Scouting The Trade Market: Detroit Tigers

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

The Tigers are going down in flames. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but things are not going well in Detroit right night. Last night’s win was their season in a nutshell: they jumped out to an 8-0 lead, then the disappointing starting pitcher and hilaribad bullpen let the other team make it interesting. Before you knew it, the tying run was on deck. The win improved Detroit’s postseason odds to a mere 25.4%, so says FanGraphs.

Depending on who you ask, the Tigers are either going to sell at the deadline or hold off a little longer before making a decision. They are still in the wildcard race, after all. Both Bob Nightengale and Jon Heyman say the Tigers are preparing to sell and put some big names on the trade market, though Jayson Stark hears they won’t commit to anything until after Sunday, when they’ll re-evaluate their situation. So basically no one knows anything, pretty much.

The Tigers are like the Yankees: they’ve never truly going to sell, only retool so they can try to win again next year. They’re the ultimate win-now team, with a window based on Miguel Cabrera’s peak and whatever Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, and Victor Martinez have left in the tank. Detroit is not going to tear the whole thing down and rebuild. Expect them to seek players who can help them win in 2016 in any trade. Let’s run down the players who could possibly help the Yankees.

RHP Shane Greene

The players are listed alphabetically, I swear I’m not trolling. The 26-year-old Greene has been atrocious this season, pitching to a 6.52 ERA (5.03 FIP) in 77.1 innings. That’s after allowing just one earned run in his first three starts and 23 innings. His strikeout (23.5% vs. 14.0%) and ground ball (50.2% vs. 42.7%) rates are way down compared to last season. Greene’s been really bad this year. Shockingly bad. I feel bad for the poor kid bad.

At this point Greene is a reclamation project, and the idea would be getting him back into a familiar environment with the coaches who helped develop him into what he was last year after being drafted as a hard-thrower and not much else. Greene credited minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson for helping him more get on line with the plate and improving his walk rate two years ago, which raised his prospect stock and got him to MLB.

Now for some #RealTalk: If Greene was not an ex-Yankee, there would be zero interest in acquiring him. He’d be just another 26-year-old second year guy with a good but not great minor league track record and fairly limited big league success. He’d be Barry Enright circa 2010. But Shane is an ex-Yankee, so we dream. Dream of getting Greene back, waving the organizational magic wand, and watching him go right back to where he was last year. If only it was that easy. Greene has negative 2015 value. That’s the reality of the situation.

What Would It Take?: Trading Didi Gregorius for Greene seems insane now, doesn’t it? I can’t find another instance of a similar young-ish reclamation project guy being traded in recent years, so we’re out of luck there. Maybe a change of scenery deal? My busted Greene for your busted young player? I’m not sure who that would be on the Yankees. Mason Williams? Either way, I find a Greene trade unlikely. I expect the Tigers to try to fix him rather than sell super low.

Kinsler. (Leon Halip/Getty)
Kinsler. (Leon Halip/Getty)

2B Ian Kinsler

The Yankees desperately need a second baseman, preferably a right-handed hitting one to balance out the bottom of the lineup, so Kinsler is a natural fit. He’s having a fairly typical Ian Kinsler year at .284/.346/.403 (109 wRC+), with a decent amount of walks (8.3%) and few strikeouts (13.5%), two traits that are fairly common up and down the New York lineup. Kinsler has also consistently rated as a strong second base defender and base-runner, so hooray for well-roundedness.

Kinsler does come with some red flags, of course. For starters, he turned 33 last month, so he’s not young. He’s right at the age where a lot of second baseman seem to fall off the cliff. That’s part of the reason the Yankees shied away from re-signing Robinson Cano, the dreaded second base aging curve. Also, Kinsler is owed approximately $38M through 2017, assuming his $12M option for 2018 is bought out for $5M. He’s no rental. He’s quite expensive, actually.

