Trade Deadline Rumors: Starter, Verlander, Alonso, Duda, Reed

(Duane Burleson/Getty)
(Duane Burleson/Getty)

The 2017 non-waiver trade deadline is now only eleven days away and the Yankees have already made one big move, acquiring Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle from the White Sox. I get the feeling they’re not done. That doesn’t necessarily mean a blockbuster is coming, but I don’t think the Yankees are going to stop here. Anyway, here’s the latest from the trade rumor circuit.

Yankees still looking for a starter

Not surprisingly, the Yankees are still looking for rotation help, reports Ken Rosenthal. They’re casting a wide net. Controllable guys and rentals. They’re all in play. Michael Pineda is out for the season and I don’t think the Yankees want to continue running Bryan Mitchell or Luis Cessa out there every fifth day. You don’t go out and make that trade with the White Sox only to skimp on the rotation, you know?

“I’m going to stay engaged. We are going to remain careful buyers. We want to maximize our present while protecting (our) future,” said Cashman to Meredith Marakovits following the White Sox trade. Unless the Yankees budge on their unwillingness to trade close to MLB prospects, it’s hard to think they’ll land a high-end controllable starter. And that’s okay. They could really use one of those guys, but I am totally cool with keeping the top position player prospects. Build around bats. Even after trades and graduations, the Yankees still have plenty of depth in the farm system to land a useful starter.

“No indication” Yankees are after Verlander

There is “no indication” the Yankees are after (former?) Tigers ace Justin Verlander, reports Jon Morosi. Detroit is very bad this season (43-50) and there’s been plenty of talk they will sell at the trade deadline. Verlander, 34, has a 4.54 ERA (4.25 FIP) in 20 starts and 117 innings this season, though just last year he was the runner-up in the AL Cy Young voting thanks to a 3.04 ERA (3.48 FIP) in 227.2 innings.

Including the remainder of his $28M salary this year, Verlander is still owed roughly $70M through 2019, and his contract includes a $22M vesting option for 2020 based on Cy Young voting. Morosi says the Tigers are willing to eat some money to facilitate a trade, but how much? I doubt it’ll be a ton. I feel like there’s way too much downside here. Verlander was great just last season, sure, but he’s entering his mid-30s and has a ton of innings on his arm. Trading for mid-30s past prime Verlander feels like an old Yankees move.

Yankees talked Alonso, Duda, Reed, Neshek

Before the trade with the ChiSox, the Yankees were talking to the Athletics about Yonder Alonso, and to the Mets about Lucas Duda and Addison Reed, report Morosi and Mark Feinsand. They were also in the mix for Pat Neshek, per Rosenthal. I suppose the Yankees could still go after Reed or Neshek because there is no such thing as too many good relievers, but it seems very unlikely with Robertson and Kahnle on board. Alonso and Duda? There’s no need for those guys now. Not unless someone gets hurt.

With Greg Bird out for most of the rest of the season, it only made sense for the Yankees to explore the first base trade market. Ji-Man Choi and Garrett Cooper had some success this month, though Cashman wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t looking for upgrades. One thing to keep in mind: the Yankees were pretty much the only team with a need at first base (or DH). There was plenty of supply (Alonso, Duda, Matt Adams, Justin Bour, etc.) but very limited demand, so they were able to let the market come to them, then take the most favorable terms.

Reed. (Jennifer Stewart/Getty)
Reed. (Jennifer Stewart/Getty)

A’s scouting Low-A Charleston

In a crazy coincidence (nope), the A’s have had a top scout watching Low-A Charleston recently, according to Rosenthal. There’s no need for Alonso now. Sonny Gray is still out there though. With Blake Rutherford traded, the best prospect on Charleston’s roster is outfielder Estevan Florial by a mile. Others of note include catcher Donny Sands, infielders Diego Castillo and Hoy Jun Park, and righties Nick Nelson, Freicer Perez, and Nick Green.

