Scouting The Trade Market: Cubs’ Pitchers

The non-waiver trade deadline is fiveweeks from tomorrow and there is no reason to think the Yankees won’t be an active buyer leading up to July 31st. They’re 3.5 games back of the AL East lead and 1.5 games back of a wildcard spot with 86 games to play. Brian Cashman has already said he expects to make some moves before the deadline because … well, duh. The Yankees need help. Rotation help, infield help, and offensive help in general.

Baseball’s league-wide mediocrity — I’m sorry, “competitive balance” — means more teams are in the postseason hunt than ever before, so very few clubs are willing to throw in the towel and sell right now. One club who will definitely be a seller in the coming weeks is the Cubs, who are far out of the race and have several desirable pieces to offer. The Theo Epstein-led regime has been selling since they got there.

The Yankees and Cubs hooked up for the Alfonso Soriano trade last July (they also made smaller deals involving Brent Lillibridge and Alberto Gonzalez last season), which is the only notable deal between the two clubs since the Matt Lawton swap in 2005. I had completely forgotten Matt Lawton was a Yankee. What do the Cubbies have to offer the Bronx Bombers? Let’s first look at the pitchers.

(Brian Kersey/Getty)
Samardzija. (Brian Kersey/Getty)

RHP Jeff Samardzija
Samardzija, 29, will be the best right-handed pitcher on the market this trade deadline. He recently rejected a five-year, $70-80M extension according to Jon Heyman, which makes sense in the wake of Homer Bailey’s six-year, $105M deal. Samardzija will earn $5.345M this season and remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player next year before hitting free agency. Whoever trades for him will be getting him for potentially two postseasons, not one.

In 16 starts and 103 innings this season, Samardzija owns a 2.53 ERA (2.89 FIP) with very good strikeout (8.48 K/9 and 22.8 K%), walk (2.71 BB/9 and 7.3 BB%), homerun (0.44 HR/9 and 6.6 HR/FB%), and ground ball (52.4%) rates. Lefties (.311 wOBA) have had a bit more success against him (.272 wOBA) than righties. Samardzija has made the jump from very good to elite on a rate basis this season, though I think it’s premature to call him an ace. Let’s see where that homer rate sits in a few weeks (1.04 HR/9 and 13.4 HR/FB% from 2012-13).

Samardzija has shown he can hold up under a starter’s workload after beginning his MLB career in the bullpen, throwing 174.2 innings in 2012 and 213.2 innings in 2013. It’s worth noting he’s never been on the disabled list and, after spending time as a standout wide receiver at Notre Dame, he’s pretty used to being in the limelight. The Yankees do value that. Here’s a PitchFX breakdown of Samardzija’s arsenal:

Four-Seam Sinker Cutter Slider Splitter
Avg. Velocity 95.6 95.6 94.2 86.4 86.9
% Thrown 21.6% 32.9% 11.4% 21.3% 12.4%
Whiff+ 119 117 130 105 122
GB+ 109 126 91 114 133

Whiff+ and GB+ are swing-and-miss and ground ball rates for the individual pitches relative to league average — 100 means average, the higher the better. It’s like ERA+. The swing-and-miss rate on Samardzija’s four-seamer is 19% better than league average. The ground ball rate on his cutter is 9% below league average. Simple enough, right?

As you can see from the table, Samardzija misses bats and gets ground balls at an above-average rate with just about his entire repertoire. He has high-end fastball velocity and I think the ability to simply reach back and throw a fastball by a hitter in a fastball count is underrated. It can help you escape a lot of jams. Samardzija has elite stuff, it really is ace-caliber power stuff, and it appears he has figured out how to turn it into ace-caliber production in his third full season as an MLB starter.

The Cubs managed to turn Matt Garza into two top 50 prospects (Mike Olt and C.J. Edwards), an MLB ready back-end starter/long man (Justin Grimm), and a near MLB ready bullpen prospect (Neil Ramirez) last summer. Garza is not only not as good as Samardzija, but he was also coming off a series of injuries (lat strain, elbow fracture) and was due to become a free agent after the season. You’re kidding yourself if you think the Yankees can land Samardzija with, like, John Ryan Murphy and Nik Turley. If you want him, it’s going to hurt. I don’t think New York has the prospects to win a bidding war.

