Scouting the Trade Market: Sonny Gray

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

Given where they sit in the standings, it seems likely the Yankees will add a starting pitcher before Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline. The Yankees are one game back in the AL East and 1.5 games up on a wild card spot, so they’re a good weekend away from the division lead and a bad weekend away from not having a postseason spot. There’s a clear need for another starter and the Yankees have already made one big trade. No sense stopping there.

The starter the Yankees have been most connected to these last few weeks is Athletics right-hander Sonny Gray. In fact, earlier this week Mark Feinsand reported the Yanks and A’s were “making progress toward a deal” that would not only bring Gray to New York, but first baseman Yonder Alonso as well. That was reported Tuesday, and we’ve yet to hear anything since, so who knows. The 27-year-old Gray is available though. Let’s see whether he actually makes sense for the up-and-coming Yankees.

Current Performance

Tuesday night’s start was likely Gray’s last with the A’s — he is lined up to start Sunday, though I would be surprised if Oakland lets him make that start — and during that start he allowed four runs (zero earned) in six innings against the Blue Jays. He struck out nine. Gray threw a potential 1-6-3 double play ball into center field, so his own error led to the four unearned runs. Womp womp. Anyway, here are his numbers the last three years:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2015 208 2.73 3.45 20.3% 7.1% 52.7% 0.74 .265 .260
2016 117 5.69 4.67 18.2% 8.1% 53.9% 1.38 .372 .325
2017 97 3.43 3.24 23.5% 7.5% 56.7% 0.74 .292 .267

Gray finished third in the AL Cy Young voting behind Dallas Keuchel and David Price in 2015, was hurt and ineffective in 2016, and is back to being pretty great in 2017. He’s been especially good over his last six starts, throwing 39.1 innings with a 1.37 ERA (2.66 FIP).

Two things about Gray. One, he gets a lot of ground balls. Always has. Even last year, when he was terrible overall, Gray’s ground ball rate was well above the league average. And two, Gray’s platoon split is generally pretty small. He actually has a reverse split this year. Point is, he can get lefties out. Lots of ground balls and the ability to neutralize lefties are the skills you want in a right-handed pitcher in Yankee Stadium.

Another thing worth noting: Gray has a reputation for being a big game pitcher. He went toe-to-toe with peak Justin Verlander in Game Two of the 2013 ALDS (box score) — that was the 11th start of his big league career — and also threw a complete game shutout in Game 162 in 2014 (box score), which clinched a postseason spot for the A’s. That was a win or go home game. Even dating back to college, Gray has had a reputation for coming up huge in big games.

Current Stuff

For all intents and purposes, Gray is a four-pitch pitcher with usable fifth and sixth pitches. He’ll sit low-90s and top out at 96-97 mph with his four-seam fastball and sinker, and his two main secondary pitches are a mid-80s slider and low-80s curveball. Gray also throws a low-90s cutter and mid-80s changeup. Those are the fifth and sixth pitches. He’ll throw a few per start, but that’s really it.

The curveball is Gray’s moneymaker. That’s the pitch that got him drafted 18th overall in 2011 and the pitch that allows him to keep lefties in check. He can throw the curve for called strikes and bury it in the dirt for swings and misses. Here’s some video:

Gray throws his two fastballs, the four-seamer and sinker, roughly 62% of the time combined. The curveball and slider are pretty even at 15% each, and then the cutter and changeup (mostly changeup) fill out the rest. That has held pretty constant over the years. Nothing about Gray, neither his pitch selection nor his velocity, has changed following his injuries last year. His stuff has bounced back well.

If you watched all 88 pitches in that video (that was his start on May 24th of this year), you probably noticed Gray lived at the bottom of the zone. He pounds the lower half with his fastballs, and buries the curveball and slider down there too. Gray is listed at 5-foot-10. He’s not a big guy at all. It’s can be tough for short pitchers to get good downward plane, which is why so many of them are fly ball prone (coughChanceAdamscough). Gray’s never had that problem. Here is his 2017 fastball location heat map, via Baseball Savant:

sonny-gray-heat-mapBottom half of the strike zone, right where you want it. On any given day Gray goes out to the mound with two fastballs he locates at the knees, an out-pitch curveball, and a quality slider. And a changeup and cutter for show. This is not some garden variety back-end starter. Gray has already had one Cy Young caliber season and the stuff is there for him to put together more dominant seasons, especially since he is still only 27.

Injury History

Now, the bad news. Gray suffered the first notable injuries of his career last season. He missed two weeks with a right trap strain and then two months with a right forearm strain. Then, this spring, he suffered a right lat strain that caused him to miss April. The trap and lat injuries are kinda scary because a) those muscles are close together, and b) those muscles are close to the shoulder. Forearm strains are often a precursor to elbow problems too.

For what it’s worth, Gray returned from the lat strain in May and has been fine since. No lat problems, no trap problems, no forearm problems, and no elbow problems. That doesn’t make his injury history any less scary, of course. Arm injuries are arm injuries. Maybe the forearm strain will be like Andrew Miller‘s forearm strain — Miller missed a month with a forearm strain in 2015 — and be a true one-time thing. That’s the hope. Either way, this is three pretty significant injuries to the arm/arm area within the last 14 months or so.

Contract Status

This season is the first of Gray’s three years of arbitration eligibility. He’ll remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in both 2018 and 2019 before qualifying for free agency during the 2019-20 offseason. He’s not a rental. Trade for him at the deadline and you get him for two and a half seasons, meaning three potential postseason runs.

Gray will make $3.575M this season, which is surprisingly low first time arbitration salary for a guy with a top three Cy Young finish under his belt. Doug Fister made $4M his first trip through arbitration. Fister’s arbitration salaries went from $4M to $7.2M to $11.4M, so if you’re looking to get an idea of what Gray could make the next two years, that seems like a decent guideline. Also, Gray has two minor league options remaining, not that it really matters.

What Would It Take?

This is where it gets difficult. Pitchers like Gray don’t get traded often, and even when they do get traded, it usually doesn’t happen at midseason. Deals like this tend to wait for the offseason. The Jose Quintana trade was the most notable non-rental pitcher trade since … I guess David Price in 2014, when he went from the Rays to the Tigers?

