Archive for Cole Hamels
The non-waiver trade deadline is 4pm ET this Thursday, and between now and then there will be a ton of rumors and speculation. Some actual moves too. The Yankees have already swung trades for Brandon McCarthy and Chase Headley, but Brian Cashman has said he is still seeking another starter and another bat. I don’t know if they’ll get another deal done, but I fully expect plenty of Yankees-related rumors.
On Monday and Tuesday we learned the Yankees are “in on everything” but they do not want to part with their top minor leaguers. Josh Willingham, John Danks, Jake Arrieta, Justin Ruggiano, and Chris Denorfia were among the names connected to the club. They are not targeting Justin Masterson, however. We’ll keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here in this post, so make sure you check back throughout the day. All of the timestamps below are ET.
- 4:59pm: In addition to Benoit, the Yankees have also checked in on Antonio Bastardo of the Phillies and James Russell of the Cubs. Both are lefties but I don’t think that says they’re unhappy with Matt Thornton. [Stark]
- 4:33pm: The Yankees continue to be connected to Marlon Byrd, but they are wary of his $8M price tag for next season. Like I said before, they will need a right fielder next year, Byrd on what amounts to a one-year deal at $8M wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. [Jayson Stark]
- 4:31pm: In case you were thinking about a reunion, former Yankees corner infielder Eric Chavez announced his retirement today. He was pretty awesome.
- 2:16pm: Although the Yankees and White Sox continue to discuss Danks, they are still far apart in talks. I’m sure both the money and prospects are an obstacle. [Heyman]
- 2:07pm: Justin Masterson has been traded to the Cardinals. The Yankees did not have interest in him, but it presumably takes St. Louis out of the running for Jon Lester and David Price, muddling the pitching market. [Peter Gammons]
- 1:57pm: As they look to bolster their bullpen, the Yankees are eyeing Joaquin Benoit. They had some interest in him over the winter. There is “nothing going on” right now as far as talks go, however. [Heyman & Martino]
- 12:49pm: The Yankees are still involved in talks with the Padres about Ian Kennedy, but those talks are said to be “medium,” whatever that means. San Diego cleared a lot of money with the Huston Street and Chase Headley trades and have said they don’t have any problem with holding onto Kennedy into next season. [Chad Jennings]
- 12:06pm: The Yankees prefer rentals to players under contract next year and beyond. Rentals are cool, but the team does have holes to address next year (like right field). Trading for someone signed for next season wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. [Andrew Marchand]
- 10:28am: In addition to rotation help, the Yankees are looking to bolster their bullpen as well. Adam Warren and Dellin Betances look like they have been running on fumes of late. [Nick Cafardo]
- 10:06am: The Yankees are picking through the second tier of starting pitchers and they have discussed left-hander Brett Anderson. The Rockies intend to keep him and either exercise his club option for 2015 or sign him to a longer term contract, however. [Buster Olney & Ken Rosenthal]
- 9:30am: The Phillies requested a package of multiple top prospects from the Yankees and several other teams in exchange for Cole Hamels. The assumption around baseball is that Philadelphia isn’t serious about moving their lefty ace. The Yankees are more likely to add another mid-rotation arm than an ace-caliber pitcher at this point. [Jon Heyman & Andy Martino]
- The Yankees continue to have interest in Willingham. With Carlos Beltran continuing his throwing program and potentially returning to the outfield as soon as next week, the DH spot would be open for Willingham, who hasn’t played right field in five years. [Heyman]
- Both the Rays and Rangers had special assignment scouts watching Double-A Trenton last night. Special assignment scouts are sent to see specific players. They aren’t there for general coverage. [Keith Law]
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With four-fifths of the Opening Day rotation on the disabled list and not due back anytime soon, the Yankees are facing a pitching crisis. It’s not as bad as it could be thanks to the Brandon McCarthy pickup and the emergence of Shane Greene, but the team is pretty desperate for some quality arms. It’s tough to expect Masahiro Tanaka and/or Michael Pineda to return in the second half given the nature of their injuries.
The trade deadline is next Thursday and at this point it’s tough to see the Phillies not selling. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. recently told Jim Salisbury nothing more than “we’re going to try to do what we can to improve our club,” which makes sense. It’s not often a team will come out and announce they’re in sell mode. It pushes fans away. The Phillies do have baseball’s sixth worst record at 43-56 though, and the rumors of a fire sale are louder than ever. If and when they do pull the plug, they have several players who would interest the Yankees. Here are the pitchers, later today we’ll cover the position players.
LHP Cliff Lee
Lee, 35, returned to the mound last night after spending two months on the disabled list with a flexor pronator strain. That’s a muscle in your forearm, though forearm issues are usually symptoms of an elbow problem. Either way, Lee returned last night and was terrible, allowing six runs on a career high-tying 12 hits in 5.2 innings. I watched the game and he just looked rusty. PitchFX confirms his velocity was fine and he threw all of his pitches, but his location was terrible. He looked like a guy who threw only 10.2 rehab innings after missing two months.