Hammel. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)
Hammel. (Mike McGinnis/Getty)

RHP Jason Hammel
Hammel has gone from an afterthought on the free agent pitching market to a suddenly desirable trade chip for few reasons, but I do think it’s funny how the perception has changed in just a few months. The Cubs gave the 31-year-old Hammel a one-year, $6M contract over the winter and he’s given them a 2.99 ERA (3.06 FIP) in 15 starts and 96.1 innings. His strikeout (8.50 K/9 and 23.9 K%) and walk (1.87 BB/9 and 5.3 BB%) rates are career bests while his grounder (40.1%) and homer (0.75 HR/9 and 8.2 HR/FB%) numbers are closer to his career norms.

The Cubs were able to sign Hammel so cheaply because he was pretty bad last year (4.97 ERA and 4.93 FIP) and hurt the last two years — he threw only 118 innings in 2012 due to knee surgery and 139.1 innings in 2013 because of a flexor mass strain in his elbow. He’s remained healthy this year and is going to pass his innings totals in each of the last two seasons within a month. Here’s the PitchFX breakdown of Hammel’s stuff:

Four-Seam Sinker Slider Curve Changeup
Avg. Velocity 93.5 93.6 84.7 77.4 86.9
% Thrown 33.5% 25.1% 31.9% 6.2% 3.0%
Whiff+ 136 132 126 54 98
GB+ 72 87 111 68 113

After going from the Rockies to the Orioles prior to the 2012 season, Hammel reinvented himself as a sinker/slider pitcher and it led to great success (3.43 ERA and 3.29 FIP). He threw more four-seamers and fewer offspeed pitches last year, possibly due to the elbow issue, but this year he’s really cranked up his slider usage while still throwing more four-seamers than sinkers. Hammel is a three-pitch guy with a show-me changeup and curveball, basically.

The Cubs traded Scott Feldman under very similar circumstances last year. They gave him that same one-year, $6M contract after he missed time with injury in previous years, then traded him after 91 innings of 3.46 ERA (3.93 FIP) ball. Hammel pitched better but his injury history is a little scarier. Feldman fetched an erratic reliever (Pedro Strop) and an inconsistent starter (Jake Arrieta) from Baltimore last summer. Hammel, who has AL East experience, shouldn’t cost much more.

Jackson. (Brian Kersey/Getty)
Jackson. (Brian Kersey/Getty)

RHP Edwin Jackson
I never got the appeal of Jackson beyond his value as a workhorse. He’s a classic example of a guy who has ace-caliber stuff but far from ace-caliber results. A lesser version of A.J. Burnett, basically. Burnett at least had some dominant years earlier in his career.

The Cubs bought the hype and signed Jackson to a four-year contract worth $52M two winters ago, and he’s since pitched to a 5.03 ERA (3.81 FIP) in 259.2 innings. Ouch. That includes a 5.12 ERA (3.86 FIP) in 84.1 innings this year. Jackson has underperformed his peripherals in each of the last five years (4.38 ERA and 3.77 FIP since 2010) and after 850+ innings, it’s not a fluke. That’s just who he is. Some guys consistently outperform their peripherals (Jeremy Guthrie), some consistently underperform their peripherals. Jackson’s the latter.

So far this year the 30-year-old Jackson has a career high strikeout rate (8.86 K/9 and 22.9 K%), though his walk (3.74 BB/9 and 9.5 BB%), homerun (0.96 HR/9 and 11.7 HR/FB), and ground ball (40.5%) rates are his worst in years. He is pretty durable, making at least 31 starts and throwing at least 175 innings every year since 2008. The Yankees could use an innings guy. Here’s the PitchFX breakdown of Jackson’s pitches because why not:

Four-Seam Sinker Slider Curve Changeup
Avg. Velocity 94 93.4 86.9 79.8 87.3
% Thrown 46.9% 13.8% 28.9% 7.2% 3.0%
Whiff+ 116 99 150 67 137
GB+ 108 101 90 51 105

Jackson has always had a strong fastball/slider combination, but again, he doesn’t get the most out of it. There is still approximately $28M left on his contract through 2016 and I think the Cubs would trade him in a heartbeat just to save some salary. Jackson would still require some kind of prospect return because he is relatively young and he will give you innings, if nothing else. It won’t be a pure salary dump.

