Archive for Scouting The Market
The bullpen has been a strength all throughout the Joe Girardi era, but injuries have wreaked havoc on the relief corps in 2012. Mariano Rivera made just nine appearances before suffering a season-ending ACL injury, and then a few days later David Robertson suffered an oblique strain that cost him a month on the DL. With their two best late-game arms out with injury, the Yankees relied heavily on Boone Logan and Cory Wade ahead of backup backup closer Rafael Soriano.
All of that work has thinned out the relief unit even though Robertson has returned. Wade is in Triple-A after allowing 16 runs in his last six innings and Logan leads the league with 43 appearances. He’s allowed a run in each of his last four appearances. The Yankees picked up Chad Qualls to add some depth and until we see Joba Chamberlain and/or David Aardsma on a big league mound, they shouldn’t count on them for anything. New York needs to add a quality reliever to their bullpen, someone to help take the load off Robertson and Soriano. The pace these guys are going at right now puts them at risk for burning out late in the season, something Girardi has done a masterful job of avoiding in recent years.
Trading for relievers is risky business, which is why the Yankees haven’t done much of it in recent years. Kerry Wood worked out well in 2010 and Damaso Marte has his moments in 2008, but otherwise they’ve built their bullpens via internal options and the scrap heap in recent years. Digging up another Wade — last year’s version, not this year’s — is probably not something they count on, so the trade market becomes an undesirable but necessary avenue to add relief depth. Let’s take a look at a personal fave and someone who should be very available since his team is not contending: Matt Belisle of the Rockies.
- A failed starter with the Reds back in the day, the 32-year-old Belisle has quietly become one of the game’s most effective relievers. He’s pitched to a 2.82 ERA and 2.72 FIP since the start of 2010 (1.93 ERA and 2.27 FIP this year) with stellar strikeout (8.07 K/9 and 21.9 K%), walk (1.62 BB/9 and 4.4 BB%), and ground ball (51.7%) rates. Take out the eleven (!) intentional walks and it’s a 3.2% walk rate. That is getting it done.
- Belisle is a true three-pitch reliever, using a low-90s fastball to setup his mid-80s slider and low-80s curve. The slider is for righties, the curve for both righties and lefties. He’ll also throw a low-90s two-seamer and an upper-80s changeup, but very rarely.
- Thanks to those two breaking balls, he doesn’t have much of a platoon split. Belisle has held lefties to a .275 wOBA (22.7 K% and 6.9 BB%) and righties to a .294 wOBA (21.4 K% and 2.9 BB%) over the last three years.
- Belisle is a true workhorse out of the bullpen, throwing 92 innings across 76 appearances in 2010. The Rockies scaled it back to 72 innings across 74 appearances last season, but this year he’s up to 46.2 innings in 43 appearances. He’s tied with Logan (and a few others) for the most appearances in baseball and is third in reliever innings.
- All of those appearances and innings may be catching to Belisle, as his fastball velocity continued to trend downward this season after a slight drop a year ago. He’s also throwing the fastball less frequently than ever before (just 46.9%), perhaps an indication that he’s having trouble getting outs with it.
- Belisle has a history of knee problems, including a torn ACL back in 2008 and offseason surgery to repair a torn meniscus after pitching though it all last season. He’s obviously been healthy enough to rack up all those innings, however.
- He’s not cheap. Belisle is making $3.775M this year — approximately $1.8M from here on out — and is under contract for $4.1M next season. His contract includes a $4.25M mutual option for 2014 with a $250k buyout. That’s not a ton of money, but he would be the third highest paid reliever on the club behind Rivera and Soriano.
Belisle has a whole lot to offer as a workhorse reliever capable of getting both lefties and righties out. That’s one of the biggest problems with the Yankees bullpen right now, there are so many specialists — Clay Rapada, Cody Eppley, Logan, Qualls — that Girardi has to use two or three of these guys just to get a handful of outs. Belisle’s a guy who has experience pitching in big-time offensive park and won’t require any sort of special treatment as far as matchups go. They could just stick him out there for an inning or two and let him go.
Reports indicate that the Rockies would have to be overwhelmed to trade Belisle, which is unfortunate. Relievers like Matt Capps and Mike Adams were traded at midseason with a year and a half of team control remaining at recent trade deadlines, giving us a pair of decent comparables. Capps fetched Wilson Ramos — an excellent catching prospect at the time — while Adams netted Joe Wieland and Robbie Erlin, a pair of Grade-B pitching prospects at Double-A. Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd is probably looking to hit a homerun like the Athletics did when they traded Andrew Bailey for Josh Reddick and others.
The Yankees have the pieces to swing a deal and Belisle appears to be a damn good fit, but again, trading for relievers is always risky because they have a tendency to suck for no apparent reason and without warning. If Belisle comes in and pulls a 2007 Eric Gagne, whoever trades for him will be stuck with him at a team unfriendly salary in 2013. The upside is that he comes in an dominates and is around next year, providing some protection should Soriano opt-out of his deal after the season. There’s an obvious need for another quality reliever in the bullpen, it’s just a question of whether the Yankees want to shore it up via trade or continue to do what they’ve been doing for the last few years and finding answers on the cheap.
