A way, way too early look at possible trade deadline targets

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

We are now less than three weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting for duty in Tampa, meaning it’s looking less and less likely that Brian Cashman & Co. will pull a major move out of their sleeve this offseason. The Yankees still need a starting catcher (not happening), a DH (will probably happen), bench help (almost certainly will happen), and various depth pieces (will happen) before the start of the season, so the shopping list isn’t small. Since it’s unlikely each of those holes will be filled before the season, let’s look ahead at some players who might be available at the trade deadline.

Now, looking ahead seven months and trying to figure which teams will be in it and who be available is very, very tricky business. At this time last year I was touting Andre Ethier as a potential deadline DH target, yet by time late-July rolled around he had signed a new extension and the Dodgers were suddenly owned by free-spending billionaires. There are surprise contenders and surprise extensions every summer, which throws a wrench into the trade market. Since we like talking about possible trades though, here are a few players in their walk years — I’m assuming the Yankees won’t want to take on any multi-year contracts given the 2014 payroll plan — on projected non/maybe-contenders who might be available at midseason.

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)
(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Grant Balfour
The Athletics surprised everyone last season with their late surge to the AL West crown, but you don’t have to try real hard to envision a scenario in which they’re out of the race and far behind the Angels and Rangers come the deadline. Oakland had a ton of walk-off wins and nearly all of their rookie arms worked out last year, neither of which I would count on happening again. The Yankees have had some interest in Balfour before, and the 35-year-old right-hander would be an obvious target if things go wrong in the bullpen and another late-game arm is needed.

Matt Garza & Ricky Nolasco
The Yankees have plenty of pitching depth at the moment, but we know how this stuff goes. It has a way of disappearing quickly. CC Sabathia is coming off elbow surgery, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte are up their in age, Phil Hughes seems to perpetually walk the tightrope, and no one really knows what to expect out of Ivan Nova and David Phelps. Since Adam Warren and Brett Marshall are the next-in-line guys in Triple-A, a veteran starter could easily be on the trade deadline agenda. The Cubs and Marlins aren’t going anywhere and they’ve already been shopping Garza and Nolasco, respectively, so it’s a safe bet both guys will be moved at some point before the end of July. Garza, 29, has AL East experience while the 30-year-old Nolasco is more of a break glass in case of emergency option. The Yankees have had interest in both in the not-too-distant past.

Corey Hart
Hart, 30, was supposed to have knee surgery yesterday, but he pushed the procedure back so he could get a second opinion. He was expected to miss three or four months once he had the operation. Hart is basically another Mike Morse, except he hits for a slightly lower average and makes up the on-base numbers with walks. He hits for power from the right side and can play either corner outfield spot in addition to first base. DH is always an option as well. The Brewers overhauled their league-worst bullpen from a year ago but didn’t add any starting pitching, so contending in the tough (but winnable!) NL Central will be a chore. For what it’s worth, Brewers GM Doug Melvin was non-committal when asked about signing Hart to an extension a few weeks ago.

(Doug Pensinger/Getty)
(Doug Pensinger/Getty)

Todd Helton
This one might be coming out of left field, but I think there’s potential here. Helton, 39, fits the Ichiro Suzuki/Lance Berkman mold of a former great who has been toiling on a non-contender for years and could request a trade in hopes of one last shot at a World Championship. He’s battled knee, hip, and back injuries in recent years but still provides value at the plate because he’s very disciplined (13.8 BB% in 2012, 14.4% career) and he doesn’t strike out much (15.5 K% in 2012, 12.1% career). Yes, the guy has been in the big leagues since 1997 and he still has more unintentional walks (1,111) than strikeouts (1,088) to his name. His power (.164 ISO last two years) is mostly the product of Coors Field — Yankee Stadium is a pretty good place to hit as well — and he will need a platoon partner. Helton has already hinted at retiring after the season, and if the Yankees need a left-handed hitter for their DH spot come July, and I bet his name pops up in rumors. He fits the good clubhouse presence, veteran change of scenery guy mold perfectly.

Carlos Ruiz
Ruiz, 34, has to serve a 25-game amphetamines-related suspension to open the season, but he’ll still have about three months before the deadline to prove last season’s 151 wRC+ wasn’t a fluke. I don’t expect him to ever hit like that again, but he’s been an above-average hitter over the last four seasons because he takes walks (career 10.4 BB%) and doesn’t strike out (career 11.1 K%). He’ll probably go back to hitting single-digit homers again, but that’s fine given his batting average and on-base ability. Chooch has consistently ranked in the top-six of the various catcher defense rankings (2010, 2011, 2012) and he’s thrown out base-stealers at a league average rate or better throughout his career. If the Phillies skid to the finish and make Ruiz available at the deadline, he’d be the perfect rental for New York even if he doesn’t repeat 2012 and reverts back to his 2008-2010 form.

