Yankees, Cubs exchanged proposals for Samardzija and Hammel

According to Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman, the Yankees and Cubs exchanged proposals for both Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel before the two were traded to the Athletics. It sounds like they were discussing them in separate deals, not one big trade. Heyman says the Yankees finished second in the bidding for Samardzija and lost out because they didn’t want to give up Dellin Betances and simply don’t have a prospect as good as Addison Russell.

With Chase Whitley crashing back to Earth and Vidal Nuno being Vidal Nuno, it’s clear the Yankees need at least one and maybe even two starters. It sounds like CC Sabathia is done for the year and who knows when or if Michael Pineda will return. Even if you think the Yankees won’t contend and have no business being buyers, they still need some kind of veteran innings eater to take some pressure off Betances and Adam Warren. Those two are already starting to show signs of being overworked and the Yankees need to scale back on their workload in the coming weeks.

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Scouting The Trade Market: Cubs’ Pitchers

The non-waiver trade deadline is fiveweeks from tomorrow and there is no reason to think the Yankees won’t be an active buyer leading up to July 31st. They’re 3.5 games back of the AL East lead and 1.5 games back of a wildcard spot with 86 games to play. Brian Cashman has already said he expects to make some moves before the deadline because … well, duh. The Yankees need help. Rotation help, infield help, and offensive help in general.

Baseball’s league-wide mediocrity — I’m sorry, “competitive balance” — means more teams are in the postseason hunt than ever before, so very few clubs are willing to throw in the towel and sell right now. One club who will definitely be a seller in the coming weeks is the Cubs, who are far out of the race and have several desirable pieces to offer. The Theo Epstein-led regime has been selling since they got there.

The Yankees and Cubs hooked up for the Alfonso Soriano trade last July (they also made smaller deals involving Brent Lillibridge and Alberto Gonzalez last season), which is the only notable deal between the two clubs since the Matt Lawton swap in 2005. I had completely forgotten Matt Lawton was a Yankee. What do the Cubbies have to offer the Bronx Bombers? Let’s first look at the pitchers.

(Brian Kersey/Getty)
Samardzija. (Brian Kersey/Getty)

RHP Jeff Samardzija
Samardzija, 29, will be the best right-handed pitcher on the market this trade deadline. He recently rejected a five-year, $70-80M extension according to Jon Heyman, which makes sense in the wake of Homer Bailey’s six-year, $105M deal. Samardzija will earn $5.345M this season and remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player next year before hitting free agency. Whoever trades for him will be getting him for potentially two postseasons, not one.

In 16 starts and 103 innings this season, Samardzija owns a 2.53 ERA (2.89 FIP) with very good strikeout (8.48 K/9 and 22.8 K%), walk (2.71 BB/9 and 7.3 BB%), homerun (0.44 HR/9 and 6.6 HR/FB%), and ground ball (52.4%) rates. Lefties (.311 wOBA) have had a bit more success against him (.272 wOBA) than righties. Samardzija has made the jump from very good to elite on a rate basis this season, though I think it’s premature to call him an ace. Let’s see where that homer rate sits in a few weeks (1.04 HR/9 and 13.4 HR/FB% from 2012-13).

Samardzija has shown he can hold up under a starter’s workload after beginning his MLB career in the bullpen, throwing 174.2 innings in 2012 and 213.2 innings in 2013. It’s worth noting he’s never been on the disabled list and, after spending time as a standout wide receiver at Notre Dame, he’s pretty used to being in the limelight. The Yankees do value that. Here’s a PitchFX breakdown of Samardzija’s arsenal:

Four-Seam Sinker Cutter Slider Splitter
Avg. Velocity 95.6 95.6 94.2 86.4 86.9
% Thrown 21.6% 32.9% 11.4% 21.3% 12.4%
Whiff+ 119 117 130 105 122
GB+ 109 126 91 114 133

Whiff+ and GB+ are swing-and-miss and ground ball rates for the individual pitches relative to league average — 100 means average, the higher the better. It’s like ERA+. The swing-and-miss rate on Samardzija’s four-seamer is 19% better than league average. The ground ball rate on his cutter is 9% below league average. Simple enough, right?

As you can see from the table, Samardzija misses bats and gets ground balls at an above-average rate with just about his entire repertoire. He has high-end fastball velocity and I think the ability to simply reach back and throw a fastball by a hitter in a fastball count is underrated. It can help you escape a lot of jams. Samardzija has elite stuff, it really is ace-caliber power stuff, and it appears he has figured out how to turn it into ace-caliber production in his third full season as an MLB starter.

