Scouting The Trade Market: David DeJesus

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The Yankees might not have a bigger hole to fill this offseason than in right field, were they’re losing Nick Swisher‘s consistently well-above-average production to free agency. The free agent market offers few viable alternatives and the trade market always seems to be overloaded with aging players on over-sized contracts. Since the Bombers are looking to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold by 2014, long-term and big money contracts are out of the question for the time being.

The best places to look for trade candidates are rebuilding teams, and perhaps no club outside of Houston is in the middle of a more extensive rebuild than the Cubs. Chicago’s north-siders didn’t just lose 101 games this year, they finished with the franchise’s worst record in nearly 60 years. The new Theo Epstein-led regime has cleaned house since taking over 12 months ago, trading pretty much every established player on the roster other than Starlin Castro and Matt Garza. They likely would have dealt the latter at the deadline as well had he not gotten hurt.

One of the few free agents the Cubbies signed last winter was the Brooklyn-born and New Jersey-raised David DeJesus. The 32-year-old outfielder has spent most of his career with the Royals, but they traded him to the Athletics a year before he was scheduled to hit free agency. Now that he’s signed with one of baseball’s most historic franchises, all he has left to do to complete the Johnny Damon circle of life is spend his last years as a productive big leaguer in pinstripes. Let’s see if DeJesus is a fit for the Yankees…

The Pros

  • Over the last three years, the left-handed hitting DeJesus has hit a solid .270/.350/.405 (108 wRC+). As you’d expect given the park effects, the worst of those three years came while with the Athletics (96 wRC+). He’s primarily a pull hitter (2012 spray chart, 2010-2012 spray chart), which fits Yankee Stadium well.
  • DeJesus’ game is all about controlling the strike zone. He owns a 9.4% walk rate over the last three years, including a career-high 10.5% this season. He’s also struck out just 15.0% of the time since 2010, making contact on 86.6% of his swings. Those two rates aren’t elite, but they’re solidly better than the league average.
  • Outside of a fluke torn thumb ligament in 2010 — you might remember him suffering the injury crashing into the Yankee Stadium wall (video) — DeJesus hasn’t missed more than about a week due to injury since the 2006 season.
  • DeJesus has spent considerable time in all three outfield spots throughout his career, and the various metrics have rated him as an average or better defender in the corners throughout the years.
  • The Cubbies signed him to a two-year deal worth $10M last offseason, and he’s owed $4.25M in the final guaranteed year next season. There’s also a $6.5M club option for 2014 ($1.5M buyout).

The Cons

  • DeJesus has never really been able to hit lefties, but his struggles have become extreme these last two years. He hit a tolerable .289/.338/.374 (90 wRC+) against southpaws from 2008-2010, but since the start of last year it’s a .163/.256/.195 (30 wRC+). Among the 227 players to bat at least 200 times against lefties these last two years, exactly zero have been less productive. He’s been that bad.
  • You’re not getting much power or speed with DeJesus. He’s hit just 24 homers (.135 ISO) and gone 14-for-28 in stolen base attempts the last three years. He has taken the extra base a slightly above-average 46% of the time since 2010, however.
  • DeJesus doesn’t have a strong outfield arm, which limits his usefulness in right. Not a big deal, but it’s probably worth noting.
  • I don’t put much stock in this, but DeJesus has not only never played in the postseason, but he’s never even played for a team that finished the year with a winning record. A pennant race will be an entirely new experience for him.

There has been no indication that the Cubs are shopping DeJesus, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say they’re open to moving him given their extreme rebuilding phase. They’ve focused primarily on pitching prospects but have taken whatever they could get over the last year or so. Epstein & Co. are seeking quality over quantity.

The neat thing about DeJesus is that we serves as his own trade comparable. When the Royals traded him to the Athletics during the 2010-2011 offseason, he had one year left on his contract ($6M) and was coming off a career-high 127 wRC+. Two years later, the Cubs would be trading him with one year left on his contract ($5.75M) and coming off a career-average 104 wRC+. The price should not have gone up, and if anything it should have gone down. Oakland sent the Royals one up-and-down big league arm (Vin Mazzaro) and a Single-A pitching prospect (Justin Marks) two winters ago, so perhaps a package of Adam Warren and a low-level arm gets it done. Seems pretty reasonable, actually.