Age and salary are out of Kinsler’s control. The third red flag is something he can control, at least in theory. His power is way down this year — he’s on pace for only nine home runs after hitting 17 last year and averaging 19 per year from 2006-14, and his .119 ISO is a career-low. As Nolan Meister noted last month, Kinsler came into the season with the intention of hitting the ball the other way more often, but he has gradually started to pull the ball more the last few weeks.

Kinsler has hit four homers with a .230 ISO in his last 22 games after hitting one homer with a .079 ISO in his first 71 games. The loss of power could have to do with a simple change in approach, something Kinsler may have already corrected based on the last few weeks. Pulling the ball has gotten such a negative connotation the last few years because of the shift, but it’s a good thing. That’s how most hitters hit for power. Kinsler is at his best when he isn’t focusing on the opposite field all the time.

The Yankees are looking for rental players, which is their standard trade deadline strategy, and Kinsler doesn’t fit the profile. That’s not a strict policy — they did acquire Martin Prado with two and a half years left on his contract last year, for example — and who knows if they would be willing to be flexible for Kinsler. He fits the team’s playing style and fills a position of obvious need, but he’s not young, he’s not cheap, and he also has a bit of a mouth on him. The Yankees tend to steer clear of players who could become distractions.

What Would It Take?: Is last year’s Prado trade comparable? Prado and Kinsler both had two and half years left on their contracts, they’ve both been 105-ish wRC+ hitters the last few years, and they play solid defense. Prado is two years younger and more versatile, and he is cheaper, but Kinsler had a much greater peak as a former 30/30 guy. One year of Howie Kendrick was traded for a consensus top 50 prospect (Andrew Heaney) this offseason, so I’m sure the Tigers have their eyes set on something better than Peter O’Brien. I know I would.

BRING ME. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
BRING ME. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

LHP David Price

I’m not even sure I need to go into much detail here. Price is inarguably one of the best pitchers in the world — he’s been one of the best for a half-decade now — and is the game’s third best left-hander behind Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale. This season the 29-year-old has a 2.32 ERA (2.78 FIP) in 132 innings with great strikeout (23.7%), walk (4.8%), and home run (0.68 HR/9) rates. He hasn’t gotten a ton of grounders (39.2%) but that’s never really been his thing.

Price is excellent. He’s been excellent this year, he was excellent last year, and he’s been excellent pretty much since the day he broke into the big leagues. There are zero arguments to be made he is anything short of an ace, a perennial 200+ high-quality innings machine. He makes every rotation better. Should the Tigers decide to put Price on the market, he immediately becomes the best available starter, ahead of Johnny Cueto and Cole Hamels and whoever else.

As for the Yankees, Price is embodiment of everything they look for in a starter. He throws hard (averages 93.9 mph), he misses bats (11.5% whiff rate), he doesn’t walk anyone (again, 4.8%), and he’s tall (6-foot-6). As an added bonus, Price is left-handed, which fits well in Yankee Stadium, and he’s been through the AL East gauntlet with the Rays. He knows the division, knows the ballparks, knows the hitters. It’s a perfect fit. Perrrfect.

Price will be a free agent after the season and he’s going to end up with Max Scherzer money (seven years, $210M), and the Yankees shied away from Scherzer last offseason because they didn’t want to pay big bucks for his decline. That can’t be the focus with Price though. He’s a rental ace. Look at him as that and nothing more. Price is a someone who can actually complete seven innings on occasion (novel idea, I know) and change the balance of power within a division. If the Tigers make him available, the Yankees should be knocking down Detroit’s door.

What Will It Take?: So here’s where it gets interesting. The Yankees say they have “sworn off” trading top prospects for rental players, though I’m guessing Price would make them reconsider that stance. How could he not? I’d be pretty annoyed if the Tigers put Price on the market and Yankees didn’t make a serious push to get him because they don’t want to give up prospects.

