Archive for Scouting The Market
Plugging the right field hole left by the eventually departed Nick Swisher is going to be one of the Yankees’ biggest challenges this winter, especially given their self-inflicted payroll cap heading into next season. Top free agents like Hamilton, Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton, and even Swisher would look wonderful in pinstripes next year, but the team is unlikely to spend the kind of dough required to reel them in. They’ll instead mine the bargain bin.
One free agent outfielder whose stock is down coming off a subpar year is Shane Victorino, who will turn 32 in a little more than a week. The rebuilding-ish Phillies traded him to the Dodgers at the deadline, but he only hit .245/.316/.351 (88 wRC+) in 235 plate appearances with Los Angeles to close out the season. By late-September he was losing playing time to former Yankee Juan Rivera, among others. Victorino is just one year removed from a 13th place finish in the MVP voting though, so let’s see if he has enough left in the tank to help the Yankees.
- Just a .255/.321/.383 (94 wRC+) hitter in 2012, Victorino is one year removed from a .279/.355/.491 (133 wRC+) effort. He owns a 109 wRC+ over the last three seasons and crushes left-handers: .323/.388/.518 (148 wRC+) in this year and .318/.396/.550 (157 wRC+) since 2010.
- Victorino definitely qualifies as a contact hitter, striking out just 12.0% of the time this season and 11.7% of the time over the last three seasons. His contact rates (86.8% in 2012 and 86.7% since 2010) are strong as well.
- You’re going to get some walks in addition to that contact as well. He walked in 8.0% of his plate appearances this year and 8.5% since 2010, which is basically league average. Many contact guys are hackers, but not Victorino. He also stole 39 bases this year (87% success rate) and has topped 25 steals five times in the last six years.
- Victorino remains a strong defensive outfielder, doing his best work in the corners even though he’s more than capable of playing center. His throwing arm isn’t the strongest in the world, but he gets rid of the ball quick and is pretty accurate.
- For what it’s worth, Victorino plays really hard and that’s always pleasing to the eye. He also has plenty of pennant race and postseason experience given his time with the Phillies.
- Because he was traded at midseason, the Dodgers could not make Victorino a qualifying offer and thus he won’t require draft pick compensation to sign. I doubt they would have offered anyway.
- Obviously Victorino’s offense took a step back this season, and his struggles come exclusively against right-handers. He hit just .229/.296/.333 (73 wRC+) against righties this year and .244/.311/.390 (91 wRC+) since 2010.
- Although he avoided the disabled list this season, Victorino has been on the DL three times in the last three years and four times in the last five years. They were all minor strains (thumb, oblique, thigh, calf), but he tends to get banged up by playing so hard. Call it Slade Heathcott Syndrome.
The Pros greatly outweigh the Cons, but the inability to hit right-handers is pretty significant. He can’t hit righties despite being a switch-hitter, meaning he’d be relegated to the short end of the platoon stick. Perhaps the friendly right field porch in Yankee Stadium improves his output from the left side of the plate, but he’s not a big fly ball guy to begin with. He’s a line drive/ground ball guy who uses his speed to reach base. Being unable to hit righties is a pretty huge negative.
We haven’t even reached the Winter Meetings yet, and already we’ve seen two good but flawed outfielders since lucrative multi-year contracts. Torii Hunter landed two guaranteed years from the Tigers despite being 37 years old while Melky Cabrera received two years from the Blue Jays coming off a PED-related suspension. The market is flush with cash and teams seem willing to give that extra year to get their man. The Yankees, however, are fixated on one-year contracts in an effort to get under the luxury tax threshold in 2014.
That commitment to one-year deals hurts their chances to sign Victorino, who will presumably get offered starter money (and playing time) at some point this offseason. He would be the absolute perfect platoon guy/fourth outfielder for New York though given his ability to mash lefties, play all three outfield spots, run, and make contact. The Yankees have had success getting veteran players to take on reduced roles on one-year contracts in recent years, but Victorino strikes me as too young for that. I’d love to see them grab him as an Andruw Jones replacement on a one-year deal, even if they wind up paying him like $8M, but I have a hard time seeing those terms working for the player.
Two days ago the Marlins and Blue Jays pulled off one of the biggest trades we’ve seen in years, at least in the terms of the number of players involved. A dozen players will change teams once this thing is complete, and five of them are veteran guys going from Miami to Toronto. The Marlins certainly acquired some really good young players, but the move was primarily a salary dump on their part.
Unsurprisingly, reports surfaced yesterday that both right-hander Ricky Nolasco and first baseman/outfielder Logan Morrison are on the trade block as well. The Yankees supposedly have interest in Nolasco, but let’s put him aside and focus on Morrison. The 25-year-old left-handed hitter is just three years removed from being one of baseball’s very prospects thanks mostly to his offensive prowess. Baseball America twice ranked him as one of the game’s 20 best prospects (#18 in 2009 and #20 in 2010), placing him just behind Giancarlo Stanton in both instances. Obviously he hasn’t taken off like his teammate, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have something to offer. Let’s see if there’s a fit for the Yankees.