The Yankees have gotten no offense out of their catchers this season and it’s hard to think the glovework of Russell Martin and Chris Stewart have made up for the lack of production at the plate. An upgrade at the position should be on the trade deadline shopping list — though certainly not atop it — even though quality catching is hard to find. We’ve already looked at Ramon Hernandez of the Rockies, but now let’s look at the backstop of another non-contender: George Kottaras of the Brewers.
The 29-year-old Kottaras broke into the big leagues with the Red Sox back in 2008 — they acquired him from the Padres in 2006 in exchange for David Wells (!) — but moved on to Milwaukee via waivers a few days after the Yankees won the 2009 World Series. He’s been the club’s backup since then, first behind Gregg Zaun and now behind the (injured) Jonathan Lucroy. Youngster Martin Maldonado has done a solid job during Lucroy’s absence, meaning Kottaras could become trade bait if the 40-45 Brewers decided to sell in the coming weeks. Let’s see if he’s a fit for the Yankees…
- For one, Kottaras is a left-handed hitter and that’s rare for a catcher. He’s a .239/.330/.436 career hitter against right-handers in 460 big league plate appearances against them.
- Kottaras excels at drawing walks, earning a free pass in 13.8% of his career plate appearances in the show. Over the last three seasons it’s a 14.8% walk rate. Kottaras doesn’t strikeout a ton despite all the deep counts, owning a 19.3% strikeout rate over the last three years.
- It’s tough to quantify catcher defense, but Beyond The Box Score’s catcher defense rankings rated Kottaras as an above-average defender last season. Click through the full analysis.
- Kottaras will be arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason, he remains under team control through 2015. He’s making six figures this season after missing the Super Two cutoff by a few weeks.
- Kottaras struggles against lefties, with a career .178/.326/.308 line against southpaws in 133 plate appearances. It’s a small sample, but his minor league history backs it up. He’s a platoon hitter.
- Despite the solid defensive ranking last year, Kottaras can not throw. He’s gunned down just 21 (!) of 128 attempted base-stealers in his big league career, an unfathomably bad 16.4%. For what it’s worth, the 2010 catcher defense rankings rated him as below average.
- Kottaras is out of minor league options and can not be send down to Triple-A without first clearing waivers.
As bad as his numbers are overall, Russell Martin has handled southpaws well — .275/.383/.549 this year and .230/.337/.424 as a Yankee — and it makes sense to seek a platoon partner. It’s hard not to love Kottaras’ on-base ability and you dream about the short Yankee Stadium porch unlocking some power, though the inability to control the running game is a major issue. I mean, Jorge Posada threw runners out at a 21.8% clip during his defensive disaster years from 2008-2010. Kottaras is at 16.4% during his peak years. It’s a major concern.
Obviously the years of team control is desirable because the Yankees don’t really have a catcher beyond this season. Kottaras would allow them to let Martin walk as a free agent this winter before stepping in as the heavy side of a platoon with a youngster like Austin Romine. But again, that throwing is a problem that will get exposed in steal-happy AL East. I’m not exactly one to be hard on players who play below average defense, but there is a minimum standard here and I don’t think Kottaras meets it. He’s an ideal pickup on the offensive side of the ball, but unfortunately the game extends beyond the batter’s box.
As I wrote this morning, the Yankees have gotten next to nothing out of their Russell Martin-Chris Stewart catching tandem this year, meaning it’s only logical to explore potential trade options for help behind the dish. Unfortunately the crop of catchers around the game consists of elite backstops (Yadier Molina, Joe Mauer, etc.) or absolute garbage (Kurt Suzuki, Miguel Olivo, etc.). There seems to be no middle ground, though one name caught my eye when MLBTR published a list of potentially available catchers earlier this week: Ramon Hernandez of the Rockies.
Hernandez, 36, is currently on the DL with a left hand strain but he started a minor league rehab assignment last night. He was off to a slow start this season — .216/.260/.398 with four homers (58 wRC+) — but it was only 101 plate appearances and his hand was barking. The Rockies are going nowhere fast (31-50) and Hernandez’s injury has allowed catcher of the future Wilin Rosario to emerge as an everyday option (100 wRC+), so it seems likely that they’ll look to move the veteran backstop for prospect depth. Frankly, they should be selling off anything not nailed down. The Yankees need catching help and Hernandez is a catcher, but it’s not that simple. Let’s see what he has to offer…
- Despite this year’s numbers, Hernandez can still hit a little. He posted a .282/.341/.446 batting line with a dozen homers (111 wRC+) in 328 plate appearances last year for the Reds and has hit .280/.341/.432 (105 wRC+) in nearly 800 plate appearances since Opening Day 2010.
