Hot Stove Notes: Quintana, Lefty Reliever, Long-Term Deals

Quintana. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Quintana. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

Seven weeks from today, the Yankees will open Grapefruit League play with a home game against the Phillies at the newly renovated George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. Seven weeks sounds much closer than it actually is. Anyway, the Yankees still have some offseason business to handle. Here are the latest hot stove rumblings.

White Sox not budging on Quintana

Left-hander Jose Quintana is still with the White Sox and the team is not budging on their asking price, reports Ken Rosenthal. They want tippy top prospects. The Yankees are among the teams in the mix for Quintana, but Rosenthal says they’re less inclined to deal their top prospects. Other clubs like the Astros and Pirates are more willing to go for it because they’re closer to contention.

Early in the offseason Brian Cashman said he “would not recommend” the Yankees trade several top prospects for a high-end starter because they’re not one piece away from contention and need to build a young core. That was the logic behind passing on Chris Sale and that’s why they’re not gung-ho about Quintana. Maybe the extra year of control changes things, but it doesn’t seem so. That’s too bad. I really like Quintana. He’d be a wonderful addition.

Yankees still seeking lefty reliever

According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are among the teams still in the market for a left-handed reliever. They’ve been looking for a lefty bullpen arm basically all offseason, so Heyman’s report isn’t coming out of nowhere. At the moment, New York’s lefty reliever depth chart looks like this:

  1. Aroldis Chapman
  2. Tommy Layne
  3. Chasen Shreve
  4. Richard Bleier
  5. Dietrich Enns
  6. Joe Mantiply
  7. Jason Gurka

Maybe flip Shreve and Bleier, but that’s it. Chapman is in his own little world as the closer — he won’t be used in a matchup situation in the seventh inning, for example — so the depth chart really starts with Layne. I’m not 100% convinced the Yankees need another lefty, but, if they’re determined to sign one, there are a few interesting free agents. Boone Logan and Jerry Blevins are the best of the lot.

Yankees not focusing on short-term additions

After signing Matt Holliday, the Yankees are not willing to deal prospects for short-term upgrades, said Cashman during a recent MLB Network interview (video link). “We’re very protective of the work we’ve done thus far, and we don’t want to do anything at the expense of a short-term gain. We want to make sure it’s for long-term efforts as well. And as we’ve seen since last winter, the price of doing business trade-wise is extremely high,” said the GM.

This kinda circles back to Quintana, who is under control through 2020 and qualifies as a long-term buy. Would the Yankees like to have him? Of course. But they’re not willing to give up top prospects to get him. Chapman is now under control for five years (well, three because of the opt-out) but the Yankees only had to give up cash to get him. If they could get Quintana for just cash, they’d do it. Trading top prospects for anything short of an established young player with several years of cheap control was never going to happen this winter.

Reports: Yankees may or may not be expanding Quintana trade talks to include David Robertson

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

According to Bob Nightengale, the Yankees have expanded their Jose Quintana trade talks with the White Sox to include David Robertson. They want Chicago to eat some of the $25M left on Robertson’s contract, however. Joel Sherman, meanwhile, says the Yanks aren’t working on a Quintana/Robertson trade. /shrugs

I’ve said pretty much all I have to say about Quintana at this point. He’s very good and signed cheap for another four years, so he fits right in with the rebuild transition. There aren’t many players I want the Yankees to trade top prospects to acquire. Quintana is one of them. The Robertson angle, assuming there is some truth to Nightengale’s report (a dubious assumption), adds a fun little wrinkle. Let’s dive in.

1. This passes the sniff test. The first question with any trade rumor: does it make sense? There are so many reports these days that it’s difficult to tell what’s legitimate and what’s nonsense planted by a team for leverage purposes. It gets overwhelming at times. Reporters write it all up because it’s their job and it makes for great #content, and fans eat it up. I get it.

Sometimes it’s important to take a step back and think about whether a rumor actually makes sense. Does adding Robertson to a potential Quintana trade pass the sniff test? Yes, I think it does. First and foremost, we know the Yankees love the idea of a super-bullpen. Also, they know Robertson from his time in New York and did claim him on trade waivers two years ago, so they’re willing to bring him back. (You don’t claim a high-priced player on trade waivers unless you’re willing to take on the money.)

That’s enough for me to believe there’s some legitimacy to this rumor. Does that mean the Yankees desperately want Robertson and are willing to pay big to get him back? Of course not. It just means they’re open to the idea. He fits their roster — as a good reliever, Robertson fits any roster — and their current team-building strategy, which is essentially “have the best bullpen possible to protect whatever leads the rest of the team manages to create.”