Anyway, prior to last night, Lee had a 3.18 ERA (2.70 FIP) in ten starts and 68 innings, numbers that are right in line with his stellar 2008-2013 performance (2.89 ERA and 2.85 FIP). His strikeout rate (8.07 K/9 and 21.1 K%) was down a touch from recent years but still very good while his walk rate (1.19 BB/9 and 3.1 BB%) was outstanding as usual and his ground ball rate (49.1%) was a career high. Cliff Lee was pitching exactly like Cliff Lee before the injury. Here is his pitch breakdown:
Even during these last seven years, when he was one of the three or four best pitchers in baseball, Lee never had blow you away stuff. It’s good stuff but not great stuff that plays up (a lot) because he locates everything so well. Lee is essentially a sinker/cutter/changeup pitcher who will mix in a few four-seamers, curveballs, and sliders per start, with the changeup being the only pitch that is above-average at getting both swings and misses and grounders. (Whiff+ and GB+ are like ERA+, but for swing-and-miss and ground ball rates for the individual pitches.)
Lee’s contract is pricey but it’s not an albatross given how well he was pitching before getting hurt — he is owed roughly $10M through the end of this season plus another $25M last year. His $27.5M option for 2016 comes with a $12.5M buyout and vests if he throws 200 innings next year or 400 innings combined from 2014-15. The injury will hurt his chances of meeting the latter. Lee has thrown at least 210 innings every year since 2008, so he’s been very durable in recent years. He’s guaranteed $47.5M or so through the end of next year and at most $62.5M through 2016. I don’t see that as a deal-breaker for a pitcher of this caliber.
The Yankees are included in Lee’s 20-team no-trade list according to Jon Morosi, but that doesn’t appear to be much of an obstacle. In a perfect world New York would just absorb Lee’s contract and give up little in the way of prospects. The Phillies are a financial powerhouse though and shedding salary is not a priority at the deadline. In fact, Ken Rosenthal says they’re willing to eat money to get the best possible prospect package in return. Jim Bowden (subs. req’d) suggested Aaron Judge and Luis Severino for Lee, which is ludicrous, but he isn’t going to come cheap either. Giving up two very good but not truly elite prospects for a legitimate difference maker like Lee seems pretty reasonable in a vacuum, actually.
Of course, the health of Lee’s forearm/elbow is a critical and any team that trades for him will have to have to feel confident in the medicals. Lee is scheduled to start again Saturday, his last scheduled start before the deadline (he is scheduled to start again on the 31st). Teams are only going to get two looks at him before the deadline and the first look last night stunk. Saturday’s outing could be enough to convince a pitching needy club to pull the trigger, or Lee’s post-injury audition could stretch a little longer and make him an August waiver trade candidate. The Yankees are enamored with him and they are desperate for pitching. The stars are aligned.
LHP Cole Hamels
Want an elite left-hander who is younger than Lee and doesn’t have the same immediate injury concerns? The Phillies can also offer up the 30-year-old Hamels, who is once again pitching brilliantly (2.83 ERA and 3.14 FIP in 17 starts and 114.1 innings) after opening the season on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis. It clearly has not had any lingering effect — his strikeout rate (9.05 K/9 and 24.7 K%) is excellent and both his walk (2.99 BB/9 and 8.2 BB%) and ground ball (48.5%) rates are strong. His fastball velocity is also identical to last year and 2010-13 in general.
Let’s dive in to his pitch breakdown:
The changeup has always been Hamels’ bread and butter. It’s an elite offspeed pitch he can and will throw in any count to batters on both sides of the plate. He picked up the cutter during the 2010 season and it has helped him go from very good to excellent. Hamels throws five different pitches at least 10% of the time each (give or take) and has a go-to out pitch in his changeup. That kind of repertoire makes him one of the best (and most underappreciated?) pitchers in the game.
The Phillies signed Hamels to a massive six-year extension worth $144M two years ago, and at this point he is still owed approximately $99M through the 2018 season. That’s broken down into $9M for the rest of this year plus $22.5M annually over the next four years. The deal also includes a $20M team option/$24M vesting option for 2019. The option vests based on innings and shoulder-related time on the disabled list. Hamels wouldn’t be a short-term commitment like Lee, you’d be getting this guy from age 30-34 and possibly his age 35 season as well.
Both Jon Heyman and Nick Cafardo hear the Phillies are not inclined to move Hamels unless they’re blown away. They see him as someone who can anchor the rotation going forward and be part of the next winning team in Philadelphia. In fact, Cafardo says they’d need three top prospects and a team to absorb his full contract to move him. That seems unlikely to happen. (For what it’s worth, Buster Olney says the Phillies are telling teams Hamels is not available at all.) Like Lee, Hamels is an elite left-hander who has been a workhorse, has experience in a big market, and shown he can dominate in the postseason. Either guy would fit wonderfully in the Yankees’ rotation.