The Cubs managed to turn Matt Garza into two top 50 prospects (Mike Olt and C.J. Edwards), an MLB ready back-end starter/long man (Justin Grimm), and a near MLB ready bullpen prospect (Neil Ramirez) last summer. Garza is not only not as good as Samardzija, but he was also coming off a series of injuries (lat strain, elbow fracture) and was due to become a free agent after the season. You’re kidding yourself if you think the Yankees can land Samardzija with, like, John Ryan Murphy and Nik Turley. If you want him, it’s going to hurt. I don’t think New York has the prospects to win a bidding war.

Hammel. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)
Hammel. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)

RHP Jason Hammel
Hammel has gone from an afterthought on the free agent pitching market to a suddenly desirable trade chip for few reasons, but I do think it’s funny how the perception has changed in just a few months. The Cubs gave the 31-year-old Hammel a one-year, $6M contract over the winter and he’s given them a 2.99 ERA (3.06 FIP) in 15 starts and 96.1 innings. His strikeout (8.50 K/9 and 23.9 K%) and walk (1.87 BB/9 and 5.3 BB%) rates are career bests while his grounder (40.1%) and homer (0.75 HR/9 and 8.2 HR/FB%) numbers are closer to his career norms.

The Cubs were able to sign Hammel so cheaply because he was pretty bad last year (4.97 ERA and 4.93 FIP) and hurt the last two years — he threw only 118 innings in 2012 due to knee surgery and 139.1 innings in 2013 because of a flexor mass strain in his elbow. He’s remained healthy this year and is going to pass his innings totals in each of the last two seasons within a month. Here’s the PitchFX breakdown of Hammel’s stuff:

Four-Seam Sinker Slider Curve Changeup
Avg. Velocity 93.5 93.6 84.7 77.4 86.9
% Thrown 33.5% 25.1% 31.9% 6.2% 3.0%
Whiff+ 136 132 126 54 98
GB+ 72 87 111 68 113

After going from the Rockies to the Orioles prior to the 2012 season, Hammel reinvented himself as a sinker/slider pitcher and it led to great success (3.43 ERA and 3.29 FIP). He threw more four-seamers and fewer offspeed pitches last year, possibly due to the elbow issue, but this year he’s really cranked up his slider usage while still throwing more four-seamers than sinkers. Hammel is a three-pitch guy with a show-me changeup and curveball, basically.

The Cubs traded Scott Feldman under very similar circumstances last year. They gave him that same one-year, $6M contract after he missed time with injury in previous years, then traded him after 91 innings of 3.46 ERA (3.93 FIP) ball. Hammel pitched better but his injury history is a little scarier. Feldman fetched an erratic reliever (Pedro Strop) and an inconsistent starter (Jake Arrieta) from Baltimore last summer. Hammel, who has AL East experience, shouldn’t cost much more.

Jackson. (Brian Kersey/Getty)
Jackson. (Brian Kersey/Getty)

RHP Edwin Jackson
I never got the appeal of Jackson beyond his value as a workhorse. He’s a classic example of a guy who has ace-caliber stuff but far from ace-caliber results. A lesser version of A.J. Burnett, basically. Burnett at least had some dominant years earlier in his career.

The Cubs bought the hype and signed Jackson to a four-year contract worth $52M two winters ago, and he’s since pitched to a 5.03 ERA (3.81 FIP) in 259.2 innings. Ouch. That includes a 5.12 ERA (3.86 FIP) in 84.1 innings this year. Jackson has underperformed his peripherals in each of the last five years (4.38 ERA and 3.77 FIP since 2010) and after 850+ innings, it’s not a fluke. That’s just who he is. Some guys consistently outperform their peripherals (Jeremy Guthrie), some consistently underperform their peripherals. Jackson’s the latter.

So far this year the 30-year-old Jackson has a career high strikeout rate (8.86 K/9 and 22.9 K%), though his walk (3.74 BB/9 and 9.5 BB%), homerun (0.96 HR/9 and 11.7 HR/FB), and ground ball (40.5%) rates are his worst in years. He is pretty durable, making at least 31 starts and throwing at least 175 innings every year since 2008. The Yankees could use an innings guy. Here’s the PitchFX breakdown of Jackson’s pitches because why not:

Four-Seam Sinker Slider Curve Changeup
Avg. Velocity 94 93.4 86.9 79.8 87.3
% Thrown 46.9% 13.8% 28.9% 7.2% 3.0%
Whiff+ 116 99 150 67 137
GB+ 108 101 90 51 105

Jackson has always had a strong fastball/slider combination, but again, he doesn’t get the most out of it. There is still approximately $28M left on his contract through 2016 and I think the Cubs would trade him in a heartbeat just to save some salary. Jackson would still require some kind of prospect return because he is relatively young and he will give you innings, if nothing else. It won’t be a pure salary dump.

