Archive for John Danks

Jul
23

The trade market that wasn’t

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It all keeps coming back to Cliff Lee. A year ago, the Yankees were on the precipice of acquiring Lee from the Mariners, a feat which would have given them one of the best rotations in baseball. They failed, and a short time later were bounced from the playoffs by a team led by Cliff Lee. Soon after, they saw Cliff Lee spurn the them for the Phillies in free agency. By my count, that’s three separate instances of Cliff Lee-induced pain. When Andy Pettitte retired a few months after Lee went to Philadelphia, Cashman pivoted. In a manner reminiscent of the Red Sox in 2009, the Yankees decided to build the rotation on the cheap, allowing Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon and Ivan Nova to battle it out for the two remaining rotation slots (the other three being occupied by Sabathia, Burnett and Hughes). Once Hughes went down with an injury, Colon took his spot and performed admirably. Garcia has been fantastic too. Yet all along it’s seemed as if plan for the Yankees’ rotation was to run with these guys until a better option arose on the trade market. Freddy Garcia’s nice and all, but shouldn’t the Yankees go into battle in October with a serious complement to Sabathia? Yet here we stand a mere week or so away from the trade deadline and there seems to be no complement available? Where are the pitchers? Where are the targets? Where are the potential upgrades?

A few big names have arisen, to be sure. Ubaldo Jimenez was the target last week, but it doesn’t seem that Colorado is serious about trading him. Some have suggested that they were simply recognizing that the market was very weak and seeing if some team (like the Yankees) would be willing to panic and overpay for their lanky and affordable ace. In the absence of that a deal seems unlikely. James Shields has also been rumored to be available, but not to the Yankees. If Tampa decides to move the putative ace it won’t likely be an intra-divisional move. Hiroki Kuroda would be a potential option, one for whom I’ve long advocated, but his no-trade clause puts him in the driver’s seat and means that he’ll determine whether he gets traded and to where he gets traded. John Danks would be a nice upgrade, but there’s no indication that the White Sox are looking to move a starter and the teams don’t even match up particularly well for a trade anyway. Who’s left, Jason Marquis?

A year ago the Yankees came close to having a very good rotation and no Jesus Montero when they offered Seattle Montero for Lee. That deal fell through. A few months later, they came close to having a very good rotation and Jesus Montero when they tried to get Cliff Lee for nothing more than money. That deal fell through. The plus side is that the Yankees still have Montero, of course. Whether they really want him is another question. They don’t seem to have any interest in calling him up any time soon, and Cashman has gone out of his way to make it clear that Montero is available in trades. Yet there is no Cliff Lee on the market this year, no pitcher for whom Montero would be a suitable return. Right now the effort to swap Montero for a pitcher looks a day late and a buck short.

There is serious downside risk in relying on the trade market. Sometimes the targets don’t materialize and other times your assets don’t matchup with the best available targets. This shouldn’t be interpreted as a criticism of Cashman. No one that I’m aware of predicted that the Yankees would whiff on Lee twice, lose Pettitte to retirement, and then find themselves unable to upgrade the rotation via the trade market at all. It sounds like a worst-case scenario dreamt up on a Red Sox message board. Yet, as of July 23rd that’s exactly what’s happened. The best pitcher truly on the market seems to be Kuroda, a pitcher with a no-trade clause and a disinclination to leave Los Angeles.  It’s not the situation the Yankees hoped to be in at this point.

The old saying is that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. You can always hope that better opportunities arise later, but your risk goes up the further away you are from the acquisition target. This entire market could change very quickly, and that’s what makes the trade deadline so exciting. Yet, as of today it looks like the Yankees are dancing alone. The most realistic option at this point seems very unlikely, but I suppose there’s no harm in continuing to beat the drum once more, until the deadline passes. Help us, Hiroki. You’re our only hope!

