Scouting The Free Agent Market: Brandon McCarthy

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

For the umpteenth consecutive offseason, the Yankees need to add a starter to their rotation this winter, preferably two. Ivan Nova (elbow) won’t be back until at least May while CC Sabathia (knee), Masahiro Tanaka (elbow), and Michael Pineda (shoulder) will all carry injury concerns heading into 2015. Shane Greene and David Phelps are nice pitchers I would rather see penciled in as the sixth and seventh starters rather than numbers four and five.

Earlier this month we heard the Yankees were planning to “aggressively” pursue re-signing right-hander Brandon McCarthy, which makes total sense. He was excellent during his brief time in pinstripes, pitching to a 2.89 ERA (3.22 FIP) in 14 starts and 90.1 innings, and usually that’s enough to get a guy a new contract. McCarthy is arguably the fourth best free agent starter on the market behind Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields though, making him a popular second tier target. Stint in pinstripes aside, is McCarthy actually worth pursuing? Let’s look.

A Quick Note About Performance

During his year and a half with the Diamondbacks, McCarthy was bad. Just … bad. I don’t know how else to put it. He made 40 starts and threw 244.2 innings with Arizona and had a 4.75 ERA and 3.78 FIP. That’s bad. If you allow more than one run for every two innings pitched over that many innings, it’s bad. You really have to squint your eyes and adore the peripherals to ignore the fact that lots of runs were being scored against McCarthy. That is the pitcher’s job at the end the day. Keep runs off the board. Style points don’t matter.

McCarthy reinvented himself as a sinker/cutter pitcher with the Athletics way back in the day — this story has already been told a million times, no need to repeat it here — and he had a 3.29 ERA and 3.22 FIP in 43 starts and 281.2 innings with Oakland during the 2011-12 seasons. That looks an awful lot like the numbers he put during his short time in the Bronx, no? The same FIP and the ERA difference could be sample size noise or the result of the decline in offense around baseball. Or both!

I think it’s important to note here that, within the last few years, a lot of players joined the D’Backs and got worse and/or left the D’Backs and got better. That’s part of the reason GM Kevin Towers was fired in September. Players who are/were thriving elsewhere stunk with Arizona. McCarthy falls into that group. So does Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Martin Prado, Justin Upton, Trevor Bauer, and a bunch of others. It’s happened often enough that it has to be something more than a coincidence at this point.

Change In Stuff & Pitch Selection

Now let’s get down to the nuts and bolts. As you know, McCarthy said the D’Backs did not let him throw his cutter during his time there but the Yankees, who are as cutter-happy as any organization in baseball, allowed him to throw it. It’s easy to attribute his success in New York to the return of his cutter, except that’s not really what happened. Here’s a table from our Season Review post:

% Cutters % Sinkers % Curves % Four-Seamers
2011-12 with A’s 41.3% 36.1% 18.9% 3.7%
2013-14 with D’Backs 23.6% 49.2% 20.1% 7.1%
2014 with Yankees 18.8% 36.0% 20.9% 24.2%

McCarthy only threw 10.3% cutters with the D’Backs before the trade this past season, so yes, he did technically throw more cutters with the Yankees this year. But compared to last season (34.6%) he actually threw fewer. He did throw more sinkers with Arizona, which jibes with the alleged “no cutters” policy, and his curveball usage has remained approximately the same over the years.

It’s possible there is some PitchFX weirdness going on here, particularly during McCarthy’s time with the Yankees. Maybe the system misclassified some cutters as four-seamers — cutters are usually misclassified as sliders and vice versa — and boy, that would explain a lot. Maybe McCarthy actually did throw more straight four-seam fastballs in New York. That could have led to his increased effectiveness as well. I’ve always thought having multiple fastballs was a good foundation for success despite having zero evidence to support it. Just one of those things I believe.

Anyway, here’s something else from our Season Review post. McCarthy added a frickin’ ton of velocity — across the board, not just the fastball(s) — this past summer:

Brandon McCarthy velocity

That’s not a slight uptick in velocity. McCarthy added 3.2 mph to his average curveball velocity, 2.0 mph to his sinker, and 1.5 mph to his cutter from 2013 to 2014. That’s substantial and who in the world knows if it will last next year. We’ll get into McCarthy’s injury history and offseason workout routine in a bit, but adding roughly two miles an hour to your arsenal across the board at age 31 is not something that happens all that often.

So, with that in mind, let’s take a second to look at the effectiveness of McCarthy’s individual pitches over the years. I’m not going to lump this together by team or whatever, I want see what happened each year because a pitcher’s stuff does change over time. Guys add movement and lose velocity, stuff like that, often unintentionally. It’s unavoidable. The innings build up and the arm can’t do what it once did. Here are the swing-and-miss rates and ground ball rates of McCarthy’s individual pitches over the years (via Brooks Baseball):

CT Whiff% CT GB% SNK Whiff% SNK GB% CB Whiff% CB GB% FB Whiff% FB GB%
2011 12.9% 38.0% 4.0% 53.5% 9.6% 54.5% 5.0% 0.0%
2012 10.2% 35.1% 4.3% 41.4% 9.9% 48.1% 1.9% 40.0%
2013 8.0% 37.7% 4.5% 58.2% 7.9% 54.3% 11.6% 33.3%
2014 8.6% 44.4% 8.4% 59.1% 11.4% 54.5% 14.6% 39.4%
MLB AVG 9.7% 43.0% 5.4% 49.5% 11.1% 48.7% 6.9% 37.9%

That table isn’t as messy as I expected. Phew. It’s best to read each column top to bottom, don’t try reading across each row.

McCarthy had four pitches that were above-average at getting ground balls this past season and three that were above-average at getting swings and misses. That is really, really good. You’ll be quite successful if you can do that. In the past though, only the sinker and curveball were reliably above-average at getting ground balls and McCarthy’s best swing-and-miss pitch was his cutter … until he got to Arizona.

Whiff rates and grounder rates tend to stabilize very quickly, within the first 100-150 pitches of each individual pitch, a level McCarthy has easily cleared the last four years. There’s no sample size issue this year. The improvement in McCarthy’s swing-and-miss and ground ball rates seem to be tied directly to his uptick in velocity. More velocity means more swings and misses, that’s been analyzed and correlated to death. The same is not necessarily true for ground balls overall, but it could be for McCarthy given the movement on his pitches.

This brings us back to where we were before: is McCarthy going to sustain this improved velocity? Normally the answer would be no, a 31-year-old pitcher with McCarthy’s of injury history won’t continue throwing this hard, but there might be other factors in play here, specifically his health. I’ll get into that in a bit, I promise. The other question is can he remain effective even if the velocity isn’t here to stay? I don’t see why not, velocity isn’t everything, but at the end of the day we’re not going to know the answer to either of those questions until he actually gets back on a mound in 2015 and pitches.

The Ugly Injury History

McCarthy’s injury history is scary as hell. It’s almost all shoulder problems too, which are extra scary. McCarthy nearly died after being hit in the head by a line drive in September 2012 — he needed emergency surgery for a epidural hemorrhage, a brain contusion, and a skull fracture — but, as serious as that was, it was a fluke injury and he has since made a full recovery. The shoulder problems are chronic.

From 2007-13, McCarthy visited the disabled list at least once each season with some kind of arm injury. Again, most of them shoulder problems. Here’s the list:

  • 2007: Stress fracture in his shoulder, missed 31 days.
  • 2008: Forearm/elbow tightness and inflammation, missed 157 days.
  • 2009: Stress fracture in his shoulder, missed 88 days.
  • 2010: Stress fracture in his shoulder, missed 172 days.
  • 2011: Stress fracture in his shoulder, missed 45 days.
  • 2012: Shoulder soreness/strain, missed 86 days.
  • 2013: Shoulder soreness, missed 63 days.
  • 2014: Healthy!