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Mailbag: Potential Cubs’ Trade Targets

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Dustin asks: According to Bob Nightengale, nearly everyone on the Cubs but Jeff Samardzija is available. Looking at this realistically, who are some guys the Yankees should call in on?

Here’s the MLBTR write-up on Nightengale’s report and also clarification from Theo Epstein that shortstop Starlin Castro is not available. I’m sure they’re going to listen if someone is willing to blow them away, but I don’t think the Yankees have the pieces to land a young guy like Castro.

Anyway, the Cubs have a number of players that are both interesting and potentially useful to the Yankees. Some are obvious like Matt Garza (4.09 FIP), who Jon Heyman says New York is most interested in. I’m a Garza fan and think he’d be an ideal trade target for the rotation, though it would be costly. They’d be getting him for a season and a half at a below market salary, so I think something along the lines of the Dan Haren package — one premium prospect and two or three secondary pieces — would be reasonable. Heyman says the Yankees aren’t interested in Ryan Dempster (3.48 FIP) and I don’t love him either. Quality pitcher but not someone I consider a difference maker. Here’s what I wrote about Garza and Dempster last year.

Slugging first baseman/corner outfielder Bryan LaHair could be a fit for the Yankees depending on what they think of his defense in the outfield. He doesn’t have enough big league time for the defensive stats to be meaningful but it’s safe to assume he’s best at first given how often he’s played there this year and in the minors. The 29-year-old left-handed hitter is having a huge year (158 wRC+), but his primary skills are his ability to draw walks (12.7 BB%) and hits for power (.273 ISO), making him an ideal fit for Yankee Stadium. He strikes out a ton (28.9 K%) and struggles against southpaws (61 wRC+), so he’s cut from the Russell Branyan/Jack Cust cloth. LaHair came into the season will less than two years of service time, so he’ll be dirt cheap for the next five years and fit right into that 2014 payroll plan if he can handle a corner outfield spot on an everyday basis and essentially replace Nick Swisher.

Lesser pieces like David DeJesus (113 wRC+) and Reed Johnson (95 wRC+) could make sense if Brett Gardner‘s injury lingers, plus DeJesus is under contract for next year and could help replace Swisher in the short-term. I’m not the guy’s biggest fan but it is an option. The Yankee Analysts wrote more about DeJesus recently, so check that out. A reliever like changeup specialist Shawn Camp (3.17 FIP) could be a fit given the Mariano Rivera‘s injury, but I consider Carlos Marmol (5.47 FIP) a no-no. He’s just way too erratic and makes too much money. Kerry Wood could have been an option had he not retired a few weeks ago.

Garza and LaHair are the two most obvious players who could interest the Yankees if the Cubs do indeed conduct what amounts to a fire sale. A few lesser pieces like DeJesus and Camp could make sense but that’s really it; the north-siders don’t really have the most exciting roster in the world. The Yankees have never made a trade with the Theo Epstein/Jed Hoyer regime because of the whole Red Sox thing, but I can’t imagine that would impact any trade talks. Both parties know what’s up.

The Price for Matt Garza

With Mat Latos, Gio Gonzalez, and John Danks now off the board, the trade focus has shifted to Jair Jurrjens and Matt Garza. The former is a no-no in my eyes, but the latter’s a pretty damn good fit for the Yankees. David Kaplan reported yesterday that talks involving Garza are heating up, with the Yankees and two other clubs involved. The price is “incredibly high” though, and Jon Heyman says the Cubs are prioritizing young pitching in return.

The Yankees have plenty of pitching at the upper levels, enough that they could trade three young arms and still have enough depth in Triple-A to support the big league team this summer. They appear to be a match in that regard, it’s just a question of whether or not the two sides can find a middle ground. I’m guessing no, because the price of pitching is ridiculously high right now and the Cubs hold all the cards. Once upon a time two top prospects and miscellaneous pieces got you Dan Haren or Cliff Lee. Now it gets you Gio Gonzalez.

The remaining pitching market

If the Yankees don’t make a move for a pitcher this off-season, it won’t be for lack of options. To this point we’ve seen two free agent signings, an NPB posting, and two trades involving pitchers who would represent an upgrade to the Yankees. Perhaps they think that the prices to acquire these pitchers does not match the upgrade they’d receive, but the opportunities are there nonetheless. Brian Cashman figures to have a few more chances to upgrade later this winter, as there are a number of actually or reportedly available pitchers.

Hiroki Kuroda

In terms of pure results, he’s the best available arm. His 3.31 ERA since 2009 ranks 23rd among all qualified starters. Even better, he’s reportedly seeking a one-year contract at a reasonable $12 or $13 million. The Yankees have been frequently connected to Kuroda, and it stands to reason that they’ll remain involved until he does sign somewhere.

