Scouting The Trade Market: Miami Marlins

Baker. (Presswire)
Baker. (Presswire)

We are now a little more than one week away from the trade deadline, and at this point the buyers far outnumber the sellers. FanGraphs says nine teams have less than a 5% chance of making the postseason (only two in the AL), which actually seems kinda high. Not all nine of those teams will sell of course, and even the ones that do sell might not be matches for the Yankees. Making trades is really tough nowadays thanks to the second wildcard.

One club that is very much out of the race and as ready to sell as it gets is the Marlins, who come into today 38-55 and 12 games back of a postseason spot. The Marlins don’t screw around, when they decide to sell, they act quickly and decisively. There aren’t weeks of rumors. They know who they want, pull the trigger, and move on. Obviously this season hasn’t played out as hoped, though I doubt they’ll go full tear down. Probably more like a retooling. Luckily for them, they have a lot of rental players to market, some of whom could fit with the Yankees. Let’s look ’em over. (Players listed alphabetically.)

UTIL Jeff Baker

Yesterday we heard the Yankees are looking for a right-handed bat, and the 34-year-old Baker has hit .290/.350/.509 (126 wRC+) against lefties in his career. That’s great! The problem? He’s hitting .208/.288/.434 (99 wRC+) against southpaws this season, albeit in only 59 plate appearances. This could easily be a sample size issue. Baker hit .319/.362/.462 (128 wRC+) against lefties just last year.

We’re talking about a bench player here, a platoon bat on the short side of the platoon, and it’s damn near impossible to predict how guys like that will perform the two months after the trade deadline. Not only are they transitioning to a new team and a new city and all that, they also don’t play a whole lot. Remember Craig Wilson? That dude hit .282/.384/.518 (134 wRC+) against lefties in his career, including .307/.378/.545 (136 wRC+) for the Pirates in 2006, then put up a .222/.286/.400 (76 wRC+) line against lefties with the Yankees after being acquired a deadline.

With bench players like Wilson and Baker, the only thing you can do is bank on track record and hope they play up to their career averages. Baker has experience all over the field but is mostly a first baseman, a second baseman, and a left fielder at this point. He’s an impending free agent on a bad team and that figures to make him available. The Yankees are looking for someone for a similar skill set. Baker is a fit and hardly guaranteed to produce, because baseball doesn’t work like that.

What Will It Cost?: Baker is a utility guy. Utility guys get traded for cash or players to be named later. Gordon Beckham was traded last year for player to be named later that turned out to be a non-top 30 pitching prospect (Yency Almonte) down in rookie ball. Boom, there’s your trade reference point.

Cishek. (Presswire)
Cishek. (Presswire)

RHP Steve Cishek

Unlike the other guys in this post, Cishek isn’t a rental. He’s more of a 2016 piece than a 2015 piece, because his 2015 has been awful: 4.65 ERA (3.45 FIP) in 29 innings. This is a guy who had a 2.70 ERA (2.59 FIP) in 253.1 innings from 2011-14. Then poof, it was gone, so gone the Marlins sent Cishek to Double-A earlier this year. Not Triple-A, Double-A. To his credit, Cishek has a 0.77 ERA (2.20 FIP) since being recalled, but that is only in 11.2 innings.

The 29-year-old Cishek has a funky low arm slot and a low-90s sinker/low-80s slider combination that neutralized lefties despite said arm slot. Left-handed batters have hit .237/.325/.357 (.295 wOBA) against him in his career, which is stellar by low-slot guy standards. Batters of the opposite hand see the ball well from low-slot guys. For what it’s worth, Cishek told David Laurila earlier this month that his struggles were all mechanical:

“When the season started, my arm slot was a little low and my velocity was down,” explained Cishek. “I tried a little too hard to bring my velocity back up and started yanking everything. I was flying open and the ball was just taking off on me.

“If I’m throwing from too low, my sinker doesn’t sink. It’s flat. If I’m able to move my hand up an inch or two, I’m able to get the diving action I’ve had in the past, with a little more thump behind the ball.”