Categories : Trade Deadline
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Mystery pitcher revealed. OK, so John Danks isn’t much of a mystery at all. He’s been a very good pitcher for the past four seasons, and any team would be lucky to have him among their starting five. Last night he came off a DL stint and pitched very well, albeit against a not-so-impressive Kansas City lineup. He would fit right into the Yankees rotation not only in 2011, but also in the future.

Before we launch into the pros and cons of Danks, let’s first look at the White Sox situation. They’re currently 47-51, realistically putting them out of the Wild Card race. That leaves only the division, and while they’re only 4.5 games back in a wide open AL Central, they’ve done nothing this year to show that they’re capable of catching Detroit and Cleveland. Hell, just watch Ozzie Guillen after last night’s game. He sounds precisely like a guy managing a team that is going nowhere.

Yet the White Sox aren’t necessarily sellers. I can’t remember a time since Kenny Williams took over as GM that they were sellers at the deadline, even in their predictably bad 2007 season. In other words, he might not even be discussing Danks. But if the right deal comes along, who knows.

Pros

  • While Danks has experienced some minor ups and downs, he’s been very good since 2008. He set expectations high that year, and hasn’t quite reached them again, but he’s still put up fine performances from 2009 through now.
  • Even though he started off the year poorly, finishing May with an ERA over 5.00, he’s been quite excellent since the calendar flipped to June. In five starts he’s pitched 30.2 innings and has a 0.88 ERA and 1.87 FIP. But don’t let that fool you too much, since he faced Seattle, Oakland, Arizona, Washington, and Kansas City in that span. In four of the five starts he threw at least seven innings. The only shorter one was when he left due to injury. This has brought his ERA and FIP to better than league average.
  • He’s a lefty, which is valuable in itself. But he is a lefty with no discernible platoon split. In fact, he’s been ever so slightly better against righties, thanks to his changeup.
  • He has another year left of team control, at what figures to be a decent raise over his $6 million salary this year. He’ll probably max out at around $10 million in 2012, which would be an incredible bargain.
  • He has pretty even home-road splits, which is a plus for any player getting traded. There’s nothing worse than acquiring a player whose success is based on his home park.
  • He kind of, in a way, reminds me of Andy Pettitte. That’s a plus, right?

Cons

  • His career component ERAs — FIP, xFIP, and SIERA — have him closer to league average than top of the rotation. His career ERA has been very good, though, and he has a good sampling of 848.1 innings.
  • All the stuff in the pros column is a good reason that he’ll cost a lot in a trade. He’s not going to come at the price of Ubaldo Jimenez, because he doesn’t have as much team control and he’s not as cheap. But he’s good and relatively inexpensive, meaning the White Sox would have to get a good return for him. Perhaps more than the Yankees are willing to give.
  • The Sox really have a rough looking rotation next year, and might need Danks to be there. They might be more willing to trade Edwin Jackson, since he might not be around. But he’s not as good as Danks, and probably not worth the price considering his performance relative to the current rotation.

If available I’d love to see the Yankees make a run at Danks. He’s the kind of pitcher I can see staying in pinstripes for a long time. But if he’d look good in navy blue pinstripes, he’d probably look equally good in black ones. I’m not sure what the White Sox think of him long term, but even if they plan to let him walk after 2012 they might be forced to keep him around, if just for the holes in their rotation.

Categories : Trade Deadline
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May
28

Scouting the ChiSox

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One of the more enjoyable things to speculate about is which players the Yankees are going to acquire next. Call it typical Yankee fan conceit if you want, but I’m not sure that’s it. Fans of every team look forward to what’s next, whether it be a prospect on the horizon, a free agent signing or a trade. Speculating about trades is an enjoyable exercise – you get to investigate other teams, other players, you get to dig around their financial situation and try to find a good deal (see my Beat L.A. piece last week) or dig around player’s statistical profiles and see if you can spot inefficiencies or underappreciated guys.

