Scouting the Trade Market: Chicago Cubs

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the last few weeks no team has been more connected to the Yankees prior to the trade deadline than the Cubs. As good as they are, the Cubbies need some late-inning bullpen help, ideally a southpaw. That’s why they went out and acquired Mike Montgomery from the Mariners yesterday. They needed some more bullpen depth, but Montgomery is not someone who is going to stop them from trying to get another end-game arm. Hardly.

The Yankees have two premium late-inning lefties in Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, either of whom would satisfy Chicago’s bullpen needs. Reports indicate the Cubs prefer Miller to Chapman, which makes sense because Miller is willing to work as a setup man and is under contract an extra two years. Theo Epstein and Miller have a relationship dating back to their days with the Red Sox too, and that only helps.

By now we’ve all heard the Yankees want Kyle Schwarber in any trade involving Miller. The Cubs say that won’t happen. I’m not a huge Schwarber fan but I get why the Yankees want him and why the Cubs don’t want to give him up. The Cubs have so many other talented young players in their organization that not being able to pry Schwarber loose shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. There’s Javier Baez, or Albert Almora, or Willson Contreras, for example.

In this post we’re going to focus on Chicago’s farm system, just like we did with the Indians yesterday. The Cubs have a strong farm system, though it’s not as good as it was a year or two ago simply because they’ve graduated so many guys to the big leagues. They landed three players on Baseball America’s midseason top 100 update and could have one or two more by season’s end. Here are eight Cubs prospects who could make sense for the Yankees in a Miller or Chapman trade. All scouting report blurbs come from MLB.com, unless otherwise noted. The players are listed alphabetically.

3B Jeimer Candelario

Background: Candelario, 22, signed for $500,000 out of the Dominican Republic a few years ago and has gradually climbed the minor league ladder since. He’s hit .245/.356/.417 (118 wRC+) with seven homers, a 13.7% walk rate, and a 19.6% strikeout rate in 83 games split between Double-A and Triple-A this year. The Cubs called Candelario up briefly a few weeks ago, and he went 1-for-14 (.091) at the plate in five games in his MLB debut.

Scouting Report: “A switch-hitter, Candelario has a fluid swing and makes consistent contact from both sides of the plate. He understands the strike zone and could develop into a solid hitter for both average and power … Though Candelario has below-average speed and quickness, he has worked hard on his defense and is selling more scouts on his ability to stay at third base. His hands and arm are assets, and his instincts help him make plays.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? A switch-hitter who makes contact and knows the strike zone is a pretty sweet offensive player, even if the power projects to be more 15-18 homers than 20+. The Yankees have a long-term need at the hot corner, not to mention a need for hitters who work the count and spray the ball line to line. That Candelario is in Triple-A and close to MLB ready is a bonus.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Candelario might not be a third baseman long-term. There are plenty of folks who think he’s going to wind up at first base at some point soon — he’s played a handful of games at first in the minors — and if that happens his bat figures to be light for the position, especially in the power department. You’ve got to either really believe in the bat or really believe in his ability to stay at third to see Candelario as a regular.

RHP Dylan Cease

Background: The 20-year-old Cease was a potential first round back in 2014, but he needed Tommy John surgery that spring and fell to the Cubs in the sixth round. He made it back to the mound late last year, and so far this season he has a 3.32 ERA (3.56 FIP) with a 25.6% strikeout rate and an 8.9% walk rate in 21.2 innings down in a short season rookie league.

Scouting Report: “Cease reached 97 mph with his fastball before he got hurt and hit 100 shortly after he returned to the mound last summer. He sits in the mid-90s with his heater, which also features life that makes it even tougher to barrel. He has turned what was a three-quarters breaking ball into a true power curveball … Cease needs to refine his changeup and use it more … The Cubs have helped him clean up his mechanics some and he should be able to repeat them efficiently enough to fill the strike zone.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Cease is a classic projectable power arm — he’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 190 lbs. — with an out-pitch breaking ball and improving mechanics. He was a first round talent before getting hurt, remember. Cease has the potential to one day pitch near the front of a rotation, and guys with that kind of ability aren’t easy to find.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? The recent Tommy John surgery is a red flag, as is the fact Cease is injured right now. He left a start with a still undisclosed injury two weeks ago, and according to Steve Mims, Cease is currently throwing and could return to the mound soon. Still though, he’s hurt again. Cease has an awful lot of talent and an awful long way to go to reach the big leagues and his ceiling.

2B/OF Ian Happ

Background: The Cubs grabbed the 21-year-old Happ with the ninth overall pick in last year’s draft and he’s doing exactly what you’d expect the ninth overall pick to do: mash. Happ is hitting .302/.394/.470 (143 wRC+) with a 13.4% walk rate, a 21.4% strikeout rate, nine homers, and 13 steals in 92 games between High-A and Double-A. Baseball America had him 37th on their recent top 100 update.