2. This past season was Robertson’s worst since 2010. The 2016 season was Robertson’s worst since before his breakout 2011 campaign in pinstripes. He had a 3.47 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 62.1 innings in 2016, and beyond that his strikeout rate (28.1%) was his lowest since 2010 and his walk rate (12.0%) was his highest since 2011. Robertson walked a lot of batters early in his career (12.2% from 2008-11) before cutting his walk rate to 7.2% from 2012-15. Was 2016 a one-year blip, or the return of the old Robertson?

PitchFX indicates Robertson’s raw stuff is relatively unchanged. His cutter has sat in the 92.3 mph to 92.8 mph average velocity range every year since 2012, and he’s getting more swings and misses with his curveball than ever before. From Brooks Baseball:

david-robertson-whiffs

The good news is the cutter/curveball combination Robertson worked with his past season was basically the same as three years ago. It would be a red flag had he lost velocity or hitters stopped swinging and missing at the curve. His issues in 2016, namely the decline in strikeouts and increase in walks, could be related to a mechanical issue. Or maybe crappy pitch-framing.

Either way, this year was Robertson’s worst season in quite some time and we can’t ignore that. He’ll turn 32 shortly after Opening Day, and while he’s never had any serious injury problems — Robertson has made at least 60 appearances and thrown at least 60 innings in each of the last seven seasons — he’s about to enter what are typically a player’s decline years. There’s risk here.

3. Robertson won’t lower the asking price for Quintana. Robertson is not a negative asset. The White Sox could trade him for actual prospects right now. They might not be top prospects like Gleyber Torres or Clint Frazier, and Chicago might have to eat a couple bucks to facilitate a trade, but Robertson has value. Plenty of contending teams need bullpen help, and heck, with relievers now getting $16M+ a year, Robertson’s contract isn’t awful.

I know the first inclination is to think taking on Robertson would lower the cost for Quintana, but I can’t imagine that would actually be the case, especially if the Yankees insist the White Sox eat some money. (Presumably to lessen the 2018 luxury tax hit.) Chicago could trade Quintana and Robertson separately and land a bunch of prospects. Packaging them together shouldn’t equal fewer prospects. The Yankees might not be willing to trade, say, Torres and Frazier for Quintana alone. But if the deal is expanded to include Robertson, it could be easier to swallow.

(I’m not advocating trading Torres and Frazier for Quintana. I’m just throwing it out there for discussion purposes. Don’t bite my head off.)

4. Could adding Robertson lead to another reliever trade? We know the Yankees love the idea of a super-bullpen with multiple closer-caliber relievers. Robertson is not Andrew Miller, but he is better than most, and he’d slot into the eighth inning nicely between Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances to create that powerhouse seventh-eighth-ninth inning trio. (Robertson’s been a closer, which is why he gets the eighth over Betances. This is Joe Girardi we’re talking about here.)

That said, I can’t help but wonder if acquiring Robertson could lead to another reliever being dealt for prospects, like Betances or Tyler Clippard. There are a ton of contending teams in need of bullpen help. Off the top of my head, the Dodgers, Nationals, Mets, Cardinals, Giants, and Mariners could all use another setup reliever. Perhaps the Yankees would take a wait and see approach. Go into the season with the bullpen intact, see where they are come July, and if they’re out of the race, look to cash these guys in as trade chips like they did this year. They don’t have to rush into a trade.

Morosi: Yankees have interest in Jose Quintana

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

From the no duh department: the Yankees have some level of interest in White Sox lefty Jose Quintana, according to Jon Morosi. How serious is their interest? Who knows. Could be minimal, could be serious. The White Sox are very much in sell mode at the moment and Quintana is their top trade chip now that Chris Sale and Adam Eaton have been traded away.

Here is my Scouting The Market post on Quintana from earlier this month. The short version: he’s very good with a great contract, and there are no obvious reasons to believe his performance is about to decline. Every team in baseball wants Quintana in their rotation. Not every team has the wherewithal to acquire him though. Anyway, I have some thoughts on this.

1. The Yankees definitely have the prospects to make the trade. The Yankees have a dynamite farm system right now, arguably the best in baseball, so they have the prospects to acquire Quintana. Heck, they could offer the White Sox a package of three top 100 prospects and still have no fewer than three top 100 guys left in the system. Does Chicago want outfielders? Shortstops? Pitchers? Whatever it is, the Yankees have it. The trade chips are there.

2. The Yankees should be open to trading prospects. I know the Yankees are in the middle of a youth movement and all these prospects are important to their long-term future, but they should not be averse to trading a few of them either. Not all these prospects are going to work out. That’s baseball. Some of them will end up having zero MLB value and the Yankees will regret not cashing them in as trade chips. The tricky part is figuring out which prospects are worth keeping and which should be traded.

3. The price is going to be very high. After the Sale and Eaton trades, White Sox GM Rick Hahn said he focused on acquiring the best talent possible and not filling specific needs. That’s what the Yankees did at the deadline and what every rebuilding team should do, really. Hahn traded Eaton for three pitching prospects even though he needs long-term second base and outfield help, for example.

