Mailbag: Smyly, Kemp, Beckett, Braun, Lowrie

Nine questions this week, so it’s another rapid fire mailbag with short-ish answers. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything at anytime.

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

Peter asks: Should the Yankees speak to the Tigers about trading for Drew Smyly and turn him back into a starter? How well do they match up and what would you give up?

To answer the question, yes, I think the Yankees should look to trade for Smyly so they can convert him back into a starter. Jon Morosi says the Tigers are fielding offers for Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, and Rick Porcello as a way to plug other roster holes and clear payroll with Smyly taking over the vacated rotation spot. The Yankees should have interest in all of those guys — slightly less interest in Porcello, who needs a good infield defense to be effective — including Smyly. I looked at the 24-year-old southpaw as a trade candidate last winter and everything still holds true, except he now has a season as elite reliever (2.37 ERA and 2.31 FIP) under his belt and one fewer year of team control. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski doesn’t trade for prospects (he trades them away), he’ll want big league pieces in return. Detroit needs bullpen help and I’d give them David Robertson (free agent after 2014) for Smyly (free agent after 2018) in a heartbeat, but I suspect it’ll cost a bit more than that.

Ross asks: With the focus on the $189 million goal this off-season, what’s the likelihood the Yankees give extra years to free agents with a lower average annual value to separate their offers from other bidders?

An example of this would be signing Brian McCann for eight years and $81M ($10.125M luxury tax hit) instead of five years and $75M ($15M tax hit). The extra years lower the average annual value and thus the luxury tax hit while putting a little more money in McCann’s pocket for his cooperation. The Collective Bargaining Agreement covers potential luxury tax circumvention, and this type of maneuver would fall under that. The league would flag it and probably void the deal. It’s a good idea in theory — I’ve seen people suggest giving Alex Rodriguez a multi-year extension worth $1M a year to lower his tax hit — but I don’t think it would fly in reality. MLB doesn’t take too kindly to teams trying to game the system.

Mark asks: How do you like Chris Iannetta as a consolation prize for losing out on McCann? Would add a little bit more power to the bottom of the order.

Iannetta, 30, hit .225/.358/.372 (111 wRC+) this past season and has a 100 wRC+ with a 15.5% walk rate over the last three seasons. He’s also usually good for double digit homers. Iannetta isn’t a good defensive catcher these days (2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 rankings) and he’s owed $10.225M through 2015 ($5.1125M tax hit). The Angels are looking to stay under the luxury tax threshold themselves and one way they’ve discussed doing that is by dealing Iannetta and giving the catching reigns to young Hank Conger. Iannetta is better than the guys the Yankees have in-house and if they don’t bring in another catcher via free agency, he makes sense as a trade target. The Halos want pitching, so maybe something like Adam Warren for Iannetta makes sense for both sides. Not sure if that’s enough though. Just spit-balling here.

Glen asks: The White Sox are open to trading Alexei Ramirez. What would it take to get him and should the Yankees do it?

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Well, according to Mark Gonzales, the White Sox turned Carlos Martinez when the Cardinals offered the one-for-one swap prior to the trade deadline. Jon Heyman shot that down, which makes sense because I can’t imagine Chicago would decline an offer like that. They’d be crazy. The 32-year-old Ramirez is basically Eduardo Nunez with a better glove and a much more expensive contract ($10.25M tax hit through 2015). He’s a total hacker (3.2% walk rate last two years) with no power (.098). I would prefer simply signing Brendan Ryan, who will play similar (if not better) defense and hit for a lower average but come far, far cheaper. I know good shortstops are hard to find, but I am not a Ramirez fan at all.

Bill asks: Any interest in Matt Kemp as a trade target?

Yes, but two things need to happen first. For starters, the Dodgers would have to eat a whole bunch of money. Kemp is owed $128M through 2019 ($21.3M tax hit) and I’d be willing to take him on at $16M or so annually. That means Los Angeles would have to kick in about $32M or so, a lot in the real world but little relative to the contract. Secondly, Kemp would have to go through a very thorough physical. The guy had ankle surgery a few weeks ago and left shoulder (labrum) surgery last winter, plus he’s missed a bunch of time with hamstring problems the last two years. There is evidence that hitters who have their front shoulder surgically repaired (like Kemp last winter) can lose bat speed and power for a long time and perhaps permanently. Adrian Gonzalez is a very good example — his power isn’t nearly what it was pre-2010 shoulder surgery. It has to do with the mechanics (and biomechanics, I suppose) of the swing and everything like that. Click the link, it’s interesting stuff. Kemp just turned 29 in September and his upside (MVP level performance fro, 2011-2012) is so very high that it’s hard to ignore. The salary needs to be offset and the body (especially the shoulder) needs to be checked out first, but yes, I’m interested.