Like I said, scary. Scary scary scary. But the good news is McCarthy stayed healthy in 2014 — he threw 200 innings on the nose between the Yankees and D’Backs after never throwing more than 170.2 innings in a season — and it has now been three full years since he last suffered a stress fracture in his shoulder. Soreness and strains keep you off the mound just as well, but “stress fracture” just sounds scarier. Maybe I have that backwards and the soreness and strains are the bigger issue. I’m not a doctor, I just play one on a blog.

In an effort to stay healthy this past season, McCarthy changed up his offseason routine last winter and focused on getting stronger. “I spent a lot of time in the off-season working on that, doing everything I could to get to a place where I was as strong as I could be physically and mentally,” he said to Nick Piecoro in Spring Training. “That’s shown up early. I feel like myself again. With that, in games I’m sharper, more focused, and the results kind of follow that. Now it’s just staying in that same place.”

The new offseason routine apparently worked, because McCarthy stayed healthy all season and he came out throwing much harder than ever before. There is a tangible reason behind the improved health and velocity. It’s not like he kept doing what he doing before but suddenly stayed healthy and started throwing harder this past summer. Remember when the Yankees signed A.J. Burnett? Almost all the talk at the time was about how much of an injury risk he was, yet Burnett stayed healthy and has thrown at least 185 innings in each of the last seven years. Injury prone pitchers can suddenly become durable, even after age 30.

Contract Estimates

Let’s defer to people a lot smarter than me for what it might take to sign Mr. McCarthy this winter:

Jon Heyman reported last week that McCarthy is waiting to see what Lester, Scherzer, and Shields get before signing himself. I’m sure he’d sign quickly if a team makes him a nice offer, but waiting to see what those three get isn’t a bad strategy. It’s not like the pitching market will dry up completely once those guys sign, and McCarthy would only make himself that much more valuable by being the best available starter later in the offseason.

Given what we’ve seen early this offseason as well as the last two or three offseasons, I’m guessing the first team to step forward and offer that third guaranteed year will get McCarthy. A deal that long can be scary for a pitcher with his injury history, so the team would either have to be very desperate or very comfortable with his medicals. The Yankees had McCarthy for a few weeks this year and got to see his work ethic and that sort of stuff firsthand. That matters. It doesn’t hurt that they had plenty of time to review his medicals and various routines either.

If the Yankees are serious about avoided long-term contracts this offseason — we’ve already seen reports to the contrary and it’s not even Thanksgiving, so who knows — they’re unlikely to find a better pitcher on a short-term contract that McCarthy. There are major concerns about his injury history and legitimate questions about whether the velocity uptick is a long-term thing, but good luck finding a non-elite pitcher without some kind of question marks. That the Yankees are planning to “aggressively” pursue McCarthy tells me they are comfortable with the medicals, and that’s a necessary step one for bringing him back to New York.

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Scouting the Free Agent Market: Max Scherzer

Max Scherzer Yankees
(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Pay close attention to the wording of this quote, which surfaced in a story earlier this month about the Yankees and the free agent market, via Mark Feinsand of the Daily News:

According to a source, the Yankees have no plans to pursue either [Max] Scherzer or [Jon] Lester, the top two free agents on the market this winter. Shields, the third-best free-agent starter, is also off the Bombers’ radar, as is Sandoval, the Giants’ postseason hero who was given a $15.3 million qualifying offer by San Francisco before Monday’s deadline.

What it doesn’t say: That the Yankees have plans not to pursue these players.

Currently I have no plans to leave the house today. But if I open the fridge to make lunch and see that we’re out of turkey, I’ll probably visit the grocery story. The circumstances changed.

If I had plans not to leave the house, well, maybe I scrounge up something else for lunch. I really didn’t want to leave the house for whatever reason, so the circumstances changing doesn’t phase me. Perhaps I even accounted for there not being turkey in the fridge and adjusted accordingly before even opening the fridge.

It therefore comes as little surprise* that Jon Heyman reports that the Yankees might indeed pursue Scherzer. Between Masahiro Tanaka‘s elbow and CC Sabathia‘s knee, not to mention his recently declining performance, the Yankees have huge question marks atop the rotation. Scherzer, the top-ranked free agent per MLBTR’s list (and predicted to land on the Yankees), could help carry the load if Tanaka and Sabathia falter.

*For a number of reasons.

Scherzer, the No. 11 pick in the 2006 draft, took a big step forward in 2012. While his ERA was right in line with his career average, his strikeout rate jumped to 11.1 from his 8.7 career average. He’s averaged more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings since. That set him up for his Cy Young season in 2013, followed by another high quality season in 2014.

Let’s dig in.

Ace in His Prime

It took a while for him to blossom, but Scherzer as a bona fide ace at this point in his career. After cruising to the AL Cy Young Award in 2013, capturing 28 of 30 first place votes, he followed up with a solid season and a fifth place finish in the Cy Young voting.

From a fielding independent perspective, Scherzer’s 2014 was every bit as good as his 2013. His strikeout, walk, and home run numbers remained consistent. In 2014 he made one more start than in 2013, which accounts for the 5.2-inning discrepancy. The most noticeable difference was — you must have guessed it at this point — his BABIP: .259 in 2013 vs .315 in 2014. While the .259 figure is unsustainably low, the .315 number is a bit above both his career and the league averages.

That is to say, even if he doesn’t have another monster 2013 season in him, he seems capable of exceeding his 2014 performance in the future. Entering his age 30 season, there’s every chance he has one big Cy Young season left in his arm.

Where Scherzer ranks among MLB pitchers, 2013-2014

IP 434.2 6th
K% 28.3% 3rd
ERA 3.02 11th
FIP 2.79 6th

He’s not Clayton Kershaw. He’s not Felix Hernandez. But he’s in the conversation with pretty much everyone else.

The Necessary Durability

Max Scherzer
(AP Photo)

Early in his career, Scherzer looked like he might have injury troubles. A bout of biceps tendinitis towards the end of college hurt his draft stock. Considered the top right-handed pitching prospect before the 2006 season, he was the sixth one selected in the draft. (Although can we even count the Pirates’ absurd decision to draft Brad Lincoln fourth?)

Shoulder inflammation caused Scherzer to miss time in 2008 and 2009, which perhaps led the Diamondbacks to trade him to the Tigers in exchange for Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy (from the Yankees, who received Curtis Granderson).

From there, though, Scherzer’s injury slate is as clean as you can expect from a pitcher. The shoulder problem cropped up in 2012 — the Tigers termed it fatigue — but it has had seemingly no long-term effects. Scherzer hasn’t been on the DL since the start of the 2009 season.

Scherzer also has relatively little mileage on his arm, at least when compared to other free agent pitchers. From Heyman:

One reason they like Scherzer is an unusual lack of wear and tear on his arm. For instance, he didn’t reach 1,230 innings until he was 29, compared to 26 for Sabathia, and an amazing 24 by Tanaka, who obviously started young.

Among the top free-agent pitchers, Scherzer has thrown by far the fewest pitches, with 20,954, to 26,321 for Lester, and 29,461 for James Shields.

Fly Ball Pitcher in a Small Park

If there is any negative to Scherzer, beyond the standard risk of a long-term contract to a 30-year-old, it is his fly ball tendencies. In 2013 and 2014 Scherzer had the 10th lowest ground ball rate in the majors. That might have worked well at Comerica — rotation-mate Justin Verlander induced the 17th-fewest ground balls in that span — but Yankee Stadium is a different story entirely.