- A career .259/.339/.442 (112 wRC+) hitter, Morrison hit .259/.351/.460 (121 wRC+) in 815 plate appearances from 2010-2011. Although he’s done most of his career damage against righties (.205 ISO and 113 wRC+), he hangs in well against lefties as well (.157 ISO and 109 wRC+).
- Morrison’s strength offensively is his ability to control the strike zone. He drew a ton of walks in the minors (12.4 BB%) and that’s held true in the show (11.0 BB%), plus his strikeout rate (18.2 K%) is basically league average (15.2 K% in the minors). His 82.6% contract rate in the big leagues (career-high 84.1% in 2012) is better than the league average as well.
- Baseball America said Morrison’s “makeup and leadership skills are outstanding” prior to the 2010 season, the last time he qualified as a prospect. I also recommend reading this Amy Nelson piece on Morrison’s upbringing, which explains how father Tom — a military man who recently passed away due to cancer — preached pride and discipline.
- Morrison is still in his pre-arbitration years and won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2016 season. He’ll earn something close to the league minimum in 2013 before being arbitration-eligible for the first time next winter.
- As you probably know, Morrison didn’t hit at all this year: .230/.308/.399 (91 wRC+) in 334 plate appearances. His BABIP has been trending downward while his fly ball rate has been climbing upward since debuting in 2010, so it’s not entirely a fluke. More fly balls equals fewer base hits. There’s a chance he started to sell out for power, and in fact you can kinda see his progression from an all-fields hitter to a pull-happy guy in his spray charts (2010, 2011, 2012).
- Morrison is no stranger to the disabled list. He had surgery to repair the patellar tendon in his right knee both this September and last December, so this is a repeat thing now. He also missed time with a left foot injury in 2010 and broke his thumb while in the minors back in 2009.
- Thanks in part to the knee problems, Morrison is a well-below-average baserunner. He’s attempted just five stolen bases as a big leaguer (caught twice) and he’s taken the extra base just 38% of the time. That’s below-average. Nothing in his track record suggests more value on the bases is coming even if his knee is fine going forward, it’s just not his game.
- He’s been a first baseman his entire life and when the Marlins stuck him in left field in deference to Gaby Sanchez following his call-up, it was a disaster. Morrison’s defensive stats in the outfield (-25.7 UZR, -36 DRS, and -27 Total Zone) are a nightmare, though sample size warnings do apply (2,044.2 innings). He’s considered a solid if not above-average defender at first.
Any team that looks into acquiring Morrison has to first thoroughly check out his medicals, then ask themselves if they think he’s fixable offensively. Has he turned himself into Mark Teixeira in the sense that he’s now unable to go the other way and can only pull the ball? The Yankees don’t have a good track record of turning pull-happy guys into all-fields hitters, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Their guys do the opposite. Maybe that will make Morrison more appealing to them, who knows. We also have to remember that batted ball data isn’t very reliable, so don’t take the increase in fly balls to heart.
The left-handed power (which would be heightened by Yankee Stadium, in theory) and patience is appealing, especially since he’s more than a platoon bat. The problem is that Morrison wouldn’t have a position with the Yankees unless they are willing to tolerate terrible defense in a corner outfield spot. They did it with Johnny Damon and Bobby Abreu in recent years and Raul Ibanez just this past year, so who knows. I suppose he could serve as the regular DH, backup first baseman, and part-time outfielder (whenever a ground ball pitcher is on the mound?). That might work. It’s probably best to think of him as an Ibanez replacement rather than a Nick Swisher replacement.
Morrison is a buy-low candidate in the Swisher mold, which is kinda funny since both guys had their worst full season as a big leaguer in their only season under Ozzie Guillen. Morrison’s red flags are more serious than Swisher’s were back in 2008 considering the knee problems, however. I think it’s safe to assume the Marlins are seeking prospects in return, and I guess there’s a chance they’d look to package him with Nolasco a la Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell. If the Yankees could swing a deal involving two or three prospects — preferably not from the Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, and Gary Sanchez trio — Morrison might be their best chance of landing a young impact bat while his value is down.
Although patching the major roster holes (right field, catcher, two rotation spots) are the team’s primary concern this offseason, there are other parts of the roster that could be upgraded. The Yankees are reportedly seeking an upgrade over Jayson Nix, which to them means someone who can play 100 games between shortstop and third base next year. Given Derek Jeter‘s ankle injury and Alex Rodriguez‘s perpetual status as a breakdown candidate, having a quality utility infielder is a pretty good idea.
Unfortunately good bench help is really hard to find, especially on the middle infield. The free agent market has nothing to offer beyond multi-position guys Marco Scutaro and Jeff Keppinger, who will get paid like starters and guaranteed more playing time by other teams this winter. The Yankees will likely have to turn to the trade market to find an upgrade over Nix, but again these guys are not easy to find. Infield depth is a scarce thing these days.