Sale is the bigger name but his trade value shouldn’t be much higher than Quintana’s. Strip away their names and your preconceived notions of each, and they’re pretty damn similar. Check out their 2014-16 performances:

Ages IP ERA FIP bWAR fWAR
Pitcher A 25-27 609.1 3.03 2.96 +14.8 +16.6
Pitcher B 25-27 614.2 3.29 3.19 +12.6 +14.7

Pretty much indistinguishable. The difference between the two is +2 WAR across three seasons, which a) isn’t much at all, and b) doesn’t matter because you’re not acquiring the 2014-16 version of either pitcher. You’re getting the 2017 and beyond versions. Quintana, who is Pitcher B in the table, is under control one more year than Sale, which is pretty big.

Point is, the Yankees are smart to have interest in Quintana, even after letting him go for nothing as a minor league free agent however many years ago. If they want him though, it’s going to hurt. They’re going to have to give up multiple top prospects to add this guy to the rotation.

4. Quintana is exactly the kind of pitcher the Yankees need. The Yankees have basically no established big league starters under control beyond 2017. CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda will be free agents next winter, and if Masahiro Tanaka is still around after next season, it means something went wrong and he didn’t opt-out. Maybe one of the kids will emerge as a reliable starter next summer. Maybe two will. That’d be cool.

Either way, the Yankees have a clear need for long-term rotation help, and when you put together a checklist for the type of pitcher they’d like to acquire, it probably looks something like this:

  1. Young
  2. Track record of excellence
  3. No injury history
  4. Affordable long-term contract
  5. Preferably left-handed for Yankee Stadium

That’s it, right? That’s the kind of pitcher the Yankees want to acquire. Well, Quintana is all of those things. He’s only 27, he’s never been hurt, he’s signed through 2020 for about what the Diamondbacks will pay Zack Greinke in 2017 alone, and he’s a southpaw with a history of success in the DH league.

The Yankees are probably hesitant to dip into their farm system and trade multiple top prospects for an established big leaguer, and I get it. But, if they’re going to make a move like that, Quintana is the type of player you do it for. He checks every box.

Scouting the Trade Market: Nate Jones

(Mitchell Layton/Getty)
(Mitchell Layton/Getty)

Given their Winter Meetings activity, the White Sox are clearly a rebuilding team right now. They traded Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, and reports indicate Jose Quintana is on the block too. The Astros are said to have shown the most interest in him, and, understandably, the ChiSox have asked for basically all their top prospects. I don’t blame them. Quintana’s awesome.

The White Sox do have other veterans to trade as well, including former Yankee David Robertson. My guess is the teams that lose out on Kenley Jansen will turn their attention to Robertson. It’s another ChiSox reliever that interests me though: hard-throwing righty Nate Jones. The Yankees already have a pretty great closer-setup man tandem, but there’s no such thing as too many quality relievers. Let’s give Jones a look.

Recent Performance

Jones, who turns 31 in January, is like so many other relievers these days in that he’s a failed starter. The White Sox selected him in the fifth round of the 2007 draft, and after a few years as a middling minor league starter, they moved him to the bullpen and he dominated almost immediately. Jones has spent parts of five seasons in the show now. His numbers:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2016 70.2 2.29 2.93 29.2% 5.5% 45.9% 0.89 .211 .276
Career 239.1 3.16 3.11 27.0% 8.5% 47.1% 0.79 .286 .278

Jones was excellent this year. He’s been good his entire career, really, but this year he took it to another level. Not coincidentally, he was healthy this season, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Jones has always missed bats and gotten a good number of grounders, and this season he cut his walk rate. (He walked 15 in those 70.2 innings and three of the 15 were in intentional.)

This season Jones did have a pretty significant platoon split, though it’s not like lefties smacked him around the yard. They hit .198/.257/.410 against him. It’s worth noting he faced 109 lefties and gave up five homers this summer. It was two homers against 165 righty batters. Jones has always been more home run prone against lefties (career 1.22 HR/9) than righties (0.50 HR/9), which could be a problem at Yankee Stadium.

Generally speaking though, Jones was very good this past season and he’s been comfortably above-average his entire career. This is not some run of the mill middle reliever. Jones is a bonafide power reliever capable of pitching high-leverage situations.

Present Stuff

Like most relievers, Jones is a two-pitch pitcher. He’s a sinker/slider pitcher who has, at times, thrown a changeup and a curveball. Very rarely though. Jones threw seven changeups and four curveballs this past season. Total. So yeah, two-pitch pitcher. To the numbers (MLB averages in parenthesis):

% Thrown Avg. Velo Whiff% GB%
Sinker 62.8% 97.4 (91.3) 8.7% (5.4%) 42.5% (49.5%)
Slider 36.0% 88.8 (84.3) 27.0% (15.2%) 56.1% (43.9%)

Those are 2016 numbers, which most closely reflect who Jones is at this point in time. Right away, the velocity jumps out at you. Averaging north of 97 mph with a sinker is no joke. Same with a slider that averaged close to 89 mph. Jones got the sinker as high as 100.2 mph and the slider as high as 93.2 mph in 2016. That is pretty crazy.

