Scouting The Trade Market: Elvis Andrus

(Sarah Glenn/Getty)
(Sarah Glenn/Getty)

For the first time in two decades, the Yankees are looking for a shortstop this offseason. Derek Jeter has retired and the club doesn’t have an in-house replacement, not unless you count Brendan Ryan. I sure don’t. The free agent market has some imperfect shortstop options and, when he arrived at the GM Meetings in Phoenix yesterday, Brian Cashman also acknowledged the trade market is thin.

“I think it’s a limited market, and I say limited in terms of availability or acquisition cost. To me, I would describe the shortstop market as limited,” said Cashman to Adam Rubin and Mark Feinsand yesterday. “It’s a limited market. We’re going to talk with the available free agents, and we’ll talk as well, trade with other teams.”

Both Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman reported yesterday that the Yankees have some level of interest in Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, and that makes sense. He’s a true shortstop and he’s a big-ish name. That’s the kind of player usually connected to the Yankees. Texas has a bevy of young middle infielders — their MLB-readiness is up for debate, of course — in Jurickson Profar, Rougned Odor, and Luis Sardinas, so Andrus could be the odd man out. But does he actually make sense for the Yankees? Let’s look.

Declining Offense

Six years ago, Andrus skipped right over Triple-A and broke into MLB as a 20-year-old. His .267/.329/.373 (81 wRC+) batting line that year was comfortably below-average but also understandable because, well, he was a 20-year-old shortstop who skipped Triple-A. Andrus hit .265/.342/.301 (75 wRC+) with zero homers (in Texas!) in 674 plate appearances as a sophomore in 2010. A .342 OBP is pretty awesome but he had no power at all. On the bright side, he stole 33 and 32 bases in those first two seasons.

Andrus took what looked to be a big step forward in 2011 and then again in 2012. He hit .279/.347/.361 (93 wRC+) with 37 steals in 2011 and followed that up with .286/.349/.378 (97 wRC+) line with a career-low 21 steals in 2012. Remember, Andrus was still only 23 years old in 2012, and he was nearly a league-average hitter at the MLB level. It sure looked like his offense was starting to coming around those two years, but then this happened:


Source: FanGraphsElvis Andrus

Instead of building on those strong 2011-12 seasons, Andrus has gone backwards these last two years. By a lot too. He hit .271/.328/.331 (79 wRC+) last season and more or less matched it with a .263/.314/.333 (79 wRC+) line this past season. That he stole 42 and then 27 bases is almost an afterthought. Andrus hit .267/.321/.332 (79 wRC+) in the very not small sample of 1,383 plate appearances during his age 24-25 seasons. That’s bad. Baaad.

I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that Andrus showed similar plate discipline and had a similar batted ball profile in his uber-disappointing 2013-14 seasons as in his apparent breakout 2011-12 seasons. If the plate discipline and batted ball numbers change significantly, it would suggest a decline (or improvement if you’re going the other way) in his underlying skills. But that isn’t the case:

PA GB% FB% LD% O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Contact%
2011-12 1,376 56.5% 21.0% 22.5% 22.6% 53.9% 39.4% 88.1%
2013-14 1,383 57.5% 21.7% 20.9% 21.6% 54.5% 38.4% 86.4%

So Andrus was more or less the same type of hitter from 2011-12 as he was in 2013-14. He had the same level of plate discipline and was still a ground ball machine, yet the results were significantly worse. Is he simply not as strong and thus the quality of his contract deteriorated? It is worth noting his walk rate has declined in each of the last four years, going from 9.5% in 2010 to 8.4% in 2011 to 8.0% in 2012 to 7.4% in 2013 to 6.7% in 2014. That’s happened despite a relatively tiny increase in his out-of-zone swing rate (O-Swing%) and no change in his strikeout rate (career 13.5%).

Something weird is going on here. Andrus went from the verge of being a league-average contributor to one of the worst hitters in baseball. He’s a career .272/.335/.345 (84 wRC+) hitter in just short of 4,000 plate appearances now. Literally the only reason to think he’ll improve going forward is his age. That’s it. There are red flags aplenty.

Declining Defense Too

Even though he’s never been much of a hitter — the stolen bases are nice, but that’s about it — Andrus has been worthy of a regular lineup spot because he played some real slick defense at shortstop. That isn’t the case anymore, at least if the various stats are to be believed. To a table of great import:

Innings at SS DRS UZR Total Zone FRAA
2009 1,238.0 15 11.9 4 1.0
2010 1,291.1 -7 1.5 2 2.8
2011 1,261.1 7 7.5 9 2.6
2012 1,333.0 8 8.3 4 3.0
2013 1,288.2 11 4.6 3 -5.2
2014 1,309.1 -13 -4.2 -7 -7.8

Obligatory: One year sample sizes of defensive stats really suck!