Scouting Report: “A switch-hitter, he exhibits a quick stroke and good balance from both sides of the plate, and he owns deceptive strength and solid speed. Happ should post high batting averages and on-base percentages, and he has the upside of a 20-20 player … Happ is a good athlete with a strong arm, and Chicago will try to maximize his value by playing him at second base in 2016 … he also saw action at all three outfield spots in his pro debut.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Lots and lots and lots of reasons. Happ is a switch-hitter with power and patience, some speed, and good defensive shops. He’s taken to second base well this season and is average and improving at the position. Happ can be in the big leagues next season and he projects as a switch-hitting impact player on both sides of the ball.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? No reason, really. Even if you don’t buy into Happ at second base, his bat will be more than fine for the outfield.

OF Eloy Jimenez

Background: Three years ago the Cubs went on an international spending spree a la the Yankees in 2014, and the top prospect they signed was the 19-year-old Jimenez. He received a $2.8M bonus. So far this season Jimenez is hitting .331/.370/.520 (160 wRC+) with ten homers, six steals, a 5.8% walk rate, and a 22.5% strikeout rate in 83 Low-A games. Baseball America had him 46th in their midseason top 100, and if you watched the Futures Game, you saw Eloy put on a show.

Scouting Report: “Jimenez has huge raw power and right-field arm strength. He looked much more comfortable at the plate in 2015 than he did in his U.S. debut the year before, making more consistent contact … He’s adding strength to his big frame and exhibits impressive bat speed and leverage from the right side of the plate … he’s an average runner who’ll fit best in right field once he improves his throwing accuracy. The Cubs love his makeup.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Jimenez has premium power potential from the right side of the plate and he’s learning how to use it in games this season. He’s also not a liability in the outfield, so you’ve got a well-rounded prospect with a chance to be an impact middle of the order hitter down the line. Why wouldn’t you want a player like Jimenez?

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? The biggest knock on Jimenez is that he’s a bit of a hacker at the plate, so he’s going to chase out of the zone and probably won’t post high OBPs down the line. Also, the kid is 19 and in Low-A ball. There’s a very long way to go to reach that middle of the order ceiling. Jimenez has loads to talent, but he also carries quite a bit of risk simply because he’s so far away.

OF Eddy Martinez

Background: The Yankees “made a run” at Martinez last year, after he defected from Cuba and was declared a free agent by MLB. He would have been part of the 2014-15 signing period. Martinez opted to wait so more teams could get involved in the bidding, and sure enough, he leveraged interest from the Giants into a $3M deal with the Cubs. The 21-year-old is hitting .261/.340/.393 (117 wRC+) with seven homers, six steals, a 10.0% walk rate, and 21.4% strikeout rate in 89 Low-A games.

Scouting Report: “(He) has the potential to have four solid tools and some gap power. He has a line-drive, contact-oriented approach from the right side of the plate. Though he didn’t display much pop in Cuba, he does have bat speed and has added strength since leaving the island … Martinez’s best tool is his speed, which is at least plus and earns plus-plus grades from some evaluators. He has the quickness to play center field but will need to hone his instincts to remain there.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? The same reasons they wanted to sign him as a free agent, I assume. He has some offensive potential and knows the strike zone, and he can be an asset in the outfield as well thanks to his speed. Even if he winds up in a corner, Martinez can be a solid hitter from the right side of the plate and provide value on the field and in the bases. He’s not a star, but the potential to be a future regular exists.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Not everyone buys into the bat, especially Martinez’s power potential and approach. There’s some thought advanced pitchers will be able to pick apart the holes in his swing. There’s definite ‘tweener potential here, meaning not enough defense for center and not enough bat for a corner.

SS Gleyber Torres

Background: Torres, 19, is already in High-A, and he’s hitting .275/.356/.435 (122 wRC+) with nine homers, 18 steals, a 10.1% walk rate, and a 21.8% strikeout rate in 91 games. He’s doing that while being nearly four years younger than the average Carolina League player. Torres was 27th on Baseball America’s midseason top 100 list.

Scouting Report: “He has a quick right-handed swing and a mature approach, recognizing pitches well and using the entire field. Once Torres gets stronger and learns to pull pitches more often, he could produce 15 or more homers per season … Torres seemed a half-step quicker in 2015, enhancing his chances of staying at shortstop  … While Torres’ range may be just average, his instincts and strong arm allow him to make plays.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Not counting players on the big league roster, Torres is the best the Cubs have to offer. He projects to be an above-average two-way shortstop who hits for average, gets on base, steals some bases, and hits for some power. Players with that offensive skill set are hard to find at any position, so Gleyber’s potential to do it at short makes him a potential star.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? There aren’t many reasons, really. It’s not set in stone that Torres will remain at short, but he has the defensive skills to handle second or third, which are fine alternatives. The big thing is that this is a 19-year-old kid in Single-A. He’s not going to be MLB ready anytime soon and teenagers always carry a ton of risk. Torres is not an immediate payoff player. He’s more of a long-term project.

RHP Duane Underwood

Background: The 22-year-old Underwood was a second round pick back in 2012. He reached Double-A for the first time this season, and he has a 4.91 ERA (5.10 FIP) with a 16.8% strikeout rate and an 11.3% walk rate in only 58.2 innings due to forearm soreness. Underwood has had all sorts of injuries over the years, but nothing was torn and he hasn’t had surgery. Just a lot of soreness and inflammation.

