Scouting The Free Agent Market: Juan Uribe

(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
(Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

It is entirely possible the Yankees are done making moves this offseason. They have a full lineup, a full rotation, more than enough bodies for the bullpen, and three-fourths of a bench. The team has some internal candidates for that final bench spot, and really, how they fill that spot will depend on Starlin Castro‘s ability to play third. He hasn’t manned the hot corner aside from a handful of games back in rookie ball.

Castro is still relatively new to second base — he only played 258 innings at second last season — and asking him to learn third base as well might be too much, too soon. Using that final bench spot for a proper backup third baseman sure seems like a good idea, no? Veteran infielder Juan Uribe remains available as a free agent and is a candidate to provide depth at third as well as another right-handed bat. Let’s see if he makes sense for the Yankees.

The Offense

A few years ago it looked like Uribe was done. Like done done. The now 36-year-old hit .204/.264/.293 (56 wRC+) with the Dodgers in 2011, then followed it up by hitting .191/.258/.284 (52 wRC+) in 2012. Yikes. The Dodgers were on the verge of releasing Uribe early in 2013, though he rebounded that season to hit .278/.331/.438 (116 wRC+), reviving his career. Here are his three most recent seasons.

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR K% BB% wRC+ vs. RHP wRC+ vs. LHP
2013 426 .278/.331/.438 116 12 19.0% 7.0% 115 118
2014 404 .311/.337/.440 121 9 19.1% 3.7% 125 106
2015 397 .253/.320/.417 104 14 20.2% 8.6% 90 146
Total 1,227 .281/.329/.432 114 35 19.4% 6.4% 110 124

After spending the 2013-14 seasons with the Dodgers, Uribe split the 2015 season with the Dodgers, Braves, and Mets. The Dodgers sent him to Atlanta in a very weird trade — the primary piece they got back was up-and-down lefty Ian Thomas — then the Braves shipped him to the Mets at the trade deadline for actual prospects. The Mets grabbed Uribe to beef up their bench down the stretch.

Uribe faced left-handers primarily after landing with the Mets last season, hence the massive platoon split. He simply didn’t play a whole lot against righties. Given his age, I’m not sure you could realistically expect Uribe to be a regular against same-side pitchers at this point of his career. Sure, he might be able to do it once in a while, but it’s not the best idea. I’m guessing most view Uribe as a righty platoon bat going forward.

Generally speaking, Uribe has some pop against southpaws (.209 ISO from 2013-15) and he tends to draw more walks (8.4%) against them as well. He doesn’t provide much value on the bases — Uribe has attempted eight steals over the last three years and he’s taken the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) only 37% of the time, below the 41% league average — so his offensive value comes exclusively from his bat. That’s fine. That makes him like most other players.

Uribe has a reputation for being a clutch hitter, though the stats don’t really bear that out. He does have two World Series rings (2005 White Sox, 2010 Giants) but is a career .209/.246/.342 (57 wRC+) hitter in 170 postseason at-bats. Uribe has also hit .282/.348/.392 (105 wRC+) with men in scoring position the last three seasons and .274/.338/.395 (103 wRC+) in high-leverage spots, which is right in line with his overall numbers.

The clutch stuff is just noise. The most important thing is Uribe’s ability to hit left-handed pitchers and do so while playing part-time. Being a bench player is hard. Players aren’t used to sitting around for a few days between at-bats. Uribe did it for the Mets late last season (especially after David Wright returned from the DL) and that’s not nothing. He’s a quality bench hitter against left-handed pitchers.

The Defense

Although he’s on the portly side — listed at 6-foot-0 and 235 lbs. — Uribe is a shocking great defender at the hot corner. Both DRS and UZR have rated him as well-above-average at third base in recent years, and the eye test agrees as well. Uribe has good range, vacuum cleaner hands, and a very strong arm. There are some defensive plays in this highlight reel:

Uribe originally came up as a shortstop but he hasn’t played the position regularly since 2010 or at all since 2012. The Mets did use him at second base some last season — he hadn’t played the position at all since 2011 — and he held his own. He wasn’t great but he wasn’t a disaster there. Uribe is primarily a third baseman who can play second base in a pinch, so he doesn’t offer a ton of defensive versatility.

Injury History

A chest injury kept Uribe out for the final few weeks of the regular season as well as the NLDS and NLCS last year. (The Mets didn’t add him to their postseason roster until the World Series.) It was a fluke injury — Uribe dove for a ball (against the Yankees) and landed hard. He had some bruising that didn’t allow him to swing or throw properly, and it took time to heal.

Aside from that, Uribe has had some on and off hamstring issues the last few years, including pulls that required two separate DL stints in 2014. That’s really it. Uribe had some wrist issues back in 2012 and a sports hernia in 2011, neither of which has given him trouble since. The nagging hamstring trouble is a bit of a red flag but not a deal breaker. He’s not a pitcher with a history of arm problems or anything like that.

Contract Projections

Uribe was not eligible for the qualifying offer because he was traded (twice) at midseason, though he wasn’t a candidate to receive one anyway. There’s no draft pick to consider. FanGraphs was the only publication to consider Uribe a top 50 free agent and their crowdsourcing results spit out a two-year contract at $8M per year. That’s cheap starting infielder money.

Obviously there’s no reason for the Yankees to seriously consider Uribe at that price. That’s way too expensive for a bench player, even a potentially very good one. It’s starting to get a little late in the offseason, and off the top of my head, the only teams potentially in need of a starter at third base are the Indians, Angels, Braves, Reds, Brewers, and Pirates. The Braves, Reds, and Brewers are rebuilding teams with younger and cheaper options, so they’re long shots.

Uribe’s market appears to be pretty limited — teams in need of third base help may prefer the still unsigned David Freese because he’s several years younger — so that two-year, $16M projection seems pretty far-fetched. He’ll probably have to settle for a smaller one-year contract, similar to Mike Aviles ($2M), Gordon Beckham ($1.25M), Stephen Drew ($3M), Kelly Johnson ($2M), and Sean Rodriguez ($2.5M). Playing time and being with a contender may be bigger priorities at this point of Uribe’s career than cash.

Wrapping Up

One thing I have to mention that doesn’t fit in any of the previous categories is Uribe’s reputation for being a Grade A teammate and fan favorite. He’s ultra-popular. Many players have called Uribe their favorite teammate over the years and he has a knack for colorful quotes — “I have to get another contract to buy more cars,” he said to David O’Brien last summer when asked about his upcoming free agency. And then there’s the jazz hands:

Juan Uribe jazz hands

Outstanding. He does that after almost every swing too. Uribe reacts like he hit a home run every time he puts a ball in play. It’s pretty fun. None of this affects his on-field value, though being a great teammate and a fan favorite is not nothing either.

Anyway, even with his limited defensive versatility, Uribe seems like he would be a really great fit for that final bench spot. He’d give the Yankees a true backup third baseman and another right-handed hitter to help combat southpaws, who chewed the the team up down the stretch last season. That Uribe has experience being a bench player and going long stretches of time without playing is a plus in by book as well. No adjustment period.

Price and playing time may be an issue, however. Uribe has been pretty productive in recent years and he could be holding out for a starting spot — and a starter’s salary — which I understand. It might not be realistic at this point, but I get it. If Uribe is willing to take a low base salary one-year contract and serve as a backup/platoon bat, the Yankees would be wise to scoop him up for that final bench spot.

Scouting The Trade Market: Alex Wood

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

After losing Zack Greinke to the division rival Diamondbacks earlier this offseason, the Dodgers finally took some steps to improve their rotation last week, signing both Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda. Those two will join Clayton Kershaw and Brett Anderson in the rotation. Alex Wood and Mike Bolsinger figure to round out the starting staff until Hyun-Jin Ryu (shoulder) and Brandon McCarthy (elbow) are healthy.