I simply can’t take defensive stats at face value. I look at all of them and use them directionally. Forget about the exact values. The four main systems say Andrus was above-average as rookie in 2009, so chances are he was pretty good in the field. How much above-average? Who cares. Above-average is enough for me.

The four systems agree Andrus was generally above-average from 2009-2012 — there’s a little hiccup in 2010 — before slipping these last two years. That’s a big problem! He doesn’t hit anymore and now his defense stinks? That sounds like either the league has flat-out caught up to Andrus or there’s a work ethic problem. Andrus did show up to camp overweight this spring after all, and last month he told Gerry Fraley it won’t happen again:

Keeping to his late-season vow to get in better condition, Andrus has dropped about 10 pounds since the end of the season and wants to cut another 10. That would put him at about 195 pounds. He was up to 216 pounds in September and was uncomfortable with the extra weight.

“I’m going to look like 2009 again,” said Andrus, referring to his rookie season.

That’s great. Andrus knows his conditioning was a problem and he’s going to correct it. It’s very possible that will improve his defense next year and get it back to 2009-12 levels simply because he’ll be lighter on his feet and a bit more athletic. From what I can find, he didn’t show up to camp overweight last year, so these seems like an isolated incident. Either way, the declining the defense and recent conditioning issues are another set of red flags.

Durability

The offense is declining and his defense isn’t what it once was, but Andrus deserves major props for staying on the field, especially while playing such a demanding position. He has never once been on the disabled list and he’s played at least 145 games in each of his six MLB seasons. It’s at least 150 games in each of the last four seasons and at least 156 games in each of the last three seasons as well. Only Alexei Ramirez has played more games at shortstop since 2009 (929 vs. 882). Andrus’ ability to stay healthy and on the field is a major plus.

That Contract

Alright, here’s where it gets messy. The Rangers signed Andrus to an eight-year extension worth $120M two years ago … and it finally kicks in next season. He’ll make $15M annually from 2015-20 before a slight drop to $14M in both 2021 and 2022. His contract also includes a $15M vesting option for 2023 that is based on plate appearance totals in seasons that are very far away. Too far away to worry about.

Point is, Andrus has $120M in guaranteed money coming to him over the next eight seasons, all while his offensive numbers have nose-dived and his defense has slipped. I know he’s only 26, but yikes. The Rangers gave him that contract in April 2013, right after his best offensive season. It’s very safe to say Texas was expecting him to continue developing at least as a hitter, if not defensively as well. Instead, the exact opposite has happened.

Let’s Think About This For A Second

So, after all of that, here is a quick recap of the facts:

  • The Yankees have some level of interest in Andrus but we don’t know if the Rangers are open to moving him.
  • Andrus has taken an enormous step back offensively these last two seasons and his defense isn’t what it once was.
  • Andrus is insanely durable. The guy rarely misses a game.
  • Andrus is owed $120M through the 2022 season.

There’s a lot of negative there and I don’t think the second half of the first bullet point should be overlooked. We don’t know if the Rangers are interested in trading Andrus. And you know what? If they were willing to trade him, it would be something of a red flag. Obviously they were pretty confident he would continue to improve as a player just two years ago, otherwise they wouldn’t have given Andrus that contract. But if they were open to moving him now, before the extension begins, isn’t that a bad sign? It could mean they want to cut bait before his value crashes further.

It isn’t quite that simple — Texas could get blown away with an offer and trade Andrus even if they love him and think he’ll be great going forward — but there is some truth there. Twenty-six-year-old shortstops (real shortstops I mean, not Eduardo Nunez-esque “shortstops”) are a super-hot commodity and teams usually don’t give those guys away. If the Rangers trade Andrus and are willing to eat some of his contract to make it happen, that would be an enormous red flag for me. It’s the whole “what do they know that we don’t?” thing.

There have been 54 $100M+ contracts in baseball history and, off the top my head, only four of them were traded with $100M still left to be paid: Alex Rodriguez, Prince Fielder, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez. A-Rod was a special case because he was the best player in baseball at the time of the trade and his former team (the Rangers, coincidentally) simply couldn’t afford him anymore. Fielder, Crawford, and Gonzalez were all dumped because their former teams wanted out of bad investments. Andrus would clearly fall in the latter category at this point.

The Yankees need a shortstop, both short and long-term, and it makes sense they would have interest in Andrus. There’s nothing wrong with making your analysts run some numbers, getting on the horn with your pro scouts, and having a little sit down with the staff to discuss a player who potentially fills a need. It’s simply due diligence. That said, there’s a lot reasons to dislike Andrus, specifically his declining production and massive contract. This isn’t some kinda of cheap flier, remember. It’s the kind of contract the Yankees (and every other team) should avoid, really.