- Most of that damage has come against same-side pitchers. Hernandez has tagged right-handers to the tune of .279/.338/.450 with 21 homers (109 wRC+) in 538 plate appearances over the last three seasons. He’s held his own against southpaws as well: 95 wRC+ in 186 plate appearances.
- Beyond the raw production, Hernandez’s best offensive trait is his ability to put the bat on the ball. His career strikeout rate is a miniscule 12.7% and he’s never deviated too far from that number in any season, even as he’s crept up into his mid-30s.
- Beyond the Box Score rated him as one of the game’s better defensive backstops in both 2010 and 2011. Click through for the full analysis. Hernandez has also been consistently above average at stopping the running game, throwing out a hair more than one-third (33.8% to be exact) of attempted basestealers since the start of 2010. League average is generally in the 27-29% range. As an added bonus, Hernandez has started 30 games (44 appearances total) at first base in recent years. Versatility is always nice.
- Hernandez spent three years with the Orioles so he’s familiar with the AL East and all that stuff. I don’t put a ton of stock into that but I do think it’s worth mentioning. Knowing the lay of the AL East land is better than coming in blind. Hernandez has always been considered a strong clubhouse guy — that’s one of the primary reasons why Colorado signed him in the first place — and again, always a plus.
- Catchers get hurt, it comes with the territory, but Hernandez has been on the DL five times in the last six years. His injuries include an oblique strain (2007), a groin contusion (2007), knee surgery (2009), knee soreness (2010), and now the hand issue. Hernandez is no longer an everyday backstop and has been unable to top 85 starts behind the plate or 360 plate appearances in a single season since 2008.
- We can’t draw any meaningful conclusions from his performance this year, but Hernandez’s ground ball and line drive rates have been trending in the wrong direction for a few years now. The same can be said of his once strong walk rate. This isn’t atypical of older hitters.
- Mike Fast’s now famous study on pitching framing rated Hernandez as one of the game’s worst at turning borderline pitches into strikes in recent years.
- Hernandez is no rental. The Rockies signed him to a two-year deal worth $6.5M this offseason, and he’s still owed approximately $1.6M for the rest of this year plus $3.2M next year. Tying up future payroll with a midseason trade is not ideal.
On paper, Hernandez seems like a pretty good fit for the Yankees. He could split catching duties with Martin down the stretch and since he’s under contract at a reasonable price next year, he could serve as a nice veteran caddy for a young kid like Austin Romine. His contract then expires right as the 2014 payroll plan takes effect. Simply put, he’d be a stopgap for next season.
That said, we are talking about a 36-year-old backstop who probably should have turned into a pumpkin two or three years ago. His slow start this year could just be small sample size noise or the sign of impending doom. Catchers do fall off quickly and drastically without warning, so any team that trades for him could be stuck with a dud backstop eating up future payroll. There’s quite a bit of risk here but the cost — both financially and in terms of players in the actual trade — shouldn’t be exorbitant, plus the benefits could be compounded since Martin tends to play better with extra rest. The catcher pickin’s are slim and Hernandez just may represent the best of the bunch.
The trade deadline is now officially less than a month away, and the Yankees figure to spend most of their energy upgrading this year’s pitching staff and bench. The 2014 payroll plan looms however, and the impending free agencies of Nick Swisher (after this year) and Curtis Granderson (after next year once his 2013 option is exercised) mean the team is likely to be looking for a young, affordable outfielder in the next 18 months. Domonic Brown of the Phillies has been a popular name as a potential target, mostly due to his status as a former elite prospect, but he’s not the only guy out there.
The Angels are flush with young outfielders, obviously highlighted by the ultra-dynamic Mike Trout. They also have the powerful Mark Trumbo and speedy Peter Bourjos, giving them a very nice core of homegrown outfielders. Those three draw all of the attention and rightfully so, but down in Triple-A they also have the 24-year-old Kole Calhoun, who Baseball America ranked as the team’s 20th best prospect in their Prospect Handbook before the season. John Sickels ranked him as the team’s 11th best prospect this spring.
Calhoun’s minor league numbers are pretty dynamite, a .404 wOBA in 274 Triple-A plate appearances this season. That works out to a 140 wRC+, which is adjusted for ballpark and league. His Rookie League (141 wRC+) and High-A (142 wRC+) numbers are right there as well even though the Halos completely skipped him over Low-A and Double-A. We’re talking about 1,100+ minor league plate appearances that have consistently been ~40% better than league average after the necessary adjustments. That said, stats do not tell the entire story. Let’s look at the ins and outs of the former Arizona State Sun Devil…
- Calhoun, listed at 5-foot-10 and 190 lbs., offers some power and lots of patience. His 39 career minor league homers are inflated by hitter friendly home parks, though he’s also hit for plenty of doubles and has strong road numbers as well. An 11.9% walk rate backs up the patience part, and his strikeout rate isn’t outrageous either (17.2%). “He sees his share of pitches and knows what he can handle, seldom missing a pitch he can drive,” wrote Baseball America in the 2012 Prospect Handbook.