Since the Maeda signing, there’s been speculation the Dodgers would be open to trading Wood for help elsewhere on the roster. (For what it’s worth, there was talk Los Angeles would flip Wood to the Cubs or Indians at the trade deadline.) GM Farhan Zaidi said they’re still trying to add to the rotation — “To the extent that adding more certainty to the rotation is an option for us over the next couple of months, we’ll definitely continue to look,” he said to reporters following the Kazmir deal — though that’s something every GM says.

The Yankees are in the market for rotation help, particularly a young starter they can control beyond the next two seasons. A left-hander would be preferable — CC Sabathia is the only southpaw starter either in MLB or remotely close to MLB in the organization at the moment — but isn’t a necessity. Quality is more important than handedness. Anyway, let’s see whether Wood is a fit for the Yankees.

The Performance

The Braves picked Wood right out of their backyard (University of Georgia) with their second round pick in the 2012 draft. The 24-year-old zoomed through the minors and made his big league debut in May 2013. He started out as a reliever and eventually moved to the rotation. Here are Wood’s two and a half seasons in the big leagues:

G/GS IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2013 31/11 77.2 3.13 2.65 23.6% 8.3% 49.1% 0.35 .307 .280
2014 35/24 171.2 2.78 3.25 24.5% 6.5% 45.9% 0.84 .288 .299
2015 32/32 189.2 3.84 3.69 17.4% 7.4% 49.5% 0.71 .343 .228
Total 98/67 439.0 3.30 3.34 21.2% 7.2% 48.1% 0.70 .316 .267

That all looks pretty good, doesn’t it? Wood has a history of missing bats and getting grounders, the latter of which has helped him keep the ball in the park. (Playing in pitcher friendly Turner Field and Dodger Stadium helped too.) His walk rates have been fine and, up until last season, his platoon split wasn’t huge.

Last season was Wood’s first as a full-time starter and his strikeout right fell big time while his platoon split stretched out substantially. That leads me to wonder what his performance as a starter looked like from 2013-14. Are his numbers as a reliever skewing things? Here’s the split:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9
as SP 402.0 3.31 3.42 20.6% 7.2% 47.8% 0.72
as RP 37.0 3.16 2.41 27.8% 7.3% 52.1% 0.49

Like most pitchers Wood has been more effective in relief throughout his career, albeit in a small sample. His numbers as a starter from 2013-14 are much better than his numbers as a starter in 2015 though. Look at the averages — he had a 17.4% strikeout rate last year but is at 20.6% overall as a starter in his career.

Generally speaking, Wood’s performance is rock solid. He’s not a front of the rotation guy or anything like that, but he has been an average or better starter over the years. The big dip in strikeout rate and suddenly massive platoon split last season are curious. Not sure I’d call them red flags just yet, but they exist. Something happened there.

The Stuff

From a stuff perspective, Wood is nice and simple. He throws three pitches: a sinker, a changeup, and a breaking ball. The breaking ball is pretty slurvy — at times it looks like a curveball and at others it has shorter break like a slider. Wood’s stuff doesn’t qualify as electric but it does play up because of his ridiculous delivery. I don’t know how to describe it. Just watch:

I can’t imagine Wood is a comfortable at-bat. He’s a deceptively big guy — he’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 215 lbs. on the team’s official site — and that herky jerky delivery is all arms and legs. There’s a lot of moving parts. The hitters react to Wood’s sinker like it’s 4-5 mph faster than it really is. Look at the swings in the video. They don’t seem to pick up the ball well out of his hand.

Wood has thrown the sinker roughly 60% of the time throughout his career and both the breaking ball and changeup about 20% of the time each. Wood’s not one of those fastball/breaking ball guys with a show-me changeup. He legitimately uses all three pitches, which is why he’s had success as a starter.

The three-pitch repertoire and the deception are nice. This is not:

Alex Wood velocityWood’s velocity is trending downward and not so gradually either. His sinker went from averaging 92.5 mph in 2013 to 89.8 mph in 2015. That’s almost a 3 mph decline in the span of three seasons for a guy who has yet to turn 25. Yikes. Also, Wood has a history of losing velocity in the second half, indicating he wears down during the season.

Furthermore, Wood operated at basically two velocities last season. His sinker was right around 90 mph and both the breaking ball and changeup sat around 83 mph. Two years ago it was a low-to-mid-90s sinker, a mid-80s changeup, and a breaking ball around 80 mph. That’s three distinct speeds. Now it’s only two. Chances are that contributed to Wood’s falling strikeout rate.

Because of his falling velocity, Wood now is not the same guy that he was two years ago. His 2013 performance — which was split between the rotation and bullpen anyway — is much less relevant than his 2015 performance. Last year Wood set career worsts in ERA and FIP. The decline in stuff suggests it’s no fluke.

Injury History

Wood is a Tommy John surgery survivor. He had his elbow rebuilt in the spring of 2009 and took a medical redshirt as a freshman as Georgia. Wood was also shut down late in the 2014 season due to a forearm strain. He also missed a start with a blister in 2013, but that’s no big deal.

It’s important to point out Wood was completely healthy last season. He returned from the forearm strain and had no problems in 2015. It’s still something of a red flag though, especially for a guy with Tommy John surgery in his history and that wild delivery. It’s possible Wood simply isn’t built to hold up under a starter’s workload.

Contract Status

Unfortunately for Wood, he fell about a week shy of qualifying for Super Two status this offseason. He has two years and 123 days of service time (2.123) while the Super Two cutoff was roughly 2.130. Sucks. That’ll cost him a couple million bucks. Wood has four years of team control remaining, one as a pre-arbitration player and then three of arbitration-eligibility.

From what I can tell, Wood has at least one and possibly all three minor league options remaining. He was sent down in 2013 and 2014 but only briefly. It doesn’t appear he was down long enough (20 days) to burn an option. Still though, you don’t want Wood to use his options at this point of his career. Any team that trades for Wood wants him to contribute to their MLB team. Having to send him to Triple-A means something went wrong.

What Would It Take?

Wood himself was traded at the deadline last year, but it was as part of a massive 13-player, three-team trade. We can’t gauge his trade value from that. Pitchers traded in recent years with four seasons of control remaining include …

  • Shelby Miller: Traded with Jordan Walden for one year of Jason Heyward and a prospect.
  • Jake Arrieta: Traded with Pedro Strop for rental Scott Feldman and a prospect.
  • Gio Gonzalez: Traded for four prospects, most notably Tommy Milone and Derek Norris.

… which gives us an interesting cross section of pitchers. Gonzalez was about to get expensive as a Super Two and the Athletics traded him for prospects. Arrieta was a busted former top prospect the Orioles flipped for Feldman to help their 2013 postseason drive. The Cardinals dealt Miller in a win-now move that brought them an impact player, albeit one year of one.

Which one of those applies most to Wood? It’s Miller, right? The Dodgers are a win-now team and they’ve not going to move Wood in what amounts to a salary dump like the A’s did with Gonzalez, and Wood’s not broken like Arrieta. (Arrieta was really, really bad in Baltimore.) That said, Miller was generally held in much higher regard then Wood. Miller was a former top prospect with high-end stuff. Wood’s mostly a deception guy with some believers and also some detractors.

Wrapping Up

I don’t really understand how president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman is running the Dodgers. He’s obsessing with team control like he did with the Rays but is also sprinkling in some win-now moves, like Kazmir and Maeda. (And the failed Aroldis Chapman trade.) What would he want for Wood? Big league pieces or prospects? They traded Dee Gordon for prospects, remember. That was weird.