The PitchFX data shows Cishek has climbed back into the 92-94 mph range after sitting right at 90 earlier this season, which backs up the mechanical trouble. Here is Cishek’s delivery in case you’ve never seen him pitch. It’s easy to see how a delivery like that could fall out of whack from time to time.

Cishek saved 94 games over the years and he’s a Super Two, so he’s already pulling down $6.65M this season, his second year of arbitration. That puts him in line for $8M or so next season even with this year’s struggles, making him a non-tender candidate. The Marlins are not exactly a big spending team, as you may have heard. Cishek’s salary likely made him a goner after this season no matter what.

Trading for a non-tender candidate who might not help this year is sorta dumb, though the Yankees are one of the very few teams who can afford to pay Cishek that $8M next year to be a seventh or eighth inning guy (or eat it if he stinks). They talked to the Marlins about relievers before signing Andrew Miller this offseason, and I assume Cishek’s name came up, so they could have long-lasting interest. (He is 6-foot-6, after all. The Yankees love their tall pitchers.) I think this is unlikely to happen, but I figured I’d cover all my bases.

What Will It Cost?: Boy, this is interesting. The Marlins are going market Cishek as the shutdown closer he was from 2011-14 while teams are going to look at him as a reclamation projection. An expensive reclamation project. Two busted closers were traded for each other last summer (Jason Grilli for Ernesto Frieri), but that doesn’t help us. The Brewers traded John Axford for a control-challenged MLB ready reliever (Michael Blazek) a few years ago, which could be the asking price for Cishek. The Marlins could very well be in “we’re going to non-tender him anyway, so we’ll take what we can get” mode.

Haren. (Presswire)
Haren. (Presswire)

RHP Dan Haren

I feel like Haren is a perennial “should the Yankees get him?” guy. Every year we’re talking about him. Haren was very good for a very long time with the Athletics and Diamondbacks, but he is clearly in the twilight of his career nowadays, so much so that he was considering retirement before the season. Haren has a 3.46 ERA (4.31 FIP) in 117 innings this season, though the ERA hides his career-low strikeout (17.1%) and ground ball (31.4%) rates.

I’ve long felt Haren was not a good fit for the Yankees because he’s always been extremely homer prone — 1.31 HR/9 this year and 1.11 HR/9 in his career, and that’s after spending all those years in Oakland — and now he’s still homer prone, only with an 86 mph fastball instead of a 93 mph fastball. Haren doesn’t walk anyone (4.9%) and he’s really durable, so you know he’ll take the ball every fifth day and there’s value in that, I’m just not sure they will be quality innings.

Haren will be popular at the trade deadline because he comes with zero salary — the Dodgers are paying all of it. That doesn’t help the Yankees any. Quite the opposite, in fact. It levels the playing field and the concept of absorbing salary to lower the prospect price flies out the window. Haren will be a pure talent swap, not a salary dump. Given his decline and propensity for the long ball (even in big parks), Haren doesn’t seem like a fit for the Yankees unless all hell breaks loose in the next ten days.

What Will It Cost?: The going rate for an impending free agent back of the rotation veteran innings guy appears to be two or three Grade-C prospects. The Ricky Nolasco trade from a few years ago seems like a decent reference point. The Dodgers sent three pitching prospects to the Marlins for Nolasco: a Triple-A reliever (Josh Wall), a Double-A reliever (Steve Ames), and a Single-A starter (Angel Sanchez). Sanchez was ranked as the Dodgers’ 16th best prospect before the season by Baseball America while Ames and Wall were not in their top 30. Haren coming with zero salary could complicate things.

Latos. (Presswire)
Latos. (Presswire)

RHP Mat Latos

The Marlins acquired Latos from the Reds in the offseason and, in his very first start with Miami, he allowed seven runs in two-thirds of an inning. Yikes. Since then though, the 27-year-old Latos has a 4.10 ERA (3.41 FIP) in 13 starts and 74.2 innings, which still isn’t great, but it is better than the overall numbers would lead you believe (4.90 ERA and 3.48 FIP).