Because of that, there is no good trade benchmark for Gray, an above-average starter with two and a half years of control. It’s not a matter of me not finding a good benchmark. The benchmark doesn’t exist. Quintana and Cole Hamels were traded three and a half years prior to free agency. Price was traded one and a half years prior to free agency. Rentals? There have been a ton of them. Two and a half years? Nothing. Sigh.

Here is everything we know about the Gray sweepstakes right now:

  • The A’s are prioritizing a young center fielder in trade talks and like Estevan Florial. The Yankees are not against including him a trade package. [Jon Morosi, Mark Feinsand]
  • Oakland is pushing teams for their final bids, and it is believed the Yankees have made the strongest offer. Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Chance Adams, and Justus Sheffield are reportedly off-limits. [Joel Sherman, Feinsand]
  • The A’s have had high-ranking executives, including director of player development Billy Owens, scouting Double-A Trenton and Low-A Charleston. [Morosi, Josh Norris]

In my completely amateur know nothing opinion, the Athletics would not be wrong to ask for a top prospect like Torres or Frazier in a Gray trade. The Yankees insist those guys, as well as their other top close to MLB prospects, are untouchable. Fortunately the Yankees have enough farm system depth that they should be able to swing a trade without those guys.

The big name being bandied about the last few days is Jorge Mateo, who has torn the cover off the ball this last month with Double-A Trenton after being pretty crummy the previous year and a half with High-A Tampa. Building a package around Mateo and Florial doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. In fact, it strikes me as a downright bargain if those guys are the two center pieces. We’re talking about a 27-year-old pitcher under control through 2019 who has already proven he can pitch at a Cy Young level. Those dudes aren’t cheap.

The injuries undoubtedly knock the price down. A healthy Gray would command tippy top prospects. There’s also this: the A’s have made some pretty crummy trades lately. The Josh Donaldson trade is the best example, though the two Jeff Samardzija trades weren’t great either. That the A’s are reportedly seeking a young center fielder tells you they’re prioritizing specific positions rather than simply accumulating the best talent possible. That’s what led to the Donaldson trade being so ridiculous. Long story short: Gray won’t come cheap, but the injuries do drag his price down, plus Oakland’s trade track record is questionable.

Does He Make Sense?

(Ezra Shaw/Getty)
(Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Yes. There is not a doubt in my mind. Gray is young (27), controllable (through 2019), very good overall (career 3.42 ERA and 3.56 FIP), ground ball heavy (career 54.4%), and able to shut down lefties (career .283 wOBA). And he has a history of performing well in big games. What more could you want? The only negative here is the injuries. That’s it. The stuff and underlying skills are really, really good.

I have no doubts about Gray the pitcher being able to succeed in New York and the AL East. He’s very good and the guy is tough as nails. My only concern is the injuries. That’s all. The lat, trap, and especially the forearm injuries worry me and I assume they worry the teams interested in acquiring him. The Yankees reportedly made a strong offer for Quintana but aren’t going all-out for Gray, presumably because Quintana’s track record of durability is so great.

The way I see it, Gray is riskier than most — you could easily argue Mateo and Florial are riskier than most top 100 prospects — but he also offers more upside than most. The Yankees need pitching beyond this season and Gray is right smack in the prime of his career, so you’re getting peak years about of this guy. It’s almost like he’s a buy low candidate, right? Everyone loves buy low candidates. If the Yankees can build a trade package around Mateo and Florial rather than someone like Torres and Florial, I think Gray’s worth the risk. He could end up looking like a bargain.

Scouting The Trade Market: Lance Lynn

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

The 2017 non-waiver trade deadline is exactly one week away, and already the Yankees have swung a pretty significant seven-player trade with the White Sox that, more than anything, added high-end depth to the bullpen. I know Todd Frazier is the biggest name, but that trade was about Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson. Adding those two has already paid dividends.

With the bullpen addressed, the single biggest item left on the shopping list is a starting pitcher. Michael Pineda is done for the season and Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa, and Caleb Smith have combined to start three of the last seven games. No one wants that to continue. Getting another starter is a top priority. You don’t make that trade with the ChiSox only to skimp on the rotation.

One rental starter who could possibly be available prior to the trade deadline is Cardinals righty Lance Lynn. St. Louis isn’t have a great season overall (47-51), though they’re only 4.5 games back in the NL Central, and I don’t think it’s in their DNA to throw in the towel and sell. Lynn being available is far from certain. It’ll probably take a bad week this week. Let’s see whether Lynn is the fit for the Yankees in case the Cardinals do decide trade him away.

Current Stuff

So far this season the 30-year-old Lynn has a 3.30 ERA (4.97 FIP) in 20 starts and 114.2 innings. His strikeout (21.5%) and walk (8.3%) rates are about average, though Lynn has always been fly ball prone (42.9% grounders), and these days that means lots of homers (1.65 HR/9). He’s either going to have to start keeping the ball in the park or continue stranding runners at an above-average 82.4% clip, otherwise that ERA is going up.

As a starter Lynn has always been Bartolo Colon-esque in that he lives and dies with his fastball. So far this season 92.2% of his pitches have been some type of fastball. Either a four-seamer, sinker, or cutter. Here is his pitch selection since moving into the rotation full-time in 2012, via Brooks Baseball:

lance-lynn-pitch-selection

So many fastballs. Sooo many fastballs. And hey, that’s fine. Throwing that many fastballs can work. It has for Lynn for years. He has good velocity (low-90s and touches 96), he can locate, and he mixes in enough changeups and curveballs to keep hitters honest.

Also, keep in mind Lynn is not throwing one fastball over and over. It’s three different fastballs. A straight four-seamer, a sinker, and a cutter. One stays true, one dives down, and another cuts in. Hitters see a lot of fastballs, though they don’t know which direction they’re heading. It’s not like Lynn is throwing four-seamer after four-seamer, you know?

Here’s a pretty good example of how Lynn uses those three different fastballs. The hitters do not look comfortable because those heaters are moving in all different directions.