This summer, many expect the Yankees to attempt to add a starting pitcher. There’s considerable uncertainty in the rotation right now – no one knows if or when Phil Hughes will be back, and no one knows how long Colon and Garcia can continue providing the team quality innings. Aside from picking at the carcass of the Dodgers, one team fans look to as a possible trade target is the Chicago White Sox. The White Sox have a wealth of starters: Jake Peavy, John Danks, Gavin Floyd, Mark Buehrle and Edwin Jackson. They also have Chris Sale, whom they use as a reliever, and Phil Humber, whom I’ve never imagined is much good but has managed to perform quite nicely so far.

In a column over at Baseball Prospectus yesterday, John Perrotto noted that the White Sox would listen to offers on Edwin Jackson. Jackson’s been passed around like a peace pipe over the course of his young career and is finally eligible for free agency after this season. Some fans wouldn’t mind seeing the Yankees take a stab at Jackson; some prefer Gavin Floyd; some prefer John Danks. I don’t know many who prefer Mark Buerhle, and personally I wouldn’t be happy at all to see him traded to the Yankees so I’ll simply avoid him for now. I also doubt the Yankees would be interested in Peavy or Humber. This leaves Floyd, Jackson and Danks. Who’s the preferable target?

John Danks

Pros – Danks is a young lefty, only 26 years old. He has a decent strikeout rate (6.90 career K/9), a career FIP of 4.30 and xFIP of 4.00. He’s also 0-7 on the year. Why is this listed in as a Pro, you ask? Thank you for asking. Danks hasn’t pitched horribly on the year, although he hasn’t pitched as well as he has in the past, so more than likely the unsightly win-loss record isn’t really indicative of his true talent level or future expected performance. Which is to say that it’s possible that the White Sox are big fans of the W-L record as an evaluative tool, and it’s possible they’re undervaluing Danks. Another plus to Danks is his durability – he’s put up 600 innings over the past three years, so he appears to be a good bet to stay healthy and provide innings. Finally, he’s 6’6″, which I find cool.

Cons – His strikeout rate isn’t exactly elite – he’s failed to top 7 batters per nine innings the last 3 years in a row. His walk rate isn’t particularly sparkly either, so his K/BB ratio is somewhat middle of the road. He’s also not a giant groundball guy, contradicting an opinion I held about him for no good reason. In other words, the peripherals are good but not great, and he doesn’t keep the ball on the ground in a tremendous way.

Contract – Danks makes $6M in 2011, he’s eligible for arbitration again in 2012, and he becomes a free agent after the 2012 season. At the time of a potential trade you’re acquiring a year and a half of team control.

Gavin Floyd

Pros – He’s put up a mid 7.5 K/9 three years running, and in each year he’s kept his walk rate below 3 batters per nine innings. He’s the owner of a 4.43 FIP lifetime, but has put together a 3.77, 3.46 and 3.44 FIP three years running. Quite simply, he’s a very solid mid-3 FIP pitcher with good control and above-average strikeout stuff. Better yet, we know that the Sox have been willing to listen on offers for Floyd as recently as November. It’s possible they don’t love him like they should.  

Cons – He battled a hip injury in 2009 and a minor shoulder injury in 2010, although neither required him to spend time on the DL. He’s only topped 200 innings once in his career. And worst of all, he was a former member of the Philadelphia Phillies, a clear sign of moral weakness.

Contract – Floyd makes $5M in 2011, $7M in 2012, and has a club option for $9.5M in 2013. At the time of a potential trade the team is acquiring 1.5 years of control and a club option for another year.

Edwin Jackson

Pros – He’s got a higher K rate than Floyd or Danks in 2010 and 2011, and he’s sporting a 3.24 FIP in 2011 following a 3.86 effort in 2010. He seems to be getting better, an entirely expected development considering he’s only 27 years old. He’s been around so long, and been traded to and from so many teams, that he likely feels older to most fans than he is. He also throws the ball very hard, consistently registering one of the fastest fastballs in baseball.