Mailbag: Miller, Instructs, Willingham, Andrus

I’ve got six questions for you this week. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us any questions or comments throughout the week. Only one more mailbag before the end of the regular season, you know.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Dave asks: Shouldn’t the Yanks prioritize going after Andrew Miller as a FA? Similar to getting Johnny Damon and Jacoby Ellsbury, to get stronger and make your competition weaker, he’s a lock down lefty which they haven’t had in forever, gets righties out too, strengthens the bullpen from the left side and weakens the O’s?

I don’t put too much stock in the “take him away from your competition” angle. I don’t think that’s a reason to go out and get a player. I see it as a nice fringe benefit, that’s all. Worry about your own roster, not your opponent’s, yadda yadda yadda. Did the Yankees really take Ellsbury away from the Red Sox anyway? It’s not like Boston was going to re-sign him. He was gone no matter what.

Anyway, the 29-year-old Miller has been outstanding this year, pitching to a 1.96 ERA (1.30 FIP) with a 14.93 K/9 (42.9 K%) in 59.2 innings. Like Dave said, he’s been dominating both lefties (.193 wOBA) and righties (.217 wOBA). Miller was very good from 2012-13, pitching to a 3.04 ERA (3.12 FIP) with 12.55 K/9 (32.6 K%), but he’s taken off because he cut his walk rate from 4.69 BB/9 (12.2 BB%) the last two years to 2.41 BB/9 (6.9 BB%) this year. His homer rate (0.30 HR/9 and 5.9 HR/FB%) is flukishly low but he still kept the ball in the park from 2012-13 (0.76 HR/9 and 12.8 HR/FB%).

Miller scrapped his two-seamer this season and has stuck with his straight four-seam fastball, a pitch he can better locate. It seems like the light bulb went on — he realized he can throw his mid-90s heater right down the middle and hitters still can’t hit it. I remember reading a Matt Thornton interview a few years in which he said that’s when his career took off, when he figured out he throw fastballs over the plate and still be effective. Miller also has a devastating slider (that he uses a lot, more than 40% of the time), so he’s a two out-pitch pitcher.

I consider Miller and David Roberson to be No. 1A and 1B among the crop of free agent relievers this coming winter. They’re both elite, though Robertson cut his walk rate in half three years ago. Miller only has the one-year sample. I wouldn’t focus so much on the left-handed aspect either, he can get both lefties and righties out. He’s a one-inning, high-leverage reliever. Simple as that. Given the Boone Logan contract (three years, $16.5M), Miller is probably looking at three years and $8M or $9M annually. (He hasn’t closed and saves do pay.) I think you give him that contract hoping you get the 2014 version but expecting the 2012-13 version. That’s just me. Miller would be a fine addition to any bullpen, including New York’s.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Mike asks: Should the Yankees consider Josh Willingham as a 4th OF or is he basically done?

I wouldn’t say he’s done, no. Willingham is 35 but he is also hitting .221/.353/.407 (117 wRC+) with 14 homers this year, including .258/.380/.461 (136 wRC+) against lefties. Looks like there is still some life in that bat. Willingham is not much of an outfielder at this point though, that’s the only real problem. He’s awful defensively needs regular turns at DH to remain in the lineup everyday. I have a pretty high tolerance for bad corner outfield defense but Willingham is Raul Ibanez level bad. I think he’s more of a platoon DH than a fourth outfielder. I wouldn’t say no to him, but he is a limited player.

Jon asks: Masahiro Tanaka pitched in an Instructional League game earlier this week. How does that league work? Who plays in it? Why don’t we hear more about it?

Instructional League in Florida runs from mid-September through October — there are also instructs in the Dominican Republic, though I’m not sure when they run exactly — and it’s basically a mini-camp for lower level prospects, players who are heading to the Arizona Fall League and need to stay sharp, guys who missed time to injury, etc. Top prospects at the upper levels usually don’t go to instructs, so Gary Sanchez probably isn’t there after squatting behind the plate all summer. This is mostly very young players still early in their development.

Instructs are almost like Spring Training. There are drills so players can work on specific skills and they also play intra-squad games every day. They’re very informal. Players can bat out of order to get more plate appearances, innings will simply end if a pitcher is throwing too many pitches, stuff like that. Some teams will release their Instructional League roster each fall but the Yankees don’t. They’re secretive about everything. A mini-camp is the best way to describe it. No one keeps stats or anything (maybe the team does internally, who knows), they’re just working on the basics. It’s exactly what it sounds like, a league for instruction.

Griffin asks: Do you think Elvis Andrus is a realistic trade target for the Yankees?

