Mailbag: Cliff Lee, Nick Hundley, Rob Refsnyder

Only three questions this week, but the answers are kinda long. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.

(Mike Zarrilli/Getty)
(Mike Zarrilli/Getty)

John asks: With all the talk of the Phillies trading people like Cliff Lee at the deadline, do you think the Yankees would be interested? Right now next year’s rotation is CC Sabathia and every one else is a question mark.

I think that depends entirely on whether the team tries to go through with the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax limit in 2014 in beyond. If they want to give it a shot, forget about Lee. If they scrap the whole plan — as has been rumored already — then yeah, I do think they would be interested. Brian Cashman & Co. seem to be enamored with the lefty, first trying to trade for him then trying to sign him as a free agent.

Lee, 34, is not the same pitcher he was a few years ago, but he’s still outstanding. Easily one of the top 15-20 starters in the game. His strikeout (7.25 K/9 and 20.1 K%) and ground ball (39.3%) rates have both been trending downward since he rejoined the Phillies, though he still doesn’t walk anyone (1.27 BB/9 and 3.5 BB%). Lee will earn $25M this year and in each of the next two years, plus his $27.5M vesting option for 2016 includes a $12.5M (!) buyout. Since we’re roughly one-fifth of the way through this year, that’s approximately $82.5M left on his contract if the option doesn’t vest.

If the Phillies eat say, $20-30M of that $82.5M, I think it would take a three- or four-player package to acquire Lee, and at least two of those players would have to be studs. He may be expensive, but he’s also really good. You won’t get him for free just because. Would Gary Sanchez, Mason Williams, Brett Marshall, and a fourth guy be enough? Maybe. Would I do it? Sure, especially if the Yankees plan on scrapping the 2014 payroll plan. The upgrade from Ivan Nova/David Phelps to Lee is legitimately four or five wins over a full season, and that’s the difference between baseball and golf and October given the rest of the AL East.

(Denis Poroy/Getty)
(Denis Poroy/Getty)

Mike asks: What would it take to acquire Nick Hundley? Seems to be Joe Girardi type of catcher, someone who does everything okay but nothing great.

I’m not sure if the Girardi comparison is accurate, but Hundley is a solid all-around catcher. He’s rebounded well this year (109 wRC+) after hitting miserably a year ago (29 wRC+), and he’s been close to a league average hitter overall (95 wRC+) since getting the job full-time in 2009. His defensive reputation is strong and he’s thrown out close to 32% of attempted base-stealers the last three years.

Hundley, 29, is under contract for just $7M between this year and next, which works out pretty well for the Yankees. Yasmani Grandal is the catcher of the future in San Diego, which could land Hundley on the trade block. Interestingly enough, Hundley recently called out Grandal — “You want to talk about a guy who is unproven and had a good couple months on steroids, go ahead,” he said — which is kind of a jerk thing to do. Quality catchers are very hard to find, so two quality (but not elite) prospects seems like a reasonable asking price. Marshall and Ramon Flores for Hundley? I’d think hard about it.

(MiLB.com)
(MiLB.com)

Andrew asks: Can I get a scouting report (and your personal opinion) on Rob Refsnyder? The kid is absolutely mashing, and it’s been long enough this season to call it more than a fluke.

The Yankees gave Refsnyder a little less than $206k as their fifth round pick last summer, and all he’s done this year is mash. I’m talking .391/.490/.523 (~184 wRC+) in 153 plate appearances between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa prior to last night’s game. Here’s a snippet of what Baseball America (subs. req’d) had to say before the draft:

Scouts like his bat and think he could be an average hitter. He’s always hitting — he holds his high school record for the highest career batting average and is a career .341 hitter over his three years with the Wildcats. The problem scouts have is that Refsnyder just doesn’t profile as a corner outfielder in pro ball because he has a flat swing that’s geared more for doubles than home runs. He’s an average runner with an average arm, so scouts who like the bat are interested in getting Refsnyder to move back to second base, a position he played in high school.

After playing the outfield during his pro debut last year, Refsnyder has played second base this year and he’s very much a work in progress at the position. He committed 12 errors in 29 games prior to last night, and although errors are hardly the best way to measure defensive competence, it’s an indication he’s a little rough around the edges. That’s not surprising, he didn’t play the position at all in college. He’ll need some time to adjust.

