Scouting The Trade Market: Javier Baez

(Dylan Buell/Getty)
(Dylan Buell/Getty)

Now that the draft is over, teams are starting to shift gears and focus on the trade deadline. We’ve already seen Chris Coghlan, James Shields, and Kelly Johnson get traded in recent weeks, among others. The deadline is five weeks and five days away, and not many clubs are eager to throw in the towel and start trading away pieces just yet. We’re seeing that now with the Yankees.

Among the teams certain to be buyers at the deadline are the Cubs, who have baseball’s best record (47-22) and run differential (+169). The Cubs figure to have interest in several Yankees at the deadline, most notably their high-end relievers, so expect to see the two clubs connected these next few weeks. One player the Yankees could seek in return: infielder Javier Baez, one of Chicago’s many fine young sluggers. Let’s take a look at the 23-year-old.

The Offense

Baez is not a bat first player, but make no mistake, his bat is what makes him so highly touted. Back in 2014, the last time he was prospect eligible, Baseball America (subs. req’d) wrote Baez has “special bat speed and produces top-of-the-scale power,” while adding he “has tremendous plate coverage and really has no true holes in his swing, which takes a direct and violent path to the ball.” The offensive potential is special.

The results have not yet matched the offensive potential, however. Baez has left zero doubt that he’s mastered the Triple-A level (.287/.347/.516 in 762 plate appearances), though in parts of three big league seasons, he’s yet to really find his way. Here are his numbers in the show:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR SB K% BB% O-Swing% Contact%
2014 229 .169/.227/.324 53 9 5 41.5% 6.6% 39.2% 59.2%
2015 80 .289/.325/.408 98 1 1 30.0% 5.0% 40.0% 67.7%
2016 158 .268/.314/.443 102 6 4 20.9% 4.4% 43.3% 73.5%

The positives: Baez has upped his overall production (in terms of wRC+) each year while cutting down on his strikeout rate and improving his contract rate. The negatives: Baez is walking less while swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone (O-Swing%). Then again, we’re talking about relatively small samples here. Those 80 plate appearances last year? I’d pretty much ignore them. They don’t tell us much.

Baez’s natural talent is pretty obvious when you watch him play. So are his flaws. He’s ultra-aggressive at the plate — he has a career 27.6% strikeout rate in Triple-A, higher than OMG he strikes out too much Aaron Judge (25.9%) — and advanced pitchers have used that aggressiveness against him. It appears Baez is making some progress in the discipline department this year, but we can’t say that for sure just yet. Now, that said, when a guy can turn on 96 mph inside heaters like this …

… you take notice. Not many players can get the bat around that quickly on an above-average fastball, let alone drive it well out of the park. Baez has true 30+ homer potential, possibly 40+ at his peak. The bat speed is that electric. It’s Sheffieldian. You just have to hope Baez develops enough plate discipline to tap into that power regularly.

The Defense

The Cubs originally drafted Baez as a shortstop and he’s always been a very good defender at the position. Baseball America (subs. req’d) said he has “solid range to go with solid actions and a 70-grade arm” prior to the 2014 season. Chicago has moved Baez around a bit — they move everyone around it seems, that’s Joe Maddon’s thing — so he’s also spent a bunch of time at second and third bases. He’s even played some left field too.

You’d hate to waste a 70 arm at second base, so Baez would look best long-term on the left side of the infield. He has the tools for either shortstop or third base, though obviously he would be more valuable at short. Every player would. Point is, Baez offers some flexibility. He can play all over the infield and you could even stick him in the outfield in an emergency. The defense statistics don’t help us much given the small samples, but based on the eye test and the scouting reports, Baez is an asset in the field. He adds value with his glove.

Injury History

Baez has been on the DL twice in his career, both times with kinda dumb fluky injuries. He broke his ring finger sliding into second base on a steal attempt in Triple-A last year, which sidelined him about six weeks. Then, in Spring Training this year, Baez suffered a thumb contusion on a headfirst slide. The Cubs were able to backdate the DL stint, so he returned only a week into the regular season. That’s it as far as injuries go. Just two fluky injuries from sliding into bases. Could happen to anyone.

Contract Status

Assuming he never goes back to the minors, Baez will have five years of team control remaining after this season. He’ll make something close to the league minimum in 2016 and 2017 before being arbitration-eligible from 2018-2020. It doesn’t look like Baez will have enough service time to be a Super Two down the road. Then again, the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement may change things.

As best I can tell, Baez still has two minor league option years remaining. He was called up and added to the 40-man roster back in 2014, and never went down again that season. Baez burned an option last year and has been with the Cubs all of this season, so yeah, he has two options left. You don’t want to use those though, right? Any team that acquires Baez wouldn’t be doing so with designs of sending him down at some point.

Why Would The Cubs Move Him?

For what it’s worth, Ken Rosenthal said earlier this week it would be “nearly impossible” for the Cubs to trade Baez, though that reads more like his speculation than rumor reporting. Either way, this is the time of the year when every young player is untouchable. No one wants to deal their youngsters and they would have to be blown away to do so and blah blah blah yadda yadda yadda. Same story every deadline.

(Joe Sargent/Getty)
(Joe Sargent/Getty)

Here are the facts. One, the Cubs have a lot of infield depth. They have Coghlan and Tommy La Stella at the MLB level, plus Ben Zobrist can play anywhere. Utility man Munenori Kawasaki and third baseman Jeimer Candelario are waiting in Triple-A too. Not even counting Baez, they’re three deep at second, short, and third bases thanks to Zobrist’s flexibility.

Two, the Cubbies were reportedly willing to trade Baez over the winter. Scroll through the MLBTR archives and you’ll see he was involved in Shelby Miller talks with the Braves and various trade talks with the Rays, mostly involving Alex Cobb and/or Jake McGee. In fact, Gordon Wittenmyer even reported the Cubs were close to sending Baez to Atlanta as part of a package for Miller before the Diamondbacks came in with their massive offer.

Do the Cubs want to trade Baez? Of course not. Every team wants to keep all their young players and make trades using guys they don’t consider potential cornerstones. It doesn’t work like that though. The Cubs were reportedly willing to trade Baez over the winter, and given their current infield situation, they’re in position to discuss him again at the deadline. It sounds harsh to say he’s expendable, but he kinda is.

Wrapping Up

We know the Cubs are scouting the Yankees’ top relievers and it makes total sense. Chicago lacks a shutdown left-handed reliever — with all due respect, Travis Wood is not someone you send out there against guys like Bryce Harper or Brandon Belt in the late innings of a close postseason game, you know? — and the Yankees have two to offer in Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. Assuming the Yankees sell, the Cubs are an obvious fit.

