Scouting The Trade Market: Phillies’ Position Players

Yesterday we looked at the pitchers the Phillies could offer at the trade deadline, and they have two gems in Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. Now let’s look at the position players. Philadelphia doesn’t have any impact position players to trade — Chase Utley has already said he would use his no-trade clause to remain with the team — but they do have a few usable pieces. Here are the potential fits for the Yankees.

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

OF Marlon Byrd
The Yankees have zero right-handed power right now. Their righty hitters have managed 16 homeruns in 99 games this year, six of which were hit by the departed Alfonso Soriano. Unless switch-hitters Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, and Chase Headley are facing a southpaw, the team’s best power threat from the right side is Zelous Wheeler. That’s not good and adding some right-handed firepower to the lineup is a clear need leading up to the trade deadline.

Byrd, 36, is currently hitting .266/.319/.480 (120 wRC+) with 19 homers this season, one year after resurfacing with the Mets (and Pirates) and going deep 24 times. He was very nearly out of baseball in 2012 — Byrd had a 27 wRC+ in 153 plate appearances that year before being suspended for a failed performance-enhancing drug trade — but he reinvented himself as an all-or-nothing slugger following that season. Byrd basically swings from his heels all the time now, and the result is a lot of power (.214 ISO this year, .220 last year, .151 career) and a lot of strikeouts (28.7% this year, 24.9% last year, 18.9% career).

There is a tangible reason for Byrd’s transformation as a hitter (both Jason Collette and Jeff Sullivan have written about it more in depth) and his performance this year is right in line with last year. He is hitting a few more fly balls in general but his 16.7 HR/FB% is the same as last year (16.6% in 2013, to be exact). His plate discipline stats are roughly the same and his .337 BABIP is actually lower than last season’s .353 mark. After nearly 1,000 plate appearances, I think it’s safe to say Byrd’s swing hard all the time style is conducive to a high BABIP. If you’re willing to live with the strikeouts — the Yankees as a team have the fifth lowest strikeout rate in baseball at 18.4% — he’ll give you plenty of right-handed thump.

The Phillies signed Byrd to a very reasonable two-year contract worth $16M over the winter (there’s also a vesting option for 2016 based on plate appearances) and he is in demand at the trade deadline. The MLBTR archives show the Royals, Mariners, and Reds are among those interested in acquiring him. The Yankees are not included in Byrd’s four-team no-trade list according to Jim Salisbury, and he would fit nicely as the team’s everyday right fielder/number six or seven hitter. The Mets traded a half-season of Byrd for a Triple-A reliever (Vic Black) and a good but not great Single-A prospect (Dilson Herrera) last year, though I suspect the price will be a big higher this summer because he’s shown his resurgence isn’t a fluke.

(Mitchell Leff/Gett)
Mayberry. (Mitchell Leff/Getty)

1B/OF John Mayberry Jr.
Don’t want to pay the price for Byrd? Fine, the 30-year-old Mayberry is a cheaper alternative. He is currently hitting .213/.304/.418 (104 wRC+) with six homers in 138 plate appearances overall, including .255/.339/.582 (155 wRC+) against lefties. Over the last three seasons he’s managed a .259/.314/.498 (120 wRC+) line against southpaws and only a .220/.286/.341 (73 wRC+) line against righties, so Mayberry is strictly a platoon option. Considering what the Yankees have gotten out of right field this year, playing him everyday might still be an upgrade.

A few weeks ago we heard the Bombers were scouting Mayberry and that makes sense. He’s cheap ($1.59M salary this year) and under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2016, plus he can play both corner outfield spots and first base in a pinch. A real live backup first baseman. Imagine that. We aren’t talking about a difference maker, just a nice role player. Mayberry would instantly become the team’s best right-handed power hitter and he should come relatively cheap — similar players like Scott Hairston and Justin Ruggiano cost nothing more than fringe prospects over the last calendar year. The Phillies placed Mayberry on the 15-day DL with wrist inflammation just yesterday, so a trade would either have to come in August or while he’s injured.

OF Domonic Brown
Remember all those Brown for Dellin Betances rumors? Those were fun. Last year the Yankees looked dumb for not making the trade (not that is was ever on the table, as far as we know) and this year they would be morons to doing it. Brown has been one of the very worst position players in baseball this year, hitting a weak .227/.279/.327 (66 wRC+) with six homers while playing awful defense in left field. That 66 wRC+ ranks 157th out of 161 qualified hitters. The raw production is slightly better than what Soriano (60 wRC+) gave the Yankees this year.