Aaron asks: Any interest in Gordon Beckham for 3B? I know its been a few years but I think he’s still young enough to handle the switch back over.

Not anymore. I liked Beckham a few years ago and thought he was salvageable, but we’re going on nearly 2,500 career plate appearances with an 86 wRC+ now (88 wRC+ in 2013). Yes, he is only 27 and a breakout could be right around the corner, but Matt Swartz projects him to earn $3.5M next year and that’s a little pricey for a reclamation project in my opinion. I don’t think the transition from second base over to third will be much of a problem — hell, he still might be an option at shortstop — but it’s everything else that comes along with it, namely the price tag and noodle bat.

Travis asks: I’m thinking outside the box and more than likely this is one of the stupidest things you’ve heard in a while, but what if a team traded for Josh Beckett and made him a closer? He’s a former Red Sock, so I wouldn’t suggest Yankees, but someone?

That is stupid outside the box. (Kidding!) Beckett, 33, made only eight starts this year before needing surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which is what effectively ended Chris Carpenter’s career. It’s serious stuff but not always a career-ender. Dillon Gee and Matt Harrison have both dealt with it recently and come back perfectly fine. Beckett’s stuff has been fading in recent years and he was only sitting 90-91 with his fastball before getting hurt this year, and he’s a very different pitcher at 90-91 than he was was 95-96 a few years ago. Maybe a move to relief will bring back some velocity. If he can’t hold up as a starter anymore following the surgery, the bullpen would be worth exploring. I wouldn’t want to be the one to trade for him and try it, though.

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

Mark asks: Assume the Yankees part ways with Robinson Cano, any chance you see them trying to acquire Ryan Braun? Or does he have too much baggage with his PED suspension? Not sure the Brewers are open to dealing him, but I suspect they are given how bad the team is. Assuming he is available, he could fill the void in RF or 3B (can’t be much worse than Miguel Cabrera), is just 29 and is signed to a super team-friendly deal through 2021 (when he turns 37) at $16.5 million per year.

Believe it or not, Braun is still pretty popular in Milwaukee. This isn’t an A-Rod situation where pretty much everyone hates him. Braun is beloved by fans and his team (again, unlike A-R0d) and there’s no real desire to get rid of him. He’s the franchise cornerstone and they’re going to move forward with him as the centerpiece despite the PED stuff. Even if they wanted to get rid of him, I don’t think the Yankees don’t have the pieces to get a player of that caliber. It’s not like the Brewers would just give him away to save face and money. It’s a nice idea — he’d fit wonderfully in right field (third base isn’t happening, I don’t think “can’t be much worse than Miguel Cabrera” is a good enough reason to play him there) — and in the middle of the lineup, but it ain’t happening.

Mike asks: Would Jed Lowrie make sense as a possible trade target? He’s in his last year of arbitration this season before becoming a free agent in 2015. He’s a SS who has played 3B and 2B in the past, and he had a good year where he stayed healthy (finally) in 2013. If Billy Beane was inclined to deal him (would he be?), what kind of package would the Yankees have to give up?

Yes, he definitely makes sense. The 29-year-old Lowrie managed to stay healthy for a full season for the first time in his career this past summer, hitting 15 homers with a 121 wRC+ in a pitcher’s park. He can play shortstop but his defense is spotty, though he does make up for it with the stick. Matt Swartz projects him to earn $4.8M in 2014 and there’s a decent chance he’ll be worth a qualifying offer after the season, meaning he’ll net a draft pick if he doesn’t sign a long-term contract. Again, I’m not sure if the Yankees have enough to swing a trade for a player of Lowrie’s caliber — for what it’s worth, Joel Sherman hears the Athletics aren’t looking to trade him in the wake of the Nick Punto signing — but he’s a definite fit at this point in time.

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Scouting The Trade Market: Drew Smyly

(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The Yankees addressed their major pitching needs earlier this offseason by re-signing Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera to one-year contracts. Their recent focus has been on the position player side, though the Kevin Youkilis and Ichiro Suzuki signings plug two of their three biggest holes. A right-handed hitting outfielder and DH is still on the agenda for the rest of the winter.

