Scouting The Trade Market: San Diego Padres

Benoit. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)
Benoit. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)

No team had a busier offseason than the Padres, who, under new GM A.J. Preller, made a handful of blockbuster trades and one big free agent signing. It didn’t work. The club comes into today with a 47-52 record and sub-5.0% postseason odds according to FanGraphs. I’m sure Preller was instructed by ownership to turn things around quick, and he tried valiantly, but it didn’t work.

So now the Padres are sellers and reportedly listening on everyone, including the guys they just picked up this winter. Looking at their roster, there is no untouchable. No Sonny Gray or Chris Sale type, the token “one great player we can build around going forward.” Preller & Co. are said to be listening on everyone and hoping to shed payroll and replenish a farm system that was gutted just a few months ago. Let’s see if any of San Diego’s players fit with the Yankees.

RHP Joaquin Benoit

The Yankees have had a bunch of interest in Benoit in recent years, including targeting him at last summer’s trade deadline as well as during the 2013 Winter Meetings, when he was a free agent. Benoit just turned 38 over the weekend and he has a 2.27 ERA (4.01 FIP) in 43.2 innings this year. His ground ball rate (47.2%) is way up but his strikeout (23.2%), walk (9.5%), and homer (1.03 HR/9) numbers have all taken turns for the worse.

Benoit’s stuff is fine, he still sits in the mid-90s with a swing-and-miss changeup, though his location has been off this year and the results have merely been very good, not great. He’s owed roughly $3.1M the rest of the season with an $8M option for next year ($1.5M buyout), so he’s affordable and can be considered a rental. Heck, if Benoit pitches well, his team could either pick up the option and keep him or pick it up and trade him. Minimal risk.

What Would It Take?: Steve Cishek was just traded for a Double-A reliever, though Cishek was having a really rough season. It could take an organizational top ten prospect to get Benoit like it did to get Francisco Rodriguez a few years ago, especially given his reputation as a late-inning guy who can close or set up. I don’t think it’ll be a pure salary dump trade even with the scary strikeout, walk, and homer trends.

Cashner. (Denis Poroy/Getty)
Cashner. (Denis Poroy/Getty)

RHPs Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy & Tyson Ross

The Padres have four starting pitchers with real trade value, including these three guys. Kennedy will be a free agent after the season, Cashner will be a free agent after next season, and Ross will be a free agent after 2017. They have different styles too — Kennedy’s a kitchen sink/command guy, Cashner is a hard-throwing Nathan Eovaldi type, and Ross is a fastball/slider Michael Pineda type. There’s a little something for everyone in this group. Here are their stats so far this season:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 RHP wOBA LHB wOBA
Cashner 116.2 3.93 3.77 20.6% 7.1% 47.7% 1.00 .278 .380
Kennedy 96.1 4.58 5.25 21.7% 6.8% 38.4% 2.06 .384 .358
Ross 122.2 3.45 2.75 25.2% 10.9% 63.3% 0.22 .273 .328

Kennedy is clearly having the worst season of the three — to be fair, he missed the start of the season with a hamstring issue and has a 2.83 ERA (4.41 FIP) in his last ten starts — which means he would also come the cheapest. Cashner is having a strong year despite getting crushed by lefties, though he also has a scary injury history. He’s thrown more than 125 innings in a season just once (175 innings in 2013), and that’s between MLB and the minors.

Ross is clearly the most desirable of the three between his results and two remaining years of team control. He also turned 28 a few weeks ago and is the youngest of the three. The concerns with Ross are theoretical more than anything. (Well, aside from his MLB leading 57 walks.) He throws a frickin’ ton of sliders, 46.2% this year after 41.2% last year, and his delivery is not exactly pretty. Check it out:

Not textbook! Between the ugly delivery and all those sliders, many expect Ross to break down at some point. It doesn’t help that he had Tommy John surgery in college, shoulder strains in 2008 and 2009, and elbow strains in 2010 and 2014. Every pitcher is an injury risk, some moreso than others, and Ross seems like a guy who might carry more risk than most. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s not worth acquiring, he is quite good, it’s just something to keep in mind.

What Would It Take?: We’re dealing with three different pitchers here. Kennedy is a low-end rental — a guy like Mike Leake has more trade value given his year-to-year consistency. Low-end rental starters usually go for two low-end prospects. The Dodgers traded two rookie ball guys for Roberto Hernandez last year, for example.

Cashner has the extra year of team control but also a) the scary injury history (lots of shoulder and elbow problems), and b) high-end stuff that screams ace should he ever puts it together. At this point it seems like Cashner won’t ever be an ace though, just an effective pitcher who leaves you wanting more. Think Edwin Jackson. Jackson was traded from the Diamondbacks to the White Sox in 2010 (one year before free agency, like Cashner) for two organizational top ten prospects (Daniel Hudson and David Holmberg). That seems like a decent reference point for Cashner.

Ross has two and a half years of team control remaining and he’s very good, a No. 2 type starter. Not many guys like that get traded these days. Ubaldo Jimenez went from the Rockies to the Indians two and a half years prior to free agency and that seems like a decent comp — Ross now and Jimenez then both have good stuff, walk a bunch of batters, and flirt with ace-hood. The Tribe gave up their No. 2 prospect (Alex White), No. 4 prospect (Drew Pomeranz), No. 9 prospect (Joe Gardner), and a non-top 30 prospect (Matt McBride) for Ubaldo. Not all No. 2 and 4 and whatever prospects are made equal, but you get the point. Ross won’t come cheap.

Gyorko. (Denis Poroy/Getty)
Gyorko. (Denis Poroy/Getty)

2B Jedd Gyorko

Two years ago Gyorko put up a solid .249/.301/.444 (111 wRC+) batting line with 23 homers, earning him a sixth place finish in a stacked NL Rookie of the Year class. The Padres believed in into the right-handed pop and signed Gyorko to a six-year, $35M extension after the season. He has hit .212/.276/.333 (76 wRC+) with 15 homers since then, and San Diego shipped him to Triple-A a few weeks ago. (He’s since been called back up.) Gyorko’s been one of the worst hitters in baseball the last two years.

It is no surprise then that Ken Rosenthal recently reported the Padres are shopping the 26-year-old Gyorko hard. There is still roughly $33M left on his contract through 2019 with a $1M buyout of his $13M option for 2020, and they want out of that contract. Gyorko does offer some versatility, having played a bunch of second and third base in his career, but his batted ball profile shows his line drive and grounder rates are moving the wrong direction:

Jedd Gyorko batted ball

The contract means this is not a simple change of scenery deal. You can’t bring in Gyorko, trying him out for a year or two, then non-tender him if it doesn’t work out. You’re locked for another four seasons after this one. There’s no such thing as “taking a flier” on a dude owed more than $33M over the next four years. That’s a long-term commitment and you have to be sure the player is salvageable. I’m not sure Gyorko is.

What Would It Take?: Gosh, I’m not sure. Cameron Maybin, another guy the Padres locked up after one good year, was traded this offseason with two years and $16M left on his deal (half-a-Gyorko!), but he was nothing more than a throw-in to even out salary in a larger trade. I have to think Gyorko is a salary dump at this point. Take on the money and give up a fringe prospect or two in return. And remember, the luxury tax means his $33M contract is effectively $49.5M (!) to the Yankees.

Kimbrel. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
Kimbrel. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

RHP Craig Kimbrel

The Padres acquired Kimbrel literally hours before the first game of the 2015 season and now they’re looking to move him to restock the farm system and shed salary. He’s owed roughly $27.5M through 2017 with a $13M club option ($1M buyout) for 2018, which is more than a reasonable for a reliever of his caliber when you consider what Andrew Miller and David Robertson fetched this past offseason.

Kimbrel, 27, has a 2.75 ERA (2.48 FIP) in 39.1 innings this year, which is both excellent and not as good as his work from 2011-14 (1.51 ERA and 1.52 FIP in 268.1 innings). His walk (9.5%) and grounder (47.1%) rates are right in line with the last few years while his strikeout (34.8%) and homer (0.69 HR/9) have taken a step back (42.0 K% and 0.40 HR/9 from 2011-14). But again, his strikeout and homer numbers are still awesome, he’s just not the guy he was the last few years.

“You don’t see the easy gas you used to see. He used to just overmatch hitters, and it’s not quite that easy for him,” said a scout to Buster Olney (subs. req’d) recently. Kimbrel’s fastball velocity is actually a career-high (97.3 mph), but hitters have been able to do more damage this year (.269 wOBA) than last year (.209 wOBA) or the year before (.222 wOBA). He’s starting from an extremely high baseline, remember. There’s no shame in going from the best reliever in the world to merely being a top five bullpener.

What Would It Take?: Not many elite relievers get traded these days, and Kimbrel’s trade in April doesn’t help us much because the Braves attached him to Melvin Upton Jr.’s disaster contract. Even with his relatively slight decline this year, Kimbrel is still a dominant closer signed to a below-market deal, so anything short of a top prospect or three won’t get it done. The Braves got a top 50 prospect — Matt Wisler, who was ranked right next to Luis Severino in Baseball America’s top 100 list before the season — for Kimbrel in April even with Upton attached. Taking on the salary and giving up a fringe prospect or two in return isn’t happening. Kimbrel’s good.