(Jeff Gross/Getty)
(Jeff Gross/Getty)

Of course, the 26-year-old Brown hit .272/.324/.494 (124 wRC+) with 24 homers and was an All-Star last season, when it looked like he was finally starting to turn his talent into results. Eighteen of those 24 homers came in the months of May and June though (12 in May alone), so over the last calendar year he has hit a soft .236/.292/.337 (74 wRC+) with only nine homers in 136 games. Brown is not a high-strikeout hitter (18.1% this year and 18.4% career) but he does struggle against lefties and is beating the ball into the ground this year. He’s a project. No doubt about it.

Buying super low on Brown as a reclamation project seems like a great idea, except he’s out of options and can’t go to the minors to work on things. At least not without clearing waivers, which would never happen no matter how poorly he hits. Someone would take a chance on him. Can the Yankees afford to stick him in right field everyday and hope hitting coach Kevin Long can fix whatever needs to be fixed? I’m not sure. The Phillies have been shopping Brown since the offseason and I don’t think acquiring him would be all that tough. I’m just not sure what the Yankees would do with him other than stick him in right and cross their fingers.

* * *

As I mentioned earlier, Utley has all but said he wants to remain with Philadelphia and would block any trade. Jimmy Rollins has indicated the opposite — he would be open to accepting a trade to a contender. I don’t think Rollins, who has played one-third of an inning at a non-shortstop position in his entire professional career, is a fit for the Yankees right now, but I fully expect a winter of Rollins-to-New York rumors after Derek Jeter retires. Get ready for it. It’s coming.

Catcher Carlos Ruiz makes no sense for the Yankees and don’t even bring up Ryan Howard. Did you realize he’s hitting .222/.302/.378 (88 wRC+) this year? Forget him. Just a name at this point. Left-handed hitting third baseman Cody Asche is hitting .256/.308/.401 (96 wRC+) with poor defense but is only 24, so that makes him kinda interesting. He wouldn’t help the 2014 Yankees all that much — they wouldn’t need him to with Headley now on board — but he might be useful in the future. Byrd and to a lesser extent Mayberry are good fits for a Yankees team in need of right-handed power. Both are available and both would make a lot of sense.

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Scouting The Trade Market: Phillies’ Pitchers

With four-fifths of the Opening Day rotation on the disabled list and not due back anytime soon, the Yankees are facing a pitching crisis. It’s not as bad as it could be thanks to the Brandon McCarthy pickup and the emergence of Shane Greene, but the team is pretty desperate for some quality arms. It’s tough to expect Masahiro Tanaka and/or Michael Pineda to return in the second half given the nature of their injuries.

The trade deadline is next Thursday and at this point it’s tough to see the Phillies not selling. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. recently told Jim Salisbury nothing more than “we’re going to try to do what we can to improve our club,” which makes sense. It’s not often a team will come out and announce they’re in sell mode. It pushes fans away. The Phillies do have baseball’s sixth worst record at 43-56 though, and the rumors of a fire sale are louder than ever. If and when they do pull the plug, they have several players who would interest the Yankees. Here are the pitchers, later today we’ll cover the position players.

Why have I not worn pinstripes yet? (Mitchell Leff/Getty)
Why have I not worn pinstripes yet? (Mitchell Leff/Getty)

LHP Cliff Lee
Lee, 35, returned to the mound last night after spending two months on the disabled list with a flexor pronator strain. That’s a muscle in your forearm, though forearm issues are usually symptoms of an elbow problem. Either way, Lee returned last night and was terrible, allowing six runs on a career high-tying 12 hits in 5.2 innings. I watched the game and he just looked rusty. PitchFX confirms his velocity was fine and he threw all of his pitches, but his location was terrible. He looked like a guy who threw only 10.2 rehab innings after missing two months.

Anyway, prior to last night, Lee had a 3.18 ERA (2.70 FIP) in ten starts and 68 innings, numbers that are right in line with his stellar 2008-2013 performance (2.89 ERA and 2.85 FIP). His strikeout rate (8.07 K/9 and 21.1 K%) was down a touch from recent years but still very good while his walk rate (1.19 BB/9 and 3.1 BB%) was outstanding as usual and his ground ball rate (49.1%) was a career high. Cliff Lee was pitching exactly like Cliff Lee before the injury. Here is his pitch breakdown:

Four-Seam Sinker Cutter Changeup Curveball Slider
Avg. Velocity 91.0 90.9 87.3 84.2 74.9 81.0
% Thrown 2.6% 54.9% 14.8% 19.9% 5.8% 2.0%
Whiff+ 155 86 59 130 73 251
GB+ 53 92 116 127 160 57

Even during these last seven years, when he was one of the three or four best pitchers in baseball, Lee never had blow you away stuff. It’s good stuff but not great stuff that plays up (a lot) because he locates everything so well. Lee is essentially a sinker/cutter/changeup pitcher who will mix in a few four-seamers, curveballs, and sliders per start, with the changeup being the only pitch that is above-average at getting both swings and misses and grounders. (Whiff+ and GB+ are like ERA+, but for swing-and-miss and ground ball rates for the individual pitches.)