Lynn missed the entire 2016 season with Tommy John surgery and he’s come back this year showing basically the same stuff. His velocity is down about half-a-mile an hour from 2015, though it’s not uncommon for a pitcher his age to loss a little something off their fastball over a two-year span, elbow reconstruction or otherwise. Lynn’s stuff is fine. He’s unconventional because he throws so many fastballs, but it works.

Injury History

Like I said, Lynn missed last season with Tommy John surgery. He also missed two months with an oblique strain way back in 2011, which is no big deal. Lynn averaged 189 innings a year from 2012-15 and maxed out at 203.2 innings in 2014, so before his elbow gave out, he was a workhorse. Acquiring a pitcher so soon after Tommy John surgery is inherently risky. There’s no reason to believe Lynn is riskier than any other pitcher in his first full year back from elbow reconstruction.

What Would It Take?

The Cardinals bought out Lynn’s arbitration years with a three-year extension worth $22M back in January 2015. This is the final guaranteed year on the contract — he’s making $7.5M this season — and Lynn will be a free agent after the season. He’s a rental.

I do think the Cardinals would make Lynn the qualifying offer after the season. Getting him back on an expensive one-year deal isn’t the worst thing in the world, and besides, Lynn would probably decline it. He could secure more total dollars on a multi-year deal, though the point is the Cardinals are in position to demand a greater return than the draft pick they’d receive after the season.

Last week I ran through other recent rental starter trades, and based on the benchmarks, the Cardinals shouldn’t have any trouble getting two good prospects for Lynn. Not top prospects like Gleyber Torres or Clint Frazier, but good prospects. Someone from the Tyler Wade/Chance Adams/Dillon Tate pool. That doesn’t seem unreasonable to me. Guys like Lynn don’t come that cheap.

Does He Make Sense?

Aside from Yu Darvish, Lynn is probably the best rental available at the trade deadline, assuming he is actually made available at some point. The Cardinals could rip off a bunch of wins this week and decide to keep Lynn and go for it. That’s probably what they’d prefer to do. Also, keep in mind the Cardinals traded lefty Marco Gonzales last week, so they’re down one layer of rotation depth. They might not want to trade even more pitching.

Two things to consider here. One, the Yankees probably really like Lynn’s postseason experience and the fact he was part of the World Series winning team with the Cardinals in 2011. And two, the Yankees don’t rely on the fastball, as Tom Verducci recently wrote. Would they acquire a pitcher who lives and dies with his heater when their team philosophy is to pitch backwards? Perhaps the different look wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Anyway, yes, Lynn makes sense for the Yankees because they have a rotation opening and he’s better than the Mitchells and Cessas and Smiths of the world. They have plenty of prospects to trade, so it’s not like the trade would cripple their farm system. The biggest issue here is outside the Yankees’ control: will the Cardinals sell? I don’t think they want too, and they can justify keeping Lynn given their place in the standings.

Scouting the Trade Market: Trevor Cahill

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

After Tuesday’s seven-player trade, the Yankees loudly announced they were buyers. The trade solved many of their issues, but they still have a hole in the back of their rotation with Michael Pineda lost for the season after Tommy John surgery.

A veteran innings eater who can more reliably provide solid innings than Bryan Mitchell and Luis Cessa appears to be the logical next move for Brian Cashman. One pitcher who could not only eat those innings but potentially do so effectively is Trevor Cahill, the journeyman starter with a 55.1 percent career groundball rate who is currently with the San Diego Padres. On a cheap one-year deal, the 29-year-old righty has a 3.14 ERA (3.22 FIP) in 57 1/3 innings over 10 starts for one of the worst teams in baseball.

Let’s dive into the Friars’ top rotation piece at the present:

Current Performance

In the middle of 2015, it looked like Cahill’s time as a starter was kaput. He’d been dealt to the Braves and had thrown 26 1/3 well-below-average innings before Atlanta DFA’d him. He’d made just three starts and had a 7.52 ERA in 15 total games.

But his career turned when he joined the Cubs late in the season. Used exclusively as a reliever, Cahill became a strikeout machine for the first time in his career while still keeping the ball on the ground as a sinkerballer. He pitched to a 2.61 ERA (4.10 FIP) in Chicago while upping his strikeout rate significantly. This came through an adjustment in his motion and upping the usage of his curveball and changeup.

Cahill turned down teams looking at him as a reliever and took a cheap one-year contract with the Padres, who gave him an opportunity to start and play near his hometown of Oceanside, Calif. It’s paid off big time.

In his 10 starts, he’s been able to translate his strikeout numbers from the bullpen into consistent success in the rotation. He has a 29.5 percent strikeout rate, up more than 10 percent from his last full season as a starter. His 8.3 percent walk rate is near the lowest mark he’s posted as a starter. He’s maintained a GB-to-FB ratio above two for the last three seasons and most of his career, making him ideally suited for a hitter’s haven, let alone one of the largest fields in the league at Petco Park.

Cahill is a true five-pitch pitcher. His four-seam fastball and sinker sit in the low-90s with the sinker being his primary pitch, thrown 37 percent of the time (the lowest rate of his career). Off-speed, he turns to his low-80s, high-70s knuckle curveball, a mid-80s changeup and a mid-80s slider. Each of his pitches has been relatively effective this season, especially the curveball, which rates as one of the best in the game. Check out how he’s able to get swings and misses on all his pitches.

His home/road splits are something of which to be wary. He has a 5.01 ERA away from Petco and you have to wonder whether his solid HR/9 numbers would slide even more at Yankee Stadium. His strikeout and walk rates have mostly held up away from home.

Injury history

Cahill comes with a bit of a checkered injury past. He’s already spent time on the disabled list with two separate injuries. First, he missed 10 days in April with a back strain. He then lost over 1.5 months with a shoulder strain. He’s spent 60 total days on the DL this season. He also missed time in 2013 with a hip contusion.

If you’re looking for positives, the injuries and subsequent missed time could be a blessing in disguise. He hadn’t thrown more than 65 2/3 innings since 2014, so it was unlikely he’d be able to handle 200 innings like he used to.