Shields. (Denis Poroy/Getty)
Shields. (Denis Poroy/Getty)

RHP James Shields

Shields is the fourth of the four starters I mentioned earlier, though unlike Cashner, Kennedy, and Ross, his value is hurt by his back-loaded contract. He’s making only $10M this season with $21M annual salaries from 2016-18, plus a $2M buyout of his $16M option for 2019. Not ideal for a 33-year-old who averaged 223 innings per year from 2007-14!

The move to a big ballpark in the NL has not helped Shields, who has a 3.77 ERA (4.12 FIP) in 126.2 innings this year. He’s actually striking batters out at a career high rate (26.9%) and getting the same ol’ number of ground balls (45.2%), but his walk rate (8.8%) is a career-high and his homer rate (1.42 HR/9) is through the roof. Shields has always been homer prone, but not this homer prone.

Going under the hood a bit, Shields has lost a mile-an-hour off his fastball this year, and it now averages 91.4 mph. That’s not horrible, he’s never been a big velocity guy anyway, but it is a red flag given his age and workload. Also, lefties have absolutely annihilated him, putting up a .285/.367/.537 (.389 wOBA) batting line. This is a guy who has historically had a reverse split because of his all-world changeup. Now batters of the opposite hand are crushing him.

It’s not all bad though. Shields is certainly familiar with the AL East — the ballparks, the hitters, all that — and he’s been through postseason races, so the transition should theoretically be a little easier. Shields seems like the type who could age gracefully since he’s always located well and never been a blow you away type. Other than that though, a subpar year at his age with that much money left on his contract is sorta scary.

What What Would It Take?: Jon Heyman says the Padres are “pushing hard” to trade Shields, again because they want to clear payroll and pile up prospects. Shields is a special case without similar trades we can reference — a former high-end starter (former as in just last year) with three years left on his contract at huge dollars. Who was the last guy like that get traded? We’re out of luck here. I’m sure San Diego wants to dump the contract, but I don’t think they’re going to just give Shields away either.

* * *

The Padres are also listening to offers for Justin Upton, and as much as a big bat like that would help the Yankees, they don’t have a spot for another outfielder, not unless someone gets hurt between now and the trade deadline. San Diego has other spare parts like Yangervis Solarte and Clint Barmes — don’t laugh, Barmes is hitting .311/.382/.492 (144 wRC+) against lefties and would be an upgrade over Brendan Ryan — who could make sense for New York, but they wouldn’t be difference-makers. Just depth. Guys like Ross and Cashner and Kimbrel could really impact a postseason race.

Scouting The Trade Market: Detroit Tigers

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

The Tigers are going down in flames. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but things are not going well in Detroit right night. Last night’s win was their season in a nutshell: they jumped out to an 8-0 lead, then the disappointing starting pitcher and hilaribad bullpen let the other team make it interesting. Before you knew it, the tying run was on deck. The win improved Detroit’s postseason odds to a mere 25.4%, so says FanGraphs.

Depending on who you ask, the Tigers are either going to sell at the deadline or hold off a little longer before making a decision. They are still in the wildcard race, after all. Both Bob Nightengale and Jon Heyman say the Tigers are preparing to sell and put some big names on the trade market, though Jayson Stark hears they won’t commit to anything until after Sunday, when they’ll re-evaluate their situation. So basically no one knows anything, pretty much.

The Tigers are like the Yankees: they’ve never truly going to sell, only retool so they can try to win again next year. They’re the ultimate win-now team, with a window based on Miguel Cabrera’s peak and whatever Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, and Victor Martinez have left in the tank. Detroit is not going to tear the whole thing down and rebuild. Expect them to seek players who can help them win in 2016 in any trade. Let’s run down the players who could possibly help the Yankees.

RHP Shane Greene

The players are listed alphabetically, I swear I’m not trolling. The 26-year-old Greene has been atrocious this season, pitching to a 6.52 ERA (5.03 FIP) in 77.1 innings. That’s after allowing just one earned run in his first three starts and 23 innings. His strikeout (23.5% vs. 14.0%) and ground ball (50.2% vs. 42.7%) rates are way down compared to last season. Greene’s been really bad this year. Shockingly bad. I feel bad for the poor kid bad.

At this point Greene is a reclamation project, and the idea would be getting him back into a familiar environment with the coaches who helped develop him into what he was last year after being drafted as a hard-thrower and not much else. Greene credited minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson for helping him more get on line with the plate and improving his walk rate two years ago, which raised his prospect stock and got him to MLB.

Now for some #RealTalk: If Greene was not an ex-Yankee, there would be zero interest in acquiring him. He’d be just another 26-year-old second year guy with a good but not great minor league track record and fairly limited big league success. He’d be Barry Enright circa 2010. But Shane is an ex-Yankee, so we dream. Dream of getting Greene back, waving the organizational magic wand, and watching him go right back to where he was last year. If only it was that easy. Greene has negative 2015 value. That’s the reality of the situation.

What Would It Take?: Trading Didi Gregorius for Greene seems insane now, doesn’t it? I can’t find another instance of a similar young-ish reclamation project guy being traded in recent years, so we’re out of luck there. Maybe a change of scenery deal? My busted Greene for your busted young player? I’m not sure who that would be on the Yankees. Mason Williams? Either way, I find a Greene trade unlikely. I expect the Tigers to try to fix him rather than sell super low.

Kinsler. (Leon Halip/Getty)
Kinsler. (Leon Halip/Getty)

2B Ian Kinsler

The Yankees desperately need a second baseman, preferably a right-handed hitting one to balance out the bottom of the lineup, so Kinsler is a natural fit. He’s having a fairly typical Ian Kinsler year at .284/.346/.403 (109 wRC+), with a decent amount of walks (8.3%) and few strikeouts (13.5%), two traits that are fairly common up and down the New York lineup. Kinsler has also consistently rated as a strong second base defender and base-runner, so hooray for well-roundedness.

Kinsler does come with some red flags, of course. For starters, he turned 33 last month, so he’s not young. He’s right at the age where a lot of second baseman seem to fall off the cliff. That’s part of the reason the Yankees shied away from re-signing Robinson Cano, the dreaded second base aging curve. Also, Kinsler is owed approximately $38M through 2017, assuming his $12M option for 2018 is bought out for $5M. He’s no rental. He’s quite expensive, actually.

Age and salary are out of Kinsler’s control. The third red flag is something he can control, at least in theory. His power is way down this year — he’s on pace for only nine home runs after hitting 17 last year and averaging 19 per year from 2006-14, and his .119 ISO is a career-low. As Nolan Meister noted last month, Kinsler came into the season with the intention of hitting the ball the other way more often, but he has gradually started to pull the ball more the last few weeks.

Kinsler has hit four homers with a .230 ISO in his last 22 games after hitting one homer with a .079 ISO in his first 71 games. The loss of power could have to do with a simple change in approach, something Kinsler may have already corrected based on the last few weeks. Pulling the ball has gotten such a negative connotation the last few years because of the shift, but it’s a good thing. That’s how most hitters hit for power. Kinsler is at his best when he isn’t focusing on the opposite field all the time.

The Yankees are looking for rental players, which is their standard trade deadline strategy, and Kinsler doesn’t fit the profile. That’s not a strict policy — they did acquire Martin Prado with two and a half years left on his contract last year, for example — and who knows if they would be willing to be flexible for Kinsler. He fits the team’s playing style and fills a position of obvious need, but he’s not young, he’s not cheap, and he also has a bit of a mouth on him. The Yankees tend to steer clear of players who could become distractions.

What Would It Take?: Is last year’s Prado trade comparable? Prado and Kinsler both had two and half years left on their contracts, they’ve both been 105-ish wRC+ hitters the last few years, and they play solid defense. Prado is two years younger and more versatile, and he is cheaper, but Kinsler had a much greater peak as a former 30/30 guy. One year of Howie Kendrick was traded for a consensus top 50 prospect (Andrew Heaney) this offseason, so I’m sure the Tigers have their eyes set on something better than Peter O’Brien. I know I would.

BRING ME. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
BRING ME. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

LHP David Price

I’m not even sure I need to go into much detail here. Price is inarguably one of the best pitchers in the world — he’s been one of the best for a half-decade now — and is the game’s third best left-hander behind Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale. This season the 29-year-old has a 2.32 ERA (2.78 FIP) in 132 innings with great strikeout (23.7%), walk (4.8%), and home run (0.68 HR/9) rates. He hasn’t gotten a ton of grounders (39.2%) but that’s never really been his thing.

Price is excellent. He’s been excellent this year, he was excellent last year, and he’s been excellent pretty much since the day he broke into the big leagues. There are zero arguments to be made he is anything short of an ace, a perennial 200+ high-quality innings machine. He makes every rotation better. Should the Tigers decide to put Price on the market, he immediately becomes the best available starter, ahead of Johnny Cueto and Cole Hamels and whoever else.