- A left-handed batter, Calhoun has held his own against southpaws over the last two seasons: .300/.367/.500 with nine homers in 230 plate appearances. Obviously that’s not a huge sample, but it is encouraging. “He’s confident and doesn’t dwell on bad at-bats,” added Baseball America.
- Defensively, Calhoun has experience in all three outfield spots as well as first base. Baseball America said he offers “at least average range on the outfield corners and at first base, and his plus arm strength is a good match for right field.”
- Calhoun got a taste of the big leagues earlier this season — eight games and 14 plate appearances — but still offers all six years of team control, the first three as a pre-arbitration-eligible player. “He wins admirers not for his raw tools but for his blue-collar approach, plate discipline and professionalism,” wrote Baseball America.
- Calhoun’s walk (7.8%) and strikeout (19.0%) rates in Triple-A this year have taken a big step back compared to the first two years of his minor league career — 13.3% walks and 16.8% strikeouts. Big league pitchers struck him out four times in those 14 plate appearances (28.6%).
- Baseball America says he has “fringy bat speed,” which limits his long-term power potential. Yankee Stadium could help to a certain extent since he is a lefty, but anytime you’re talking about a long-term corner outfielder with questionable power you have a potential ‘tweener.
- Although Calhoun can steal the occasional base, he isn’t terribly efficient — 33-for-47 (70.2%) in his minor league career — and Baseball America says he “he grades out as a below-average runner.”
The Yankees do not have anyone in the upper levels of their farm system who projects as an everyday big leaguer, which is why they’re likely to be stuck scrounging the trade market for a Swisher/Granderson replacement. The Angels have enviable young outfield depth and seem like a logical trade partner*, though they’re reported looking for a rotation upgrade and a left-handed reliever better than Hisanori Takahashi. The Yankees don’t have that to offer, not unless they’re willing to dangle Boone Logan. Can’t say I would recommend that when we’re talking about a kid with zero big league success to his credit. The goal is still to win this year.
Prospect-for-prospect trades are very rare because every team loves their kids more than everyone else’s. Maybe GM Jerry Dipoto likes Adam Warren or D.J. Mitchell enough to do a one-for-one swap, which would be a cool little “you need a pitcher, I need a hitter, let’s trade” kinda deal. Think Jesus Montero-for-Michael Pineda on a smaller, Triple-A scale. That would be neat. Either way, I do like Calhoun quite a bit because he’s well-rounded and has shown signs of being able to hold his own against same-side pitchers, plus he offers the Yankees trademarks of left-handed pop (assuming Yankee Stadium shows him some love) and patience. He’s not a sexy name, but he’s a definite fit.
* Just to be clear: There are no reports or evidence that the Yankees are trying to acquire Calhoun or that he’s even available. This is me just throwing a name out there.
The Yankees have been hit hard by the injury bug this season, and that was even before they lost CC Sabathia (left adductor strain) and Andy Pettitte (fractured left ankle) in the span of about five hours yesterday. The two veteran left-handers join Michael Pineda (torn labrum) as starting pitchers on the disabled list, meaning the team’s minor league pitching depth — specifically the trio of David Phelps, Adam Warren, and D.J. Mitchell — will really be tested in the coming weeks.
Thankfully Sabathia is scheduled to come back right after the All-Star break, so he’ll only be out of action for two starts. Pettitte’s injury could keep him out until September and is obviously much more severe. Brian Cashman made it clear that the Yankees will cycle through internal options first, but a trade before the deadline is always possible. While Zack Greinke and Matt Garza grab all of the attention, a deal for a smaller name and lesser pitcher seems more likely. That would include Francisco Liriano of the Twins, who has been on the block for about three years now. We last broke down the 28-year-old southpaw as a trade candidate over the winter, so let’s take an updated look…
- Since rejoining Minnesota’s rotation last month, Liriano has pitching to a 2.41 ERA (2.39 FIP) with 40 strikeouts and 14 walks in 37.1 innings across six starts. He’s held batters to a miniscule .157/.248/.236 batting line and has been simply dominant.
- Liriano’s fastball velocity — both two-seamer and four-seamer — has bounced back this season, with more than a mile-an-hour returning after a similarly-sized drop last year. His slider and changeup have been unchanged for years, though he has scaled back usage of the latter this season.
- Even when he’s struggled through the years, Liriano has always been a dominant strikeout and ground ball pitcher. He’s at 8.83 K/9 (22.4 K%) and 45.1% grounders this season, right in line with his career marks: 8.93 K/9 (23.3 K%) and 48.0% grounders.
- The left-handed Liriano is as tough as it gets on same-side hitters. He’s held fellow lefties to a .205 wOBA this season with an 11.42 K/9 (33.9 K%) and 55.9% grounders. Just dominant. His career numbers — .268 wOBA against with 9.61 K/9 (26.0 K%) and 60.6% grounders — are just as strong.
