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.

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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.

* * *

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.

Scouting The Trade Market: Phillies’ Position Players

Yesterday we looked at the pitchers the Phillies could offer at the trade deadline, and they have two gems in Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. Now let’s look at the position players. Philadelphia doesn’t have any impact position players to trade — Chase Utley has already said he would use his no-trade clause to remain with the team — but they do have a few usable pieces. Here are the potential fits for the Yankees.

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

OF Marlon Byrd
The Yankees have zero right-handed power right now. Their righty hitters have managed 16 homeruns in 99 games this year, six of which were hit by the departed Alfonso Soriano. Unless switch-hitters Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, and Chase Headley are facing a southpaw, the team’s best power threat from the right side is Zelous Wheeler. That’s not good and adding some right-handed firepower to the lineup is a clear need leading up to the trade deadline.

Byrd, 36, is currently hitting .266/.319/.480 (120 wRC+) with 19 homers this season, one year after resurfacing with the Mets (and Pirates) and going deep 24 times. He was very nearly out of baseball in 2012 — Byrd had a 27 wRC+ in 153 plate appearances that year before being suspended for a failed performance-enhancing drug trade — but he reinvented himself as an all-or-nothing slugger following that season. Byrd basically swings from his heels all the time now, and the result is a lot of power (.214 ISO this year, .220 last year, .151 career) and a lot of strikeouts (28.7% this year, 24.9% last year, 18.9% career).

There is a tangible reason for Byrd’s transformation as a hitter (both Jason Collette and Jeff Sullivan have written about it more in depth) and his performance this year is right in line with last year. He is hitting a few more fly balls in general but his 16.7 HR/FB% is the same as last year (16.6% in 2013, to be exact). His plate discipline stats are roughly the same and his .337 BABIP is actually lower than last season’s .353 mark. After nearly 1,000 plate appearances, I think it’s safe to say Byrd’s swing hard all the time style is conducive to a high BABIP. If you’re willing to live with the strikeouts — the Yankees as a team have the fifth lowest strikeout rate in baseball at 18.4% — he’ll give you plenty of right-handed thump.

The Phillies signed Byrd to a very reasonable two-year contract worth $16M over the winter (there’s also a vesting option for 2016 based on plate appearances) and he is in demand at the trade deadline. The MLBTR archives show the Royals, Mariners, and Reds are among those interested in acquiring him. The Yankees are not included in Byrd’s four-team no-trade list according to Jim Salisbury, and he would fit nicely as the team’s everyday right fielder/number six or seven hitter. The Mets traded a half-season of Byrd for a Triple-A reliever (Vic Black) and a good but not great Single-A prospect (Dilson Herrera) last year, though I suspect the price will be a big higher this summer because he’s shown his resurgence isn’t a fluke.

(Mitchell Leff/Gett)
Mayberry. (Mitchell Leff/Getty)

1B/OF John Mayberry Jr.
Don’t want to pay the price for Byrd? Fine, the 30-year-old Mayberry is a cheaper alternative. He is currently hitting .213/.304/.418 (104 wRC+) with six homers in 138 plate appearances overall, including .255/.339/.582 (155 wRC+) against lefties. Over the last three seasons he’s managed a .259/.314/.498 (120 wRC+) line against southpaws and only a .220/.286/.341 (73 wRC+) line against righties, so Mayberry is strictly a platoon option. Considering what the Yankees have gotten out of right field this year, playing him everyday might still be an upgrade.

A few weeks ago we heard the Bombers were scouting Mayberry and that makes sense. He’s cheap ($1.59M salary this year) and under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2016, plus he can play both corner outfield spots and first base in a pinch. A real live backup first baseman. Imagine that. We aren’t talking about a difference maker, just a nice role player. Mayberry would instantly become the team’s best right-handed power hitter and he should come relatively cheap — similar players like Scott Hairston and Justin Ruggiano cost nothing more than fringe prospects over the last calendar year. The Phillies placed Mayberry on the 15-day DL with wrist inflammation just yesterday, so a trade would either have to come in August or while he’s injured.