As for the Yankees, Price is embodiment of everything they look for in a starter. He throws hard (averages 93.9 mph), he misses bats (11.5% whiff rate), he doesn’t walk anyone (again, 4.8%), and he’s tall (6-foot-6). As an added bonus, Price is left-handed, which fits well in Yankee Stadium, and he’s been through the AL East gauntlet with the Rays. He knows the division, knows the ballparks, knows the hitters. It’s a perfect fit. Perrrfect.

Price will be a free agent after the season and he’s going to end up with Max Scherzer money (seven years, $210M), and the Yankees shied away from Scherzer last offseason because they didn’t want to pay big bucks for his decline. That can’t be the focus with Price though. He’s a rental ace. Look at him as that and nothing more. Price is a someone who can actually complete seven innings on occasion (novel idea, I know) and change the balance of power within a division. If the Tigers make him available, the Yankees should be knocking down Detroit’s door.

What Will It Take?: So here’s where it gets interesting. The Yankees say they have “sworn off” trading top prospects for rental players, though I’m guessing Price would make them reconsider that stance. How could he not? I’d be pretty annoyed if the Tigers put Price on the market and Yankees didn’t make a serious push to get him because they don’t want to give up prospects.

Anyway, the Yankees were involved in best comparable rental ace trade: Cliff Lee! They were willing to give up their best prospect (Jesus Montero) and two others (reportedly David Adams and Zach McAllister) for two months of Lee back in 2010. The Rangers beat them out by offering their No. 1 prospect (Justin Smoak, who wasn’t too far behind Montero on Baseball America’s top 100 list), No. 17 prospect (Blake Beavan), and two non-top 30 prospects (Matt Lawson, Josh Lueke). So yeah, you want David Price on the Yankees? It’s gonna hurt.

Update: The key difference between Lee and Price is draft pick compensation. Back in the day the Yankees would have been able to get two draft picks had Lee left as a free agent after the season. They wouldn’t be able to get a pick for Price because of the current system. That matters.

Big Pasta. (Leon Halip/Getty)
Big Pasta. (Leon Halip/Getty)

RHP Alfredo Simon

After a fine start to the season, the 34-year-old Simon now owns a 4.63 ERA (4.02 FIP) in 105 innings this year. He’s never been a big strikeout pitcher (16.9% in 2015), but he has been a ground ball pitcher (career 46.1%), just not this year (41.3%). The walk (8.0%) and homer (0.94 HR/9) numbers are average-ish. Simon is the quintessential back-end guy. He chews up innings with his sinker/splitter combination, but they aren’t great innings.

Simon is a depth arm. Nothing more, nothing less. He has a ton of experience in the bullpen — he worked mostly in relief from 2010-13 before the Reds moved him into the rotation out of necessity last year — and would effectively replace Branden Pinder in the bullpen. Is that a good thing? I dunno. But Simon is someone who could start or relieve, and the Yankees wouldn’t have to worry too much about his workload. They could run his pitch counts up without concern for his long-term future. Harsh? Yeah. But that’s baseball.

(It’s worth noting Simon has had some trouble with the law the last few years, specifically this and this. The Yankees value makeup and good character way too highly for me to think they’ll overlook that.)

What Would It Take?: I’m going to refer back to what I wrote yesterday about Wandy Rodriguez:

Roberto Hernandez, the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona, was traded for two players to be named later last summer. The two players were ranked by Baseball America as the No. 22 (2B Jesmuel Valentin) and No. 29 (RHP Victor Arano) prospects in the Dodgers’ system before the trade, and both were down in rookie ball at the time of the deal. Wandy Simon shouldn’t cost more.

There you go. The Tigers surprisingly gave up a useful young infielder (Eugenio Suarez) and a hard-throwing pitching prospect (Jonathan Crawford) to get Simon in the offseason, but I can’t imagine anyone will give up a comparable package at the trade deadline.

RHP Joakim Soria

Soria. (Leon Halip/Getty)
Soria. (Leon Halip/Getty)

Detroit’s bullpen has been atrocious this season, even worse than usual, and Soria is the team’s best reliever almost by default. He has a 3.08 ERA (4.93 FIP) in 38 innings but has been extraordinarily homer prone (1.89 HR/9). His ground ball rate (44.3%) is okay, it’s just that his stuff isn’t as crisp as it once was, so when he makes a mistake, it gets hammered.

Soria’s strikeout (21.6%) and walk (6.5%) rates aren’t nearly as good as they were during his prime, which was now almost five years ago. Lefties have smacked him around a bit as well (.317 wOBA). Tommy John surgery is rough. Especially when you have two of ’em. Soria is more name value than actual production right now, following the two elbow reconstructions. He’d be an upgrade over the Branden Pinders and Chris Capuanos of the world, but at this point Soria would be the sixth best reliever in New York’s bullpen at best.

What Would It Take?: Rental relievers get traded at the deadline every year. Soria’s not going to command a top prospect like Andrew Miller last year, but he’s probably not going to come for almost free in a salary dump like Jonathan Broxton either. (Soria is owed roughly $3M the rest of the season.) Maybe an organizational top ten prospect (Nick Delmonico) like the Orioles gave up for Francisco Rodriguez two years ago? Maybe. Should the Yankees do that? Nah.

* * *

Like I said before, the Tigers are likely to look for MLB ready players able to help in 2016 in any trade. I doubt they want prospects. I don’t even know if they’re going to sell, but I can’t get my mind off a possible Price plus Kinsler package. The Tigers love hard-throwing pitchers, absolutely love ’em, which makes me wonder if they’d be interested in Nathan Eovaldi. Eovaldi plus Rob Refsnyder (to replace Kinsler) plus, say, Chasen Shreve (to help with their bullpen woes) plus a prospect like Jorge Mateo?

Actually, I’m going to stop right there and your trade proposal sucks myself. I’d do that trade in a heartbeat, which means Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski would say no. That’s a package of “good,” not “great.” Mateo is the potential “great” in that package and he’s three years away from MLB. The Yankees would be getting the two best players in that deal. That’s a package of junk drawer stuff for a rental ace and an above-average second baseman. Not happening. That doesn’t make Price or (to a lesser extent) Kinsler any less of a fit for the Yankees though. Now they just need to the Tigers to sell.

Scouting The Trade Market: Texas Rangers

Gallardo. (Presswire)
Gallardo. (Presswire)

As the trade deadline draws closer and closer, the Rangers are falling further and further back in the race. They won last night but have lost three of five since the All-Star break and 18 of their last 25 games overall. Yikes. That’s dropped Texas to nine games back in the AL West and six games back of the wildcard spot. FanGraphs gives them the lowest postseason odds in the AL at 3.0%. (The projection systems hate their roster, I guess.)

The Rangers are in neither buy nor sell mode — Evan Grant writes they are in “opportunist” mode, looking for ways to improve the roster. I’m pretty sure that’s a nice way of saying they’re selling. Texas has some awful contracts on the books — it’s a stars and scrubs roster, though several of the stars are playing like scrubs — and not a ton of trade chips, but they do have some rental arms to peddle. Do any make sense for the Yankees? Maybe! Let’s look.

RHP Yovani Gallardo

Gallardo is easily the most marketable rental player on the Rangers, and he’s having quite the walk year: 2.91 ERA (3.68 FIP) with career best ground ball (50.8%) and home run (0.61 HR/9) rates. His walk rate (8.7%) is identical to his career average and his strikeout rate (16.2%) is a career worst. As I noted in the mailbag last week, Gallardo has gradually been trading strikeouts for ground balls over the years (graph doesn’t include his most recent start over the weekend):

Yovani Gallardo K GB

The strikeouts for grounders things is the kind of adjustment you usually see an older pitcher make, not a guy yet to turn 30. It’s weird. Usually a decline in strikeouts is a red flag, but this has been going on so long I have to think it is at least somewhat intentional. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather have the strikeouts than ground outs, but Gallardo has found a way to make it work.

Beyond his performance this year, Gallardo has also been very durable the last few seasons, throwing at least 180 innings each year since 2009. He’s also had a minimal platoon split because of his five-pitch repertoire. There’s a little something for everyone:

% Thrown Avg Velocity Whiff % GB%
Four-Seamer 31.5% 91.7 5.4% (6.9% MLB AVG) 42.4% (37.9% MLB AVG)
Sinker 22.2% 91.7 4.6% (5.4%) 60.2% (49.5%)
Slider 29.0% 88.6 10.3% (15.2%) 48.2% (43.9%)
Curveball 12.6% 80.0 10.6% (11.1%) 61.1% (48.7%)
Changeup 3.9% 86.1 6.8% (14.9%) 54.6% (47.8%)

The swing-and-miss rates are comfortably below-average across the board while the ground ball rates are well-above-average. That fits into the whole “trading strikeouts for grounders” thing. Gallardo’s probably not going to get you a swing-and-miss at key moments — runner on third with less than two outs, etc. — which is an issue and limits him to a mid-rotation guy.