My guess is the Cubs would push for Miller over Chapman for a few reasons. One, the two extra years of team control. Two, Miller and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein have a relationship dating back to their time with the Red Sox. And three, Miller is straight up better than Chapman, at least so far this year. That wasn’t the case from 2012-15 but it is certainly the case in 2016. Miller’s been the best of the club’s big three relievers by a not small margin, I think.

The Cubbies are going to want Miller (or Chapman) and the Yankees have every right to ask for someone like Baez in return. And the Cubs have every right to say no. The Yankees are in the driver’s seat here. They’re going to get a ton of offers for Miller (and Chapman) and can pick the best. If the Cubs don’t get Miller or Chapman, who will they add to be that shutdown lefty reliever? Boone Logan? Xavier Cedeno? Fernando Abad? Sean Doolittle? Pretty big drop in quality there, eh?

For a one-time elite prospect, Baez has very high bust potential because he’s so undisciplined at the plate. The Yankees would be taking on the greater risk in, say, a Miller-for-Baez swap. Miller is the proven elite big league performer in that scenario. (No, he’s not “just” a reliever. Kirby Yates is just a reliever. Miller’s a game-changer.) Baez may have big time bust potential, but the upside is enormous, and the Yankees lack players with star caliber tools.

Despite the obvious risk, I think the Yankees should push for Baez in any trade talks with the Cubs. Where would he play? I’m not sure. Worry about importing the high-end talent first, then sort it all out later. The Yankees have too many complementary players and not enough centerpieces. Baez has the ability to be a cornerstone type player, and those are the players each and every team should target in a trade.

Scouting The Waiver Market: Ruben Tejada

(Stacy Revere/Getty)
(Stacy Revere/Getty)

In a bit of a surprising move, the Mets placed infielder Ruben Tejada on waivers earlier today, reports Adam Rubin. I say surprising because the Amazin’s are cutting loose a big league caliber infielder even though Asdrubal Cabrera is out with a knee injury and David Wright has yet to play in Spring Training as the team manages his spinal stenosis. I get that the Mets like Wilmer Flores, but he can’t play two positions at once.

Anyway, by waiving Tejada now, the Mets will not owe him his full $3M salary for the 2016 season. They’ll only have to pay him one-sixth of that, or $500,000. Middle infielders are always in demand, so Tejada shouldn’t have much trouble landing a new job in the coming days. The Yankees currently have an open bench spot and they lack a true backup third baseman behind Chase Headley, so does Tejada make sense? Let’s look.

The Offense

By no means in Tejada any great shakes at the plate. The 26-year-old (yes, he’s only 26) is a .255/.330/.323 (86 wRC+) hitter in nearly 2,200 big league plate appearances. Last season he had a .261/.338/.350 (95 wRC+) batting line in 407 plate appearances, and in four of the last five seasons he’s managed a wRC+ in the 89-99 range. Keep in mind the average shortstop had an 85 wRC+ in 2015 and the average second baseman had a 93 wRC+.

Tejada is a right-handed hitter who has unsurprisingly done his best work against lefties over the years. He has zero power against all pitchers — he’s hit ten homers with a .068 ISO in those 2,200 or so plate appearances — but he can make contact (15.0 K%) and draw walks (8.6 BB%). Here are Tejada’s career numbers against southpaws:

Ruben Tejada offense

The 2010 season was Tejada’s partial rookie season, so feel free to ignore that year. Even if you do, he’s still been an above-average producer against lefties in every season of his career except one. You don’t want to play Tejada against righties (career 79 wRC+) but he can hold his own against lefties, if not be an asset.

It is important to note Tejada has spent most of his career batting eighth in the NL, right in front of the pitcher, so his walk rate is inflated. He has a career 11.7% walk rate as the No. 8 hitter and a 6.1% walk rate when batting anywhere else in the lineup. Pitchers pitch around the No. 8 hitter in the NL to get to the pitcher whenever they’re in a jam. I don’t mean intentionally walk them either, sometimes they just give them nothing to hit and see if they’ll chase.

Tejada is not a base-stealer (16-for-27 in his career, or 59.3%) and he’s only average at taking the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.), so he doesn’t offer a ton of value on the bases. When it comes to creating runs, Tejada does it by putting the ball in play against lefties and not chasing everything. Move him to the AL and eliminate all those at-bats in front of the pitcher, and you’re likely looking at an 85 wRC+ guy going forward. Not great, but passable.

The Defense

Over the last three or four years it always seemed like the Mets would talk about getting a new shortstop, and yet there Tejada would be at shortstop on Opening Day. He came up through the minors as a shortstop and has played the majority of his big league career there, though he’s also seen some time at second and third bases. His hot corner experience is limited, however (156.1 innings).

The various defensive stats crushed Tejada at shortstop last year, rating him well-below-average, which is not in line with the rest of his career. He’s been scored as average or better at shortstop in previous years. We don’t have a ton of data on his second base and third base work, so there’s no sense in looking at numbers. The scouting reports indicate Tejada is athletic with good range and a strong arm. The defensive tools are there. That’s always been his game. Defense first, offense second.

Injury History

Last fall Tejada rather famously had his lower right fibula broken on a take-out slide by Chase Utley in the NLDS. I’m not sure I would call it a dirty slide, but it was very aggressive and dangerous. Tejada has rehabbed the fracture and had been playing Grapefruit League games before being waived, so he’s good to go. He’s healthy.

The leg fracture is not the only injury of Tejada’s career. Heck, it’s not even the first time he broke his right leg. He also fractured his right fibula in September 2013, when he crashed into a teammate while chasing after a pop-up. Here’s the video:

Two right fibula fractures in the span of three years seems … bad. I don’t know if that makes Tejada more prone to similar fractures going forward, but it can’t be good. His only other notable injuries are right quad strains (missed 48 days in 2007 and 37 days in 2013). The leg fractures are bad news. Everything in baseball starts from the ground up — hitting, fielding, throwing, everything — and if Tejada’s lower half is compromised, he won’t be able to perform as expected.

Contract Status

Tejada and the Mets avoided arbitration over the winter by agreeing to a $3M salary for 2016, but again, the team only owes him one-sixth of that because they placed him on waivers. Interestingly enough, the Mets granted Tejada one extra day of service time as part of their contract agreement, allowing him to become a free agent next offseason. He would have fallen one day short. So, simply put, Tejada is a one-year rental at $3M. If he clears waivers and is released — the waiver process ends Thursday — he can sign with any team for any amount.