Unlike the White Sox trade, I have a hard time believing the Yankees could swing a deal for Gray using a Single-A kid as the center piece. Gray is too in demand for the A’s to take someone that far away from the big leagues as the headliner in a trade. Oakland can and will insist for a closer to MLB prospect and the Yankees will probably decline. That said, the A’s have made some weird trades lately, and if the Yankees can get a deal done for Gray with a Low-A kid fronting the package, they should jump all over it. Prospects that far down in the system aren’t close to helping at the MLB level and they’re so risky because they still have so much development left ahead of them.

Yankees were “in strong” for Quintana

Before he was traded to the Cubs, the Yankees were “in strong” for lefty Jose Quintana, according to Feinsand. “They were quietly deep in it,” said one executive. Rosenthal hears the Yankees did make an offer for Quintana, and Cashman told Brendan Kuty the White Sox asked the Yankees for players similar to the ones they received from the Cubs. So I guess that means an elite prospect (Gleyber Torres?), a very good pitching prospect (Chance Adams? Justus Sheffield?), plus two lesser pieces.

It was reported following the White Sox trade that the Yankees offered Rutherford to Chicago for Quintana, though the rest of the package is unknown. If Rutherford was the headliner, then it’s easy to understand why the ChiSox passed and went with the Cubs’ package. I think the Yankees were willing to give up a really nice package to get Quintana, but even then they would set a limit and not increase their offer. I guess that’s why Quintana is a Cub now. For shame. He really would have been a nice get from a pure “he’s a good pitcher” perspective.

Scouting the Trade Market: Pat Neshek

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

At the moment, the single biggest issue facing the 2017 Yankees is their bullpen, specifically the middle relief. Adam Warren is currently on the disabled list, and both Tyler Clippard and Jonathan Holder have been ineffective the last few weeks. Chad Green is the third option in the bullpen right now, and while I like Chad Green, the Yankees clearly need more help. The bullpen as is won’t cut it.

If the Yankees do decide to go outside the organization for bullpen help — they could also call up some of their starting pitching prospects and use them in relief — one veteran reliever who will undoubtedly be available at the trade deadline is Phillies setup man Pat Neshek. The Phillies are terrible and Neshek is an impending free agent. He’s getting traded at some point. No doubt about it. He’s not the sexiest name, no, but let’s see if he’s a fit for the Yankees.

Current Performance

Neshek is no spring chicken. He’ll be 37 in September and this is his 11th MLB season. He’s a known quantity. Here are his numbers the last three seasons.

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9
2015 54.2 3.62 3.94 22.9% 5.4% 32.0% 1.32
2016 47 3.06 3.68 23.2% 6.0% 33.3% 1.15
2017 30.2 0.59 2.07 26.4% 3.6% 37.0% 0.29

Neshek was rock solid with the Astros from 2015-16, and he’s been out of this world with the Phillies this season. It’s pretty obvious what’s going on though, right? He’s stopped giving up home runs this season without getting significantly more ground balls. Hmm. Neshek went from 10.9% HR/FB rate from 2015-16 to a 3.0% HR/FB this year. HMMM.

This isn’t a new man. This is the same ol’ Pat Neshek who just so happens to be on a run of good fortune when it comes to keeping the ball in the park. There’s no reason to expect that to continue though. Not with the way balls are flying over the fence this season. The Phillies might want to consider trading him before the home run correction comes and sinks his trade value.

I think any team looking at Neshek as a trade target has to go into it expecting to get the 1.0+ HR/9 guy because that’s who he’s been his entire career. And if you get the 0.3 HR/9 and sub-1.00 ERA guy, great! Another Neshek issue is his platoon split. He’s got a funky low arm slot and lefties see the ball out of his hand rather well. Since the start of the 2015 season:

AVG/OBP/SLG wOBA K% BB% GB% HR/9
vs. RHB .197/.235/.322 .237 24.2% 4.2% 36.1% 0.93
vs. LHB .230/.295/.443 .306 22.9% 6.9% 28.8% 1.19

Neshek isn’t awful against lefties, though he is clearly better against righties, which isn’t surprising considering his arm slot. That .213 ISO allowed to lefties is scary, especially since he would be moving into Yankee Stadium should the Yankees pick him up. The Yankees would almost have his treat him as a true right-on-right matchup guy, not a full one-inning reliever.