Scouting Report: “Underwood’s fastball is notable for both its 92-96 mph velocity and its late life, which makes it difficult to square up for hitters. Both his curveball and changeup show signs of becoming plus pitches but neither is fully reliable yet … Underwood doesn’t miss as many bats as his stuff indicates he should, demonstrating his need to get more consistent with his secondary pitches and his command.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Underwood does have premium stuff, led by his lively fastball. He’s also shown promise with two secondary pitches. The stuff is why you want him. The big fastball is an untouchable skill.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? The injury history is scary — Underwood is out with the sore forearm right now, and he’s had all sorts of elbow soreness in the past — and his control and command are a long way from being big league ready. You’re buying the stuff and hoping to develop the command and get him to stay on the field. That’s a lot to ask.

LHP Rob Zastryzny

Background: Zastryzny, 24, is a personal favorite and no longer a top prospect. Heck, neither Baseball America nor MLB.com considered him one of the top 30 prospects in Chicago’s system coming into the season. So far this year Zastryzny has a 4.59 ERA (4.42 FIP) with a 19.1% strikeout rate and a 9.1% walk rate in 113.2 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. He was a second round pick back in 2013.

Scouting Report (from me, not MLB.com): At his best, Zastryzny pitches at 91-95 mph from the left side and can spin two breaking balls: an upper-80s slider and an upper-70s curveball. He also throws a low-80s changeup. Control has been a bit of a problem over the years, but the hope is Zastryzny can keep his walk rate where it is going forward. He’s healthy this year after being limited to 15 starts last season, when he was hit by a comebacker and suffered a broken bone in his foot.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? A top prospect Zastryzny is not, but lefties with low-90s gas and a bat-missing breaking ball (curve) are never a bad trade target. I think the Cubs are wasting their time with Zastryzny as a starter (career 4.71 ERA and 4.12 FIP). I say put him in the bullpen, let him focus on his two best pitches, and really air it out. Zastryzny obviously should not be the center piece in any trade, but as a third or fourth piece, I think you can do worse.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Well, Zastryzny’s performance has not been good, and his control is probably never going to be above-average. It might never be even average, in fact. He’s also seen his velocity fluctuate over the years, sometimes sitting in the low-90s and other times the upper-80s. This is a low-90s year.

* * *

To me, Happ is the guy to target as the headliner in any trade package with the Cubs. Torres and Jimenez are super exciting as well, but I love Happ’s all around ability and close to MLB readiness. The Yankees wouldn’t be wrong to ask for Happ plus Torres or Jimenez plus more in a Miller trade, though who knows if the Cubs would go for that. Probably not.

Either way, all three of those guys are premium prospects, and the Yankees couldn’t trade with Chicago without getting at least one of them. Too many other teams want Miller to settle for something less than the best. The Montgomery trade gives the Cubs an alternative, and if they pass on Miller or Chapman because of him, then that’s their mistake.

Scouting the Trade Market: Cleveland Indians

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Even after losing three of four to the Yankees before the All-Star break, the Indians own the best record in the AL (55-38) and have a comfortable 6.5-game lead in the AL Central. That’s not insurmountable by any means, but it is a nice lead at this point of the season. Cleveland has been to the postseason just once since beating the Yankees in the 2007 ALDS, and that was a wildcard game loss to the Rays in 2013. You know they want to do better this year.

It’s no surprise then Jerry Crasnick reported yesterday that folks within the game believe the Indians are more willing to make a blockbuster trade at the deadline this year than they have been in quite some time. Their rotation is still young and cheap, their core veterans (Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, etc.) are still in their prime, and they’re in position to make the postseason. They have a great chance to win this year and they want to capitalize.

The Indians could really use another late-game reliever to lighten the load on setup man Bryan Shaw and closer Cody Allen, and preferably that reliever would be a lefty. Somehow the Tribe has gotten only 22.1 innings from lefty relievers this season. Crazy, right? Chasen Shreve alone has thrown 22 innings for the Yankees. Anyway, Cleveland is said to have interest in Andrew Miller, who’s pretty much the best possible solution for that late-inning lefty role. Someone like Carlos Beltran could be of interest too since Brantley’s shoulder keeps barking.

The Yankees reportedly had two scouts watching the Indians’ High Class-A affiliate yesterday, which happens to house many of their top prospects. Cleveland has a loaded farm system — they landed seven players on Baseball America’s midseason top 100 list — so they have the motivation and wherewithal to make a big trade. Which prospects should the Yankees target in a potential Miller (or Beltran) trade? That’s what we’re here to discuss. Here are a handful of candidates. The players are listed alphabetically and the scouting report blurbs are from MLB.com.

LHP Brady Aiken

Background: Aiken, 19, was the first overall pick in the 2014 draft, but he didn’t sign with the Astros after they found something in his physical. He blew out his elbow the following spring and the Indians picked him 17th overall in the 2015 draft anyway. Aiken has completed his Tommy John surgery rehab and is currently pitching in rookie ball, where he’s allowed 15 runs on 18 hits and nine walks in 14.2 innings. He’s struck out 22. Baseball America ranked him 59th on their midseason top 100.

