.9% to 10.5%) rates have trended in the wrong direction, and he has lost around 3 MPH off of his fastball. It’s only five starts, but this is the sort of performance that many thought was more in-line with Hendricks’ stuff even as he was dominating last year.

In addition to his mid-to-high 80s fastballs (he utilizes a four-seamer and sinker), Hendricks throws a change-up right around 80 MPH, and a low-to-mid 70s curveball.

Last Outing (vs. BOS on 4/30) – 6.0 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 6 K

Saturday (7:15 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. LHP Brett Anderson

Anderson is one of the most snake-bitten pitchers in the league, dealing with a litany of injuries that have limited him to just 707.1 IP in eight-plus seasons in the majors. He has eclipsed 100 IP just three times, and has made more than 20 starts just twice. He has remained a perennial “if he stays healthy” sleeper nonetheless, and he’s still just 29-years-old. And even with all of the injuries, Anderson’s tremendous ability to sink his pitches and pound the bottom of the zone have helped him maintain elite groundball rates throughout his career.

The southpaw is either a four or five-pitch pitcher, depending on your definitions. He throws a four-seamer and a two-seamer in the high-80s to low-90s, a slider, a change-up, and a curve with some knuckling action. The fastballs represent between 50 and 60% of his offerings on most days, and he mixes the other three pitches in fairly evenly.

Last Outing (vs. PHI on 5/1) – 1.1 IP, 7 H, 7 R, 1 B, 1 K

Sunday (8:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. LHP Jon Lester

As Yankees fans we have had plenty of exposure to Lester (some would say too much). The 33-year-old has made and MLB-season’s worth of starts against the Yankees, pitching to the following line – 13-6, 174.0 IP, 178 H, 69 BB, 172 K, 3.78 ERA. His last outing against them came on June 28, 2014, when he held them to 1 unearned run in 8 IP, picking up the win along the way. And, despite a semi-bumpy start to 2017, he remains a top of the rotation starter.

Lester mixes three fastballs (four-seamer, cutter, sinker) with a curveball and a change-up. Those three fastballs – thrown predominantly in the upper-80s to low-90s range – account for around 80% of his pitches in most outings.

Last Outing (vs. PHI on 5/2) – 5.0 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 5 BB, 5 K

The Bullpen

The Cubs needed 13 innings to beat the Phillies yesterday, eight of which were picked up by the bullpen. Closer Wade Davis, Koji Uehara, and Carl Edwards Jr. tossed an inning apiece, and longman Mike Montgomery gave them three full innings. It seems unlikely that any of those four will be available today, particularly when you consider that Davis has pitched in three straight games, and Uehara went on Wednesday and Thursday. Those four have been great for the Cubs this year, so Maddon will be a bit hamstrung by that.

However, Maddon does have Hector Rondon ready to go, and he did a fine job as the team’s closer for two-plus years, prior to the arrival of Aroldis Chapman (and then Davis). He’s the only Cubs reliever that wasn’t needed yesterday – though, Pedro Strop and Brian Duensing (both of which have been mediocre this season) were only needed for nine pitches combined.

Yankees Connection

There are no former Yankees on the Cubs roster. Even so, they still have a somewhat staggering total of nine AL East alumni on the active roster in Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis, Brian Duensing, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Anthony Rizzo, Pedro Strop, Koji Uehara, and Ben Zobrist. And there are also three former Cubs on the Yankees roster in Starlin Castro, Aroldis Chapman, and Adam Warren – the latter two of which will receive a World Series ring this weekend.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Bryant has continued his ascent into superstardom; or, more likely, continues to solidify his position as one of the best players in all of baseball. He’s currently hitting .321/.417/.563 (157 wRC+) with 5 HR and 4 SB, and there are a few signs that he’s continuing to evolve. Namely, his walk rate is up significantly, he’s swinging at fewer pitches outside of the zone, making more contact with those pitches that he does swing at, and striking out less. He’ll be 25 for the entirety of the season, and there’s a real chance that the best is yet to come.

Cubs return Rule 5 Draft pick Caleb Smith to Yankees


The Yankees have welcomed back another one of their lost Rule 5 Draft players. Left-hander Caleb Smith has been returned by the Cubs, both teams announced. Smith was reassigned to minor league camp as a non-40-man roster player. He had to remain on Chicago’s big league roster all season, or be passed through waivers and offered back to the Yankees, which is exactly what happened.