RHP Kyle Kendrick and RHP Roberto Hernandez
Regardless of whether you think the Yankees should be buying or selling — this is a very binary thing, of course, nothing in the middle is allowed — I think we can all agree they need to add another starter to eat up some innings at the very least. Hanging Chase Whitley out to dry in the second half is a recipe for disaster. Another McCarthy-esque pickup feels like the absolutely minimum for New York before the deadline.
The 29-year-old Kendrick has thrown at least 150 innings three times in the last four years and is at 20 starts and 125.2 innings this season. The problem? He’s been terrible, with a 4.87 ERA (4.57 FIP) this year and 5.38 ERA (4.51 FIP) over the last calendar year. Hernandez, 33, has also thrown 150+ innings in three of the last four years and is poised to do so again this year (17 starts, three relief appearances, 100.1 innings). He has a 4.22 ERA (4.78 FIP) this season and a 4.41 ERA (4.78 FIP) over the last calendar year. Both guys would likely come cheap and chew up some innings, but that’s it. They won’t have an impact.
RHP Jonathan Papelbon and various relievers
Papelbon, who is now 33, recently told Matt Gelb he would welcome a trade to a contender, assuming someone is willing to take on the $18M he is owed through next season (plus a $13M vesting option for 2016). He has been excellent in 2014 (1.17 ERA and 2.36 FIP) even though his strikeout rate (7.75 K/9 and 22.5 K%) has fallen for the third straight year. The Yankees could use another reliever, every team could, but this seems like overkill. If they’re willing to invest that kind of money in a reliever, I’d so much rather see them give it to the younger and better David Robertson.
The rest of Philadelphia’s bullpen includes 28-year-old lefty Antonio Bastardo, who has a 3.38 ERA (3.19 FIP) in 42.2 innings this year. He has been effective against right-handed hitters over the years and is not just a specialist. Veteran righty Mike Adams is once again on the disabled list with a shoulder problem and is likely done for the year. He’s a non-option. Others like lefty Jake Diekman (4.43 ERA and 3.01 FIP) and righty Justin De Fratus (3.07 ERA and 3.86 FIP) are fresh off the generic middle reliever farm. There’s a reason the Phillies have been looking for quality bullpen help for about two years now. There’s not much to see here.
* * *
The Yankees are said to have no interest in a reunion with A.J. Burnett — the Orioles are reportedly trying to acquire him, by the way (imagine having Burnett and Ubaldo Jimenez in the same rotation, yikes) — which isn’t surprising. I doubt we’ll see any reunions with failed Yankees starters for a little while after the Javy Vazquez fiasco. They’ve shown they’ll let things like that scare them away from repeats for a little while.
Lee and Hamels are obviously the big pitching names with the Phillies and I get the sense both are more available now than ever before. Lee seems more easily attainable, not that it won’t sting to get him. You have to give something to get an impact pitcher like that, assuming his arm is sound following the injury. Kendrick, Hernandez, and the miscellaneous bullpen arms are not needle-movers, just warm bodies to give innings in the second half. The Yankees could use use some of those types of pitchers too.
Via Jon Morosi: The Yankees are not one of the teams included in Cole Hamels’ no-trade list. The southpaw is unable to block trades to just about every big payroll team as well as his hometown Padres. The Phillies are terrible and appear ready to sell off veterans prior to the trade deadline, and even if you think the Yankees have no business being buyers in the coming weeks, Hamels is someone who could help them years into the future.
Hamels, 30, has a 2.87 ERA (3.14 FIP) in 100.1 innings after missing the start of the season with a shoulder issue. He’s been consistently durable (190+ innings every year from 2008-13) and excellent (3.27 ERA and 3.43 FIP since 2008) since breaking into the league. Hamels is owed approximately $100M through 2018 and reportedly the Phillies would be willing to eat money in order to receive better prospects in return. Obviously the Yankees (and every other team) could use a pitcher of this caliber, but after seeing ex-workhorses CC Sabathia, Matt Cain, Justin Verlander, and Roy Halladay crumble in their early-to-mid-30s, adding another $20M+ a year pitcher is kinda scary.
Got nine questions and seven answers for you this week. If you want to send us anything, mailbag questions or links or comments or whatever, use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
Scott asks: I’m sure this has been asked a million times but how about Cole Hamels? It is a pretty big contract but money isn’t an issue. Cliff Lee is hurt and the Phillies are pretty bad. He has had some injury issues but what would it take?
Hamels started the year on the disabled list with a shoulder issue, but he has a 3.07 ERA (2.80 FIP) in ten starts and 67.1 innings since being activated, so he’s been as good as ever. There is still $103M or so left on his contract through 2018, so he could be a cheaper alternative to upcoming free agents like Max Scherzer and Jon Lester. The only problem is that you’d have to trade players to get him. The Phillies aren’t exactly hurting for cash either. If they trade Hamels, it won’t be for salary relief only. The shoulder issue is a little scary, especially because he has had some other shoulder problems in the past, but I do think Hamels is worth keeping in the back of your mind as a Scherzer and Lester alternative over the winter. I don’t think the Phillies are going to go into sell mode at the deadline no matter how bad things get.