Gallardo played a half-season with CC Sabathia back in 2008, so the Yankees have some access to firsthand knowledge of him as a teammate and a clubhouse guy, though it was a long time ago. People change. At the end of the day, Gallardo is a rental starter pitching well in his walk year because he gets grounders and can neutralize lefties. His durability and affordability ($6.5M through the end of the season) are pluses as well. He’s not Johnny Cueto or David Price, but Gallardo belongs in the second tier of rental starters alongside Scott Kazmir and Jeff Samardzija.

What Would It Take?: Ken Rosenthal says the Rangers are currently listening to offers for Gallardo, for what it’s worth. Considering recent trades involving similar rental pitchers, it appears it will take a package of three pretty good prospects to land Gallardo, or perhaps two prospects with one being a high-end guy. Matt Garza was traded for four prospects two years ago, including Mike Olt, who Baseball America ranked as the 22nd best prospect in the game before the 2013 season. I do think Gallardo is a qualifying offer candidate, so the Rangers have no reason to take back something worth less than a supplemental first round pick. Gallardo’s not going to come as cheap as, say, Mike Leake or Ian Kennedy.

Magic Wandy. (Presswire)
Magic Wandy. (Presswire)

LHP Wandy Rodriguez

The 36-year-old Rodriguez is at the tail end of his career and it’s hard to think he has much trade value. He was released at the end of Spring Training, remember. So far Wandy has a 4.07 ERA (4.12 FIP) in 84 innings with Texas, though both his strikeout (18.3%) and ground ball (41.9%) rates are below-average. Not a good combination! Especially when your walk (8.9%) and homer (0.96 HR/9) rates aren’t great either.

The Yankees already have a version of Wandy Rodriguez on the roster in Chris Capuano. They’re extremely similar as finesse lefties who can soak up some innings and pitch at a slightly below league average rate. Do they really need two guys like that? Nah. Rodriguez doesn’t have much appeal beyond being a warm body who can take a rotation spot in case of injury. I’m sure the Rangers are open to trading him. There’s just not much of a reason for the Yankees to bring Wandy in.

What Would It Take?: Roberto Hernandez, the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona, was traded for two players to be named later last summer. The two players were ranked by Baseball America as the No. 22 (2B Jesmuel Valentin) and No. 29 (RHP Victor Arano) prospects in the Dodgers’ system before the trade, and both were down in rookie ball at the time of the deal. Wandy shouldn’t cost more.

Rua. (Presswire)
Rua. (Presswire)

UTIL Ryan Rua

Off the board? Yep. Fill a need? Potentially! Rua, 25, is a right-handed hitting utility guy with experience at the three non-shortstop infield positions as well as left field. (He came up as a third baseman, primarily.) Most of that experience is in the minors — Rua has only 47 games and 172 plate appearances of big league experience, during which he’s hit .251/.273/.401 (82 wRC+). That includes a 43 wRC+ in 63 plate appearances this year. (He missed two months with a broken bone in his heel.)

The Rangers came into the season expecting to use Rua as the right-handed half of a left field platoon, but his injury threw a wrench into things, and now he is a seldom-used bench player. In fact, he has only 18 plate appearances this month. Rua is a career .291/.368/.476 (121 wRC+) hitter in Triple-A, including .327/.364/.558 (.374 wOBA) against lefties. Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked him as the eighth best prospect in Texas’ system before the season. Here’s a snippet of their scouting report:

Rua is an offensive-oriented prospect who has plus power and can take the ball out of the park to all fields. He starts his swing with a leg kick, keeps his weight back and his head still. Rua can get long to the ball, with some concerns about his ability to hit good offspeed pitches, but his swing is fluid, and he squares up the ball frequently … He’s surprisingly athletic for his body type, though he’s a below-average runner and adequate-at-best defender wherever he goes, making the routine plays at third base with an average arm.

The Yankees are said to be looking for a right-handed bat, which Rua is, though there’s no guarantee he’ll actually hit Major League pitching. He has good minor league numbers, the scouting report is decent enough, and he offers some versatility. As an added bonus, Rua has at least two and possibly all three minor league options remaining. He seems like a potentially useful depth player. Not a star, probably not even a starter, but maybe a platoon bat or a guy off the bench.

Thanks to those minor league options, the Yankees would be able to stick Rua in Triple-A until rosters expand on September 1st, then use him as an extra platoon bat in the final month of the season. He still has five years of team control remaining, though that’s not a huge deal with players like this. What are the odds Rua hangs around long enough to play all five of those years with one team? I dunno, Rua just seems like a possible fit given the team’s positional needs and interest in adding a righty bat.

What Would It Take?: I’m not sure there’s a good way to approximate this. Players like Rua are often traded as part of packages for MLB players — they’re the guys who go to the team that is selling, not the other way around. Juan Francisco was traded for an MLB ready reliever (J.J. Hoover) a few years ago. That’s the best reference trade I can come up with.

Scouting The Trade Market: Miami Marlins

Baker. (Presswire)
Baker. (Presswire)

We are now a little more than one week away from the trade deadline, and at this point the buyers far outnumber the sellers. FanGraphs says nine teams have less than a 5% chance of making the postseason (only two in the AL), which actually seems kinda high. Not all nine of those teams will sell of course, and even the ones that do sell might not be matches for the Yankees. Making trades is really tough nowadays thanks to the second wildcard.

One club that is very much out of the race and as ready to sell as it gets is the Marlins, who come into today 38-55 and 12 games back of a postseason spot. The Marlins don’t screw around, when they decide to sell, they act quickly and decisively. There aren’t weeks of rumors. They know who they want, pull the trigger, and move on. Obviously this season hasn’t played out as hoped, though I doubt they’ll go full tear down. Probably more like a retooling. Luckily for them, they have a lot of rental players to market, some of whom could fit with the Yankees. Let’s look ’em over. (Players listed alphabetically.)

UTIL Jeff Baker

Yesterday we heard the Yankees are looking for a right-handed bat, and the 34-year-old Baker has hit .290/.350/.509 (126 wRC+) against lefties in his career. That’s great! The problem? He’s hitting .208/.288/.434 (99 wRC+) against southpaws this season, albeit in only 59 plate appearances. This could easily be a sample size issue. Baker hit .319/.362/.462 (128 wRC+) against lefties just last year.

We’re talking about a bench player here, a platoon bat on the short side of the platoon, and it’s damn near impossible to predict how guys like that will perform the two months after the trade deadline. Not only are they transitioning to a new team and a new city and all that, they also don’t play a whole lot. Remember Craig Wilson? That dude hit .282/.384/.518 (134 wRC+) against lefties in his career, including .307/.378/.545 (136 wRC+) for the Pirates in 2006, then put up a .222/.286/.400 (76 wRC+) line against lefties with the Yankees after being acquired a deadline.

With bench players like Wilson and Baker, the only thing you can do is bank on track record and hope they play up to their career averages. Baker has experience all over the field but is mostly a first baseman, a second baseman, and a left fielder at this point. He’s an impending free agent on a bad team and that figures to make him available. The Yankees are looking for someone for a similar skill set. Baker is a fit and hardly guaranteed to produce, because baseball doesn’t work like that.

What Will It Cost?: Baker is a utility guy. Utility guys get traded for cash or players to be named later. Gordon Beckham was traded last year for player to be named later that turned out to be a non-top 30 pitching prospect (Yency Almonte) down in rookie ball. Boom, there’s your trade reference point.

Cishek. (Presswire)
Cishek. (Presswire)

RHP Steve Cishek

Unlike the other guys in this post, Cishek isn’t a rental. He’s more of a 2016 piece than a 2015 piece, because his 2015 has been awful: 4.65 ERA (3.45 FIP) in 29 innings. This is a guy who had a 2.70 ERA (2.59 FIP) in 253.1 innings from 2011-14. Then poof, it was gone, so gone the Marlins sent Cishek to Double-A earlier this year. Not Triple-A, Double-A. To his credit, Cishek has a 0.77 ERA (2.20 FIP) since being recalled, but that is only in 11.2 innings.

The 29-year-old Cishek has a funky low arm slot and a low-90s sinker/low-80s slider combination that neutralized lefties despite said arm slot. Left-handed batters have hit .237/.325/.357 (.295 wOBA) against him in his career, which is stellar by low-slot guy standards. Batters of the opposite hand see the ball well from low-slot guys. For what it’s worth, Cishek told David Laurila earlier this month that his struggles were all mechanical:

“When the season started, my arm slot was a little low and my velocity was down,” explained Cishek. “I tried a little too hard to bring my velocity back up and started yanking everything. I was flying open and the ball was just taking off on me.

“If I’m throwing from too low, my sinker doesn’t sink. It’s flat. If I’m able to move my hand up an inch or two, I’m able to get the diving action I’ve had in the past, with a little more thump behind the ball.”

The PitchFX data shows Cishek has climbed back into the 92-94 mph range after sitting right at 90 earlier this season, which backs up the mechanical trouble. Here is Cishek’s delivery in case you’ve never seen him pitch. It’s easy to see how a delivery like that could fall out of whack from time to time.