Would it be sensationalist of me to point out that Phil Hughes induced the sixth-fewest ground balls in 2013-2014? That worked very well for him at Target Field, even got him a couple of down-ballot Cy Young votes. I needn’t even describe his performance at Yankee Stadium the year prior.

No, Scherzer will not go from Cy Young candidate to Phil Frickin Hughes just because he’s moving to the same park where Phil failed. But it’s something to consider.

Contract Estimates

As the #1 ranked free agent on basically everyone’s lists, Scherzer is due for quite a payday. This contract will set Scherzer, and his children, and probably his grandchildren, for life. Scherzer already rejected six years and $144 million from the Tigers. So how much more will he get?

Bowden is uncanny with his picks, and seven years at $27 million per year seems well within the realm of possibility. The last free agent starter of Scherzer’s caliber was Zack Greinke, who got six years at $24.5 million per year following the 2012 season. Perhaps the presences of Lester and Shields will keep Scherzer’s price closer to $175 or $168 million, but it’s hard to bet against the higher number at this point.

In Conclusion

The Yankees need pitching. The only starters they can reasonably pencil in on Opening Day are Michael Pineda, David Phelps, and Shane Greene. Sabathia’s knee could blow out in Spring Training. So could Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow. Since Phelps and Greene are better suited to depth roles, rather than being relied upon, bringing in two pitchers might be necessary for the Yankees this off-season.

If they want the best, Scherzer is there for the signing. It would bump up their payroll a couple orders of magnitude higher than the $189 million goal they failed to reach last off-season. But as FanGraphs writer Kiley McDaniel heard from a Yankees source: “they could break even financially with a $500 million payroll expenditure (including luxury tax).”

Missing the postseason two straight years has undoubtedly hurt the bottom line. If the Yankees are ready to spend money in order to make money, they might not have any better place to invest than Scherzer.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Stephen Drew

(Alex Goodlett/Getty)
(Alex Goodlett/Getty)

The Yankees have a bunch of needs this offseason like every other team, yet because they need to replace the iconic Derek Jeter, I think the hole at shortstop will be discussed more than anything. Don’t get me wrong, needing a shortstop is a big deal, but the club also needs help at either second or third base and on the mound. I just think the search for a shortstop is going to get a ton of attention. A ton.

As Brian Cashman said earlier this week, the trade market for shortstops is limited right at the moment. The free agent market offers a bunch of imperfect solutions now that J.J. Hardy has re-upped with the Orioles, as Hanley Ramirez, Jed Lowrie, and Asdrubal Cabrera all belong at other positions. The only true shortstop left in free agency is a player who spent the last two months of 2014 playing second base for the Yankees: Stephen Drew.

Cashman acknowledged he will “have a conversation with” Drew’s agent Scott Boras this offseason and they’re planning to “stay in touch and see where it takes us.” Drew had a miserable 2014 season, first getting hung out to dry by the qualifying offer system then not hitting a lick once he did finally land a job in late-May. There is some thought that a regular Spring Training would help him next year, but who really knows? Does bringing Drew back make sense anyway? Let’s try to find out.

The Injury History

I think we have to start with Drew’s recent injury history. His problems all started in July 2011, when he destroyed his ankle sliding into home plate. It was ugly. He caught a spike sliding into the plate and his foot basically turned the opposite way. Drew shattered his ankle and tore a ton of ligaments. He had surgery and it kept him out almost an entire season — Drew didn’t return to the field until June 2012.

Then in Spring Training last year, Drew was hit in the head by a pitch and suffered a concussion. It kept him out for a bit more than a full month and forced him to start the season on the disabled list. Drew missed three weeks with a hamstring strain last summer and missed two weeks with a hamstring strain back in 2009, but that’s nothing, really. It happens. His two most severe injuries, the ankle and the concussion, were fluke injuries and not some kind of chronic problem. That doesn’t mean they haven’t affected his game though. Drew hasn’t really been the same player since the ankle injury, coincidence or not.

The Sagging Offense

Once upon a time, Drew was one of the better hitting shortstop in the game. He put up a .278/.352/.458 (113 wRC+) line with 15 homers in 2010 — remember the days when a batting line like that was only 13% better than league average? I miss offense — but was hitting only .252/.317/.396 (92 wRC+) with five homers in 354 plate appearances when he hurt his ankle in 2011. After returning in 2012, Drew hit only .223/.309/.348 (80 wRC) with seven homers in 327 plate appearances. He wasn’t particularly good before or after the ankle injury.

Then, with the Red Sox in 2013, Drew managed to hit .253/.333/.443 (109 wRC+) with 13 homers in 501 plate appearances. It was part of the whole “everything’s going right” thing that swept through Boston that summer (and most World Series winning teams each year). Drew then hit a very weak .162/.237/.299 (44 wRC+) with seven homers in exactly 300 plate appearances this past season between the Red Sox and Yankees. He didn’t have a normal Spring Training in 2012 (ankle), 2013 (concussion), or 2014 (qualifying offer mess), remember.

All together, we’re talking about a player who has hit .228/.305/.382 (85 wRC+) in a bit less than 1,500 plate appearances over the last four seasons. That’s broken down into .243/.326/.410 (100 wRC+) against righties and .192/.252/.313 (50 wRC+) against lefties, making him a pure platoon player. Drew’s one good year since 2011 came in hitter friendly Fenway Park —  he hit .283/.367/.491 (127 wRC+) at home and .222/.295/.392 (88 wRC+) on the road — which is a bit weird because Fenway usually doesn’t favor dead pull left-handed hitters. Or at least it doesn’t favor them as much as pull happy righties.

Now, that said, Drew is a dead pull left-handed hitter, which ostensibly makes him a good fit for Yankee Stadium. Drew didn’t hit in the Bronx last year (19 wRC+) and other pull happy lefties like Kelly Johnson and Travis Hafner didn’t tear the cover off the ball during their time in pinstripes, so the short porch does not guarantee success all by itself. More important than the ballpark situation is Drew’s continually increasing strikeout rate and propensity to hit fly balls:

PA K% BB% GB% FB% LD% O-Zwing% Z-Swing% Swing% Contact%
2010 633 17.1% 9.8% 40.2% 40.8% 19.0% 24.6% 60.7% 42.3% 82.6%
2011 354 20.9% 8.5% 38.9% 40.5% 20.6% 23.8% 61.0% 42.6% 79.3%
2012 327 23.2% 11.3% 32.2% 40.2% 27.6% 18.9% 56.6% 38.2% 79.5%
2013 501 24.8% 10.8% 33.2% 41.6% 25.2% 22.6% 57.1% 40.5% 77.7%
2014 300 25.0% 9.0% 31.3% 51.3% 17.4% 23.6% 61.3% 43.1% 78.8%

Drew’s plate discipline hasn’t changed all that much these last five years. For whatever reason he didn’t swing as much as usual in 2012, either at pitches in (Z-Swing%) or out (O-Swing%) of the zone, but otherwise his swing and contact rates have held steady the last few seasons. He’s drawing the same number of walks but his strikeout rate is climbing, faster than the ever-increasing league-wide strikeout rate. If Drew isn’t swinging at substantially more pitches out of the zone or making substantially less contact in general, it suggests that maybe selectivity is the problem. He’s taking too many hittable pitches. I dunno.