What would it take?

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Mike had a pretty good breakdown of what you can expect a rental starter to cost in his breakdown of Jaime Garcia‘s trade value. Make sure to check that out here.

With Cahill, his cheap contract could make a small difference compared to other rentals. Signed for $1.75 million in the offseason, he has less than $1 million left on his base salary. He earns $250,000 for start No. 15, 20 and 25 this season and he’ll earns a $250,000 bonus if he is traded.

Even with the incentives, he’s one of the cheaper players on the market because of his prove-it contract. The Padres can presumably ask for a slightly larger return than he would normally get, although his injuries could limit his market.

Does he make sense for the Yankees?

Surely. A 29-year-old rental with strong strikeout and groundball rates at Yankee Stadium? Sign me up. Like with Garcia or any rental, the Yankees would get a close look at him for the last few months of the season with eyes towards perhaps re-signing him in the offseason.

You obviously can’t overlook his injuries, but his numbers indicate that a team trading for him could catch lightning in a bottle for the stretch run. His experience in relief makes him slightly more attractive for a team with playoff dreams.

Scouting the Trade Market: Jaime Garcia

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

The trade deadline is roughly a week and a half away now, and already the big pitching trade candidate has been moved. Jose Quintana is a Chicago Cub and the focus has now turned to Sonny Gray. There are plenty of other pitchers on the market too. None have the track record of Quintana or the upside of Gray, but there are pitchers out there ready to be dealt.

Among them is Braves southpaw Jaime Garcia, an impending free agent having an okay season (4.33 ERA and 4.25 FIP in 106 innings). The Braves are not absolutely miserable this season — they came into today 45-46 with a -35 run differential — though they are still rebuilding, and a free agent-to-be like Garcia is a prime piece of trade bait. Does he make any sense for the Yankees? Let’s break it down.

Current Stuff

The just turned 31-year-old Garcia is pitching like his usual self this season in that he’s getting a ton of ground balls (54.7%) and an average-ish number of strikeouts (18.2%). His walk rate (9.0%) is a tad high, though remove the intentional walks and it’s a more manageable 8.1%. That’s right in line with last season (7.7%). Garcia wasn’t very good last year (4.67 ERA and 4.49 FIP) but he was great the year before (2.43 ERA and 3.00 FIP).

Generally speaking, Garcia is a true five-pitch pitcher with two low-90s fastballs (four-seamer and sinker). His go-to secondary pitch is a fading low-to-mid-80s changeup. He also throws a low-80s slider and a loopy mid-70s curveball. The curveball is his least used pitch at 6.4% this year. Garcia throws everything else at least 11% of the time. Here’s some video:

There really has been very little change in Garcia’s stuff since Opening Day 2015. He’s averaging 91.5 mph and topping out at 94.3 mph with his fastballs, he’s throwing the same number of breaking balls and changeups, and his grounder and swing and miss rates are all holding steady. That’s good. Garcia has been same guy for three years now. His performance has fluctuated wildly, though that’s more location relation than stuff related.

Injury History

Garcia’s injury history is very ugly. He’s had Tommy John surgery (September 2008), rotator cuff surgery (May 2013), and surgery to treat Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (July 2014) among all sorts of other nagging issues. Garcia threw only 220.2 innings total from 2012-14 while with the Cardinals. (Weirdly, Cardinals GM John Mozeliak ripped Garcia in 2014 for having his Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery.)

The injury history is very scary but, to Garcia’s credit, he has been completely healthy since returning from the Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery in May 2015. He hasn’t missed a start since. That said, the best predictor of future injury is past injury, and Garcia has had several major arm problems and major arm surgeries in his career. Every pitcher is an injury risk. Garcia is much riskier than most given his injury history.

What Would It Take?

Garcia is a rental and I suppose the Braves could argue he’s a qualifying offer candidate likely to sign a free agent contract in excess of $50M, meaning they want something back equal or greater to the supplemental first round pick they would receive in the offseason. That seems like a real stretch though given his performance and injury history.

Mark Feinsand says a dozen teams have expressed interest in Garcia and that doesn’t surprise me. Pitching is always in demand and Garcia is solid enough despite the injury risk. Ground ball lefties are always a hot commodity. Here are some rental veteran starters who have been traded in recent years:

  • Ivan Nova: Traded for two top 20-30 organizational prospects (Tito Polo and Stephen Tarpley).
  • J.A. Happ: Traded for a top 15 organizational prospect (Adrian Sampson).
  • Dan Haren: Traded for two non-top 30 organizational prospects (Elliot Soto and Ivan Pineyro).
  • Mike Leake: Traded for an organizational top ten prospect (Keury Mella) and a young big leaguer (Adam Duvall).
  • Scott Kazmir: Traded for an organizational top ten prospect (Jacob Nottingham) and an organizational top 20-30 prospect (Daniel Mengden).

The Braves will presumably push for a Leake/Kazmir package while interested teams counter with a Haren package. Leake had a much longer track record of being a league average innings eater. Kazmir had an ugly injury history like Garcia, but also a much better recent performance. Nova and Happ were having terrible seasons at the time of their trades, and Haren was a veteran guy at the end of the line.

The Kazmir trade feels like the best benchmark to me even though he was lights out with the Athletics (2.38 ERA and 3.16 FIP in 109.2 innings) before being traded to the Astros. Kazmir was an injury risk then like Garcia is now, and both offered the potential for above-average performance. And maybe the Kazmir trade is a reason to stay away from Garcia. Kazmir had a 2.38 ERA (3.16 FIP) before the trade and a 4.17 ERA (5.19 FIP) after the trade.

Anyway, using the Kazmir trade as a benchmark, we’re talking about a top 10 and a top 30 prospect for Garcia. Not all farm systems are created equal, however. A top ten prospect in the Yankees system is at worst a borderline top 100 guy. The Astros had a very strong farm system at the time of the Kazmir trade, though it wasn’t as good as New York’s is now. A Yankees equivalent to Nottingham and Mengden is something like Billy McKinney and Ian Clarkin.