OF Domonic Brown
Remember all those Brown for Dellin Betances rumors? Those were fun. Last year the Yankees looked dumb for not making the trade (not that is was ever on the table, as far as we know) and this year they would be morons to doing it. Brown has been one of the very worst position players in baseball this year, hitting a weak .227/.279/.327 (66 wRC+) with six homers while playing awful defense in left field. That 66 wRC+ ranks 157th out of 161 qualified hitters. The raw production is slightly better than what Soriano (60 wRC+) gave the Yankees this year.

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

Of course, the 26-year-old Brown hit .272/.324/.494 (124 wRC+) with 24 homers and was an All-Star last season, when it looked like he was finally starting to turn his talent into results. Eighteen of those 24 homers came in the months of May and June though (12 in May alone), so over the last calendar year he has hit a soft .236/.292/.337 (74 wRC+) with only nine homers in 136 games. Brown is not a high-strikeout hitter (18.1% this year and 18.4% career) but he does struggle against lefties and is beating the ball into the ground this year. He’s a project. No doubt about it.

Buying super low on Brown as a reclamation project seems like a great idea, except he’s out of options and can’t go to the minors to work on things. At least not without clearing waivers, which would never happen no matter how poorly he hits. Someone would take a chance on him. Can the Yankees afford to stick him in right field everyday and hope hitting coach Kevin Long can fix whatever needs to be fixed? I’m not sure. The Phillies have been shopping Brown since the offseason and I don’t think acquiring him would be all that tough. I’m just not sure what the Yankees would do with him other than stick him in right and cross their fingers.

* * *

As I mentioned earlier, Utley has all but said he wants to remain with Philadelphia and would block any trade. Jimmy Rollins has indicated the opposite — he would be open to accepting a trade to a contender. I don’t think Rollins, who has played one-third of an inning at a non-shortstop position in his entire professional career, is a fit for the Yankees right now, but I fully expect a winter of Rollins-to-New York rumors after Derek Jeter retires. Get ready for it. It’s coming.

Catcher Carlos Ruiz makes no sense for the Yankees and don’t even bring up Ryan Howard. Did you realize he’s hitting .222/.302/.378 (88 wRC+) this year? Forget him. Just a name at this point. Left-handed hitting third baseman Cody Asche is hitting .256/.308/.401 (96 wRC+) with poor defense but is only 24, so that makes him kinda interesting. He wouldn’t help the 2014 Yankees all that much — they wouldn’t need him to with Headley now on board — but he might be useful in the future. Byrd and to a lesser extent Mayberry are good fits for a Yankees team in need of right-handed power. Both are available and both would make a lot of sense.

Scouting The Trade Market: Phillies’ Pitchers

With four-fifths of the Opening Day rotation on the disabled list and not due back anytime soon, the Yankees are facing a pitching crisis. It’s not as bad as it could be thanks to the Brandon McCarthy pickup and the emergence of Shane Greene, but the team is pretty desperate for some quality arms. It’s tough to expect Masahiro Tanaka and/or Michael Pineda to return in the second half given the nature of their injuries.

The trade deadline is next Thursday and at this point it’s tough to see the Phillies not selling. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. recently told Jim Salisbury nothing more than “we’re going to try to do what we can to improve our club,” which makes sense. It’s not often a team will come out and announce they’re in sell mode. It pushes fans away. The Phillies do have baseball’s sixth worst record at 43-56 though, and the rumors of a fire sale are louder than ever. If and when they do pull the plug, they have several players who would interest the Yankees. Here are the pitchers, later today we’ll cover the position players.

Why have I not worn pinstripes yet? (Mitchell Leff/Getty)
Why have I not worn pinstripes yet? (Mitchell Leff/Getty)

LHP Cliff Lee
Lee, 35, returned to the mound last night after spending two months on the disabled list with a flexor pronator strain. That’s a muscle in your forearm, though forearm issues are usually symptoms of an elbow problem. Either way, Lee returned last night and was terrible, allowing six runs on a career high-tying 12 hits in 5.2 innings. I watched the game and he just looked rusty. PitchFX confirms his velocity was fine and he threw all of his pitches, but his location was terrible. He looked like a guy who threw only 10.2 rehab innings after missing two months.