Lee’s contract is pricey but it’s not an albatross given how well he was pitching before getting hurt — he is owed roughly $10M through the end of this season plus another $25M last year. His $27.5M option for 2016 comes with a $12.5M buyout and vests if he throws 200 innings next year or 400 innings combined from 2014-15. The injury will hurt his chances of meeting the latter. Lee has thrown at least 210 innings every year since 2008, so he’s been very durable in recent years. He’s guaranteed $47.5M or so through the end of next year and at most $62.5M through 2016. I don’t see that as a deal-breaker for a pitcher of this caliber.

The Yankees are included in Lee’s 20-team no-trade list according to Jon Morosi, but that doesn’t appear to be much of an obstacle. In a perfect world New York would just absorb Lee’s contract and give up little in the way of prospects. The Phillies are a financial powerhouse though and shedding salary is not a priority at the deadline. In fact, Ken Rosenthal says they’re willing to eat money to get the best possible prospect package in return. Jim Bowden (subs. req’d) suggested Aaron Judge and Luis Severino for Lee, which is ludicrous, but he isn’t going to come cheap either. Giving up two very good but not truly elite prospects for a legitimate difference maker like Lee seems pretty reasonable in a vacuum, actually.

Of course, the health of Lee’s forearm/elbow is a critical and any team that trades for him will have to have to feel confident in the medicals. Lee is scheduled to start again Saturday, his last scheduled start before the deadline (he is scheduled to start again on the 31st). Teams are only going to get two looks at him before the deadline and the first look last night stunk. Saturday’s outing could be enough to convince a pitching needy club to pull the trigger, or Lee’s post-injury audition could stretch a little longer and make him an August waiver trade candidate. The Yankees are enamored with him and they are desperate for pitching. The stars are aligned.

(Drew Hallowell/Getty)
(Drew Hallowell/Getty)

LHP Cole Hamels
Want an elite left-hander who is younger than Lee and doesn’t have the same immediate injury concerns? The Phillies can also offer up the 30-year-old Hamels, who is once again pitching brilliantly (2.83 ERA and 3.14 FIP in 17 starts and 114.1 innings) after opening the season on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis. It clearly has not had any lingering effect — his strikeout rate (9.05 K/9 and 24.7 K%) is excellent and both his walk (2.99 BB/9 and 8.2 BB%) and ground ball (48.5%) rates are strong. His fastball velocity is also identical to last year and 2010-13 in general.

Let’s dive in to his pitch breakdown:

Four-Seam Sinker Cutter Changeup Curveball
Avg. Velocity 92.6 92.5 89.1 84.5 78.5
% Thrown 36.7% 15.5% 15.6% 21.9% 9.9%
Whiff+ 108 93 107 190 132
GB+ 103 121 114 112 114

The changeup has always been Hamels’ bread and butter. It’s an elite offspeed pitch he can and will throw in any count to batters on both sides of the plate. He picked up the cutter during the 2010 season and it has helped him go from very good to excellent. Hamels throws five different pitches at least 10% of the time each (give or take) and has a go-to out pitch in his changeup. That kind of repertoire makes him one of the best (and most underappreciated?) pitchers in the game.

The Phillies signed Hamels to a massive six-year extension worth $144M two years ago, and at this point he is still owed approximately $99M through the 2018 season. That’s broken down into $9M for the rest of this year plus $22.5M annually over the next four years. The deal also includes a $20M team option/$24M vesting option for 2019. The option vests based on innings and shoulder-related time on the disabled list. Hamels wouldn’t be a short-term commitment like Lee, you’d be getting this guy from age 30-34 and possibly his age 35 season as well.

Both Jon Heyman and Nick Cafardo hear the Phillies are not inclined to move Hamels unless they’re blown away. They see him as someone who can anchor the rotation going forward and be part of the next winning team in Philadelphia. In fact, Cafardo says they’d need three top prospects and a team to absorb his full contract to move him. That seems unlikely to happen. (For what it’s worth, Buster Olney says the Phillies are telling teams Hamels is not available at all.) Like Lee, Hamels is an elite left-hander who has been a workhorse, has experience in a big market, and shown he can dominate in the postseason. Either guy would fit wonderfully in the Yankees’ rotation.