Weirdly, that high-octane sinker doesn’t generate many grounders. Jones does get a good amount of swings and misses with the sinker, but not grounders. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — it’s not like Jones pitched poorly this year — just unusual. Maybe it’s more of a true four-seam fastball that had just enough movement to trick PitchFX into thinking it’s a sinker? Video is scarce — unfortunately no one made a highlight video of a relatively unheralded setup reliever — but let’s look at some anyway:

Okay, that’s a sinker, not a four-seamer. You can clearly see the pitch run away from the left-handed batter. I’m not quite sure why Jones didn’t get many grounders with his sinker this season — he had a 28.6% grounder rate with the sinker last year, so it was even worse — but it happened. It’s not a deal-breaker as far as I’m concerned because Jones was so good anyway, just a little weirdness. (Here’s video of his slider, if you’re interested.)

Injury History

Like so many other hard-throwing relievers these days, Jones has had some arm problems in his career. Nowadays it seems the guys who haven’t had an arm injury are the outliers. Anyway, here is Jones’ injury history:

  • 2010: Missed about two weeks in May with shoulder tendinitis while in Double-A.
  • 2014: Landed on the disabled list three games into the season with hip problem. He had relatively minor back surgery in early-May to shave down a bone that was causing nerve irritation and the hip issue.
  • 2014: Blew out his elbow in mid-July and needed Tommy John surgery. He was working his way back from the back procedure when the ligament snapped.

The good news: Tommy John surgery is the only serious arm issue. Jones’ shoulder has been fine since that little two-week stint on the minor league disabled list nearly seven years ago. Also, the back surgery wasn’t a structural issue, like a herniated disc. It was an arthroscopic procedure and Jones was throwing less than six weeks later. He wasn’t far away from rejoining the White Sox when the elbow gave out.

Now, that said, Jones is a guy with a herky jerky delivery who needed elbow reconstruction not too long ago. That’s a red flag, no doubt. Every single reliever is a risk these days. They all seem to get hurt. Jones appears to be in the clear at this point — his stuff and performance have bounced back well following Tommy John surgery — but he is slightly more risky than most relievers because his elbow was rebuilt less than three calendar years ago.

Contract Status

Interestingly enough, the White Sox signed Jones to a long-term extension while he was rehabbing from his Tommy John surgery. You don’t see that often. A team signing a player long-term as he’s rehabbing from major surgery. The ChiSox figured it was worth the risk, and I’m sure Jones appreciated the long-term security. Here’s the remainder of the contract:

  • 2017: $1.9M
  • 2018: $3.95M
  • 2019: Club option at league minimum ($555,000 per the new Collective Bargaining Agreement)
  • 2020: $3.75M club option
  • 2021: $4.25M club option

The contract also includes all sorts of escalators and bonuses. If Jones doesn’t need another elbow surgery by the end of the 2018 season, the contract options jump to $4.65M in 2019 and $5.15M in 2020, and the 2021 club option becomes a $6M mutual option. The ChiSox built in some protection in case the ligament gives out again. Jones can earn another $5.25M through bonuses based on games finished totals that, realistically, no pitcher could reach as a setup man. We’re talking 30+ games finished a year. He’d have to become a closer to trigger those.

So, all told, Jones can max the contract out at $26.9M over the five years if he stays healthy, becomes a closer, and neither side declines the mutual option. If the Yankees were to acquire Jones and use him as a setup man exclusively, and his elbow stays healthy, they’d owe him $15.65M from 2017-20 with the $6M mutual option for 2021. (Every option in the contract includes a $1.25M buyout.) Got all that? Point is, Jones is a contractual bargain relative to other top relievers.

What Would It Take?

(Ed Zurga/Getty)
(Ed Zurga/Getty)

Gosh, it’s going to be really tough to pin down a trade benchmark for Jones given his recent Tommy John surgery and unique contract. Here are some relievers who were recently traded with at least four years of team control remaining:

  • Ken Giles: Traded with a top 20 org prospect (Jonathan Arauz) for a young big league starter (Vince Velasquez), a big league swingman (Brett Oberholtzer), a top ten org prospect (Mark Appel), a top 20 org prospect (Thomas Eshelman), and a non-top 30 org prospect (Harold Arauz).
  • Trevor Gott: Traded with a non-top 30 org prospect (Michael Brady) for Yunel Escobar in a salary dump.
  • Craig Kimbrel: Traded with Melvin Upton for Cameron Maybin, Carlos Quentin, a top 50 global prospect (Matt Wisler), and a non-top 30 org prospect (Jordan Paroubeck).