Anyway, the Yankees were involved in best comparable rental ace trade: Cliff Lee! They were willing to give up their best prospect (Jesus Montero) and two others (reportedly David Adams and Zach McAllister) for two months of Lee back in 2010. The Rangers beat them out by offering their No. 1 prospect (Justin Smoak, who wasn’t too far behind Montero on Baseball America’s top 100 list), No. 17 prospect (Blake Beavan), and two non-top 30 prospects (Matt Lawson, Josh Lueke). So yeah, you want David Price on the Yankees? It’s gonna hurt.

Update: The key difference between Lee and Price is draft pick compensation. Back in the day the Yankees would have been able to get two draft picks had Lee left as a free agent after the season. They wouldn’t be able to get a pick for Price because of the current system. That matters.

Big Pasta. (Leon Halip/Getty)
Big Pasta. (Leon Halip/Getty)

RHP Alfredo Simon

After a fine start to the season, the 34-year-old Simon now owns a 4.63 ERA (4.02 FIP) in 105 innings this year. He’s never been a big strikeout pitcher (16.9% in 2015), but he has been a ground ball pitcher (career 46.1%), just not this year (41.3%). The walk (8.0%) and homer (0.94 HR/9) numbers are average-ish. Simon is the quintessential back-end guy. He chews up innings with his sinker/splitter combination, but they aren’t great innings.

Simon is a depth arm. Nothing more, nothing less. He has a ton of experience in the bullpen — he worked mostly in relief from 2010-13 before the Reds moved him into the rotation out of necessity last year — and would effectively replace Branden Pinder in the bullpen. Is that a good thing? I dunno. But Simon is someone who could start or relieve, and the Yankees wouldn’t have to worry too much about his workload. They could run his pitch counts up without concern for his long-term future. Harsh? Yeah. But that’s baseball.

(It’s worth noting Simon has had some trouble with the law the last few years, specifically this and this. The Yankees value makeup and good character way too highly for me to think they’ll overlook that.)

What Would It Take?: I’m going to refer back to what I wrote yesterday about Wandy Rodriguez:

Roberto Hernandez, the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona, was traded for two players to be named later last summer. The two players were ranked by Baseball America as the No. 22 (2B Jesmuel Valentin) and No. 29 (RHP Victor Arano) prospects in the Dodgers’ system before the trade, and both were down in rookie ball at the time of the deal. Wandy Simon shouldn’t cost more.

There you go. The Tigers surprisingly gave up a useful young infielder (Eugenio Suarez) and a hard-throwing pitching prospect (Jonathan Crawford) to get Simon in the offseason, but I can’t imagine anyone will give up a comparable package at the trade deadline.

RHP Joakim Soria

Soria. (Leon Halip/Getty)
Soria. (Leon Halip/Getty)

Detroit’s bullpen has been atrocious this season, even worse than usual, and Soria is the team’s best reliever almost by default. He has a 3.08 ERA (4.93 FIP) in 38 innings but has been extraordinarily homer prone (1.89 HR/9). His ground ball rate (44.3%) is okay, it’s just that his stuff isn’t as crisp as it once was, so when he makes a mistake, it gets hammered.

Soria’s strikeout (21.6%) and walk (6.5%) rates aren’t nearly as good as they were during his prime, which was now almost five years ago. Lefties have smacked him around a bit as well (.317 wOBA). Tommy John surgery is rough. Especially when you have two of ’em. Soria is more name value than actual production right now, following the two elbow reconstructions. He’d be an upgrade over the Branden Pinders and Chris Capuanos of the world, but at this point Soria would be the sixth best reliever in New York’s bullpen at best.

What Would It Take?: Rental relievers get traded at the deadline every year. Soria’s not going to command a top prospect like Andrew Miller last year, but he’s probably not going to come for almost free in a salary dump like Jonathan Broxton either. (Soria is owed roughly $3M the rest of the season.) Maybe an organizational top ten prospect (Nick Delmonico) like the Orioles gave up for Francisco Rodriguez two years ago? Maybe. Should the Yankees do that? Nah.

