Archive for Scouting The Market
I feel like this was inevitable. At some point this winter, the Yankees would be connected to David Freese. It made too much sense. The Cardinals don’t need him anymore with second baseman Kolten Wong ready (Matt Carpenter would slide back to third) and the Bombers need some help at the hot corner. Add in the big-ish name, past postseason success, and familiarity with a baseball-crazy market and pennant races and all that, and it’s a match made in rumor heaven.
The Yankees have long had their eyes on Freese — they reportedly agreed to acquire him from the Padres for Kei Igawa back in 2007, but George Steinbrenner backed out because he didn’t want to eat any of Igawa’s contract — and sure enough, Mark Feinsand reported yesterday two sides have been talking trade. Later in the day we found out a deal is unlikely because they don’t match up well, or, in other words, the Cardinals don’t have much interest in what New York has to offer. That doesn’t mean a trade is off the table completely though, the offseason is still young and these two clubs have months to find common ground. Does he fit the Yankees’ needs though? Let’s take a look, starting with the negatives.
- Freese’s power was absent in 2013. He slugged only nine homers with a .119 ISO in 521 plate appearances, down from the almost perfectly league average .150 ISO he posted from 2009-2012. Freese saw his HR/FB rate drop from 18.8% in 2011-2012 to 10.5% this year.
- His batted ball profile did not change (no sudden spike in ground balls, for example) and his .320 BABIP this past summer was actually a career-low by more than 30 points. He’s a high-BABIP hitter who managed a career-worst .262/.340/.381 (106 wRC+) in 2013.
- Freese is pretty bad defensively regardless of whether you want to use the eye test or the various fielding stats: -14 DRS, -13.1 UZR, -12.5 FRAA, and -19 Total Zone in his career. If you watched the postseason at all, you saw how positively statuesque he is at third.
- Freese won’t give you anything on the bases. He’s gone 6-for-12 in stolen base attempts in his 466-game big league career and he’s taken the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) just 34% of the time, below the 40% league average.
- The injury history is rather long. Freese missed time with back trouble this season (started the year on the DL) and he’s had three surgeries since breaking into the show: left heel debridement (2009), right ankle tendon reconstruction (2010), and a left hand fracture (2011). He’s also had a lot of day-to-day stuff over the years (mostly hamstring and wrist).
- I usually try to steer clear of off-the-field stuff here, but Freese has three alcohol-related arrests in his recent past and that seems like something worth mentioning. He was arrested for DUI in 2002 and again 2009, and was also arrested for public intoxication and resisting arrest in 2007. The second DUI was a violation of his probation stemming from the 2007 arrest.
- Freese didn’t hit this past season but he has hit every other year of his career, putting up a .296/.363/.446 (125 wRC+) line from 2009-2012 and .293/.372/.467 (133 wRC+) with 20 homers in 567 plate appearances in 2012 alone. Both his walk (career 8.6%) and strikeout (21.0%) rates are right in line with the league averages.
- As a right-handed batter, he does most of his damage against lefties (career 134 wRC+) but can still hold his own against righties (114 wRC+). Even this past season, the worst of his career, he managed a tolerable 98 wRC+ against righties. He doesn’t need a platoon partner.
- We have to mention the postseason, right? Freese is a career .289/.357/.518 (141 wRC+) hitter with seven homers in 185 plate appearances across 41 postseason games, but I have to point out those numbers were built almost entirely during that monster 2011 run (245 wRC+). He was okay in 2012 (106 wRC+) and downright awful in 2013 (50 wRC+).
- Matt Swartz projects Freese to earn $4.4M through arbitration next season — for some reason I thought it was over $7M — and he will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2015 as well. He won’t be eligible for free agency until the 2015-2016 offseason.
Freese isn’t a bat first player, he’s a bat only player. He doesn’t help on defense and you can’t count on him to play 140+ games either — he’s only done that once in his career (144 in 2012) — so if he doesn’t hit, he’s a replacement level player (like he was this summer). There’s a chance his subpar 2013 season at the plate has to do with his back problem, which means he could rebound next year if he’s healthy or continue to get worse since back injuries have a way of lingering forever. I think it’s very clear Freese’s reputation, which was boosted by 2011 postseason heroics, far exceeds his actual worth right now.
Now, that said, the third base market is a wasteland. The best available free agent is Juan Uribe, who was very good this past season but a release candidate in both 2011 and 2012. The alternatives are Michael Young and Mark Reynolds. So yeah, the free agent market doesn’t offer much help. With the Padres reportedly hanging onto Chase Headley and Pablo Sandoval only kinda sorta on the market, Freese figures to be the best third baseman on the trade block this winter barring something surprising. He’s the best of an underwhelming lot of players.
The Yankees don’t have much to offer the Cardinals in the trade, hence St. Louis’ reluctance to pull the trigger. There is a chance the Cardinals will non-tender Freese prior to the December 2nd deadline rather than risk paying him $4.4M to be a bench player in 2014, at which point New York could simply sign him as a free agent. Maybe this is a repeat of the Russell Martin situation — the Yankees offered Frankie Cervelli to the Dodgers for Martin, who balked and eventually non-tendered their backstop days later. Maybe they low-balled St. Louis and are content with waiting to see if he gets cut loose next month (when they might have a better handle on the Alex Rodriguez‘s situation) before upping their offer. Freese would help the Yankees but only at the right price. I don’t think he’s someone they should go all out to acquire regardless of their third base needs and the lack of alternatives.
For the first time in a long time, there is serious uncertainty on the left side of the Yankees’ infield. At this time last year we were all being told Derek Jeter‘s rehab from ankle surgery would have him ready for Spring Training, plus Alex Rodriguez‘s left hip injury wasn’t even a thing yet. Some concern about Jeter, yeah, but overall the left side of the infield was not a full-fledged problem. Obviously, circumstances have changed.