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)
(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

Anyway, the framework of an Andrew Miller for Alex Wood trade exists, but a straight one for one swap makes no sense for the Yankees. Zero. Three years of an elite reliever for four years of a good starter with a vanishing fastball doesn’t make sense for New York. Wood would have to be part of a three or four player package, and the second piece would have to be pretty significant. Right? I’m not being crazy here. Miller for Wood makes the Yankees worse. They need quite a bit more.

The Dodgers have too many outfielders — they’re still trying to unload Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford — so Brett Gardner doesn’t really fit here. One year of Chapman for Wood would be kinda interesting, but Los Angeles backed away from Chapman after the domestic violence case came to light, so I doubt they’re interested. I suppose the Dodgers could focus on a prospect package for Wood. I dunno.

The Yankees have been looking for a young controllable starter all offseason and Wood fits the bill, though he is not without his flaws. His velocity has been fading, his performance suffered last season, and he pairs an ugly delivery with a history of elbow problems. There’s a decent chance Wood will be relegated to the bullpen full-time at some point during his four remaining years of team control if his velocity doesn’t bounce back.

That said, Wood is a three-pitch lefty who has a history of limiting bats and getting grounders. That’s not nothing. There are always reasons to not trade for a guy. Those are some reasons to trade for him. Whether the Yankees and Dodgers can find common ground is another matter. As far as I’m concerned, the Miller for Wood framework only makes sense if the Yankees are getting at least one other significant piece.

Scouting The Trade Market: Chad Bettis

(Doug Pensinger/Getty)
(Doug Pensinger/Getty)

Despite their perpetual interest, the Yankees have yet to land a young starting pitcher controllable beyond 2017 this offseason. They have reportedly focused on acquiring such a player in trade talks involving Brett Gardner and Andrew Miller. The closest they’ve come to getting a young starter is picking up Luis Cessa and Chad Green in the Justin Wilson trade.

The Rockies seem like a team that should be focused on adding young pitching, not trading it away, but GM Jeff Bridich told Patrick Saunders he is “open to whatever, I mean it” earlier this offseason. Open to whatever as long as it helps improve the team, of course. Right-hander Chad Bettis could be a possible under-the-radar trade target for the Yankees as they look to add that controllable pitcher to their rotation. Is he a fit? Let’s take a look.

The Performance

Might as well start with some background information. Bettis, 26, was Colorado’s second round pick in the 2010 draft out of Texas Tech. Baseball America ranked him as the 86th best prospect in the game prior to the 2012 season — he was one spot behind Mason Williams — and Bettis made his big league debut late in 2013. He spent 2014 going up and down before spending the majority of 2015 in the team’s rotation. Here are his overall MLB stats.

G GS IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2013 16 8 44.2 5.64 4.93 14.4% 9.6% 46.7% .395 .351
2014 21  0 24.2 9.12 5.52 10.2% 7.9% 45.9% .488 .394
2015 20 20 115.0 4.23 3.85 19.5% 8.4% 49.3% .345 .323
TOTAL 57 28 184.1 5.22 4.33 16.9% 8.6% 48.1% .380 .340

Bettis was called up two seasons ago and came down with a case of Coors Field. He was limited to relief work last year and it was the first time he worked out of the bullpen in his career. Those 2013-14 numbers are ugly. No doubt about it.

I’m choosing to focus on Bettis’ 2015 performance because it’s most recent, and also because it was the first time he was given an opportunity to stay in the rotation for an extended period of time. Going up and down sucks. Once he had a chance to settle in, Bettis posted an average strikeout rate and an above-average ground ball rate, which is a nice starting point.

Coors Field uglified his overall numbers — Bettis had a 4.99 ERA (3.90 FIP) at home and a 3.35 ERA (3.79 FIP) on the road in 2015 — because that’s what it does, though I’m not one of those people who thinks road performance indicates the true talent level of a player who just so happens to be stuck on the Rockies. After all, Dodger Stadium, Petco Park, and AT&T Park are pretty great places to pitch.

Bettis is not a big guy — he’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 200 lbs. on the team’s official site — and the usual concern with pitchers that size is they’re unable to get good downward plane on their fastball and thus become fly ball prone. Bettis has gotten a good amount of grounders in his career to date, so that doesn’t really seem to be a problem. He had a 0.86 HR/9 (11.0 HR/FB%) this past season and 1.03 HR/9 (11.8 HR/FB%) over the last three years, which is average or a tick better. Maybe more than a tick considering his home park.

Also, despite the higher than average walk rates — that was the case all throughout the minors as well — Bettis has a reputation for pitching aggressively. “Bettis is tenacious and attacks hitters with everything he throws,” wrote Baseball America in their 2013 Prospect Handbook. The walk rates are the result of control issues, not an unwillingness to go after hitters. Walks are annoying. Walks because the pitcher nibbles are even more annoying.

I’m not sure anyone has come up with a good way to normalize the Coors Field effect. (There’s evidence simple park factors don’t fully adjust for the thin mountain air.) Given the sample size and his home ballpark, I’m inclined to outright ignore what Bettis has done to date, at least when trying to project what he’ll be going forward. Too many complicated variables at play.

The Stuff

To me, the scouting report is much more important than the stats with Bettis. It’s almost like he’s a prospect at this point. Bettis is a five-pitch pitcher who throws three fastballs (four-seamer, sinker, cutter), a curveball, and a changeup. The cutter is often misclassified as a slider by PitchFX for whatever reason.

Here is some PitchFX data on Bettis’ arsenal. This is 2015 data only because it’s the most recent, and also because he spent time in the bullpen the two previous years. That can screw things up. Pitchers rarely throw all their pitches in relief. (Adam Warren was a notable exception.) The MLB averages are in parentheses.

% Thrown Avg. Velo. Whiff% GB%
Four-Seam 48.9% 92.8 (92.4) 5.6% (6.9%) 48.4% (37.9%)
Sinker 10.8% 91.7 (90.8) 5.9% (5.4%) 57.1% (49.5%)
Cutter 9.6% 87.9 (88.0) 20.7% (9.7%) 65.7% (43.0%)
Curveball 15.0% 74.7 (77.8) 13.9% (11.1%) 25.6% (48.7%)
Changeup 15.8% 85.6 (83.3) 19.6% (14.9%) 73.5% (47.8%)

Bettis’ fastball velocity is more or less average — PitchFX says he topped out at 97.2 mph and 96.5 mph with the four-seamer and sinker this past season, respectively — and he gets an above-average number of ground balls with both his four-seamer and sinker, but not many swings and misses.

The cutter looks like a well-above-average pitch given the rate of whiffs and grounders, but he only threw it 9.6% of the time in 2015, so it could be sample size noise. In fact, Bettis threw only 179 cutters this past season, so yeah. The changeup is interesting. It looks like a great pitch based on whiffs and grounders, yet left-handed batters hit Bettis kind hard this season.

This could be a sample size issue, though I do think the velocity might have something to do with it too. Ideally a pitcher would have a 10 mph or so separation between his fastball and changeup. Bettis approximately had a 7 mph separation in 2015, less if you look at the sinker. The lack of big time separation could indicate the pitch is more hittable than the swing-and-miss and grounder numbers indicate. Here’s some video:

I suppose it’s only fair to point out the extreme separation between Bettis’ fastball and curveball after talking about the lack of separation with the changeup. He got some ugly swings with that slow curve in the video.

Playing at altitude doesn’t only allow the ball travel farther when hit, it also changes a pitcher’s stuff. It’s a physics issue — in the thin air, the ball encounters less resistance as it spins towards the plate. I don’t want to get too nerdy, but the interaction between the spinning seams and the molecules in the air determines how the ball moves. That interaction at sea level is different than it is on top of a mountain.