Cons – No one’s jumping up and down about that walk rate (~3.5 BB/9 at best), and while he’s sported a K rate over 7 per 9 the past two years, he has an average of 6.75 K/9 on his career.

Contract – Jackson makes $8.75M in 2011 and is a free agent after this season. He’d likely be the cheapest to acquire of all three.

It’s odd how similar these three pitchers are, to be frank. They all have career groundball rates around 43%, they all strike out 6 to 7 batters per nine innings, and they all have walk rates in the 2-3 batters per nine innings range. All things considered, Floyd probably ranks the most favorable trade target to me, despite my preconceived preference for Danks. Floyd’s really shown great control since 2009, and an acquiring team would get to keep him through 2012, provided he’s still healthy. Danks is still no slouch, and there’s probably a good case to be made that Danks will improve as he matures and gains more experience. A young, tall, durable lefty with good stuff isn’t anything to sneeze at. Yet, it would certainly be nice to see Danks improve his control. In Jackson there’s also an interesting question of projection – he has really good stuff, and he’s still young, despite spending a lot of time in the majors. Is he showing signs of maturation as a pitcher in the past two years? It would certainly seem that way, and as such Edwin Jackson wouldn’t be a bad target for the Yankees at all this summer.

All three of these pitchers would look nice in Yankee pinstripes this summer. It would be fantastic to see if Cashman could pull another Wilson Betemit deal with Kenny Williams and get an undervalued commodity with plenty of team control for low cost, but it’s extremely difficult to anticipate a move like that. For now I’ll continue to wish Jake Peavy well on his road to recovery and hope Ozzie Guillen has a fight with one of these three guys and runs them out of town all the way to the Bronx.

Categories : Pitching, Trade Deadline
Comments (30)

It’s been a pretty busy week around these parts and we have quite a few mailbag questions to answer. I’m going to try to answer these as possible because we all know our attention spans aren’t what they once where. If you ever want to send in a question in the future, just use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar…

Bubba asks: What would it take to pry power lefty Matt Thornton from the Chicago White Sox to be our set-up man?

Probably more than it’s worth, really. The ChiSox don’t have a defined closer after non-tendering Bobby Jenks, and right now Thornton is in line for the job. He’s dirt cheap ($3M) and highly effective (2.14 FIP, 12.02 K/9 in 2010), and I can’t even remember the last time a reliever that valuable was traded with one year left on his deal. Maybe the best comparison is Mike Gonzalez, when he went to the Braves from the Pirates. He fetched a 28-year-old Adam LaRoche coming off a .379 wOBA season with 32 homers, and Gonzalez wasn’t as good then as Thornton is now. There were some incidental prospects involved, but no one major. Needless to say, it’s going to take an arm and leg to fetch Thornton, most likely more than I’d be willing to pay for a setup man, albeit a great one.

SNS asks: This may be jumping to far ahead. In light of the lack of availability of starting pitching out there, the one guy who jumps to mind is Cole Hamels. I know he is arb eligible after this year but given the fact that Hamels actually had a better bWAR last year than Lee and is significantly younger, what could he get in arbitration and how likely would the Phillies be to move him? I know they aren’t poor, but can they really afford Halladay, Lee, Howard (and even Oswalt)? While Hamels wouldn’t be available this year, could he be available next winter and how would he play in the Bronx/AL East?

You kinda sorta read my mind, I was thinking about Hamels when he becomes a free agent after the 2012 season. I can’t imagine the Phillies will trade him now, they’re clearly going all in before their core hits the inevitable decline, and I think it’s very reasonable to assume they’ll be going for it again in 2012. Philadelphia has $82.3M committed to just four players (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, with some misc. buyouts mixed in) in 2013, but they’re also going to re-sign Jimmy Rollins and Brad Lidge between now and then. Hamels will still be just 29 at that time, and will surely be the best available pitcher on the free agent market.