One thing that’s worth noting is Neshek’s usage restrictions. Apparently he only likes to work one inning at a time, and would prefer not to enter in the middle of an inning, then warm back up for a second inning. Both Neshek and Phillies manager Pete Mackanin downplayed those usage restrictions, but as Corey Seidman wrote, they’re starting to become a bit of a headache. Huh.

Current Stuff

From that low arm slot come two pitches:  a low-90s two-seam fastball and a low-80s slider. Neshek also has a soft, almost cartoonish upper-60s changeup, but he rarely throws it. Everything this year looks like it has the last few years. Velocity, movement, whiff and ground ball rates, the works. Neshek’s stuff is he same as it ever was. Here’s the best recent compilation video I could dig up:

That funky delivery combined with two good pitches makes Neshek effective. It’s easy to see why he’s been death on right-handed batters too. It can’t be fun seeing the ball come out of that arm slot.

Injury History

Neshek had Tommy John surgery way back in 2008, plus he had a finger issue in May 2010. Otherwise he’s been completely healthy in his career. Kinda amazing a dude at that age and with that delivery can pitch for so long without any serious arm problems since Tommy John surgery nearly a decade ago.

Contract Status

Three years ago the Astros signed Neshek to a two-year deal worth $12.5M. This is the club option year of that contract. He’ll earn $6.5M total this season before becoming a free agent this winter. Not that he would receive one anyway, but Neshek wouldn’t be eligible for the qualifying offer after the season. Only players who remain with their team all season can receive the qualifying offer. This section was unnecessarily long.

What Will It Take?

The Phillies did well to pick Neshek up in a salary dump trade over the winter. They’re now poised to flip him for a prospect(s) even though veteran non-elite relievers due to become free agents usually don’t fetch much in a trade. Three recent deals stand out as benchmarks for a potential Neshek trade:

  • Joe Smith: Traded for a fringe top 30 organizational prospect (Jesus Castillo).
  • Joakim Soria: Traded for a top 15 organizational prospect (JaCoby Jones).
  • Brad Ziegler: Traded for two fringe top 30 organizational prospects (Jose Almonte and Luis Alejandro Basabe).

The Ziegler trade seems most relevant to me, and not only because he and Neshek use funky arm slots. Both Smith and Soria had some nagging injury issues the year they were traded, plus there were signs of decline in their game. Ziegler had no such issues. He was perfectly healthy and pitching as well as ever. The same applies to Neshek now.

Even after graduating several players to the big leagues the last few weeks, the Yankees have a deep farm system, and trading two fringy top 30 prospects for an immediate bullpen upgrade seems like a no-brainer. An equivalent package to the Ziegler deal would be something like, say, Trey Amburgey and Stephen Tarpley, or Abi Avelino and Erik Swanson. The Yankees have a ton of those dudes to peddle.

Will the Phillies get a better offer? Ken Rosenthal recently reported the Nationals have interest in Neshek, and they’re a World Series contender with major bullpen problems. Their desperation could get them to up the ante. Jim Salisbury says the Phillies have a standing offer for Neshek from an unknown team. We don’t know what that offer is, but the fact the Phillies haven’t accepted it yet tells us they think they can do better.

In a vacuum, it seems the cost to acquire Neshek should be pretty low. In the real world, other teams will be competing for him, including several World Series hopefuls who figure to put their best foot forward. That doesn’t mean it’ll eventually take a top prospect to acquire Neshek (or maybe it does). It could mean getting him for two lower level lottery tickets is a pipe dream, however.

So Is He A Fit?

Yes, definitely. Even with the platoon concerns and his apparent disinterest in going multiple innings. The Yankees don’t need Neshek to be a late-inning guy or a high-leverage guy. They need him to be better than Holder and Clippard are right now, and based on his track record, Neshek can do that. I have no illusions of him maintaining his current performance all year. The 2016 version of Neshek would be an upgrade for the Yankees.

Because the Phillies are so bad, this seems like something that could get done soon. Make a good offer and Philadelphia will probably take it rather than wait a few weeks and hope Neshek somehow ups his value. They could try to start a bidding war, and they might succeed, but how much more would they realistically get anyway? Neshek is no savior. He’s an affordable and useful piece for the middle innings, and the Yankees need all the bullpen help they can get at the moment. That’s it.