That’s a big reason why the Rockies have had such a hard time finding pitchers who can have consistent success in their home ballpark — they don’t know how their stuff will behave in the thin air until they get there. Bettis has a track record of missing bats all throughout the minors and the PitchFX data suggests he has options to get whiffs and grounders. Get him out of Coors Field and his stuff may firm up.

Injury History

Bettis has had some arm problems in his career, most notably losing the entire 2012 season to a strained muscle behind his shoulder. Didn’t throw a single pitch that year. Bettis did not have surgery and he hasn’t had any shoulder trouble since, and his velocity has returned to it’s pre-injury levels. (He lost 2-3 mph in 2013 but it has since returned.)

Furthermore, elbow inflammation cost Bettis a little more than a month this past season. He got hurt in late-July, rehabbed for a month after an MRI showed no structural damage, then returned to the mound in late-September and pitched with no issues the rest of the season. Little bit of a scare there. Bettis also missed two months with an oblique strain in 2013, though that’s not a concern. It happens.

The shoulder and elbow injuries are, however, red flags. The only good news is that his shoulder injury only involved a muscle and not his labrum or the tendons in his rotator cuff. Also, the elbow MRI showed his ulnar collateral ligament was intact as recently as this past July. Shoulder and elbow injuries are always bad. Bettis’ appear to have been less bad than they could have been.

Contract Status

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

Thanks to all the up-and-down action the last three years, Bettis has accrued one year and 96 days of service time, commonly written as 1.096. He has five years of team control remaining. Two as a pre-arbitration player and three as an arbitration-eligible player. I suppose he could qualify as a Super Two following next season if the cutoff falls low enough, but that seems very unlikely.

Bettis has one minor league option remaining. The Rockies purchased his contract and called him up for the first time in August 2013, and he spent the rest of the year in the big leagues. He burned his first option going up and down in 2014, then burned his second when he was sent to Triple-A to start 2015. That means he has one left, unless he somehow qualifies for a fourth option. Either way, a team that trades for him hopes the options are a moot point. They’ll want to stick him in their rotation and leave him there.

What Would It Take?

Bettis is a former mid-range prospect with five years of team control left, and those guys are usually traded in packages for an established big leaguer, so we have an interesting dynamic here. The Rockies are rebuilding (I think) and presumably want young pieces in return. They have no use for 32-year-old Brett Gardner or 30-year-old Andrew Miller.

Recent trades involving pitchers five years from free agency include …

  • Roenis Elias: Traded as second piece in a deal for Wade Miley.
  • Nate Karns: Traded as headliner in three-player package for Brad Miller, Logan Morrison, and Danny Farquhar.
  • Dan Straily: Traded with Luis Valbuena for one year of Dexter Fowler.
  • Jarred Cosart: Traded with two spare parts for three prospects, most notably Colin Moran and Jake Marisnick.

… and none of that really helps us. The Cosart trade is probably most applicable, which, at the time, boiled down to Cosart for Moran and Marisnick with other stuff thrown in. Baseball America ranked Moran and Marisnick as the Nos. 61 and 79 prospects prior to 2014, the year of the trade. At the same time, Cosart was more highly regarded than Bettis. He was twice ranked as a top 100 prospect by Baseball America, topping out at No. 50 in 2012.

The Yankees traded six years of Shane Greene for five years of Didi Gregorius, and that might be the framework for a Bettis trade. My promising young player for your promising young player. The Rockies need basically everything at this point. Gary Sanchez for Bettis may seem like an overpay but that could be what it takes. Perhaps they can talk them down to, say, Rob Refsnyder, something like that. My trade proposal sucks, I know.

Point is, this isn’t a Gardner or Miller for Bettis plus stuff trade. The Rockies don’t need those guys. If they do trade Bettis, they’re going to trade him for young players. Also, here’s a weird factor to consider: Bettis has not fallen out of favor with the Rockies. The Yankees have targeted guys who have fallen out of favor with their previous teams during their on-the-fly rebuild (Gregorius, Dustin Ackley, Starlin Castro, etc.) so they don’t have to pay full freight. Bettis doesn’t fit that mold.

Wrapping Up

I know there’s nothing sexy about Bettis as a trade target, and you can always come with a reason to not trade for anyone, but look at what he offers. He’s only 26, he has five years of control, he throws five pitches, he gets grounders, he has a history of missing bats, and he has experience pitching in an extreme hitter’s environment. Those are all pluses in my book.

The injury history is a red flag, no doubt about it, as is the history of average at best control. There’s risk. That’s true of every pitcher. The Rockies have indicated a willingness to move just about anyone in an effort to improve, and Bettis is a potential long-term rotation piece with solid stuff who seems like someone pitching coach Larry Rothschild could help take to the next level.

Scouting the Free Agent Market: Kenta Maeda

(Koji Watanabe/Getty)
(Koji Watanabe/Getty)

Even though the New Year is right around the corner, there are still several quality free agent pitchers on the board. Mike Leake, Scott Kazmir, and Wei-Yin Chen are the most notable. Usually teams like to handle their major business by this point of the offseason so they can simply tinker the rest of the way, but the remaining unsigned free agents ensure January will be busier than usual.

Another available free agent starter — free agent but not in the traditional sense — is right-hander Kenta Maeda. Maeda spent this past season as Hiroki Kuroda‘s teammate with the Hiroshima Carp, and he’s now coming over to MLB after eight seasons in Japan. Maeda has already been posted, so this isn’t a will he or won’t he be available thing. He’s available. The process is already underway. Does Maeda make any sense for the Yankees? Let’s take a look.

The Performance

Maeda, 28 in April, has been one of the best but not necessarily the best pitcher in Japan over the last few years. He was behind Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka for a few years, and more recently Shohei Otani has risen to the top of the Japanese pitching ranks. That said, Maeda won the Eiji Sawamura Award as Nippon Pro Baseball’s top pitcher in both 2010 and 2015. Here are his career stats, via Baseball Reference:

Kenta Maeda stats

The Carp play in NPB’s Central League, which does not use the DH. For reference, the Central League averages in 2015 were a 3.25 ERA, a 7.1 K/9, and 3.0 BB/9. Maeda was obviously excellent, but he was pitching in a pitcher friendly league. Just providing a little context, you guys.

Anyway, Maeda doesn’t offer the same kind of blow-you-away ability as Darvish and Tanaka. During their final seasons in Japan, Tanaka had a 1.27 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9 while Darvish had a 1.44 ERA with 10.7 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9. They both pitched in the Pacific League too, the DH league. Maeda’s never really performed at that level.

(One thing to keep in mind — and we talked about this with Tanaka a few years back — is that hitters in Japan have a very different approach than hitters in MLB. They focus on contact and spraying the ball around. That’s why Tanaka and Darvish saw their strikeout rates tick up after coming stateside. The same could happen with Maeda.)

The Stuff

Maeda is a five-pitch pitcher who throws two fastballs (four-seamer and sinker), a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. We have a very tiny little bit of PitchFX data for him, from the 2013 World Baseball Classic, when he pitched in AT&T Park. Here are his average velocities, from Brooks Baseball:

Kenta Maeda velocity

There are some major, major caveats here. For starters, this is from a game played in mid-March, so this is basically Spring Training velocity. Also, it’s one game. Five innings and 82 pitches worth, to be exact. And finally, this is more than two years old now. It’ll be three years old by time Spring Training rolls around. So take this info with a huge grain of salt. It’s not meaningless, but it shouldn’t be taken as gospel either.