I’ve never been a huge DeJesus fan but he’s always been a solid player. These days you need a platoon partner and can’t count on him to hit double-digit homers or steal double-digit bases or run down everything in right field, so his value stems almost exclusively from his ability to draw walks and put the ball in play. It would be a downgrade and a noticeably different style of play than what Swisher brought to the table these last four years, but considering what figures to be a reasonable price and a short-term contract commitment (the club option is pretty nice), the Yankees might not find more bang for their buck this winter.

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Mailbag: Potential Cubs’ Trade Targets

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Dustin asks: According to Bob Nightengale, nearly everyone on the Cubs but Jeff Samardzija is available. Looking at this realistically, who are some guys the Yankees should call in on?

Here’s the MLBTR write-up on Nightengale’s report and also clarification from Theo Epstein that shortstop Starlin Castro is not available. I’m sure they’re going to listen if someone is willing to blow them away, but I don’t think the Yankees have the pieces to land a young guy like Castro.

Anyway, the Cubs have a number of players that are both interesting and potentially useful to the Yankees. Some are obvious like Matt Garza (4.09 FIP), who Jon Heyman says New York is most interested in. I’m a Garza fan and think he’d be an ideal trade target for the rotation, though it would be costly. They’d be getting him for a season and a half at a below market salary, so I think something along the lines of the Dan Haren package — one premium prospect and two or three secondary pieces — would be reasonable. Heyman says the Yankees aren’t interested in Ryan Dempster (3.48 FIP) and I don’t love him either. Quality pitcher but not someone I consider a difference maker. Here’s what I wrote about Garza and Dempster last year.

Slugging first baseman/corner outfielder Bryan LaHair could be a fit for the Yankees depending on what they think of his defense in the outfield. He doesn’t have enough big league time for the defensive stats to be meaningful but it’s safe to assume he’s best at first given how often he’s played there this year and in the minors. The 29-year-old left-handed hitter is having a huge year (158 wRC+), but his primary skills are his ability to draw walks (12.7 BB%) and hits for power (.273 ISO), making him an ideal fit for Yankee Stadium. He strikes out a ton (28.9 K%) and struggles against southpaws (61 wRC+), so he’s cut from the Russell Branyan/Jack Cust cloth. LaHair came into the season will less than two years of service time, so he’ll be dirt cheap for the next five years and fit right into that 2014 payroll plan if he can handle a corner outfield spot on an everyday basis and essentially replace Nick Swisher.

Lesser pieces like David DeJesus (113 wRC+) and Reed Johnson (95 wRC+) could make sense if Brett Gardner‘s injury lingers, plus DeJesus is under contract for next year and could help replace Swisher in the short-term. I’m not the guy’s biggest fan but it is an option. The Yankee Analysts wrote more about DeJesus recently, so check that out. A reliever like changeup specialist Shawn Camp (3.17 FIP) could be a fit given the Mariano Rivera‘s injury, but I consider Carlos Marmol (5.47 FIP) a no-no. He’s just way too erratic and makes too much money. Kerry Wood could have been an option had he not retired a few weeks ago.

Garza and LaHair are the two most obvious players who could interest the Yankees if the Cubs do indeed conduct what amounts to a fire sale. A few lesser pieces like DeJesus and Camp could make sense but that’s really it; the north-siders don’t really have the most exciting roster in the world. The Yankees have never made a trade with the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regime because of the whole Red Sox thing, but I can’t imagine that would impact any trade talks. Both parties know what’s up.

Identifying potential (ideally left-handed-hitting) DH trade targets

As we all know by now, the Yankees are telling people they are hoping to fill their vacancy at DH via trade (which would presumably include dealing either A.J. Burnett or Phil Hughes) first, and should that fail, scour the remaining free-agent market as a fallback option.

The following is a short-list of potential designated hitter candidates (ideally of the left-handed hitting variety, to create a platoon with Andruw Jones) that could make some sense as trade targets for the Yankees. It should be noted that none of these players are likely on the trading block — three of four are penciled in as starters — but what better to stoke the Hot Stove fires with than irresponsible rumormongerng?