As unexciting as Garcia may be, I think there will be enough competition for him that the price gets driven up and the Braves wind up acquiring two pretty nice prospects for him. The Yankees have a lot of nice prospects. So many that they’re probably going to end up losing some for nothing in the Rule 5 Draft and on waivers through various other 40-man roster moves in the offseason. Turning some of those guys into a rental starter like Garcia seems worthwhile.

Does He Make Sense For The Yankees?

(Daniel Shirey/Getty)
(Daniel Shirey/Getty)

The Yankees have needed another starter pretty much all season even though there was really no way to squeeze another starter into the rotation. Michael Pineda‘s injury takes care of that. There’s an opening in the rotation and Garcia would a fine — albeit unexciting — stopgap. Ground ball heavy lefties will always have a place on the Yankees pitching staff thanks to the Yankee Stadium short porch.

The question is are the Yankees open to trading prospects for a rental when they’re slipping out of the race, or would they rather stick in-house with the kids? Bryan Mitchell started last night and Luis Cessa starts tonight. Brian Cashman said Chance Adams could get a shot at some point too. The thing is, those kids have workload limits, and pitching is one of those things you’d rather have too much of than not enough.

There’s also this: Garcia would be auditioning for a rotation spot next year. Aside from Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery, the Yankees have no idea what next season’s starting rotation will look like, and Garcia is one of those lower cost free agents they could target to fill out the rotation and stay under the luxury tax threshold. The trade would give the Yankees and their staff a chance to evaluate him up close. That’s not nothing.

For me, Garcia makes perfect sense for the Yankees. He shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg to acquire, he wouldn’t tie up long-term roster or payroll space, and there’s at least a chance at excellence. You probably won’t get it, but Garcia has had some very good seasons in his career. In a 12-start sample, who knows what’ll happen? If the Yankees are going to go after a rental starter rather than a long-term piece like Sonny Gray, Garcia may be the best option.

Scouting the Trade Market: Tommy Joseph

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

If the Yankees are going to be buyers at the deadline, they’re more likely to go for a temporary replacement at first base rather than a long-term solution. Despite comments from an anonymous person in the front office, there’s still belief that Greg Bird can be the first baseman of the future.

Assuming the Yankees go that route, Domenic covered the options pretty well already. However, I’d like to throw out a name of a player that’s under long-term control and could fill the short-term need as well.

Phillies first baseman Tommy Joseph is in just his second MLB season and isn’t arbitration eligible until 2020. This isn’t a rental. But with first base prospect Rhys Hoskins knocking on the door of the major leagues, the team has made Joseph available.

Does he fit the Yankees? Let’s take a look:

Current performance

Joseph has been in the major leagues for nearly a year and a half now. He was called up last May. Initially, he was primarily a platoon bat alongside Ryan Howard. However, his early power earned him everyday playing time last summer before Howard surged in the second half.

This year, he has been the starting first baseman all season. He put together an abominable April (.179/.222./.254 in 19 games) before killing the ball in May to the tune of a .300/.373/.600 line with seven home runs. He’s hit well since then. In total, he’s hit .252/.313/.466 (102 wRC+), below the average first baseman’s line. Still, it’s better than anything out of a Yankees’ first baseman this season. For what it’s worth, he’s hitting .273/.339/.529 (125 wRC+) since May 1.

Diving further into his stats, Joseph has one significant tool: Power. 32 of his 74 hits have gone for extra bases, including 15 home runs. He hit 21 home runs in just 347 plate appearances last year. That power has been his calling card at every level. Through 670 MLB PAs, he has 36 home runs and 31 doubles to go with a .233 ISO.

He struggles to command the strike zone. His walk rate is up from 6.3 to 7.7 percent this year, but his strikeout rate also climbed from 21.6 to 23.5. Hoskins, who will likely take his job soon, has drawn plenty of walks in the minors, which Joseph never did.

Joseph, who turns 26 on July 16, was drafted by the Giants as a catcher, but concussions moved him out from behind the plate. He’s a well below-average first baseman. Better than Howard, but not by much. He makes the routine plays better than Chris Carter but his lack of range limits his ability to make any tough plays.

He’s also a negative on the base paths. His 25.7 ft/s sprint speed according to Statcast would make him the slowest player on the Yankees and he’s tied for third in baseball in double plays grounded into with 15, just two behind teammate Maikel Franco and Matt Kemp for first place. He often pulls the ball on the ground, though he hits the ball to all fields in the air. He’s still primarily a pull hitter, as you’ll see below.

(Baseball Savant)
(Baseball Savant)

He’s produced 0.2 bWAR (0.0 fWAR) this year after 0.5 bWAR (0.9fWAR) as part-time player last year. The Phillies have the third worst bWAR at first base, only one spot ahead of Yankees. That’s largely because of Joseph’s fielding and nearly zero production from the Phillies’ backups.

Contract and injury situation

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Joseph is very cheap when it comes to first base options on the market. He won’t be a free agent until 2023 and won’t make above the minimum until 2020. He’s been barely above replacement level thus far, but his contract gives him value, especially for a team that has received below replacement value at first this year. He still has options left as well.

As for injuries, Joseph has had a clean bill of health in the majors. His concussions issues have subsided in the last two years and that led to his resurgence as a prospect and, ultimately, his call-up to the majors. He’s been able to handle first base consistently without breaking down this season.

While he’s under control, the Phillies aren’t in a spot to demand much. Most teams don’t have a need for a no-glove first baseman with some power as most teams already have someone who at least fits that. The Yankees are one of a few teams that have an opening and could make sense.

Teams also know that the Phillies need to dispatch Joseph to give Hoskins an opportunity in the majors. Neither has the range to play the outfield and they’re both RHBs, so one has to go. Acquiring him shouldn’t cost too much more than a secondary or tertiary prospect or so.

Does he make sense for the Yankees?

Joseph would be an immediate improvement for the Yankees at first in the lineup, adding some power towards the end of the lineup. Realistically, he could do what Carter was expected to do. He’d make sense in a platoon with Ji-Man Choi for the time being as Joseph was solid in that role last season.