Erick asks: We all know Ichiro won Rookie of the Year and MVP. Has anyone ever won Rookie of the Year and Cy Young? I know it’s dreaming since pitchers nowadays rarely get mentioned as MVPs, but MVP, CY and ROY for Tanaka? How crazy would that be?
Fernando Valenzuela is the only player in history to win the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards in the same season. He did it back in 1981. Jose Fernandez came kinda close last year, when he won the Rookie of the Year and finished third in the Cy Young voting behind Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright. Tanaka obviously has a very good chance to win both awards this season with the obvious caveat that he still has about 20 starts to go. Sweeping the Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, and MVP awards would be completely ridiculous. Ridiculously awesome.
Dan asks: At this point, it’s honestly worth wondering if the Yankees should be buyers or sellers. Is one bat really enough to put this team over the top? I don’t think so. If they became sellers, who (if anyone) would they be able to move? Hiroki Kuroda, Ichiro Suzuki, and Brett Gardner is pretty much it, right?
To be fair to Dan, this question came in a few days ago, before the sweep of the Mariners. Things obviously felt quite different then.
Anyway, they aren’t going to sell. They’re the Yankees. They’re close enough to both the division lead (3.5 games back) and a wildcard spot (tied for the second spot) that they’ll go for it and try to add pieces at the trade deadline, especially after spending all that money over the winter. One bat probably isn’t enough to put them over the top, but a bat and a starter and improved performance from Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann might be.
In the highly unlikely event they do sell, I think Kuroda, Gardner, and David Robertson would be their most attractive trade chips. Kuroda has a no-trade clause but would probably waive it to go back to Los Angeles, either the Dodgers or Angels. His family still lives out there. Gardner and especially Robertson would make sense for several teams. Ichiro could draw some interest but the return wouldn’t be anything great. That’s really it. Not much available for this team to realistically sell before the deadline.
Joey asks: Assuming the NYY either acquire a starter or Michael Pineda comes back and can contribute, who goes first between Chase Whitley, Vidal Nuno, and David Phelps? Whitely gives the least distance but seems to be the best of the bunch, Phelps seems to be best in a reliever role. Thoughts?
Dustin asks: What is with Joe Girardi always pulling Whitely out of the game early? Has he never thrown 100 in a game before?
Going to lump these two together. First, no, Whitley has never thrown 100 pitches in a game before. His career high is 91 pitches in the game against the Cardinals a few weeks ago. Remember, he was a reliever up until the end of last year. He’s thrown more than 60 pitches in an outing only 13 times in his entire five-year career. Whitely never got the chance to learn how to turn a lineup over a third time in the minors and Girardi has been careful with him in those situations at the MLB level, and rightfully so. I would have liked to have seen him get a chance to finish off that eighth inning last night, but otherwise I don’t think there’s anything wrong with how he’s handled the righty.
At this point in time, I think Nuno would go back to the bullpen whenever Pineda or CC Sabathia comes off the disabled list. Phelps has had three really rough outings in a row but I think the Yankees are more comfortable with him in the rotation. Remember, the only reason Nuno was the first guy to move into the rotation was timing — he made a spot start following a doubleheader and happened to line up perfectly to start again when Ivan Nova blew out his elbow. Phelps has more experience as a starter at the MLB level and his stuff is better. Nuno feels like the guy to go back to the bullpen in my opinion, but that could change by time Pineda or Sabathia actually get healthy
nycsportzfan asks: Hey Mike, I was wondering if you thought the Yanks could make one big trade at the deadline to find a hitter and pitcher? Examples are Aaron Hill and Wade Miley from D’Backs, Andrew Cashner and Everth Cabrera from Padres, and Charlie Morton and Neil Walker from Pirates? Could Yanks have enough to make a similar deal to those I mentioned happen? Kill two birds with one stone type thing.
I think the most realistic scenario for a trade like that would be Hill and Brandon McCarthy from Arizona. I haven’t heard anything about Miley being available, which makes sense since he is under team control for another few years and McCarthy will become a free agent after the season. I can’t see the Padres trading Cashner and I don’t think the Pirates would move Morton (just signed an extension) or Walker (local Pittsburgh guy). Ben Zobrist and David Price would be the best case scenario, but that ain’t happening. Maybe Alex Rios and Colby Lewis? Luis Valbuena and Jason Hammel would actually be a real nice fit. Valbuena can play second and third and is hitting .288/.394/.456 (136 wRC+).
Sandro asks: When the Yankees drafted Aaron Judge last year, he was touted as a potential center fielder with huge power. At 6’7″ 230, he has a similar body type to another slugger, Giancarlo Stanton. Is this comparison too hopeful?
Yes. Stanton was a third year big leaguer when he was Judge’s age. Also, Judge has big power, but it’s not Stanton power. Stanton has true 80 power (on the 20-80 scale). Just let Judge be himself. It’s unfair to compare him to Stanton. They have very little in common aside from being physically huge outfielders.