The fly ball stuff is a bigger problem than the increased strikeouts because fly balls will kill a player’s batting average, especially when the player’s average fly ball distance has gradually declined over the last few seasons like Drew’s (via Baseball Heat Maps):

Stephen Drew batted ball distance cropped

It’s not a huge decline, but it’s a decline nonetheless. Most 250-something-foot fly balls are caught for outs. Especially these days with teams focusing on defense more than ever. Drew’s batting average continues to sink and this explains why, at least somewhat. (Remember, batted ball data includes some scorer’s bias. One scorer’s fly ball is another’s line drive.) More strikeouts and more medium-depth fly balls has killed Drew’s offensive production these last few years, and not all of it can be blamed on the traumatic ankle injury either.

Now, that said, I don’t think Drew will be as bad as he was last year again. He almost can’t be that bad again, right? He is only 31 (32 in March) and he’s an athletic guy, so falling off from a 109 wRC+ in 2013 to a 44 wRC+ in 2014 and having that be his true talent level doesn’t seem possible to me. I’m not saying he’s a true talent 109 wRC+ guy either. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. I just don’t know know where. Drew’s last few seasons have been very weird. The scouting report will be a huge factor here. Forget the numbers; how do teams think he’s looked?

Glovework

The Yankees moved Drew to second base in deference to Jeter last year even though he had never played a position other than shortstop in his entire career, MLB or minors. He had some inexperience-related hiccups at first but settled in eventually, and I thought he actually looked quite good at second by the end of the season. That’s a testament to his athleticism and baseball instincts, I think.

Of course, the Yankees would be looking at Drew as their regular shortstop now, no questions asked. The defensive stats all agree he was a disaster at short earlier in his career, back around 2006-08, but the numbers have been all over the map these last five seasons. Here are the stats:

Innings at SS DRS UZR Total Zone FRAA
2010 1,259.1  0 8.9 -2 -2.3
2011 731.1 3 4.3 -1 -2.5
2012 658.2 -7 -7.0 -4 -4.2
2013 1,093.1 -2 5.3 -3 -4.6
2014 413.1 4 3.0 -2 -0.3
Total 4,156.0 -2 14.5 -12 -13.9

So we’ve got some differences of opinion, huh? Both Total Zone and FRAA have rated Drew as consistently below-average while UZR has him above-average with the exception of 2012, which makes sense because he was coming off the ankle injury. DRS is all over the place. I guess that means the consensus is he’s below-average in the field?

That goes against what my eyes tell me. I’ve always thought Drew was very good in the field. But my opinion could be skewed after watching hundreds and thousands of ground balls scoot by Jeter over the years. I’d like to think I watch enough non-Yankees baseball to know an above-average shortstop when I see one, but maybe my brain needs to be re-calibrated. For what it’s worth, Keith Law (subs. req’d) said he believes Drew “can play average defense at shortstop for 120 games or so” in 2015.

Contract Estimates

It’s obvious at this point Drew is going to wind up a one-year “prove yourself” contract. Maybe something with a low base salary and a ton of incentives based on plate appearances. That would be the best case scenario for the team, not so much Drew himself. Here are some contract estimates from around the world wide baseball web:

  • FanGraphs Crowdsourcing: One year at $7M.
  • Keith Law (subs. req’d): One year at $8M to $10M.
  • Jim Bowden (subs. req’d): One year at $8M. (He predicted the Victor Martinez contract exactly. Like I said, he’s so weirdly excellent at this.)

Sounds about right to me. Drew signed for the pro-rated qualifying offer last year and wound up taking home approximately $10.1M. A one-year deal at $8M would represent a pay cut strikes me as fair value. You’d be asking the guy to be your starting shortstop. That job doesn’t pay, like, $2M on the open market, even after the year Drew had.

In Conclusion

Drew might be the most complicated and difficult to analyze free agent on the market this winter. Between his awful but Spring Training-less season in 2014, his injuries from 2011-13, and his production in 2013, who knows who the real Stephen Drew is? The best case scenario seems to be the 2013 version and the worst case scenario (2014) was so bad I can’t possibly believe that’s the real him. It can’t be, right?

I think we can all agree Plan A for filling the shortstop hole this offseason would be acquiring a young player who could man the position not only in 2015, but for the next five or six years as well. I prefer Starlin Castro but maybe you prefer someone like Didi Gregorius or Jose Iglesias. That’s cool. We all have our own favorite flavors. But trading for that young shortstop might not be possible. Trading for an older shortstop like Alexei Ramirez or Jimmy Rollins might not be possible either.

If that is the case, the Yankees will have to decide between going short-term and rolling the dice with Drew on a one-year contract, or committing multiple years and many millions of dollars to another free agent like Hanley, Asdrubal, or Lowrie. Drew’s recent history is ugly and there are a lot of reasons not to sign him. But, if the Yankees opt for one of the other free agents, chances are they’ll have to move that guy to another position and find themselves looking for a shortstop again next winter, just like they will be if they sign Drew.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Chase Headley

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees both do and do not have a third baseman for next season. Yes, Alex Rodriguez, the team’s starting third baseman from 2004 through 2013-ish is under contract and has finished serving his suspension, but the Yankees are not counting on him to play the field at all.  “Nobody here expects him to play third,” said one team official flatly to Jeff Passan. A-Rod is 39 years old and he’s played 44 games over the last two years. It would be foolish to count on him playing the field.

So yes, the Yankees have a third baseman. But they don’t, really, so they’re out looking for one this winter. They got lucky with Yangervis Solarte for a few months this past season but probably don’t want to try that again. Brian Cashman confirmed the team has had a “brief conversation” with Chase Headley, who was so very rock solid for the Yankees after being acquired at midseason, but is a free agent with plenty of suitors. The Red Sox, Giants, and White Sox are also reportedly looking for help at the hot corner. Does bringing Headley back actually make sense though? Let’s look.

The Defense

Let’s start with Headley’s defense at third because it’ll be nice and easy. We saw him for two months this past season and he was outstanding at third base, legitimately Gold Glove caliber. He had range, first step quickness, a strong arm, the works. It was no aberration either. He’s been this good for a while and various defensive stats back it up:

Innings at 3B DRS UZR Total Zone FRAA
2010 1407.2 14 16.5 14 -0.2
2011 895.1 1 -3.8 -8 -9.0
2012 1397.0 -3 7.3 10 -6.3
2013 1235.0 5 7.0 7 -8.1
2014 1082.2 13 20.9 17 3.2

I honestly have no idea what’s going on with FRAA, the preferred defensive metric over at Baseball Prospectus. When three of the systems are pointing in one direction and the fourth is pointing in other, I’m going to throw out the fourth and stick with the other three. FRAA saying Headley has consistently been a below-average fielder throughout his career doesn’t pass the sniff test at all. Weird.

Anyway, since becoming a full-time third baseman back in 2010 — the Padres had him play a bunch of left field earlier in his career because they had Kevin Kouzmanoff at third — Headley has been solidly above-average in the field most years. He looked great at third base this year and the numbers agree. That’s good enough for me. I have no trouble accepting Headley as an asset in the field whatsoever. He’s very good.

That’s at third base. First base is a bit of a different story. (He hasn’t played left field since 2009 and I don’t think he’s going to do it again anytime soon.) The Yankees stuck him there for a few games this season and he looked inexperienced, to put it nicely. He looked inexperienced because he was inexperienced — prior to coming to New York, Headley had a grand total of three career innings at first base in his career. One inning in 2009 and two in 2012. Zero in the minors. Yet the Yankees were comfortable enough to stick him over there for 54 innings late in the season and he made the best of it. He’s a third baseman first and foremost. That part is clear.