Waiver Status

It’s not hard to connect the dots and see Tejada winding up with the Cardinals. St. Louis just lost Jhonny Peralta to a thumb injury and he’s not expected back until midseason. They have Aledmys Diaz (remember him?) as a potential fill-in, but he’s barely played above Double-A, and he fell so out of favor last summer that the Cardinals designated him for assignment. They could use middle infield help and Tejada’s now available.

(Stacy Revere/Getty)
(Stacy Revere/Getty)

Other teams could use infield help, including the Dodgers, who recently lost Corey Seager for two weeks to a knee issue. I do wonder if the Utley-Tejada dynamic will cause Los Angeles to look elsewhere though. That could be an uncomfortable situation. The Giants could use some infield help. So could the Rockies with Jose Reyes set to be out of action for a long time following his domestic violence incident. The Angels, the Mariners … lots of team could use a spare infielder.

The Cardinals are the most obvious suitor here, and the Yankees do have waiver priority over St. Louis. From November through April, the waiver order is the reverse order of last year’s standings, and the Cardinals had the best record in baseball last year. From May through October, the waiver order is the reverse order of the current year’s standings by league. So NL players have to go through the entire NL before being exposed to AL teams. That doesn’t apply right now. The Yankees will have dibs on Tejada before the Cardinals.

Of course, claiming Tejada means assuming that $3M salary, which is relatively small but not insignificant. I mean, $3M is $3M. It’s real money. Creating 40-man roster space is no problem — the Yankees can slide Greg Bird to the 60-day DL — so acquiring Tejada is really a matter of a) him getting to the Yankees on waivers, and b) the Yankees’ willingness to assume his $3M salary. They could always wait to see if he clears waivers and becomes a free agent, but if that happens, I have a hard time thinking St. Louis would be outbid. They can offer a starting shortstop job.

Wrapping Up

The Yankees recently pulled the plug on Starlin Castro at third base, so their fourth and final bench spot has to go to a backup third baseman. Rob Refsnyder has been working out at the hot corner this spring and seems to have the inside trade on that job. Tejada is another candidate for that spot. He might not hit like Refsnyder, but he’s a better defender and can also fill-in at shortstop. That means Castro could focus on second base and second base only.

Acquiring Tejada would push Refsnyder to Triple-A, yes, but I don’t see this as Tejada or Refsnyder. It’s Tejada and Refsnyder. The Yankees would get to keep both. They could keep Tejada at the MLB level — he has enough service time to refuse an assignment to Triple-A anyway — as their sparsely used backup infielder while Refsnyder plays everyday in the minors and continues to work at third base. It’s another layer of depth.

The Yankees don’t have much in the way of Triple-A infielders right now. With Refsnyder slated to be in the big leagues, the Triple-A infield will consist of Pete Kozma, Donovan Solano, Jonathan Diaz, and Ronald Torreyes. I don’t think anyone wants to see them this summer. I’d prefer to see the Yankees add Tejada to their bench, push Refsnyder to Triple-A, and push everyone else further down the depth chart.

Tejada is a +1 WAR player, give or take. No backup infielder is great. He has been able to hold his own as a 400-ish at-bat player for the Mets the last few years, and now we’re talking about making him a 180-ish at-bat bench guy for the Yankees. Tejada could struggle to keep his rhythm with less playing time, or he could really take off by being platooned properly. Considering it would only cost $3M and a waiver claim to acquire him, adding Tejada as infield depth is a move worth making in my book.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: David Freese

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

As the offseason winds down, teams are currently in bargain hunting mode trying to find that last piece or two to round out their roster. The Yankees have grabbed low-cost veterans like Eric Chavez, Brian Roberts, and Raul Ibanez at this point of the offseason in recent years. They weren’t counting on them for huge impact, just quality depth.

The Yankees have already announced their list of non-roster Spring Training invitees, but the roster building doesn’t end there. The team can still add players and may indeed make a minor pickup or two in the nine days between now and the open of camp. Veteran third baseman David Freese remains unsigned, and with Greg Bird now out for the season, the Yankees could use corner infield depth. Is Freese a potential fit for that role? Let’s look.

The Offense

Freese, 33 in April, has been rather consistent the last three years, putting up a wRC+ in the 105-110 range each season from 2013-15. Both his BABIP (.321) and strikeout rate (22.4%) have held fairly steady these last few years, but his walk rate is trending down (9.0% to 7.4% to 6.6%) while his ISO (.119 to .123 to .163) is trending up. Here are his platoon splits from 2013-15:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ BABIP BB% K% GB% FB% Soft% Hard%
vs. RHP 1,127 .257/.321/.375 100 .327 6.7% 24.0% 54.2% 24.8% 14.9% 36.2%
vs. LHP 375 .268/.349/.451 127 .303 10.7% 17.9% 48.7% 28.7% 14.7% 37.4%

Freese is a right-handed hitter, as you may have guessed from the splits. He’s also a ground ball hitter, which explains the higher than league average BABIP and generally underwhelming ISO. Ground balls sneak through for hits more often than fly balls, but they rarely go for extra bases.

Last season Freese put up a .257/.323/.420 (110 wRC+) line overall, and his splits had reversed from his career norms. He was basically average against lefties (104 wRC+) while having more success against righties (112 wRC+). That looks very much like a one-year blip based on the rest of his career — it was a 92 wRC+ against righties and a 153 wRC+ against lefties as recently as 2014 — and not the new normal, but stranger things have happened.

The lack of interest this offseason suggests teams do not see Freese as a player capable of producing at an average or better clip against both righties and lefties. Those guys usually find jobs, especially at an in-demand position like third base. Going forward, it’s best to project Freese as a platoon bat, and if he performs better than expected, great.

The Defense

For the vast majority of his career, the defensive stats have rated Freese as an average to slightly below-average third baseman. He had one disaster year in 2013 (-14 DRS and -16.5 UZR) but has otherwise hovered within a run or two of average. For what it’s worth, the UZR components say it’s all due to a lack of range. Freese turns double plays fine and avoids errors, but he’s a statue. Not much range at all.

Freese has played some first base in addition to third base, mostly earlier in his career, which is kind of a big deal as far as the Yankees are concerned. The Bird injury means they’re out a Grade-A piece of depth at first base. Freese played nine games at first with the Cardinals from 2009-11 plus a bunch more in the minors, and I’m guessing he would have seen some action at first with the Angels the last two years if not for Albert Pujols and C.J. Cron.

The defensive stats at first are meaningless given how little time Freese played there. As we’ve seen the last few years, first base is not as easy as it seems. The Yankees have thrown a lot of players at first for short periods of time (Chase Headley, Kelly Johnson, Brendan Ryan, Brian McCann, etc.) and all struggled with the transition to some degree. Freese at least has some familiarity with the position. He wouldn’t be going in blind.