* * *

Epstein & Co. have made it clear they prefer quality to quantity. They don’t look to fill specific needs in trades, they simple hoard as much talent as possible. They’ve drafted (Kris Bryant) and traded for (Mike Olt and Christian Villanueva) several young third basemen in the last two years, for example. They just want talent, regardless of position. Unless the Cubs specifically target a catching prospect, I’m not sure that helps the Yankees.

Later today we’ll look at the position players Chicago has the offer, though their best available talent is on the mound. Samardzija and David Price are the only two impact guys who are realistically available, though Hammel has been solid this year. I wouldn’t go near Jackson, but that’s just me. Do the Yankees bite the bullet and give up prospects for Hammel at the deadline when he had trouble finding a job over the winter? They might not have a choice.

Mailbag: Prospects, All-Stars, Castro, Samardzija

Got a dozen questions for you this week, including a bunch about prospects. We’re starting to get an overwhelming amount of questions each week — I had over 50 marked for consideration this week — and I’m trying to answer as many as I can each Friday. Don’t take it personally if yours is not included. Keep sending them in.

Aaron Judge and Michael O'Neill. (Moultrie News)
Aaron Judge and Michael O’Neill. O’Neill is 6-foot-1. (Moultrie News)

Brendan asks: If some of these prospects stay hot (Aaron Judge), when is the earliest we could expect a call up?

Judge is the one guy who I think will get moved up sooner rather than later. The Yankees said they started him with Low-A Charleston because he didn’t play at all after signing last year and they wanted to take it slow, but now that he’s showing no rust and is raking, a quick move up to High-A Tampa is in order. As for other everyone else, I think we’re still a good two months or so away. The season is young and most promotions don’t come until midseason, after each league’s All-Star Game.

Toki asks: Now that Dante Bichette Jr. is hitting (SSS), who has the higher ceiling among Bichette and Eric Jagielo?

Jagielo, no doubt. It would still be Jagielo for me even if Bichette had hit well these last two years. I have less questions about Jagielo’s all-around offensive game as well as his defense. Maybe Bichette will have a higher offensive peak if it all works out, but I think Jagielo projects to be the better all-around player and it really isn’t all that close. Bichette’s been great this year, but three weeks do not erase the last two years.

Upstate Yanks asks: When are we going to see Mark Montgomery come up? Could be a future late-inning guy no?

Probably in the second half and yes. I actually think I ranked him too high in my Preseason Top 30 — Danny Burawa jumped him on the depth chart before getting hurt — and I’m not quite as bullish as I was last year at this time. The slider still misses bats though, and has long as that continues to happen, he’ll project to be a late-inning arm.

Glenn asks: I know he’s only been in the system a short time but it always seems like Caleb Smith is putting up nice numbers. Is there potential in him for the future?

Oh yes, absolutely. Smith might be the best sleeper in the organization right now. The Yankees grabbed him out of Sam Houston State with their 14th round pick last year, gave him $100k, and he has a 1.78 ERA (~2.24 FIP) with a 26.7% strikeout rate in 65.2 pro innings. That was before yesterday’s 13-strikeout performance. The walks are a bit high (9.2%) but Smith is a big lefty (listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 lbs.) with a low-to-mid-90s fastball and two legit offspeed pitches (low-80s slider and changeup). Is he the next Randy Johnson? No, but there’s legit MLB potential there.

Dan asks: Peter O’Brien is hitting the cover off the ball, what are the chances he gets called up to AA this year? Since he seems to be completely blocked at C, do you see the Yankees moving his position? Same questions for Gary Sanchez: if his bat can make an impact in the next couple of years, is there any chance they try him out at a different position, because he’s blocked by McCann? Do you see him being promoted to AAA this year?

O'Brien. (Presswire)
O’Brien. (Presswire)

O’Brien to Double-A will definitely happen at some point. That will be one of the midseason promotions I mentioned earlier. He’ll eventually move off catcher because he’s a pretty bad catcher, not because he’s blocked. O’Brien worked out at third base last year but that didn’t work. They’re giving right field a try early this year. I assume first base is next. As for Gary Sanchez, he should stay behind the plate as long as possible regardless of Brian McCann and whoever else is ahead of him on the depth chart. He’s way more valuable there. Let him develop behind the plate and worry about where he fits into the MLB roster when the time comes. If nothing else, staying behind the plate makes him more attractive to other teams in trades. As for the promotion to Triple-A Scranton, yeah I think that will happen later this summer.