The Twins, however, have a number of young middle infielders on their 40-man roster and one old guy: 38-year-old Jamey Carroll. They signed the veteran utility man to a two-year deal last offseason with the idea of making him their regular shortstop, but he wound up bouncing all around the infield as other players got hurt or didn’t perform. By the end of this season, kids like Pedro Florimon, Brian Dozier, and Eduardo Escobar were playing regularly. Minnesota figures to continue rebuilding next year, which could mean their veteran infielder may be available. Let’s break his game down…
- Despite his age, the right-handed hitting Carroll has been what amounts to a league average hitter over the last three seasons: .282/.359/.334 (98 wRC+) in over 1,500 plate appearances. He’s especially adept and hitting lefties, tagging them for a .315/.384/.396 (121 wRC+) since 2010.
- Carroll is a contact machine from the right side. Over the last three years he’s struck out in 12.8% of his plate appearances (12.1% this year), far better than the league average. His 90.7% contact rate since 2010 is the 13th highest in baseball, so he doesn’t swing and miss at all.
- In addition to all that contact, you’re also going to get some walks. Carroll has walked in 10.3% of his plate appearances since 2010, including 9.7% this year. He’s also averaged 4.23 pitches per plate appearance during that time, which is Nick Swisher and Joe Mauer territory. Gives his walk and contact rates, Carroll isn’t an easy at-bat.
- Although he’s not a speedster, Carroll has gone 31-for-40 (78%) in stolen base attempts over the last three years. He’s also only been on the DL once since 2005, and that was when a pitch broke his left hand in 2009.
- Carroll has a ton of experience at the three non-first base infield spots, and I mean recently as well. He’s spent a lot of time at second, short, and third for the Dodgers and Twins in recent years, and the various metrics rate him as average or better in each spot. Carroll has played some corner outfield in the past, but I wouldn’t expect him to do it now.
- The Twins signed Carroll to a two-year contract worth $6.5M last winter, so he’s owed $3.75M next season. The deal also includes a $2M club option ($250k) for 2014, which is reasonable.
- Carroll has zero power. He hit a homer in early-September this year that was his first since 2009, so that .052 ISO since 2010 is no accident. Add in the fact that his ground ball rate has been climbing in recent years (typical for older players) and he’s even less likely to hit for power going forward.
- Carroll also can’t hit righties. This year he managed just a .240/.318/.269 (68 wRC+) line against same-side pitchers, and over the last three seasons it’s been a .269/.349/.310 (89 wRC+) line. That’s a problem.
- Despite the solid stolen base totals, Carroll has only taken the extra base 42% of the time over the last three years and 39% of the time over the last two years. That’s below-average.
- Per the terms of his contract, Carroll’s club option becomes a player option if he records at least 401 plate appearances next season. It’s never good for the team when the player controls his own contractual destiny, especially with the 2014 payroll plan looming.
Because he’s short (5-foot-11 and 175 lbs.) and white and runs hard and handles the bat well, Carroll has earned the “gritty” and “gamer” tags. His game has also drawn comparisons to David Eckstein’s, though Carroll draws more walks and is better defensively, especially on the left side of the infield. More importantly, he’s proven throughout his career that he can be productive both as a true reserve player off the bench and in a starting capacity. That’s not easy to do and it seems to be what the Yankees are looking for.
Carroll is a unique player in that he has utility infield skills but receives a starter’s playing time and salary. Only a handful of those guys exist and even fewer of them get traded. The Rockies swapped an up-and-down arm (Clayton Mortensen) for Scutaro last offseason, which is probably our best trade reference. The Twins are reportedly seeking pitching help after finishing the season with an MLB-worst 4.66 FIP (4.77 ERA), but I don’t know. Adam Warren? Brett Marshall? Mikey O’Brien? Would one of them work? Is it too much to give up? The answer is maybe across the board. Carroll fits what the Yankees are looking for as a utility guy who can legitimately play 100+ games and not be a zero with the bat though, and as an added bonus he brings plenty of patience and some much-needed contact skills.
The Yankees might not have a bigger hole to fill this offseason than in right field, were they’re losing Nick Swisher‘s consistently well-above-average production to free agency. The free agent market offers few viable alternatives and the trade market always seems to be overloaded with aging players on over-sized contracts. Since the Bombers are looking to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold by 2014, long-term and big money contracts are out of the question for the time being.
The best places to look for trade candidates are rebuilding teams, and perhaps no club outside of Houston is in the middle of a more extensive rebuild than the Cubs. Chicago’s north-siders didn’t just lose 101 games this year, they finished with the franchise’s worst record in nearly 60 years. The new Theo Epstein-led regime has cleaned house since taking over 12 months ago, trading pretty much every established player on the roster other than Starlin Castro and Matt Garza. They likely would have dealt the latter at the deadline as well had he not gotten hurt.
One of the few free agents the Cubbies signed last winter was the Brooklyn-born and New Jersey-raised David DeJesus. The 32-year-old outfielder has spent most of his career with the Royals, but they traded him to the Athletics a year before he was scheduled to hit free agency. Now that he’s signed with one of baseball’s most historic franchises, all he has left to do to complete the Johnny Damon circle of life is spend his last years as a productive big leaguer in pinstripes. Let’s see if DeJesus is a fit for the Yankees…
- Over the last three years, the left-handed hitting DeJesus has hit a solid .270/.350/.405 (108 wRC+). As you’d expect given the park effects, the worst of those three years came while with the Athletics (96 wRC+). He’s primarily a pull hitter (2012 spray chart, 2010-2012 spray chart), which fits Yankee Stadium well.