“I think the left side of the infield, for various reasons, has question marks. Whether it’s recovering from a broken ankle in Derek or the controversy that’s yet to be resolved with Alex,” said Brian Cashman to Andy McCullough yesterday. New York has already been in contact with Omar Infante, Kelly Johnson, Brendan Ryan, and Brandon Phillips just in case Robinson Cano signs elsewhere, but there is no “just in case” at shortstop and third base. They need help. Everyone knows it.
In a perfect world, the Yankees would add a player capable of playing both shortstop and third base since their left side of the infield needs may change throughout the summer. (I’m sure they will.) It just so happens that type of player is available via free agency this winter in Jhonny Peralta, who’s spent the last three-plus years with the Tigers after opening his career with the Indians. Let’s break down the 31-year-old’s game to see if he’s a fit for the Bombers.
- First and foremost, Peralta can hit. Especially by left side of the infield standards. He put up a .303/.358/.457 (123 wRC+) batting line this past season and a .278/.334/.438 (109 wRC+) line over the last three years, doing most of his damage against lefties (114 wRC+ since 2011) as a right-handed batter. Peralta’s strikeout (18.5% since 2011) and walk (7.7%) rates are pretty much exactly league average, so he doesn’t have any serious problems controlling the strike zone.
- His defense is better than he gets credit for. Peralta has played shortstop almost exclusively with Detroit, posting good to great defensive stats across the board since 2011: +1 DRS, +25.3 UZR, +16.2 FRAA, and +11 Total Zone. He dabbled in left field last this season and spent a couple thousand innings at third base earlier in his career.
- Peralta has been to the postseason a bunch of times in his career and has performed very well, hitting .283/.326/.506 (122 wRC+) with eight homers in 178 plate appearances spread across 45 career October games. I don’t know how you value past postseason performance, but either way, this isn’t a negative.
- Peralta is a very durable player, appearing in at least 140 games every year from 2005-2012. He has never once been on the DL as a big leaguer.
- The Tigers did not make Peralta (or anyone else) a qualifying offer, so teams will not have to surrender a high draft pick to sign him.
- Peralta’s offensive performance has been very up-and-down throughout his career. Here are his wRC+’s since breaking into the league full-time in 2005: 136, 85, 105, 112, 83, 91, 122, 86, 123. Are you getting the guy who was 20% better than league average twice in the last three years, or the guy who was 10-15% below-average three times in the last five years?
- He won’t give you anything on the bases. Peralta has attempted only 34 steals in 1,383 career games (38% success rate) and he’s been consistently below-average at taking the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.). Speed is not part of his game.
- Peralta was one of 12 players suspended 50 games for their ties to Biogenesis this August. He said he made a “terrible mistake” in “spring of 2012″ in a statement without elaborating further. Obviously performance-enhancing drug stuff creates some uncertainty.
The Yankees have been connected to a ton of middle infielders already this offseason, but Peralta is not (yet) one of them. I have been wondering if the team would try to steer clear of players with PED ties in an effort to “clean up their image,” so to speak, but Cashman told McCullough they “certainly have to be open-minded” about such players this winter. The fact that they’ll tender Frankie Cervelli a contract is an indication they won’t close the door on those guys, which is a good thing in my opinion. There’s a system in place and Peralta served his time.
Not too many comparable infielders have hit the free agent market in recent years, and certainly none with a super-recent PED suspension in their history. That complicates things a bit. Jeff Keppinger’s contract (three years, $12M) with the White Sox strikes me as way too light for Peralta, so maybe the deals signed by Marco Scutaro (three years, $20M) and Aramis Ramirez (three years, $36M) are more appropriate. Splitting the middle and calling it $28M across three years ($9.3M luxury tax hit) sounds good to me, but I’m terrible at estimating this stuff. Remember, power pays and Peralta has it (18 homers in 162 games for his career), especially relative to his position. Three years and $30M might be more accurate.
It’s important to remember that Peralta has, you know, a say in where he signs. The idea of splitting time between short and third depending on the day might not be all that appealing to him, especially if other clubs (the Cardinals?) offer him a full-time job at shortstop. Stephen Drew turned the Yankees down last winter because of uncertainty about playing time (and position). This stuff matters to these guys. Peralta’s year-to-year inconsistency worries me a bit but not enough to scare me away completely. He makes plenty of sense for New York if the price is right. Do the Yankees make sense for Peralta though? He could opt for a steadier job elsewhere.
On paper, the Yankees currently have four outfielders for three spots. In reality, they have two outfielders for three spots. Both Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells took advantage of the opportunity to show they are no longer everyday Major League players this past season and New York will spend a chunk of the winter looking for an upgrade, especially now that Curtis Granderson has declined the qualifying offer.
The Yankees have already been connected to Jacoby Ellsbury and Shin-Soo Choo, the offseason’s two best free agent outfielders, and they also have interest in the veteran Carlos Beltran. That interest in expected to be mutual, unsurprisingly. Beltran has shown an eagerness to play for Bombers in the past, most notably offering to sign with them at a discount prior to 2005. He also came to the team at the last minute and gave them an opportunity to match the deal he eventually took from the Cardinals prior to 2012. I thought Beltran was a perfect fit before 2005 but not so much before 2012. What about now? Let’s break his game down.
- Despite his age, Beltran remains an effective hitter from both sides of the plate. He hit .296/.339/.491 (132 wRC+) overall this past season, broken down into a 144 wRC+ against righties and a 102 wRC+ against lefties. Over the last three seasons, it’s .288/.356/.503 (137 wRC+) overall and a 140 wRC+ against righties compared to a 128 wRC+ against southpaws. His overall strikeout (16.6% since 2011) and walk (9.6%) rates are both better than average as well.