Realistic in the sense that the Rangers would move him? Absolutely. Realistic in the sense that he would be a good pickup? I don’t think so. Not without Texas eating a big chunk of his contract. Andrus is hitting a weak .264/.317/.334 (79 wRC+) this year after hitting an equally weak .271/.328/.331 (78 wRC+) last year. That’s a 78 wRC+ in his last 1,344 plate appearances at age 24-25 (he just turned 26). He had an 87 wRC+ from 2009-12 and a 95 wRC+ from 2011-12. He’s gone backwards at an age when he should be taking big steps forward.

Offense not included. ( Ed Zurga/Getty)
Offense not included. ( Ed Zurga/Getty)

The Rangers gave Andrus an eight-year contract worth $118M last April and it doesn’t kick in until next season. They’re going to be paying this guy roughly $15M a year every year from 2015-22. He has a 78 wRC+ in his last 1,344 plate appearances. Did I mention that? Yes, Andrus is good with the glove, but his defensive stats have been trending in the wrong direction for several years now. In fact, he’s at -4.3 UZR and -15 DRS this season. So he can’t hit, his defense isn’t as good as it once was, and he’s owed $15M a year for the better part of the next decade. I wanted Andrus as Derek Jeter‘s replacement a few years ago, before his bat went backwards. The blush is off this rose. I’m sure Texas would love to get out from under that contract at this point, but there will be too many good free agent shortstops on the market this winter for the Yankees to stoop this low.

(Aside: I am totally sick of defense first players. Give me hitters all day, everyday.)

Justin asks: If the Yankees could snap their fingers and rid themselves of one of these contracts, which would be the best one to unload, factoring in both $$$ freed up and ease of replacing said player: CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, or Brian McCann?

Out of those five guys, I would say Sabathia because there’s a good chance he will give the Yankees absolutely nothing for the remainder of his contract ($48M from 2015-16 plus a $25M vesting option for 2017 that depends on the health of his shoulder). Teixeira and Beltran will be gone in two years and Ellsbury’s still a good player. He’s the lesser of five evils here. McCann has been terrible this year but at least he still plays good defense at a premium position and mashes taters. I love Sabathia. He’s been a great Yankee. But his body has started to break down and that’s not a process you can reverse.

Mike asks: You always hear about NFL contracts being renegotiated for salary cap purposes but never in MLB. Is there a prohibition against this? Why couldn’t the Yankees offer to change the remainder of Tex’s contract to lower the yearly value of the remaining two years but adding an option year for 2017 which would pay the difference from the two remaining years plus a $1 million dollar premium? If the team declined the 2017 option, he would still get full value of contract, plus the premium and then have the option for a FA contract elsewhere. This would give the team some cap flexibility while still honoring the contract.

Sure, this happens in MLB, just not as often because there is no salary cap. Scott Rolen restructured his contract a few years ago to give the Reds more financial wiggle room, for example. (I only remember that because I wrote the MLBTR post.) I suppose the Yankees could restructure Teixeira’s contract but they would have to give him an extra year or two to make it happen. He’s not (and shouldn’t) going to do it out of the kindness of his heart. Also, I think MLB would step in if it was blatant luxury tax circumvention. The Yankees have money though. They can afford to pay Teixeira his big salary these next two years. I don’t think it’s worth keeping him around another year or two beyond that just to save a few million in 2015 and 2016, which might be non-contention years even if they use the savings to add help elsewhere.

Mailbag: Salty, Andrus, Cruz, Anderson, Perez

Eleven, yes eleven questions this week. I combined two into one so there are only ten answers. Needless to say, I went rapid fire. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us stuff, mailbag questions or otherwise.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Dustin asks: With Jarrod Saltalamacchia not getting a qualifying offer, does he become a more attractive option for the Yankees over Brian McCann? Or does the fact that he only has one above-average season keep McCann in the lead?

It’s a combination of several things, really. The lack of track record and defensive shortcomings mostly. I do think there’s a strong case to be made that Salty at his price (three years, $36M?) is a better deal than McCann at his price (five years, $80M plus a pick?). Given where the Yankees are as a franchise, with some young catchers on the way and payroll coming down, a shorter term deal for a backstop makes more sense than going big on McCann. I would prefer Carlos Ruiz in that case — he is a far better defender than Saltalamacchia, plus he should come even cheaper — but I think McCann is elite relative to his position. Guys like that are hard to pass up.

Nick asks: So it seems that Texas would be willing to move Ian Kinsler or Elvis Andrus. What would it take to get either? Andrus isn’t as attractive now because of that contract, but still should be considered. And Kinsler is always hurt.