- DeJesus’ game is all about controlling the strike zone. He owns a 9.4% walk rate over the last three years, including a career-high 10.5% this season. He’s also struck out just 15.0% of the time since 2010, making contact on 86.6% of his swings. Those two rates aren’t elite, but they’re solidly better than the league average.
- Outside of a fluke torn thumb ligament in 2010 — you might remember him suffering the injury crashing into the Yankee Stadium wall (video) — DeJesus hasn’t missed more than about a week due to injury since the 2006 season.
- DeJesus has spent considerable time in all three outfield spots throughout his career, and the various metrics have rated him as an average or better defender in the corners throughout the years.
- The Cubbies signed him to a two-year deal worth $10M last offseason, and he’s owed $4.25M in the final guaranteed year next season. There’s also a $6.5M club option for 2014 ($1.5M buyout).
- DeJesus has never really been able to hit lefties, but his struggles have become extreme these last two years. He hit a tolerable .289/.338/.374 (90 wRC+) against southpaws from 2008-2010, but since the start of last year it’s a .163/.256/.195 (30 wRC+). Among the 227 players to bat at least 200 times against lefties these last two years, exactly zero have been less productive. He’s been that bad.
- You’re not getting much power or speed with DeJesus. He’s hit just 24 homers (.135 ISO) and gone 14-for-28 in stolen base attempts the last three years. He has taken the extra base a slightly above-average 46% of the time since 2010, however.
- DeJesus doesn’t have a strong outfield arm, which limits his usefulness in right. Not a big deal, but it’s probably worth noting.
- I don’t put much stock in this, but DeJesus has not only never played in the postseason, but he’s never even played for a team that finished the year with a winning record. A pennant race will be an entirely new experience for him.
There has been no indication that the Cubs are shopping DeJesus, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say they’re open to moving him given their extreme rebuilding phase. They’ve focused primarily on pitching prospects but have taken whatever they could get over the last year or so. Epstein & Co. are seeking quality over quantity.
The neat thing about DeJesus is that we serves as his own trade comparable. When the Royals traded him to the Athletics during the 2010-2011 offseason, he had one year left on his contract ($6M) and was coming off a career-high 127 wRC+. Two years later, the Cubs would be trading him with one year left on his contract ($5.75M) and coming off a career-average 104 wRC+. The price should not have gone up, and if anything it should have gone down. Oakland sent the Royals one up-and-down big league arm (Vin Mazzaro) and a Single-A pitching prospect (Justin Marks) two winters ago, so perhaps a package of Adam Warren and a low-level arm gets it done. Seems pretty reasonable, actually.
I’ve never been a huge DeJesus fan but he’s always been a solid player. These days you need a platoon partner and can’t count on him to hit double-digit homers or steal double-digit bases or run down everything in right field, so his value stems almost exclusively from his ability to draw walks and put the ball in play. It would be a downgrade and a noticeably different style of play than what Swisher brought to the table these last four years, but considering what figures to be a reasonable price and a short-term contract commitment (the club option is pretty nice), the Yankees might not find more bang for their buck this winter.
More than anything else, I think the Yankees have learned the value of depth in the last seven or eight years. Back in the mid-aughts they were a star-laden but top-heavy club that lacked viable alternatives in Triple-A, which is why they wound up scrambling for guys like Tim Redding and Shawn Chacon and Mark Bellhorn and Matt Lawton. Now when someone gets hurt or loses their job, there’s a Jayson Nix or Chris Dickerson or David Phelps or Cody Eppley stashed in Triple-A. Those depth pieces are very important in today’s game.
The Yankees have built themselves some very solid benches these last two years, mostly by luring in veteran free agents looking at their last chance at a ring on one-year deals. Some work out better (Eric Chavez) than others (Randy Winn). This offseason the Yankees have to focus a little more on the infield backup plans since Derek Jeter is coming off a major ankle injury and Alex Rodriguez is perpetual break-down candidate. Nix and Eduardo Nunez are serviceable bench pieces, but former Angel and free agent Maicer Izturis fits the utility infielder mold a little more perfectly, making him a potential target for New York.
- The offensive standard for utility infielders is pretty low, and Izturis is actually a bit better than most with a .264/.327/.360 (93 wRC+) batting line over the last three years. He’s also a true switch-hitter, with a 93 wRC+ against righties and a 95 wRC+ against lefties since 2010.
- Izturis is a contact machine who excels at putting the bat on the ball. He owns a 12.4% strikeout rate and an 89.0% contact rate over the last three years, the latter of which ranks 13th among the 230 hitters with at least 1,000 plate appearances. Ichiro Suzuki has a 90.2% contact rate during that time, for some perspective.
- Most contact guys are hackers because they can get the bat on almost anything, but Izturis does offer some patience. His walk rate (7.8% in 2012 and 7.5% from 2010-2012) is below the league average but still pretty good for a utility player, and his 3.92 pitches per plate appearances is actually very strong. That’s Mark Teixeira/Dustin Pedroia territory.
- Izturis has stolen double-digit bases in three of the last five years (nine in another) and he’s taken the extra base 45% of the time these last three years. Hooray base-running.