Latos has had a lot of physical problems over the last year or two, including hamstring, knee, and foot injuries this season. He also missed the first two and a half months of last season due to elbow (bone spur) and knee (meniscus) surgery. Latos’ velocity hasn’t really been the same since all the injuries:

Mat Latos velocity

The velocity did come back earlier this season, albeit temporarily. Latos is back to sitting in the low-90s now, where he was earlier this season and last year. His strikeout (20.8%) and walk (7.5%) rates are fine, and Latos has never been a ground ball guy (40.9% in 2015 and 43.1% career), so his underlying performance has been right in line with the rest of his career. The problem is his career-low pop-up rate (6.5%), his career-high hard contact rate (33.9%), and his near career worst performance against lefties (.336 wOBA). The contact he’s giving up is bad contact.

Latos is owed about $4.7M through the end of the season and will be a free agent this winter, so there’s no long-term risk, just the risk that you’ll give up an asset for him and he’ll stink. It happens, that’s part of baseball, but Latos seems riskier than most given his recent injury history and so so performance. He’s a warm body who can come in and take a rotation turn every fifth day, but is he the kind of guy who can put a team over the top? Maybe three or four years ago. But not now.

What Will It Cost?: Latos and Haren are both rental starters but they’re different. Haren’s a known commodity, proven durable, pitching like he always has. Latos is coming off injuries and his performance hasn’t been great. He’s a broken starter, so to speak. I’m not sure what a good reference trade would be. Justin Masterson to the Cardinals? St. Louis gave up their No. 8 prospect (James Ramsey) to get him. Brandon McCarthy last year? The Yankees gave up an MLB ready swingman in Vidal Nuno. The Marlins traded an MLB ready arm (Anthony DeSclafani, their No. 5 prospect) and a minor league depth catcher (Chad Wallach) to get Latos in the offseason. So I guess the asking price has to be lower than that, give his performance and half-season of team control, right?

Prado. (Presswire)
Prado. (Presswire)

UTIL Martin Prado

Prado is a fine player, but I’m not sure anyone has seen their perceived value increase thanks to two months in pinstripes as much as him. He raked in 37 games with the Yankees last year (146 wRC+). It was pretty awesome. Prado is also hitting .281/.325/.407 (101 wRC+) in his last 1,525 plate appearances. That’s good. It’s not great, it’s not bad, it’s just good. Basically average. Average is valuable! But given his recent history (117, 104, 103, 92 wRC+ from 2012-15), I’m not sure how much longer he’ll be even average.

That said, the Yankees have a total black hole at second base, and even a below-average Prado is a big upgrade over what the Yankees are running out there. As an added bonus, he’s a right-handed bat, which will help balance the lineup. As an extra added bonus, Prado’s versatile and would give the Yankees coverage at other positions. That said, should they bring him back, it should be to play second everyday. That’s the area of need right now.

Prado is making $11M both this season and next, and the Yankees are actually playing $3M of that each year as part of the trade that sent him to Miami. The Yankees have said they prefer rental players at the deadline, but they did acquire Prado and his contract last year, and he would be a nice depth player next season, albeit an expensive one. Prado is not really the hitter he was with the Yankees last year, but he’s a quality two-way player who would help New York quite a bit.

What Will It Cost?: Well let’s see, the Yankees traded Peter O’Brien to get two and a half years of Prado last year, though the Diamondbacks aren’t exactly known for making smart decisions. One and a half years of Prado should cost less, in theory, especially considering he’s been hurt (shoulder) and isn’t hitting as well (.275/.317/.375 and 92 wRC+ this year), and at that point you wonder if the Marlins will simply hold onto him for next year and try to contend again.