* * *

Like I said before, the Tigers are likely to look for MLB ready players able to help in 2016 in any trade. I doubt they want prospects. I don’t even know if they’re going to sell, but I can’t get my mind off a possible Price plus Kinsler package. The Tigers love hard-throwing pitchers, absolutely love ’em, which makes me wonder if they’d be interested in Nathan Eovaldi. Eovaldi plus Rob Refsnyder (to replace Kinsler) plus, say, Chasen Shreve (to help with their bullpen woes) plus a prospect like Jorge Mateo?

Actually, I’m going to stop right there and your trade proposal sucks myself. I’d do that trade in a heartbeat, which means Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski would say no. That’s a package of “good,” not “great.” Mateo is the potential “great” in that package and he’s three years away from MLB. The Yankees would be getting the two best players in that deal. That’s a package of junk drawer stuff for a rental ace and an above-average second baseman. Not happening. That doesn’t make Price or (to a lesser extent) Kinsler any less of a fit for the Yankees though. Now they just need to the Tigers to sell.

Poll: The Biggest Loss of the Offseason

Prado and some Gatorade. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Prado and some Gatorade. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Earlier today we discussed the Yankees’ most important pickup of the offseason. Now it’s time to look at the other end of the spectrum and discuss their biggest loss of the winter. “Loss” is kind of a weird term here because sometimes teams willingly let a player get away, either by trading them or by simply declining to pursue them as a free agent. Other times it’s a true loss. They wanted him to keep him but couldn’t.

As with offseason additions, some offseason losses are bigger than others. Shawn Kelley (traded to the Padres) and Ichiro Suzuki (left as a free agent) saw a lot of playing time with New York the last two years but they aren’t major offseason losses, right? Both have already been replaced by younger if not better players (David Carpenter and Chris Young). Not counting Kelley and Suzuki, the Yankees lost six players this winter who they could end up missing quite a bit, not just in 2015, but beyond as well. Let’s run ’em down.

C Frankie Cervelli

Cervelli’s time in pinstripes was quite a ride. He developed a lot of die-hard defenders who believe he could be a starting catcher for like half the teams in the league, but, in reality, we never saw anything more than flashes of his ability between injuries. Cervelli, who turns 29 next week, has two years of team control remaining and was traded to the Pirates straight up for southpaw Justin Wilson this winter. John Ryan Murphy figures to step in to replace Cervelli as Brian McCann‘s backup catcher this year.

RHP Shane Greene

Greene, 26, was a very nice surprise for the Yankees last year. He came up from the farm system as a drafted and developed player, and gave the team 78.2 innings of 3.78 ERA (3.73 FIP) ball. Greene’s stuff is very lively and it appears he overcame his career-long control problems with some mechanical tweaks in 2013. Without those tweaks, he’s probably not a big league starter. At least not one who impresses everyone as much as he did last year. Greene came up for good last July and has all six years of team control remaining. He was traded for Didi Gregorius over the winter.

RHP Hiroki Kuroda

Kuroda's back with the Carp. (Getty)
Kuroda’s back with the Carp. (Getty)

I’m guessing that if the 40-year-old Kuroda was willing to pitch for the Yankees another year, the team would have brought him back with open arms. Hiroki’s game slipped a bit last year (3.70 ERA and 3.60 FIP) but he’s an innings eater and the kind of reliable arm the Yankees lack right now. Of course, he opted to return to the Hiroshima Carp for the final season of his career — and took a massive pay cut to make it happen — so the Yankees didn’t even have a chance to bring him back. The rotation sure would look much more sturdier with Kuroda, wouldn’t it?