Injury History

Only once in his six full MLB seasons has Freese managed to play 140+ games. That was the 144 games he played in 2013. Freese is good for at least one DL stint per season. Check out the list of injuries:

  • 2015: Non-displaced fracture of right index finger. Missed close to six weeks.
  • 2014: Fractured right middle finger. Missed three weeks.
  • 2013: Lower back strain. Missed three weeks.
  • 2012: Right and left ankle sprains. Missed ten games in September but didn’t go on the DL because of expanded rosters.
  • 2011: Broken left hand. Missed two months.
  • 2010: Right ankle tendon reconstruction surgery. Missed a little more than three months.
  • 2009: Left heel debridement surgery. Missed two months in minors.

Not great. He’s had surgery on both ankles/feet and breaks in both hands/fingers. Any team that signs Freese would have to have a decent Plan B at third base because he’s going to miss time. His history suggests staying healthy over a full season just isn’t happening. The best predictor of future injury is past injury, after all.

Contract Projections

It is late in the offseason, and at this point the remaining free agents are going to end up with contracts smaller than expected. Howie Kendrick just took two years and $20M. That’s ridiculous. It’s a fraction of what he’s worth. Bargains are out there. Here are some early offseason projections for Freese:

Freese would certainly jump on three years and $30M right now. That’s 150% of Kendrick’s deal! He’d probably take the two years and $18M as well. Martin Prado and Justin Turner will be the best available free agent third basemen next offseason. Would Freese take a one-year deal and try his luck again next winter? He might not have a choice at this point.

Wrapping Up

Although he is four years older, I prefer Juan Uribe to Freese, but Freese could potentially fill a similar role as the backup third baseman and righty bat off the bench. He can’t play second like Uribe, but the Yankees have depth at that position in Dustin Ackley and Rob Refsnyder. They need first base depth in the wake of Bird’s injury and Freese may be able to provide that. (Uribe may be able to as well.)

(Harry How/Getty)
(Harry How/Getty)

Looking around the league, I count eight teams that have an opening for either a starting third baseman or a most of the time third baseman: Angels, Indians, Astros, Braves, Reds, Brewers, Pirates, and Padres. Some of those teams are more realistic fits for Freese than others. The rebuilding Braves, Reds, Brewers, and Padres aren’t going to spend money on a veteran third baseman, for example.

The Yankees have yet to sign a Major League free agent this offseason but I don’t think they’re opposed to the idea completely. They can’t be. You have to be willing to act if a favorable deal comes along. My guess is Freese would have to come on similar terms as Stephen Drew last year ($5M for one year) for the Yankees to have any interest. And even then Freese has to be willing to accept a bench role.

As with most position player free agents this offseason, Freese looks like an okay fit for the Yankees but the Yankees don’t seem to be a fit for Freese. The Angels, Indians, and Pirates all stand to offer more playing time and Freese may consider those clubs more likely to contend in 2016 than the Yankees. At some point someone will sign him, right? I would be surprised if he has to settle for a 13th position player on the roster job at this stage of his career.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Tim Lincecum

(Mike McGinnis/Getty)
(Mike McGinnis/Getty)

This is the time of the offseason when teams begin to bargain hunt and look for that low cost free agent to fill out the roster. The Yankees have added players like Brian Roberts, Raul Ibanez, and Eric Chavez later in the offseason for this reason the last few years. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s the nature of the beast.

The Yankees tend to target former stars with this moves, and one former star who remains available as a free agent is two-time Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum. He’s no longer the pitcher he once was, but he’s still relative young (31) and his track record is as good as it gets, and that will surely land him a job at some point reasonably soon. Should the Yankees be interested? Let’s dive in.

The Performance

Lincecum’s career is hard to believe. He’s played eight full seasons in the big leagues now, and the first four were outstanding. It’s among the best four-year stretches in modern history. The last four seasons have been a total disaster though. Everything went south as soon as Lincecum turned 28. Look at this:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 bWAR fWAR
2008-11 881.2 2.81 2.81 26.9% 8.7% 47.1% 0.55 23.3 23.1
2012-15 615.2 4.68 4.08 21.6% 10.0% 45.9% 1.02 -2.7 3.1

How? How in the world does that happen? Lincecum went from a 2.74 ERA (3.21 FIP) in 2011 to a 5.18 ERA (4.18 FIP) in 2012. He owned a career 2.98 ERA (137 ERA+) following that 2011 season. That has since climbed to a 3.61 ERA (107 ERA+). Man. That’s nuts.

Anyway, last season was Lincecum’s least bad season of his four recent bad seasons. He had a 4.13 ERA (4.29 FIP) in 76.1 innings, his lowest ERA since 2011, though his strikeout (18.5%), walk (11.4%), and grounder (44.3%) rates were career worsts. You can’t help but look at this and cringe (his K% has also declined every year since 2008):

Tim Lincecum strikeoutsThere is no silver lining here. Lincecum was very bad last season, he’s been very bad for four seasons now, and there is nothing to indicate a return to form is coming. The Lincecum of 2008-11, the guy who was one of the most dominant and exciting pitchers in the world, is long gone. He doesn’t exist anymore. CC Sabathia has been great more recently than Lincecum. Sad but true. Check the stats if you don’t believe me.

The Stuff

People have been talking about the decline of Lincecum’s stuff for four years now, so it’s no secret. Velocity isn’t everything, we all know that by now, but it’s not nothing either. A 94-95 mph fastball is much different than an 87-88 mph fastball. It changes everything. Lincecum had the 94-95 mph heater back in the day. Now he has a fastball you could catch with your teeth.

Tim Lincecum velocity

Woof. That’s scary. Lincecum is not a big guy (he’s listed at 5-foot-7 and 170 lbs.) and he still has that max effort tornado delivery, which may have taken a physical toll over the years. Deliveries like that usually aren’t built to last. Look at Dontrelle Willis and Hideo Nomo. They had wild, twisty deliveries too, and they were both done as above-average pitchers by their late-20s as well.

Lincecum and the Giants were not oblivious to his declining stuff the last few years. They did alter his pitch selection, specifically by getting him to stay away from his four-seamer and emphasize his sinker and split-finger fastball. During that great 2011 season he threw 38.1% four-seamers, 14.9% sinkers, and 15.7% splitters. Last year it was 23.3% four-seamers, 25.2% sinkers, and 24.1% splitters. Yes, Lincecum threw more splitters than four-seamers in 2015.