* * *

Epstein & Co. have made it clear they prefer quality to quantity. They don’t look to fill specific needs in trades, they simple hoard as much talent as possible. They’ve drafted (Kris Bryant) and traded for (Mike Olt and Christian Villanueva) several young third basemen in the last two years, for example. They just want talent, regardless of position. Unless the Cubs specifically target a catching prospect, I’m not sure that helps the Yankees.

Later today we’ll look at the position players Chicago has the offer, though their best available talent is on the mound. Samardzija and David Price are the only two impact guys who are realistically available, though Hammel has been solid this year. I wouldn’t go near Jackson, but that’s just me. Do the Yankees bite the bullet and give up prospects for Hammel at the deadline when he had trouble finding a job over the winter? They might not have a choice.

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Scouting The Trade Market: Pittsburgh Pirates

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

The Yankees have swung a trade late in Spring Training in each of the last three seasons, and if they’re going to do the same this spring, they’ll have to do it soon. Opening Day in Houston is only 12 days away. Infield help figures to be the top priority at this point but adding another arm, specifically for the bullpen, wouldn’t be a bad idea. It’s not like you can have too many relievers.

This time of year, most trades involve players who are out of options and can’t go to the minors without passing through waivers. Teams don’t want to lose them for nothing, so they’re traded if don’t make the roster. That’s how the Yankees wound up with Chris Stewart in Spring Training 2012 and why they traded away Sergio Mitre in Spring Training 2011. MLBTR has this year’s list of out of options players and one of the most well-stocked teams is the Pirates, who have four out of options pitchers for three bullpen spots. Both Travis Sawchik and Tim Williams expect a trade before Opening Day, not someone to be placed on waivers. Is there a trade match with the Yankees? Let’s look.

Jeanmar Gomez
If the name rings a bell, it’s probably because Gomez threw a perfect game against Double-A Trenton back in May 2009. The 26-year-old right-hander was the Pirates swingman last summer, pitching to a 3.35 ERA (3.85 FIP) in 80.2 innings across eight starts and 26 relief appearances. Gomez is a classic low-90s sinker, low-80s slider, low-80s changeup guy who gets grounders (55.4%) but doesn’t miss bats (15.9 K%) or really limit walks (8.4 BB%). On the bright side, he did not have much of a platoon split last year, holding righties to a .269 wOBA and lefties to a .278 wOBA. Not the sexiest pitcher in the world, but for a swingman, you could do worse.

Vin Mazzaro
Mazzaro, 27, is local guy from Hackensack who really blossomed after moving in the bullpen full time last year, posting a 2.81 ERA (3.31 FIP) in 73.2 innings. He’s a low strikeout (15.1 K%), low walk (6.9 BB%), high ground ball (52.2%) pitcher despite a mid-90s two-seamer and upper-80s slider. Mazzaro had a small reverse platoon split in 2013, holding righties to .286 wOBA and lefties to a .269 wOBA. Given his two power pitches, there’s a chance the Yankees and pitching coach Larry Rothschild would be able to really unlock his strikeout potential, something they’ve done with guys like Shawn Kelley and Boone Logan in recent years.

Bryan Morris
Morris came over from the Dodgers in the Jason Bay/Manny Ramirez trade way back in the day, but it wasn’t until last season that he got extended time in the big leagues. The 26-year-old had a 3.46 ERA (4.89 FIP) in 65 innings, getting … wait for it … lots of grounders (57.5%) but few strikeouts (13.7 K%). His walk rate (10.4 BB%) was really high and lefties gave him a bit of a hard time (.320 wOBA) as well (.295 for RHB).

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)
Morris. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

The numbers aren’t anything special but what makes Morris interesting is that he’s shown increased velocity and a new pitch in camp. Sawchik says scouts have clocked Morris’ four-seamer at 97 mph and his cutter at 91 mph this spring, both up 2-3 from last season. He’s also added a two-seamer in the mid-90s. A hard low-90s slider is his breaking ball. Morris has battled elbow and shoulder problems over the years and once upon a time Baseball America (subs. req’d) said he had “a 92-94 mph fastball that has hit 96 mph” and “the stuff of a frontline starter.” It could simply be that his old velocity has just started to fully return now that he’s a few years away from his last arm injury.