- Izturis is a true utility infielder with tons of experience at the three non-first base infield positions. The various defensive metrics rate his defense at each position anywhere from average to well-above for his career.
- Izturis had his worst offensive season since 2005 this year, hitting just .256/.320/.315 (82 wRC+). He also did nothing against left-handed pitchers, posting a .231/.259/.244 (41 wRC+) batting line against them.
- You’re not getting any power here. He’s hit a grand total of 34 homers in over 2,900 career plate appearances, and only once has he gone deep more than five times in a single season. Doubles and triples aren’t all that common either, hence the career .108 ISO (.096 last three years).
- The various defensive stats say Izturis’ glovework at shortstop and third base took a big step back this year, but insert the usual sample size/one year of data disclaimer here. It’s not insane to suggest he’s lost a step at age 32, however.
Unsurprisingly, the Angels did not make Izturis a qualifying offer and it won’t require forfeiting a draft pick to sign him. I do think it’ll take a multi-year contract however, especially with the general lack of quality middle infield options on the market. His ability to play shortstop, get the bat on the ball, and create a little havoc on the bases might be just enough for an infield-challenged team to consider him a starter. Izturis certainly wouldn’t be a starter for the Yankees, not without an injury.
Jeter will be coming off the ankle injury next season and it’s impossible to know how it will affect him at this point. He could come back as good as new, or he might come back with reduced range and the need to get off his feet twice a week. Nunez is the team’s only other viable shortstop option at the upper levels (in terms of someone who could play the position for weeks at a time), but his defense is a detriment to the club. Izturis would give the Yankees a true backup infielder, solidify the defense, and free things up for Nunez to be traded at some point. He’s a fit for a New York, but it is a question of price and his willingness to take a lesser role when starting jobs may be available.
The Yankees need to bring in a starting-caliber outfielder this winter and while free agency is the easiest way to satisfy that need, it’s not the only way. Brian Cashman has used trades to plug outfield holes three times in the last five years (Xavier Nady, Nick Swisher, and Curtis Granderson) and could very easily do it against this winter. Outside of Swisher, Josh Hamilton, and Torii Hunter, the free agent outfield market really isn’t all that appetizing.
One player who could easily wind up on the trade market this offseason is Shin-Soo Choo of the Indians. Cleveland is in perpetual rebuilding mode and Choo, a Scott Boras client who is unlikely to sign with the team long-term, will be a free agent after next season (MLBTR projects a $7.9M salary for 2013). Reports this summer indicated that GM Chris Antonetti will (again) listen to trade offers for his club’s top outfielder after making contract extension offers “multiple times” in recent years. The 30-year-old appears to be a perfect fit for the Yankees on paper, but let’s dig a little deeper…
- Choo fits the Yankees’ mold of power and patience from the left side. He hit .283/.373/.441 (131 wRC+) this year (131 wRC+ over the last three years as well) with an ISO (.159) and walk rate (10.6%) that were a bit below his career norms (.176 and 11.4%). Progressive Field is one of the most neutral parks in baseball, so he was neither hurt nor helped by his home stadium.
- Choo can really hit to left field. His 205 wRC+ the other way was the ninth highest in baseball this year and sixth among left-handed hitters. Since 2010, his 194 wRC+ to the opposite field ranks seventh in baseball and fourth among left-handed hitters. Here are his spray charts from 2012 and 2010-2012 so you can see for yourself.
- In addition to the power and patience, Choo will provide value with his legs. He’s stolen 20+ bases three times in the last four years, including 2012. He’s surprisingly adept at stealing third base as well, making it six times in seven attempts over the last two seasons.
- Choo has one of the very best outfield arms in baseball, so he’s capable of making throws like this and this. His 30 outfield assists are the seventh most in baseball over the last three years, but more importantly, he’s prevented runners from taking the extra base an above-average 48.2% of the time since 2010.
- Choo is a pure platoon bat. Against left-handers he hit just .199/.318/.286 (78 wRC+) this year and .239/.329/.318 (86 wRC+) over the last three years. His strikeout rate (21.9% overall, 24.8% against lefties) is not awful but it is worse than the league average. He wouldn’t bring any significant contact skills to the offense.
- Despite the stolen base totals, Choo is basically an average baserunner. He’s gone 55-for-74 in steal attempts the last three years, a solid but not stellar 74.3% success rate. He’s also taken the extra base just 40% of the time during these last three years, for all intents and purposes equal to the 41% league average.
- The various defensive metrics just hammered Choo this year, bad enough that his three-year stats (-8.9 UZR, -4 DRS, -17 TZ, -0.4 FRAA) are all in the red. He generally graded out as average or better in 2010 and 2011 but apparently was just brutal this year.
- It’s not the ugliest medical history you’ll find, but Choo is no stranger to the DL. He missed about a week with a hamstring issue this year (related to the poor defensive numbers?), about three months with thumb (surgery required) and oblique problems last year, and most of 2007 and 2008 with elbow problems that eventually required Tommy John surgery.