- A pure rental with limited risk, Liriano will earn $5.5M this season before becoming a free agent this winter. That works out to about $917k per month from here on out.
- The reason Liriano had to rejoin the rotation last month was because he was so bad earlier in the year that he had to be demoted to the bullpen. He pitched to a 9.45 ERA (6.55 FIP) with nearly as many walks (19) as strikeouts (21) in his first six starts and 26.2 innings before moving to relief. In five relief appearances, Liriano posted a 4.91 ERA (3.47 FIP) with seven walks and nine strikeouts in 7.1 innings.
- For all those strikeouts and grounders, Liriano continues to hurt himself with walks. His 5.05 BB/9 (12.8 BB%) is a career worst and the fourth highest in baseball (min. 70 IP). Last season he was at 5.02 BB/9 (12.7 BB%), so we’re now over 200 innings (205.2 to be exact) with a walk rate over 5.0 BB/9 (12.5 BB%).
- He might shut down lefties, but righties are a different story. Batters of the opposite hand have tagged Liriano for a .357 wOBA this season, and his strong strikeout rate (8.00 K/9 and 19.4 K%) is negated by a terrible walk rate (5.67 BB/9 and 13.7 BB%). His career performance isn’t a ton better (.328 wOBA against).
- Liriano’s injury history is quite lengthy. Since having Tommy John surgery in 2007, he’s missed time with forearm and elbow swelling (2009), shoulder inflammation (2011), and a shoulder strain (2011).
- Thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, any team that trades for him will not be eligible for draft pick compensation.
The Twins are certifiably terrible at 30-44 with baseball’s worst run differential (-95), and a few weeks ago they probably would have given Liriano away from free. He’s rebuilt some value since moving back into the rotation, but not enough to land Minnesota a quality prospect. The last three or four years aren’t going to be washed away by six nice starts, teams will still be skeptical about his ability to solidify their rotation down the stretch.
I am intrigued by Liriano’s potential as a shutdown left-handed reliever, which is a pretty great fallback option should the starting thing not work out (again). Then again, if the Yankees are going to trade for pitching help, I feel that they should trade for someone they know will be a clear upgrade and Liriano just isn’t reliable enough to say that. If the Twins are open to giving him away for a Grade-C prospect and salary relief while the Warrens and Phelpses and Mitchells prove ineffective, then the Bombers should probably get involved. Cashman & Co. won’t rush into any kind of panic move and even if they were, Liriano’s not a guy you acquire at all costs. The potential is tantalizing because you know there’s ace ability in there, but it doesn’t come out often enough.
There is something very alluring about former first round picks, especially guys taken in the top ten. Even when they flop in the big leagues and don’t show the skills that got them drafted that high in the first place, someone will take a chance on them in hopes of cashing in on their potential. Sometimes it works out (Gavin Floyd), most of the time it doesn’t.
The Pirates cut ties with a former top pick yesterday, designating left-hander Daniel Moskos for assignment to clear room on the roster for former Yankee farmhand Eric Fryer. Moskos was the fourth overall pick in the 2007 draft and has always been a polarizing figure in Pittsburgh because they passed on Matt Wieters (and Madison Bumgarner) to take him. He flamed out as a starter in the minors but did help the Pirates as a reliever last season, pitching to a 2.96 ERA (3.23 FIP) in 31 appearances. Chances are that’s all they’ll get out of their $2.475MM investment. Let’s see if there’s anything about Moskos that should interest the Yankees…
- He’s left-handed! That always counts for something. Moskos has held Triple-A lefties to a .253/.304/.337 batting line with a 48.5% ground ball rate, a 22.3% strikeout rate, and a 6.0% walk rate over the last two years. Those are some mighty strong peripherals.
- Moskos uses two different offspeed pitches to offset his low-90s fastball — a sweepy low-80s slider and a mid-80s split-change. As a reliever, he owns a 20.0% strikeout rate overall.
- Moskos has one minor league option remaining (for 2013) and has less than one year of service time to his credit, so he offers flexibility and six years of cheap team control.
- Moskos got hammered by the 49 big league lefties he faced last season (.385 wOBA), though it is a tiny sample. His walk rate (4.1%) was fine, but the strikeout (12.2%) and ground ball (39.5%) were pretty bad. Righties have hit him pretty hard everyone, majors and minors.
- After sitting in the mid-90s while touching 97 as recently as 2010, Moskos has lost some velocity because he has a herky jerky delivery and lacks athleticism. Usually guys will pick up velocity with a shift to the bullpen, not lose it.
- Moskos missed time with a sore elbow this season and developed a brief case of the yips in 2010. He is fine now though, both physically with the elbow and mentally with the yips.