Jack asks: Among the following 4: a) would you rank the most likely (if any) to succeed as a major league regular, and b) has the ability to stick at 3B at the majors: Jagielo, DBJ, Andujar, Austin.

To answer the first question, I’d rank them Jagielo, Tyler Austin, Miguel Andujar, and Bichette. I had Austin over Jagielo in my Preseason Top 30 but they were right next too each other (almost interchangeable) and Austin has dealt with some injury problems in recent weeks. As for sticking at third base, I’d have them Jagielo, Andujar, Austin, and Bichette. I’m not married to the order of the last two and I wouldn’t argue Bichette over Austin. Jagielo and Andujar are legit third baseman. The other guys are maybes at the position who are better off elsewhere.

Paul asks: Too early, I know, but so far the only Yankees worthy of All-Star berths are Masahiro Tanaka and maybe Jacoby Ellsbury, right? Nobody else is standing out to me. Who do you think the fans will vote for? Derek Jeter seems like a good shot considering he’s Jeter and has avoided falling on his face. Anyone else?

I think Jeter will win the fan vote by a mile at shortstop. Who will take votes from him? Jose Reyes? That’s the only other reasonable candidate and he’s hurt all the time. The current AL shortstop landscape is a wasteland. Jeter has hit well this year and I think he’ll go to the All-Star Game. Tanaka and Ellsbury are both worthy right now — Ellsbury’s not a maybe for me, he’s been too good to be on the bubble — and I think Carlos Beltran will get some consideration, though there are always a ton of qualified outfielders. McCann also has a shot, especially if his recent offensive surge is a sign he’s getting back to being himself at the plate. The AL catching crop is weak, though Jason Castro and Matt Wieters are legitimate alternatives.

Matt asks: Could the Yankees look to make a deal with the Cubs for Starlin Castro, being that he had sort of a rocky season last year with the organization, and the presence of their prospect Javier Baez (though he is struggling now) seemingly on the way? Obviously depending on how he performs, what do you think it would take to get a deal done for Castro at the end of the season?

Yes, I think so. Obviously it depends how he rebounds from that disaster last year. Castro isn’t a shortstop — I don’t know what he is, really. Maybe a second baseman? — and he’s a hacker at the plate, but he has some power and speed. He also just turned 24, so he’s still very young with the potential for improvement. The contract is scary if you don’t think he’ll rebound (owed $49M through 2019), but that’s the Cubs’ problem. I’m interested but I want to see what happens this year. There haven’t been many players like Castro traded over the years, so figuring out what it would take to get him is mighty tough. How do you value him? As a future star or just an okay infielder?

(Justin K. Aller/Getty)
Samardzija. (Justin K. Aller/Getty)

New Guy asks: Now that Ivan Nova is out for a while, what would it take to make Jeff Samardzija a Yankee? I’ve always liked him and he is always liked to trade rumors. Are you interested?

I was about a year ago, but Samardzija didn’t improve much (if at all) last season and this year is more of the same. His strikeout rate this year is actually way, way down, but it is still very early. Samardzija strikes me as a classic “whole is less than the sum of the parts” guy, like Edwin Jackson and A.J. Burnett. The stuff says he should be an ace and you keep waiting for him to turn into an ace, but he leaves you waiting and waiting. All while he’ll show enough flashes to keep you interested. Samardzija is affordable ($5.345M in 2014, free agent after 2015) and he’s a fine mid-rotation horse, but he’s already 29 and I’m not sure how much longer you can wait for him to live up to the potential. The Cubs are marketing him as an ace and he just isn’t that.

Josh asks: You just did a piece of the Yanks trying to make a move for Cliff Lee. What do you think about Kyle Kendrick. Younger, and would come a lot cheaper. Hasn’t had a great start, but maybe they could buy low.

I’m not a fan of Kendrick. He’s a solid back of the rotation type who limits walks and gets grounders, but he is surprisingly expensive ($7.675M this year) and I’m not sure an upper-80s sinker/low-80s changeup righty is someone I trust in the AL East. I’d rather give David Phelps a try before giving up prospects for Kendrick. Lee is (still) an elite pitcher and I’m not a fan of cutting corners when it comes to those guys. Play the price and add a true difference maker. No one gets upset over traded prospects in October.

Joe asks: Watching the Yankees so far this season, they are definitely going 1st to 3rd and 2nd to home A LOT more than previous years. Was wondering if you could do a comparison between this year and previous years.