- Beltran has answered some serious questions about his durability in recent years, playing in 140+ games in each of the last three seasons and 438 of 486 games overall since 2011. That includes the last two in the DH-less NL. He’s recovered well after only playing 145 of 324 possible games from 2009-2010.
- As you surely know, Beltran is arguably the best postseason hitter of his generation. He’s a career .333/.445/.683 (196 wRC+) hitter with 16 homers in 219 plate appearances across 51 playoff games. In October, Beltran is basically Babe Ruth (career 197 wRC+). That’ll be helpful if New York gets back to the postseason.
- Beltran’s walk rate (6.3%) this year was his lowest since his rookie season by a decent margin. He swung at 31.0% of pitches out of the zone, a career-high since the data started being recorded in 2007. Beltran’s out-of-zone swing rate has actually increased every year since 2009. He’s trending the wrong way and, not coincidentally, is at an age when hitters start their swing earlier to compensate for lost bat speed.
- Once a historically great base-runner, Beltran is no longer a threat to steal bases and he’s only league average when it comes to taking the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.). Once upon a time he was a lock for 30+ steals a year, but that part of his game is long gone.
- Beltran’s defense has slipped as well. His reads off the bat are still good but his range and arm have really declined. His defensive numbers since moving to right field full-time in 2011 are pretty bad: -2 DRS, -20.1 UZR, -7.1 FRAA, and -22 Total Zone.
- He has stayed healthy these last three years, but Beltran had major knee right knee surgery in 2010 — he actually had an arthroscopic procedure instead of microfracture surgery against the Mets’ wishes — and still deals with regular soreness. Beltran has been on the DL once in the last three years but day-to-day ailments are fairly common.
- Beltran declined the qualifying offer prior to Monday’s deadline, so teams will have to forfeit a high draft pick to sign him. For the Yankees, that means surrendering the 18th overall selection.
According to Tim Brown, Beltran is seeking a three or four-year contract this winter and that’s just not happening. It shouldn’t, anyway, especially from the Yankees. He’ll turn 37 soon after Opening Day and he’s got a bad knee. It’s not a matter of if he’ll become a full-time DH, but when. It could easily be this season. I was thinking more along the lines of two years and $30M, a $2M per year raise over the contract he signed with the Cardinals to essentially account for market inflation. Teams have lots of money to spend and he has no reason to settle for one year.
The drop in walk rate — it’s worth noting Beltran’s strikeout rate did not increase at all this year — is a concern to me only because it might mean his bat speed is really starting to slip. The now poor defense and general age-related concerns are another red flag, plus giving up a high draft pick would stink. Beltran is, however, a big upgrade over the team’s current right field options and his switch-hitting power bat would fit perfectly into the middle of the Yankees lineup. The question is whether he wants to come to the Bronx at this point. I’m guessing one of Beltran’s top priorities this winter is joining a team that gives him a strong chance to win a World Series and he simply might not believe New York can give him that opportunity. He’d be a solid pickup on a two-year contract but Beltran’s demands might throw a wrench into things.
The Yankees have a bunch of needs to address this winter and the catcher position is one of the biggest. The law firm of Cervelli, Stewart & Romine was one of the worst catching crops in baseball in 2013 and in definite need of an upgrade. The free agent market offers several quality backstops like Brian McCann, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Carlos Ruiz, but New York might not be able to afford them. At least not until the ruling in Alex Rodriguez‘s appeal hearing is handed down.
Late last week, the Reds made the first notable free agent signing of the winter by bringing in switch-hitting backstop Brayan Pena. Young Devin Mesoraco is untouchable, which means the veteran Ryan Hanigan is a man without a roster spot. In fact, soon after the Pena signing, Ken Rosenthal reported Cincinnati is likely to move the 33-year-old this winter. Buster Olney noted the Yankees (and Rays) have liked Hanigan in the past and could turn to him as a more cost effective catching option. Let’s break down his game.
- Hanigan’s offensive game is built around controlling the strike zone and getting on base. His walk rate both this year (11.4%) and over the last three years (11.6%) is above-average and has allowed him to post a .346 OBP since 2011 (.359 since breaking into the league full-time).
- In addition to the walks, Hanigan rarely strikes out. He’s walked more than he’s struck out every year since 2008 and his strikeout rate was basically half the league average both this past year (10.4%) and over the last three years (10.3%). Only six players best his contact rate (91.4%) since 2011.
- Hanigan has consistently graded out as one of the best defensive catchers in baseball (2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 rankings) and he’s thrown out 40% of attempted base-stealers in his career (47.5% over the last two years). He also ranks as one of the game’s best pitch-framers and has spoken about that skill at length.
- Matt Swartz projects Hanigan to earn $2.3M next season, his final trip through arbitration. He is scheduled to become a free agent for the first time next winter.
- Hanigan did not hit a lick this past season, putting up a .198/.306/.261 (53 wRC+) batting line in 260 plate appearances. He has never hit for power (.063 ISO in 2013 and .081 career), so his offensive game depends entirely on those walks and putting the ball in play.
- That gaudy walk rate has been artificially inflated. Hanigan has been intentionally walked 25 times (!) over the last three years, so his unintentional walk rate is a still solid but not excellent 9.0%. Batting eighth in front of the pitcher has its benefits.
- As expected, he chips in nothing on the bases. Catchers usually don’t. Hanigan has attempted one (!) stolen base in parts seven big league seasons and he’s taken the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) a below-average 35% of the time in his career.
- Hanigan has had some injury problems over the years, including two DL trips in 2013. He missed three weeks with an oblique strain and a month with a wrist sprain. Obviously the wrist could have contributed to the poor batting line. Hanigan has also dealt with concussion (2009) and thumb (2010) problems.