Kinsler makes sense only if Robinson Cano signs elsewhere this winter. I don’t buy him as a first baseman or corner outfielder. I was excited about Andrus a year or two ago and thought he made a ton of sense as a Derek Jeter replacement — his free agency lined up perfectly with the end of Jeter’s contract (after 2014) — but I also thought he would continue to get better, not have a career-worst season in 2013. He’s owed $124.475M through 2022 ($13.8M luxury tax hit), which is scary. Furthermore, I’m not sure the Yankees and Rangers match up well for a trade. Texas is presumably looking for a young outfielder or high-end starter, two things New York a) doesn’t have, and b) needs itself.

Aside: Wouldn’t it make sense for the Rangers to trade both Andrus and Kinsler, then sign Cano and play Jurickson Profar at shortstop? Dealing Andrus and Kinsler would surely net them that young outfielder and high-end starter.

Ryan asks: I haven’t heard any mention of the Yankees and Nelson Cruz. His name hasn’t been floated on here since the trade rumors last January. Whats the deal? I would have though he’d be a great addition to the lineup.

Grant Brisbee explained why Cruz is such a risk yesterday, so I’ll link you to that. Long story short: Cruz is basically Alfonso Soriano without the defense. His numbers against righties aren’t anything special (.249/.299/.465 since 2011) and while home/road splits usually get way overblown, it’s hard to ignore how much more productive Cruz has been at his hitter-friendly home ballpark (.279/.340/.546 since 2011) than on the road (.247/.299/.432). The Yankees already have one Soriano, no need to give up a draft pick (Cruz received a qualifying offer) to get another.

Kevin asks: Juan Oviedo and Eric O’Flaherty seem like natural fits for the Yankees next year given the payroll and need for bullpen arms.

Oviedo is the pitcher formerly known as Leo Nunez, the ex-Marlins closer. He’s missed the last two seasons due to elbow problems that eventually required Tommy John surgery. I would bring him in on a minor league deal no questions asked, but there’s no way I’d guarantee him anything after missing two years. He took a minor league deal (with the Rays) last year and will have to take one again. O’Flaherty missed most of 2013 after having his elbow rebuilt. He was one of the most dominant lefty relievers in baseball before the injury (held same-side hitters to a .195 wOBA from 2011-2012) and I think he’ll get a nice contract this winter despite coming off surgery. Would he take one year and $2M to rebuild value? I’m not sure the Yankees can afford to go higher than that for an injured pitcher who won’t be ready until June or so.

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)
(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

Bryan asks: How about a flyer on Brett Anderson? The A’s have rotation depth and the cost wouldn’t be super high (you’d think) right now. Or would they be better off with a guy like Josh Johnson (who only costs money) if they want to take a gamble?

Man I love Anderson, but he just can’t stay healthy. He’s thrown more than 115 innings just once (175.1 in 2009) and over the last two years he’s been limited to 79.2 innings total. Anderson has been pretty awesome whenever he’s stayed healthy for more than a month at a time, but he’s going to make $8M next season. That’s a huge chunk of change for an always hurt pitcher. I’m not sure the Yankees can afford a risk like that. Payroll is tight as it is, and that doesn’t even factor in the trade cost. If I’m going to bring in a reclamation project starter, I’d go with Johnson because he only costs money. I’d prefer neither, to be honest.

Biggie asks: If Curtis Granderson accepts his qualifying offer would there be a market to trade him? What type of return would you expect? I would love him to accept, move him for another piece and sign Carlos Beltran for two years and $28M.

I don’t think the Yankees would have any trouble finding a taker for Granderson if he accepts the $14.1M qualifying offer. Chances are they could get a better prospect in return than they’d be able to select with the compensation pick as well. A contender in need of a bat like the Cardinals (if Beltran bolts), Tigers (for vacant left field), and Reds (if they don’t think Billy Hamilton is ready) would presumably show interest in Granderson on a one-year deal, ditto non-contenders like the Phillies, Mets, White Sox, Giants, Mariners, and Rockies. They wouldn’t get an elite prospect in return, but a rock solid Grade-B prospect who is at Double-A or higher. That’s very fair value if not a bargain.

Mike asks: What about Kelly Johnson as a free agent? He can fill in around the infield except at short and play the corners in the outfield.

If Cano does leave as a free agent and the Yankees decide to pass over David Adams and Corban Joseph as internal replacements, Johnson is the guy I’d want them to bring him to play second base. He shouldn’t required a multi-year contract like Omar Infante nor would he require the general headache of trading for Brandon Phillips. Johnson is a Yankee Stadium friendly left-handed hitter who hits for power (16+ homers in four straight years), plus he’ll steal a decent amount of bases and play solid defense. As an added bonus, he can also play left field in a pinch. The trade-off is a low average and strikeouts, which aren’t the end of the world for a number eight or nine hole hitter. Even if the Yankees re-sign Cano, Johnson makes sense as a lefty bat off the bench. Definite fit.