Yeah, this doesn’t help us much. Kimbrel was firmly established as one of the best relievers in baseball when he traded from the Braves to the Padres, if not the best. Gott had one year in the show as a middle reliever and was traded in a salary dump. Giles had five years of control remaining, not four, and that package is all over the place. That’s the deal that raised the price for late-inning bullpen help.

The Red Sox just gave up a young-ish player off their MLB roster (Travis Shaw), a top ten org prospect (Mauricio Dubon), a non-top 30 org prospect (Josh Pennington), and a player to be named later for three years of Tyler Thornburg, who like Jones is a good reliever with an injury history. That feels like the starting point for Jones. The Thornburg package. He won’t come cheap. I know that much. No good reliever does these days. The Yankees won’t be able to swing a deal by cobbling together a package of three or four guys from the bottom of their 40-man roster.

So What About The Yankees?

Even after agreeing to a deal with Aroldis Chapman last week, the Yankees are reportedly in the hunt for even more bullpen help. Nothing significant, they’re not going to sign Kenley Jansen or anything like that, but they want to beef up the middle relief. Ideally, they want a left-hander to pair with (or maybe replace?) Tommy Layne. Jones is not a southpaw, but he’s really good, so good that handedness doesn’t matter.

The Yankees already have a strong relief crew with Dellin Betances and Tyler Clippard behind Chapman. Adam Warren is a fine fourth bullpen option, has been his entire career, though the Yankees may need him in the rotation. Adding Jones to Betances and Clippard would give the Yankees three really good setup relievers — Joe Girardi can have a sixth inning guy! — next year, and two really good setup relievers in the following years. (Clippard will be a free agent next winter. Betances and Jones would still be around.)

The real question is whether it’s worth giving up the prospects to acquire Jones given his contract and injury history, and really, we can’t know the answer to that until we get some idea of what the White Sox want. The Yankees don’t need Jones. He’d be a luxury. They’re in position to hang back and see how his market develops before deciding whether to get involved. New York doesn’t have to rush into any sort of decision. That’s good.

Problem is, Jones will probably be long gone before the prospect price drops low enough for the Yankees to get involved. I don’t think they want to give up any prospects for a reliever, especially not after signing Chapman. Maybe if they’d whiffed on Chapman and passed on Jansen because of the draft pick, Jones would make more sense. He’d be a really great addition to the bullpen. No doubt. My guess is the Yankees will find the cost prohibitive.

2016 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Wednesday

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

There is one full day remaining in the 2016 Winter Meetings and so far the Yankees have done, well, not a whole lot. Things can come together pretty quickly though. Last year at this time we were all lamenting the lack of activity, then bam, the Starlin Castro and Justin Wilson trades went down.

“The free-agent stuff, you just have to stay close to it, because that can move fast,” said Brian Cashman to Bryan Hoch. “The trade stuff, there have just been certain teams that keep pursuing specific guys, so that’s been hot. There have been a couple different dynamics that have developed. Whether they lead anywhere or not, we’ll see.”

On Tuesday we learned the Yankees made contract offers to both Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, which is interesting. I’m kinda curious to see what happens if they both accept at the same time. We’ll again keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here, so check back often. All time stamps are Eastern Time.

  • 9:30am: Chapman apparently has a $92M offer in hand. Goodness. That is offer is not from the Yankees, though they’re pursuing him aggressively and are “determined” to get a deal done. [Bob Nightengale, Jon Heyman]
  • 9:30am: The Yankees did talk to the White Sox about Chris Sale before he was traded to the Red Sox, but they weren’t going to go all out to get him. “As long as we stick to the plan, we’ll be better off in the long run,” said Cashman. [David Lennon]
  • 9:30am: The Yankees have spoken to the ChiSox about David Robertson. I assume he’s a backup plan should Chapman and Jansen fall through. The White Sox are rebuilding, and obviously the Yankees know Robertson and are comfortable with him. [Sweeny Murti]
  • 9:30am: Brett Gardner is “seen as a possible fit” for the Orioles, though they’d want the Yankees to eat some money. This sounds like speculation more than anything. I have a hard time thinking Gardner will be traded to a division rival, but who knows. [Heyman]
  • 9:40am: The Yankees are interested in signing infielder Ruben Tejada to a minor league contract. They’ll need to sign at least one stopgap infielder for Triple-A this offseason, possibly two. Also, the Yankees are trying to re-sign Nick Rumbelow as well. [George King]
  • 10:07am: It sounds as though adding a closer is the team’s top priority, so much so that the Yankees will put all their other business on hold until that’s resolved. They need to see exactly how much money will be left over, I assume. [Brendan Kuty]
  • 11:00am: Cashman reiterated he doesn’t expect to land a starter at the Winter Meetings. “I don’t anticipate it. It’s a tough market and the price tags are extremely high. We could play on a lot of things because we have a lot of prospects people desire and we desire them, too. I would say it’s less likely for us to acquire a starter,” said the GM. [King]
  • 11:23am: The Rockies have agreed to sign Ian Desmond. This is notable because Colorado is forfeiting the 11th overall pick, which means the Yankees move up from 17th to 16th. Here’s the full draft order. [Ken Rosenthal]
  • 12:20pm: Along with the Yankees, both the Marlins and Dodgers are in on Chapman and waiting to hear his decision. Chapman is New York’s top target. [Heyman]
  • 12:42pm: I don’t think this will matter, but the Yankees are one of the eight teams included in Jay Bruce’s limited no-trade clause. He could block a trade across town. [James Wagner]
  • 4:57pm: The Yankees are one of several teams to show interest in free agent righty Sergio Romo. If the Yankees miss out on Chapman and Jansen, Romo could be a setup option behind Dellin Betances. [John Shea]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