Anyway, prior to last night, Lee had a 3.18 ERA (2.70 FIP) in ten starts and 68 innings, numbers that are right in line with his stellar 2008-2013 performance (2.89 ERA and 2.85 FIP). His strikeout rate (8.07 K/9 and 21.1 K%) was down a touch from recent years but still very good while his walk rate (1.19 BB/9 and 3.1 BB%) was outstanding as usual and his ground ball rate (49.1%) was a career high. Cliff Lee was pitching exactly like Cliff Lee before the injury. Here is his pitch breakdown:

Four-Seam Sinker Cutter Changeup Curveball Slider
Avg. Velocity 91.0 90.9 87.3 84.2 74.9 81.0
% Thrown 2.6% 54.9% 14.8% 19.9% 5.8% 2.0%
Whiff+ 155 86 59 130 73 251
GB+ 53 92 116 127 160 57

Even during these last seven years, when he was one of the three or four best pitchers in baseball, Lee never had blow you away stuff. It’s good stuff but not great stuff that plays up (a lot) because he locates everything so well. Lee is essentially a sinker/cutter/changeup pitcher who will mix in a few four-seamers, curveballs, and sliders per start, with the changeup being the only pitch that is above-average at getting both swings and misses and grounders. (Whiff+ and GB+ are like ERA+, but for swing-and-miss and ground ball rates for the individual pitches.)

Lee’s contract is pricey but it’s not an albatross given how well he was pitching before getting hurt — he is owed roughly $10M through the end of this season plus another $25M last year. His $27.5M option for 2016 comes with a $12.5M buyout and vests if he throws 200 innings next year or 400 innings combined from 2014-15. The injury will hurt his chances of meeting the latter. Lee has thrown at least 210 innings every year since 2008, so he’s been very durable in recent years. He’s guaranteed $47.5M or so through the end of next year and at most $62.5M through 2016. I don’t see that as a deal-breaker for a pitcher of this caliber.

The Yankees are included in Lee’s 20-team no-trade list according to Jon Morosi, but that doesn’t appear to be much of an obstacle. In a perfect world New York would just absorb Lee’s contract and give up little in the way of prospects. The Phillies are a financial powerhouse though and shedding salary is not a priority at the deadline. In fact, Ken Rosenthal says they’re willing to eat money to get the best possible prospect package in return. Jim Bowden (subs. req’d) suggested Aaron Judge and Luis Severino for Lee, which is ludicrous, but he isn’t going to come cheap either. Giving up two very good but not truly elite prospects for a legitimate difference maker like Lee seems pretty reasonable in a vacuum, actually.

Of course, the health of Lee’s forearm/elbow is a critical and any team that trades for him will have to have to feel confident in the medicals. Lee is scheduled to start again Saturday, his last scheduled start before the deadline (he is scheduled to start again on the 31st). Teams are only going to get two looks at him before the deadline and the first look last night stunk. Saturday’s outing could be enough to convince a pitching needy club to pull the trigger, or Lee’s post-injury audition could stretch a little longer and make him an August waiver trade candidate. The Yankees are enamored with him and they are desperate for pitching. The stars are aligned.

(Drew Hallowell/Getty)
(Drew Hallowell/Getty)

LHP Cole Hamels
Want an elite left-hander who is younger than Lee and doesn’t have the same immediate injury concerns? The Phillies can also offer up the 30-year-old Hamels, who is once again pitching brilliantly (2.83 ERA and 3.14 FIP in 17 starts and 114.1 innings) after opening the season on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis. It clearly has not had any lingering effect — his strikeout rate (9.05 K/9 and 24.7 K%) is excellent and both his walk (2.99 BB/9 and 8.2 BB%) and ground ball (48.5%) rates are strong. His fastball velocity is also identical to last year and 2010-13 in general.

Let’s dive in to his pitch breakdown:

Four-Seam Sinker Cutter Changeup Curveball
Avg. Velocity 92.6 92.5 89.1 84.5 78.5
% Thrown 36.7% 15.5% 15.6% 21.9% 9.9%
Whiff+ 108 93 107 190 132
GB+ 103 121 114 112 114

The changeup has always been Hamels’ bread and butter. It’s an elite offspeed pitch he can and will throw in any count to batters on both sides of the plate. He picked up the cutter during the 2010 season and it has helped him go from very good to excellent. Hamels throws five different pitches at least 10% of the time each (give or take) and has a go-to out pitch in his changeup. That kind of repertoire makes him one of the best (and most underappreciated?) pitchers in the game.