(Jeff Gross/Getty)
(Jeff Gross/Getty)

Tucker asks: While the idea of the Yankees signing Brian Wilson has been floated out there, and it definitely has a lot of appeal, I just can’t imagine him being willing to go to the barber, even if it means forfeiting a couple million. Do you agree with this?

Wilson already turned down a million bucks to shave his beard, but maybe $6-7M will change his mind? Ultimately, I think Wilson will wind up signing with a non-Yankees team because they’ll offer more money and guarantee him the closer’s job, not because he wouldn’t have to shave his beard. That would suck, he’s a perfect fit in my opinion (as long as you look beyond the beard and seemingly intentionally insufferable personality).

Thomas asks: Is there any chance that the Yankees try and get another full-time DH this season? If so, if he doesn’t retire, is it possible we would get another taste of Raul Ibanez? I’m sure Yankees fans would like to see him again.

Zac asks: Jason Kubel is one year removed from a 30-HR season and should come cheap following a poor year in which he battled injury. Is he s fit for the Yankees?

Going to lump these two together since Ibanez and Kubel are nearly the same exact player. If the Yankees don’t sign Beltran — he’s pretty much the only big name outfielder I can see them realistically signing — either guy would make sense as a part-time right fielder and part-time DH. They could also serve as that lefty bat off the bench I always seem to be talking about. New York could find a spot for their power even if they sign Beltran, though I think Ibanez is the safer bet at this point. Supposedly he’s only considering retirement or a return to the Mariners (he lives in Seattle during the offseason). As long as they keep him or Kubel away from lefties and have a defensive replacement handy, they’d make some sense for the current roster. I still don’t like the idea of adding a full-time DH. They need to keep that spot open for various old guys.

Anthony asks: Hey Mike, Chris Perez was just released by the Indians. Being that the Yankees will look to add a piece or two to the bullpen this offseason, do you think the team should give him a look? While I don’t see him serving as the closer, perhaps he can provide some value in the 7th or 8th?

I wrote about Perez in a mailbag back in May and said I wanted to see how he performed the rest of the season before thinking about him as an option for 2014. Well, from that date forward, he pitched to a 5.21 ERA (4.65 FIP) in 38 innings while opposing batters hit .283/.351/.520 against him. He and his wife were also arrested for drug possession. So … yeah, things didn’t go so well. The Indians got so sick of him that they didn’t even wait until the non-tender deadline to release him. Perez has really nasty stuff, but he clearly has some things to work on. I’m not sure if the Yankees have enough bullpen depth (or payroll space) to take on a second project reliever in addition to Dellin Betances.

Mailbag: Andrus, Wallace, Moreland, Aceves

Nine questions this week, so I went rapid fire with short-ish answers. Next week will be the final mailbag before Opening Day, so get those last-minute hot stove/Spring Training questions in before then.

(Rick Yeatts/Getty)
(Rick Yeatts/Getty)

Joseph asks: I know this is fast-forwarding a whole season and much can change between now and November, but what are the chances the NYY attempt to pry away Elvis Andrus from TEX after the season? They obviously have Jurickson Profar/Mike Olt for the left-side of the IF for the next 4-5 years. What package you think would get that done?

Andrus, 24, will be one year from free agency after the season, plus he’s a Scott Boras client and will definitely go out on the open market after 2014. You’re trading for one year of him and one year only.

That said, he’s so young and so good (particularly defensively) at a premium position that the cost for even one year of him will be high. I don’t think Texas would have much of a problem getting two top prospects for him, maybe even another one or two lesser pieces as well. Shortstop help is very hard to find. I’d wait until he becomes a free agent and just try to sign him, but that might require something like ten years and $180M at his age.

Mark asks: Would you trade Corban Joseph and Adam Warren for Brett Wallace?

I would not. I thought Wallace would be a dominant offensive player back during his draft days, but he’s got some holes in his swing and can be pitched to rather easily. I remember reading something once upon a time suggesting his big frame and very thick lower half contribute to his inability to adjust his swing. I think the Yankees could stick Joseph in the lineup and get similar, if not better production than they would get from Wallace. He could also fake non-first base spots as well.

Travis asks: Do you think that teams that are having rotation trouble are kicking themselves for not taking a chance on Vidal Nuno during the Rule 5 draft?

Eh, maybe one or two. The Nuno hype machine is a little out of control though. Sergio Mitre dominated Spring Training a few years ago, but it didn’t mean anything. Nuno has been impressive so far and I’m sure there’s a team or two who could use him in the rotation, but be careful not to overrate performance this time of year.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Peter asks: The Joba Chamberlain+ for Mike Olt rumors have swirled over the past week but what about Joba+ for Mitch Moreland?