Stolmy Pimentel
Pimentel, 24, was part of last winter’s Mark Melancon-Joel Hanrahan trade. He made his big league debut last September (1.93 ERA and 1.76 FIP in 9.1 innings) after pitching to a 3.35 ERA (~3.96 FIP) in 169.1 innings split between Double-A and Triple-A. His minor league strikeout (17.3 K%) and walk (7.9 BB%) weren’t anything to write home about. In their 2014 Prospect Handbook, Baseball America said Pimentel “sits at 92-94 mph … topping out at 95″ and has an “excellent, mid-80s split-changeup,” though they caution “he’s probably not quite ready for prime time” and will “have to earn his stripes in low-leverage work.”

* * *

The Yankees have several guys just like Gomez in David Phelps, Adam Warren, and Vidal Nuno, and as interesting as his two-pitch mix may be, Pimentel wouldn’t really move the bullpen needle all that much this year. Mazzaro and Morris are decent middle relievers with the type of power stuff the Yankees love, though the strikeout numbers don’t back it up. It’s obvious New York values having strikeout pitchers in their bullpen for what I think are obvious reasons. For what it’s worth, Rob Biertempfel and Ken Davidoff say everyone but Pimentel is available.

What would the Pirates want in exchange for Mazzaro or Morris? How do you value an out of options middle reliever? Stewart had knee surgery and will likely miss 4-6 weeks according to Sawchik, but would the Yankees really deal a spare catcher for a middle reliever who might not last the season? Maybe Austin Romine, but even then that feels like a stretch. Remember, the Yankees have a full 40-man roster, so they’d not only have to give up something in a trade for these guys, but they’d have to clear a 40-man spot as well (which they could do in the trade, obviously). Pittsburgh has some extra interesting arms, but I have a hard time seeing a trade fit here. Then again, the Yankees and Pirates get together for a trade every other week it seems, so who knows what’s cooking now.

Scouting The Trade Market: Atlanta Braves

Nope. (Presswire)
Nope. (Presswire)

I’m about to jinx the hell out of it, but this has been a very quiet Spring Training for the Yankees. Last spring was an injury filled nightmare, as I’m sure you remember. This year though? No complaints so far. Knock on wood.

That is not the case with the Braves. Their pitching staff has been hit hard by injuries, with Kris Medlen (elbow), Mike Minor (shoulder), and Brandon Beachy (biceps) all going down and questionable at best for Opening Day. Medlen’s injury sounds rather serious too. Things are getting so bad that manager Fredi Gonzalez said “thank God we sign Freddy Garcia” the other day. Imagine that.

The Braves signed Ervin Santana to a one-year deal this morning, but one pitcher does not replace three. You can be sure Atlanta is still seeking depth arms. The Yankees have four pitchers competing for their final rotation spot, so they’re one of the few teams that could trade a starter for help elsewhere. Do David Phelps, Adam Warren, or Vidal Nuno interest the Braves (I assume Michael Pineda is off limits)? Who knows. What does Wren have to offer? Let’s look.

2B/SS Tyler Pastornicky
Pastornicky, 24, has hit .251/.292/.327 (84 wRC+) in 221 plate appearances over the last two seasons, only 33 of which came last year. He’s been pushed aside by Andrelton Simmons and is currently competing with former Yankee Ramiro Pena for a bench job. Pastornicky managed a .292/.354/.392 (111 wRC+) batting line with four homers and nine steals in 320 plate appearances in Triple-A last summer.

Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Pastornicky as the team’s seventh best prospect prior to the 2012 season, saying he “has a good feel for hitting and makes consistent line-drive contact … He has above-average range at shortstop, and he could get more out of his average arm with a more consistent arm slot.” Some of the bloom has come off the rose the last two years as his bat has failed to develop, but Pastornicky can legitimately play short (he spent more of last year at second because Simmons isn’t going anywhere) and the Yankees are in need of young infield help.

2B Dan Uggla
This is an automatic no for me. Has to be, right? We’ve already lived through the Vernon Wells experiment, no need to take on the infield version*. The 34-year-old Uggla hit .179/.309/.362 (91 wRC+) with 22 homers last season, struggling so much in the second half that he was benched in favor of Pena and Elliot Johnson at times, and was left off the postseason roster completely. He’s also not much of a second baseman anymore and he’s owed $26M through 2015. We heard the Yankees had no interest in Uggla in December and there’s no reason to have interest in him now, no matter what the infield looks like.

* Okay, fine. Uggla has not been Vernon bad, but he’s been bad. I’m not interested in seeing if he can recapture past magic.