I see Refsnyder as a (very) rich man’s Mitch Hilligoss. He can hit and he knows what he’s doing at the plate, but he doesn’t offer a ton of power and doesn’t have a set position. Maybe that means he winds up a very good utility man who can play second, third, and both corner outfield spots, who knows. Obviously they should give him to time to work on things at second. Refsnyder is mashing so far, but he also came from a big-time college program and should mash Single-A pitchers. I’ll get more excited about the performance if he maintains it at the Double-A level. His season to date has been very exciting though.

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Possible Trade Partner: San Diego Padres

(Joe Robbins/Getty)

Outside of the fact that they both lost a ton of players to injury in 2012, the Yankees have Padres have very little in common. They play in different style ballparks in different divisions in different leagues on different coasts, and they’re far apart on the roster age and payroll spectrums as well. Those differences also happen to make them pretty compatible trade partners, as each team’s surplus matches up with the other’s need.

Chase Headley is obviously the most desirable player on San Diego’s roster, but you’d be buying high following his monster second half. The time to get him was at the trade deadline, and besides, I don’t think the Yankees even have the pieces to swing a trade for the third baseman anyway. Instead, let’s look at some lesser but still valuable Padres who make sense for New York if the free agent market doesn’t swing their way in the coming weeks.

Will Venable
The 30-year-old Venable is one of those players who was so underrated that he’s actually become overrated. He’s been a consistent .252/.323/.411 (105 wRC+) hitter over the last three years, but his road numbers (120 wRC+) are substantially better than his homr numbers (89 wRC+). Petco Park is brutal on all hitters, but especially left-handed hitters. Venable does have a sizable platoon split (112 vs. 64 wRC+), but he plays strong defense in all three outfield spots and is a threat to steal 25+ bases. Although he will strike out some (20.0 K% in 2012), he deserves a lot of credit for working hard to get the whiffs under control in recent years…

San Diego is locked into big money commitments in left (Carlos Quentin) and center (Cameron Maybin), so right field is the only open spot for Venable, the underrated Chris Denorfia, James Darnell, and down the line, top Double-A prospects Edinson Rincon and Rymer Liriano. Venable is what he is at this point, but move him out of Petco and into Yankee Stadium could turn him into a 15-homer, 25-steal guy if platooned properly. He would be a bit redundant with Brett Gardner (and to a lesser extent Curtis Granderson), but he is a fit. Venable will become a free agent after 2014 and is projected to earn just $2.5M throughout arbitration next year.

(Scott Boehm/Getty)

Nick Hundley
The Padres gave their 29-year-old backstop a three-year, $9M contract last offseason, and he rewarded them by playing so poorly (29 wRC+) that he had to be demoted to Triple-A at midseason. Hundley hit a solid .259/.323/.435 (110 wRC+) from 2009-2011 however, which earned him that contract. Oddly enough, his performance on the road (85 wRC+) was far worse than his performance at home (135 wRC+) during those three years. The various catcher defense rankings (2010, 2011) have rated Hundley anywhere from average to a tick above in recent years, though it’s worth noting that he had minor elbow and knee surgeries in the last 18 months.

Yasmani Grandal posted a 144 wRC+ in 226 plate appearances this year to solidify his place as the team’s catcher of the future, turning Hundley in a pricey ($3M in 2013 and $4M in 2014) backup. If the Yankees (or any team, really) believe Hundley is fixable — ultra-low .196 BABIP and 4.7 HR/FB% in 2012 — he might be the best trade candidate should Russell Martin sign elsewhere. They’d certainly be buying low, that’s for sure.

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Trading for Hundley got a little complicated yesterday because Grandal was suspended for 50 games, meaning the Padres will likely hold onto him for at least the first two months of the season. That doesn’t help the Yankees all that much. Venable still could though, as could the legions of relievers on San Diego’s 40-man roster if they want to expand the trade. The Yankees already claimed one Padres reliever this week, I’m sure there’s another one or two they’re interested in.

Anyway, by all accounts the Padres are seeking starting pitching this offseason, which is odd because usually they look for offense and just turn random arms into league average or better pitchers via their ballpark. The walls are coming though, so finding quality pitching won’t be as easy. The Yankees are short on starters themselves at the moment, but surrendering a Phil Hughes or Ivan Nova or Adam Warren or David Phelps would be easier to swallow if Hiroki Kuroda and/of Andy Pettitte return for another year. There are no indications that these two clubs are talking about a trade involving any of this players — or that the Yankees are talking trades with anyone, for that matter — but they match up fairly well if they want to get together for a deal at some point in the coming weeks.