Scouting the Trade Market: Jose Quintana

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

Yesterday afternoon, after days and weeks of rumors, the White Sox finally traded staff ace Chris Sale. He did not go to the Nationals, as long rumored. He instead went to the Red Sox for a four-prospect package that included infielder Yoan Moncada, arguably the best prospect in baseball. Pitchers of Sale’s caliber do not get traded very often. That deal was the definition of a blockbuster.

With Sale gone, it stands to reason the White Sox will continue tearing things down and start a full blown rebuild. It would be completely silly to trade Sale for four non-MLB pieces only to keep everyone else. The ChiSox fire sale has just begun, I assume, which means left-hander Jose Quintana should be on the trade block as well. The former Yankees’ farmhand may not be as good as Sale, but he’s really good overall, and he’s signed cheap too. The Yankees should have interest in Quintana and here’s why.

Background

Might as well start here. Yes, Quintana was once in the Yankees’ farm system. Before that he was actually in the Mets’ farm system. The other New York team signed Quintana out of Colombia back in 2006. He spent a few seasons in their farm system, failed a performance-enhancing drug test, then got released. The Yankees scooped him up and he spent 2008-11 in their system. The 2011 season was his breakout year: 2.91 ERA (3.15 FIP) in 102 innings with High-A Tampa.

Quintana was eligible for minor league free agency following that breakout 2011 season. The Yankees opted not to add him to their 40-man roster, and a few weeks later the White Sox signed him to a guaranteed Major League contract. Can’t blame Quintana for jumping at the 40-man roster spot. “We liked him. We didn’t love him. He was a performer, but not someone with ceiling,” said Brian Cashman to Mike Fitzpatrick this summer. D’oh!

“A very poised young man. Professional. He knew how to pitch and work both sides of the plate. Just a good-looking kid,” said Joe Siers, the White Sox scout who recommended Quintana, to Scott Merkin two years ago. “To be honest, I didn’t know he would be a No. 2 starter. I thought he had a chance to be a back-end, a fourth starter. I knew he was a guy who could get some innings. He commanded the ball and could pitch deep into games.”

Recent Performance

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

Quintana, 28 in January, has been one of the most reliable pitchers in baseball since joining the White Sox. Over the last four seasons he has a 3.35 ERA (3.34 FIP) — his worst full season is a 3.51 ERA (3.82 FIP) back in 2013 — while throwing no fewer than 200 innings in any given year. According to both bWAR and fWAR, Quintana has been the seventh most valuable pitcher in baseball since 2013. Yeah.

Unlike Sale, Quintana is not going to blow hitters away and rack up big strikeout numbers. He’s not that type of pitcher. Quintana did have nice strikeout (21.6%) and walk (6.0%) numbers this summer — neither his ground ball (40.4%) nor home run (0.95 HR/9) rates were great — and he excels at keeping hitters off balance and generating weak contact. His average exit velocity on balls hit in the air these last two years is 89.6 mph, 11th lowest in baseball. So while Quintana’s ground ball rate isn’t stellar, he’s not giving up loud contact in the air either.

We have over 800 innings of data telling us Quintana is a very good Major League pitcher, one who has had success in a hitter friendly home ballpark in the DH league. He’s also done it despite having some shaky pitch-framers behind the plate. (Basically every catcher the White Sox have employed other than Tyler Flowers since 2013.) As long as he stays healthy, there is every reason to believe Quintana will be effective for the foreseeable future. Nothing is trending the wrong way.