The change in pitch selection hasn’t help a whole lot, though who knows, maybe Lincecum would have performed even worse without leaning on the sinker and split-finger. Here’s some video from last season so you can get an idea of what Lincecum is working with these days:

The electricity is gone. That sucks. I hate watching great players lose their greatness. The last four seasons have given us plenty of evidence — both statistical and the eye test — that Lincecum is little more than a replacement level starter at this point of his career. He crashed hard a few years back and I’m not sure why you’d expect any sort of significant rebound at this point.

Injury History

Despite his decline in stuff and performance, Lincecum has never had any kind of significant arm injury. The only arm problems he’s ever had were contusions (forearm in 2015, shoulder in 2010) due to batted balls, and a blister in 2013. The blister sidelined him for ten days in Spring Training. Put any 31-year-old pitcher in an MRI tube and you’ll find something scary, but Lincecum’s arm is structurally sound.

His hip, however, is not. Lincecum had surgery in September to repair a torn labrum and impingement in his left hip. It’s the same procedure Alex Rodriguez had back in 2013. Heck, the same doctor (Dr. Philippon in Colorado) operated on both A-Rod and Lincecum. Lincecum’s rehab is reportedly going well, and he’ll throw for teams in early-February to show he’s healthy, according to Jon Heyman.

“He’s throwing every day and says he’s doing great. He’s got no instability in his hip, and he’s enthusiastic about his progress,” said agent Rick Thurman to John Shea. Physical therapist Brad Schoenthaler added Lincecum is “doing great. He looks really strong. His hip pain and compensation patterns have cleared up. Everything’s coming back a lot quicker than we expected.”

Surgery to repair torn labrums and impingements in the hip is fairly new — they’ve gotten better at detecting these injuries, hence the uptick in recent years — and not many pitchers have had it. Jason Isringhausen was one of the first to have his hip repaired this way back in the day and he came back fine, with no loss of stuff or effectiveness. Brett Myers had it towards the very end of his career. That’s pretty much it. We don’t have much data on the long-term impact of the procedure on moundsmen.

Contract Projections

FanGraphs was the only site to give a contract estimate for Lincecum this offseason, and their crowdsourcing results spit out a one-year contract worth $6M. That’s the going rate for veteran reclamation project starters these days. Think Henderson Alvarez ($4.25M), Rich Hill ($6M), Kyle Kendrick ($5.5M), Aaron Harang ($5M), and Chris Capuano ($5M). They’ve all signed for similar amounts the last two offseasons. Lincecum is in that group now.

Keep in mind Lincecum has already made a ton of money in his career. The Giants paid him $89M over the last five seasons alone. He is presumably in a situation where he doesn’t need to chase every last dollar and can instead look for the best opportunity to get his career back on track. Lincecum is still only 31. I doubt his goal is to simply hang on. He wants to put himself in position to have a strong second phase of his career.

Wrapping Up

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

I have no interest in Lincecum as a starter. There’s no reason to think he will provide value in that role in 2016, even with a healthy hip. He’s been too bad for too long now. I do think Lincecum is interesting as a reliever, however. He hasn’t relieved much in his career but limiting him to one time through the lineup and letting him focus on his two best pitches could do the trick.

Lincecum has shown throughout his career that he’s a bit of an adrenaline junkie, so he might feel right at home in the bullpen. He’s pitched in high pressure games, he’s pitched in the World Series, he’s pitched for a team with championship expectations. He’s excelled in those situations. I don’t think there is any question about Lincecum’s toughness and competitiveness.

The question is about his stuff and whether he can get big league hitters out consistently. I’m guessing plenty of teams would take a flier on Lincecum as a reliever, which makes me think there’s close to no chance he comes to New York. Why would he come to tiny Yankee Stadium to try to rebuild value when he could go to a more favorable ballpark, especially if the Giants would take him back? He’s a rock star in San Francisco.

The Yankees have three open bullpen spots right now and more than enough internal candidates. Lincecum would be, at best, their fourth option out of the bullpen. I like the idea of using him in the Adam Warren role, as a guy who can go two innings at a time, if necessary. Whether Lincecum is open to that is another matter. I don’t like him much as a starter these days, but as a reliever he could be an interesting gamble. Unfortunately, the Yankees don’t seem like a good fit for Lincecum personally. Not at this point of his career.

Scouting The Trade Market: Aaron Hill

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

Over the last few years the Yankees have made a habit of bringing in low cost, potentially washed up veterans late in the offseason to see if they can strike gold. Sometimes it works (Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez), sometimes it doesn’t (Vernon Wells). Such is life. With a one open bench spot — and a backup third baseman in theory only — the Yankees could make a similar move in the coming weeks.

One apparently washed up veteran who could be a fit for that open bench spot is Diamondbacks infielder Aaron Hill, who Jon Heyman says is on the trade block. Arizona wants to move him because they have a younger and better option in Brandon Drury. Hill hasn’t been good for two years now, but he could have something left to offer in a limited role as the 25th man on the roster. Should the Yankees be interested? Let’s see.

The Performance

Like I said, Hill has not been very good the last two seasons. He hit .244/.287/.367 (78 wRC+) with ten home runs in 541 plate appearances in 2014, then followed it up by hitting .230/.295/.345 (71 wRC+) with six home runs in 353 trips to the plate last season. Yikes. That’s a .238/.290/.359 (75 wRC+) batting line in his last 894 plate appearances.

The last time Hill was actually good was the 2013 season, when he hit .291/.356/.462 (124 wRC+) with 11 homers in 362 plate appearances. Interestingly, Hill pulled the ball much more often that season than he has the last two years. Check it out:

Aaron Hill batted balls

Hill’s soft and hard contact rates have held fairly steady the last four years and they’ve been better than average as well. (League averages are 18.6 Soft% and 28.6 Hard%.) The drop in pull rate is the biggest difference — Hill’s ground ball and fly ball rates have stayed in the same range the last few seasons — which could be an indication his bat is slowing. He might not be able to get around on the ball as quickly as he once did.

At the very least, you’d want someone in what would be Hill’s role to be able to hit pitchers of the opposite hand. He’s a right-handed batter, and, well, his numbers against lefties the last few seasons are not good at all.

Aaron Hill lefties

Hill actually hit righties (77 wRC+) better than lefties (58 wRC+) last season. And man, those walk and strikeout rates are bad news. They’re both going in the wrong direction.

It’s not even clear Hill is a potential platoon candidate at this point. Not great! Second basemen have been known to completely fall off a cliff in their early-30s, and it looks like that may have happened with Hill. Two years ago he was incredibly productive. The last two seasons have been a total disaster.