The Up And Down (And Up Again) Offense

I’ve liked Headley for a really long time, dating back to his college days at Tennessee. He was a switch-hitter with power and patience coming up through the minors and early on in his career, and I thought he’d be a star-caliber hitter during his peak years if he ever got out of spacious Petco Park. That hasn’t happened, though Headley did have a huge year back in 2012 (145 wRC+) while playing in Petco. Here’s how his career has shaken out offensively (he became a regular at age 25):


Source: FanGraphsChase Headley

Headley progressively got better once he became a full-time player, peaked in 2012, and has progressively gotten worse since. He’s never actually been a below-average hitter though. Not as a regular. At worst he was an average hitter, once you adjust for ballpark and the offensive environment around the league and all that. There’s nothing sexy about being average, but average would be an upgrade for the Yankees, sadly.

As you know, Headley was much more productive with the Yankees after the trade than he was with the Padres before the trade this past year. He hit .229/.296/.355 (90 wRC+) with seven homers in 307 plate appearances for San Diego before hitting .262/.371/.398 (121 wRC+) with six homers in 224 plate appearances for New York. Explaining why Headley’s offense improved after the trade is a bit tricky and it isn’t all park-related.

Obviously we aren’t dealing with the biggest of samples, and I’m sure there’s a psychological component we can’t account for. Headley went from being The Man in the lineup in a terrible hitter’s park to being just another guy on a team with a good home park for hitters. Let’s look at his plate discipline and batted ball numbers to see what’s going on there:

PA GB% FB% LD% HR/FB% O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Contact%
’10 674 46.1% 36.0% 17.9% 6.4% 27.6% 61.1% 44.0% 80.0%
’11 439 45.8% 32.3% 21.9% 4.3% 25.2% 62.5% 42.4% 79.9%
’12 699 48.5% 32.1% 19.5% 21.4% 25.7% 67.2% 44.5% 74.7%
’13 600 46.1% 31.3% 22.6% 10.9% 28.1% 67.2% 45.9% 74.3%
’14 – SD 307 39.3% 34.0% 26.7% 10.0% 27.6% 61.9% 44.0% 78.3%
’14 – NY 224 42.6% 29.1% 28.4% 14.6% 23.6% 61.6% 40.9% 82.4%

Plate discipline and batted ball stats are among the quickest to stabilize in baseball — they usually settle in around the 200-250 plate appearance mark, which Headley cleared in pinstripes. His HR/FB% increased after the trade and that makes perfect sense given Yankee Stadium. For whatever reason he swung at fewer pitches with the Yankees, both inside and outside the zone, and he made more contact when he did swing. Improved selectivity? The Yankees and former hitting coach Kevin Long do preach patience, after all. It’s not just about drawing walks, it’s also about swinging at better pitches.

Anyway, Headley’s offensive performance ticked up after the trade and that’s why we’re talking about the Yankees possibly re-signing him. If he came over and didn’t hit a lick, I don’t think anyone would want him back regardless of his defense. The real Headley is probably somewhere between the 90 wRC+ he put up with the Padres and the 121 wRC+ he put up with the Yankees in 2014. (For what it’s worth, Steamer projects a 112 wRC+ in 2015.) Considering the Yankees have gotten an 87 wRC+ out of their third baseman the last two years, I find it hard to think Headley won’t be an upgrade going forward. On both sides of the ball too. At the plate and in the field.

Durability Concerns

Headley has been on the disabled three times in his career and two involved fluke injuries. He missed six weeks after breaking his pinky sliding into a base in 2011, then he missed four weeks after breaking his thumb sliding into a base in 2013. Maybe he needs to spend more time on sliding drills in Spring Training or something. The third DL stint was for a calf strain this past season. He returned after the minimum 15 days.

That stuff really isn’t much of a concern. None of them are chronic injuries or anything. Headley’s back is a bit a concern even though it’s never sidelined him for more than a week, nevermind sent him to the DL. He missed a few days at the very start of Spring Training in 2012 with lower back stiffness, then missed one game with the same problem that May. More lower back stiffness sidelined him for seven days in August 2013. This past June, Headley missed four games and received an epidural to deal with a herniated disc.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Back injuries never really get better, they just get more manageable. They affect everything too. Hitting, fielding, running, walking, sitting in the dugout … I’m not kidding when I say everything. The epidural seemed to do the trick and Headley was both healthy — he did miss a few games after taking that Jake McGee fastball to the chin, another fluke injury — and very productive after the epidural. In fact, Cashman cited Headley’s improved “hit velo” after the procedure as a reason for making the trade.

Headley will turn 31 next May, so he’s not old but he’s not a spring chicken either. Any sort of back problem is a red flag, especially when it’s slowly progressed from stiffness to a herniated disc that required an epidural. Is that enough of a reason to not sign Headley at all? Maybe, if the medicals don’t check out well. The Yankees did have him around for a few weeks, so they do know something about his injury history firsthand, which can only help them make a better decision. I don’t know how much of a red flag the back is, but I do know it’s not something that can be ignored.

Contract Estimates

I am absolutely terrible at estimating free agent contracts. Especially ones for everyday players. I’ll hit on the occasional bench player or reliever from time to time, often enough to keep me guessing, but I’m really bad at it overall. So let’s look at some other kinda sorta informed Headley contract estimations from around the web:

  • FanGraphs Crowdsourcing: Four years at $14M per season ($56M total).
  • Keith Law (subs. req’d): Three or four years at $13M to $14M per season.
  • Jim Bowden (subs. req’d): Three years at $9M per season ($27M total).

Bowden has been weirdly excellent at predicting free agent contracts the last few offseasons, so I figured it was worth it to include him here. I think he’s a bit off with Headley though. A three or four-year deal at $14M or so per season seems much more likely than a deal that only pays him $9M per year.

A four-year contract worth $46M is right in line with the contracts signed by Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson the last two winters, for reference. I think Headley has similar value as those two, though the shape of his production is different. He’s some offense and a lot of defense. Swisher and Granderson were a lot of offense and some defense. Maybe that means he won’t get four years and $56M since offense pays a lot more than defense, even nowadays.

In Conclusion

In a nutshell, Headley offers one positive (his defense) and two negatives (declining offense and bad back). His offense did improve after joining the Yankees for whatever reason and that wasn’t completely unexpected. And, again, Headley has never been a below-average hitter since becoming a regular. Even at his worst, he’s been league average. A league average hitter with above-average defense is a very good player and a big upgrade for the Yankees. It basically comes down to how comfortable the team is with the health of his back.

The Yankees have a clear need at third base in the short-term. Their top third base prospects are Eric Jagielo and Miguel Andujar, who figure to open next season with Double-A Trenton and High-A Tampa, respectively. There are also some questions about whether Jagielo will stick at the hot corner long-term. Point is, the Yankees need a third baseman in 2015 as well as 2016 and probably 2017 as well. Counting on prospects who are several years away is no way to operate. Wait until they’re knocking on the door before worrying where they fit.

Unlike Pablo Sandoval, who seems destined for a five or six-year contract at $16M+ per season, Headley figures to come on a shorter contract that is more payroll friendly. He fills an obvious positional need and will greatly improve the team’s awful infield defense while improving the offense to a lesser extent. Considering Sandoval and Headley are the only no doubt third basemen on the free agent market both this year and next — the best free agent third basemen next winter will be David Freese, Aramis Ramirez, and Juan Uribe, assuming Adrian Beltre’s option vests — it makes sense for the Yankees to push their chips into the middle of the table and plug a potentially long-standing hole this winter.