Despite those position player needs, the Yankees also figure to be on the lookout for cheap, long-term help pretty much anywhere on the field given the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014. Kuroda, Pettitte, and Phil Hughes are all scheduled to become free agents next winter at a time when young arms like Michael Pineda, Manny Banuelos, Jose Campos, and Dellin Betances have either regressed or gotten hurt. Ivan Nova‘s miserable 2012 effort is another pitching black mark as well. The rotation post-2012 is a concern and there won’t be much money available to improve it via free agency.

The Tigers, on the other hand, have tons of pitching. Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister, and Max Scherzer are all signed or under team control for several years, plus they have Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly in reserve. Both pitchers are reportedly available in trades and drawing interest, and there’s a natural fit here because the Yankees could use some young arms. Porcello, a New Jersey native, is getting expensive through arbitration and has been generally underwhelming as a big leaguer (4.55 ERA and 4.26 FIP). He’s not a great fit for New York. Smyly, on the other hand, might be. Let’s break his game down.

The Pros

  • First things first: Smyly is left-handed and that’s always a plus in Yankee Stadium. Baseball America ranked him as Detroit’s third best prospect before the season, and they call him a future number three or four starter in their subscriber-only scouting report.
  • “Smyly has an advanced understanding of how to attack hitters, which allows his average stuff to play up,” wrote Baseball America, who also praised his delivery and deception. “He throws his fastball at 87-92 mph with slight tailing life, commanding it down in the zone … He uses both a curveball and a slider, with scouts split on which is more effective. He also has a splitter-like changeup and a mid-80s cutter.”
  • PitchFX data confirms the scouting report and says Smyly’s fastball lived at 92 in the show rather than topping out there. He pitched to a 3.99 ERA (3.83 FIP) with strong strikeout (8.52 K/9 and 22.6 K%) and walk (2.99 BB/9 and 7.9 BB%) rates in 99.1 big league innings this summer. His minor league numbers (9.7 K/9 and 26.5 K%, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.5 BB%) are just as impressive in 143.2 total innings. Yeah, the Tigers aren’t shy about rushing their pitchers up the ladder.
  • Smyly did not pick up a full season’s worth of service time in 2012, so he remains under team control for six more years. He also has at least two and possibly all three minor league options remaining as well.

The Cons

  • Smyly had a stress fracture in his elbow as a college freshman at Arkansas and missed six weeks with a sore arm in 2011. He threw 121 total innings this year and his career-high is 126 a year ago. He’s a big guy (listed at 6-foot-3, 190 lbs.), but he has yet to prove his durability. There’s no way to reasonably expect 30 starts and 200 innings from him in 2013.
  • It’s only 243 total innings, but Smyly has been fly ball prone as a professional. His minor league ground ball rate (45.9%) is lower than what you’d expect to see from a good pitching prospect, and in the big leagues he kept the ball on the ground just 39.9% of the time. As a result, he can be homer prone.
  • Smyly picked up enough service time this season that he’ll surely qualify for Super Two status and be arbitration-eligible four times instead of the usual three. Young players can get expensive in a hurry as Super Twos.

I like Smyly more than Baseball America seems too, but there’s no shame in being projected as a number three or four starter anyway. A lot of people seem to take that as an insult. Smyly, who turned 23 in June, has shown five pitches at the big league level and both the willingness and ability (these aren’t the same things) to throw strikes. He also hasn’t shown much (if any) of a platoon split thanks to the cutter. That’s all you can ask for from a young starter in the American League and his debut this season should be considered a positive sign. No doubt about it.

The Tigers are a pretty stacked team with few holes to fill, but their bullpen is still lacking in a major way. They insist they’re willing to open the season with prospect right-hander Bruce Rondon in the closer role, but I don’t buy that for a second. Owner Mike Ilitch didn’t spend all that money to have a kid with a 5.8 BB/9 (15.1 BB%) in the minors over the last two seasons pitching the late-innings. It’s not just the ninth inning either, they need setup help as well.

The Yankees don’t have a ton of relief depth to use in a trade, but for six years of Smyly they could totally offer up two years of David Robertson. There are enough free agent relievers still available — Matt Lindstrom, Mark Lowe, Brandon Lyon, and even Rafael Soriano stand out — that New York could find a capable replacement(s) for Robertson should they move him. Smyly would give them some much-needed young pitching depth from the left side, someone who could step right into a big league rotation if need be or spend time in Triple-A if things get crowded. It would be a very risky move, but also one that could help the Yankees both win now and win later.