Third base option off the board: Marlins sign Jeff Baker

Via Joel Sherman: The Marlins have signed utility man Jeff Baker to a two-year contract worth $3.75M, plus incentives. The Yankees had interest in him earlier this offseason and he made a lot of sense as the right-handed half of a third base platoon. Asking him to play the hot corner everyday would have been a real stretch though. Baker signed a minor league deal last summer, so I’m guessing that two-year guarantee (plus the promise of lots of playing time) put the Marlins over the top.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Jeff Baker

The Yankees are said to be done with their offseason “heavy lifting” following the Masahiro Tanaka signing, but there is still some roster fine-tuning to be done. More than fine-tuning, really. The infield and bench are glaring needs and the final open position player spot figures to address both. The team is said to be leaning towards someone like Eduardo Nunez, Scott Sizemore, or Dean Anna for that spot at the moment.

Aside from Stephen Drew, who may or may not interest the Yankees, the free agent infield market is thin. Michael Young and Placido Polanco are among the biggest name players still available, but New York doesn’t need another player casual fans will recognize. They need someone who can actually produce. The best available option might be someone who is more of a utility man than a full-time guy: the right-handed hitting Jeff Baker. The Yankees showed interest in him last month and they’ve been connected to him at various points in the past. He appears to be a great fit for that last roster spot, at least on paper, but what does he really bring to the table? Let’s look.

The Pros

  • The 32-year-old Baker punishes left-handed pitching. He hit .314/.407/.667 (186 wRC+) against southpaws last season and .287/.342/.496 (124 wRC+) against them over the last three years. All but two of his 18 homers since 2011 have come against lefties.
  • Baker hits the ball to all fields and has power the other way against left-handers (spray chart). He does the most damage when pulling the ball like everyone else, but has power to right and that fits well with Yankee Stadium.
  • Since breaking into the league, Baker has played every position other than shortstop, center field, pitcher, and catcher. He has plenty of experience on the infield and enough in the corner outfield to be more than an emergency fill-in.
  • This is easy to overlook, but Baker knows how to remain productive as a bench player (he has played more than 100 games just once in parts of nine big league seasons). A lot of guys struggle initially when moved into a part-time role. It can be a tough adjustment to make.

The Cons

  • Baker is a pure platoon player. He mustered a weak .204/.250/.286 (41 wRC+) batting line against righties last summer and over the last three seasons, it’s a .213/.251/.298 (45 wRC+) line. Don’t kid yourself: this is a straight platoon player who is completely unusable against same-side pitchers.
  • The various defensive metrics says Baker is a below-average gloveman pretty much everywhere. He’s versatile but not an asset in the field. It has been a few years since he played more than ten games at second or third as well.
  • Injuries have been an issue. Baker suffered a thumb sprain during a high-five last year and missed a month (true story), and he’s also had groin (2011), hand (2009), and elbow (2009) problems over the years.
  • Baker won’t give you anything on the bases. He has gone 13-for-14 in stolen base attempts in his career, but he’s never stolen more than four bags in a season and over the last three years he’s taken the extra-base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) just 25% of the time, well below the 40% league average.

There hasn’t been much interest in Baker this winter despite his obvious usefulness as a right-handed platoon bat. The Rangers want him back according to Gerry Fraley and of course the Yankees have interest, but that’s pretty much it. The Giants checked in earlier this offseason but Andy Baggarly says the two sides stopped talking in December. Baker signed a minor league deal with Texas late last January and he might have to do something similar this winter.

The Yankees could really use a no doubt everday infielder regardless of position. Derek Jeter is going to need to spend time at DH given his age and myriad of leg injuries, plus we all know Brian Roberts is very unlikely to make it through the season healthy. With Mark Teixeira‘s wrist still stiff, Kelly Johnson is the team’s only question-free infielder. Baker wouldn’t improve that situation any, but he would given them a legitimate starting option against southpaws and an awesome pinch-hitter for lefty relievers. He’s a useful but limited player when used properly. Nothing more than that.

Sherman: Yankees have expressed interest in Jeff Baker

Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees have expressed interest in free agent utility man Jeff Baker. They’ve been connected to him a few times over the years but never did land him. New York added Brian Roberts earlier today and are still looking for position player help, particularly on the infield.