Moreland, 27, has hit .264/.328/.441 (100 wRC+) with 40 homers in 295 big league games over the last three years. He’s a left-handed hitting first baseman (who can fake a corner outfield spot) with a big platoon split, so he’d need a righty hitting complement. Moreland would help the Yankees right now obviously, but I wouldn’t give up much more than Joba for him. Maybe just a secondary prospect from 20+ range of my preseason top 30. Lefty hitting first basemen with platoon issues aren’t the most difficult players to find.

J.R. asks: With some of the stories emerging about Alfredo Aceves, do you think “character” and “makeup” issues directly lead to his release from the Yankees?

Yes, absolutely. Non-tendering him after 2010 was still a questionable move — even with the injuries, did he really have zero trade value? — but it’s becoming more and more obvious why they did it. I’m in the camp that thinks the Yankees are overrating character and makeup these days, but Aceves is on a different level. He’s borderline Carlos Zambrano crazy.

John asks: I am one of the biggest Andy Pettitte fans you will find so this a very selfish question. Do you think his body can handle 175 innings a year at 40? If things go ok this year, would he consider closing for Mariano Rivera next year to extend his career as we know he has the mindset mastered?

I do worry about Pettitte holding up physically all season, as I wrote in the series preview post earlier this week. If he has trouble holding up this year, I think he would sooner retire than come back as a reliever. Pettitte doesn’t strike me as someone who would hang around when he isn’t effective. If he does hold up and throw those 175+ innings, bring him back as a starter. No doubt about it.

(Chris Trotman/Getty)
(Chris Trotman/Getty)

Mads asks: Not Yankees related, but would a trade between the Cardinals and Rangers with Profar and Oscar Taveras make sense? Cardinals get shortstop help and Rangers get an impact outfield bat, plus they extend Andrus.

It does make sense, but I think both teams would say no to this trade. Part of the reason is that teams love their own prospects more than everyone else’s, but it’s not quite surplus for surplus either. As I said before, Andrus is a Boras client and working out an extension might be damn near impossible at this point. The Cardinals have no other legitimate outfield prospects to replace Carlos Beltran after the season, plus Matt Holliday isn’t getting any younger. It sounds good on paper, but I think both teams would be wary.

Mark asks: Do you think Mark Teixeira‘s recent injury coming on the heels of Alex Rodriguez‘s hurts Robinson Cano‘s chances of getting the 8-10 year offer both Boras and he were hoping to get from the team and increase the odds that he leaves the team after this year?

You’d think yes, right? But it probably won’t. There will be plenty of competition for Cano’s services next winter — Dodgers, Tigers, Angels, maybe even the Rangers, Nationals, and Phillies could pursue him — that his price will still be astronomical. I’m not convinced he’ll get ten years anyway, but eight definitely seems doable. We have to remember that many GMs don’t care about the back-end of huge contracts because the job turnover rate suggests it won’t be their problem.

Ryan asks: Explain to me how the Tigers can cut free of Brennan Boesch’s contract, owing very little on his untradeable contract. Yet, the Yankees can’t consider just releasing Alex Rodriguez because they would still owe him the $100+ million left on his contract. Is it the wording on the contract? Is it that they would still owe him too much, even if they didn’t owe him all of it, to really consider doing that? Seems weird that other teams can release their players and save at least a little cash and move on, but the Yankees are stuck with the albatross contracts to the bitter end. Is it just a perception? Also, not saying the Yankees should do this with A-Rod necessarily. It’s more of a curiosity as to why they don’t, can’t, or won’t. Thanks!

They can’t. One-year contracts for players with less than six years of service time (like Boesch) are not guaranteed. They can be released in Spring Training and owed less than the full amount — 30 days termination pay is released by March 13th, 45 days after that — which is what the Tigers did with Boesch. The Yankees pulled this same trick with Chad Gaudin a few years ago, releasing him in camp and paying him just a fraction of his original deal. A-Rod’s contract is fully guaranteed, as is nearly every free agent contract.

Mailbag: Balfour, Pitchers, Upton, Andrus

Got four questions for you this week, and remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us future mailbag questions.

(Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Mark asks: I know the Yankees have liked him in the past, since Oakland appears to be in sell mode – how does Grant Balfour look as Joba Chamberlain insurance?

Balfour, 34 had a rough start to the season but has settled down and pitched to a 3.14 ERA (3.74 FIP) overall. He’s making $4M this season with a $4.25M club option for next season ($350k buyout), so he’s a rental. There are three big red flags here. One, his strikeout rate (6.70 K/9 and 18.8 K%) is way down compared to the last few years (8.82 K/9 and 24.8 K% from ’10-’11). Two, his walk rate (3.77 BB/9 and 10.6 BB%) is way up (2.84 K/9 and 8.0 BB% from ’10-’11), and three, his fastball velocity is down into the low-90s and has been trending the wrong way for a few years now. That’s like the red flag trifecta right there.