Because the Yankees have the best winning percentage in baseball, they are dead last on the waiver priority totem pole. Moskos first has to pass through the entire NL and then the other 13 AL teams before New York could put in a claim. The Yankees have two quality left-handed relievers on the big leagues (Boone Logan and Clay Rapada), two rehabbing from major injuries (Pedro Feliciano and Cesar Cabral), another 40-man guy in Triple-A (Justin Thomas), and two more non-40-man options in Triple-A (Mike O’Connor and Juan Cedeno). Lefty relief isn’t a top priority at the moment.
As Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects wrote yesterday, the move indicates that Moskos fell pretty far down on Pittsburgh’s depth chart. They opted to keep the 32-year-old Doug Slaten over the 26-year-old former fourth overall pick. That said, Moskos does offer that allure of being a former first round pick and there’s a chance someone will give him an opportunity. There’s nothing to lose other than a spot on the 40-man roster and in the Triple-A bullpen. The Yankees have plenty of in-house lefty relief options, enough that they don’t need to pick up the phone and call the Pirates about a trade before Moskos hits the waiver wire. If they put in a claim and get him, great. If not, well no big deal.
Eduardo Nunez‘s inability to make the routine play and Jayson Nix‘s generally inability to handle shortstop should have the Yankees in the market for a utility infielder prior to the trade deadline. The Rockies are one of the worst teams in baseball this season at 28-44, due in large part to an ineffective pitching staff that has allowed 5.6 runs per game. Although we’ve seen speculation about the availability of Carlos Gonzalez, a much more realistic trade target is Marco Scutaro.
We’re all familiar with Scutaro from his days with the Blue Jays and Red Sox, and I’m sure we all remember the walk-off three-run homer he hit against Mariano Rivera while with the Athletics years ago. He went to the Rockies in a salary dump trade this offseason and with Colorado out of contention, he could be available in another salary dump deal in the coming weeks. Let’s take a look to see what, if anything, he could offer New York…
- A high contact hitter, Scutaro has the second lowest swing-and-miss rate (5.4%) and ninth lowest strikeout rate (9.2%) in baseball over the last three seasons. That has allowed him to consistently hit for a solid average (.284 with a .300 BABIP since the start of 2010).
- In addition to putting the ball in play, Scutaro has a good eye and will supplement his average with walks. His 7.6% walk rate over the last three years is about league averge and he’s swung at just 18.9% of the pitches he’s seen outside of the strike zone during that time, the seventh lowest rate in baseball.
- Versatility is a major plus, as he’s played every position other than pitcher, catcher, and center field during his 11-year career. His career UZR marks are right around league average at all positions except first base, which is a super small sample (15 defensive innings).
- Scutaro is obviously familiar with the AL East and its various pitchers. There is a benefit to that experience but I’m not sure how significant. If nothing else, he’ll know what to expect in this division.
- Scutaro is a pure rental player, due to become a free agent after the season. He’s making $6M this season, so approximately $1M a month the rest of the way.
- At 36 years old, Scutaro is having his worst offensive season in years. He’s hit .276/.328/.385 with four homers in 301 plate appearances, an 86 wRC+ that is the worst full season mark of his career. His walk rate (6.3%) is his lowest since 2004, his first full season in the show.
- Although he has experience as a bench player, Scutaro has been a full-time player for the last five years. Sticking a guy who has been accustomed to regular at-bats on the bench and expecting similar production is always a tricky proposition.
- All of that versatility is a thing of the past. Scutaro has played the middle infield exclusively for the last four seasons, so it’s unclear what he could contribute in the outfield. I’m sure third base wouldn’t be much of a problem though.
- Thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Yankees will not be able to recoup draft pick compensation should Scutaro sign with another team after the season.
Now things got slightly complicated last night because Scutaro took a Stephen Strasburg fastball to the head. He left the game under his own power and will be re-evaluated today, so we don’t know how much or if he’ll miss any time. Right now he’s listed as day-to-day. Obviously a DL stint of any length would throw a wrench into any team’s plans to acquire him. We’re all in wait-and-see mode at the moment.
Assuming he’ll be fine just for the sake of argument, Colorado acquired Scutaro for a pittance (Clayton Mortenson) from the Red Sox because they assumed all of his salary, and the same should be true at the deadline. They need pitching so perhaps a Grade-B pitching prospect fits the bill — Mikey O’Brien? Brett Marshall? — though I suppose it’s worth noting that the Yankees acquired Jerry Hairston Jr. for a Grade-D prospect (catcher Chase Weems) back in 2009. That’s not a perfect comparison since Scutaro is the better player and makes three times the money, but we’re in the same ballpark.
Joe Girardi and the Yankees emphasize rest — both half-days at DH and full days — for their older players and Scutaro would allow them to sit Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter without missing a beat. He would also be able to step right in should an injury arise, an underrated quality. The Yankees could use a little more contact in their offense and Scutaro would certainly help in that regard as well. There is no indication that he is or available or that the Rockies are ready to sell, but if and when the do, the Bombers should get involved and quickly. Replacing Nix with Scutaro is a clear upgrade and one that is unlikely to cost an arm and a leg.