The Phillies signed Hamels to a massive six-year extension worth $144M two years ago, and at this point he is still owed approximately $99M through the 2018 season. That’s broken down into $9M for the rest of this year plus $22.5M annually over the next four years. The deal also includes a $20M team option/$24M vesting option for 2019. The option vests based on innings and shoulder-related time on the disabled list. Hamels wouldn’t be a short-term commitment like Lee, you’d be getting this guy from age 30-34 and possibly his age 35 season as well.

Both Jon Heyman and Nick Cafardo hear the Phillies are not inclined to move Hamels unless they’re blown away. They see him as someone who can anchor the rotation going forward and be part of the next winning team in Philadelphia. In fact, Cafardo says they’d need three top prospects and a team to absorb his full contract to move him. That seems unlikely to happen. (For what it’s worth, Buster Olney says the Phillies are telling teams Hamels is not available at all.) Like Lee, Hamels is an elite left-hander who has been a workhorse, has experience in a big market, and shown he can dominate in the postseason. Either guy would fit wonderfully in the Yankees’ rotation.

Kendrick. (Brian Garfinkel/Getty)
Kendrick. (Brian Garfinkel/Getty)

RHP Kyle Kendrick and RHP Roberto Hernandez
Regardless of whether you think the Yankees should be buying or selling — this is a very binary thing, of course, nothing in the middle is allowed — I think we can all agree they need to add another starter to eat up some innings at the very least. Hanging Chase Whitley out to dry in the second half is a recipe for disaster. Another McCarthy-esque pickup feels like the absolutely minimum for New York before the deadline.

The 29-year-old Kendrick has thrown at least 150 innings three times in the last four years and is at 20 starts and 125.2 innings this season. The problem? He’s been terrible, with a 4.87 ERA (4.57 FIP) this year and 5.38 ERA (4.51 FIP) over the last calendar year. Hernandez, 33, has also thrown 150+ innings in three of the last four years and is poised to do so again this year (17 starts, three relief appearances, 100.1 innings). He has a 4.22 ERA (4.78 FIP) this season and a 4.41 ERA (4.78 FIP) over the last calendar year. Both guys would likely come cheap and chew up some innings, but that’s it. They won’t have an impact.

RHP Jonathan Papelbon and various relievers
Papelbon, who is now 33, recently told Matt Gelb he would welcome a trade to a contender, assuming someone is willing to take on the $18M he is owed through next season (plus a $13M vesting option for 2016). He has been excellent in 2014 (1.17 ERA and 2.36 FIP) even though his strikeout rate (7.75 K/9 and 22.5 K%) has fallen for the third straight year. The Yankees could use another reliever, every team could, but this seems like overkill. If they’re willing to invest that kind of money in a reliever, I’d so much rather see them give it to the younger and better David Robertson.

Bastardo. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Bastardo. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

The rest of Philadelphia’s bullpen includes 28-year-old lefty Antonio Bastardo, who has a 3.38 ERA (3.19 FIP) in 42.2 innings this year. He has been effective against right-handed hitters over the years and is not just a specialist. Veteran righty Mike Adams is once again on the disabled list with a shoulder problem and is likely done for the year. He’s a non-option. Others like lefty Jake Diekman (4.43 ERA and 3.01 FIP) and righty Justin De Fratus (3.07 ERA and 3.86 FIP) are fresh off the generic middle reliever farm. There’s a reason the Phillies have been looking for quality bullpen help for about two years now. There’s not much to see here.

* * *

The Yankees are said to have no interest in a reunion with A.J. Burnett — the Orioles are reportedly trying to acquire him, by the way (imagine having Burnett and Ubaldo Jimenez in the same rotation, yikes) — which isn’t surprising. I doubt we’ll see any reunions with failed Yankees starters for a little while after the Javy Vazquez fiasco. They’ve shown they’ll let things like that scare them away from repeats for a little while.

Lee and Hamels are obviously the big pitching names with the Phillies and I get the sense both are more available now than ever before. Lee seems more easily attainable, not that it won’t sting to get him. You have to give something to get an impact pitcher like that, assuming his arm is sound following the injury. Kendrick, Hernandez, and the miscellaneous bullpen arms are not needle-movers, just warm bodies to give innings in the second half. The Yankees could use use some of those types of pitchers too.