Cishek saved 94 games over the years and he’s a Super Two, so he’s already pulling down $6.65M this season, his second year of arbitration. That puts him in line for $8M or so next season even with this year’s struggles, making him a non-tender candidate. The Marlins are not exactly a big spending team, as you may have heard. Cishek’s salary likely made him a goner after this season no matter what.

Trading for a non-tender candidate who might not help this year is sorta dumb, though the Yankees are one of the very few teams who can afford to pay Cishek that $8M next year to be a seventh or eighth inning guy (or eat it if he stinks). They talked to the Marlins about relievers before signing Andrew Miller this offseason, and I assume Cishek’s name came up, so they could have long-lasting interest. (He is 6-foot-6, after all. The Yankees love their tall pitchers.) I think this is unlikely to happen, but I figured I’d cover all my bases.

What Will It Cost?: Boy, this is interesting. The Marlins are going market Cishek as the shutdown closer he was from 2011-14 while teams are going to look at him as a reclamation projection. An expensive reclamation project. Two busted closers were traded for each other last summer (Jason Grilli for Ernesto Frieri), but that doesn’t help us. The Brewers traded John Axford for a control-challenged MLB ready reliever (Michael Blazek) a few years ago, which could be the asking price for Cishek. The Marlins could very well be in “we’re going to non-tender him anyway, so we’ll take what we can get” mode.

Haren. (Presswire)
Haren. (Presswire)

RHP Dan Haren

I feel like Haren is a perennial “should the Yankees get him?” guy. Every year we’re talking about him. Haren was very good for a very long time with the Athletics and Diamondbacks, but he is clearly in the twilight of his career nowadays, so much so that he was considering retirement before the season. Haren has a 3.46 ERA (4.31 FIP) in 117 innings this season, though the ERA hides his career-low strikeout (17.1%) and ground ball (31.4%) rates.

I’ve long felt Haren was not a good fit for the Yankees because he’s always been extremely homer prone — 1.31 HR/9 this year and 1.11 HR/9 in his career, and that’s after spending all those years in Oakland — and now he’s still homer prone, only with an 86 mph fastball instead of a 93 mph fastball. Haren doesn’t walk anyone (4.9%) and he’s really durable, so you know he’ll take the ball every fifth day and there’s value in that, I’m just not sure they will be quality innings.

Haren will be popular at the trade deadline because he comes with zero salary — the Dodgers are paying all of it. That doesn’t help the Yankees any. Quite the opposite, in fact. It levels the playing field and the concept of absorbing salary to lower the prospect price flies out the window. Haren will be a pure talent swap, not a salary dump. Given his decline and propensity for the long ball (even in big parks), Haren doesn’t seem like a fit for the Yankees unless all hell breaks loose in the next ten days.

What Will It Cost?: The going rate for an impending free agent back of the rotation veteran innings guy appears to be two or three Grade-C prospects. The Ricky Nolasco trade from a few years ago seems like a decent reference point. The Dodgers sent three pitching prospects to the Marlins for Nolasco: a Triple-A reliever (Josh Wall), a Double-A reliever (Steve Ames), and a Single-A starter (Angel Sanchez). Sanchez was ranked as the Dodgers’ 16th best prospect before the season by Baseball America while Ames and Wall were not in their top 30. Haren coming with zero salary could complicate things.

Latos. (Presswire)
Latos. (Presswire)

RHP Mat Latos

The Marlins acquired Latos from the Reds in the offseason and, in his very first start with Miami, he allowed seven runs in two-thirds of an inning. Yikes. Since then though, the 27-year-old Latos has a 4.10 ERA (3.41 FIP) in 13 starts and 74.2 innings, which still isn’t great, but it is better than the overall numbers would lead you believe (4.90 ERA and 3.48 FIP).

Latos has had a lot of physical problems over the last year or two, including hamstring, knee, and foot injuries this season. He also missed the first two and a half months of last season due to elbow (bone spur) and knee (meniscus) surgery. Latos’ velocity hasn’t really been the same since all the injuries:

Mat Latos velocity

The velocity did come back earlier this season, albeit temporarily. Latos is back to sitting in the low-90s now, where he was earlier this season and last year. His strikeout (20.8%) and walk (7.5%) rates are fine, and Latos has never been a ground ball guy (40.9% in 2015 and 43.1% career), so his underlying performance has been right in line with the rest of his career. The problem is his career-low pop-up rate (6.5%), his career-high hard contact rate (33.9%), and his near career worst performance against lefties (.336 wOBA). The contact he’s giving up is bad contact.

Latos is owed about $4.7M through the end of the season and will be a free agent this winter, so there’s no long-term risk, just the risk that you’ll give up an asset for him and he’ll stink. It happens, that’s part of baseball, but Latos seems riskier than most given his recent injury history and so so performance. He’s a warm body who can come in and take a rotation turn every fifth day, but is he the kind of guy who can put a team over the top? Maybe three or four years ago. But not now.

What Will It Cost?: Latos and Haren are both rental starters but they’re different. Haren’s a known commodity, proven durable, pitching like he always has. Latos is coming off injuries and his performance hasn’t been great. He’s a broken starter, so to speak. I’m not sure what a good reference trade would be. Justin Masterson to the Cardinals? St. Louis gave up their No. 8 prospect (James Ramsey) to get him. Brandon McCarthy last year? The Yankees gave up an MLB ready swingman in Vidal Nuno. The Marlins traded an MLB ready arm (Anthony DeSclafani, their No. 5 prospect) and a minor league depth catcher (Chad Wallach) to get Latos in the offseason. So I guess the asking price has to be lower than that, give his performance and half-season of team control, right?

Prado. (Presswire)
Prado. (Presswire)

UTIL Martin Prado

Prado is a fine player, but I’m not sure anyone has seen their perceived value increase thanks to two months in pinstripes as much as him. He raked in 37 games with the Yankees last year (146 wRC+). It was pretty awesome. Prado is also hitting .281/.325/.407 (101 wRC+) in his last 1,525 plate appearances. That’s good. It’s not great, it’s not bad, it’s just good. Basically average. Average is valuable! But given his recent history (117, 104, 103, 92 wRC+ from 2012-15), I’m not sure how much longer he’ll be even average.

That said, the Yankees have a total black hole at second base, and even a below-average Prado is a big upgrade over what the Yankees are running out there. As an added bonus, he’s a right-handed bat, which will help balance the lineup. As an extra added bonus, Prado’s versatile and would give the Yankees coverage at other positions. That said, should they bring him back, it should be to play second everyday. That’s the area of need right now.

Prado is making $11M both this season and next, and the Yankees are actually playing $3M of that each year as part of the trade that sent him to Miami. The Yankees have said they prefer rental players at the deadline, but they did acquire Prado and his contract last year, and he would be a nice depth player next season, albeit an expensive one. Prado is not really the hitter he was with the Yankees last year, but he’s a quality two-way player who would help New York quite a bit.

What Will It Cost?: Well let’s see, the Yankees traded Peter O’Brien to get two and a half years of Prado last year, though the Diamondbacks aren’t exactly known for making smart decisions. One and a half years of Prado should cost less, in theory, especially considering he’s been hurt (shoulder) and isn’t hitting as well (.275/.317/.375 and 92 wRC+ this year), and at that point you wonder if the Marlins will simply hold onto him for next year and try to contend again.

Scouting The Trade Market: Cincinnati Reds

(Joe Robbins/Getty)
(Joe Robbins/Getty)

Now that the draft is complete, MLB front offices have turned their attention to the trade deadline to look for ways to improve their big league rosters. The deadline is only six weeks away now, you know. There are going to be more buyers than sellers this summer — the Cardinals have the best record in MLB and the next 16 teams are all within six games of each other in the standings — which means the demand will be greater than the supply.

The Reds figure to sell before the trade deadline because they’re both bad (30-35) and stuck in an extremely competitive division. Having to catch St. Louis would be one thing, but they also have to compete with the red hot Pirates (20-5 in their last 25 games!) and upstart Cubs as well. Cincinnati doesn’t have a ton of pieces that would fit with the Yankees — the Yankees don’t need Jay Bruce or Joey Votto, and Todd Frazier is presumably off limits — but they do have a few. Let’s run ’em down.

LHP Aroldis Chapman

Brian Cashman says the Yankees are looking for a right-handed reliever but I’m sure they’d make an exception for Chapman, who is actually having his worse season since taking over as closer in terms of allowing base-runners. Still, the 27-year-old has an unreal strikeout rate and is generally awesome, and he’d make any bullpen better. Here are the numbers:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 Whiff% BABIP
2013 63.2 2.54 2.47 43.4% 11.2% 33.6% 0.99 16.5% .280
2014 54.0 2.00 0.89 52.5% 11.9% 43.5% 0.17 20.2% .290
2015 30.1 2.08 2.02 40.1% 13.6% 30.5% 0.30 18.8% .345

Squint your eyes and there are some red flags. His strikeout rate is down (but still great), his swing-and-miss rate is down (but still great), his ground ball rate is down (but he isn’t giving up homers), and his walk rate is up (got nothing there). Chapman is still throwing insanely hard and he’s healthy as far as we know. Give him enough innings and I’m sure that BABIP issue will correct itself. Otherwise everything looks pretty swell.

