Scouting The Trade Market: Lance Lynn

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

The 2017 non-waiver trade deadline is exactly one week away, and already the Yankees have swung a pretty significant seven-player trade with the White Sox that, more than anything, added high-end depth to the bullpen. I know Todd Frazier is the biggest name, but that trade was about Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson. Adding those two has already paid dividends.

With the bullpen addressed, the single biggest item left on the shopping list is a starting pitcher. Michael Pineda is done for the season and Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa, and Caleb Smith have combined to start three of the last seven games. No one wants that to continue. Getting another starter is a top priority. You don’t make that trade with the ChiSox only to skimp on the rotation.

One rental starter who could possibly be available prior to the trade deadline is Cardinals righty Lance Lynn. St. Louis isn’t have a great season overall (47-51), though they’re only 4.5 games back in the NL Central, and I don’t think it’s in their DNA to throw in the towel and sell. Lynn being available is far from certain. It’ll probably take a bad week this week. Let’s see whether Lynn is the fit for the Yankees in case the Cardinals do decide trade him away.

Current Stuff

So far this season the 30-year-old Lynn has a 3.30 ERA (4.97 FIP) in 20 starts and 114.2 innings. His strikeout (21.5%) and walk (8.3%) rates are about average, though Lynn has always been fly ball prone (42.9% grounders), and these days that means lots of homers (1.65 HR/9). He’s either going to have to start keeping the ball in the park or continue stranding runners at an above-average 82.4% clip, otherwise that ERA is going up.

As a starter Lynn has always been Bartolo Colon-esque in that he lives and dies with his fastball. So far this season 92.2% of his pitches have been some type of fastball. Either a four-seamer, sinker, or cutter. Here is his pitch selection since moving into the rotation full-time in 2012, via Brooks Baseball:

lance-lynn-pitch-selection

So many fastballs. Sooo many fastballs. And hey, that’s fine. Throwing that many fastballs can work. It has for Lynn for years. He has good velocity (low-90s and touches 96), he can locate, and he mixes in enough changeups and curveballs to keep hitters honest.

Also, keep in mind Lynn is not throwing one fastball over and over. It’s three different fastballs. A straight four-seamer, a sinker, and a cutter. One stays true, one dives down, and another cuts in. Hitters see a lot of fastballs, though they don’t know which direction they’re heading. It’s not like Lynn is throwing four-seamer after four-seamer, you know?

Here’s a pretty good example of how Lynn uses those three different fastballs. The hitters do not look comfortable because those heaters are moving in all different directions.

Lynn missed the entire 2016 season with Tommy John surgery and he’s come back this year showing basically the same stuff. His velocity is down about half-a-mile an hour from 2015, though it’s not uncommon for a pitcher his age to loss a little something off their fastball over a two-year span, elbow reconstruction or otherwise. Lynn’s stuff is fine. He’s unconventional because he throws so many fastballs, but it works.

Injury History

Like I said, Lynn missed last season with Tommy John surgery. He also missed two months with an oblique strain way back in 2011, which is no big deal. Lynn averaged 189 innings a year from 2012-15 and maxed out at 203.2 innings in 2014, so before his elbow gave out, he was a workhorse. Acquiring a pitcher so soon after Tommy John surgery is inherently risky. There’s no reason to believe Lynn is riskier than any other pitcher in his first full year back from elbow reconstruction.

What Would It Take?

The Cardinals bought out Lynn’s arbitration years with a three-year extension worth $22M back in January 2015. This is the final guaranteed year on the contract — he’s making $7.5M this season — and Lynn will be a free agent after the season. He’s a rental.

I do think the Cardinals would make Lynn the qualifying offer after the season. Getting him back on an expensive one-year deal isn’t the worst thing in the world, and besides, Lynn would probably decline it. He could secure more total dollars on a multi-year deal, though the point is the Cardinals are in position to demand a greater return than the draft pick they’d receive after the season.

Last week I ran through other recent rental starter trades, and based on the benchmarks, the Cardinals shouldn’t have any trouble getting two good prospects for Lynn. Not top prospects like Gleyber Torres or Clint Frazier, but good prospects. Someone from the Tyler Wade/Chance Adams/Dillon Tate pool. That doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. Guys like Lynn don’t come that cheap.

Does He Make Sense?

Aside from Yu Darvish, Lynn is probably the best rental available at the trade deadline, assuming he is actually made available at some point. The Cardinals could rip off a bunch of wins this week and decide to keep Lynn and go for it. That’s probably what they’d prefer to do. Also, keep in mind the Cardinals traded lefty Marco Gonzales last week, so they’re down one layer of rotation depth. They might not want to trade even more pitching.