Scouting Report: “The left-hander spots his fastball to both sides of the plate, working at 92-94 mph and touching 97 with late life, and he can throw his curveball for a strike or take it out of the zone to induce whiffs. Aiken’s changeup gives him a third weapon, thrown with good deception and tumble, and his athleticism and smooth, repeatable delivery bode well for his command profile … If Aiken can regain and then build on his pre-surgery form, he could develop into a front-of-the-rotation starter.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? When right, Aiken has true top of the rotation upside and that is very hard to find. The term “future ace” gets thrown around way too often these days but Aiken absolutely fits the bill. He had command of three above-average pitches before getting hurt and his competitiveness and makeup are considered pluses. That’s an ace starter kit all the way.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Aiken did not have a routine Tommy John surgery. There was apparently some other stuff going on in his elbow as well, though no one seems to know what, exactly. His performance hasn’t been good since finishing his rehab, and while you can attribute that to rust, it’s a reminder of just how far Aiken has to go to reach that ace ceiling. He’s very far away from MLB and very high risk.

OF Greg Allen

Background: The Indians selected the 23-year-old Allen in the sixth round of the 2014 draft and he’s been a hitting machine as a pro. So far this season he’s authored a .298/.425/.398 (140 wRC+) line with three homers, 37 steals in 40 attempts, a 13.8% walk rate, and a 12.3% strikeout rate in 85 High-A games. Allen is a bit old for his level, so just keep that in mind.

Scouting Report: “Allen knows how to use his above-average speed, as he’s a disciplined hitter with advanced on-base skills who consistently puts the ball in play from both sides of the plate … He has below-average power overall … Allen’s wheels also serve him well in center field, where he gets good jumps consistently and covers a lot of ground … Allen shows the makings of becoming a top-of-the-order hitter who also offers value with his baserunning and defense.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Allen is not a top prospect — MLB.com ranks him 22nd in Cleveland’s system — but he’s a high-contact hitter from both sides of the plate with plate discipline and speed and center field defensive chops. That profile is a pretty good bet to amount to something in the big leagues, even if it’s only a fourth outfielder. Allen shouldn’t be the center piece of any trade, but he would be a fine third or fourth piece.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Guys with minimal power like Allen are always at risk of getting beat with fastballs in the zone at the upper levels. Pitchers don’t worry about being taken deep, so they challenge these guys. Low minors walk rates are not very predictive and Allen’s ability to get on base via the free pass may evaporate as he climbs the ladder.

1B Bobby Bradley

Background: Since being a third round pick two years ago, Bradley has punished minor league pitching, and he currently owns a .257/.377/.484 (137 wRC+) batting line with 16 homers and a 14.8% walk rate in 83 High-A games as a 20-year-old. He’s nearly three years younger than the average Carolina League player. Baseball America ranked Bradley as the 64th best prospect in baseball in their midseason update.

Scouting Report: “Bradley has all the ingredients needed to be an impact hitter, with plus bat speed, huge power and feel for using the entire field at a young age … (He has a) raw approach, and there are some scouts who worry about his capacity to make consistent contact at higher levels … Bradley faces an uphill battle due to his profile as first-base-only prospect, but his combination of power and hitting ability is plenty good enough to overcome those odds.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Despite his defensive and positional limitations, Bradley projects to be an impact player thanks to his offensive profile from the left side of the plate. He has the potential to hit for average and power down the line, and that’s someone who can hit in the middle of a lineup. Bradley’s more than holding his own despite being young for his level this year.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Those defensive and positional limitations do exist. Bradley is a first baseman only and not a particularly good one either. He also offers nothing on the bases. Bradley has to hit and hit big to have value, and it should be noted he’s struck out 31.4% of the time this year and 29.6% of the time in over 1,000 minor league plate appearances. There are real contact concerns here.

RHP Mike Clevinger

Background: The Indians straight up stole Clevinger two years ago, when they got him from the Angels for Vinnie Pestano. The 25-year-old righty has since blossomed into a very good pitching prospect, one with a 2.82 ERA (3.23 FIP) in 83 Triple-A innings this year. He has a 26.5% strikeout rate and a 9.0% walk rate as well. Clevinger made his MLB debut earlier this season and it didn’t go to well (14 runs in 16.1 innings), but that’s okay. Lots of guys struggle in their first taste of the show. Clevinger was 71st on Baseball America’s midseason top 100, and it’s worth noting the Yankees had at least three scouts on hand to see his most recent Triple-A start, according to Mark Feinsand.

Scouting Report: “Clevinger usually operates at 92-95 mph with his fastball but has touched 97. His slider is his best secondary offering and projects to be above average, thrown with power and depth, and he knows how to keep hitters off balance using his curveball and changeup, though neither pitch is better than fringe average at the moment … There’s still room for improvement, but Clevinger isn’t far away from making an impact in the Major Leagues.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Clevinger is basically big league ready right now. He misses bats with two pitches and has the makings of two others, so he has no doubt starter stuff and control. Is the upside sky high? No, but Clevinger has the tools to hold down a spot in the middle of the rotation for the next several years. The Yankees have been looking for pitching controllable behind 2017 and Clevinger definitely fits the bill.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? There aren’t many reasons to stay away, really. Clevinger had Tommy John surgery in 2012, so his medical history isn’t clean, and he struggled with his mechanics big time in 2014. He had a 4.41 ERA (4.56 FIP) in Single-A that year, which is why the Tribe was able to get him for Pestano. He’s been healthy and his mechanics have been fine since then though, so yeah. Clevinger is a quality MLB ready starting pitching prospect.