Jack asks: Oppenheimer was quoted that with each of the first two picks they were within “one or two picks” of picking a position player, instead of the two pitchers they actually took. Looking at rounds 2 and 3 the only position players picked 1 or 2 picks before the Yankee picks were Matt Railey (Rd3) and Aramis Garcia (Rd2). What do you think of those 2 instead of the two the Yankees picked?
Danny asks: Any of their 2014 draftees enter Yankees top 20 prospects?
Going to lump these two together. Here’s the full quote from scouting director Damon Oppenheimer, in case you missed it (via Chad Jennings):
The Yankees first five picks were pitchers, but that wasn’t deliberate
“It really was just coincidence because we were real close, within a pick or two, of a position player both with the first pick and the second pick. So it could have gone either way real quick,” Oppenheimer said.
Missouri HS OF Monte Harrison and Georgia HS OF Michael Gettys were selected 50th and 51st overall, respectively, a few picks before the Yankees took Mississippi State LHP Jacob Lindgren with the 55th selection. (Garcia was 52nd.) Oregon State OF Dylan Davis and Railey were taken 87th and 89th overall, again respectively, right before the Yankees grabbed Connecticut HS RHP Austin DeCarr with the 91st pick.
I think Oppenheimer was referring to Harrison and Gettys specifically because they were considered first round talents who slid for whatever reason. The Yankees seem to love their toolsy and athletic high school position player prospects and those two definitely fit the bill. I would have preferred either over Lindgren because they offer way, way more upside than the typical 55th selection. Alas, it was not meant to be. As for the third round, I don’t really have a preference for Davis or Railey over DeCarr. Davis did not have a good spring by top college player standards at all (.283/.338/.430). Without spending too much time thinking about it, give me DeCarr over the other two.
The signing deadline is Friday, July 18th, so I’m going to post my annual post-draft top 30 prospects list the following week (here’s the pre-draft list). I haven’t put too much through into it yet, but Lindgren is a safe bet to crack the top 20. DeCarr might. He is a lock for the top 30 though. Central Michigan RHP Jordan Foley will get consideration for the top 30, ditto Florida HS RHP Garrett Cave and Connecticut HS 3B Will Toffey if they sign. That’s about it. With no first round pick and a draft class geared more towards probability than upside, not many guys will jump into my top 30. The international signing period will be a different story.
The Yankees have been without Brett Gardner for all but nine games this season and they still have some concerns about his elbow injury according to Jon Heyman. He adds that they’re exploring the outfield trade market — moreso than the pitching market — and have spoken to the Diamondbacks about Justin Upton (yay!) and the Phillies about Shane Victorino (meh). Gardner will be back no earlier than July 27th.
I’ve written about Upton a few times in the past, including in last week’s mailbag. As I said when we first learned he was on the block, he’s the rare player you gut the farm system to acquire. Young (24!), right-handed power, speed, favorable contract … Upton offers it all. Unfortunately the Yankees are on his no-trade list and Heyman calls it a “major long shot.” Victorino, on the other hand, is a pure rental. The 31-year-old is having the worst offensive season of his career (93 wRC+) but is still a switch-hitter with speed (19 steals in 21 chances) and very good defense. Victorino is owed roughly $4.5M the rest of the season and will become a free agent this winter.
The Bombers have gotten by with Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones in left field during Gardner’s absence, but Heyman says they are concerned about wear-and-tear as the veteran duo spend more time in the field than anticipated. Victorino would be a fine fill-in if Gardner suffers a third setback, but as Brian Cashman said yesterday, the trade costs for even marginal upgrades are prohibitive at the moment. I doubt the Phillies will take a pair of Grade-B prospects for their center fielder when they can just recoup a
pair of high draft pick after the season.
Heyman says the Yankees will monitor the Cole Hamels situation, but we’ve already heard that they have “no intention” of getting involved in a bidding war. They’ve also scouted Francisco Liriano recently, presumably since he’s returned to the rotation and has pitched exceptionally well. With CC Sabathia due back tomorrow, David Phelps stashed away in Triple-A, and Andy Pettitte scheduled to return in September, New York shouldn’t be desperate to add a starter. Frankly they need another quality reliever more than anything.
Via Buster Olney, the Yankees have “no intention” of getting involved in the bidding for Cole Hamels unless the Phillies’ asking price dropped dramatically. The other day we heard that Philadelphia had begun to gauge trade interest in their homegrown ace left-hander.
We’re going to hear an awful lot of stuff like this in the coming weeks and almost all of it posturing. The Yankees have no reason not to say they won’t get involved unless the price drops and about a million reasons not to say they will get involved. At the end of the day, it’s all about putting yourself in the best possible position to negotiate. Saying you aren’t interested is the best way to do that.