For some updated information of Maeda, here’s a snippet of a scouting report from Ben Badler (subs. req’d) earlier this month:

Maeda has shown solid stuff across the board, with a fastball that sits at 89-93 mph and can touch 94, a tick above-average slider that he leans on heavily, along with a curveball and a changeup he will use to try to keep hitters off balance … (in the Premier 12 tournament in November), Maeda’s changeup was a plus pitch. At times, the pitch had good sink, at others it had excellent fade, and sometimes it had both.

The inaugural Premier 12 tournament was held in November. It’s like a mini-World Baseball Classic. Teams from 12 different countries competed (non-40-man roster players only) with the winning club splitting a $1M pool. (South Korea won this year.) Badler notes Maeda’s main offspeed pitch is his slider, though he showed an improved changeup in his two Premier 12 starts, perhaps emphasizing the pitch because he knew scouts would be watching.

Here’s some video of Maeda in action. This is all 50 pitches from his start against Puerto Rico in the Premier 12 last month. (He was on a pitch limit after the long season.) For reference, 145 kmph is approximately 90 mph.

Like most Asian pitchers, Maeda has that little hesitation in the middle of his delivery. His slider looked pretty sharp and his changeup was impressive in that one look, but again, it was just one look. Try not to make too much of those 50 pitches. Badler says Maeda lacks a bonafide knockout pitch like Darvish’s slider or Tanaka’s splitter, and he instead succeeds with fastball command and an array of offspeed stuff.

“Several scouts feel comfortable projecting Maeda as an immediate No. 4 starter in a big league rotation,” wrote Badler. I feel guys with that profile — fastball command and lots of offspeed stuff — tend to perform better than expected because the big leagues are so strikeout heavy. Kuroda had a similar profile. He commanded the fastball and went to work with sliders and splitters and curveballs.

Workload & Injury History

Unlike Tanaka and Darvish, Maeda has not endured a huge workload in Japan. He has been a workhorse, throwing 190+ innings in five of the last seven seasons and 200+ innings in four of the last six seasons. Tanaka and Darvish threw 1,315 and 1,268.1 innings in Japan through their age 24 seasons, then came to MLB. Maeda is at 1,509.2 innings through his age 27 season. So yes, he’s thrown a lot of innings, but he hasn’t been through the same kind of workload as Tanaka and Darvish.

As for injuries, Maeda missed time with relatively minor elbow problems in both 2013 and 2014. It was termed “discomfort” in 2013 and “tightness” in 2014. He missed a few starts each time and returned to the mound with no problems. Maeda’s had some minor non-arm issues as well, specifically oblique tightness, a bruised quad after being hit by a line drive, and tonsillitis. Yes, tonsillitis. That stuff is whatever. No big deal. The elbow is a concern but it is worth noting Maeda stayed perfectly healthy in 2015. No problems at all.

Contract Estimates

The posting agreement between MLB and NPB changed two years ago, right before Tanaka was posted, as I’m sure you remember. The old system featured blind bids, then a 30-day negotiating window for the player and the team with the high bid. Under the new system, the NPB team sets a release fee, then every MLB team can negotiate with the player for a period of 30 days. The team that signs him pays the release fee.

The Carp have set the release fee for Maeda at the maximum $20M, as expected. There is conflicting information about when exactly Maeda was posted — Jayson Stark says he was posted December 8th while Jon Heyman says he was posted December 10th — but the important thing is he has been posted, and there is still something like 18-20 days left in that 30-day negotiating period.

(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)
(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)

Maeda was in Los Angeles last week meeting with teams according to Bill Plunkett and Sponichi Yakyu, though it’s unclear how long he’ll be there. This does not necessarily mean he’s leaning towards a Southern California team. Tanaka did the same thing. Rather than travel to the different MLB cities, he went to Los Angeles and the teams went to him to make their pitch. It’s unclear if Maeda is still in Los Angeles. He could be back in Japan already.

I haven’t seen anything indicating the kind of contract Maeda is seeking. Eno Sarris did some good work trying to come up with an estimate and landed at six years and $105M, with $20M of that going to the Carp for the release fee. (The contract counts against the luxury tax, the posting fee does not.) So a player contract worth $85 across six years? That’s a $14.2M average annual value, or Ervin Santana money.

That sound reasonable? I could see Maeda’s camp pushing for an opt-out after, say, three years, allowing him to jump back into the market at a relatively young age if he proves he can thrive in MLB. There’s some evidence teams get a discount by including an opt-out, so maybe instead of six years at $14.2M it ends up being six years at $13M annually. I’m just spitballin’ here. It’s tough to gauge Maeda’s market. It only takes one team to see him as an ace and make a huge offer.

Wrapping Up

Believe it or not, the Yankees are among the teams with interest in Maeda according to a Yahoo! Japan report. The Dodgers, Padres, Angels, Mariners, Cardinals, and Astros are also said to be in the mix. Peter Gammons notes Maeda’s cultural transition should be relatively painless because his wife spent time studying in the U.S. and speaks perfect English. I dunno. We’ll see.

Anyway, I am intrigued by Maeda, more than I thought I would be before writing this post. He’s not a big guy at all (listed at 6-foot-0 and 180 lbs.) but he has good fastball command and confidence in multiple offspeed pitches, so he’s a pretty complete pitcher. The elbow woes are a red flag, no doubt about it, though they have been minor and Maeda stayed healthy this past season.

I don’t see Maeda — his nickname is Maeken, by the way (MAEda KENta) — as an ace or anything like that. It does seem like he has a chance to contribute as a mid-rotation guy for someone though. There’s no indication the Yankees will spend money on a significant free agent this offseason, though the release fee doesn’t not count against the luxury tax and Maeda’s annual salary may not be exorbitant. He may be a reasonably priced rotation option, at least relative to the other top available free agent starters, who are all looking at $16M+ per year.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Scott Kazmir

(Jamie Squire/Getty)
(Jamie Squire/Getty)

The top three free agent pitchers have now signed with new teams, and several second tier options have come off the board as well, most notably Jeff Samardzija, Jordan Zimmermann, Hisashi Iwakuma, and John Lackey. This is a very good free agent class though, so there are plenty of solid pitchers still on the board, waiting to be signed.

One of them is left-hander Scott Kazmir, whose comeback story is truly remarkable. He was out of baseball almost completely four years ago due to ongoing injury problems, but he got healthy, reinvented himself on the mound, and has put together three very good big league seasons since. Is the current version of Kazmir a fit for the Yankees? Let’s take a look.

The Performance

The Indians brought Kazmir back from baseball purgatory three years ago with a low cost one-year contract. He took advantage and turned it into a two-year contract with the Athletics. Oakland traded him to the Astros at the deadline this past season. Here are Kazmir’s last three seasons.

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2013 158.0 4.04 3.51 24.1% 7.0% 40.9% .348 .253
2014 190.1 3.55 3.35 21.1% 6.4% 43.8% .285 .304
2015 183.0 3.10 3.98 20.3% 7.7% 42.9% .285 .337
Total 531.1 3.54 3.61 21.8% 7.1% 42.6% .304 .299

Kazmir is a true fly ball pitcher. He’s not one of those guys with a low ground ball rate who makes up for it by getting a lot of infield pop-ups or something like that. (The pre-2015 version of Michael Pineda, basically.) His pop-up rate the last three years is 7.6%, below the league average, which hovers around 9.0% each year. Kazmir allows a lot of fly balls to the outfield and spacious O.co Coliseum definitely helped his ERA from 2014-15.

That said, Kazmir’s peripherals are pretty good too. His strikeout and walk rates are above-average for a starting pitcher, and his homer rate (0.93 HR/9 and 9.7 HR/FB%) is basically league average. I would expect the homer numbers to climb a bit with a move into Yankee Stadium because of the short porch and stuff. Kazmir hasn’t had a significant platoon split over the last three seasons but he has gotten progressively worse against lefties, which is weird.