UTIL Yandy Diaz

Background: Diaz, 24, was a lower profile Cuban signing a few years back ($300,000 bonus) and he’s been very productive in the minors. This season he’s hitting .311/.413/.438 (148 wRC+) with six homers, ten steals, a 14.8% walk rate, and a 15.6% strikeout rate in 83 games split between Double-A and Triple-A. That’s split into a 145 wRC+ in 26 Double-A games and a 148 wRC+ in 56 Triple-A games. Diaz is primarily a third baseman, though he played second in Cuba and has seen time in the outfield corners this year.

Scouting Report: “Diaz is a truly disciplined hitter who never tries to do too much and rarely expands his zone. He makes a lot of contact with his compact right-handed swing, while his flat path through the zone produces line drives across the whole field … (Some) scouts question whether he has the necessary bat speed to generate usable pop in games … Diaz has quickly developed into an above-average defender at third base, where his range, soft hands and strong arm are all clean fits.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Even without much power, Yandy makes enough contact and draws enough walks to be an asset at the plate. The Yankees could also use a long-term third base solution — Miguel Andujar is awesome, but you shouldn’t bank on any one guy to be the answer — and Diaz can not only play the position, but play it well. And he can even fill in at second and in the corner outfield spots. That’s a nice little player for the bottom of the lineup.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? I like Yandy but I feel like his upside is the current version of Chase Headley. Good defense and a bunch of walks, but not much power or speed. Diaz is a bit of a ‘tweener because he doesn’t have the kind of pop expected from a corner spot. Playing some second and outfield will help because at least then you can put him on the bench. As a regular though, Diaz seems like someone who won’t kill you while you look for someone better, and that’s not very exciting.

LHP Rob Kaminsky

Background: The Yankees were connected to the 21-year-old Kaminsky, a New Jersey native, prior to the 2013 draft, but he was off the board before their extra picks came around. The Cardinals traded him to the Indians for Brandon Moss last summer, and so far this year Kaminsky has a 3.86 ERA (4.10 FIP) with a 15.0% strikeout rate and an 8.7% walk rate in 81.2 Double-A innings.

Scouting Report: “His fastball sat 86-92 mph with decent arm-side run and sink, and he showed feel for adding and subtracting with the pitch. His plus curveball is a true bat-misser, thrown with outstanding 12-to-6 shape and downer action, and it’s been his greatest weapon since high school … (he has a) changeup and below-average slider … Kaminsky’s advanced command allows him to throw strikes with his entire repertoire … the Indians love his competitiveness and high baseball IQ on the mound.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? The Yankees have a lot of big stuff/poor command guys in the organization and Kaminsky is pretty much the opposite. To use an old cliche, he’s a pitcher, not a thrower. Kaminsky is not a future ace like Aiken, but he projects to be a solid mid-to-back-end starter who gets by on smarts more than blow-you-away stuff. Cheap rotation help is always a plus, especially lefties in Yankee Stadium.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Kaminsky’s stuff has taken a pretty big step back since the 2013 draft. His fastball no longer consistently sits in the low-90s and both his changeup and slider have taken a step back because he falls in love with his curveball too easily and doesn’t throw his other pitches enough. (To be fair, it’s a great curveball.) The Cardinals know pitching as well as anyone. When they deal a former first rounder two years later for a guy like Brandon Moss, that’s a red flag to me. They must think the current version of Kaminsky is here to stay. The old version ain’t coming back.

LHP Justus Sheffield

Background: Sheffield, 20, was the 31st overall pick in 2014, and so far this year he has a 3.53 ERA (3.77 FIP) with a 22.9% strikeout rate and a 9.7% walk rate in 89.1 innings at High-A. Baseball America ranked him No. 69 in their midseason top 100 list. It’s worth noting Keith Law said the Yankees had two scouts at Sheffield’s start yesterday, when he struck out eight in 6.2 scoreless innings.

Scouting Report: “He’s hit 96 mph with his fastball but usually sits in the 92-93 mph range with late, arm-side life and some sink. His curveball flashes plus and projects as a swing-and-miss offering at the highest level, and he made strides developing his changeup in 2015 … Both his secondary pitches and his command require further refinement, but the southpaw has all the tools necessary to develop into a quality mid-rotation starting pitcher.”

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Sheffield has premium stuff and I think he is Cleveland’s best perfectly healthy pitching prospect (Aiken’s coming back from elbow reconstruction), so he’s pretty much the best they have to offer on the mound. Lefties who can miss bats are always in demand, especially in Yankee Stadium given the short porch. The history of the Yankees is loaded with quality southpaws, after all.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? Sheffield is listed at 5-foot-10 and there’s always a question about whether a short pitcher can get enough downhill plane on his fastball to avoid being fly ball and home run prone. Also, his location has not been as good this year as last year, when he had a 6.9% walk rate. Sheffield is also a 20-year-old in High-A too. He’s not exactly big league ready. There’s a long way to go to get from where he is now to that mid-rotation ceiling.