Via Jon Heyman, the Phillies have begun calling around to gauge trade interest in free agent-to-be Cole Hamels. Philadelphia went 9-19 in June and is 11 games out in the division, so a full blown sell-off could be coming. That said, Buster Olney reports that the asking price is very high, as in four prospects (including a third baseman and outfielder) with multiple Grade-A guys. The 2010 Cliff Lee and 2008 CC Sabathia trades are obvious comparisons here.
Hamels, 28, is having yet another stellar season — 3.08 ERA and 3.28 FIP — and would be an upgrade to any rotation in baseball, including New York’s. The hole created by Andy Pettitte‘s injury makes the left-hander even more of an obvious fit. As Joe and I mentioned on Friday’s podcast, the Yankees simply may not have the pieces to deal for Hamels, meaning high-end prospects at the upper levels of the minors. I can’t imagine the Phillies wouldn’t take a package headlined by a bunch of Low-A kids for their homegrown ace no matter how good they are.
Throughout the 2011-2012 Hot Stove season we have frequently looked ahead to next offseason, with its presumed bumper crop of studly free agent pitchers, including (at the moment) Cole Hamels (age 29), Matt Cain (28), Zack Greinke (28), Francisco Liriano (29), Shaun Marcum (31), Brandon McCarthy (29), Anibal Sanchez (29), and Jonathan Sanchez (30). A handful of attractive names — James Shields (31), Gavin Floyd (30), Dan Haren (32) and Ervin Santana (30) — have club options, but said options are mostly reasonably priced and it seems unlikely that any of that quartet would be bought out.
Prior to the Big Trade, it was generally expected that the Yankees would be all over Hamels should he make it to free agency, and rightly so, as it’s not every offseason an elite left-hander makes it to the open market. The case for Hamels is a no-brainer: Since breaking into the league in 2006, Hamels is tied for the 13th-most valuable pitcher in all of baseball, producing a stellar 3.39 ERA/3.63 FIP/3.42 xFIP line over 1,161.1 innings with a beautiful 8.45 K/9 and 2.26 BB/9. The only left-handers ahead of him on that list are CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee.
So unless Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro somehow convinces Hamels to take a way-below market extension a la Jered Weaver — and it’s extremely difficult to envision this happening, as the numbers suggest Hamels could very well be in line for a $161 million CC Sabathia-type deal — or is able to convince Phillie ownership that they can indeed afford another $100 million-plus pitcher, next offseason’s pursuit of Hamels will likely rival both last winter’s Lee sweepstakes and the 2008-2009 Sabathia drama as one of the craziest ever. However, in the aftermath of the Montero-Pineda deal, an additional wrinkle has been thrown into the mix, namely whether the Yankees determine they can afford to add Hamels in light of all the talk of an austerity budget.
While I personally feel the Yankees would be nuts not to do whatever it takes to land Hamels, if they do decide the lefty is too pricey or doesn’t even end up becoming available, there’s another, arguably slightly better, younger (and perhaps most importantly, presumably slightly cheaper) option that seems an even surer bet to reach free agency next winter, and that’s former Cy-Young-award-winner Zack Greinke. While the lefty Hamels has commanded much of the attention, Greinke’s future availability seems to have gone somewhat overlooked, and so I thought I’d point out why he should be just as much of a Yankee target as Hamels, if not moreso.
For one, on that aforelinked list of most valuable pitchers since 2006, Greinke is above Hamels, checking in at 7th with a 3.41/3.14/3.39 pitcher triple slash in more than 200 fewer innings than Hamels along with a sterling 8.68 K/9 and equally drool-worthy 2.33 BB/9. Of those top 30 pitchers, the only hurlers with a higher K/9 are Tim Lincecum, Clayton Kershaw and Jake Peavy, and the latter hasn’t been at that level since 2009. The only ones with superior FIPs are Lincecum, Roy Halladay and Josh Johnson.
This past season, Greinke — always a strikeout-heavy pitcher — upped his game to levels of even more ridiculousness, leading all of MLB with a career-high 10.54 K/9. His 2.98 FIP was 9th in the league, while his 2.56 xFIP was first. These are big boy numbers, and the only reason you likely didn’t hear more about Greinke’s huge year was because he started the season injured and was also betrayed by his defense, as his 3.83 ERA was fueled in part by the second-highest BABIP (.318) of his career that helped fuel the third-lowest strand rate (a below-league-average 69.8%) of his career.
The following chart helps underscore just how good Greinke has been since breaking into the league full-time in 2004 (as always, click to enlarge):
An increase in K/9 every season save one? That’ll do nicely. As he’s matured as a pitcher, Greinke also brought his GB% rate up from the mid-30%s to a career-high (and above-league-average) 47.3% in 2011. Given Greinke’s dramatic improvements on what had already been several very good pitching performances, I was also curious to take a look at his stuff:
Greinke has three legitimate weapons against righties in his four-seamer, slider and curveball, each of which generate above-average Whiff rates. Somewhat unexpectedly, Greinke’s heater has lost about 1.5mph since 2009, although this hasn’t seemed to hinder its effectiveness, as his Strike% and Whiff rate has improved in each successive year, while his In-Play% is on a three-year decline. It’s helpful to know that Greinke doesn’t need to be routinely dialing it up to 94mph to be successful with the heat, although it’ll be important to keep an eye on that velocity this coming season to see whether it takes another dip.