Present Stuff

When Quintana first got to Chicago, longtime White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper helped him get to the next level by teaching him a cutter. Cooper has been teaching that cutter for decades now. Interestingly enough, Quintana has phased out the cut fastball and replaced it with a sinker over the last three seasons. He operates with a four-seamer, sinker, curveball, and changeup these days. From Brooks Baseball:

jose-quintana-pitch-selection

That’s a really nice mix. Quintana uses three pitches each more than 20% of the time, and his changeup rate hangs around 10% as well. He’s not a guy who leans on, say, his sinker and curveball, and uses the straight four-seamer and changeup as show-me pitches. Quintana is a true four-pitch pitcher, and he still has the cutter in his back pocket as well. Here’s some gory math (MLB averages for left-handed pitchers in parenthesis):

Average Velocity Swing-and-Miss Rate Ground Ball Rate
Four-seamer 92.6 (92.3) 8.3% (6.9%) 32.0% (37.9%)
Sinker 92.5 (91.0) 6.1% (5.4%) 50.0% (49.5%)
Curveball 78.0 (77.5) 11.7% (11.1%) 38.8% (48.7%)
Changeup 86.7 (83.3) 7.3% (14.9%) 47.2% (47.8%)

Those are 2016 numbers, the most recent season and the best indicator of who Quintana is right now. Again, nothing jumps out at you. The velocity is basically average to a tick above, there’s no dominant swing-and-miss pitch, and there’s no dominant ground ball pitch either. And yet, it works. Quintana’s command is a huge part of his success. So is his deception. Check out his release points from this past season, via Brooks Baseball:

jose-quintana-release-pointEverything is nice and tight together. It all overlaps. A lot of times you’ll see the pitcher has a different release point for his breaking ball — usually slightly higher than the fastball for a curveball, and slightly lower for a slider — but not with Quintana. All five pitches come out from the same spot. By time the hitter can tell the pitches apart as they approach the plate, it’s already too late. He’s had to start his swing. Quintana’s command and deception make up for his lack of overwhelming velocity and a dominant pitch. He makes it work.

Let’s look at some video. Reading about pitches and staring at a pitch selection chart only does so much. Let’s see Quintana in action. Here’s a 2016 highlight video — reminder: everyone looks like an ace in a highlight video — in which we get to see all five pitches in action:

Beautiful. Nice fluid delivery, fastballs to both sides of the plate, a willingness to pitch inside, a curveball that looks like a strike until it drops out of the zone … it’s easy to understand why Quintana is so successful. To quote my favorite cliche: he’s a pitcher, not a thrower.

The Yankees seem to have a type. They like pitchers with big fastballs and wipeout breaking balls, and hey, that stuff is cool. Their most successful pitchers this past season, Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, are quite the opposite though. They succeeded with command and pitchability, which happen to be Quintana’s two best traits. I would really like to see the Yankees get away from the huge stuff/bad command profile a bit, and Quintana would be a step in that direction.

Injury History

Easy: none. Quintana has never been on the disabled list or had any kind of noteworthy injury, Majors or minors. He had a start pushed back four days after taking a comebacker to the shin during Spring Training in 2013. That is the entirety of Quintana’s injury history.

Contract Status

The White Sox smartly inked Quintana to a five-year contract extension three seasons ago. The deal guaranteed him a mere $21M, which is a pittance compared to what he could have made through arbitration given his success. Can’t blame him for taking the guaranteed payday though. Anyway, here is the remainder of Quintana’s contract:

  • 2017: $6M
  • 2018: $8.35M
  • 2019: $10.5M club option ($1M buyout)
  • 2020: $10.5M club option ($1M buyout)

Assuming the options are picked up — unless Quintana suffers a catastrophic injury or develops the yips, they will be exercised, for sure — Quintana is owed $35.35M over the next four seasons. These days No. 1 starters are getting north of $30M per season. Quintana is a borderline ace and he’s owed roughly that through 2020. Pretty great contract, eh? Very luxury tax friendly given his production.

Trade Benchmarks

These are always tough to come up with but they are important. Our trade proposals suck, they really do, so it’s good to provide some context. You’re not going to get Quintana for the team’s best prospect you don’t like plus threes randos off the bottom of the 40-man roster, you know? Here are some pitchers recently traded when they were three or four years away from free agency, like Quintana.

  • Gio Gonzalez: One top 50-100 prospect (Derek Norris) and three top 15 org prospects (A.J. Cole, Brad Peacock, Tommy Milone).
  • Wade Miley: Two young arms with five years of control (Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster) and one top 30 org prospect (Raymel Flores).
  • Shelby Miller (four years of control): One year of an above-average big leaguer (Jason Heyward).
  • Shelby Miller (three years of control): One top 20 prospect (Dansby Swanson), one top 75 prospect (Aaron Blair), and five years of an average or better big leaguer (Ender Inciarte).
  • Chris Sale: One top five prospect (Yoan Moncada), one top 50 prospect (Michael Kopech), a top ten org prospect (Luis Basabe), and a top 30 org prospect (Victor Diaz).