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I’m assuming the Indians will make their top two prospects, outfielders Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier, completely off limits in a Miller (or Beltran) trade. I know I would. Miller’s awesome but those guys are potential difference-makers who are knocking on the door. Depending on how you feel about Aiken after Tommy John surgery, he’s the best the Indians have to offer after Zimmer and Frazier. Clevinger, Sheffield, and Bradley are the next tier.

The Indians are loaded with prospects, so these guys listed above are hardly all they have to offer. I could definitely see the Yankees pushing for both Clevinger (the MLB ready guy) and Sheffield (the higher upside guy) in a Miller trade, if not more. Remember, they’re going to have to be blown away to trade Miller. Clevinger and Sheffield is a real nice start, though I’m not sure those two alone will be enough to get the Yankees to budge. The Indians definitely have the pieces to get a deal done though.

Scouting The Trade Market: Wil Myers

Bat flips are a plus. (Denis Poroy/Getty)
Bat flips are a plus. (Denis Poroy/Getty)

The Yankees are in an unfamiliar place right now. They’re under .500 halfway through the season and contention seems like a long shot at best. FanGraphs puts their postseason odds at 8.8% as of this writing. At the very least, the Yankees have to seriously consider selling rental veterans like Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Beltran at the deadline. Moving guys with years of control remaining like Andrew Miller and Brett Gardner has to be on the table too.

Brian Cashman recently floated the idea of the Yankees being both buyers and sellers, which seem like conflicting ideas, but they’re really not. Ultimately, the goal is to get better, and both buying and selling help accomplish that goal. Does that mean the Yankees should go out and add a rental veteran like, say, Rich Hill? No. That doesn’t make sense. Buying a younger player who can stick around for a few years would be a smart move, however.

One such player is Padres first baseman Wil Myers, who is enjoying a breakout year at the plate. Myers has packed an awful lot into his four big league seasons. He’s been an elite prospect, the 2013 Rookie of the Year, injured, disappointing, involved in two blockbuster trades, and a breakout star. Myers is still only 25, so even with the Padres in a deep rebuild, keeping him makes sense. He can be part of the solution. At the same time, trading him for a boatload of prospects could be a smart move too. Does Myers make sense for the Yankees? Let’s look.

Offensive Performance

Prior to the 2013, the last time he was prospect eligible, Baseball America called Myers “an eventual No. 3 hitter in the lineup because of his batting eye and power potential.” They ranked him the No. 4 prospect in baseball that season after ranking him No. 28 in 2012 and No. 10 in 2011. Myers was on the prospect radar for a long time. He was a big deal.

In the four years since, Myers has had three above-average offensive seasons and one disappointing season. He’s yet to actually play a full season — he was called up halfway through 2013 and battled injuries in 2014 and 2015 — but is on track to do that this summer. Here are his career numbers:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR BB% K% wRC+ vs. RHP wRC+ vs. LHP
2013 373 .293/.354/.478 129 13 8.8% 24.4% 131 127
2014 361 .222/.294/.320 77 6 9.4% 24.9% 87 52
2015 253 .253/.336/.428 116 8 10.7% 21.7% 110 135
2016 351 .282/.350/.529 137 19 10.0% 19.9% 131 152
Total 1,338 .263/.333/.439 115 46 9.6% 22.9% 115 113

Outside of that 2014 season, when he was hampered by a wrist injury (more on that in a bit), Myers has always hit for a lot of power. His .173 ISO in 2015 is his lowest among his three good seasons, and during those three seasons he averaged 24.6 homers per 600 plate appearances despite playing in pitcher friendly parks. We can’t just wipe away that 2014 season. It did happen. The two years since have been promising though.

Going under the hood, there are some underlying trends in Myers’ plate discipline and batted ball profile that suggest his breakout is for real, and that he is truly developing into a top tier hitter.

O-Swing% Whiff% GB% LD+FB% Pull% Oppo%
2013 29.2% 11.5% 46.0% 54.1% 44.8% 20.6%
2014 27.8% 10.3% 48.1% 51.9% 48.9% 22.8%
2015 25.1% 9.9% 47.6% 52.4% 44.1% 28.2%
2016 24.5% 7.9% 44.3% 55.8% 36.3% 24.1%
Total 26.7% 9.9% 46.4% 53.6% 43.4% 21.7%

Myers has swung at fewer pitches out of the strike zone (O-Swing%) with each passing season. He’s also swinging and missing (Whiff%) less each year. Those are two very positive trends. Furthermore, Myers is hitting the ball on the ground less often than ever before, and he isn’t pulling the ball nearly as much as he did the past three years. Hitting the ball in the air to all fields sure is a great recipe for success.