Kendrick. (Brian Garfinkel/Getty)
Kendrick. (Brian Garfinkel/Getty)

RHP Kyle Kendrick and RHP Roberto Hernandez
Regardless of whether you think the Yankees should be buying or selling — this is a very binary thing, of course, nothing in the middle is allowed — I think we can all agree they need to add another starter to eat up some innings at the very least. Hanging Chase Whitley out to dry in the second half is a recipe for disaster. Another McCarthy-esque pickup feels like the absolutely minimum for New York before the deadline.

The 29-year-old Kendrick has thrown at least 150 innings three times in the last four years and is at 20 starts and 125.2 innings this season. The problem? He’s been terrible, with a 4.87 ERA (4.57 FIP) this year and 5.38 ERA (4.51 FIP) over the last calendar year. Hernandez, 33, has also thrown 150+ innings in three of the last four years and is poised to do so again this year (17 starts, three relief appearances, 100.1 innings). He has a 4.22 ERA (4.78 FIP) this season and a 4.41 ERA (4.78 FIP) over the last calendar year. Both guys would likely come cheap and chew up some innings, but that’s it. They won’t have an impact.

RHP Jonathan Papelbon and various relievers
Papelbon, who is now 33, recently told Matt Gelb he would welcome a trade to a contender, assuming someone is willing to take on the $18M he is owed through next season (plus a $13M vesting option for 2016). He has been excellent in 2014 (1.17 ERA and 2.36 FIP) even though his strikeout rate (7.75 K/9 and 22.5 K%) has fallen for the third straight year. The Yankees could use another reliever, every team could, but this seems like overkill. If they’re willing to invest that kind of money in a reliever, I’d so much rather see them give it to the younger and better David Robertson.

Bastardo. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Bastardo. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

The rest of Philadelphia’s bullpen includes 28-year-old lefty Antonio Bastardo, who has a 3.38 ERA (3.19 FIP) in 42.2 innings this year. He has been effective against right-handed hitters over the years and is not just a specialist. Veteran righty Mike Adams is once again on the disabled list with a shoulder problem and is likely done for the year. He’s a non-option. Others like lefty Jake Diekman (4.43 ERA and 3.01 FIP) and righty Justin De Fratus (3.07 ERA and 3.86 FIP) are fresh off the generic middle reliever farm. There’s a reason the Phillies have been looking for quality bullpen help for about two years now. There’s not much to see here.

* * *

The Yankees are said to have no interest in a reunion with A.J. Burnett — the Orioles are reportedly trying to acquire him, by the way (imagine having Burnett and Ubaldo Jimenez in the same rotation, yikes) — which isn’t surprising. I doubt we’ll see any reunions with failed Yankees starters for a little while after the Javy Vazquez fiasco. They’ve shown they’ll let things like that scare them away from repeats for a little while.

Lee and Hamels are obviously the big pitching names with the Phillies and I get the sense both are more available now than ever before. Lee seems more easily attainable, not that it won’t sting to get him. You have to give something to get an impact pitcher like that, assuming his arm is sound following the injury. Kendrick, Hernandez, and the miscellaneous bullpen arms are not needle-movers, just warm bodies to give innings in the second half. The Yankees could use use some of those types of pitchers too.

King: Yankees do not have interest in bringing back A.J. Burnett

Via George King: The Yankees do not have much interest in acquiring A.J. Burnett from the Phillies. Philadelphia has the fourth worst record in baseball at 38-51 and there are more and more rumblings that they be ready to sell. Cliff Lee is hurt and Cole Hamels has a ton of money left on his deal, so Burnett is a lower cost option.

Burnett, 37, has a 3.92 ERA (3.89 FIP) in 19 starts and 124 innings this year, though his strikeout (19.1%), walk (9.9%), and ground ball (49.6%) rates have dropped off considerably from last season. After coming to New York with concerns about his durability, Burnett has made at least 30 starts and thrown at least 186.2 innings every year from 2008-13. He’s a workhorse, if nothing else. The Yankees can use another innings eater even after acquiring Brandon McCarthy, but bringing Burnett back isn’t happening. The Javy Vazquez reunion seems to have eliminated the “bring back a guy who stunk in pinstripes one before” option.