So the overall numbers are good, but dig a tiny bit deeper and you’ll see Kazmir is basically a first half hitter. We hear about position players being first or second half hitters all the time, but we rarely hear about first or second half pitchers. Here are Kazmir’s first and second half splits over the last three seasons:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% HR/9 Opp. Avg/OBP/SLG
First Half 304.2 3.04 3.61 22.9% 7.3% .92 .225/.287/.363
Second Half 226.2 4.21 3.86 20.3% 6.6% .96 .270/.324/.406

Kazmir’s performance has suffered in the second half since he resurfaced, especially the last two years. He had a 2.38 ERA (3.19 FIP) in the first half last year, then a 5.42 ERA (3.61 FIP) in the second half. This past season it was a 2.49 ERA (3.23 FIP) in the first half and a 3.86 ERA (4.90 FIP) in the second half. Given all the injuries he had earlier in this career, it’s entirely possible Kazmir can no longer hold his stuff over a full season, so his performance suffers.

Either way, Kazmir’s overall performance has been very good these last three seasons. So it’s skewed towards the first half. Big deal. The first half counts too. Kazmir can still miss bats and he doesn’t have a platoon split, plus I think the successful comeback — he was limited to 17.1 innings in 2011 by injuries, then pitched in an independent league and winter ball in 2012 in an effort to get noticed — is an indication he’s a pretty tough guy. He’s been through the grinder to get to where he is.

The Change In Stuff

Once upon a time, Kazmir led the AL in strikeouts as a 23-year-old because he had mid-90s gas and one of the best sliders you’ll ever see. That guy is long gone. Kazmir has morphed from a four-seamer/slider pitcher into a four-seamer/sinker/changeup pitcher. He’s also added a little cutter. Kazmir still throws some sliders, but the changeup is his go-to secondary pitch now.

Given his injury history and the way pitchers age in general, I’m not sure looking at Kazmir’s stuff from even three years ago tells us much about him going forward. He turns 32 in January, an age where even healthy pitchers start to slip, so I’m going to focus on his 2015 stuff. Here’s a quick breakdown (MLB averages for starters in parentheses.)

% Thrown Velo. Whiff% GB%
Four-Seamer 31.0% 93.1 (91.9) 10.6% (6.9%) 28.7% (37.9%)
Sinker 26.8% 91.8 (90.8) 6.5% (5.4%) 45.4% (49.5%)
Slider 7.7% 81.7 (84.5) 13.3% (15.2%) 41.9% (43.9%)
Changeup 18.1% 77.0 (83.3) 18.4%  (14.9%) 45.2% (47.8%)
Cutter 12.6% 87.8 (87.2) 11.0% (9.7%) 57.8% (43.0%)

Kazmir generated an above-average number of swings and misses with every pitch but the slider, which is funny because the slider was the pitch he rode to the AL strikeout crown in 2007. The cutter was his only reliable ground ball pitch this past season and it was only his fourth pitch based on usage. That changeup Kazmir now relies on gets an above-average number of whiffs and a league-average-ish number of grounders.

Interestingly, Kazmir is still able to generate above-average fastball velocity despite all those injuries. He has lost some oomph from his halcyon days with the (Devil) Rays, but overall the velocity is still above average. Of course, Kazmir has lost velocity as the season has progressed the last few years, leading to those second half slumps (via Brooks Baseball).

Scott Kazmir velocity

Kazmir’s fastball velocity actually improved as the 2013 season progressed, but the last two years the four-seamer and sinker have faded in the second half. The changeup velocity has faded too, allowing him to maintain that incredible separation with his fastball — the gap between his sinker and change was 14.8 mph in 2015, which is insane — but losing velocity is when bad things happens. Here’s some video of good Kazmir.

The current version of Kazmir is a five-pitch guy with two fastballs, a quality changeup, plus usable fourth (cutter) and fifth (slider) pitches. As cliche as it is, he’s become a pitcher now, getting outs by locating and keeping hitters off balance. Back in the day he used to be able to overpower hitters with his fastball and slider. His stuff was so good. He’s had to adjust due to the injuries and, as the results show these last three seasons, Kazmir’s made that adjustment.

Injury History

The arm injuries first started to set in back in 2006 and they continued through 2010. Kazmir’s back then gave him problems in 2011. Here’s a quick run down of his major injury issues.

2006: Shoulder fatigue and inflammation (52 days missed)
2008: Elbow strain (43 days missed)
2009: Quad strain (37 days missed)
2010: Shoulder soreness (48 days missed) and hamstring strain (24 days missed)
2011: Lower back strain (72 days missed)

Some of the injuries also lingered into the offseason. Kazmir has avoided major injuries the last few years but he has missed a few starts with nagging day-to-day stuff. Some general arm soreness hampered him early last year, and this past season he missed time with a triceps problem. You may remember Kazmir leaving a start against the Yankees after only three innings back in July. That’s when the triceps acted up.

The good news: Kazmir has never had any kind of surgery. He’s just had a lot of strains and fatigue and soreness and stuff like that. This isn’t a guy who had to go under the knife because of major structural damage. Still, Kazmir’s velocity is not what it once was and he’s had to revamp his pitching style to remain effective because the injuries robbed him of stuff. Give him credit for doing it. It doesn’t make his injury history any prettier though.

Contract Estimates

I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s a pretty big disconnect between how we perceive the market and the actual market. We’re a year or two behind, it seems. Contracts aren’t crazy, we’re just behind. Teams obviously have lots of money to spend and a willingness to spend it. Here are some estimates for Kazmir:

The dollars make perfect sense to me. I think Bowden’s $16.5M average annual value projection is closest to what Kazmir will actually get. (Remember, Samardzija got $18M per year.) The years are where it gets interesting. You want to keep it to three years because Kazmir’s had so many injury problems and he’s faded in the second half the last two years, but in this market he has every reason to ask for four years.

I get the feeling this is going to be one of those “the team that offers the fourth year is the team that gets him” situations. Kazmir is arguably the top pitcher left on the free agent market — it’s either Kazmir, Mike Leake, or Wei-Yin Chen at this point — and that gives him some leverage. The Dodgers and Cardinals figure to be in the mix, among others.

Wrapping Up

Kazmir’s reinvention really fascinates me. The guy has carved out a successful MLB career with two totally different pitching styles before his 32nd birthday. He still has velocity but has gotten away from relying on overpowering hitters, so in theory he should age better, assuming he stays healthy. At the same time, his arm feels like a ticking time bomb.

The Yankees have not been connected to Kazmir or really any free agent so far this offseason. They do need rotation help and Kazmir won’t require a substantial commitment, but he’s not going to be cheap either. The Yankees would have to change their “we’re not spending” approach to get him. Odds of that happening? Pretty small, I’d say.

Kazmir fits the Yankees because he’s quite good, first and foremost, plus he’s also a Yankee Stadium friendly left-hander who is familiar with the AL East to some extent. (It’s been a while since he was with Tampa though.) That said, I’m not sure another pitcher with health concerns who isn’t a lock for a lot of innings moves the needle much. The Yankees need reliability.

Scouting The Trade Market: Marcell Ozuna

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

Over the last 14 months or so, the Yankees have made five trades in an effort to get younger and add more athleticism to the roster. The trend started with Didi Gregorius, then continued with Nathan Eovaldi, Dustin Ackley, Aaron Hicks, and Starlin Castro. Each time the Yankees targeted a talented young player who needed a change of scenery.

Another young and talented player in need of a change of scenery is currently on the trade market: Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna. He’s been mentioned in all sorts of trade rumors this offseason, and since owner Jeffrey Loria wants him gone, it feels like only a matter of time until he’s traded. It was reported during the Winter Meetings last week that the Yankees have interest in Ozuna. Is he a fit for the Bombers? Let’s take a look.