- This doesn’t really matter to me, but Choo has never played in the postseason. He was also arrested for DUI in May 2011 and admitted to pressing at the plate afterwards in an attempt to redeem himself. The Yankees value makeup, so who knows how they’ll feel about that. Choo did apologize to his teammates one-by-one and face-to-face following the incident, however.
Cashman and Antonetti have gotten together for a handful of trades in recent years, most notably the Kerry Wood and Austin Kearns swaps. The two teams aren’t division rivals or serious head-to-head competitors, so there shouldn’t be anything superficial like that standing in the way of a potential trade. The Indians are reportedly seeking starting pitching this winter and figure to target a young, controllable starter in any deal involving Choo.
The Josh Willingham and Dan Uggla trades give us a decent framework for a deal involving one year of an above-average but not superstar caliber player. Both Willingham (two prospects) and Uggla (Omar Infante and a prospect) required two pieces in return, one of which was an MLB-ready reliever. The real question is which starter do the Indians want? Ivan Nova? David Phelps? Adam Warren or Brett Marshall? All should be available in the right deal, but given the club’s general lack of starting pitching depth at the moment, I’d be loath to give up Nova or Phelps (plus a second prospect) without getting more than Choo in return. Maybe the Tribe could kick in a second player (or prospect) to even things out.
It’s important to consider that the Yankees already have two left-handed hitting outfielders in Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson, so Choo would give them a third. He definitely needs a platoon partner and you can make a strong case that both Granderson and (moreso) Gardner do as well, so offensively the outfield construction would be far from ideal. I’m sure playing in Yankee Stadium would improve Choo’s output and his arm would be a welcome addition to the defense, but he’d be useless against top AL East pitchers like David Price, Jon Lester, Matt Moore, and Wei-Yin Chen. That has to be a consideration. Choo’s a very good outfield trade target, maybe the best among guys who will be realistically available, but he’s not a perfect fit for the Bombers.
The Yankees have a number of holes to fill this offseason, perhaps none bigger on the position player side than right field. Nick Swisher was incredibly productive there both in 2012 (128 wRC+) and throughout his four years in New York (also 128 wRC+), but he will almost certainly head elsewhere as the free agent this winter. Outside of dropping nine-figures on Josh Hamilton, it’s tough to see how the Bombers won’t downgrade at the position this offseason.
Even before free agency officially opened for business, we heard that the Yankees had some interest in Torii Hunter. It’s unclear if they’ve spoken to his agent already, but it wouldn’t be surprising if they hadn’t at this stage of the offseason. With the 2014 payroll plan looming and no obvious long-term solutions available, it makes sense that they would target a veteran who is likely to sign a one-year contract. It also makes sense that they would target a right-handed hitter since both Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson swing it from the left side of the dish. Let’s breakdown the long-time Twin and Angel…
- It’s been nine years since Hunter was a below-average hitter and seven years since he was less than 10% better than the league average. His .313/.365/.451 batting line in 2012 was good for a 130 wRC+, and he hit .340/.403/.465 against left-handers. Over the last three years it’s a .292/.371/.469 line against southpaws.
- Although most of his power is to the pull side, Hunter is an all-fields hitter — here’s his spray chart from 2012 as well as 2010-2012. His 191 wRC+ to the opposite field ranked fourth among all right-handed hitters in 2012, trailing only Mike Morse, Derek Jeter, and Miguel Cabrera.
- Hunter was never as amazing defensively as he was made out to be, but he was always above-average and the move to right field has helped him remain that way later in his career. He’s a very smart and instinctive defensive player who, for the most part, is fundamentally sound (throws to the correct base, etc.).
- His durability is a plus, as Hunter has played at least 140 games in each of the last three years and in six of the last seven years. He hasn’t come to the plate fewer than 500 times since 2005.
- The Yankees value strong makeup and character, and Hunter is extremely well-respected throughout the game. He also has plenty of postseason experience, though almost all of it involves series losses to New York.
- The Angels did not make Hunter a qualifying offer, so he won’t require any kind of draft pick compensation to sign.
- At age 37, Hunter just had the best offseason of his career thanks to absurdly high .389 BABIP that is far out of line with his career average (.307). Hitting between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols would lead you believe he saw more fastballs in 2012, possibly explaining the increased production, but PitchFX disproves that theory — Hunter saw 65.6% fastballs in 2012 after seeing 64.4% from 2010-2011. Negligible difference.
- Although he fared well against righties this year (.303/.351/.446), Hunter has had a a pretty sizable platoon split over the last three years. He’s put a .282/.343/.439 line against righties since 2010, but it was .271/.339/.436 from 2010-2011. That’s solid, but he’s not as productive against same-side pitchers.
- Hunter hit the ball on the ground more than any other point his career this season (52.0%), which is not uncommon for older players. He dipped below 20 homers (he hit 16) for the first time since 2000, not counting his injury-shortened 2005 campaign. He’s always been double play prone as well.
- Hunter’s strikeout rate (22.8%) this year was the worst full-season mark of his career, and his walk rate (6.5%) was his lowest since 2007. Coincidentally enough, that was his last walk year. Both rates were worst than the league average.