If you’re going to acquire a first baseman with this much control, you need to be certain that he fits into your long-term plans. And it doesn’t seem like he fits in New York beyond this season. In the case Bird comes back healthy, Joseph becomes a platoon bat at best. Expendable or optionable like he is for the Phillies at worst. If Bird isn’t healthy, the Yankees would likely acquire a veteran free agent to start in his place.

Joseph could be a serviceable placeholder with the requisite power to play first. The 25-year-old is not someone to acquire for significant assets, but he’s a useful depth piece in the short term. If the Yankees are intrigued by Pat Neshek, a package deal could work. Ultimately though, it’s tough to see where Joseph gets playing time beyond 2017 in New York.

Scouting the Trade Market: Miami Marlins relievers

Ramos. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
Ramos. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

Due to recent events, the bullpen is going to be a hot topic between now and the July 31st trade deadline. The Yankees have lost far too many games at the hands of the bullpen the last few weeks, and as long as they’re in the postseason race, they’re going to look for ways to improve the roster. They could call some youngsters up. They could also look outside the organization. Odds are they’ll do both.

The Marlins are far out of a postseason spot and expected to sell before the trade deadline, making them a potential trade partner. They shipped Adeiny Hechavarria to the Rays a week or two ago, so yeah, the Marlins are open for business. In fact, they’re said to be scouting the Yankees’ farm system. Miami figures to market some of their pricier bullpen pieces before the deadline, and perhaps one or two of them are a match for the Yankees. Let’s take a look.

RHP Kyle Barraclough

Background: The 27-year-old Barraclough went from the Cardinals to the Marlins in the Steve Cishek trade three years ago. So far this season he has a 3.54 ERA (3.89 FIP) with 24.5% strikeouts and 14.7% walks in 40.2 innings. In parts of three MLB seasons Barraclough has thrown 137.2 innings with an 3.01 ERA (2.87 FIP). He’s settled in as a setup man for the Marlins.

The Stuff: Barraclough is a two-pitch reliever with a mid-90s fastball and a hard upper-80s slider. He has pretty consistently thrown 55% fastballs and 45% sliders as a big leaguer. Pretty straightforward guy. Barraclough gets ahead with the heater and tries to put hitters away with the slider.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Barraclough misses a ton of bats. A ton. Last year only Dellin Betances (126) and Andrew Miller (123) had more strikeouts among full-time relievers than Barraclough (113). That career 32.0% strikeout rate is no accident. Barraclough’s slider is a legit put-away pitch, and relievers who can make hitters swing and miss are the backbone of any successful bullpen. The pitch is so good he has a small platoon split (career .275 wOBA vs. .258 wOBA in favor of lefties). Also, Barraclough won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season, so he’d be a long-term buy. (At least as long-term as any 27-year-old slider happy reliever can be.)

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? With those strikeouts come a lot of walks. Barraclough’s career walk rate is 15.1% and it’s been high throughout his career, even in the minors, so this is just who he is. You can survive as a late-inning reliever with command issues (see: Betances, Dellin) though no one like free baserunners in the late innings of a close game. Also, Barraclough’s strikeout rate has dropped from 36.9% last year to 24.5% this year, which is a red flag. Lots of walks and fewer strikeouts generally isn’t a good combination.

RHP David Phelps

Background: Phelpsie! The Yankees traded Phelps to the Marlins three years ago, and initially he continued to do the swingman thing, then last season he moved into a full-time short relief role. The 30-year-old Phelps has a 3.68 ERA (3.53 FIP) with 26.4% strikeouts and 8.8% walks in 44 innings this year. In three years with the Marlins he has a 3.98 ERA (3.83 FIP) in 131 innings as a starter and a 3.06 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 111.2 innings as a reliever.

The Stuff: As a true one-inning short reliever, Phelps will average right around 95 mph with his two and four-seam fastballs and 91 mph with his cutter. He’s shelved his changeup entirely out of the bullpen and instead uses a low-80s curveball as his top secondary pitch. So it’s four distinct pitches out of the bullpen. A straight four-seamer, a running two-seamer, a cutter, and a curveball.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Phelps has found a home in short relief. He was okay as a swingman all those years, but when he can air it out for an inning or two at the time, Phelps can miss bats and be a weapon in the late innings. Plus he’d remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2018. It doesn’t hurt that he’s played for the Yankees before, so he knows the ropes.  You always wonder how guys are going to react when they first come to New York and all that. There’s no such worries with Phelps.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? There aren’t many reasons, really. Phelps still walks a few more guys than you like — how he got a reputation for being a strike-thrower with the Yankees, I’ll never know — and that’s about it. It is worth noting he’s not cheap. Phelps will earn $4.6M this season and probably something close to $7M next season, his final year of arbitration-eligibility before qualifying for free agency.

A.J. Ramos

Background: Ramos, 30, took over as Miami’s closer back in 2015. He has a 3.51 ERA (3.60 FIP) with 29.6% strikeouts and 12.7% walks in 33.1 innings this year, making this his worst season since breaking into the big leagues for good in 2013. His career numbers are much more impressive: 2.75 ERA (3.19 FIP) with 27.8% strikeouts and 12.6% walks in 321 innings.

The Stuff: Ramos is a three-pitch reliever with mid-90s fastball, a mid-80s changeup, and a low-80s slider. The slider is his go-to secondary pitch. Ramos will also cut and sink his fastball on occasion, and he even throws a curveball once in a while. He’s primarily a fastball-changeup-slider guy but there are more tools in the shed.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Among Miami’s relievers, Ramos has the longest track record of missing bats, and only veteran sidewinder Brad Ziegler has more experience in the late innings. He’s been pitching high-leverage innings for a few years now and he’s shown he can handle them thanks to three pretty good pitches and the ability to keep the ball away from the fat part of the bat. Also, Ramos will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2018, so he’s not a rental.