While he does have the top results, there are some downsides to Kuroda. For instance, the hitters on the Rays, Orioles, Red Sox, and Blue Jays are better than those on the Padres, Rockies, Giants, and Diamondbacks. The AL East also features more hitter-friendly parks than the NL West. Then there’s Kuroda’s age, 37. A one-year deal helps limit some of that risk, but if he shows decline in 2012 he might not present much of an upgrade.

Wandy Rodriguez

Not far behind Kuroda in terms of results is Wandy Rodriguez. The Astros shopped him at last year’s trade deadline, but the Yankees weren’t interested unless Houston paid a significant portion of his remaining salary. He’s owed $36 million for the next three years, because his 2014 option becomes a player option if traded. That makes him much less attractive, meaning Houston will have to kick in some cash if they want to trade him. While they showed reluctance earlier in the off-season, they now appear willing to make that trade-off.

Not only does the NL Central have a number of top-flight hitters, but none of them actually play for the Astros. That is, Rodriguez has the burden of facing all of these elite hitters. The closest they ever had was Hunter Pence, but he wasn’t even a top-five hitter in the division. That does make him look a bit more attractive. He also has fewer pitchers’ parks in the division. Yet the Yankees appear not at all interested. That’s probably because of the commitment length. Were Rodriguez signed only through 2013 they might be more on board. But three years to a pitcher you’re not totally sold on? While Rodriguez might help, it’s understandable why the Yankees are shying away.

Roy Oswalt

In the last three years, despite multiple bouts with lower back injuries, Oswalt has accumulated a 3.46 ERA in 531 innings. All told that’s a pretty solid accomplishment. Since we just discussed Oswalt yesterday there’s no need to elaborate further. He remains a tantalizing yet risky option.

Gio Gonzalez

There has been no shortage of Gio Gonzalez news this winter. The A’s seem pretty intent on trading him, and judging by how slowly they’re moving they’re also trying to extract every last drop of value from another team. This makes complete sense. Gonzalez ranks 39th in ERA among all starters from 2009-2011, despite his horrible 2009 showing. He’s been among the best in terms of results the last two seasons. Even when you look at only his away stats, he still fares pretty well: 3.96 ERA in 238.2 innings since 2009. That takes away some of the concern that he’s the product of a large ballpark.

The Nationals were rumored to be pushing hard for Gonzalez, offering up a four-for-one trade that will involve prospects Brad Peacock and Derek Norris, among others. Still, four-for-one deals can get complicated, since they typically lack top-end quality. Today on ESPN.com, Jim Bowden suggested a few trades for Gonzalez (subscription required). For the Yankees he suggests Dellin Betances, David Phelps, and Austin Romine. Since Gonzalez has four years remaining of team control, this could work out for the Yankees. The only catch: Oakland might find a better package, and one that fits their needs better, elsewhere.

Matt Garza

Garza represents an interesting option, if only because he’s experienced success in the AL East. But the Cubs are apparently asking for a lot. Would the Yankees be willing to trade Banuelos and at least one other top-five prospect (Gary Sanchez or Mason Williams), plus other pieces, to get the last two years of Garza’s pre-free agency years? It seems unlikely. While he’s been good, he might be a bit more expensive than other pitchers. If he costs more than Gonzalez, he certainly isn’t worth it.

John Danks

You can check out our large and growing John Danks archive for various takes on the 27-year-old left-hander. He’s an enticing option for a few reasons. He’s been solid for the last four years, he has AL experience and in a hitters’ park no less, and he is conceivably someone the Yanks could sign long-term after the 2012 season. The issue, as with Garza, is that the White Sox are asking the moon for him. It’s simply not worth a top-five prospect for a player who will reach free agency after this season. At a price more commensurate with his overall value, Danks could be the best target on the board.

Edwin Jackson

A free agent, Jackson requires just one resource to acquire: money. The Yankees have that in abundance, though they’re seemingly not throwing it around this off-season. They might also be reluctant to sign Jackson for four years. As with Oswalt, we covered Edwin Jackson recently, so there’s no need to dive any deeper into his case. He’s there for the taking and could represent an upgrade in the Yanks rotation.

That brings us to a dozen candidates who could have upgraded, or still might upgrade, the Yanks rotation in 2012. All of the candidates, save for Darvish, have sported ERAs under 4.00 since 2009. They’ve all thrown a good number of innings, and everyone on the list, save for Oswalt and maybe Latos, has been relatively healthy. If the Yankees are serious about upgrading their rotation, they’ll connect on one of these 12 options, even though there are just seven remaining.

Yanks not having any “hi-level” trade talks about starters at the moment

Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees are not currently having any “hi-level” trade discussions with any teams about a starting pitcher(s). They do have interest in Matt Garza though, who a) I really like, and b) is totally available. Things figure to pick up next week at the winter meetings, but the Yankees are definitely moving at their own pace this offseason. “We’re not desperate to do anything,” said Brian Cashman to Mark Feinsand, which is consistent with this idea of playing it cool and letting the market come to them. We’ll see, but I doubt the Yankees will have a quiet winter.