- Keith Law recently wrote that Hunter has been “losing bat speed for the past few years and compensated this season by being much more aggressive earlier in the count,” and the data backs it up. His 3.57 pitches per plate appearance in 2012 was (by far) his lowest in the last four seasons, hence the low walk rate.
- This isn’t a huge deal, but Hunter isn’t all that fast despite this year’s 9-for-10 in stolen base attempts. He was 14-for-33 in the two years prior to that, and he’s taken the extra base 47% of the time since 2010. That’s above-average but nothing special in the grand scheme of things.
Earlier this year, Hunter said the only teams he would consider playing for are the Angels and Dodgers (to stay in Southern California), the Rangers (he lives in the Dallas suburbs), or the Yankees. All four are contenders (at least in theory) but the Yankees are at the geographical disadvantage. The Bombers have had some success getting guys to come out of their comfort zone in recent years though (specifically Hiroki Kuroda, Ichiro Suzuki, and Lance Berkman), thanks in part to their veteran clubhouse. I don’t think selling Hunter on New York would be that big of the deal as long as the contract offer is reasonable.
Anyway, any team considering Hunter has to understand that he’s very unlikely to repeat his 2012 performance. There are a lot of red flags there with his average on balls in play and increased ground ball rate, plus his age in general makes him a decline risk. A return to his 2011 level of performance — .262/.336/.429 OBP and 114 wRC+, which was his worst season of the last four years — seems like a more realistic expectation, and that’s still enough to make him an above-average corner outfielder as long as his defense skills don’t completely vanish. Hunter won’t add the kind of contact skills I’ve been talking about for the last few weeks, though that’s hardly any kind of mandate.
The Angels offered Hunter a one-year deal with a massive pay cut from his $18M salary, though the outfielder is reportedly seeking a two-year deal. That’s not terribly surprising, everyone wants multiple years. I don’t think a one-year deal in the $4-5M range is realistic at all and frankly it shouldn’t be. Hunter is a better player than that. A one-year deal worth $10-12M might be more in line with the market, and really it’s just the one-year part that is important to the Yankees. I doubt they want to sign a 38-year-old to a two-year deal with the 2014 payroll plan looming. Either way, it’ll be tough to find a more productive outfielder than Hunter on a one-year contract this offseason.
The trade deadline is just three days away, and Alex Rodriguez‘s broken hand has given the Yankees a clear need for help at third base. Marco Scutaro, Ryan Roberts, and Omar Infante have all been dealt already and apparently Ty Wigginton is off limits since Placido Polanco is hurt. The infield pickin’s are slim, but not barren.
Once again we’re going to turn our attention to a non-contender for potential help, this time the Chicago Cubs. They’re looking to move significant pieces like Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, and Alfonso Soriano, but the best fit for the Yankees may be complementary player Jeff Baker. The 31-year-old utility man is have a solid season (105 wRC+) as the team’s right-handed bat off the bench, but when you’re as deep into a rebuild as the Cubbies, no player is untouchable. Let’s see if he’s a fit for the Yankees….
- Baker can hit a little, with a 108 wRC+ against lefties and a 101 wRC+ against righties this season. Since the start of 2010, he’s tagged lefties to the tune of a 129 wRC+ with a .186 ISO and a measly 14.1% strikeout rate.
- He’s versatile, having spent lots of time at first, second, third, and in right field during his career. Second base doesn’t happen too often these days, but Baker can play there in a pinch.
- A rental player scheduled to become a free agent after the season, Baker is making $1.375M this season. That’s roughly $525k the rest of the way. He also has a minor league option remaining, though at his service time level he can refuse the assignment so it doesn’t really matter.
- Baker’s a strict platoon guy. He has nice numbers against righties this year, but since the start of 2010 it’s just a 23 wRC+ with a 34.2% strikeout rate. The breaking ball away gives him fits.
- Despite all that versatility, Baker is a considered a below average defender at every position he plays by the various defensive metrics. Much like Wigginton, he’s a first baseman who plays other positions because his manager tells him to.
- Baker hasn’t been the most durable player in the world — he visited the DL twice with groin strains last year and missed more than two months with a hand issue in 2009. He’s been healthy this year though.
The Yankees aren’t necessarily looking at an upgrade over Eric Chavez or Jayson Nix, at this point they’re seeking an upgrade over Ramiro Pena as the extra infielder. That might be Brandon Laird or Eduardo Nunez, but Baker also makes some sense as a lefty masher who can fake multiple positions. Adding marginal wins means very little to New York at this point given their nine-game lead in the division, but the goal really isn’t to improve the team’s chances of winning. It’s to keep Chavez healthy and limit his exposure — so he can be a pinch-hitting weapon in the postseason — while still having a competent player at the hot corner.
Scutaro was traded just last night for an okay infield prospect, and that gives us some kind of reference point for a trade package. The Cubs insist on pitching in any move though, so perhaps a second or third tier arm like Mikey O’Brien or Shane Greene gets it done. If it doesn’t, then acquiring Baker probably isn’t worth the effort. He’s a nice role player for platoon situations but nothing more.