Given his low salary and the general dearth of catching, the Reds shouldn’t have much trouble finding a trade partner for Hanigan. I would be surprised if they have to non-tender him at the deadline on December 2nd. Not too many catchers have been traded one year prior to free agency in recent years, especially none similar to Hanigan. A.J. Pierzynski (Twins to Giants) was dealt one year before hitting the open market but that doesn’t really fit — he was younger and better and that trade was a decade ago. I haven’t the slightest idea of what it would take to acquire Hanigan in a trade.
If the Yankees aren’t going to spend big for McCann or Saltalamacchia or Ruiz, Hanigan is pretty much the only catcher they could bring in who would be an upgrade over the in-house options while not taking a huge bite out of the payroll pie. He’s a better defensive catcher than Stewart (pitch framing!) and even though he has zero power, Hanigan will at least put together quality at-bats and get on-base regularly via walks. It’s worth noting he had a career-low .216 BABIP in 2013 (.283 career) despite no change in his batted ball profile. A little BABIP rebound would get him back into the .270/.360/.340 range he sat from 2011-2012. That isn’t anything special, but it’s better than what the Yankees have now and the (financial) cost is very reasonable.
Following a season in which their catchers ranked 26th in baseball with a 61 wRC+ and 23rd with 0.9 fWAR, help behind the plate figures to be on the Yankees’ agenda this winter. They have some strong backstop prospects in J.C. Murphy and Gary Sanchez, but prospects break hearts and if the team has a chance to land a quality catcher this offseason, they should consider it. Strongly consider it. Very strongly.
Long-time Braves catcher Brian McCann is a free agent and his camp has already had preliminary talks with New York according to Andy McCullough. That makes sense, especially since elite catchers very rarely hit the open market. In fact, since Ivan Rodriguez signed his four-year, $40M deal with the Tigers prior to the 2004 season, the largest contract given to a free agent catcher is the three-year, $18M pact the Marlins gave John Buck three years ago. Good catchers never ever ever become free agents. Teams lock them up because they know how rare and precious they are.
On the surface, McCann makes perfect since for the Yankees. If he’s not an elite catcher, he’s damn near elite. One of the five best in baseball. He’s also a left-handed power hitter who should benefit quite a bit from the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium. There is more to life than that though, especially when talking about a guy who had surgery to repair a tear in his labrum and general instability in his right shoulder last October. Let’s break down his game to see just how much of a fit he is for New York:
- McCann showed no ill effects from the surgery offensively by hitting .256/.336/.461 (122 wRC+) with 20 homers in 402 plate appearances this year. He struggled mightily while playing through the injury last summer (87 wRC+) but rebounded to his pre-surgery levels (121 wRC+ from 2009-2011). His strikeout rate (16.4% in both 2013 and 2009-2011) is lower than the league average as well.
- He fits the classic Yankees’ mold of power and patience. McCann drew a walk in 9.7% of his plate appearances this year (10.9% from 2009-2011) and managed a .205 ISO (.195 from 2009-2011) despite playing in pitcher-friendly Turner Field. As his spray charts show (2013, 2009-2011), he does most of his damage when he pulls the ball to right. That fit perfectly with Yankee Stadium.
- Aside from the shoulder problem last year, McCann has been very durable by catcher standards since breaking into the league 2005. The shoulder surgery is a huge red flag obviously, but it’s not like he has a tendency to visit the DL every year or anything.
- Outside of what appears to be an outlier in 2011, McCann has consistently rated as an above-average defensive catcher (2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 rankings). He has also grades out as an excellent pitch-framer, both this past season and historically (subs. req’d).
- McCann has played in the postseason a bunch of times and has plenty of experience in pennant races and all that with the Braves. I don’t know how valuable that actually is, but it can’t hurt.
- McCann’s overall offensive performance was very good this year, but he really struggled against southpaws for the first time since breaking into the league: .231/.279/.337 (72 wRC+) against lefties but .266/.357/.512 (141 wRC+) against righties. From 2009-2011, it was .250/.323/.411 (100 wRC+) against lefties and .284/.374/.494 (131 wRC+) against righties.
- Despite the strong defensive scores, McCann has always been below-average at throwing out attempted base-stealers. He cut down just 15 of 62 (24.2%) runners this year and 89 of 353 (25.2%) from 2009-2011. Consistently five or so percentage points below the league average.
- McCann has no value on the bases whatsoever, which is par for the catcher course. He attempted one stolen base this year and only 21 over the last five years. He’s also well-below-average at taking the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.), succeeding only 17% of the time since 2009. The league average is close to 40%. He’s a base-clogger in the historical sense of the term.
- The Braves unsurprisingly made McCann a qualifying offer before Monday’s deadline, so the Yankees or any other club will have to forfeit a high draft pick to sign him. For New York, that means the 18th overall selection.
- McCann came off as kind of a dick late in the season during the homer incidents with Jose Fernandez (video) and Carlos Gomez (video). That is weak.
I think Yadier Molina’s five-year, $75M contract is the benchmark for McCann’s next deal. I think that’s the starting point, really. It’s been two seasons since Molina signed his contract and free agent prices have only gone up, plus McCann will be a true free agent and able to get several teams involved in a bidding war. Molina is clearly the superior player, but he signed an extension and could only negotiate with one team. I mentioned before how rare it is for a top catcher life McCann to hit the market, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the team that lands him is the one willing to offer a sixth year.
McCann turns 30 in February and already has more than 8,800 career innings at catcher to his credit, so expecting him to remain behind the plate for the entirety of a five (or six) year contract seems unreasonable. I think the realistic case is getting two full years at catcher, one year split between catcher and first base, then two years split between first base and DH. That timetable lines up well with the expiration of Mark Teixeira‘s contract, so McCann could slide right over to first once he starts to turn into a pumpkin behind the dish. Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll get three full years at catcher during a five-year deal.