Garrett Jones, Pirates. Prior to embarking on research for this post I’d never even heard of Jones, but he hit righties fairly well last season, posting a .351 wOBA/122 wRC+ in 406 PAs, including an 11.3 BB%. Combined with Jones ideally putting together something reasonably comparable to the .400 wOBA/151 wRC+ he compiled against LHP from last season, and that’d not only make for one of the more productive DHs in the league, but also perhaps the first-ever all-Jones platoon in baseball history. Garrett also carries a career .360 wOBA against RHP along with a 125 wRC+ and 11.3 BB% in more than 1,000 PAs — the man knows how to hit right-handed pitching.

At 30, he’s also no spring chicken, and I can’t envision the cost in players being all that considerable, although as Joe noted to me, “He’s one of their only decent bats, so I’m not sure they’d let him go cheaply. Considering his age and must-platoon status, I’m not sure there’s a good match there.” A late bloomer, Jones is also under team control for three more years, so that would likely impede a hypothetical deal further. Still, Brian Cashman and Neal Huntington do seem to like each other as trading partners, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see Cash figure something creative out given the team’s current glut of pitching.

Nolan Reimold, Orioles. Despite the fact that the Yankees and Orioles have hooked up for just one player-for-player trade in the 19 years since Peter Angelos bought the Orioles franchise, Ken Rosenthal yesterday posited that the birds could be a logical trade partner for Burnett. While a deal involving anyone seems highly unlikely, earlier this offseason I wrote about Reimold potentially being a useful bench piece. Unfortunately he doesn’t meet the left-handed-hitting component of our criteria, but he actually can hit righties, tagging them with a .360 wOBA/124 wRC+ (10.1 BB%) in 201 PAs last season, and he’s evinced a slight reverse platoon split during his career, with a .345 mark against righties compared to .332 against lefties. He’s also not currently projected to start for Baltimore, perhaps making him a bit more expendable. Still, file this under not bloody likely.

Lucas Duda, Mets. This is even less likely than a deal with the O’s, as the Mets would presumably have to be blown away to trade a player that is arguably their second-best hitter and one who also happens to be cost-controlled. After all, the CitiField faithful are going to need something to get excited about given the bleak outlook of the next few years. Still, with the Yankees’ excess of arms, perhaps a deal involving Phil Hughes and one of the fourth-starter types at AAA (who would probably fare quite a bit better both in the NL and at the cavernous ballpark in Queens than in the Bronx) or some sort of package of minor leaguers would be compelling enough to evoke a rare crosstown trade for the left-handed Duda, who obliterated righties to the tune of a .380 wOBA/145 wRC+. Though Duda projects to be the Mets’ starting right fielder, the 26-year-old hasn’t shown much of an ability to hit portsiders to this point (in an admittedly small sample of 86 PAs, Duda has a .282 wOBA), so perhaps the cost wouldn’t be excessive given the need to platoon. (h/t to YankeeSource for inspiring this idea following his musing on Daniel Murphy).

David DeJesus, Cubs. The long-linked-to-the-Yankees local product DeJesus is a no-go at the present moment, having signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Cubbies at the end of November. However; should Chicago fall out of contention come July — and at the present moment, it’s not clear that they’re better than roughly a 3rd-place team on paper — DeJesus will likely be an attractive trade candidate. Though he had a tough year in Oakland last season, he still hit righties well (.347 wOBA/120 wRC+), and owns a career .356 wOBA/116 wRC+ against northpaws.

Again, with Jones and Duda projected to hit 5th for their respective teams, the Pirates and Mets would likely look for more than the Yankees would feel comfortable dishing, despite both franchises having basically already been eliminated from 2012 playoff contention. The unfortunate O’s are also a lock for last in the AL East yet again, though that still won’t be enough for Angelos to attempt to improve his team via dealing with the Yankees. If the Yankees do decide to go into the season addressing their DH needs in-house, DeJesus will likely be a name that will once again come up frequently should the Cubs falter, and would seem to be the most probable to be dealt out of this quartet.