Scouting The Trade Market: Elvis Andrus

(Sarah Glenn/Getty)
(Sarah Glenn/Getty)

For the first time in two decades, the Yankees are looking for a shortstop this offseason. Derek Jeter has retired and the club doesn’t have an in-house replacement, not unless you count Brendan Ryan. I sure don’t. The free agent market has some imperfect shortstop options and, when he arrived at the GM Meetings in Phoenix yesterday, Brian Cashman also acknowledged the trade market is thin.

“I think it’s a limited market, and I say limited in terms of availability or acquisition cost. To me, I would describe the shortstop market as limited,” said Cashman to Adam Rubin and Mark Feinsand yesterday. “It’s a limited market. We’re going to talk with the available free agents, and we’ll talk as well, trade with other teams.”

Both Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman reported yesterday that the Yankees have some level of interest in Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, and that makes sense. He’s a true shortstop and he’s a big-ish name. That’s the kind of player usually connected to the Yankees. Texas has a bevy of young middle infielders — their MLB-readiness is up for debate, of course — in Jurickson Profar, Rougned Odor, and Luis Sardinas, so Andrus could be the odd man out. But does he actually make sense for the Yankees? Let’s look.

Declining Offense

Six years ago, Andrus skipped right over Triple-A and broke into MLB as a 20-year-old. His .267/.329/.373 (81 wRC+) batting line that year was comfortably below-average but also understandable because, well, he was a 20-year-old shortstop who skipped Triple-A. Andrus hit .265/.342/.301 (75 wRC+) with zero homers (in Texas!) in 674 plate appearances as a sophomore in 2010. A .342 OBP is pretty awesome but he had no power at all. On the bright side, he stole 33 and 32 bases in those first two seasons.

Andrus took what looked to be a big step forward in 2011 and then again in 2012. He hit .279/.347/.361 (93 wRC+) with 37 steals in 2011 and followed that up with .286/.349/.378 (97 wRC+) line with a career-low 21 steals in 2012. Remember, Andrus was still only 23 years old in 2012, and he was nearly a league-average hitter at the MLB level. It sure looked like his offense was starting to coming around those two years, but then this happened:


Source: FanGraphsElvis Andrus

Instead of building on those strong 2011-12 seasons, Andrus has gone backwards these last two years. By a lot too. He hit .271/.328/.331 (79 wRC+) last season and more or less matched it with a .263/.314/.333 (79 wRC+) line this past season. That he stole 42 and then 27 bases is almost an afterthought. Andrus hit .267/.321/.332 (79 wRC+) in the very not small sample of 1,383 plate appearances during his age 24-25 seasons. That’s bad. Baaad.

I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that Andrus showed similar plate discipline and had a similar batted ball profile in his uber-disappointing 2013-14 seasons as in his apparent breakout 2011-12 seasons. If the plate discipline and batted ball numbers change significantly, it would suggest a decline (or improvement if you’re going the other way) in his underlying skills. But that isn’t the case:

PA GB% FB% LD% O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Contact%
2011-12 1,376 56.5% 21.0% 22.5% 22.6% 53.9% 39.4% 88.1%
2013-14 1,383 57.5% 21.7% 20.9% 21.6% 54.5% 38.4% 86.4%

So Andrus was more or less the same type of hitter from 2011-12 as he was in 2013-14. He had the same level of plate discipline and was still a ground ball machine, yet the results were significantly worse. Is he simply not as strong and thus the quality of his contract deteriorated? It is worth noting his walk rate has declined in each of the last four years, going from 9.5% in 2010 to 8.4% in 2011 to 8.0% in 2012 to 7.4% in 2013 to 6.7% in 2014. That’s happened despite a relatively tiny increase in his out-of-zone swing rate (O-Swing%) and no change in his strikeout rate (career 13.5%).

Something weird is going on here. Andrus went from the verge of being a league-average contributor to one of the worst hitters in baseball. He’s a career .272/.335/.345 (84 wRC+) hitter in just short of 4,000 plate appearances now. Literally the only reason to think he’ll improve going forward is his age. That’s it. There are red flags aplenty.

Declining Defense Too

Even though he’s never been much of a hitter — the stolen bases are nice, but that’s about it — Andrus has been worthy of a regular lineup spot because he played some real slick defense at shortstop. That isn’t the case anymore, at least if the various stats are to be believed. To a table of great import:

Innings at SS DRS UZR Total Zone FRAA
2009 1,238.0 15 11.9 4 1.0
2010 1,291.1 -7 1.5 2 2.8
2011 1,261.1 7 7.5 9 2.6
2012 1,333.0 8 8.3 4 3.0
2013 1,288.2 11 4.6 3 -5.2
2014 1,309.1 -13 -4.2 -7 -7.8

Obligatory: One year sample sizes of defensive stats really suck!

I simply can’t take defensive stats at face value. I look at all of them and use them directionally. Forget about the exact values. The four main systems say Andrus was above-average as rookie in 2009, so chances are he was pretty good in the field. How much above-average? Who cares. Above-average is enough for me.

The four systems agree Andrus was generally above-average from 2009-2012 — there’s a little hiccup in 2010 — before slipping these last two years. That’s a big problem! He doesn’t hit anymore and now his defense stinks? That sounds like either the league has flat-out caught up to Andrus or there’s a work ethic problem. Andrus did show up to camp overweight this spring after all, and last month he told Gerry Fraley it won’t happen again:

Keeping to his late-season vow to get in better condition, Andrus has dropped about 10 pounds since the end of the season and wants to cut another 10. That would put him at about 195 pounds. He was up to 216 pounds in September and was uncomfortable with the extra weight.

“I’m going to look like 2009 again,” said Andrus, referring to his rookie season.

That’s great. Andrus knows his conditioning was a problem and he’s going to correct it. It’s very possible that will improve his defense next year and get it back to 2009-12 levels simply because he’ll be lighter on his feet and a bit more athletic. From what I can find, he didn’t show up to camp overweight last year, so these seems like an isolated incident. Either way, the declining the defense and recent conditioning issues are another set of red flags.

Durability

The offense is declining and his defense isn’t what it once was, but Andrus deserves major props for staying on the field, especially while playing such a demanding position. He has never once been on the disabled list and he’s played at least 145 games in each of his six MLB seasons. It’s at least 150 games in each of the last four seasons and at least 156 games in each of the last three seasons as well. Only Alexei Ramirez has played more games at shortstop since 2009 (929 vs. 882). Andrus’ ability to stay healthy and on the field is a major plus.

That Contract

Alright, here’s where it gets messy. The Rangers signed Andrus to an eight-year extension worth $120M two years ago … and it finally kicks in next season. He’ll make $15M annually from 2015-20 before a slight drop to $14M in both 2021 and 2022. His contract also includes a $15M vesting option for 2023 that is based on plate appearance totals in seasons that are very far away. Too far away to worry about.

Point is, Andrus has $120M in guaranteed money coming to him over the next eight seasons, all while his offensive numbers have nose-dived and his defense has slipped. I know he’s only 26, but yikes. The Rangers gave him that contract in April 2013, right after his best offensive season. It’s very safe to say Texas was expecting him to continue developing at least as a hitter, if not defensively as well. Instead, the exact opposite has happened.

Let’s Think About This For A Second

So, after all of that, here is a quick recap of the facts:

  • The Yankees have some level of interest in Andrus but we don’t know if the Rangers are open to moving him.
  • Andrus has taken an enormous step back offensively these last two seasons and his defense isn’t what it once was.
  • Andrus is insanely durable. The guy rarely misses a game.
  • Andrus is owed $120M through the 2022 season.