The Offense

Ozuna, 25, has spent parts of three seasons in the big leagues already. In 2013 he played four games at High Class-A, ten games at Double-A, then was summoned to the big leagues. The Marlins skipped him right over Triple-A, and given his lack of time at Double-A, they basically brought him to the show straight from Single-A. Here are Ozuna’s career offensive stats:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR K% BB% wRC+ vs. RHP wRC+ vs. LHP
2013 291 .265/.303/.389 91 3 19.6% 4.5% 79 131
2014 612 .269/.317/.455 115 23 26.8% 6.7% 118 102
2015 494 .259/.308/.383 89 10 22.3% 6.1% 76 145
Total 1,397 .265/.311/.416 101 36 23.7% 6.0% 95 123

Ozuna is a right-handed hitter, which explains why he’s been quite a bit better against southpaws so far in his young career. He does have power — 23 homers in 612 plate appearances while playing your home games is Marlins Park is nothing to sneeze at — but he doesn’t draw very many walks, so his OBPs won’t be anything great.

As you’d expect given those strikeout and walk rates, Ozuna has swung at 34.3% of the pitches he’s seen outside the strike zone the last three years, a bit above the 31.3% league average but not insanely so. Ozuna’s chase rate is on par with guys like Robinson Cano (35.3%) and Eric Hosmer (34.8%), and they’re quality hitters despite taking some bad swings.

Ozuna’s contact rate (73.2%) is much lower than Cano’s (85.4%) and Hosmer’s (81.7%) though, and lower than the league average in general (79.3%). So while he’s not a total hacker who swings at everything like, say, Pablo Sandoval (44.6% chase rate) or Adam Jones (43.3%), Ozuna doesn’t have the contact ability to make it work like some other guys.

Here’s a snippet off Baseball America’s scouting report (subs. req’d) heading into the 2013 season, the last time Ozuna was prospect eligible. They ranked him as Miami’s fifth best prospect behind Jose Fernandez, Christian Yelich, Andrew Heaney, and Jake Marisnick.

He has the power to drive the ball well out of any part of the park, though he tends to get pull-happy at times, flying open with his front side instead of staying back and punishing the ball. Plate-discipline issues that plagued him early in his career have eased significantly as he has advanced, though at times he’ll revert to guessing and chasing breaking balls down and out of the strike zone. When he swings at strikes, he rarely misses, thanks to excellent hand-eye coordination.

Ozuna’s overall contact rate may be below-average, but his career contact rate on pitches in the zone is 85.6%, which is more or less league average (86.7%). So the problem is discipline and not necessarily pitch recognition or bad hitting mechanics. He wouldn’t make as much contact in the zone if he couldn’t recognize pitches or had an ugly swing.

That is more or less the Alfonso Soriano hitting profile. Ozuna will dive you crazy when he chases sliders off the plate, but man, when he gets something to handle, he does major damage. Soriano is a big time outlier among players with this approach — most guys like this wind up Quad-A types — though Ozuna has over 1,300 big league plate appearances of league average production under his belt. That’s not insignificant.

The Baseball America scouting report also praises Ozuna’s passion for the game and says he “oozes tools,” though his “slightly above-average speed and average instincts” have yet to translate into big stolen totals. He’s 10-for-15 in big league stolen base attempts and has only one minor league season with more than eight steals. Ozuna has taken the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) 45% of the time in his career. The league average is 40%.

Ozuna has some serious offensive upside thanks to his power — he has 70 doubles in addition to those 36 career homers, and Marlins Park has done his career .151 ISO no favors — but his lack of plate discipline is a major drawback. It wouldn’t be completely unprecedented for a guy like Ozuna to improve his discipline and approach, though it won’t be an easy adjustment either. Being a hacker is in his DNA.

The Defense

Ozuna is a pretty big dude — he’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 225 lbs. — but he’s so athletic that he moves well in the outfield and has rated as an above-average gloveman according to the various defensive metrics. And yes, sample size warnings still apply at this point of his career.

Although he’s a natural center fielder, Ozuna has played both right and left field on occasion for the Marlins, so he’s familiar with all three outfield spots. Baseball America’s scouting report says he also has a “cannon arm,” and, well, look:

Oh yeah. That’s the good stuff. As much as I love dingers and speed and all that, a rocket arm is the most exciting tool in baseball in by book. Throws like the ones Ozuna is capable of making can be breathtaking at times.

Anyway, Ozuna is a two-way player who offers above-average glovework in addition to his promising power potential and thus far league average offense. The defense is a carrying tool, really. That’s the reason Ozuna has contributed 6.5 fWAR in 346 career games, or roughly 3.0 fWAR per 162 games. He’s not a guy who needs to hit and hit big to be a positive contributor. His glove alone makes his valuable.

Injury History

Ozuna has suffered three significant injuries in his career and every single one was the result of an aggressive play in the outfield. He broke a bone in his left wrist making a diving catch in the minors in 2010. He then broke the same wrist crashing into the wall in Spring Training 2013. Then, in July 2013, he broke his left thumb and tore ligaments making a diving play.

Hand and wrist injuries are very bad, though the silver lining here is that Ozuna rebounded from the two 2013 injuries to have a stellar 2014 campaign, so there are no lingering effects. It’s easy to say these are fluke injuries since they happened on dives and stuff, but Ozuna plays hard, and when you dive in the outfield and crash into walls, you’re prone to injuries like this. They’re the result of his style of play.

Contract Situation

The Marlins really are a weaselly organization. They’re the cartoon bad guy twirling his mustache of baseball organizations. Ozuna got off to a slow start this past season, so Miami took advantage and sent him to Triple-A for six weeks, which was juuust long enough to prevent from becoming a Super Two after the season. He fell six days short of the service time cutoff.

Ozuna was hitting .249/.301/.337 (75 wRC+) at the time of the demotion, so it wasn’t entirely undeserved, but the Marlins deserve no benefit of the doubt. They did the same thing with Logan Morrison a few years ago, so this is not the first time they’ve done it. Scott Boras, Ozuna’s agent, ripped the Marlins for their service time shenanigans after the season, then there was the whole thing about the racist recording someone apparently tried to use to get team president David Samson fired. I dunno, man. I’m just the messenger.

So anyway, thanks to that well-timed six-week demotion, Ozuna is currently sitting on two years and 124 days of service time. He has four years of control remaining. One as a pre-arbitration player and then the usual three years of arbitration eligibility. His eventual new team can thank the Marlins for saving them some cash by preventing Ozuna from becoming a Super Two.

What Would It Take?

For what it’s worth, Jayson Stark hears the Marlins have put an Ozuna trade on the back-burner for the time being. They’re still willing to listen but are no longer actively shopping him. Miami was said to be seeking young pitching for Ozuna, and Jerry Crasnick reports they asked the Mariners for Taijuan Walker, the Royals for Yordano Ventura, and the Indians for Danny Salazar, so yeah.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Regardless of what the Marlins are asking, four years of a young two-way outfielder with power potential is pretty valuable, even though the plate discipline issues are a significant red flag. Guys like that don’t get traded very often. I’ve found one comparable trade: Carlos Gomez. During the 2009-10 offseason the Twins traded four years of Gomez to the Brewers for two years of J.J. Hardy, straight up.

In a way, Ozuna now is similar to Gomez then. Both had incredible tools but struggled with plate discipline, and they were both very good center fielders. At the time Gomez was a better defender, but Ozuna has put up much better offensive numbers in his career than Gomez did back then. Gomez is one of those hacky hitters who learned just enough plate discipline to become a very good everyday player. Ozuna has similar upside.