By elite closer standards, Chapman is a bargain at $8.05M this year with another year of arbitration left next year, when his salary figures to climb into the $12M range. He’ll be a free agent after the 2016 season. Cincinnati’s best chance to get maximum value is right now, when the acquiring team would be getting Chapman for two potential postseason runs, not one. They’d also limit their risk because relievers like to melt down without warning.

Not many relievers of Chapman’s caliber have been traded recently — Craig Kimbrel was under contract for three more years plus an option for a fourth at the time of his trade — so there aren’t any deals we can reference. Half a season of Andrew Miller was traded for a pretty good pitching prospect last year, and Chapman’s track record as an elite reliever is much longer than Miller’s. That’s about as close as it gets.

My guess — and I emphasize that this is a guess — is the Reds would want three players for their ace closer: a top prospect, an MLB ready piece, and a good but not great secondary prospect. That’s where I’d probably start if I was them. Give me someone I could put on my roster right now, a really good prospect, and then another guy too. Negotiate from there. Chapman’s awesome. Would creating the best three-headed bullpen monster in history be worth it at that price to the Yankees?

RHP Johnny Cueto

Cueto, 29, is going to be the top pitching prize at the trade deadline. Yeah, Cole Hamels is great too, but his contract takes some teams right out of the running. Cueto is a rent-an-ace owed about $6M the rest of the season. Every single team could find a way to make that work financially. Do all of them have the prospects to make a deal happen? That’s a different story. I think the Yankees would be able to get it done, for what it’s worth.

Anyway, unless the Reds unexpectedly sign Cueto to an extension — that’s probably not going to happen at this point, mostly because the team is already bumping up against their tight payroll limit — they’ll trade him before the deadline because they simply can’t settle for a draft pick after the season. That’s not enough. Cueto’s probably a goner either way, trade or free agency, and they need to get as much as possible for someone of his caliber. Here are his numbers:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 Whiff% BABIP
2013 60.2 2.82 3.81 21.1% 7.4% 50.9% 1.04 11.1% .236
2014 243.2 2.25 3.30 25.2% 6.8% 46.2% 0.81 9.9% .238
2015 90.2 2.98 3.27 24.1% 4.5% 40.7% 0.99 10.8% .248

A series of lat strains limited Cueto to those 60.2 innings two years ago but he was healthy before that and has been healthy since then. The decline in ground ball rate isn’t all that scary because grounders were never his thing anyway — Cueto’s a weak pop-up pitcher who consistently keeps hitters off balance and misses the sweet spot (third lowest hard contact rate since 2011). We’re going to need some visual aids here. To the action footage:

Cueto goes full Luis Tiant and turns his back on the hitter. That deception, the wide range of velocity, the assortment of pitches, the ability to pitch to both sides of the plate … pitching is about disrupting the hitter’s timing and few do it as well as Cueto. The guy throws five pitches at least 11% of the time: low-to-mid-90s two and four-seamers, upper-80s cutters, mid-80s changeups, and low-80s sliders. I mean, come on. It’s not hard to see why he’s so successful.

Cueto did miss two starts earlier this season with elbow inflammation and that’s a concern. He’s been fine since, but still, any time a pitcher feels a twinge in his elbow, it’s a red flag. The risk is somewhat mitigated by Cueto’s impending free agency — if you trade for him and his elbow gives out, you can walk away after the season and not have a long-term problem — but you’re still going to have to hold your breath and hope he holds up down the stretch. It’s only natural to feel that way once an elbow starts barking.

The Yankees scouted Cueto over the weekend and then again last night according to Jon Morosi, though I’m guessing that was due diligence more than anything at this point. Either way, Cueto is a capital-A Ace who would instantly improve any rotation. As I pointed out the other day, rental aces are rarely traded, mostly because those guys don’t get to free agency in their primes all that often. The 2012 Zack Greinke and 2008 CC Sabathia trades are the best reference points we have, and they indicate it will take 3-4 good prospects to get a deal done.

There are two ways to look at this. One, the Yankees should get Cueto right now to improve their postseason chances. The longer they wait, the fewer starts they get out of him. Two, the Yankees should wait, see where they are at the deadline, then decide whether to pull the trigger. This isn’t a Cliff Lee situation — the 2010 Yankees were a World Series caliber team looking to add a rental ace to push themselves over the top. The 2015 Yankees are just trying to scratch and claw their way into October. Is gutting the farm system for two or three months of Cueto worth it?

Leake (and Matt Carpenter). (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
Leake (and Matt Carpenter). (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

RHP Mike Leake

The 27-year-old Leake is the Reds other impending free agent hurler, though he’s no ace like Cueto. Leake is a perfectly fine mid-rotation starter who helps hold down the fort, not push you over the top. The Yankees were scouting him along with Cueto over the weekend, but again, due diligence, not necessarily serious interest. Let’s get the numbers out of the way:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 Whiff% BABIP
2013 192.1 3.37 4.04 15.2% 6.0% 48.7% 0.98 6.9% .285
2014 214.1 3.70 3.88 18.2% 5.5% 53.4% 0.97 7.0% .298
2015 82.2 4.35 4.86 13.9% 6.7% 52.4% 1.42 5.9% .262

Leake got off to a tremendous start this season then crashed back to Earth hard and fast. The home run issues probably won’t be as extreme all year (19.7 HR/FB% vs. career 14.1%) and his strikeout rate isn’t that far removed from his career norm (16.1%), so even though his ERA continues to trend in the wrong direction, the underlying performance isn’t all that different. Leake is still limiting walks and keeping the ball on the ground. That’s what he does.

Believe it or not, Leake’s salary this season is almost exactly the same as Cueto’s ($10M vs. $9.775M), though it’ll obviously cost much less to acquire him. Lots of mid-rotation guys get traded prior to free agency — Brandon McCarthy, Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Justin Masterson, and Ricky Nolasco were all dealt at the deadline of their walk year in the not too distant past. The return package was anything from one okay prospect to four good prospects. Let’s split the middle and say two prospects will get it done. Sound good?

Acquiring pitching depth is never a bad thing, but how exactly would Leake help the Yankees? As things stand right now, he barely moves the needle. I think the only way pursuing Leake makes sense for New York is if they lose a few starters to injury these next few weeks, which is always possible. Masahiro Tanaka (elbow), CC Sabathia (knee), and Michael Pineda (shoulder) are perpetual injury risks and we still have no idea what Ivan Nova (elbow) will look like when he returns. Leake is available. At this point in time his usefulness to the Yankees is limited.

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

2B Brandon Phillips

I suppose it’s time for our annual “say no to Brandon Phillips” post. Phillips is actually having an okay year with the bat, hitting .295/.333/.364 (92 wRC+) overall, which makes it his best offensive season since 2012. But still, we’re talking about a player who a) turns 34 in less than two weeks, b) is owed roughly $35M through 2017, c) is slipping in the field according to every available metric, d) is battling more and more nagging injuries (groin and toe this year), and e) is losing power each year:


Source: FanGraphsBrandon Phillips

There’s a lot of value in batting average and putting the ball in play, two things Phillips is doing well this season, but he is clearly a player in decline. A player in decline who is owed a lot of money and tends to be a distraction when things aren’t going his way. The Reds offered Phillips for Brett Gardner straight up during the 2013-14 offseason and the Yankees wisely said no.

Yes, Stephen Drew is terrible and no, there is no reason to expect him to stop being terrible. Drew’s a problem and the Yankees need an upgrade. Locking themselves into two and a half years of the declining and overpriced Phillips should not be the solution, however, even if he comes in what amounts to a salary dump trade. Phillips has had a heck of a career and he was a very good player for many years, but he is no longer that player despite being paid to be that player. The Reds have been trying to move him for a while now, and, as bad as Drew is, the Yankees shouldn’t let Cincinnati off the hook. This is a contract they’ll have to live with.

* * *

The Yankees and Reds might actually match up well for a trade. Cincinnati needs outfielders even with top prospect Jesse Winker on the way because Bruce is trade bait and Billy Hamilton simply can’t get on base, plus Marlon Byrd is hurt and an impending free agent. They’ve had Ivan DeJesus Jr., Brennan Boesch, Kris Negron, and Skip Schumaker start games in the outfield recently. Yikes. The Yankees have lots of upper level outfielders — Mason Williams, Ramon Flores, Tyler Austin, Ben Gamel — so Cincinnati can take their pick.

I am decidedly anti-Phillips and Leake doesn’t help much, but Chapman and Cueto are difference-makers the Yankees have to at least consider pursuing. Maybe there’s a Nathan Eovaldi plus Luis Severino plus Aaron Judge plus other stuff for Chapman and Cueto trade to be made. (My trade proposal sucks.) The Reds are going to be sellers at the trade deadline and both Chapman and Cueto are extremely desirable pieces who would help any team, including the Yankees.