There’s a lot of negative there and I don’t think the second half of the first bullet point should be overlooked. We don’t know if the Rangers are interested in trading Andrus. And you know what? If they were willing to trade him, it would be something of a red flag. Obviously they were pretty confident he would continue to improve as a player just two years ago, otherwise they wouldn’t have given Andrus that contract. But if they were open to moving him now, before the extension begins, isn’t that a bad sign? It could mean they want to cut bait before his value crashes further.

It isn’t quite that simple — Texas could get blown away with an offer and trade Andrus even if they love him and think he’ll be great going forward — but there is some truth there. Twenty-six-year-old shortstops (real shortstops I mean, not Eduardo Nunez-esque “shortstops”) are a super-hot commodity and teams usually don’t give those guys away. If the Rangers trade Andrus and are willing to eat some of his contract to make it happen, that would be an enormous red flag for me. It’s the whole “what do they know that we don’t?” thing.

There have been 54 $100M+ contracts in baseball history and, off the top my head, only four of them were traded with $100M still left to be paid: Alex Rodriguez, Prince Fielder, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Gonzalez. A-Rod was a special case because he was the best player in baseball at the time of the trade and his former team (the Rangers, coincidentally) simply couldn’t afford him anymore. Fielder, Crawford, and Gonzalez were all dumped because their former teams wanted out of bad investments. Andrus would clearly fall in the latter category at this point.

The Yankees need a shortstop, both short and long-term, and it makes sense they would have interest in Andrus. There’s nothing wrong with making your analysts run some numbers, getting on the horn with your pro scouts, and having a little sit down with the staff to discuss a player who potentially fills a need. It’s simply due diligence. That said, there’s a lot reasons to dislike Andrus, specifically his declining production and massive contract. This isn’t some kinda of cheap flier, remember. It’s the kind of contract the Yankees (and every other team) should avoid, really.

Scouting The Market: Last Minute Trade Targets

Thanks to their five-game winning streak, the Yankees come into Tuesday only 2.5 games back of the second wildcard spot with 33 games left to play. FanGraphs puts their postseason odds at only 12.8%, but the Yankees have a knack for outperforming expectations and projections and run differential and all that. Two and a half games with 33 games to go is a sneaky big deficit but it’s hardly insurmountable.

The non-waiver trade deadline was four weeks ago now, but the real trade deadline is midnight this coming Sunday. Players must be in the organization by 11:59pm ET on August 31st to be eligible for the postseason roster and there are no exceptions. No injury loopholes, no waiver tricks, nothing. If the player is not in the organization by midnight Sunday, they can not play in the postseason, end of story. It’s a hard deadline.

The Yankees swung four trades leading up to the July 31st deadline but they still have some holes to fill. They dumped Matt Thornton on the Nationals a few weeks ago and have yet to reinvest his salary — this is despite reports saying they were working on other things — though it’s unclear exactly how much wiggle room the team has financially. That’s up to Hal Steinbrenner, of course. Here are some last minute trade targets who could help the Yankees in the final five weeks of the season.

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

OF Alex Rios, Rangers
New York reportedly had interest in Rios prior to the trade deadline, but instead they opted for the more versatile Martin Prado. The 33-year-old Rios went into last night’s game hitting .283/.313/.401 (91 wRC+) with four homers and nine steals in 122 games this year, so his production has dropped off quite a bit from last year (104 wRC+) and the year before (126 wRC+). Even his usually strong outfield defense has slipped according to the various metrics.

Even after making those deals at the trade deadline, the Yankees are still short a right-handed bat or two in the lineup. I mean, Zelous Wheeler has started four times in the last five games, and as long as that continues to happen, the Yankees are short a righty bat. Rios has put up a .343/.374/.581 (155 wRC+) batting line against southpaws this year, so he’d fill a definitely need, especially now that Carlos Beltran is locked back in at DH following his recent elbow problem and Prado seems to have taken over at second base.

Rios is owed approximately $2.5M through the end of the season with a $13.5M club option ($1M buyout) for next season, so he’s essentially a pure rental at $3.5M. Calvin Watkins reported Rios cleared trade waivers earlier this month, meaning he can be traded to any team at any time. The Rangers traded Geovany Soto over the weekend and they failed to move Neal Cotts after he was claimed off waivers, so, if nothing else, they’re active on the August market. Rios is available and would address a need.

Ludwick. (Joe Robbins/Getty)
Ludwick. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

OF Ryan Ludwick, Reds
Not thrilled with Rios? The lower profile Ludwick is hitting .250/.310/.390 (94 wRC+) with eight homers in 97 games overall, plus he has a .253/.318/.506 (124 wRC+) line against lefties. He was once a really strong defender but his glovework isn’t quite what it once was — Ludwick has a bunch of experience in right but also hasn’t played there since 2011 — but he’s not a butcher either. Besides, acquiring Ludwick is about adding another right-handed bat, not upgrading an already strong outfield defense.

Bob Nightengale reported the Reds were letting teams know Ludwick was available before the trade deadline, though it’s unclear if he has cleared or even been placed on trade waivers yet. He is owed roughly $1.6M through the end of the season, and his $9M option for 2015 comes with a pricey $4.5M buyout. The total investment (~$5.1M) is quite a bit more than Rios’ ($~3.5M). Ludwick is very available — the Reds have fallen out of the playoff race this month — and might be easier to attain, however.

DH Adam Dunn, White Sox
If Beltran is eventually going to return to right field, the Yankees will have an opening at DH, at least in the sense that there won’t be one dedicated player for the position. (Joe Girardi tends to rotate players in that spot whenever possible.) Dunn, 34, has a .220/.343/.429 (114 wRC+) line with 19 homers this year, though he won’t help the team’s right-handed bat problem. He does offer made for Yankee Stadium left-handed power though, and there is no such thing as too much of that. There is roughly $3M left on Dunn’s contract through the end of the season and he’ll become a free agent this winter. He only makes sense if Beltran can play the outfield regularly and right now there is no evidence that is the case. It’s a less than perfect fit.

Dunn. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Dunn. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

RHP Matt Lindstrom, White Sox
I feel like I write about Lindstrom as a trade target every August. The 34-year-old has a 5.09 ERA (5.05 FIP) in 23 appearances and 23 innings this year, though that is inflated by two disaster outings earlier this month (six runs in one inning). Lindstrom missed three month with an ankle injury — he just returned two weeks ago — and at this point he’s just a ground ball pitcher (50.0%) who doesn’t miss many bats (5.48 K/9 and 13.6 K%). He’s owed about $800k through the end of the season and, given all the late-game experience he’s built up over the years, he could be a decent complement in the sixth or seventh inning as he gets further out from ankle surgery. If it doesn’t work out, then who cares? They can bury him in the back of the bullpen with expanded rosters in September.

* * *

As always, the key to these late-August trades is the price. You’re only getting five weeks of the player, and in the cases of Ludwick and Dunn, their teams would be motivated by dumping salary and not necessarily acquiring a real live prospect. If the Yankees have to give up anything more than a nondescript prospect for these guys, then forget it. They can only have so much of an impact at this point of the season. If they can get Rios or Ludwick for next to nothing to add another right-handed bat for the rest of the year, then they should be all over it. The Yankees only have six more days to make any additional moves and have that player potentially be available in October.

Scouting The Trade Market: Minnesota Twins

Willingham. (Tim Umphrey/Getty)
Willingham. (Tim Umphrey/Getty)

The non-waiver trade deadline is now one week and one day away, and we’ve got a pretty good idea of which teams will be sellers and which will be buyers. The Yankees, like or not, will be buying. Yesterday’s Chase Headley trade confirmed that. They’re 1.5 games out of a playoff spot in Derek Jeter‘s final season and selling just isn’t something they’ve done during the Steinbrenner era. Rotation help is a clear need, ditto an upgrade in right field. Possibly second base too, though they might be able to solve that internally.