I almost didn’t include the second Shelby Miller trade because it was so ridiculous, but you know what? It happened and it changed the market. All of a sudden every team with a good young pitcher raised their asking price. I know I would have done the same.

Of the four pitchers (five trades) listed above, I think the one closest to Quintana would be Sale. I really do. It’s four years of control vs. three years of control, but Quintana has been consistently above-average for four years running now. Gonzalez and Miley each had two good years at the time of their trades. Miller had two good years the second time he was traded. The difference in track record is pretty substantial.

Also, supply and demand, yo. The demand for pitching is high, as always, but the supply is very short. There are no good free agent starters left, and realistically, how many pitchers as good as Quintana are available in trades? There’s Chris Archer and Sonny Gray, and that’s about it. We could use the Gio trade or the Shelby trade as a benchmark, but ultimately, the marketplace is different. Quintana won’t come cheap. I know that much.

So What About The Yankees?

(David Banks/Getty)
(David Banks/Getty)

I don’t think it will happen, but it needs to be said anyway: the Yankees can’t let their history with Quintana get in the way of a potential deal. They screwed up five years ago. No doubt about it. They can’t let their pride get in the way of a deal. The Yankees would get mocked for trading top prospects for a guy they gave away a few years ago, but whatever. Own it, move on, and improve the team.

Okay, so anyway the Yankees have both a need for a long-term rotation help and the prospect wherewithal to swing a trade for a pitcher like Quintana. He has yet to turn 28 and he comes with four years of contractual control, so when all those shiny prospects are ready to start winning big league games, Quintana figures to still be in the prime of his career. That’s pretty cool. An over-30 star wouldn’t jibe with this roster. But a 27-year-old? Oh sure.

Whether the Yankees should dip into that farm system to get Quintana is a valid question. He won’t come cheap. The White Sox got two top 50 caliber prospects for Sale and I’m guessing they’ll want the same — or something close to it — for Quintana, plus other stuff. The Yankees would be starting a package with, say, Clint Frazier and Jorge Mateo. Or Aaron Judge and James Kaprielian. Ouch.

Jon Heyman hears “nobody’s sacred” with the White Sox, meaning they’re ready to trade everyone following the Sale deal. Quintana really does make a lot of sense for the Yankees — I mean, pitchers this good make sense for every team — and that fourth year of control is huge. If the Yankees aren’t a bonafide contender by year four, something has gone terribly wrong. Ideally you’re semi-contending by year two, you know?

I don’t have any problem with the Yankees trading good prospects for above-average big leaguers in their 20s with long-term control. It helps speed up the rebuilding transitioning process, at least in theory, and it allows them recoup value from prospects. Hanging on to every last prospect equals a lot of wasted opportunity. Some are most valuable as trade chips. Depending on the price, Quintana is maybe the best pitching target available to the Yankees this year, and I think they should pursue him pretty aggressively. Put that dynamite farm system to work.

2016 Trade Deadline Rumors Open Thread: Thursday

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Earlier this week the Yankees swung a blockbuster trade with the Cubs, sending Aroldis Chapman to Chicago for Adam Warren and three prospects. There were an awful lot of rumors and buildup to that trade — that’s a Theo Epstein hallmark — but things have been fairly quiet since. That’s not unusual for the Yankees. Their moves tend to come out of nowhere. The Chapman trade was the exception.

Of course, the Yankees are also said to be on the fence about selling, and their recent 11-6 hot streak hasn’t exactly helped matters. It’s making me a little nervous. The Yankees are going to make some important decisions these next four days, decisions that really impact the future of the franchise. Anyway, here are Wednesday’s rumors, and once again, we’ll keep track of the day’s trade rumors right here, so make sure you check back often. All time stamps are ET.

  • 9:30pm: The Yankees will move Ivan Nova no matter what before the deadline. The team is not planning to make him the qualifying offer after the season, so they want to get something for him at the deadline rather than nothing after the season. The pitching market is so bleak right now that I think Nova might actually fetch something halfway decent. [Joel Sherman]
  • 11:25am: The Yankees have called the White Sox about Chris Sale multiple times. Chicago wants five top prospects for their ace lefty, and thanks to the haul from the Aroldis Chapman trade, the Yankees just might have the pieces to get it done. [Jon Heyman]
  • 12:04pm: One Yankees-connected person said there is “no chance” they trade Andrew Miller. The team is listening to offers, but their asking price is “prohibitive.” Given what they received for Chapman, I can’t even imagine what it would take to get Miller. [Heyman]
  • 2:09pm: The Yankees asked the Nationals for a four-player package built around young pitching for Chapman. First they asked for Lucas Giolito, and when Washington said no, they asked for Joe Ross. The Nationals said no again. [Heyman]

Reminder before you comment: Your trade proposal sucks.