Possible trade target: David DeJesus

The Yankees boast a .361 OBP and a .355 wOBA as a team, the best and second best marks in baseball, respectively, but they still seem to be one bat short. Part of the problem is the underperforming Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, but Nick Johnson‘s absence (.388 OBP before getting hurt) hurts as well. There have been rumors that the Yanks will look to acquire another hitter before next month’s trade deadline, and that it could be a versatile outfielder. We’ve already looked at a pair of possible bench options in Jeff Keppinger and Ty Wigginton, and now it’s time to look at a potential every day player: David DeJesus.

Photo Credit: Nick Wass, AP

Over the last two seasons, perhaps no player has been linked to the Yankees in speculative rumors more than DeJesus, and I’ve never quite figured out why. He was born in Brooklyn but raised in New Jersey, and I remember him having a pretty big series in the Bronx a few seasons back, but that’s pretty much the only connection I can find. Then again, the Yankees were in need of a young and productive outfielder for quite a few years there, so he made sense.

The 30-year-old DeJesus is enjoying the finest season of his career this year, already racking up 2.3 WAR in the team’s first 73 games (five win pace). His .325/.394/.482 batting line (.383 wOBA) represents career highs across the board and not not by small margins either, though a BABIP 41 points over his established career baseline is certainly helping things out. DeJesus has shown a pretty significant platoon split in his career (.319 wOBA vs. LHP, .358 vs. RHP), though it’s not as pronounced as say, Curtis Granderson‘s. For what it’s worth, ZiPS rest of the projection calls for a .297/.369/.451 batting line (.360 wOBA) the rest of the way, which represents a career year.

Defensively, DeJesus can play all three outfield spots, though he’s at his best in left (+18.9 UZR/150 career) and is basically average in center (-1.2) and right (+0.1). This year is the first time he’s played right on basically an every day basis, though he doesn’t really have the arm strength typically associated with the position. Regardless, he’s no worst than a league average defensive outfielder on a full-time basis.

Baserunning is a different matter, because DeJesus is a shockingly bad basestealer. He’s not Robbie Cano bad, but bad enough. He’s just 18-for-38 in stolen base attempts over the last three years, which is an unacceptable 47.4% success rate. I know some people don’t like the word unacceptable, but I think it absolutely applies in this situation. If you aren’t a good basestealer, you simply stop trying to steal bases. Easy fix, end of story. The good news is that DeJesus is a very good baserunner in all other baserunning situations (moving up on grounders, going first-to-third, etc.), having been worth 8.34 runs above average in those spots since 2008.

Photo Credit: Ed Zurga, AP

As for the cash money, DeJesus is owed about $2.6M the rest of this season, and there’s a $6M option for his services in 2011 with a $500,000 buyout. He’s currently projected to be a Type-B free agent, but he’s very close to Type-A status (exactly one point away) and could conceivably play his way there in the second half. Remember that every dollar the Yankees spend is actually $1.40 because of the luxury tax, so the $3.1M he’s guaranteed becomes a $4.34M expense for the Yanks. If they pick up the option, it becomes more than a $12M expense. Hal Steinbrenner put his foot down with the budget last year, refusing to approve a trade for Mike Cameron because it would have added $5M to the payroll, and so far there hasn’t been any indication that he will budge this year.

The problem with DeJesus isn’t production, far from it. The money is an issue that the brain trust will have to consider, but there’s also the question of where exactly does he fit with the team? The Yankees already boast a tremendously productive starting outfield in Brett Gardner (2.0 WAR), Nick Swisher (2.3), and Granderson (1.4), so it’s not like DeJesus is going to come in and take one of those guys’ job. The designated hitter’s spot is, for all intents and purposes, open for the rest of the year because you can’t count on Johnson a) returning anytime soon, and b) staying healthy when he does return. I suppose a five headed outfield/designated hitter platoon monster of Gardner, Granderson, Swisher, DeJesus, and Marcus Thames could be employed, but when is the last time a team tried something crazy like that and it actually worked?