There is almost no chance the Yankees could fit McCann into their $189M or less payroll next season without Alex Rodriguez being suspended for all of 2014. That’s a problem because the ruling for A-Rod‘s appeal may not be handed down until mid-December, after the Winter Meetings when most top free agents pick a new team. Maybe McCann will be one of the exceptions who drag their decision into January, but the point remains: the Yankees can’t seriously pursue him until they know A-Rod’s salary is off the books for certain. That’s unfortunate, McCann is such a perfect fit.
Regardless of whether Alex Rodriguez‘s record 211-game suspension is upheld or overturned, the Yankees have a question mark at third base heading into next season. His continued injury problems can not be ignored. If A-Rod doesn’t miss a bunch of games due to suspension, he’ll miss them due to injury. That has been the case since 2008 and it would be foolish to think 2014 will be any different.
The free agent market for third baseman is okay at best, with either Juan Uribe or Jhonny Peralta headlining a crop that includes Kevin Youkilis, Mark Reynolds, and Michael Young. Peralta is coming off his Biogenesis suspension and Uribe just had a career year at age 34, so everyone comes with questions. The trade market is another option, with Chase Headley being the big name. Others available via trade may include Will Middlebrooks, Trevor Plouffe, David Freese, and former World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval.
Over the weekend, Nick Cafardo reported the Giants will “probably listen to anyone who had interest” in the 27-year-old Sandoval, which I suppose is true of every player. There appears to be a little more something to this, however, considering the one they call Kung Fu Panda is falling/has fallen out of favor with San Francisco because of his weight issues. The team has tried pretty much everything. Add in speculation they may move Buster Posey out from the behind the plate to protect him from injury and wear-and-tear — third base is an oh so natural fit — and Sandoval could very well be on the block. Is he a fit for the Yankees? Let’s break it down.
- Sandoval is a true switch-hitter who is better against right-handed pitchers (122 wRC+ in 2013 and 136 since 2011) but still playable against lefties (98 wRC+ in 2013 and 100 since 2011). He’s also a remarkably consistent low strikeout hitter. Here, look at this graph. Couldn’t possibly be any more consistent.
- Despite his reputation as a free swinger, Sandoval actually draws a fair amount of walks. His 8.0% walk rate this year is almost exactly league average, and over the last three years it’s 7.8%. No one will mistake him for Nick Johnson, but he’s not exactly Adam Jones when it comes to walks either.
- Sandoval is a surprisingly solid defender at the hot corner. His three-year defensive stats at third (+5 DRS, +9.5 UZR, +0.8 FRAA, +6 Total Zone) range anywhere from average to above-average, plus he has experience at first base and came up through the minors as a catcher. That ship has sailed though, he’s an emergency third catcher at best.
- Thanks to San Francisco’s recent success, Sandoval has plenty of big game and postseason experience. He didn’t play all that much during their 2010 title run but he was a monster in 2012, hitting .364/.386/.712 with six homers in 16 playoff games. That includes three homers in Game One of the World Series (two off Justin Verlander), a performance that led to him being named MVP.
- Sandoval is under contract for an affordable $8.25M next season and will qualify for free agency next winter. He will not chew up a big chunk of payroll either next year or several years down the line.
- The elephant in the room is Sandoval’s ongoing weight and conditioning problems. He is listed at 5-foot-11 and 240 lbs. on the team’s official site but has shown up to camp closer to 280 lbs. a few times now. The Giants have tried everything to help him get his weight under control, including publicly threatening to send him to the minors if he didn’t get in shape this past summer. It’s worth noting Sandoval came to Spring Training noticeably slimmer in 2011 and went on to have the best season of his career (149 wRC+ and 5.5 fWAR).
- Sandoval is not the most durable player in the world, playing in only 366 of 486 possible games the last three years. He has had hamate surgery on both wrists (right in 2011, left in 2012) and has also been on the DL with a hamstring strain (2012) and a foot strain (2013). There was speculation the foot problem was due to his weight, which is completely plausible. Sandoval also missed time in Spring Training this year because of bone chips in his elbow.
- Even though he’s still an above-average hitter, Sandoval’s performance is trending downward. His average has gone from .315 to .283 to .278 these last three years, his ISO from .237 to .164 to .139, and his HR/FB% from 16.0% to 9.5% to 8.3%. Overall, he’s gone from a 149 wRC+ in 2011 to 117 in 2012 and 115 in 2013. Like I said, still above average, but trending in the wrong direction.
- You aren’t getting anything out of Sandoval on the bases. He is 11-for-23 (48%) in stolen base attempts in his career (3-for-8 since 2011) and over the last three years, he’s taken the extra-base (first-to-third on a single, etc.) just 29% of the time. The league average is around 40%.
I think the fit for the Yankees is pretty obvious. By acquiring Sandoval, they’d be getting a legitimate switch-hitter with power — he averages 20 homers per 162 games played, which is pretty impressive in massive AT&T Park — who can step in and bat in the middle of the order. They’d also get a solid defender at a hard-to-fill position and (gasp!) get younger. If they can’t get his weight under control and Sandoval stinks, they wouldn’t be stuck with him long-term. If he’s great, they could re-sign him or recoup a draft pick next winter.
Plenty of guys similar to Sandoval have been traded one year prior to free agency in recent years, giving us decent amount of comparables for a potential trade package. Among them are Kendrys Morales (one year of a starting pitcher), Shin-Soo Choo (a back of a top 100 list prospect and three years of an iffy outfielder), Carlos Quentin (two good prospects), and Josh Willingham (two good prospects). None are perfect matches but they get us in the ballpark, I think. Two quality pieces seem like the minimum, unless you’re giving up an established big leaguer.