The third base situation figures to get a lot of attention in the days leading up to the trade deadline thanks to Alex Rodriguez‘s broken hand, but the Yankees still have a need for a non-matchup reliever in their bullpen. Joba Chamberlain‘s return from elbow and ankle surgery is so close that he’s actually going to be with the team in New York this weekend to show the brain trust what he can do in a bullpen session. His activation off the DL may or may not immediately follow.
Non-contenders are always the first place to look for help at the trade deadline and no one is non-contending like the Astros. They’ve won just two (!) of their last 22 games and 12 of their last 54 games since “peaking” at 22-23 in late-May. Carlos Lee is gone, Brett Myers is gone, and Wandy Rodriguez is gone. Could setup man Wilton Lopez be next? It’s certainly possible. Let’s see if he’s a fit for the Yankees.
- The Yankees are familiar with Lopez because he actually spent some time (2002-2007) in their farm system. He only made it into nine games during that time in part due to injuries, but also because he had a lengthy stint (2005-2007) on the voluntarily retired list. Lopez un-retired and spent two seasons in the Padres’ system before being claimed off waivers by Houston in 2009, where he’s been ever since.
- The 29-year-old Lopez succeeds by limiting walks (career 1.66 BB/9 and 4.5 BB%) and getting ground balls (career 58.6%). His performance this season has been even better — 1.18 BB/9 (3.3 BB) and 59.6%.
- A fastball-sinker-splitter pitcher, Lopez sits in the low-90s with the two fastballs and in the mid-80s with the split. A low-80s slider is a very rarely used fourth offering. The splitter helps prevent him from having a significant platoon split — he’s holding lefties to a .222 wOBA (.323 career) and righties to a .301 wOBA (career .291) this year.
- Lopez is in his final pre-arbitration year and is making just $516k this season. He can’t become a free agent until after 2015 and he has at least one minor league option remaining. It might be two, I’m not 100% sure, but it’s definitely at least one.
- Lopez is not much of a strikeout pitcher. His 7.11 K/9 (20.0 K%) this year is actually a career-high but still below the league average for relievers. He gets plenty of swings and misses (9.9% this year, 9.3% career), but he’s around the plate so much that the ball gets put in play.
- The health track record isn’t pretty. Lopez missed almost all of June with an elbow strain, most of Spring Training with forearm soreness, and about two weeks with nerve inflammation in the elbow last year. That doesn’t include all the stuff that happened years ago.
There’s no indication that the Astros are actually open to trade Lopez, I’m just working under the assumption that everyone on their roster is available. Seems reasonable given their record and recent moves. The recently acquired Francisco Cordero is already 2-for-2 in blown save opportunities though, so I suppose there’s a chance they’d prefer to install Lopez as closer for the rest of the season in hopes of boosting his trade value for the winter. Teams are always willing to pay for saves.
Middle relievers get traded all the time, for anything from cash considerations on the low end to a pair of strong prospects on the high end (think Mike Adams). Lopez is in the middle and probably a little closer to the high-end than the average. Giving up a real prospect for a reliever bites, but at least in this instance you’re getting a guy under control for three more years with a minor league option. That’s a lot of flexibility and potential future value. If the Yankees want to add a bullpen arm in addition to a possible return from Joba, bring Lopez back for a second tour of duty with the organization would be a fine target.
They’re going with Ramiro Pena for at least today, but given the current situation we can expect the Yankees to explore the market for a third baseman. Even at the near end of the six-to-eight week projected recovery period, Alex Rodriguez would be ready for a minor league rehab assignment on September 5th. If it takes any longer he could miss the chance at a rehab window, making his return even tougher.
The Yankees do have options at third base, as Mike wrote this morning. In the Outside Help section he mentioned a few interesting names. We’ve already covered Marco Scutaro, and he’s easily an option. But another name really stood out to me: Stephen Drew. Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick spoke ill of Drew recently, so perhaps he’ll be on the move before July 31st.
- Drew has been an average hitter throughout his major league career, producing a 97 OPS+ through 3,156 PA. That’s the exact sOPS+ of AL third basemen this year.
- He’s a free agent after this year, so there’s no long-term worry of what to do with him once A-Rod returns.
- While the Diamondbacks might not want to concede a playoff spot, they’ve been playing mediocre ball this year and might want to get anything they can for Drew.
- The Yankees could use a left-handed bat, since playing Eric Chavez against every righty is risky.
- Drew is coming off a pretty bad ankle injury and has a .556 OPS in 17 games since returning. He didn’t exactly hit well in his rehab assignment, either (power numbers in the PCL don’t really count).
- While a merely average bat can be valuable, it’s tough to justify trading anyone of importance for said average bat. Especially when that average bat will be gone after the season.
- The Diamondbacks could be less willing to deal him now that they have dealt Ryan Roberts, says Jack Magruder of FoxSportsArizona.com.
- Despite Drew’s overall averageness, his poor production this year, and his recent injury, GM Kevin Towers has said that he hasn’t found a deal for Drew “that’s going to make us better.” The Yankees don’t have many, if any, expendable pieces that can help Arizona right now.
- Transitioning from SS to 3B, especially mid-season, can’t be easy.
As it turns out, the name stood out to me more because of the name value than the actual player value. Given the market conditions right now, the Yanks probably don’t have any interest in Drew. Name value just doesn’t translate.