We still don’t know what the Royals will ask for in exchange their best outfielder, but they’re not going to just give him away given his age, production, and salary. Assuming the option is picked up, Sky Kalkman’s trade value calculator pegs DeJesus’ trade value at $26.5M, which Victor Wang’s research says is basically equivalent to a top hitting prospect, or a top pitching prospect and a lesser prospect. If you want to start piecing together Grade-B and C prospects, you’re talking three players minimum. If Kansas City were to kick in any money in the deal, that’s just more you’d have to surrender in terms of young players.

This post isn’t intended to say whether or not the Yankees should look to go out and acquire DeJesus, I’m just presenting the information and explaining what the situation is. There’s no denying that he’s an above average every day player, but there are very real cost issues – in terms of both money and players – that need to be addressed, plus the entire playing time situation.

Bring DeJesus Home

Yesterday the Royals swung a deal for Coco Crisp, landing the man who was once traded for Chuck Finley in exchange for ex-Yankees’ prospect Ramon Ramirez. The deal gives the Boys in Royal Blue five players capable of playing the outfield everyday, meaning there’s excess to use as trade fodder. We’ve already heard rumblings about the Cubs being interested in Moneyballer Mark Teahen, although there has been no further movement on that front.

Having maintained interest in Mike Cameron, it doesn’t appear that the Yanks’ braintrust is content with Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner duking it out for the centerfield gig in Spring Training. That’s where David DeJesus comes in. The Brooklynite and Rutgers alum is one of KC’s most marketable pieces, and luckily for Dayton Moore is centerfield market is bone dry.

DeJesus offers plenty at the plate, consistently producing on-base percentages in the .350-.370 range despite minimal lineup protection. He also has a nice amount of pop, slugging at least .445 in three of his four full seasons. His line drive rate is nearly 25%, and last year he saw 3.86 pitches per plate appearances, good for tenth among AL outfielders.

If you’re down with clutchiness you’ll be down with DeJesus. The dude hit .419-.484-.562 with RISP this year, while his 2.63 WPA was 11th in league. His Clutch tied for third in the league at 1.14. Weak hacks at balls off the plate to strike out with runners on base is enough to annoy anyone, but DeJesus has incredible bat control that allows him to make contact on 89.5% of the swings he takes (good for 6th in the league), keeping his strikeouts down.

DeJesus’ defensive reputation took a bit of a hit last year when he slid over to leftfield in deference of Joey Gathright, but rumors of his defensive demise have been greatly exaggerated. Check it out:

Revised Zone Rating Innings per Out of Zone play
2007 2008 2007 2008
Melky Cabrera .910 .938 32.5 16.5
Coco Crisp .909 .927 21.0 20.6
David DeJesus .910 .938 29.4 9.0

If you’re unfamiliar with RZR and OOZ, they measure the percentage of balls hit into a player’s zone that are converted into outs, and the number of outs made on balls out the player’s of the zone, respectively. All the stats in the table are for the CF position only, and because Melky & DeJesus bounced around outfield spots, I presented OOZ in terms of innings played at the position.

Essentially what this data tells us is that DeJesus runs down balls hit into zone just as well as Melky & Coco, and that he also makes a fair number of tough plays on balls out of his zone. He’s never going to be confused for Carlos Beltran out there, but he’s fully capable of playing the position on an every day basis. Of course the Yanks always have the option of sliding him over to left late in game, allowing Johnny Damon to get a little break while Melky/Gardner shore up the outfield defense.

So here comes the part none of us can answer, what would it take to get him? He comes dirt cheap, as he’s owed just $3.6M in 2009 and $4.7M in 2010 before a $6M club option (or $0.5M buyout) comes into play. Picking up DeJesus would allow the Yanks to remain patient with Austin Jackson, and also gives them some depth for when Xavier Nady, Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui hit the free agent market next year.

It’s not a buy low situation like Nick Swisher, but it’s a chance at a guy who could be available because of a numbers crunch. If the price is right, say a young pitcher like Ian Kennedy plus a reliever to replace Ramirez/Leo Nunez, then you almost have to pull the trigger. He brings much needed youth and athleticism, and is a perfect two year stopgap for Jackson and replacement leadoff hitter for Damon if he leaves after ’09.

Plus, just think of how much fun Michael Kay will have mentioning that DeJesus is a local kid living out his dream every time he comes to bat.