La Stella. (Mark Cunningham/Getty)
La Stella. (Mark Cunningham/Getty)

2B Tommy La Stella
La Stella, 25, is local kid from New Jersey and the Braves’ top middle infield prospect. He’s expected to replace Uggla at second, perhaps as soon as Opening Day. La Stella managed a .356/.444/.492 (174 wRC+) batting line with five homers and eight steals in 352 plate appearances at (mostly) Double-A last summer, though he was obviously a bit old for the level. Here’s what Baseball America (subs. req’d) had to say when they ranked him as the team’s ninth best prospect a few weeks ago:

La Stella has hit at every level thanks to great hand-eye coordination and above-average bat speed. He has an excellent approach and exceptional feel for the strike zone, which helps him rack up more walks than strikeouts. La Stella also shines as a situational hitter with his ability to advance runners via the hit-and-run or by bunting. He runs the bases well and with intelligence despite not being blessed with great quick-twitch athleticism. Defensively, he makes all of the routine plays at the keystone and has an average arm. Nagging injuries, including an elbow issue this season, have kept him from playing even 100 games in a season.

The numbers are great and the scouting report indicates a classic number two hitter profile, though that might equal a number eight or nine hitter in a good lineup. La Stella’s appeal is obvious given the Yankees’ need for long-term infield solution, but I’m pretty sure the Braves would make him off limits while discussing back-end starters. This one ain’t happening.

* * *

The Yankees don’t need any outfielders and trading a potential starter for a reliever doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, so it’s infield or bust with the Braves. With La Stella off the table, it’s Pastornicky or Uggla. With Uggla being awful, it’s basically Pastornicky, and there have been no indications he is actually available. The Santana signing removed any real sense of urgency.

This is not a similar situation as potentially trading a spare catcher to the Diamondbacks for one of their young infielders. Not only do those infielders have more ceiling than Pastornicky, who looks more like a utility man than anything at this point, but dealing Phelps or Warren or Nuno would directly impact New York’s big league roster. Nuno might be the low man in the fifth starter competition, but we’re still going to see him in the show this summer, either in relief or making a start or ten.

Unless the Braves put La Stella on a table, I don’t see much of a trade match between them and the Yankees. Nuno for Pastornicky might make some sense, but the Bombers are chock full of fringy infielders already and I’d rather have the extra arm at this point. Atlanta doesn’t have an obvious short or long-term infield upgrade to offer, so the Yankees’ best move here is to just stand pat. They’re under no obligation to make a move just between they have what the other team needs.

Scouting The Trade Market: Diamondbacks

Owings. (Presswire)
Owings. (Presswire)

Even after signing Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts, and a small army of guys on minor league contracts, the Yankees continue to look for infield help before the start of the season. They need both short and long-term help too. With Stephen Drew the only appealing free agent still on the board, trading for an infielder seems like the best way for the club to get the help it needs. One of the few teams with infield depth to spare is the Diamondbacks.

“For us, it would have to be the right deal,” said former Yankees special assistant and current D’Backs GM Kevin Towers to Nick Piecoro when asked about trading an infielder. “Our biggest needs in our system are catching. If it’s the right, top-notch catching prospect. Someone we could have right behind [Miguel Montero]. More of an upper-level guy. Maybe a top, upper-end starter. We have a lot of bullpen depth, infielders. Maybe an outfielder, but probably more catching and Double-A, Triple-A type starter.”

Towers went on to say the team has not had many trade discussions about their infielders recently, likely because Drew remains unsigned. Marc Carig heard the D’Backs were looking for a Travis d’Arnaud type, a premium catching prospect, but I suspect that is posturing more than anything. No harm in asking for the moon. The Yankees have a bunch of young catchers and as luck would have it, they really need a young infielder. The trade fit is obvious. Let’s see what Arizona has to offer.

Nick Ahmed
Ahmed, 24 next month, is local product out of UConn who went from the Braves to the D’Backs in last winter’s Justin Upton trade. He hasn’t hit much during his three years as a pro, including putting up a weak .236/.288/.324 (77 wRC+) batting line with four homers and 26 stolen bases in 538 Double-A plate appearances last season. Ahmed is considered a top notch gloveman though, with Baseball America calling him a “plus defender at shortstop with soft hands, a strong, accurate arm and a quick release” in their 2014 Prospect Handbook. They ranked him as the 18th best prospect in Arizona’s system and likened him to John McDonald long-term.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Didi Gregorius
The D’Backs acquired Gregorius from the Reds last offseason as part of the Shin-Soo Choo three-team trade. They insisted the 24-year-old could hit for weeks after the deal, then he went out and put up a .252/.332/.373 (91 wRC+) line with seven homers in 404 plate appearances as the team’s everyday shortstop last summer. That’s a touch better than Eduardo Nunez production. Acceptable for a good defender but not enough to erase the doubts about his bat.