Scouting The Trade Market: Oakland Athletics

T-Clip. (Christian Petersen/Getty)
T-Clip. (Christian Petersen/Getty)

For the first time in the Billy Beane era, the Athletics are a truly awful team. They come into today with baseball’s worst record at 14-28 — they’ve never lost more than 88 under games under Beane and only six times have they lost more than 80 games since the took over as GM in 1998 — thanks in part to a dreadful 2-13 record in one-run games. Their bullpen has blown many leads so far this year and it’s sabotaged their season.

Depending on who you ask, Beane and the A’s may or may not be willing to trading away players soon. Joel Sherman says it could happen while Ken Rosenthal says not so fast. Given Beane’s history of being ultra-aggressive, my guess is he would start trading away players today if someone makes a good offer. The real question is whether other teams are willing to act without first giving their internal options a try.

Brian Cashman and Beane are reportedly close friends, but they don’t get together for trades very often. Just three in fact, with one being last summer’s Jeff Francis for cash swap. That doesn’t mean they’re unwilling to make trades with each other, of course. The A’s have some useful players they figure to market should they continue to fall out of the race, and a few of them are impending free agents who could help the Yankees down the stretch. Let’s look.

RHP Tyler Clippard

It’s kinda weird to think about the Yankees trading for a reliever, but Clippard is no ordinary reliever, he’s a workhorse late-innings guy any team would love to add to their staff. The 30-year-old righty has a 2.50 ERA (4.26 FIP) in 18 innings this season with some major decline in his underlying performance. Check it out:

K% BB% GB% IFFB% Soft% 1st Pitch Strike% FB velo
2012-14 27.8% 8.8% 31.4% 17.7% 20.5% 61.9% 92.2
2015 20.3% 10.8% 19.6% 12.1% 13.7% 58.1% 91.2

Clippard has always been very unique. In addition to striking batters out he has been an extreme pop-up pitcher, getting lots of soft contact in the air that results in easy outs. That 17.7% infield fly ball rate was easily the highest in MLB from 2012-14. (Kelvin Herrera was second at 14.9%). Clippard’s .228 BABIP in over 200 innings from 2012-14 is no fluke. It’s a direct result of all those pop-ups.

For whatever reason, Clippard is getting fewer pop-ups this season, and the combination of an ultra-low ground ball rate and lower than usual pop-up and soft contact rates indicate he’s giving up more scary fly balls. He’s also behind in the count more often based on his first pitch strike percentage. Between that and the mile an hour that’s gone missing from his fastball, it somewhat explains why his peripherals took a step back. Clippard’s had to come in the zone in hitter’s counts more often.

The question is whether this is a blip or a permanent thing. Clippard’s thrown a ton of high-pressure innings over the years — he leads all relievers in innings (411.1) and ranks 20th in leverage index (1.50) since 2010, so he’s pitched in a lot of stressful situations. The workload could finally be catching up to him now. Relievers are weird like that. They just start to go south without warning.

Clippard is owed $8.3M this year, so he’s not cheap, and he will become a free agent after the season. Beane could say he is willing to make Clippard the qualifying offer and thus wants something worth more than a supplemental first round pick in return, which is believable. Even if this diminished state is not a fluke, Clippard could still help the Yankees’ bullpen, which lacks a third option behind Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances.

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

LHP Scott Kazmir

It really feels like a matter of when Kazmir will get traded, not if. He’s another impending free agent — he’s owed $11M in 2015 and seems like a great qualifying offer candidate to me — and Kazmir should have big value now that he’s shown his success is no fluke following his improbable comeback. Remember, he was out of baseball entirely in 2012 due to arm problems.

Kazmir, 31, has a 3.08 ERA (3.75 FIP) in 49.2 innings this season while his peripheral stats are sorta all over the place. Some are trending in the right direction, some aren’t. Here’s the important stuff:

K% BB% GB% Soft% Hard% FB velo Whiff%
2013 24.1% 7.0% 40.9% 16.5% 32.8% 92.3 10.2%
2014 21.1% 6.4% 43.8% 15.6% 25.2% 90.9 9.4%
2015 23.7% 9.2% 45.5% 14.6% 23.4% 91.6 11.3%

The strikeout and swing-and-miss rates have held fairly steady yet Kazmir’s ground ball, soft contact, and hard contact rates keep getting better. Obviously it’s still early and this could (and probably will) even out as the season progresses, but teams won’t get a chance to see that before making a trade. That’s a risky thing about midseason trades — some percentage of the decision will be based on sample size performance.

Kazmir doesn’t have the wipeout slider he once did, injuries took that away, but he’s a more complete pitcher now, using two-seamers and changeups to keep hitters off balance rather than overpower them. The Scott Kazmir we watched shove all those years with the Devil Rays is long gone. He’s a much different pitcher now yet just as successful. His injury history is worrisome but the whole impending free agency thing removes long-term risk.

I get the sense Kazmir is going to be an extremely hot commodity at the trade deadline. He’s effective, doesn’t come with a big contract like Cole Hamels, and probably won’t require as big a prospect package as Johnny Cueto. Surely some of his success is O.co Coliseum aided — that’s a great place to pitch, fly balls go there to die — but not all of it. Kazmir’s a quality pitcher who would give the Yankees a big boost the same way he would most other teams.

UTIL Ben Zobrist

Zobrist. (Ed Zurga/Getty)
Zobrist. (Ed Zurga/Getty)

Zobrist was a really good player who was never quite as good as WAR made it seem — his ability to play just about every position, while valuable, screwed up the defensive metrics. Between his offense and his admittedly above-average defense, I think he was more of a 3-4 WAR player than a 5-6 WAR player like the numbers say, but that’s just me.

Anyway, Zobrist turns 34 next week and his age is starting to show up in his offense, particularly his power. He went from 40 homers and a .202 ISO from 2011-12 to 22 homers and a .125 ISO from 2013-14. Poof. Power’s gone just like that. Luckily, Zobrist is still a high-contact hitter who draws walks — about as many as he strikes out, in fact — so he still mustered a .273 AVG and a .354 OBP from 2013-14.

So far this year Zobrist is hitting .240/.304/.400 (93 wRC+) with the Athletics, but that’s only in 56 plate appearances. He jammed his knee sliding into a base in late-April and had to have it scoped. He’s expected back in a week or two. I imagine Beane and the A’s will showcase Zobrist for a few weeks to prove he’s healthy before moving him in a trade, where he figures to be in demand given his on-base ability, switch-hitter-ness, and versatility.

Unless they unexpectedly give up on Didi Gregorius, the only position where the Yankees could make an upgrade is second base, the position Zobrist has played more than any other in his MLB career. Even if he’s not as good as WAR says, Zobrist would be a huge upgrade on Stephen Drew at the plate and maybe even an upgrade in the field, but the first part is the most important. That’s even factoring in his disappearing power. The ability to hit for average and draw walks would be welcome.

* * *

The Yankees seem to prefer rentals for in-season trades, so the A’s are a natural trade partner. It’s very tough to get an idea of what it would cost to acquire Clippard, Kazmir, or Zobrist because Beane is so unpredictable though. This past offseason he went quantity over quality in the Josh Donaldson and Jeff Samardzija trades, targeting specific players to fill specific needs. Beane did the same when he traded Dan Haren and Gio Gonzalez as well. Every once in a while he’ll go for the big prospect (Trevor Cahill for Jarrod Parker) but not often.

Out of these three players, I’d say the Yankees would benefit most from Zobrist, then Kazmir, then Clippard. Clippard was one of the worst trades of the Cashman era but I don’t think acquiring him now makes it any better. Bullpen help is toward the bottom of the shopping list give the team’s internal options. Zobrist would be a clear upgrade at second base and Kazmir would help the rotation. I think the Yankees will wait to see how Masahiro Tanaka and Ivan Nova return from injuries before pulling the trigger on a trade for a starter though.

Scouting The Trade Market: Milwaukee Brewers

Lohse. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)
Lohse. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)

The 2015 season is still very young, but one team has already fallen completely out of the race. The Brewers are 9-19 on the season and are already 11.5 games back in the NL Central, and over the weekend they fired manager Ron Roenicke. The club is also reportedly “ready to listen” to trade offers, according to Buster Olney. The Brew Crew quickly pulled the trigger on a managerial change and now they’re ready to start reshaping the roster.

Milwaukee’s two best players — catcher Jonathan Lucroy and center fielder Carlos Gomez — do not make sense for the Yankees, realistically. Brian McCann is locked in at catcher and, like it or not, Carlos Beltran isn’t going anywhere. Both Lucroy and Gomez would be upgrades for the Yankees, but this is the real world, and those moves seem unlikely to be made. Same with Adam Lind. The Yankees aren’t going to give up a prospect and take on about $6.5M in salary to replace Garrett Jones. Ryan Braun? No way. His five-year, $105M extension starts next year.

Those are far from the only guys on the Brewers roster, of course, and despite their terrible start they do have some useful players to market in trades. Some may even be able to help the Yankees. Here are four who jump to mind and could be available for different reasons and different prices.