Baker, 32, hit .279/.360/.545 (143 wRC+) with eleven homers in only 175 plate appearances for the Rangers last season while missing more than a month with a thumb sprain suffered during a high-five (not joking). The right-handed batter has a history of mashing lefties (186 wRC+ in 2013 and 128 career), plus he has experience at the three non-shortstop infield positions as well as both corner outfield spots. Baker fits the roster really well in a platoon role. Makes a lot of sense.

Heyman: Yankees still seeking right-handed bat

This is no surprise, but Jon Heyman says the Yankees continue to seek a right-handed bat for the bench. He reiterates that Scott Hairston and Vernon Wells are options, though he adds another candidate to the mix: Jeff Baker. I wrote a Scouting The Market post for the 31-year-old back in July, so I’ll just refer you to that and give you the short version here: he hits lefties well and has a ton of experience at first, third, and in right field. Baker is almost certainly a one-year contract guy (though who knows with this market), something that isn’t true for Wells or Hairston.

Scouting The Trade Market: Jeff Baker

(Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

The trade deadline is just three days away, and Alex Rodriguez‘s broken hand has given the Yankees a clear need for help at third base. Marco Scutaro, Ryan Roberts, and Omar Infante have all been dealt already and apparently Ty Wigginton is off limits since Placido Polanco is hurt. The infield pickin’s are slim, but not barren.

Once again we’re going to turn our attention to a non-contender for potential help, this time the Chicago Cubs. They’re looking to move significant pieces like Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, and Alfonso Soriano, but the best fit for the Yankees may be complementary player Jeff Baker. The 31-year-old utility man is have a solid season (105 wRC+) as the team’s right-handed bat off the bench, but when you’re as deep into a rebuild as the Cubbies, no player is untouchable. Let’s see if he’s a fit for the Yankees….

The Pros

  • Baker can hit a little, with a 108 wRC+ against lefties and a 101 wRC+ against righties this season. Since the start of 2010, he’s tagged lefties to the tune of a 129 wRC+ with a .186 ISO and a measly 14.1% strikeout rate.
  • He’s versatile, having spent lots of time at first, second, third, and in right field during his career. Second base doesn’t happen too often these days, but Baker can play there in a pinch.
  • A rental player scheduled to become a free agent after the season, Baker is making $1.375M this season. That’s roughly $525k the rest of the way. He also has a minor league option remaining, though at his service time level he can refuse the assignment so it doesn’t really matter.

The Cons

  • Baker’s a strict platoon guy. He has nice numbers against righties this year, but since the start of 2010 it’s just a 23 wRC+ with a 34.2% strikeout rate. The breaking ball away gives him fits.
  • Despite all that versatility, Baker is a considered a below average defender at every position he plays by the various defensive metrics. Much like Wigginton, he’s a first baseman who plays other positions because his manager tells him to.
  • Baker hasn’t been the most durable player in the world — he visited the DL twice with groin strains last year and missed more than two months with a hand issue in 2009. He’s been healthy this year though.

The Yankees aren’t necessarily looking at an upgrade over Eric Chavez or Jayson Nix, at this point they’re seeking an upgrade over Ramiro Pena as the extra infielder. That might be Brandon Laird or Eduardo Nunez, but Baker also makes some sense as a lefty masher who can fake multiple positions. Adding marginal wins means very little to New York at this point given their nine-game lead in the division, but the goal really isn’t to improve the team’s chances of winning. It’s to keep Chavez healthy and limit his exposure — so he can be a pinch-hitting weapon in the postseason — while still having a competent player at the hot corner.

Scutaro was traded just last night for an okay infield prospect, and that gives us some kind of reference point for a trade package. The Cubs insist on pitching in any move though, so perhaps a second or third tier arm like Mikey O’Brien or Shane Greene gets it done. If it doesn’t, then acquiring Baker probably isn’t worth the effort. He’s a nice role player for platoon situations but nothing more.