The Defense

Like most big league second baseman, Hill came up through the minors as a shortstop before shifting to the other side of the bag. He was a full-time second baseman from 2007-13 before the D-Backs stopped playing him everyday in the second half of 2014 because he stopped hitting. Hill has played a little over 1,350 innings at second base and roughly 350 innings at third base the last two years.

The defensive stats were always split on Hill at second base. UZR liked him there while DRS said he was below-average, for example. Based on the eye test, he seemed solid at second, not great but not a liability either. The stats are also split on his work at third base in that tiny sample. Point is, Hill is not some kind of standout gloveman like, say, Juan Uribe. He’s also not unplayable like Pedro Alvarez. You can run him out there at second and third bases on occasion and he won’t kill you.

Injury History

Hill doesn’t have any significant long-term injury concerns like, say, Alex Rodriguez‘s hips. He missed a few games last September with a hamstring pull and missed two months in 2013 when he took a pitch to the hand and broke a bone. Otherwise Hill has dealt with nothing more than random day-to-day stuff the last few seasons. A tight hammy, jammed fingers from sliding into a base, that sort of stuff.

Contract Status

The D’Backs gave Hill a three-year extension worth $35M back in February 2013 — he had one year left on his current deal at the time, so they tacked another three years on top of it — and so far that deal has been a disaster. It started in 2014. Woof. Hill is owed $12M next season, the final year on that contract. He’ll be a free agent next winter.

What Would It Take?

(Christian Petersen/Getty)
(Christian Petersen/Getty)

I don’t know what it would take, but I do know what it should take: almost nothing. An Aaron Hill trade should be similar to the Vernon Wells trade in that the acquiring team gives up nothing in particular and takes on a little bit of cash. The Yankees ate 25% of the money owed to Wells in that trade, and 25% of the money owed to Hill is $3M. Even that seems a little pricey. The D’Backs are in no position to demand something of value for Hill. They’re looking to shed as much of his contract as possible. That’s all.

Wrapping Up

There’s very little to like about Hill at this point of his career, right? He hasn’t hit in two years — not even lefties! — and while his defense is acceptable, it’s not enough to make up for the expected lack of offense. Plus he’s expensive. Hill would fill a need as a backup third baseman, but so what? He’s been so bad.

And yet, I can’t shake the feeling the Yankees might have some interest in Hill. They have a history of rolling the dice on veterans who looked to be done by sticking them in part-time roles, and Hill does fill a need and have a history of righty pop. And he’s familiar with the AL East from his days in Toronto. I feel like that can only help him.

In all likelihood, no, the Yankees will not pursue Hill, even though he figures to come so insanely cheap it would be close to a no risk move. If he stinks, cut him and move on. The D’Backs can’t expect actual prospects and/or significant salary relief in return. I don’t see much upside in Hill, even in a part-time role, but I’ve said that about several other veterans who have gone on to be productive in pinstripes.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Tyler Clippard

(Mitchell Layton/Getty)
(Mitchell Layton/Getty)

It is now the middle of January, and several big name free agents remain unsigned. The market has picked up in recent days (Justin Upton, Chris Davis, Ian Kennedy, etc.) but there are still several quality players on the board. Thirteen of MLBTR’s top 50 free agents are still unsigned as of this writing, including three of the top 20.

One of those 13 players is former Yankee Tyler Clippard, who was involved in one of the most lopsided trades in recent memory. The Yankees shipped him to the Nationals for Jonathan Albaladejo in December 2007. Clippard went on to become an elite reliever while Albaladejo gave the Yankees 59.1 replacement level innings before being released in 2010. Not Brian Cashman‘s finest moment.

The Yankees improved the back-end of their bullpen by replacing Justin Wilson with Aroldis Chapman, but the middle innings did take a hit with the trade of Adam Warren. The club has a ton of internal candidates for the open bullpen spots, though outside of Chasen Shreve, none have had much MLB success in their careers. Could Clippard be part of the middle innings solution? Let’s look.

The Performance

Clippard, now 30, spent the 2008 season in the minors with the Nationals before breaking out as a reliever in 2009. From 2009-14 he led all relievers in innings (by a lot) and ranked sixth in WAR. Clippard was a high-leverage workhorse. Here’s what he’s done the last three years:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% HR/9 RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2013 71.0 2.41 3.82 26.6% 8.7% 1.14 .240 .232
2014 70.1 2.18 2.75 29.5% 8.3% 0.64 .191 .292
2015 71.0 2.92 4.28 21.3% 10.3% 1.01 .327 .211

Clippard is a proven FIP beater. Since becoming a full-time reliever in 2009 he has a 2.68 ERA and a 3.52 FIP in 524.2 innings. It’s not an accident. Clippard has demonstrated the ability to outperform his peripherals over a period of several years now.

How has he done it? By being an extreme fly ball pitcher who excels at getting hitters to pop the ball up on the infield. Clippard’s career ground ball rate is 27.9%, the second lowest among pitchers who’ve thrown at least 500 innings since batted ball data started being recorded in 2002. (Chris Young is the lowest at 26.4%.) His 15.6% infield pop-up rate is third highest during that time, behind Mariano Rivera (16.1%) and Al Leiter (15.7%).

Infield pop-ups are as close to an automatic out as it gets for balls in play. For much of his career Clippard has had an excellent strikeout rate and an excellent pop-up rate. Those are the two best possible outcomes for a pitcher. It’s no wonder why he’s been so successful. That’s a great formula.

Now, that said, Clippard’s strikeout rate took a big step back last season. He struck out close to 30% of batters faced the last few years before dropping down to a league average-ish strikeout rate in 2015. That’s kinda scary. Furthermore, his fly ball and pop-up rate declined as well.

BABIP GB% FB% LD% IFFB% HR/FB%
2013 .170 27.9% 55.8% 16.3% 18.8% 9.4%
2014 .251 36.9% 49.4% 13.7% 19.3% 6.0%
2015 .211 21.2% 60.6% 18.2% 13.3% 6.7%

The super low BABIP is the result of all the pop-ups. (His career BABIP is .232.) Last season Clippard posted a career high fly ball rate and his lowest pop-up rate in five years, which means more of those fly balls were traveling to the outfield. His HR/FB% didn’t spike, but he was giving up way more fly balls, hence the jump from a 0.64 HR/9 in 2014 to a 1.01 HR/9 in 2015.

There are some definite red flags here. Clippard’s strikeout and infield pop-up rates dropped while his walk rate increased. That’s bad, especially for a guy who’s endured such a big workload. It suggests Clippard wasn’t fooling hitters as well as he has the last few seasons. Right now this is just a one year sample. Whoever signs him will hope it isn’t the start of a trend.