Greinke doesn’t really throw his change to righties, and per the PITCHf/x data he appears to have added a two-seamer in 2010, although again, given the myriad classification issues that frequently arise when analyzing this data, it’s possible there are some four-seamers being misclassified. Although the extremely low Whiff rates on the two-seamer would seem to indicate that this pitch is indeed a sinker. He went from throwing it nearly 30% of the time to batters on both sides of the plate in 2010, to under 10% of the time last season — I’m not sure what to attribute the decrease to, as the sinker appears to have helped him generate more grounders, but perhaps it’s as simple as Greinke wanting to further diversify his arsenal.
As you might expect, Greinke’s Whiff rates aren’t quite as robust against lefties, though they’re still plenty high. What he’s missing in four-seamer Whiff% he more than makes up for in Changeup Whiff%.
In sum, we have a pitcher who misses a ton of bats, has a knockout slider to complement his blazing fastball, and who also appears to have added a two-seamer/sinker to his repertoire to help spike his ground-ball rate. So essentially, Zack Greinke is a right-handed, younger version of CC Sabathia. I think we’d all happily sign up for that.
Of course, the elephant in the room is Greinke’s social anxiety disorder. I’m not a psychologist nor do I have any way of quantifying how his mental state might impact his performance, though it’s been speculated by many that Greinke may not have the intestinal fortitude to flourish under the microscope on the biggest stage in the world in the Bronx. Brian Cashman essentially echoed that sentiment during last offseason as the Yankees passed on acquiring Greinke via trade, despite the pitcher’s apparent protestations that he was indeed cut out for and eager to pitch in New York.
Even if the Yankees — and presumably, other teams — have concerns over Greinke’s head, the fact that the cost of acquiring him is just money and not prospects should help ease some of the worry. It also may help knock his price down. While the numbers indicate Greinke should probably be paid as though he were CC Sabathia, the questions about his make-up may hinder him from reaching that financial plateau. If Greinke can be had for, say, $108 million over six years ($18 million per is probably a conservative estimate) however, his market could end up depressed if GMs are afraid to pay him like an elite pitcher due to any lingering fears about SAD. Per FanGraphs’ much-derided $/WAR calculation he’s been worth an average of $25.6M per season since 2008), I don’t see any rational reason for the Yankees not to run with that deal all the way to the bank.
One of Larry’s objections to the Pineda/Montero swap is the future availability of Cole Hamels on the free agent market. If the Yankees can pick up Hamels to slide in behind Sabathia, the argument goes, then perhaps they should have kept Montero to provide cheap production out of the designated hitter slot over the next few seasons. I wrote about Hamels last week, speculating that the Yankees might be preparing to make a run at him next winter.
Last Friday’s trade radically altered the landscape of the Yankees roster. In acquiring Michael Pineda from the Mariners, the Yankees acquired a potential number one or two starter with five years of cheap team control. According to well-sourced reporter Joel Sherman, the price was particularly important because the team is serious about getting under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014. With the new roster in place, it seems reasonable to wonder whether the team will be able to afford Hamels, or their own Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and/or Nick Swisher, all of whom hit free agency in the next few years.
In projecting precisely whom the Yankees will be able to afford, it helps to have a handle on a reasonable estimate of future prices. Towards that end, I asked Joe, Mike, Ben, Moshe and Larry to all provide me their best estimates for what they expect Swisher, Granderson, Cano and Hamels to pull in in their new contracts. These were the results of our inputs:
Robinson Cano: AAV of $22.0M, high of $23M, low of $20M.
Nick Swisher: AAV of $12.67M, high of $15M, low of $12M.
Curtis Granderson: AAV of $17.0M, high of $18M, low of $15M.
Cole Hamels: AAV of $21.67, high of $23M, low of $20M.
I’ll be using these figures going forward, and also making a few assumptions about the future Yankees payroll. The first one is that the Yankees won’t allow Robinson Cano to leave via free agency. He’s a homegrown star at a difficult position to fill, and he’ll only be 31 when he hits the free agent market after the 2013 season. It’ll hurt, but I expect the Yankees to resign Cano at $22M per year, the average listed above. The second assumption is that Alex Rodriguez will hit his 660th home run this season, and will hit his 714th home run in 2014, thus triggering his second $6M bonus. The third assumption is that Russell Martin does not sign an extension with the Yankees, and that they’ll use Austin Romine by 2014. With this in mind, this is what the roster would look like heading into the 2012-2013 offseasons:
The specific names attached to the $500k salaries aren’t all that important, but the idea that a cheap player will occupy the fifth starter’s spot and most of the bullpen. Banuelos, Betances, and Warren are interchangeable with whatever young player your heart desires. The cost is important.