Unfortunately, the Gomez trade doesn’t really help us determine Ozuna’s trade value. If the Marlins are sticking to their guns about young pitching, the Yankees simply don’t have any to offer outside Luis Severino, and that’s just not happening. I don’t think two years of Michael Pineda would entice Miami given his injury history, not without a really nice second piece.

Wrapping Up

The Yankees have been targeting these young, talented, out of favor players over the last year or so and Ozuna fits the bill perfectly. The only real issue is that they’re already loaded with outfielders, both at the MLB and Triple-A levels. Acquiring Ozuna means the Yankees almost would have to trade Brett Gardner just to make the roster work.

I do like Ozuna’s tools — how could you not? — and I think he could do some real damage in Yankee Stadium. Add in the strong defense and you’ve got a nice player on your hands. That he hits right-handed and would balance New York’s lineup is a bonus. The plate discipline problem is real though, and it creates a lot of risk. Ozuna’s pretty boom-or-busty.

On paper, Ozuna is the type of player the Yankees have been acquiring of late. He’s very much available — Loria is said to hate Ozuna, and if the owner hates you, you’re pretty much a goner — but finding a deal that works with the Marlins won’t be easy, especially if they stick to their young pitcher demand. I get the feeling we’ll hear the Yankees connected to Ozuna again in the coming weeks.

Scouting the Free Agent Market: Tony Sipp

(Sarah Crabill/Getty)
(Sarah Crabill/Getty)

Over the last few offseasons, the Yankees have only spent whatever comes off the books following the season. They put the money back into the team and that’s basically it, no more. The Yankees only shed about $20M in player salaries after the 2015 season, and a little less than half that will go to covering arbitration raises. It’s no surprise they’re focusing on trades now.

Spending some (any) of those limited dollars on a relief pitcher may not seem like a smart idea, but with substantial rotation help unlikely to be on the way, improving the relief crew make sense. Besides, there’s a chance the Yankees could land themselves a bargain in left-hander Tony Sipp, who remains unsigned even though relievers are now coming off the board every few hours. Is he a fit? Let’s look.

Recent Performance

Sipp is a journeyman. He started his career with the Indians, was traded to the Diamondbacks in the three-team deal that also sent Didi Gregorius to the desert, signed with the Padres as a free agent, then landed with the Astros as a free agent after being released by San Diego. The 32-year-old has thrown 363 innings in parts of seven MLB seasons (3.50 ERA and 4.21 FIP).

After arriving in Houston in 2014, Sipp’s performance improved considerably. Here are his last two seasons with the Astros and his two seasons prior to joining Houston.

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2012 55.0 4.42 4.68 21.9% 9.9% 32.9% 1.47 .353 .288
2013 37.2 4.78 4.88 24.0% 12.6% 26.0% 1.43 .306 .378
2014 50.2 3.38 2.93 31.8% 8.6% 31.3% 0.89 .235 .227
2015 54.1 1.99 2.93 28.7% 6.9% 38.8% 0.83 .265 .265

Gosh, that’s like two different pitchers. Once he arrived in Houston, Sipp’s strikeout rate skyrocketed and he figured out how to retire right-handed batters, so he was no longer a left-on-left matchup guy. He was a true one-inning pitcher the last two seasons who just so happened to be left-handed.

Sipp’s walk rate is a little high — I’m not sure I’d count on him sustaining a 6.9% walk rate going forward, not based on his career to date — and he doesn’t get grounders, though that’s not necessarily a big deal because he’s been an extreme infield fly ball guy. His career rate is 13.5% infield pop-ups. The MLB average hovers around 9.0% each year. Strikeouts and pop-ups are a really great recipe for success.

Obviously there are reasons to be skeptical. Relievers work in small samples and weird stuff happens. When a career journeyman like Sipp suddenly puts it together, it’s easy to think it’s a fluke. There is a tangible reason for the improved performance against right-handers though, which led to the overall success. Let’s look at that now.

The Stuff

For the vast majority of his career, Sipp was a low-90s fastball/low-80s slider guy. Pretty generic. There are about a zillion lefties in pro ball with similar stuff. But, after picking him up off the scrap heap, the Astros got Sipp to use his splitter more often. Check it out:

Tony Sipp pitch selection

We saw Nathan Eovaldi go through the process of learning a splitter this summer. It’s not as simple as throwing the pitch more often. You have to get comfortable with it and throw it with conviction. That can take time.

The Astros got Sipp to use his splitter more often last year, and by this summer he was throwing it almost as often as his slider. It’s gone from show-me third pitch to legit weapon. That explains the improved performance against righties. Sipp now has a weapon for batters of the opposite hand. There’s an honest to goodness explanation for the improvement.

Middle reliever highlight videos are not exactly a hot internet commodity, but here’s a short look at Sipp’s split-finger fastball in action:

Chris Colabello, the last batter in the video, took that fastball down the middle because he was expecting a two-strike splitter out of the zone, the pitch Sipp used to strike out the first two batters. The splitter changes everything. The split itself gets swings and misses and it helps his fastball play up.

Sipp improved the last two years because he changed as a pitcher. Whether the improved performance is sustainable long-term remains to be seen, but, for now, all we need to understand the success is not a fluke. He added a new pitch and it changed his profile.

Injury History

Sipp had Tommy John surgery back in July 2007 but has been healthy since. No DL stints, no day-to-day injuries, nothing. The elbow reconstruction is the only significant injury of his career. (He did miss three weeks with an oblique strain in 2006, which … whatever.) By 32-year-old journeyman reliever standards, Sipp’s medical history is about as clean as you’re going to find.

Contract Estimates

Well, if there’s one thing we’ve learned this offseason, it’s that teams have a lot of money to spend. Contracts have been larger than projected in general, and that includes free agent relievers. For information purposes, here are Sipp’s various contract estimates (he didn’t receive a qualifying offer, so there’s no draft pick attached):

For what it’s worth, Jerry Crasnick reported yesterday that Sipp is looking for three years and $5M to $6M annually. That’s basically Zach Duke (three years, $15M) and Boone Logan (three years, $16.5M) money, and hey, maybe those are cautionary tales. Duke and Logan have been pretty terrible since signing their big free agent deals, and similar to Sipp, Duke had a tangible explanation for his sudden success because he reinvented himself as a side-armer.

Wrapping Up

The free agent bullpen market was pretty weak coming into the offseason and most of the top guys have already come off the board. Darren O’Day received four years and $32M. Joakim Soria got three years and $25M. Mark Lowe got two years and $13M. Heck, Ryan Madson got three years and $22M despite not pitching at all from 2012-14 due to an ugly medical history.

When I saw Sipp wanted only three years at $5M or $6M per year, it stood out to me as a bargain in this market. I thought Sipp was undervalued a bit coming into the offseason, but man, seeing those reliever contracts makes his asking price really seem like a good deal to me. The splitter explains his sudden success and he’s done it two years in a row now. This wasn’t a one-year blip. He did it in 2014 and did it again 2015 as he continued to emphasize the splitter.

The Yankees may not have much money to spend this offseason, but it appears Sipp can provide some real bang for the buck. Forget the left-handed thing. He’s a setup man caliber reliever capable of throwing full innings. He can provide additional bullpen depth and also help cushion the blow if the Yankees do indeed decide to trade Andrew Miller at some point. There’s always room in the bullpen for another good reliever anyway.

I can understand why anyone would be skeptical of Sipp going forward, especially since he’s not young, though I am a believer in the splitter and his ability to sustain his 2014-15 success going forward. It’s risky. No doubt about it. All reliever contracts are. Sipp does strike me as a great value play at his asking price though. Extra bullpen depth to help protect against a rotation littered with health concerns may not be a bad way for the Yankees to use their limited dollars.