The Stuff

Clippard has more or less shelved his little cutter/slider in recent years, so he’s now basically a two-pitch pitcher: low-90s heater and a split-changeup hybrid right around 80 mph. That split-change has helped him neutralize lefties throughout his career. No one has bothered to make a 2015 Clippard highlight video, so here’s a really short video from late-July:

It’s important to note Clippard has tremendous deception in his delivery, which helps his stuff play up. You can see it in the video — he’s all arms and legs (he’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 lbs.), and he hides the ball very well. The radar gun says 91-92 mph but hitters seem to react like it’s 95-96. That deception is a big reason why he’s been so good.

The only significant red flag in Clippard’s stuff is the swing-and-miss rate on his split-change, which dropped to 15.3% last season after sitting around 21.0% from 2012-14. That’s still an above-average whiff rate — the average whiff rate on changeups is 14.9% — but it’s not nearly as good as before. Clippard’s velocity has held fairly steady over the years too.

Watching him pitch over the years, I think Clippard’s biggest problem last season was his location. His stuff seemed good enough, he just had trouble throwing to the desired target. His first pitch strike rate dropped to 55.8% after sitting closer to 63.0% for a few years, so he was behind in the count more often, which could explain the diminished the effectiveness of his split-change.

Injury History

This will be short: Clippard has never been on the DL. He missed one game with lower back tightness in September, and way back in 2011 he missed three games with what was described as shoulder fatigue. Clippard’s had no arm problems since and he’s never had any kind of significant injury in general.

Contract Projections

I have to think Clippard and his agent came into the offseason hoping for an Andrew Miller contract. Clippard’s been an elite reliever for a few years now, so he has the track record, and he’s been durable. That’s probably the best case scenario, but the free agent reliever market stunk this winter, and Clippard was arguably the biggest name.

The only contract estimate we have for Clippard comes from MLBTR. They pegged him for three years and $18M. Five relievers have signed contracts of at least three years this offseason: Shawn Kelley (three years, $15M), Tony Sipp (three years, $18M), Ryan Madson (three years, $22M), Joakim Soria (three years, $25M), and Darren O’Day (four years, $32M). I have to think Clippard’s holding out for at least three years, right?

Things have been extremely quite around Clippard this winter. His archive at MLBTR includes only six posts since the start of November, and three are blurbs mentioning the Mets are open to re-signing him to a one-year contract. That’s all. I’m sure there’s plenty going on behind the scenes, but geez, very little public interest in Clippard.

Wrapping Up

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

I’m mentioning Clippard as a possible target because there has been so little interest in him this offseason. Spring Training is only a month away and he might be more open to a one or two-year contract. The Yankees aren’t going to spend big on a free agent, that much is clear, but what if Clippard will take a one-year deal at $5M or so? Or a two-year deal at $10M with an opt-out?

The Yankees do have three open bullpen spots as it is — it could be four come Opening Day if Aroldis Chapman is suspended — and Clippard would give the team some quality middle relief depth. I do think the declining strikeout, walk, and pop-up rates are a sign of decline more than a one-year blip, but on a low cost contract, it’s worth the chance. Clippard could be a real difference maker.

At the same time, if Clippard is open to a low cost deal, why would he come to the Yankees? Yankee Stadium and the AL East is not a place for pitchers looking to build value on short-term deals, especially not fly ball pitchers. And Clippard’s not oblivious, he knows he would be no better than fourth on the bullpen depth chart behind Chapman, Miller, and Dellin Betances.

Clippard is a potential fit for the Yankees but the Yankees are not a fit for Clippard. If he’s going to take a relatively small contract, he’s going to go somewhere with a big ballpark and where he’d be no worse than the primary setup man. There are still way too many clubs in need of bullpen help right now to think Clippard’s price has dropped so low that he’d settle for an undesirable situation in the Bronx.

Scouting The Trade Market: Tyler Skaggs

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

For much of the winter the Yankees have been looking for a young controllable starter, so much so that Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller have been dangled in trade talks. They have not yet acquired such a pitcher, but I don’t think it’s been due to a lack of effort. The Yankees are looking. They just haven’t found anything that makes sense.

The Angels, who hired former Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler to be their new GM earlier this offseason, are one of the few teams with starting pitching depth. The club needs another bat and they don’t want to exceed the luxury tax threshold — they have about $12M in wiggle room after projected arbitration raises — making a big free agent signing unlikely. Trading a starter for a bat has been mentioned as a possibility.

Understandably, Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney are as close to off limits as it gets. Neither Jered Weaver nor C.J. Wilson make sense for the Yankees, ditto Hector Santiago, albeit to a lesser extent. That leaves Matt Shoemaker (blah), Nick Tropeano (already discussed), and lefty Tyler Skaggs. Does Skaggs make any sense for the pitching needy Yankees? Let’s look.

The Performance

Let’s start with some background. Skaggs, 24, was a supplemental first round pick (40th overall) out of a Santa Monica high school back in 2009. The Angels traded him to the Diamondbacks in the Dan Haren deal in 2010, then re-acquired him from Arizona in the Mark Trumbo trade in 2013. Baseball America ranked Skaggs as a top 15 global prospect in both 2012 (No. 13) and 2013 (No. 12).

Skaggs received cups of coffee with the D’Backs in 2012 and 2013 before opening the 2014 season in Anaheim’s rotation. He made 18 starts before blowing out his elbow that July, ending his season. Skaggs had Tommy John surgery shortly thereafter and hasn’t pitched since. Since his big league time was limited in both 2012 and 2013, let’s focus on his 2014 performance, the only time he held a regular rotation spot.

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 Opp. wOBA
vs. RHB 91 3.54 18.9% 6.6% 51.7% 0.69 .292
vs. LHB 22 3.59 17.2% 6.1% 44.6% 0.82 .326
Overall 113 4.30 3.55 18.5% 6.5% 50.1% 0.72 .299

Pretty good! It doesn’t knock your socks off, but Skaggs was 22 years old for most of those 113 innings, and when a 22-year-old southpaw does something like that, it’s pretty exciting. He limited walks, missed a fair amount of bats, got a bunch of grounders, and kept the ball in the park. Very nice.

There was nothing that made you think Skaggs’ elbow was about to give out before his injury. He allowed one run in 5.2 innings against the Tigers in the start prior to getting hurt, and in the actual start when he blew out, Skaggs had struck out seven in 4.2 no-hit innings against the Orioles. He threw a pitch, called for the trainer, and walked off the mound. That was it.