Gregorius hit his first career homer at Yankee Stadium early last year, but his calling card will always be his glove. Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked him as Arizona’s fifth best prospect before last season and said he has “smooth actions, plus range and a sniper rifle of an arm [that] rates as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale, allowing him to make plays from deep in the hole that other shortstops can’t.” You really have to squint your eyes to see Gregorius as a hitter long-term, but there is no doubt about his glove and he showed that during his rookie season. The kid can pick it.

Chris Owings
Owings, 22, made his brief big league debut late last season after hitting .330/.359/.482 (121 wRC+) with 12 homers and 20 steals in 575 plate appearances in the hitter friendly Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Keith Law (subs. req’d) ranked him as the 72nd prospect in the game last month and had this to say:

His 2013 line was boosted by playing in hitter-friendly Triple-A Reno, but Owings’ bat speed is undeniable and his swing is simple and direct. I don’t see loft in the swing for home-run power, but he’s an above-average runner and I think he’ll hit plenty of line-drives to the gaps for 30-40 doubles a year. At shortstop, he has great instincts, quick feet, and a plus arm, everything required to be at least a 60-grade defender there — very much what Didi Gregorius was supposed to be, but with better hit and run tools.

Owings was 17 years old when he signed, so he had 2,000 pro plate appearances before he turned 22 and is more than ready to take over as the everyday shortstop in Arizona now, where he might walk once a week but will contribute in plenty of other ways to keep the job.

Strikeouts have been a concern over the years (23.4% from 2011-12) but Owings cut down on them a bit last year (17.2%), which is a positive sign but hardly definitive proof he has cleared that hurdle. Owings is a right-handed hitter like Ahmed and unlike the lefty swinging Gregorious, and he has the best all-around potential of Arizona’s various young shortstops. He has a chance to contribute both at the plate and in the field, something that isn’t all that easy to find at the position.

* * *

The D’Backs could also push the veteran Cliff Pennington in trades for a catcher, but he has little value. He’s another no-hit, all-glove type like Brendan Ryan and that simply doesn’t fetch much when they aren’t in their early-20s. I mentioned him as a possible target while looking for Ichiro Suzuki trade matches and that was basically a salary dump situation. Owings is the guy to me; he’s the one the Yankees should target because he’s a legit two-way shortstop. Another no-hit, all-glove guy doesn’t make much sense with Ryan already on board.

I really like John Ryan Murphy — I didn’t rank him as the team’s second best prospect for nothing, you know — but man a Murphy for Owings swap sure seems to make sense for both clubs. The Yankees signed Brian McCann long-term this winter and they would still have Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez around as catching depth. I mean, if they’re not open to trading Murphy for a desperately needed MLB-ready shortstop prospect, then what are they going to do with him?

Obviously there is more to be considered than positional needs. How do the D’Backs value Murphy and New York’s other catchers? Prospect-for-prospect trades are rare because teams always love their players more than everyone else’s. Also, is there any urgency to make a trade now, or is Arizona content to wait around and play the market a bit? I’m a fan of getting a deal done quickly just so the player can spend a few weeks in camp working with the coaches and learning the organizational ropes before the season starts. That’s just me. These two clubs appear to match up very well for a trade, but, as we’ve learned over the years, that is hardly a guarantee a deal will actually get done.

Scouting the Free Agent Market: Pitchers on Minor League Deals

Gonna have to shave that beard, Hanson. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Gonna have to shave that beard, Hanson. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The Yankees seem set with the top four in the rotation and their closer, but they could still use some help filling the other seven slots on the pitching staff. Particularly, adding a couple of pitchers to the fifth starter competition could help them.

Going with an internal candidate might seem ideal. If Michael Pineda steps up, clearly the Yankees should go with him in the fifth spot. But if he doesn’t they face a dilemma. David Phelps and Adam Warren might be better suited in relief roles, and the Yankees can use some bullpen reinforcements right now.