RHP Matt Garza

Garza. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)
Garza. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)

We’ve done the Garza song and dance multiple times over the years. When he was available in trades, when he was free agent … it seems like every year we’re talking about him as a potential target. The 31-year-old is off to a slow start this year, pitching to a 4.58 ERA (5.41 FIP) in six starts and 35.1 innings. He’s been really homer prone (1.53 HR/9), but I’m guessing that’ll return to normal before long because his 20.0 HR/FB% is way out of line with his career average (9.8%) despite a healthy 48.2% ground ball rate.

Reasons To Pursue: Just last year Garza had a 3.64 ERA (3.54 FIP) and he’s consistently been league average or better throughout his career. He knows the AL East from his time with the Rays — to be fair, he last pitched for Tampa in 2010 and the division has changed a lot since then — and wouldn’t only be a rental. Garza is owed $12.5M this year, next year, and the year after. That’s market value for a league average-ish arm.

Reasons To Back Away: Garza’s strikeout rate is in the middle of a four-year decline — 23.5% to 22.6% to 20.6% to 18.5% to 15.2% from 2011-15 — at a time when strikeouts around baseball are at an all-time high. His walk rate has also climbed from 6.4% in 2013 to 7.4% in 2014 to 10.1% in 2015. Those are bad trends! Garza’s velocity has held fairly steady over the years (averaging 92.4 mph in 2015) but the swing-and-miss rate on both his heater and slider are trending downward:

Matt Garza whiffs

Also not good! Garza’s had some kind of arm problem every year since 2012 — stress fracture in elbow in 2012, shoulder strain in 2013, shoulder tightness in 2014 — and there are statistical trends that indicate he is in the decline phase of his career, which is not what you want in a dude signed through 2017. It might not be long before Garza’s name value exceeds his on-field value, if it hasn’t already.

RHP Kyle Lohse

I’m always wary of guys who go to the Cardinals and revive their careers. They tend to not sustain their performance after leaving St. Louis (Jeff Suppan immediately jumps to mind), but Lohse is the exception. The 36-year-old had a 3.45 ERA (4.02 FIP) in his first two years with the Brewers but has been dreadful in his third, with a 7.01 ERA (6.03 FIP) in 34.2 innings this year.

Reasons To Pursue: Lohse hasn’t lost any stuff this year. His sinker, slider, curveball, and changeup are all moving like they have the last few years according to PitchFX — same general velocity, break etc. — and both his strikeout (15.4%) and walk (5.4%) rates are in line with what he’s been doing since the Cardinals fixed him. In fact, both his soft contact and hard contact rates this season are the best of his three years in Milwaukee:

Kyle Lohse contact

Disclaimer: We don’t know a whole lot about these new quality of contact stats — when do they stabilize? how well do they correlate to ERA? how predictive are they? etc. — so don’t take those numbers to heart just yet. Either way, what Lohse is doing this year isn’t much different than what he’s done in the past, when he was an effective workhorse who limited walks and pitched well despite not missing many bats. There might be some Brandon McCarthy-esque bounceback potential here. Also, Lohse is owed $11M this season and that’s it. He’s a pure rental. No long-term risk.

Reasons To Back Away: Lohse has been amazingly, incredibly, outrageously homer prone in 2015. Like nine homers in 34.1 innings home prone. That’s a 2.34 HR/9 (!). Lohse is sitting on a 20.0 HR/FB% rate despite a career 9.8% rate like Garza — kinda freaky they have identical 2015 and career HR/FB% rates, no? — but unlike Garza, Lohse’s ground ball rate has dropped big time this year. He’s at 35.4% grounders in 2015 after sitting north of 40% the last four or five years.

While a 2.34 HR/9 is really extreme and unlikely to stay that high all year, my concern is Lohse is an older guy who didn’t have a ton of margin for error to start with. He was never a big strikeout or ground ball pitcher, he succeeded with weak contact, but suddenly if his location is off or his pitches don’t have the life they once did, a spike in homer rate is understandable. Again, maybe not that extreme, but enough to take him from above-average NL innings eater to below-average AL five-and-fly guy.

Peralta. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)
Peralta. (Ezra Shaw/Getty)

RHP Wily Peralta

Unlike Garza and Lohse, Peralta is young (25), cheap ($525,500 in 2015), and under team control long-term (through 2018). He’s a potential building block for the Brewers’ rebuild, so his availability isn’t guaranteed. Peralta has a 3.92 ERA (4.58 FIP) in 39 innings this year, his third in Milwaukee’s rotation. He had a 3.53 ERA (4.11 FIP) in 198.2 innings last year and a 4.37 ERA (4.30 FIP) in 183.1 innings the year before that.

Reasons To Pursue: Peralta has some Nathan Eovaldi in him. He had the third highest average fastball velocity among qualified starters last season at 95.6 mph (Eovaldi was fourth at 95.5 mph) yet his strikeout rate (14.6% in 2015 and 17.2% career) is mediocre. Peralta has also improved his walk rate every year he’s been in the show like Eovaldi, going from 9.7% in his 2012 cup of coffee to 9.1% in 2013 to 7.3% in 2014 to 4.9% in 2015. And again, like Eovaldi, Peralta’s slider and changeup show promise but are works in progress. The Yankees love guys who throw hard and throw strikes — Eovaldi and Michael Pineda were targeted in trades for that reason! — and Peralta fits the bill.

Reasons To Back Away: There’s not many aside from the whole “you have to teach him how to get the most out of his stuff” thing, which is significant and something the Yankees are already attempting to do with Eovaldi. Do they want two guys like that in the rotation? Peralta’s ground ball rate has consistently sat around 50% throughout career, which is better than what Eovaldi’s done (mostly around 45%), so maybe the learning curve will be less painful. That said, Peralta has lost 1.5 mph off his four-seamer and 2.0 mph off his two-seamer compared to last April and May. He’s still throwing mid-90s fairly regularly, but that has to be a concern for a guy whose biggest asset is his arm strength.

Segura. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)
Segura. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)

SS Jean Segura

The Brewers have some shortstop depth (Luis Sardinas, specifically) and could look to move Segura for a hefty package right before he gets expensive in arbitration. Young middle infield help is really hard to find. Lots of teams would love to have someone like Segura in the organization. The 25-year-old has hit .282/.321/.369 (92 wRC+) with six steals this year around a concussion suffered when he took a pitch to the helmet.

Reasons To Pursue: Like I said, young middle infielders are hard to find, and the Yankees are looking for long-term solutions at both second base and shortstop. (They hope Didi Gregorius can be the answer at short but the jury is still out on that one.) Segura has one really good season under his belt, hitting .294/.329/.423 (105 wRC+) with 44 steals in 57 attempts (77%) back in 2013. He’s flashed the ability to hit at the MLB level.

Depending on your choice of defensive metric, Segura has either been above-average or below-average in the field. There’s no consensus. Scouting reports from his prospect days said he projected to be an okay defender for what it’s worth, and I tend to stick with the scouts in these situations. Segura is under team control through 2018, though his arbitration salaries figure to be on the high side because of his stolen base totals. Steals pay.

Reasons To Back Away: Segura’s big season in 2013 was really just a big first half. He hit .325/.363/.487 (133 wRC+) with a .349 BABIP in the first half that year, .241/.268/.315 (56 wRC+) with a .285 BABIP in the second half, and then hit .246/.289/.326 (67 wRC+) with a .275 BABIP in 2014. So since that big first half two years ago, Segura has hit .249/.288/.328 (67 wRC+) with a .282 BABIP in just shy of 900 plate appearances. That’s not very good.

Now, that said, middle infielders who have shown they can hit and defend at the big league level don’t hit the trade market often. Their teams hang on to them for dear life, which is why we’re instead talking about a flawed player like Segura. It cost Shane Greene to get Gregorius, who didn’t have anything close to Segura’s 2013 on his resume. The price for Segura should be even higher despite being under team control one fewer year. That’s the cost of middle infield help these days.

* * *

The Yankees have leaned towards rental players with their in-season trades the last few years. The two most notable exceptions are Alfonso Soriano and Martin Prado, and the Soriano deal only happened because his salary was heavily subsidized. Part of that is a function of the market — more rental players are available in trades each year than guys with multiple years of control — but I also think the Yankees try to stick to band-aids in-season, not clutter up the long-term picture.

Now, does that mean they would pass on Peralta or Segura if the price is right? Of course not. Young players are an obvious exception. Someone like Garza — a guy over 30 making good money with signs of decline in his game — might not be though. Lohse is a rental who shouldn’t require a big trade package — McCarthy cost Vidal Nuno, so does Lohse cost … Chasen Shreve? — and fits the Yankees’ trade target mold as a veteran buy low candidate with a track record of success and some reasons to think a rebound is coming.

Either way, the Yankees tend to be patient when it comes to going outside the organization for help in the middle of the season. My guess is they will wait a few weeks before calling the Brewers or any other team with the intention of having serious trade talks. That’s just their style these days. Whenever the Yankees are ready to deal, Milwaukee does have some pieces to offer, but none are truly great fits.