Smith, 24, was New York’s 14th round pick in the 2013 draft. He had a 3.96 ERA (3.15 FIP) with 25.1% strikeouts in 63.2 innings with Double-A Trenton last season, his second straight year at the level. Smith is a lefty and he has good velocity on his fastball, so it’s no surprise a team took a chance on him in the Rule 5 Draft. He figures to be part of the Triple-A Scranton bullpen mix.

The Cubs acquired Smith from the Brewers following the Rule 5 Draft. Milwaukee selected him then traded him to Chicago for cash. The Rule 5 Draft rules still apply following the trade though. There seemed to be very little chance Smith, who struck out seven and allowed three runs (including three homers) in 6.1 innings this spring, would stick with the Cubs given their bullpen depth.

Last week the Yankees received Tyler Jones, another Rule 5 Draft pick, back from the Diamondbacks. Lefty Tyler Webb (Pirates) and catcher Luis Torrens (Padres) are still out there. Webb has a pretty good chance to stick. I still expect Torrens to be offered back sooner rather than later. A 20-year-old catcher jumping from Low-A to MLB is so very unlikely to stick, even with a bad rebuilding team.

Cubs claim Conor Mullee off waivers from Yankees


I missed this yesterday, but before they won the damn World Series, the Cubs claimed right-hander Conor Mullee off waivers from the Yankees, the team announced. Apparently the Yankees outrighted Mullee at some point earlier this week as part of their 40-man roster cleanup process.

Mullee, 28, made his big league debut this past season after spending parts of seven seasons in the minors. The Yankees selected him out of St. Peter’s in Jersey City in the 24th round of the 2010 draft, but Mullee was limited to only 27 total innings from 2010-13 due to a series of elbow injuries that required surgery, including Tommy John surgery and a pair of avulsion fractures.

The Yankees called Mullee up in mid-May when a fresh bullpen arm was needed, and in three games with the Yankees, he allowed one run on no hits and four walks in three innings. Can’t believe the Yankees cut the guy who literally allowed zero hits in the big leagues, you guys. Mullee’s season ended in August because he needed another elbow surgery, this one to treat a nerve issue.

With Mullee gone and both Mark Teixeira and Billy Butler becoming free agents this morning, the Yankees now have seven open 40-man roster spots. They also have five players who need to be activated off the 60-day DL by next Monday (Nathan Eovaldi, Chad Green, Branden Pinder, Nick Rumbelow, Dustin Ackley), plus Kyle Higashioka will be added to the 40-man as well. Here’s our offseason calendar.

Chicago Cubs win 2016 World Series (!!!)


Wednesday night, in one of the best postseason games you’ll ever see, the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series with a thrilling 8-7 win over the Indians in ten innings (box score). Admit it, you thought Cleveland was going to win after Rajai Davis clubbed that dramatic game-tying home run off Aroldis Chapman in the eighth inning. I know I did.

Rather than fold like so many other Cubs teams over the last 108 years, this team kept the Tribe at bay the rest of the game and won in the tenth inning. There was a quick rain delay after the ninth too. Here’s the final out:

Chapman is, by far, the biggest connection between the 2016 Cubs and the Yankees. New York traded him to Chicago at the deadline for Adam Warren and three prospects, including top prospect Gleyber Torres. I’m fairly certain Warren will get a World Series ring out this. Good for him.

Also, assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske spent a few months with the Yankees back in 2009, and catching coach Mike Borzello was in New York a very long time. He was the team’s bullpen coach all through the Joe Torre years. Borzello won rings with the Yankees in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000. Now he has a 2016 ring too.

Congrats to the Cubbies and their long-suffering fans. And congrats to the Indians too. They had one hell of a year. No Michael Brantley, no Carlos Carrasco, and the Indians still pushed the best team in baseball to extra innings in Game Seven of the World Series. Nothing to be ashamed of there. And now … the offseason.

One thing the Yankees can learn from each of the four remaining postseason teams

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

At the moment, four teams still have a chance to win the World Series. Someone will end a long title drought this year too. Among the four clubs still alive, the Blue Jays have the shortest title drought, and they last won in 1993. The Dodgers last won in 1988 and the Indians last won in 1948. The Cubs? There were only 46 states in the union the last time they won a championship. Seriously. Look it up.