Hamels is a fastball-cutter-curveball guy with arguably the best changeup on the planet, and I have no issues about him in the AL East. He’s like CC Sabathia in that he’s the kind of guy that can dominate any lineup at any time. He’s already got a World Series MVP and plenty of playoff experience to his credit, so I have no concern about his ability to deal with pressure. I would be stunned if the Phillies look to deal him before he’s eligible for free agency given the construction of their team, but if I was the Yankees I’d be licking my chops in advance of his free agency.

Harrison asks: A quick question with regards to Montero. Aside from the obvious benefit of giving him a little extra seasoning down in AAA, what other benefit might there be for keeping him down there for the first few months? I remember how a bunch of teams in recent years have kept their rookies down in AAA until May or June in order to prevent the arbitration clock from running (Longoria, Price, Posey, etc.). How would that work with Montero for instance?

A player can only accrue service time while in the big leagues or while on the major league disabled list, so teams have been keeping their top prospects in the minor leagues just long enough to delay their arbitration years and/or free agency by a year. It only takes about two weeks to delay a player’s free agency (so they can call the player up in mid-April and then control him for the next six-plus seasons), and about two months to avoid Super Two status (meaning the player goes to arbitration four times instead of three).

If the Yankees were to keep Montero in the minors until the first week of June or so, they could then retain him at close to the league minimum for the rest of the season as well as the 2012, 2014, and 2013 seasons. After that he would get three years of arbitration eligibility. If they called him up right away, they would only control him from 2011 through 2016 (first three years at the league minimum, next three via arbitration). The Yankees have more money than they know what to do with, but they can still benefit from delaying Montero’s call up by just two months. Getting production at a below market salary can only help.

Rafi asks: Mailbag: Given the Yankees’ (Cashman’s?) stance of not negotiating with personnel under contract, as well as what happened with A-Rod‘s opt-out, how do you see the Yankees handling [CC's] situation? They obviously can’t say that if he opts out they won’t pursue him, or they have a rotation on par with Pittsburgh.

The other day Buster Olney said that the Yanks should explore a contract extension with Sabathia now to avoid what will surely be a messy situation when he opts out, but that struck me as completely crazy. I don’t see any reason to assume that risk at all. I fully expect Cashman to stick to his policy of not negotiating with a player until the contract expires, like he’s done with everyone else, himself included.

What they do at that point really depends on their situation. A lot can change in the next eleven months, and that will dictate their course of action. If they’re happy with him and are willing to sign him for another six years or something, they’ll do it. If they’re wary about his workload and ability to be productive going forward, they might let him walk. It’s too early to know for sure, but I wouldn’t expect them to discuss a new contract with CC before he actually opts out.

Junior asks: What is John Danks availability and prospect cost? He is really good and as a lefty can dominate the lefty Red Sox.

Danks isn’t on par with Felix Hernandez or Josh Johnson, but he’s in the next tier. He’s going to earn close to $6M through arbitration next year and then about $9-10M in 2012 before becoming a free agent, so he’s cheap. The club tried to sign him to a long-term extension (they offered him and Gavin Floyd the same four-year, $15.5M deal before the 2009 season, but only of them took it), but Danks was a Scott Boras client at the time and those guys never sign away free agent years (he’s no longer with Boras, however).

I suspect that Danks will be the most costly of Chicago’s starters to acquire, since he’s excellent, young, and pretty damn cheap. He’s the future of their rotation with Mark Buehrle getting up there in years and Jake Peavy starting to rack up the trips to the disabled list, making him even more difficult to attain. A package headlined by Montero is not an unreasonable request, but I’m not sure if that’ll work on Chicago’s end since they just locked up a first baseman and designated hitter for the next three and four years, respectively. If they believe he can catch, well then we’re on to the something.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that it’ll cost an arm and a leg to pry Danks away from the White Sox. It absolutely makes sense for the Yankees to at least inquire, but like I said when I looked at Buehrle and Floyd, these two teams just don’t seem to match up well in the trade. The demands and supplies do not line up.

Categories : Mailbag
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