Why Should The Stay Away? The walk rate (career 12.6%) and general lack of ground balls (career 39.5%) are pretty scary, even though Ramos has not been home run prone in his career to date (0.48 HR/9). Still, walks plus fly balls is a less than ideal combination in Yankee Stadium. Also, Ramos is making $6.55M this year and could pull down upwards of $9M next season through arbitration. That’s what 89 career saves (and counting) will do for you. That’s pretty darn expensive. It’s not crazy to think Ramos might be a non-tender candidate after the season, so maybe he is a rental after all.

RHP Junichi Tazawa

Background: The Marlins gave the 31-year-old Tazawa a two-year deal worth $12M this past offseason, and so far he has a 5.87 ERA (5.97 FIP) with 18.4% strikeouts and 11.2% walks in 23 innings. That one isn’t working out too well. He’s been relegated to mop up duty the last few weeks.

The Stuff: All things considered, Tazawa’s stuff is relatively unchanged from the last few years. He’s still low-to-mid-90s with his fastball and upper-80s with his splitter, and he also throws a mid-70s curve.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? History suggests Tazawa is not actually this bad. He dealt with a rib injury earlier this season and that certainly could have negatively affected his performance. Tazawa is a buy low bounceback candidate, basically. Just last year he had a 4.17 ERA (4.23 FIP) with 26.0% strikeouts and 6.7% walks. That’s … better. Plus he knows the AL East from his time with the Red Sox.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? A lot of reasons, really. For starters, his performance has been terrible this year, and we can’t ignore that. His strikeouts are down and his walks are up, and hitters are squaring him up more than they have in the past. There’s also $7M left on his contract for next season, so he’s not cheap (by middle reliever standards) either. There is something to be said for buying low on a guy. I think steering clear of a reliever with a 4.45 ERA in 131.1 innings over the last three years is a pretty good idea no matter what the peripherals and track record say, and that goes double for dudes with a decent chunk of change coming their way.

RHP Nick Wittgren

Background: Wittgren, 26, is probably the guy you’ve never heard of in the Marlins bullpen. He has a 3.62 ERA (3.31 FIP) with 26.3% strikeouts and 4.6% walks in 37.1 innings this year, and that’s after a 3.14 ERA (3.67 FIP) with 19.7% strikeouts and 4.7% walks in 51.2 innings last year. The Marlins have themselves a nice little cheap, homegrown middle reliever.

The Stuff: The right-handed Wittgren is low-to-mid-90s with his fastball and he backs it up with a mid-80s changeup and a breaking ball right around 80 mph that sometimes looks like a slider and sometimes looks like a curveball. He throws both secondary pitches pretty regularly, so he is a true-three pitch reliever.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? I dunno, Wittgren is reasonably effective and he’s young and cheap with minor league options remaining, which makes him a decent depth piece in my opinion. He’s also shown improvement from last year to this year, namely in his strikeout rate. I don’t think Wittgren will one day be a shutdown high-leverage reliever or anything like that. Can he get outs in the sixth inning though? Sure, and the Yankees need a guy like that.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? The biggest concern with Wittgren is his propensity to give up fly balls (career 36.5% grounders) and home runs (career 1.11 HR/9). He won’t beat himself with walks and he can miss enough bats to escape jams, so the home run risk is mitigated somewhat. Is another unspectacular reliever the solution to the Yankees’ bullpen woes? I mean, sure, it’s possible, but I don’t think Wittgren moves the needle a whole bunch.

RHP Brad Ziegler

Background: Miami tried to strengthen their bullpen with Tazawa and Ziegler over the winter and it hasn’t worked. Ziegler received two years and $16M and has a 6.52 ERA (4.29 FIP) with 12.3% strikeouts and 9.4% walks in 29 innings. He is still getting a ton of ground balls (64.6%), which has always been the Ziegler trademark. He’s a funky sidewinder who keeps the ball on the ground.

The Stuff: From that funky arm slot comes a low-to-mid-80s sinker, a mid-70s changeup, and a low-70s slider. Ziegler is the rare submarine pitcher with a changeup. The velocity seems alarming but that’s who he is. Ziegler’s been a mid-80s sinker guy for years. The deception and arm angle make it work.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? As with Tazawa, Ziegler is a buy low bounceback candidate, though we don’t have to look back too far to see the last time Ziegler was very good. Just last season he had a 2.25 ERA (3.10 FIP) with 20.1% strikeouts, 9.0% walks, and 63.3% grounders in 68 innings for the Diamondbacks and Red Sox. Ziegler has been pitching in late-inning roles for a long time and he’s comfortable in any role. He’ll set up, close, middle relieve, whatever. Basically, any team looking at Ziegler is thinking his .382 BABIP won’t last and I want him on my roster when the correction comes. (Career .288 BABIP.)

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? At 37 years old (38 in October), it’s entirely possible Ziegler has reached the point of no return and this is who he is now. The BABIP is way up and the strikeouts are way down, from 20.1% last year to 12.3% this year — to be fair, he had a 13.7% strikeout rate with a 1.85 ERA (3.44 FIP) in 2015 — and his walk rate keeps trending up. Ziegler’s margin for error seems to be shrinking. And he’s got $9M coming to him next season, which isn’t great.

* * *

Given the way the Marlins operate, my guess is they would love to unload their pricey relievers (Ramos, Ziegler, Phelps, Tazawa) and keep the cheap guys in their pre-arbitration years (Barraclough, Wittgren). Well, I guess every team would like to do that, right? The Marlins aren’t so unique in that regard.

I am kinda sorta intrigued by Ziegler as a buy low candidate. Phelps and Ramos are the headliners here though. They’re performing well and they come with an extra year of team control, even if it will be on the expensive side. The Yankees have reportedly contacted the Marlins about both guys already and that in no way surprises me. They’re going to call on every available reliever between now and the trade deadline out of due diligence.

Scouting the Trade Market: First Basemen

Lucas Duda. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Lucas Duda. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

On the off-chance that Ji-Man Choi is not a true-talent 216 wRC+ hitter, the Yankees are going to need a first baseman to solidify and stabilize both the lineup and the infield defense. Chris Carter played himself into a second DFA, Greg Bird may require surgery on his balky right ankle, and none of the team’s internal options seem befitting of a team with playoff aspirations.