The Yankees aren’t exactly hurting for bullpen help at the moment, but they’re always looking to add depth to the organization. The Angels, despite their early-season bullpen concerns, cut loose a nice young arm before yesterday’s game by designating Rich Thompson for assignment. The 27-year-old Australian-born right-hander pitched to a 3.00 ERA (3.27 FIP) in 54 IP for the Halos just last season, but they’d apparently seen enough after he allowed four runs in 2.1 IP this year.
Now that Thompson will hit the waiver wire, let’s take a look to see if he’s someone the Yankees should have interest in acquiring…
- Thompson owns a legitimate put-away pitch in his big breaking, mid-70s curveball. The pitch has allowed him to post a 9.09 K/9 and a 23.2 K% in 104 big league innings. Thompson also throws a low-90s fastball and a mid-80s cutter, typical reliever stuff. His walk rates are solid but unspectacular: 3.20 BB/9 and 8.2 BB%.
- It’s only 207 batters faced, but Thompson has held big league lefties to a measly .243/.312/.378 batting line with a 22.7 K%. He’s shown a similar split throughout his Triple-A career as well.
- Thompson’s medical history is relatively clean. He missed three weeks with shoulder inflammation and two weeks with a strained pectoral, both back in 2010. He’s been healthy throughout his career otherwise.
- Thompson’s fastball velocity is trending downwards, averaging just 88.9 mph in the early going this year. His effectiveness against lefties is negated by his struggles against right-handed batters, who’ve tagged him for a .265/.320/.502 batting line with a 23.7 K% in the bigs.
- As you might expect with a slugging percentage that high, Thompson can be prone to the long ball. His career ground ball rate and homer rates are 38.2% and 1.56 HR/9, respectively. Last year, his only full year in the show, it was a more manageable 40.9% and 0.83 HR/9.
- Thompson is out of options, so he can’t be sent to the minors without first being passed through waivers. That’s why the Angels had to cut him in the first place.
I’ve always liked Thompson and I think he’s a poor man’s version of David Robertson. They’re both relatively undersized fastball/cutter/curveball right-handers with big strikeout rates and less than desirable walk rates. Robertson is obviously much more successful, particularly when it comes to keeping the ball in the park, but Thompson is cut from a similar cloth. Guys that can miss bats out of the bullpen are right up the Yankees’ alley.
The out of options thing is a problem because there’s no room for Thompson in the bullpen at the moment. Ideally the Yankees would claim him off waivers then stash him in Triple-A, but it’s not that simple. Their best bet would be to claim him and then immediately remove him from the 40-man roster, hoping he gets through the rest of the league unclaimed. It’s the same thing they did with Craig Tatum; get him in the organization but off the 40-man and in the minors. If the Yankees can pull that off and add Thompson to the depth chart, great. If not, well no big deal. He’s better than your typical waiver wire fodder, however.
I should probably preface this post by saying I’m an irrationally big Blake DeWitt fan, and have been for a while. That doesn’t mean he’s a great player or anything, I’m just being up front about my personal biases.
Anyway, the Cubs designated the 26-year-old DeWitt for assignment yesterday, making room on their 40-man roster for infielder Adrian Cardenas. They claimed him off waivers from the Athletics, and if the name sounds familiar, it’s because I wrote about him as a waiver target two weeks ago. The Cubs originally got their hands on DeWitt in the Ted Lilly trade with the Dodgers two years ago, and he spent last year as a spare infielder/bench bat. Let’s see if he has anything to offer the Yankees…
- DeWitt is a classic contact-oriented hitter. He’s struck out in just 15.8% of his 1,213 big league player appearances (12.8% last year) while drawing a walk 8.8% of the time. He’s a bit of a ground ball hitter but nothing insane, and he’s seen an average of 3.84 pitches per plate appearance as a big leaguer, much higher than the league average.
- Primarily a second and third baseman in the minors, DeWitt spent some time in left field last season and I’m sure he could learn first base over time. The defensive metrics don’t love him, but the sample sizes aren’t large enough to take them to heart.
- Don’t hold me to this, but it appears as though DeWitt has one minor league option remaining. This stuff is hard to confirm though, so I can’t guarantee it. DeWitt has just over three years of service time, so he’ll remain under team control through 2014 as arbitration-eligible player.
- DeWitt is just a .260/.329/.385 career hitter (.312 wOBA) with a .297 BABIP, and his minor league numbers don’t suggest there’s much more coming: .259/.325/.416 in 830 plate appearances at the Double and Triple-A levels. He’s also struggled against pitchers of the opposite hand, posting a .300 wOBA in nearly 900 plate appearances against big league righties.