Sure can. These numbers do not include last night’s game (couldn’t wait around for Baseball Reference to update overnight), but here are the team’s first-to-third numbers (small sample size, yadda yadda yadda):

1st to 3rd Opps. 1st to 3rds 1st to 3rd % Overall XB%
2014 40 16 40% 48%
2013 275 65 24% 35%
2012 280 78 28% 37%
2011 287 71 25% 38%
2010 328 87 27% 38%

Joe is correct, the Yankees have absolutely been going first-to-third more often this season. They’ve been taking the extra-base in general — score from second on a single, score from first on a double, etc. — more often as well. The league average for taking the extra-base is around 40% and the Yankees were a bit below that the last few years. This year they are well above-average.

The reason for the improvement is pretty obvious. Ellsbury, Yangervis Solarte, Kelly Johnson, and Brian Roberts are quicker than the guys they replaced, and both Jeter and Beltran are very smart base-runners who make up for their lack of speed with instincts. I think their first-to-third and overall extra-base rate will come down a bit as the season progresses just because guys will start to get tired and stuff like that, but they should still be quite a bit better than the last few years. Between all the defensive shifts and better base-running, this is a new breed of Yankees baseball.

2013 Winter Meetings Day One Open Thread

2013 Winter Meetings

It’s hard to believe that after everything that happened last week, today is the first day of the Winter Meetings in Orlando. These next three days — the fourth day of the Winter Meetings is always slow because teams head home around noon-ish — might be a little slower than usual only because some of the very top free agents are always off the board. I still expect this week to be pretty busy, with lots of rumors and trades and signings with whatnot.

Robinson Cano is leaving for the Mariners and Curtis Granderson is going across town to the Mets, but the Yankees have already inked Jacoby Ellsbury (seven years, $153M), Brian McCann (five years, $85M), Carlos Beltran (three years, $45M), Hiroki Kuroda (one year, $16M), and Kelly Johnson (one year, $3M). They still need another infielder to help replace Cano as well as another starting pitcher — Yu Darvish was posted during the 2011 Winter Meetings, so hopefully we get some clarification about Masahiro Tanaka this week — and some bullpen help. General depth is always something to monitor as well.

Brian Cashman is not expected to arrive in Orlando until this afternoon according to Andy McCullough, but that’s pretty typical. A few clubs and executives are already there but most trickle in throughout Monday. We’re going to keep track of any Yankees-related news right here throughout the day, so make sure you check back often. All of the timestamps are ET.

  • 10:58pm: The Yankees have not changed their stance on Gardner. They will listen to offers but aren’t overly motivated to trade him. [Jack Curry]
  • 7:47pm: The asking price for Gardner is “through (the) roof” and the Giants don’t have much interest in Ichiro Suzuki. Not surprised on either count. [John Shea]
  • 6:58pm: The Giants are intrigued by Gardner. One person involved in talks called a trade “not likely, but not impossible.” [Sherman]
  • 6:38pm: The most likely return for Gardner would be a number four starter, according to rival executives. A number three would be a strong return. Just keep him in that case. [McCullough]
  • 5:05pm: The Yankees are looking for relievers and they have stayed in contact with Boone Logan. He had a bone spur removed from his elbow after the season and is expected to start throwing this month. [McCullough]
  • 5:01pm: Cuban shortstop Aledmys Diaz will be eligible to sign on February 19th after being suspended for falsifying his age. The Yankees had a “large presence” at the 23-year-old’s recent showcase events in Mexico. Some teams like him more as a second baseman. [Jeff Passan]
  • 11:10am: The Yankees have not expressed interest in Johan Santana. He’s coming off his second torn shoulder capsule and the first is usually the kiss of death. [McCullough]
  • 11:03am: Thinking about Roy Halladay? Forget it. He’s retiring. Halladay will sign a one-day contract with the Blue Jays and make the official announcement later today. [Jon Heyman]
  • The Yankees are one of the teams with interest in trading for Cubs right-hander Jeff Samardzija. I wrote about him around the trade deadline. [Bruce Levine]
  • 9:00am: “That’s the last thing I’m worried about,” said Cashman when asked about acquiring a closer. He acknowledged they’re seeking another starter and bullpen help in general. “Listen, we have enough voids that you don’t have to prioritize any of it. You hope to run into something sooner than later that makes you better.” [Dan Martin]
  • The Yankees did look into a reunion with Raul Ibanez but he isn’t much of a fit now. The outfield is crowded and there’s no room for another DH-type. Ibanez is expected to sign this week. [Joel Sherman]
  • The Yankees still have interest in Omar Infante as a Cano replacement. They are not talking to Mark Ellis, however. [Ken Rosenthal]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.