Brian Cashman tried to work out a sign-and-trade deal for Balfour last offseason, before ownership stepped in and signed Rafael Soriano. I’m not sure if they still like him given this year’s decline, but the price shouldn’t be high at all. The Athletics could save some cash and get maybe a Grade-C prospect in return as part of a trade, which is better than holding on to him for another two months and losing him for nothing after the season. Balfour has AL East experience and that’s always nice, but that won’t save him if the fastball and ability to miss bats is gone. If the Yankees can get him real cheap, sure try him out. Low risk move. I wouldn’t expect a ton out of him, however.

Travis asks: Considering the depth of pitching the Yankees have, do you see them making a big free agent signing? They have CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, David Phelps already in the rotation next year and in AAA, they will have D.J. Mitchell, Adam Warren, Brett Marshall, Vidal Nuno, Mikey O’Brien, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos. That’s a lot of fourth and fifth starters (and some second and third) in the minors. Hard to see giving multiple years to pitchers this year and coming years.

That’s the problem, the vast majority of those minor league guys you mentioned are back-end starters. You don’t really make room for those guys, especially if you’re the Yankees. You let them come up and fill-in if someone gets hurt and you need a spot starter. I mean, if the choice is adding a Cole Hamels or leaving a spot open for someone like Brett Marshall … that seems like an easy call to me.

That said, the 2014 payroll plan is going to impact the team’s free agent decisions more than anything. They’ll need a few of those guys for depth reasons but I wouldn’t let them stand in the way of adding an impact arm. Heck, I wouldn’t let them stand in the way of re-signing Hiroki Kuroda. We’ve written this before, but the Yankees can add a guy like Hamels on a huge contract and still get under the luxury tax threshold in a few years, but it will take some serious creativity. Perhaps it involves dealing a few of those arms for a cheap outfielder or two as a way to offset the cost. I love prospects as much as anyone, but the Yankees don’t have anyone in their system right now that you can point to as a surefire impact pitcher.

Nick asks: So I know there is speculation about a Justin Upton trade. You had mentioned that to get him you would open up the farm system for him. Is there anyway the Yankees can get him AND hold onto Mason Williams or Gary Sanchez? If so, who would you prefer to keep?

(Christian Petersen/Getty)

I suppose there’s a way to do it, I just don’t know how they could. The Yankees and Diamondbacks don’t matchup well in a trade because Arizona has a ton of pitching and needs a third baseman and a shortstop. Maybe they really, really like Brandon Laird and Eduardo Nunez, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up. I can’t imagine a lower level guy like Dante Bichette Jr. would work; if you’re trading a franchise-type player like Upton, you can’t accept A-ballers in return, especially if you’re as close to contending as the D’Backs are.

As far as Williams and Sanchez, I’d prefer to keep Mason but honestly I wouldn’t let either guy stand in the way of a potential trade. Williams has a much more well-rounded game and while Sanchez has serious impact potential, I do still worry about his strikeouts a bit (27.1 K% last year, 23.2 K% this year). Love both guys though and would be willing to move one or the other in a package for a guy like Upton no questions asked. Hell, if those two were going to be the centerpieces of a trade with some miscellaneous pieces added, go for it. I’d have no problem giving up Single-A kids — even super high-ceiling ones like Williams and Sanchez — for a player of Upton’s caliber and potential.

Daniel asks: If the time comes when Elvis Andrus hits the free agent market, can you see the Yankees being major players for him? I believe he’d hit the market at age 25 or 26.

Oh yes, definitely. Andrus is the guy I’m hoping the Yankees will grab to replace Derek Jeter when the time comes. He’ll become a free agent right as the Cap’n’s deal is up and Texas has Jurickson Profar coming. Andrus is still only 23 (!) and will hit the open market at 26, so you’re getting all of his peak years. This is a guy that is already an elite defender at short who gets on-base (.368 OBP this year, .345 career), doesn’t strikeout (12.3 K% this year, 13.0 K% career), steals bases (30+ in each of the last three years plus he’ll get this year again), and stays on the field (145+ games played every year of his career). He also has World Series experience and that’s certainly not a negative.

Now obviously a lot can change between now and then, but Andrus makes a ton of sense for New York if they’re looking for a Jeter replacement in two years. I suspect Texas will either a) trade him, or b) trade Profar and extend Andrus before then, however. If he does hit the open market though, the bidding will be out of control. Middle infielders that productive and that young just don’t become free agents these days. I don’t think a deal worth $20M annually across 8-10 years is out of the question if he keeps this up.

Quick Update: Andrus is a Scott Boras client, so the odds of him signing an extension with Texas are small while the odds of him signing a megadeal as a free agent are huge.