Two things to consider here. One, the Yankees probably really like Lynn’s postseason experience and the fact he was part of the World Series winning team with the Cardinals in 2011. And two, the Yankees don’t rely on the fastball, as Tom Verducci recently wrote. Would they acquire a pitcher who lives and dies with his heater when their team philosophy is to pitch backwards? Perhaps the different look wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Anyway, yes, Lynn makes sense for the Yankees because they have a rotation opening and he’s better than the Mitchells and Cessas and Smiths of the world. They have plenty of prospects to trade, so it’s not like the trade would cripple their farm system. The biggest issue here is outside the Yankees’ control: will the Cardinals sell? I don’t think they want too, and they can justify keeping Lynn given their place in the standings.

Mailbag: Trout, Pineda, Lynn, Kelly, Halladay

Only four questions week and they kinda suck. Nah, just kidding. I say they’re good every week, so I wanted to see if anyone is actually pays attention. Remember, the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us anything throughout the week.

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

Keith asks: Since there is lots of discussion this offseason about the Yankees’ minor leagues and their development of prospects, I’ve been kind of obsessed with the what ifs. One that particularly sticks out is Mike Trout. It’s been widely reported that the Yankees scouts were on him and of course the Angels ended up drafting Trout with the Yankees compensation pick. If the Yankees don’t sign Mark Teixeira and instead draft Mike Trout, would he even be in the Majors yet? Would they have found a way to screw up his development too?

First things first: if the Yankees did not sign Teixeira, their first round pick would have gone to the Brewers for CC Sabathia. If they did not sign Teixeira and Sabathia, it would have gone to the Blue Jays for A.J. Burnett. They would have had to pass on all three to keep their first rounder, and even then the Angels still would have had a pick (the compensation pick for Francisco Rodriguez) before the Yankees. Ken Rosenthal said the Halos had Trout second on their behind only Stephen Strasburg, so I assume they would have still taken him before New York had a chance at him.

Anyway, just for the sake of argument, let’s assume the Yankees somehow landed Trout in the draft that year. I think that in some cases, with historically great players and generational talents like Trout, the development part almost doesn’t matter. They’re going to succeed no matter what because there isn’t even that much developing that needs to be done, the raw talent is enough. Alex Rodriguez was like that. Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr., Rickey Henderson … players like that. They’re so good and physically gifted that the only thing that can stop them (other than injury) is a lack of effort and work ethic on their part. I truly believe that. Trout was so good that not even the Yankees could have screwed him up. He would have been in the show right now and still been a star.

Kevin asks: Obviously they’ll try starting first but any chance Michael Pineda‘s future with the team is ultimately in the bullpen? It wouldn’t put the stress of 170+ innings on his arm and that way they could possibly get some return on the investment.

Oh it’s definitely possible his future lies in the bullpen. He kept running into a wall around the 70-ish pitch mark during his minor league starts this year, and after such a major shoulder surgery, there’s a chance he may not be able to hold up for 100+ pitches anymore. I’m not sold on the idea that relieving on an unpredictable schedule is less stressful than having a routine and starting every five days, but a move to the bullpen is the next logical step if the starting thing proves to be too much for Pineda.

(Brian Kersey/Getty)
(Brian Kersey/Getty)

Ryan asks: What are your thoughts on Roy Halladay? Even though he is older and had the injury, I think the Yankees should sign him. Still has the stuff and experience, similarly to David Cone when they signed him.

I strongly disagree there. He doesn’t have the stuff. He might as he gets further away from the shoulder surgery in May, but Halladay was a shell of his former self late in the season. It wasn’t even Jamie Moyer stuff. No life on his fastball, loopy breaking balls, no command … it was ugly. He looked no part of a big league pitcher. Watching him pitch like that in September made it hard to believe he was the best pitcher in the world as recently as 2011.

The Yankees can’t help themselves when it comes to once-great big name players, so I do expect them to kick the tires on Halladay this winter. He has AL East experience obviously, though I’m not sure that matters much at this point. He’s not the same guy. He hasn’t been the same guy for two years now. There is no way I would guarantee Halladay anything — minor league contract or no contract, that’s it — based on that look in September, there’s no chance whatsoever I would guarantee him a rotation spot. Absolutely zero. If he wants to take a minor league deal and earn his way onto the roster, great. If not, oh well.

Ben asks: It’s pretty staggering to think about all the pitching St. Louis has right now: Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez, even Jaime Garcia. It’s fair to say they’d benefit from trading one or two of those guys. If you were the Yankees GM, what would you think a fair package would be to trade for Lynn or Kelly? Would we possibly have the pieces to trade for Martinez or Rosenthal?

Definite no on Martinez and Rosenthal. As for Lynn or Kelly, I have to think a shortstop would be atop the Cardinals wishlist. It’s hard to believe they did so well this season with a total zero at short in Pete Kozma. The Yankees don’t have a shortstop to give up unless St. Louis is particularly high on Eduardo Nunez, which I doubt they are. Jon Jay had a better year than I realized, so Brett Gardner doesn’t make much sense for them either. I’d have no trouble getting behind a Gardner for Lynn or (especially) Kelly trade, but that doesn’t seem realistic at all. I’m not sure there’s much of a fit here otherwise. The Cardinals are pretty stacked everywhere except short.