By picking up one or two free agents on minor league deals, the Yankees can offer new auditions for the fifth starter spot, perhaps making it easier to use Phelps and Warren in the bullpen if Pineda still needs time in the minors.

The list is thin, of course, and each pitcher is significantly flawed. That’s always the case when looking for players on minor league deals. But each of these three pitchers has at least some upside.

Tommy Hanson

If a 27-year-old former top prospect appears in line for a minor league deal, something must have gone horribly wrong. Hanson hasn’t been the same since a shoulder impingement and rotator cuff injury cut short his 2011 season. Since then he’s gotten progressively worse.

The shoulder injury seems to have taken all the life out of Hanson’s fastball, leaving his two breaking pitches less effective. While it’s possible for a pitcher to live right around 90 mph, where Hanson has been for the past two seasons, something else seems to be missing from that heater.

At just 27 years old, Hanson still has some promise. He did recover some of his velocity late last season, after moving to the pen at the end of September. If that helps him rediscover the pitch, he could become effective again. Even if he can’t break 90 when stretched out over 100 pitches, he could become a viable option in the pen. The Yankees need some help there as well.

The big upside in signing Hanson is that if he does bounce back, he won’t become a free agent until after the 2015 season. That’s a nice little bonus for taking a chance on someone.

Joe Saunders

Under normal circumstances, a 33-year-old lefty with a history of mostly average numbers would find a team willing to offer a MLB deal. But after his 2013 performance, Joe Saunders probably isn’t getting that from a non-desperate team. It’s hard to see how last season could have gone any more wrong for him.

After decent showings in 2012, including a fine run during Baltimore’s playoff push, Saunders moved to Seattle and one of the league’s most favorable pitching environments. The result: the highest home run to fly ball ratio in the majors despite pitching in one of the least favorable HR parks. His 5.26 ERA ranked second-worst among qualified pitchers.

Why even consider Saunders after that debacle? For starters, that performance probably makes him a minor league deal guy. Second, from 2007 through 2012 he produced a 104 ERA+. Third, it’s possible that the spikes in his HR/RB ratio and his BABIP could regress to his career norms. Saunders is still no great shakes, but he’s probably worth a look on a minor league deal.

Jair Jurrjens

The Yankees have been connected to Jurrjens in the past. After the 2011 season the Braves started shopping him around. And why not? He had undergone knee surgery after the 2010 season and saw those problems persist into 2011. Despite that, Jurrjens pitched reasonably well, a 2.96 ERA in 152 innings. It seemed like a great time to sell high.

The Braves found no takers, or at least no takers willing to meet their asking price. What followed was a two-year barrage of home runs and otherwise putrid performances, amounting to a 6.63 ERA in just 55.2 MLB innings. His stints in the minors weren’t particularly impressive, either. It would appear that Jurrjens is finished.

Every pitcher willing to take a minor league deal has to be flawed in some significant way. Jurrjens might be worth the flier because he’s succeeded in the past despite his so-so control that goes along with sub-par stuff. Chances are he’s done, but at 28 years old he’s worth one last look before closing the book on him.

Lightning Round

The MLBTR free agent list has a number of household names who could sign minor league deals this winter. Are any of them in any way appealing?

Roy Oswalt: We wrote about Oswalt earlier this off-season, though mainly as a reliever. Maybe he could bounce back as a starter if given a full spring training. Worth a look, but an aging starter with back problems probably won’t pan out.

Johan Santana: We also wrote about Santana, but it appears he won’t be back until the summer, so we can back off that idea for a while.

Barry Zito: I wanted to find something to like about Zito, I really did. Unfortunately, there’s just nothing.

Jeff Karstens: He essentially had a good year, maybe year and a half, but has been hurt and ineffective otherwise. It’d be nice to bring back an old friend (acquaintance maybe?), but Karstens isn’t going to help even in the best case scenario.

Aaron Harang: Like Saunders, he got thrashed in Seattle last year. Unlike Saunders, he throws right handed and is 36 years old. Harang had a nice peak just as he entered his prime years, but outside of three pretty good seasons, he’s been mediocre to horrible.

Jake Westbrook: The former Yankee looks pretty toast.

Bruce Chen: He actually had a decent season last year, split between the rotation and the pen. But Chen is super homer happy. It’s tough to see that working at all with the Yankees.