Of course, the real question here is what do the Giants want? Even after re-signing Tim Lincecum, they still need to replace Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong. A starting left fielder or even a new third baseman could be on the docket. GM Brian Sabean isn’t one to make MLB player-for-prospect trades either. The Yankees shouldn’t give up Ivan Nova for one year of a player like Sandoval, but maybe the Giants particularly like David Phelps, Adam Warren, or Vidal Nuno. Building a package around one of those guys plus a second piece (Preston Claiborne? Zoilo Almonte? Eduardo Nunez!) would work for me. I doubt that would be enough though. Either way, if San Francisco makes Sandoval available, the Yankees should definitely inquire.
If there’s one thing we learned from Derek Jeter‘s injury this year, it’s that the Yankees have very little shortstop depth in the minor leagues. Especially at the upper levels. There’s nothing after the now-injured Eduardo Nunez, which is why guys like Reid Brignac, Chris Nelson, and Alberto Gonzalez found their way onto the team at various points of the season. They didn’t bring those guys in out of boredom. They were necessary because the farm system had nothing to offer.
That lack of shortstop — and really middle infield all together — depth will carry over to next season. David Adams and even Corban Joseph could step in at second base on an emergency basis, but it’s tough to consider either guy an everyday option. Finding quality infield depth to either put on the bench or stash with Triple-A Scranton should be a priority this winter, and frankly they could use some help right now with Jayson Nix out for the season and Nunez heading for an MRI today.
Bill Ladson reported yesterday that the Nationals are trying to trade 26-year-old Danny Espinosa, their starting second baseman since Opening Day 2011. He wound up in Triple-A back in June because he was awful and Ladson says the team isn’t even committed to bringing him back up when rosters expand in September. They’ve very clearly soured on him. Does it make sense for the Yankees to pursue a trade, either before the August 31st deadline (so he can be eligible for the potential playoff roster) or over the winter? Let’s look.
- Espinosa broke into the show in September 2010 and hit .242/.319/.408 (99 wRC+) with 38 homers and a 7.9% walk rate during his two full seasons from 2011-2012. He’s a switch hitter who did his best work against lefties (124 wRC+) while being a non-embarrassment against righties (91 wRC+).
- The various defensive metrics have all rated Espinosa as above-average at second (+16 DRS, +14.5 UZR, +20 Total Zone) and no worse than average at short (+4, +5.0, +7) in parts of four big league seasons. His playing time at short is limited (335 innings) because of Ian Desmond, so sample size and all that.
- Espinosa is 38-for-52 (73%) in stolen base attempts as a big leaguer and 61-for-86 (71%) in his minor league career. He’s been almost exactly league average in terms of non-stolen base base-running, like going first-to-third on a single. That kinda stuff.
- Espinosa is right on the Super Two bubble. If he comes up in September, he’ll qualify. If he stays down, he won’t. Either way, he can’t become a free agent until after the 2017 season and has at least one and likely two minor league options remaining.
- Espinosa has been an absolute disaster at the plate this season. He hit .158/.193/.272 (23 wRC+) in 167 plate appearances before being sent to Triple-A Syracuse, where he’s hit .215/.2717/.289 (58 wRC+) in 297 plate appearances. Ghastly.
- Even when productive, Espinosa was always a high-strikeout player. He whiffed in 27.0% of his plate appearances from 2011-2012 and 27.1% of his big league plate appearances overall. In Triple-A this season, it’s a 33.0% strikeout rate. Contact from either side of the plate is not his strong suit.
- Espinosa’s recent injury history is grim and he makes matters worse by playing hurt all the time. He had a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder late last season and a fracture in his right wrist (caused by a hit-by-pitch) earlier this year. A thumb issue has been bothering him in the minors of late. Espinosa spent 16 days on the DL for the wrist immediately before being sent down and that’s it. Played through everything else.
Obviously the various injury problems could be the root cause of Espinosa’s terrible year at the plate. You almost hope they are because then at least you have an explanation. If he was perfectly healthy and performing like this, it would be much bigger red flag. I understand the whole tough guy/playing through pain thing, but Espinosa has done himself a disservice these last two seasons. We’re not talking about a sore finger or a banged up knee here. If he needs surgery for the shoulder or wrist or whatever, his team (Nationals or otherwise) should get it taken care of ASAP this offseason.
Anyway, Espinosa represents a buy low opportunity right now. His recent performance has been terrible and Washington doesn’t seem eager to keep him around, which is exactly when you want to pounce. Maybe they can get him for pennies on the dollar, a la Nick Swisher a few years ago. Swisher’s poor year and clashes with then-manager Ozzie Guillen all worked to the Yankees advantage. Espinosa is in a similar situation. Three years of Jed Lowrie, another true switch-hitting middle infielder with injury problems, cost a big league reliever in a trade when he went from the Red Sox to the Astros last year. That seems like a decent reference as far as trade talks for Espinosa, but it’s not a perfect match.
The Yankees need to prioritize middle infield depth this winter and Espinosa offers both roster flexibility and some upside. Upside in the sense that he could return to his 2011-2012 form and become an everyday player who provides average offense and above-average defense at a hard to fill position. If he’s just an up-and-down spare infielder going forward, that’s okay too. The Yankees need one of them. Espinosa is not a savior. In a perfect world he’s an eighth or ninth place hitter who hits the occasional homer, steals the occasional base, and makes all the plays in the field. It boils down to this: Espinosa is a 26-year-old middle infielder with another four years of team control who put together back-to-back 3+ WAR seasons before an injury filled 2013. That’s someone the Yankees should go after while his stock is down.