RHP David Phelps

The Yankees and Marlins reversed roles this winter. Usually the Marlins are the team trading away a player just as he starts to get expensive through arbitration. Instead, the Yankees traded Phelps to the Marlins just as he hits his arbitration years. Phelps, 28, spent three years as a nice swingman with New York (4.21 ERA and 4.20 FIP) and, frankly, the team could still use him for rotation depth. Instead, they used him to get Nathan Eovaldi and Garrett Jones. Phelps is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2017.

UTIL Martin Prado

Prado was the other piece — the main piece, really — that went to Miami in the Eovaldi trade. Before the trade, the 31-year-old Prado was slated to serve as the team’s starting second baseman and was basically their best right-handed hitter. He had a 146 wRC+ in 37 games with the Yankees last year thanks to real nice four-week stretch before going down with an emergency appendectomy, though over the last two years he had a 103 wRC+. That’s the real Prado, not the guy we briefly saw in pinstripes last year. Either way, the Yankees could use his right-handed bat and versatility, as could just about every team. Prado has two years and $22M left on his contract.

RHP David Robertson

At some point early in the offseason the Yankees decided to let Robertson walk as a free agent and replace him with the cheaper and comparable Andrew Miller while also gaining a supplemental first round draft pick in the process. It’s a sound baseball move, albeit one that seems to be unpopular because the team let a homegrown Yankee walk and replaced him with an ex-Red Sox crony. Robertson, 29, has been an elite reliever for four years running even though his FIP has gradually climbed from 1.84 in 2011 to 2.49 in 2012 to 2.61 in 2013 to 2.68 in 2014. Robertson took a four-year, $46M deal from the White Sox, and really, is it hard to envision a scenario in which the Yankees wish they could trade Miller and that draft pick for Robertson at some point in the next four years?

* * *

As a reminder, this poll is trying to balance the loss of each player in the short and long-term. Kuroda would only be a one-year addition but he would be a really important one-year piece. Other veterans like Robertson and Prado are more likely to decline going forward rather than improve or even just maintain their current level of performance. Greene and Phelps are still young enough that their best years may be ahead of them, however. Time to poll.

Who was NYY's biggest loss of the offseason?

Yankees land Didi Gregorius in three-team trade, send Shane Greene to Tigers

So what's the Sterling call? (Presswire)
So what’s the Sterling call? (Presswire)

1:58pm: It’s a done deal, the Yankees have officially announced the trade. The deal is as reported this morning: Greene to the Tigers, Ray and Leyba to the D’Backs, and Gregorious to the Yankees. Welcome to the Bronx, Didi.

12:01pm: The Yankees have landed their shortstop of the future. Or at least their shortstop for 2015. The team has agreed to acquire Didi Gregorius from the D’Backs in a three-team trade that sends Shane Greene to the Tigers. Detroit is sending left-hander Robbie Ray and minor league infielder Domingo Leyba to Arizona. It doesn’t appear there are any other pieces involved. The deal is still pending physicals. The always reliable Sweeny Murti and Ken Rosenthal had the news. Bob Nightengale says Arizona rejected Greene-for-Gregorius straight up before the Tigers got involved.

In a nutshell, the trade plugs the Yankees’ shortstop hole with a young player who can actually play above-average defense and may improve at the plate. It also creates an even bigger hole in the rotation — Greene was the only MLB starter on New York’s roster without some kind of injury concern heading into 2015. The Yankees needed rotation help before the trade and they need even more now. It seems like they will dip into free agency to take care of that. Plenty of arms still available.

Gregorius, 24, was originally signed and developed by the Reds. He went to Arizona in the three-team trade that sent Shin-Soo Choo to Cincinnati and Trevor Bauer to the Indians two offseasons ago. Gregorius is from Amsterdam and he comes from a baseball family. His father pitched in Honkbal Hoofdklasse — the highest level of pro baseball in the Netherlands — and his brother plays in that league now. Didi’s real name is Mariekson Julius, by the way.