At 47-53, the Twins have the ninth worst record in baseball, and GM Terry Ryan recently told Rhett Bollinger he is planning to listen to trade offers for his veteran players over the next eight days. “We’re in a tough spot right now and we’ve been in a tough spot for four years, so you have to listen. And that’s what we do,” said Ryan. Outside of Brian Dozier, hometown guys Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins, and probably the resurgent Phil Hughes, I’m not sure Minnesota has any untouchables.

I’ve been splitting these Scouting The Market posts up into position players and pitchers by team, but the Twins have an amazingly thin roster, so I’m going to lump all of their trade chips together into one post. Prying Dozier and his right-handed pop/above-average defense at second base loose would be an amazing get for the Yankees, but I just don’t see it. Here’s a look at the Twins players who are actually available and possible fits for the Yankees.

OF Josh Willingham
The 35-year-old Willingham has consistently been an above-average hitter since breaking into the league full-time in 2006 — his 117 wRC+ in 2007 was his lowest from 2006-12 — and his best season came in 2012, his first in Minnesota. He hit .260/.366/.524 (142 wRC+) with 35 homers that year, which was the first covered by his three-year contract worth $21M. In hindsight, the 2012-13 offseason was the perfect time to trade him. His value was never getting any higher.

Willingham dropped down to .208/.348/.368 (102 wRC+) with 14 homers in 471 plate appearances last season while missing a month and a half with cartilage damage in his left knee. This year he is sitting on a .212/.358/.412 (116 wRC+) batting line with nine homers in 215 plate appearances around a hairline fracture in his left wrist that sidelined him for almost two months. (He suffered the injury on a hit-by-pitch.) As the batted ball data at Baseball Heat Maps shows, the average distance of the balls Willingham has hit in the air is holding steady, which is encouraging:

Josh Willingham Batted Ball Distance

The Yankees have only gotten 16 homers out of their right-handed hitters this season and right-handed power is Willingham’s best tool. He might not ever hit 35 homers like he did two years ago again, but his .200 ISO is in line with his career average (.214). He’s actually hitting more balls in the air than ever before (29.1% grounders), which helps explain his career worst .250 BABIP. Fly balls are often easy outs. Willingham has always drawn a ton of walks (16.7% this year and 12.0% career) and, frankly, that’s something the Yankees need in addition to his righty pop. He isn’t going to hit for much average, but if healthy he’ll hit the ball out of the park and still get on base at a respectable clip.

Willingham has played left field exclusively the last five years, which is a problem. He has only 264.1 career innings in right and they all came way back in 2009. The Yankees would be asking him to play an unfamiliar position by sticking him in right. Willingham’s contract is a non-issue since he’s in the final season of his deal and similar rental outfielders like Ryan Ludwick and Shane Victorino have not cost much in recent years, so the left field/right field thing is the only problem. He’d be a fantastic addition to the lineup. It’s just a question of where he’d play.

Another member of Team Generic White Guys. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Another member of Team Generic White Guys. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

3B Trevor Plouffe
Plouffe, 28, made a name for himself by hitting 24 homers two years ago even though it came with a less than impressive .235/.301/.455 (105 wRC+) batting line. Leg and wrist problems limited him to 14 homers and a .254/.309/.392 (93 wRC+) line last year, though this season he’s rebounded to hit .243/.315/.413 (102 wRC+) with seven homers and an already career-high 29 doubles in 355 plate appearances. Plouffe did miss time with a ribcage/oblique problem last month.

Like Willingham, Plouffe’s calling card is his right-handed power. He owns a .170 ISO this year and a career .171 ISO, which is solidly above-average, though he has actually hit for more power at home in spacious Target Field (.187 ISO) than on the road (.153 ISO) over the years. The spray charts show Plouffe does the most damage when he pulls the ball to left, which fits well with Target Field but not Yankee Stadium. Teaching a guy to go the other way to hit for power is not something that is easy or can happen overnight.

The various defensive stats say Plouffe is a below-average defender but not a disaster at third base, though that position is no longer a problem with Headley on board. He also has experience at first base, second base, and in the two corner outfield spots, so there would be ways to get him into the lineup, plus he’d give the team third base protection next year. Plouffe is what he is, a low batting average third baseman with some power and just enough walks (7.5% career) to get on base three out of ten times. He’s making $2.35M this year, his first of four years of arbitration-eligibility as a Super Two, so there’s a good chance he’ll be a non-tender candidate soon. Mark Reynolds was traded for two Triple-A relievers at a similar point in his career, and he hit 44 homers the year before the trade, so yeah. The price shouldn’t be high.

RHP Kevin Correia and RHP Samuel Deduno
The Yankees need some innings, right? Well, these two can given them. I’m not saying they’ll be quality innings, but they’ll be innings. The 33-year-old Correia has a 4.76 ERA (4.35 FIP) in 20 starts and 113.1 innings this year, and over the last few seasons he’s been consistent 4.40-ish FIP guy who misses zero bats (4.29 K/9 and 10.8 K%) but limits walks (2.30 BB/9 and 5.8 BB%). His ground ball rate (41.2%) isn’t anything special either. Correia would be a pure rental (owed another $2M or so), but, in addition to not being very good, he doesn’t really fit what the Yankees look for in a pitcher, namely grounders and/or strikeouts.

Not Correia. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
Not Correia. (Hannah Foslien/Getty)

Deduno, 31, has been a swingman for Minnesota this year, pitching to a 4.32 ERA (4.05 FIP) in 73 innings across eight starts and 13 relief appearances. Last season he managed a 3.83 ERA (4.04 FIP) in 108 innings as a full-time member of the rotation (for half the year). Unlike Correia, Deduno has some bat-missing ability (7.15 K/9 and 18.1 K%) and really excels at getting grounders (55.2%) thanks to his heavy upper-80s sinker. The pitch runs all over the place (4.07 BB/9 and 10.3 BB%) and he backs it up with a hard low-80s curveball. The Yankees just brought in Brandon McCarthy for his ground ball heavy ways and adding Deduno would be along the same lines, though he doesn’t offer the same name value. Both Deduno and (especially) Correia figure to come cheap. Deduno is still in his pre-arbitration years, by the way.

Miscellaneous Relievers
The Twins seem to have a knack for rostering relievers I’ve never heard of. Their primary setup men ahead of Perkins are righty Casey Fien (2.34 ERA and 3.23 FIP) and lefty Caleb Thielbar (2.81 ERA and 3.26 FIP), who bounced around waivers and signed out of an independent league, respectively. Lefty Brian Duensing (2.35 ERA and 3.90 FIP) has been around a while and been used in every role imaginable, but this year he’s settled in as a one-inning reliever. Not necessarily a matchup guy either. Veteran retread Matt Guerrier (3.86 ERA And 3.92 FIP) and long man Anthony Swarzak (4.34 ERA and 3.37 FIP) don’t excite anyone. Meh. I don’t think you could convince me any of these guys would be a real help going forward, but more pitching never hurt anyone.

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Willingham is the best fit for the Yankees among players on the Twins roster who figure to actually be available, though acquiring him would mean someone would have to play out of position in right field. It would either be him or Brett Gardner. That’s not ideal. His right-handed power would be a huge help for the offense though. Plouffe is an expensive utility man who can hit the ball out of the part and, as always, the Twins really don’t have many interesting pitchers. They continue to shoot themselves in the foot with that “okay stuff, no strikeouts, pitch-to-contact” profile. I’d be all for a Willingham trade if I only knew how they’d get him into the lineup defensively.