- DeWitt doesn’t have any speed, with just 21 steals in 37 attempts (56.8%) in 981 career games, majors and minors. He’s taken the extra base 41% of the time as a big leaguer, which is pretty much exactly league average. His .125 ISO isn’t anything special either, so you’re getting what amounts to a singles hitter with no speed.
- He isn’t all that cheap, agreeing to a one-year deal worth $1.1M earlier this offseason to avoid arbitration. That’s not the end of the world, but he’s not a six-figure player anymore.
The Yankees still haven’t settled on a replacement for Eric Chavez, that backup corner infielder role. DeWitt fits in the sense that he’s a left-handed bat and can man the hot corner, though his offensive value comes primarily from his ability to put the ball in play and his willingness to work a walk. His career is theoretically on the upswing at age 26, so he could still add more offense as he approaches his peak years. Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch will be there to potentially help his power output as well. The recently hired Jim Hendry had DeWitt during the last season-and-a-half with the Cubs, so Brian Cashman will surely ask for him input before pulling the trigger on a move.
Looking over the 40-man roster, the obvious comparison is Corban Joseph, another left-handed, singles hitting second/third baseman. CoJo has yet to advance beyond Double-A though. Since DeWitt can’t play shortstop in anything other than an emergency, Ramiro Pena remains a necessarily evil as the backup backup middle infielder. Given the current roster construction, DeWitt isn’t a great fit unless the Yankees are willing to part with Joseph so soon after adding him to the 40-man roster. He’s an interesting and somewhat useful player, but perhaps it’s simply a case of the right guy at the wrong time.
Aside from a designated hitter and an Eric Chavez replacement, the Yankees don’t have much left to address this offseason. Pursuing depth is a year-round thing though, and a player who could potentially upgrade the 40-man roster hit the market on Thursday, when the Athletics designated Adrian Cardenas for assignment to make way for Jonny Gomes. A former supplemental first round pick (37th overall in 2006), Oakland acquired him from the Phillies as part of the Joe Blanton trade a few years ago.
There’s nothing flashy about Cardenas, but Baseball America did rank him as the team’s 12th best prospect in their 2012 Prospect Handbook (that was before the Gio Gonzalez trade, however). As a middle infielder, all he has to do to represent an upgrade for the Yankees is be better than Ramiro Pena. That’s not exactly a high standard. Let’s break his game down…
- Offensively, Baseball America says he “makes consistent hard contact” and “has an innate understanding of how pitchers are trying to attack him … Cardenas has a fluid, effortless swing, and sprays the ball all over the field.”
- The stats back up the scouting report. Cardenas has a career 12.6% strikeout rate (11.5% in Triple-A) and 9.3% walk rate (8.2% in Triple-A), both of which are above-average. He’s a .303 hitter in the minors (.290 at Triple-A) with a .368 OBP (.349 at Triple-A).
- A second baseman by trade, Cardenas also has plenty of experience at shortstop and third base. He also spent a fair amount of time in left field last season. Versatility is always a plus.
- Since he was added to the 40-man roster after the 2010 season and spent all of last year in the minors, Cardenas has two minor league options remaining. He has never spent a day in the big leagues, so he has zero service time and is under team control for another six years.
- Cardenas as no power whatsoever. I’m talking a career .110 ISO in the minors and .097 in Triple-A. The five homers he hit in 2011 were his most since hitting five in 2008. His career high is nine dingers back in 2007.
- He’s also a poor base stealer, going just 27-for-48 (56.3%) in 392 games above Single-A. So offensively, the only thing you can count on Cardenas to do is put the ball in play and draw walks. I can’t even guarantee he’ll hit it out of the infield.
- Unfortunately, all that defensive versatility just means Cardenas will be shaky at more than one position. Baseball America said his “speed, quickness, and range are all fringy,” and his outfield routes “aren’t perfect [but] he catches what he gets to and has an average arm.” They project him as a “line drive hitting utility man.”
A top 100 prospect as recently as 2009 (ranked 74th), Cardenas spent all of 2011 at Triple-A after splitting both 2009 and 2010 between Double and Triple-A. He seems to have gone backwards a bit since the trade, playing fewer and fewer games on the middle infield each season. A powerless corner infielder/outfielder without at least solid base stealing or defensive skills isn’t exactly the most valuable player in the world, so it’s not clear if he passes the “better than Ramiro” test. At least Pena is a very good defender at all infield positions, even if he can’t hit a lick and only has one minor league option remaining
Cardenas is worth having in the organization because he has some prospect shine left and is an upgrade over the Reegie Corona and Doug Bernier types, but I don’t think he’s a guy worth carrying on the 40-man roster if it can be avoided. That makes him a candidate for my favorite underutilized trick, the ol’ waiver claim-then-DFA. The idea is that you claim the player to get him in the organization, then immediately remove him from the 40-man roster. Since the Yankees have such a low waiver priority, any player they claim will likely go untouched the second time through waivers. That make sense? Cardenas could be useful but he’s not as good as I thought he was coming into this post.