Prior to getting hurt, Skaggs showed an awful lot of promise and was arguably the second best pitcher in Anaheim’s rotation behind Richards. He was a high-end prospect who was starting to deliver on the hype. When that happens, it’s pretty fun to watch.

The Stuff

Skaggs was a four-pitch pitcher before getting hurt. He averaged 93 mph with both his two and four-seam fastballs, topping out at 96. Skaggs also threw a sharp upper-70s curveball that was his calling card as a prospect. It’s the pitch that got him drafted so high. He also has a mid-80s changeup. Here’s video of the kid in action:

The delivery looks fine to me, right? Some guys have Tommy John surgery and you can tell why — their deliveries are all herky jerky. I don’t think that is the case with Skaggs. It’s pretty simple. You can tell he’s a good athlete. Skaggs seems to be fully in control of his body while delivering the baseball.

The Angels worked with Skaggs to develop a cutter, though he didn’t take to the pitch at all. He threw maybe one or two a start before blowing out his elbow. That’s it. Skaggs is a four-pitch pitcher even without the cutter, and both the changeup and curveball give him good weapons against right-handed batters.

Here’s some more information on Skaggs’ arsenal from 2014, his only regular action in the show. League averages are in parentheses:

% Thrown Avg. Velo Whiff % GB%
Four-Seamer 37.9% 92.9 (91.9) 7.3% (6.9%) 37.8% (37.9%)
Two-Seamer 27.4% 92.8 (91.3) 6.1% (5.4%) 52.1% (49.5%)
Curveball 24.3% 77.5 (77.3) 13.1% (11.1%) 68.1% (48.7%)
Changeup 9.4% 85.1 (83.3) 16.1% (14.9%) 58.6% (47.8%)

Across the board, Skaggs’ pitches were more or less average at getting swings and misses. He didn’t have a knockout pitch with a 20% whiff rate or anything like that. At the same time, getting an average-ish amount of empty swings with four different pitches is pretty darn good. Both his curveball and changeup were good ground ball pitches while the fastballs were average. Nothing really sexy there, but it’s effective. Four average or better pitches is rock solid.

In addition to the impressive raw stuff, Skaggs has drawn praise for some of the less than obvious aspects of pitching. Here’s what Baseball America (subs. req’d) had to say back in 2013, the last time Skaggs was prospect-eligible:

Skaggs also stands out for his composure on the mound and his idea of what he needs to do with each hitter. He holds runners well with a strong pickoff move, permitting just five steals in eight attempts last year. He didn’t give up a single stolen base in his six major league starts and he uses his athleticism to field his position well.

That stuff is easy to overlook but it matters. Skaggs has four quality pitches, an ostensibly good delivery, and he does the little things well like hold runners and field his position. It’s no wonder this guy was once considered one of the best prospects in baseball.

Injury History

Like I said, Skaggs has not pitched since having Tommy John surgery in August 2014, which is a big deal. The Angels have taken it slow with his rehab, so Skaggs is going to go about 20 months between surgery and pitching in regular season games. His rehab is going well though — Eppler told Mike DiGiovanna that Skaggs threw a six-inning, 90-pitch bullpen session in early-December and “was getting after it.”

Elbow reconstruction is obviously the most serious injury in Skaggs’ career. He did also miss a month with a hamstring strain in June 2014, and during his minor league days he missed a start in 2012 with a sore shoulder, but that’s it. The shoulder has given him no trouble since and while the hamstring sucks, it was only a hamstring. Players pull them from time to time. The biggest concern is the Tommy John surgery and the fact he hasn’t pitched in a competitive game in 17 months now.

Contract Status

Skaggs currently has two years and 66 days of service time. That means he has four years of team control remaining: one as a pre-arbitration player and then three of arbitration-eligibility. As best I can tell, Skaggs has two minor league options remaining, which is good. If he needs more time to shake off the rust following Tommy John surgery, his team can send him to Triple-A for more reps. Roughly 78 days in the minors would delay Skaggs’ free agency another year.

What Would It Take?

The Tommy John surgery makes it very tough to gauge Skaggs’ trade value. As I mentioned when I examined Alex Wood last week, pitchers like Shelby Miller, Gio Gonzalez, and Jake Arrieta have been traded when they were four years from free agency in recent years. None were coming off Tommy John surgery. Miller and Gonzalez were good and healthy while Arrieta was very bad with close to zero MLB success at the time of his trade. Skaggs fits into none of those buckets.

Players can be traded while injured — the Braves acquired Max Fried, Chris Withrow, and Bronson Arroyo while they were rehabbing from Tommy John surgery last year, for example — as long as the commissioner approves, which is never really an issue. That part isn’t a problem. It’s properly valuing Skaggs, who was very good when healthy but hasn’t been healthy in a year and a half now. Hard to think the Angels would get maximum value for him at this point.

Wrapping Up

Skaggs is pretty much everything the Yankees look for these days. Young and talented? Check. Tall — he’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 215 lbs. on the team’s official site — power pitcher with a history of limiting walks and getting grounders? Also check. A chance to buy low because of injury or poor performance or something else (coughChapmancough)? Another check. He fits!

(Bob Levey/Getty )
(Bob Levey/Getty )

The Tommy John surgery is an obvious and serious red flag. Skaggs’ stuff may never bounce back all the way, or it could take longer than expected to get back to 100%, or he could continue to have elbow problems. I know elbow reconstruction has become pretty routine, but it’s still a big risk. That has to be factored into the evaluation and price. It’s easy to assume Skaggs will bounce back and be fine, but man, you never know until you see it happen.

The Gardner for Skaggs framework seems to work, in theory. The Yankees would get their young controllable starter, albeit one coming off a major injury. The Angels would get their much-needed left fielder, one who would help balance their righty heavy lineup and also hit leadoff, allowing Kole Calhoun to move into a more traditional run-producing lineup spot. Both teams would be dealing from a position of depth to address a need.

The Yankees could always kick in some cash to offset Gardner’s salary, allowing the Angels to steer clear of the luxury tax. There’s also the potential to expand this as well. The Angels could use a second baseman and the Yankees have a spare Rob Refsnyder lying around. The Yankees need a backup third baseman/utility guy and the Halos have Kyle Kubitza, who may or may not be expendable.

Either way, these two clubs appear to match up well for a trade. The Angels have an obvious need for a player like Gardner and the Yankees are in perpetual search of a young starter. Whether the two sides — specifically Brian Cashman and Eppler, his former top lieutenant — can agree to a deal is another matter. The Angels might not want to sell low on Skaggs, which is understandable. Even after surgery, he’s worth a shot if Eppler does make him available.