Obviously the four teams still alive are all very good, and any time a team has success, there’s something that can be learned from them. Front offices around the league wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t look at these four clubs and try to figure out what they’re doing better than everyone. The Yankees, who have been thoroughly mediocre the last four years, are no different. Here’s one thing they can take from each of the four teams still playing.

Cubs: You can have a great defense without shifting

The Cubs had a historically great defense this season. Truly historic. In terms of simple defensive efficiency, which is the percentage of batted balls they turned into outs, the 2016 Cubs were the 75th best defensive team in history (out of over 2,000 team seasons). Baseball Prospectus rates them as the best defensive team ever in park adjusted defensive efficiency. Whether they’re first best or 75th best doesn’t really matter. The Cubs were a phenomenal fielding team in 2016. No doubt about it.

Now here’s the kicker: no team in baseball used fewer infield shifts than the Cubs this season. The shifts didn’t follow Joe Maddon from Tampa, apparently. Huh. Chicago used the shift for only 10.1% of the batters their pitchers faced in 2016. The next lowest rate belongs to the Royals at 10.6%. The Astros used by far the most shifts this summer (33.2%) and the Yankees used the seventh most (26.5%). They’re weren’t all that far away from being second (Rays, 29.3%).

How did the Cubs field such a great team without shifting? Well, it starts with having tremendously athletic players gifted with defensive tools. That’s kind of a prerequisite for a great team defense. The Yankees have a few of those players themselves. The Cubs also seem to emphasize their pitchers’ strengths rather than the hitter’s tendencies. They get the hitter to hit the ball where they want him to hit the ball, not where he wants to hit the ball. Make sense? It’s hard to explain, but they do it.

The Yankees allowed a .284 BABIP with normal defensive alignments this year and a .304 BABIP when using some kind of shift, which is, uh, backwards. You should be allowing a lower BABIP with the shift. This isn’t to say the Yankees should abandon the shift all together. That’s an overreaction. Perhaps scaling back on the shift would make sense though. I’m not really sure. Point is, the Cubs showed this year you don’t need to shift heavily to be a great defensive club.

Indians: Keep all your pitching depth. All of it.

It’s amazing the Indians are so close to the World Series considering they are without their No. 2 (Carlos Carrasco) and No. 3 (Danny Salazar) starters. Also, No. 4 starter Trevor Bauer cut his finger fixing his drone over the weekend and had to have his ALCS start pushed back from Game Two to Game Three. Injuries like that can cripple a team in the postseason. Could you imagine if the 2009 Yankees had lost A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte in September, and then Chad Gaudin cut his finger fixing his stupid drone in October? They’d be done.


And yet, the Indians have won every single game they’ve played this postseason despite those injuries because of their pitching depth. Josh Tomlin, Cleveland’s nominal fifth starter who at one point in September was demoted to the bullpen, has given the team two strong outings in the playoffs. Lefty Ryan Merritt, who has eleven big league innings to his credit, will get the ball in Game Five tomorrow, if necessary. Rookie Mike Clevinger is the backup plan.

The Yankees do have some rotation depth at the moment. I’m looking forward to seeing more Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell next year. Chad Green too. Then there are Chance Adams and Jordan Montgomery. Chances are the Yankees will need most of these guys at some point next year, if not all of them. That’s baseball. That isn’t to say the team should make their pitching depth off-limits, because there’s always a point when it makes sense to trade someone, but hanging on to all of these guys sure seems like a smart move.

Dodgers: Postseason narratives are meaningless

The Dodgers have won four games this postseason. Noted playoff choker Clayton Kershaw has pitched in all four of them. Sunday night, when everyone expected him to melt down in the seventh inning because he had a 20-something ERA in the seventh inning of postseason games, he tossed a scoreless frame. It’s almost like there is no such thing as a bad seventh inning pitcher.