Phillies Gone Crazy: GM Indicates Lee, Hamels, Papelbon Available

No chance I'm posting a picture of Lee in a post-Indians jersey. (Elsa/Getty Images)
No chance I’m posting a picture of Lee in a post-Indians jersey. (Elsa/Getty Images)

If the Phillies are selling, the Yankees should be interested in buying. At the start of the off-season it didn’t seem likely that the Phillies were in any kind of selling mode. Does a team that spends $44 million on Carlos Ruiz and Marlon Byrd sound like a team that is ready to trade away its best players?

In the last few days, though, the rumor mill has churned out plenty of Phillies content, mostly related to them potentially trading their most expensive players. It started when we learned that they want to trade Jonathan Papelbon and his entire contract, using the cash savings for a starting pitcher. Peter Gammons took the issue further, saying the Phillies might even attach OF Domonic Brown to a Papelbon trade to sweeten the pot.

Trading a high-salary closer doesn’t necessarily fly in the face of the Phillies’ off-season moves to date. If they can free up enough cash to sign one of the free agent starters while losing only Papelbon, they could be better off in the long run. The rumors from this morning, on the other hand, will make you scratch your head. They might also make you say “gimme gimme gimme.”

Buster Olney reported that the Phillies “have indicated to other teams they are ready and willing to talk about Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in trades.” So, to review: the Phillies want to trade Papelbon to free up cash to sign a starting pitcher, but also are seeking to trade one of their very good starting pitchers. OK. Far be it from me to question the wisdom of Ruben Amaro, Jr. It’s his club and he can run it how he sees fit. It just so happens that the Yankees could be beneficiaries here.

Hamels, at age 30, might seem the more attractive of the two. Yet he has five years and $118.5 million left on his contract, including a $6 million buyout on a $20 million option for 2019. It’s not the worst contract for a 30-year-old; I’m sure he’d get more than that if he were a free agent today. Of course, his age and general effectiveness (2013 notwithstanding), he’ll probably fetch a decent price in a trade.

Lee, on the other hand, has two years and $62.5 million left on his contract — though that could be three years and $77.5 million, given his vesting option. That’s a lot of money annually, but the short-term nature of the deal, combined with Lee’s general elite level of play, makes that deal more palatable. It would certainly free up payroll for the Phillies, who could then sign another player to a dumb contract.

Plenty of roadblocks exist between the Yankees and Lee. For starters, Lee can block trades to 21 clubs, and surely the Yankees are on his list. It’s tough to forget that he spurned more guaranteed money from the Yankees — six years and $140 million at least, and it was rumored that the Yankees added a seventh year to the deal — in order to sign with the Phillies. Throughout the process we heard of Lee’s reluctance to play in New York, citing their older roster* and an incident wherein New York fans allegedly spit on his wife.

Time, of course, can change matters. The Yankees are looking a bit better than the Phillies right now, so Lee, who hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2011, could be more amenable to a trade. That’s when we hit another roadblock: the Phillies’ demands. According to Jayson Stark, the Phillies will want the receiving team to take on all of Lee’s salary, plus give up a “huge return.” That makes the deal seem less likely — not only because the Yankees don’t have much in the way of major prospects, but because Brian Cashman has shown no indications of trading prospects for a player with a huge salary (paying twice, as he says it).

Few teams can afford a contract of Lee’s size, even though it runs only two or perhaps three years. That gives the Yankees an advantage. Given their need for pitching, and the immense help that Lee would provide on that front, they should look into a trade. Yet it’s unlikely anything gets done here. The Phillies want it all, and it doesn’t make sense for teams to give that up. Yet given the Yankees’ needs, we can all dream a little.

Rosenthal: Yankees are “aggressively pushing” Joba and Hughes

2:16pm: For what it’s worth, Rosenthal says the Phillies are not one of the teams pursuing Joba. The turntables have … turned.

12:49pm: Jon Heyman says the Yankees have been talking to teams about trading Hughes for a bat, and the Angels might have interest. “I think he could fetch quite a bit,” said a rival executive.

11:30am: Via Ken Rosenthal: The Yankees are “aggressively pushing” both Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes on the trade market. He hears Joba could be moved to an NL club soon. Another source says that while the team is talking about both, nothing is imminent. The non-waiver trade deadline is exactly three weeks away.

The Giants, Braves, and Phillies are among the clubs who are said to have interest in Chamberlain. There have been rumblings of a salary dump trade involving Michael Young and/or Carlos Ruiz with the Phillies, but that’s one I’ll have to see to believe. Buster Olney (subs. req’d) says the Yankees are planning to make Hughes a qualifying offer after the season and therefore seek something worth more than a supplemental first round pick in a trade. Plans change of course, and what the team says and what they actually do are two different things. It’s all posturing.