The Yankees will have roughly $40M to spend on their rotation, bullpen, center field, right field and designated hitter positions. If they pay Granderson $17M and Swisher $12M, they’ll have around $10M to fill out the final rotation spot and the bullpen. They could go with a cheap arm in the fifth starter position, fill out the back end of the bullpen with minimum salary guys, and sign a decent set up reliever. If they choose to let Granderson walk and sign Hamels and Swisher, they’d have about $7M left over for the center field position (or left field, if they shift Gardner to center), bullpen and DH. This would be difficult to pull off. If they chose to forgo both Granderson and Swisher and sign Hamels, then they’d have around $18M left for two outfielders, the DH and the bullpen.
There doesn’t seem to be any way that the Yankees can get under $189M with Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Cole Hamels all under contract at market rates. From a financial perspective, the “easiest” solution would be for the Yankees to acquire a cheap, cost-controlled outfielder (like a Domonic Brown) who could step in and fill Swisher’s role for cheap. This would allow the Yankees to move Gardner to center and allow Granderson to walk, replacing Gardner with a relatively cheap left fielder and spending big on Hamels and the bullpen.
Personally, I’d very much like for them to spend on Hamels, probably even at the expense of Curtis Granderson. The offense would take a bit of a hit, but the idea of a Sabathia-Hamels-Pineda-Nova rotation is enticing. That’s just me, though, so I’m providing the link to my Google Doc with all the relevant numbers. If you save your own version, you can edit and mess around with various roster scenarios and post your version in the comments. Any way you cut it, though, there are some very hard decisions ahead for the Yankees front office.
On Tuesday Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com reported that the Phillies and Cole Hamels were not likely to reach a long-term extension before the start of the season and were more focused on inking Hamels to a one-year deal in 2012, which represents his final year of arbitration eligibility and team control. While assistant general manager Scott Proefrock insisted that there is plenty of time to reach a deal at a later date, this admission represented the strongest possibility yet that Hamels would reach free agency after the 2012 season and hit the open market as the best left-handed pitcher, if not best overall pitcher, available. Salisbury mentioned that Jered Weaver’s five-year, $85M extension with the Angels would be a reasonable comparable for the Phillies and Hamels, but Hamels may have something far more lucrative and long-term in mind.
A lot of digital ink has been spilled and a lot of hands have been wrung lately over the Yankees insistence on watching their payroll. At this point, no one knows whether they’re serious about a long-term reduction in payroll towards a $189M target, or whether they simply have disliked the prices on the free agent market thus far. In the past, the Yankees have always shown a willingness to pay a premium for what they deem to be premium talent. Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett are all beneficiaries of this approach, and Cliff Lee could easily have joined them. The operative turn of phrase though is “what they deem to be premium talent”. Their approach towards middle-of-the-road talent is far more mixed. The team has been slow this offseason to pursue current available pitchers Hiroki Kuroda, Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson, and they avoided spending $80 or $100M on C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish, respectively. Is this because they want to reduce payroll, or is it because they don’t deem them to be premium talent and want to keep their powder dry for bigger targets? No one seems to know.
If they’re keeping their powder dry for bigger targets, it would make sense why they haven’t been so eager to snap up one of the currently available pitchers. It would also explain their interest in a one-year deal with one of Kuroda or Oswalt, provided the salaries drop. It doesn’t mean that they’re cheap; it means they’re serious about getting good value for their dollars (A.J. Burnett laughs) and saving room for the players they deem to be truly worth a nine-figure investment. This is where Cole Hamels (or Zack Greinke or Matt Cain, if you prefer), come in. As pitchers go, Hamels would likely be the third best starting pitcher to hit the free agent market in the last decade, behind CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee. As Joe noted to me, one Hamels will actually hit the market with a better track record than Cliff Lee. He would end the Yankees pursuit of a number two starter behind Sabathia. In fact, his career performance really makes him worthy of the title of co-ace with CC: 8.45 K/9, 2.26 BB/9, 1.09 HR/9 and a 3.39 ERA. If you’re going to spend on premium talent, Cole Hamels is at the top of the list.
As the Yankees dance with Kuroda, Oswalt and Jackson over the next few weeks, it’s important to keep the long game in mind. If the team has no intention of moving the payroll permanently to the $225M+ range, then fans should root for them to preserve long-term payroll flexibility over the next ten months until Hamels becomes available. In fact, Joel Sherman noted that they appear to be doing just that and will be pursuing one year deals and one year deals only. If Kuroda or Oswalt can fit into this year’s budget as the team looks towards next winter’s bonanza, then great. If they sign elsewhere for $12M per year (an amount which would actually represent close to $16M to the Yankees with the luxury tax added in), then the team can make due with what they have now and retain the ability to add payroll in July or August via trade. Someone like Greinke or Cain could become available, or someone entirely unexpected such as Ubaldo Jimenez this past season. Regardless, there remains reason to be cautiously optimistic that this team’s rotation could see a temporary improvement this year and a serious long-term improvement next winter.