Pulling the ball has a negative connotation these days because of the shift, but it’s not inherently a bad thing. Most hitters do their most damage — meaning hit for the most power — when they pull the ball. That said, using the entire field is an obviously valuable skill. Myers is doing that this year and he’s not only retained his power, he’s hitting for more power than ever before. An all-fields power hitter? Gimme gimme gimme. We saw firsthand what Myers can do this past weekend:

That is as impressive as any homer you’ll see this season. The FOX Sports San Diego folks did us a favor by cramming all the pertinent information into their little strike zone graphic:

Wil Myers Nathan Eovaldi

Myers inside-outed a 97 mph fastball for an opposite field home run. In spacious Petco Park, no less. There are not many hitters in baseball who can do that. He has a lot of natural power and now he’s learning how to fully tap into. Myers isn’t chasing out of the zone or swinging and missing as much as he has in the past, and he’s getting the ball airborne to all fields. Good things are happening.

Oh, and as an added bonus, Myers is a pretty good baserunner too. He’s gone 13-for-15 (87%) in steal attempts this year and 29-for-36 (81%) in his career. Myers has also taken the extra base — first-to-third on a single, etc. — a whopping 61% of the time this year and 52% of the time in his career. The MLB average is 40%. So not only are you getting the impressive all-fields power, you’re getting value on the bases too. Pretty cool.

Defensive Ability

Since being drafted in 2009, Myers has moved from catcher to the outfield to third base to back to the outfield to first base. He’s now a full-time first baseman in San Diego and has been solid there, especially when you consider his general lack of experience at the position. Myers has spent most of his career as an outfielder (right field, specifically) and boy, he was not good out there. Both the stats and the eye test say he was well-below-average. He’s never going to live down his misplay in Game One of the 2013 ALDS, which led to a five-run inning:

Going forward, I think you have to consider Myers a full-time first baseman who can handle the outfield in a pinch. I’m not sure putting him back in the outfield full-time is a good idea at this point of his career. Myers has moved around an awful lot in his career and it seems he’s finally found a comfortable home at first base.

Injury History

Injuries, specifically injuries to both wrists, limited Myers to only 147 of 324 possible games in 2014 and 2015. Wrist injuries are a pretty big deal. They’re known to sap offensive production — you can’t hit if you can’t grip the bat properly — even after the player is given the green light to return to game action. Here are Myers’ notable injuries:

2011: Missed a month with a knee infection in the minors.
2014: Missed close to three months with a fractured right wrist.
2015: Missed close to four months with left wrist inflammation and later surgery.

That’s the big stuff. Myers has missed a few days here and there because he was sore after getting hit by a pitch, stuff like that, but every player deals with that. I’m not sure what brought about the knee infection, though it hasn’t given him any problems since. The 2014 wrist fracture was the result of a full speed outfield collision …

… which is sort of a dumb fluky thing, but it happened and it did real damage to his wrist. The 2015 wrist injury is a bit more complicated. According to Dennis Lin, Myers missed a month because a tendon became inflamed after rubbing up against a bone spur he’d had since high school. After a month on the shelf, Myers returned, played three games, felt renewed discomfort in the wrist, then landed back on the DL. He had surgery to remove the bone spur in June and was able to return to the field in September.

It can be easy to dismiss this stuff — the fracture was the result of a collision and the bone spur was taken out, so what’s the big deal? — but again, this is real damage to his wrists. Myers is mashing this season and is presumably healthy, but will he be prone to nagging wrist issues in the future? Does the fracture and/or surgery mean he’ll have to deal with some inflammation from time to time? These are the kind of questions teams will ask themselves before agreeing to a trade.

Contract Status

It feels like Myers has been around forever, but he started this season with only two years and 104 days of service time time. The Rays did what they do and kept Myers in the minors long enough in 2013 that they not only delayed his free agency, they made sure he won’t be Super Two eligible either. Now the Padres or some other team will benefit.

Myers is under team control through 2019 and he’ll be arbitration-eligible every year from 2017-19, so while he will still be relatively cheap, he’s not going to be making the league minimum either. Jason Heyward and Dexter Fowler made $15.95M and $21.1M, respectively, during their three arbitration years. They’re not perfect comps for Myers but they at least give us a ballpark idea of what he’ll earn from 2017-19.

The Rays called Myers up and added him to the 40-man roster in 2013, and he’s never been back to the minors since other than for injury rehab assignments. He has all three minor league options remaining. That also means nothing as far as I’m concerned. If you trade for Myers and have to use one of his minor league options, something has gone wrong. The goal is to trade for this guy and make him one of the center pieces of your lineup right away.

What Would It Take?

Myers has already been involved in two blockbuster trades, and yet neither of them provides any context for his current trade value. He was dealt as a prospect as part of the package for James Shields back in the day, and two years ago he was part of a big four-for-five trade, when he still had five years of control remaining and was coming off the broken wrist. Now Myers is healthy and producing with three years of control left.

Jon Heyman recently reported the Padres want four top tier prospects for Myers, and that’s just not going to happen. As good as he is and as bright as his future looks, Myers has a recent history of wrist injuries and he has “only” three years of team control remaining. I don’t blame the Padres for wanting four high-end prospects. There’s no harm in asking. But that figures to be their initial ask, from which they’re willing to come down.