Following last night’s shutout loss to the Rangers, the Yankees have a team 85 wRC+ and average just 3.91 runs per game offensively. They’re a bottom five offense despite playing not just in a very good hitter’s park, but in a division full of hitter’s parks. That inability to generate offense is huge reason why they are just 22-28 in their last 50 games.
The Yankees are reportedly close to acquiring Alfonso Soriano from the Cubs for a mid-level prospect, a nice little pickup that will add some much needed right-handed pop to the lineup. Soriano is just one man though, he alone won’t save the offense. The Bombers still need more help, particularly in the power department. We’re talking about a team that hasn’t had an extra-base hit in their last 22 innings, remember.
Over the weekend, the Astros designated former Ray and former Yankees farmhand Carlos Pena for assignment as they continue their youth movement. Yankees fans have seen what the 35-year-old Pena brings to the table firsthand over the years — he’s a career .231/.353/.501 (109 OPS+) hitter with 26 homers in 113 games against New York — but is there enough left in the tank to help a club that desperately needs offense? Let’s look:
- Offensively, Pena’s calling card is his power. He’s hit at least 19 homers in each of the last six years and swatted eight in 325 plate appearances for Houston. As a dead pull left-handed hitter (2013 spray chart, 2011-12 spray chart), he should fit very well in Yankee Stadium.
- In addition to the power, Pena will also work the count and draw plenty of walks. He’s seen an average of 3.98 pitches per plate appearance this year (4.14 from 2011-12) with a 13.2% walk rate (15.6% from 2011-12). Both rates are well-above-average and damn near elite.
- Pena is pretty durably, having been on the DL just twice in the last five years. He missed a month with a broken finger when CC Sabathia hit him with a pitch in 2009, and he missed two weeks with a foot strain in 2010.
- Following all those years in Tampa, Pena is very familiar with the AL East and playing in tight second half races. He’s also widely considered a strong clubhouse presence. I don’t know how much that helps, but I can’t imagine it’s a bad thing.
- Pena is owed a touch more than $1M for the remainder of the season and will become a free agent this winter. If he goes unclaimed on waivers and is released (likely), any team can sign him for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum.
- Pena is not going to hit for average, like at all. He strikes out a ton (27.4 K% this year, 28.4 K% from 2011-12) and has not hit above .230 since 2008. Pena had a .209 AVG when Houston cut the cord and has actually hit below the Mendoza line in two of the last four years.
- The power is slipping. Pena put up a .141 ISO with the Astros, the second straight year his slugging ability has slipped. He’s gone from a .251 ISO from 2008-11 to a .151 ISO since the start of 2012.
- Despite his reverse split this year (77 wRC+ vs. RHP and 133 wRC+ vs. LHP), Pena is a platoon bat. He hit .223/.355/.434 (120 wRC+) against righties from 2010-12 but just .166/.295/.343 (81 wRC+) against southpaws. Lefties shut him right down.
- Pena was once a Gold Glove caliber first baseman, but now he’s just pretty good. He can’t play anywhere else, though. It’s first base, DH, or nothing. Not much flexibility.
The Yankees actually claimed Pena off trade waivers from the Cubs in August 2011, if you remember. The two sides obviously didn’t work a trade. Brian Cashman recently told George King he “wouldn’t be able to say” if the team has interest in the first baseman, which is GM speak. The team obviously saw something they like once upon a time, and in fact hitting coach Kevin Long knows Pena well from their time together with Triple-A Columbus in 2006. Pena credits Long with helping resurrect his career, so there’s a relationship already in place.
Although a right-handed power bat is the top priority (at least until the Soriano trade is finalized), the Yankees are desperate for any kind of power right now. Travis Hafner has been a drain on the offense, hitting just .161/.243/.273 over the last two months. Pena could replace him as the left-handed half of the DH platoon in addition to giving Lyle Overbay a proper backup, something the team lacks. He will also add some much needed patience to the lineup and be able to take aim at the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium. That should boost his power production a bit. It wouldn’t take much for him to be an upgrade over Pronk at this point. Not at all.
Right now, the offense is so bad that the Yankees are in a position where they almost have nothing to lose. The bench is generally unusable and about five-ninths of the regular starting lineup is a non-factor. They can afford to give someone like Pena — a flawed but usable player — an opportunity to see if the short porch and a potential playoff race boosts his production. If he doesn’t hit, then they really wouldn’t be any worse off. They have both the flexibility and desperation to give someone like Pena a look now that he’s freely available.
Although the Yankees need a corner outfield bat more than anything right now, looking for an upgrade behind the plate shouldn’t be on the back burner. Chris Stewart (91 wRC+) has produced to the best-case scenario since being pressed into everyday duty, but Austin Romine (-14 wRC+) has been a disaster as the seldom used backup. Frankie Cervelli (140 wRC+) has yet to resume baseball activities and is still several weeks away from returning from his broken hand.
Quality catching help is hard to find any time of the year, but especially at the trade deadline. Part of the problem is that the second wildcard spot creates more contenders and fewer sellers. Another part of the problem is that there just aren’t many decent catchers out there to start with. Teams that have one tend to hold on for dear life. The best the Yankees can realistically hope for behind the plate is a warm body who unexpectedly puts up a few big weeks.
A warm catching body hit the waiver wire yesterday as the Padres designated the 32-year-old John Baker for assignment. Actually … he probably isn’t on waivers yet, but that could come in a few days. Does Baker make sense for New York? I don’t know, but like every other catcher these days, he has to be considered an option. Let’s break down his game.
- Baker, a rare left-handed hitter catcher, is a career .269/.349/.377 (95 wRC+) hitter against right-handers in 865 plate appearances. He doesn’t have much power obviously, but his walk rate (10.8%) is strong and his strikeout rate (19.0%) is manageable.