Anyway, I have no doubt the Yankees (and pretty much every other team) have bought into some of this stuff over the years. You can’t convince me Carlos Beltran‘s postseason reputation didn’t factor into New York’s decision to sign him three years ago. (Beltran, by the way, has hit a less than stellar .250/.351/.393 in his last 25 postseason games.) These narratives are just that. Narratives. They’re fun stories to tell. They have no predictive value. Don’t get caught up in the hoopla. Just focus on getting the best talent possible and having it on the field more than everyone else.

Blue Jays: Don’t be whiny children

Does anyone actually like the Blue Jays? Outside Toronto, I mean. They’re the Rasheed Wallace of baseball. They complain about every call then bitch about it after the game. The other day Jose Bautista said “circumstances” were working against the Blue Jays in the first two games of the ALCS, and by “circumstances” he meant the home plate umpires. Late in the season the Blue Jays refused interviews with certain reporters — they literally hung media head shots in the clubhouses with giant red X’s across them — because they didn’t like some of the criticism.

Imagine scoring three runs total in three ALCS games and blaming it on the umpires. Imagine being so upset by something a reporter said or wrote that you boycott them entirely. Could they be any more thin-skinned? The Yankees are pretty good at avoiding this stuff, thankfully. Joe Girardi will occasionally say something about the umpires when there’s an egregious mistake, but I can’t remember the last player to openly complained like Bautista. So, the lesson to be taken from the Blue Jays is this: don’t be jerks. Give people a reason to like you. People around the country have enough reasons to dislike the Yankees as it is.

2016 Trade Deadline Rumors Open Thread: Monday


The 2016 non-waiver trade deadline is exactly one week away, and for the first time since they traded away Rickey Henderson and Mike Pagliarulo in 1989, the Yankees have to seriously consider selling this year. They’re 4.5 games out of a wildcard spot with three teams ahead of them, and, more importantly, at no point this season have the Yankees looked capable of making the kind of extended run it’ll take to get back into the race.

Over the weekend learned the Yankees are inching closer to trading Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs for top prospect Gleyber Torres and a second piece. That could happen as soon as today. Our Scouting the Market: Cubs post will tell you everything you need to know about Torres and various other Cubs prospects. Several other teams were in the mix for Chapman as well, and I suppose someone could sneak in at the last minute and make a big offer. We’ll see. We’re going to keep track of the day’s trade rumors right here, so make sure you check back often. All time stamps are ET.

  • 10:15am: The Yankees are expected to receive Torres, ex-Yankee Adam Warren, and likely two others (!) for Chapman if the trade is completed. Jorge Soler and Jeimer Candelario are not in the deal. It’s still a 4-for-1 trade and, uh, wow. [Joel Sherman, Ken Rosenthal]
  • 10:15am: The Yankees “internally debated” Torres or Eloy Jimenez as the center piece of the trade. They’re opting for the potential up-the-middle impact player over the corner outfield bat. For what it’s worth, Torres is the higher-ranked prospect too. [Sherman]
  • 10:15am: The Yankees have discussed shortstop prospect Yu-Cheng Chang in trade talks with the Indians. Chang is Cleveland’s No. 12, per The 20-year-old is hitting .275/.345/.494 (128 wRC+) with eleven homers and nine steals in 87 High-A games this year. [Buster Olney]
  • 10:15am: Once the Yankees wrap up the Chapman trade, they’re expected to continue sifting through trade offers for Andrew Miller. It’s not a guarantee they’ll move him. They’re going to do their due diligence and see what teams put on the table. [Olney]
  • 10:15am: The Giants are getting “radio silence” from the Yankees with regards to their relievers. We heard a few days ago that the Yankees don’t consider San Francisco a good trade match because they’re short on high-end prospects. [Hank Schulman]
  • 11:05am: One of the other two pieces in the Chapman trade is outfield prospect Billy McKinney. He was a first rounder in 2013 and I remember the Yankees being connected to him prior to the draft. McKinney went to the Cubs in the Jeff Samardzija/Addison Russell trade. [Sahadev Sharma]
  • 11:29am: The Yankees have been pushing Ivan Nova in trade talks. That’s not a surprise. They shopped him over the winter, and Nova will be a free agent after the season, so it’s better to get something for him now than nothing after the season. [Olney]
  • 4:10pm: The Chapman trade is official. It’s Chapman for Torres, Warren, Billy McKinney, and Rashad Crawford. That’s a hell of a deal.

Reminder before you comment: Your trade proposal sucks.