All of that put together, assuming the Yankees do not continue to struggle into the waning days of July, should make them something of a buyer as the trade deadline approaches. The question then becomes a simple matter of who is available, and at what cost?

The simplest way to hazard a guess at the marketplace is to see what rentals are available (meaning who will be a free agent at season’s end). As per MLB Trade Rumors, that group is mildly enticing:

  • Yonder Alonso, Oakland A’s
  • Pedro Alvarez, Baltimore Orioles
  • Lucas Duda, New York Mets
  • Todd Frazier, Chicago White Sox
  • Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
  • John Jaso, Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Adam Lind, Washington Nationals
  • Mitch Moreland, Boston Red Sox
  • Logan Morrison, Tampa Bay Rays
  • Mike Napoli, Texas Rangers
  • Mark Reynolds, Colorado Rockies
  • Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
  • Danny Valencia, Seattle Mariners

There are several names that can be ruled out immediately – Alvarez (trading within the division for a player reminiscent of Chris Carter), Lind (the Nationals aren’t selling), Moreland (the Red Sox aren’t selling), Morrison (trading within the division for someone that needlessly bashed Gary Sanchez), Reynolds (the Rockies aren’t selling), and Santana (the Indians aren’t sellers) are unlikely to pop-up on the Yankees radar for various reasons. Napoli is an unlikely target, as well, given that he may be the worst first baseman in the game this year, with a 77 wRC+ and -0.6 fWAR. That leaves us with:

Yonder Alonso

Alonso has been one of the best stories of this half-season, serving as a standard bearer for the flyball revolution (or the juiced ball, whichever point of view you prefer). He is currently slashing .280/.375/.568 with 19 HR in 280 PA, good for a 150 wRC+. There have been some signs of regression, though, as Alonso hit .267/.353/.433 with just 3 HR (114 wRC+) and an elevated strikeout rate in June. He’s also struggled with some nagging injuries, which has been the case on an almost year-to-year basis.

I’d be a bit weary of Alonso, due to how inflated his numbers are by his incredible May. A team might be willing to pay for his line on the season, rolling the dice that he’s broken out after years of mediocrity, and the A’s are sure to shop him aggressively.

Lucas Duda

The Yankees have not made many deals with the Mets, but it does happen on occasion – and there could be a definite match here, as the teams trend in different directions. Duda finally seems to be healthy, and he’s batting .249/.359/.548 with 14 home runs and a 137 wRC+ in 231 PA. He has a 123 wRC+ for his career, and he posted a 134 wRC+ between 2014 and 2015, so this isn’t a complete outlier. Duda may not hit for average, but he takes plenty of walks (11.5% for his career) and hits for power (.211 ISO).

As a result of this, Duda is likely the best hitter of this group, when healthy. That caveat bears repeating, but he feels like the safest bet to be a middle of the order thumper.

Todd Frazier

Frazier is a solid defensive third-baseman, so this is cheating a bit – but he has played a few games at first this year, and 94 in his career. He’s batting .215/.332/.450 with 16 HR (107 wRC+), but that is weighed-down by his early struggles. Frazier raked in June, with 8 HR and a 144 wRC+ in 109 PA, and he has hit for power throughout his career. His month-to-month inconsistencies, however, have followed him for several years now.

That being said, Frazier is an interesting target, if only because of his positional versatility. If Bird manages to get healthy or another internal option rears his head, Frazier could shift across the diamond and relieve Headley of everyday duty. He’s a feast or famine type, but the famine isn’t as bad some other options.

Eric Hosmer

I struggled with including Hosmer here, as the Royals aren’t all that far from contention. He’s in the midst of a bounceback season (he’s always better in odd-numbered years), with a .313/.371/.484 slash line (126 wRC+) in 348 PA, and he’s been a key to the team’s turnaround. The Royals have several key players coming up on free agency this off-season, though, so they may be inclined to cash-in now, instead of chasing a wild card berth and little else.

Hosmer is the youngest option here, at 27-years-old, and might be the least obtainable player in this group. There’s probably a team out there that would swing a deal for him with an eye towards re-signing him, and that’s unlikely to be the Yankees.

John Jaso

Jaso is strictly a platoon player at this point, with only 69 PA against LHP since the beginning of 2015. He has done fairly well in that role, though, with a 119 wRC+ against righties in that stretch (108 in 2017). Jaso is hitting .250/.326/.459 with 7 HR (107 wRC+) in 193 PA on the season, spending time at first and in both outfield corners.

If I had to handicap this group, I would bet that Jaso is the most available and most easily attainable player. He’s also the most uninspiring, though, as someone that only partially fills the need at first.

Danny Valencia

I nearly left Valencia out due to his character issues, but that hasn’t necessarily dissuaded the Yankees lately. The 32-year-old journeyman (he has played for seven teams since the beginning of 2012) is batting .272/.335/.412 with 8 HR (104 wRC+) in 310 PA, as he adjusts to being a full-time first baseman for the first time in his career. Those numbers are a bit skewed, though – he had a 53 wRC+ in April, but a 122 wRC+ since. And that 122 wRC+ is essentially the happy medium between his 2015 and 2016 seasons.

Valencia offers some positional flexibility, having spent time at first, third, and both corner outfield spots. His defense isn’t particularly strong at any position, though. I do like Valencia’s bat, but I do worry that his bouncing around the majors and last year’s fight with Billy Butler may be indicative of a somewhat toxic presence.


Each and every one of these guys likely represents an upgrade over Choi, though I wouldn’t be terribly enthusiastic about bringing Jaso or Valencia on-board. Jaso would need to be leveraged as a platoon bat in order to extract the most value, and Choi’s production at Triple-A, age, and five years of team control may just merit being afforded that same opportunity. And, as much as I try to avoid harping on unquantifiable concerns, Valencia’s history is disconcerting for such a young team.

That leaves us with Alonso, Duda, Frazier, and Hosmer. I won’t hazard any trade proposals, as mine would almost certainly suck, but I would be most interested in Duda, Hosmer, Alonso, and Frazier, in that order. And, depending upon the cost, I think that all four are worth kicking the tires on.