The list of young first basemen/outfielders traded three years prior to free agency is not particularly long. I went back a few years and found only two who might work as comparables:

  • Justin Upton: Traded from the Diamondbacks to the Braves with Chris Johnson for Martin Prado and four prospects, only one of whom (Randall Delgado) was a top 100 guy. Nick Ahmed, Brandon Drury, and Zeke Spruill were the others.
  • Mark Trumbo: Traded from the Angels to the D’Backs with A.J. Schugel for Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs. Baseball America rated Skaggs as the 12th best prospect in baseball a year earlier.

Colby Rasmus was also traded three years prior to free agency, but that was a very weird trade that involved Rasmus, rental Edwin Jackson, and four relievers. The Cardinals were trying to fill specific needs in an effort to win the 2011 World Series, and hey, it worked. They won the title.

Upton was traded as part of ex-D’Backs GM Kevin Towers’ crusade against strikeouts. He traded away Upton, Chris Young, Mark Reynolds, Adam LaRoche, and Stephen Drew all in a relatively short period of time because he felt his team struck out too much. Trumbo was traded because the Angels needed pitching and had no real place to play him. Albert Pujols was at first, Pujols and Josh Hamilton were going to need time at DH, and C.J. Cron was on the way.

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

Myers is more Upton than Trumbo because he’s a formerly high-end prospect tagged with a ton of expectations. Trumbo has had a nice career, but he didn’t play his first full MLB season until age 25. Myers is 25 now and Upton was traded at 25. He had a very different career path than the other two guys. The Upton trade seems like the best trade benchmark we have, though the inclusion of Johnson, who was a pretty good player back then, complicates things.

Padres GM A.J. Preller is an international players guy. That was his specialty when he was in the Rangers front office and it’s no coincidence he traded Craig Kimbrel for a package headlined by three international prospects. Preller also convinced ownership to spend big in international free agency this summer, which they’ve done. San Diego has gone on a spending spree last week akin to the Yankees’ 2014-15 spending spree.

That’s good, because the Yankees have a ton of international prospects to offer, led by Gary Sanchez and Jorge Mateo. Remember, the Yankees reportedly offered Mateo for Kimbrel last year at the deadline, though that didn’t work out. You’re not going to get a guy like Myers without trading a top prospect like Sanchez or Mateo, and if you ask me, moving Mateo makes more sense. The Yankees have a ton of shortstops in the minors, but they only have one Triple-A catcher who looks like a future middle of the order bat.

Keeping Sanchez might be possible too, since the Padres already have their catcher of the future in defensive wiz Austin Hedges, who is hitting .407/.456/.841 (235 wRC+) in 32 Triple-A games around a broken wrist. I’m getting into your trade proposal sucks territory here, but a package of Mateo plus secondary pieces like Miguel Andujar and Domingo Acevedo could pique Preller’s interest. That’s one top 50 prospect plus two other strong prospects plus whatever else (one of the spare Triple-A outfielders?).

I know that seems like a lot to give up, but it’s really not. Mateo and Acevedo are still in High Class-A and Andujar just got to Double-A last month. Preller would probably want guys closer to the big leagues for Myers, who is pretty damn good and could be the center piece of their rebuild. Mateo plus Andujar plus Acevedo seems like a best case scenario for the Yankees, now that I think about it. Anyway, yeah, it’s going to hurt to get this guy. Young middle of the order bats don’t come cheap.

Wrapping Up

Right now, first base is a question long-term because of Greg Bird‘s shoulder surgery. We all hope and want him to come back and be the guy going forward, but until he gets back out onto the field, it’s tough to know how he’ll perform post-surgery. That’s a serious injury and surgery he had.

Adding Myers and having to figure out how he and Bird could co-exist on the same roster — assuming Bird isn’t traded for Myers, of course — would be one of those problems that isn’t really a problem. First base is open long-term and there’s always the DH spot too. Alex Rodriguez won’t be around forever. There’s always the option of playing Myers in the outfield too. I don’t love that idea, but it’s doable.

The Yankees should be selling at the deadline. They have to start planning for the future and use their veteran assets like Chapman and Beltran to get younger. Myers is one of the few cases where it makes sense to buy and give up young players in a trade. He’s young himself, he offers several years of control, and he’s a legitimate middle of the order thumper with positive plate discipline and batted ball trends. The Yankees sorely lack someone like Myers and pursuing him would be a very smart move in the opinion of this idiot blogger.

Scouting The Trade Market: Javier Baez

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

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

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

The Offense

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Defense

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

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

Injury History

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

Contract Status

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

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

Why Would The Cubs Move Him?

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

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

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

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

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

Wrapping Up

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

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

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

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

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

Scouting The Waiver Market: Ruben Tejada

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

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

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

The Offense

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

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

Ruben Tejada offense

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

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

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

The Defense

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

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

Injury History

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

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

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

Contract Status

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

Waiver Status

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

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

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

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

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

Wrapping Up

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

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

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

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

Scouting The Free Agent Market: David Freese

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

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

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

The Offense

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

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

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

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

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

The Defense

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

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

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

Injury History

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

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

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

Contract Projections

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

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

Wrapping Up

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

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

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

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

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

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Tim Lincecum

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

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

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

The Performance

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

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

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

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

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

The Stuff

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

Tim Lincecum velocity

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

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

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

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

Injury History

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

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

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

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

Contract Projections

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

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

Wrapping Up

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

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

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

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

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