- The various catcher defense rankings have rated him as about average behind the plate in three of the last four years, including 2013. They said he was below-average last year, however (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013).
- Baker will earn $930k this season — owed roughly $555k from now through the end of the season — and remains under control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2015.
- He has an option remaining for this season, so any team who acquired him would be able to stash him in Triple-A as depth through the end of the year. Baker will be out of options next season.
- Baker can’t hit lefties, so much so that he almost never plays against them: .198/.301/.282 (63 wRC+) line against them in 155 big league plate appearances. The Triple-A numbers are actually worse.
- Despite the favorable-ish defense rankings, Baker has thrown out just 48 of 246 attempted base-stealers in his career (19.5%). He had Tommy John surgery in 2010, but his throw-out rate is the same before and after surgery.
- Baker is, obviously, unfamiliar with the pitching staff. That was a pretty big deal when Romine was originally called up and would presumably be a concern for any new catcher brought in.
The Yankees currently have an open 40-man roster spot, so that’s not an issue. Acquiring Baker would allow them to send Romine to Triple-A for regular at-bats first and foremost, but it might also give them a little extra production against right-handed pitchers. Joe Girardi loves Stewart and would presumably continue to catch him everyday, giving Baker some time to learn the staff during bullpen sessions and side work.
We’re talking about a backup catcher upgrade, not replacing Stewart as the starter. It’ll take a minor miracle for that to happen at this point. Romine has been completely overmatched though, and I think the Yankees should pounce on Baker if they get a chance to acquire him. If he makes it to them on waivers in a few days, great. I think they should look into swinging a minor trade — based on similar deals, it’ll take a player to be named later or cash, something like small that — before Baker is placed on waivers just to make sure they actually get him. The Yankees have already shown the willingness to make marginal upgrades (Reid Brignac over Chris Nelson, etc.), and although we’re only talking about the backup catcher here, going from Romine to Baker is a move worth making.
Pitchers and catchers are due to report one week from today, and for the most part the Yankees’ pitching staff is pretty much set. Ivan Nova and David Phelps will battle for the fifth starter’s job in Spring Training, with the loser presumably sliding into a swingman role. Injury is pretty much the only thing capable of changing the other four rotation spots or other six bullpen spots at this point.
No team ever makes it through a season using just five starters and just seven relievers, of course. At some point the loser of that Nova-Phelps battle will move into the rotation, just like guys who start the season in the minors will find themselves in the Bronx. It’s inevitable. Assuming Dellin Betances continues pitching in relief as he did during the Arizona Fall League, the Triple-A Scranton rotation will likely feature righties Adam Warren and Brett Marshall and lefties Shaeffer Hall and Vidal Nuno. That leaves one starting spot for a veteran, a low-risk minor league contract guy — like Ramon Ortiz last season — to serve as depth. A seventh/eighth starter type.
The free agent market is pretty desolate at this point of the winter, but here are four pitchers who could fit the bill.
LHP Dallas Braden
Braden, 29, has not thrown a pitch in either the Majors or minors since April 2011 due to a pair of major shoulder surgeries — torn capsule (May 2011) and torn rotator cuff (August 2012). He attended Texas Tech’s alumni game about two weeks ago but did not pitch, and that’s the closest thing I can find to a rehab update. In other words, there is no update.
Braden was very good for the Athletics from 2009-2010 before getting hurt (3.66 ERA and 3.77 FIP), though his strikeout (5.30 K/9 and 14.2 K%) and ground ball (39.0%) rates didn’t exactly stand out. He’s always been a soft-tossing — average fastball velocity from 2009-2010 was 87.6 mph — changeup specialist, so losing velocity due to the shoulder problems might not be the kiss if death. Given the typical rehab time associated with rotator cuff repairs and the unlikelihood that he can contribute at all in 2013, Braden is more of a candidate for a David Aardsma contract — one-year with a super-low base salary plus a club option — than someone a team could count on for depth this summer.
RHP Derek Lowe
Back in October we heard the 40-year-old Lowe would look for a job as a starter before deciding whether to return as a reliever, and apparently the offers to start have been scarce given his continued unemployment. I wrote a mailbag post about re-signing the sinker baller back in late-December, saying I liked the idea of bringing him back as a swingman candidate on a minor league contract. Anything more than that would be pushing it, and Lowe doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who would bide his time and wait for an injury down in Triple-A. I think he would sooner retire.
RHP Dustin Moseley
Another former Yankee, the 31-year-old Moseley had surgery to repair his rotator cuff and labrum last April. Like Braden, I can’t find any updates on his rehab beyond the initial reports. Considering how long these things usually take, he’s probably not going to be ready to return to game action until midseason. That alone makes Moseley, who pitched to a 3.30 ERA (3.99 FIP) in 120 innings for the Padres in 2011, a less-than-ideal candidate for Triple-A depth. He would have been a great fit if healthy, but no dice.
LHP Jonathan Sanchez
Sanchez, 30, just finished a nightmare season that saw him pitch to a 8.07 ERA (6.60 FIP) in 64.2 innings for the Royals and Rockies. He walked (53) more batters than he struck out (45), and his fastball velocity continued its gradual decline.
That said, Sanchez is one year removed from a 4.26 ERA (4.30 FIP) with the Giants in 2011, when he posted his third consecutive season with more than a strikeout per inning (9.06 K/9 and 23.0 K%). The walks (career 5.00 BB/9 and 12.6 BB%) are a concern and after nearly 800 big league innings, it’s getting to be time to stop hoping for improvement. Sanchez has shown swing-and-miss stuff in the recent past, so as long as he isn’t hiding an injury, he’d be a pretty good reclamation project for the Triple-A rotation. The problem is that he’s reportedly close to a deal with the Pirates.