This past season Gregorius hit .226/.293/.393 (76 wRC+) with six homers in 229 plate appearances for the D’Backs. He spent much of the summer in Triple-A — he hit .310/.389/.447 (122 wRC+) with three homers in 260 plate appearances in Triple-A in 2014 — after losing the starting shortstop job to Chris Owings in Spring Training. Arizona has clearly identified Owings as their shortstop of the future and used Gregorius to fill their pitching needs.

Didi, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 205 lbs., hit .252/.332/.373 (92 wRC+) with seven homers in 404 plate appearances in 2013, his first extended stint in MLB. He actually hit his first career homer at Yankee Stadium last April, but it came against Phil Hughes, so that hardly counts:

The Yankees are clearly hoping Gregorius, a left-handed hitter, can get back to his 2013 level of production and improve on it going forward. It’s worth noting Gregorius does draw a fair amount of walks (career 8.1 BB%) without striking out much (16.9 K%), and those are two traits that generally portend well for the future. He hasn’t hit lefties at all as a big leaguer though — 33 wRC+ against lefties and 102 wRC+ against righties.

In the field, Gregorius is considered an above-average defender by scouts while the various stats say he’s been about average if not a tick below so far in the show. I wouldn’t take the numbers to heart right now given the relatively small sample size. “He has smooth actions, plus range and a sniper rifle of an arm. His arm 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,” said Baseball America (subs. req’d) when they ranked him Cincinnati’s fifth best prospect following the 2012 season, before the trade to Arizona.

Gregorius has been healthy throughout his career aside from an elbow strain in 2013 that kept him out for just about all of Spring Training plus the first two weeks of the regular season. He missed another week in April 2013 after suffering a concussion when he was hit in the head by a pitch. Otherwise his medical history is clean. Gregorius is considered a good makeup/clubhouse guy and he also speaks four languages: English, Spanish, Dutch, and Papiamento. That’ll come in handy in the clubhouse.

Greene, 26, was pretty much a rotation savior for the Yankees this summer. He had a 3.78 ERA (3.73 FIP) in 78.2 innings during his MLB debut with strong strikeout (9.27 K/9 and 23.5 K%) and ground ball (50.2 GB%) rates. His walk rate (3.32 BB/9 and 8.4 BB%) was solid and his command has been much improved these last two years thanks to some mechanical tweaks make by minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson. I like Greene, I think his mid-90s sinker/upper-80s slider combo is legit, though he did struggle against lefties this season, as detailed in our season review post.

Because he spent a big chunk of 2014 season in the minors, Gregorius currently has less than two years of service time, so he can not become a free agent until after the 2019 season. He will be a Super Two though, meaning he will be arbitration-eligible for the first time next offseason and have three more years or arbitration after that. Greene won’t be arbitration-eligible until after 2017 or a free agent until after 2020. The Yankees are giving up six years of Greene for five years of Gregorius. I don’t see a problem with that.

The Yankees desperately needed a shortstop, both for the short-term and long-term, and while we have to wait to see if Gregorius can become that long-term piece, the team got him at what I think is a more than fair price if not an outright bargain. I really like Greene and think he’ll be a solid pitcher going forward, but pitchers like him are much easier to find that 24-year-old shortstops these days. I don’t love Didi, I’m skeptical about his bat going forward, but this is a shot the Yankees had to take.

2014 Season Review: The Greene Monster

(Scott Iskowitz/Getty)
(Scott Iskowitz/Getty)

The Yankees were saddled with a ton of position player injuries last year, including Mark Teixeira‘s wrist, Curtis Granderson‘s forearm (and hand), and Derek Jeter‘s ankle. The result was far too much playing time for guys like Lyle Overbay, Vernon Wells, and Eduardo Nunez. The offense stunk. It was a lot worst than it was in 2014.

This past season, pitching injuries were the problem. Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) and Michael Pineda (shoulder) each made four starts in April before landing on the disabled list for several months. CC Sabathia‘s knee gave out on him in May. Then, right before the All-Star break, Masahiro Tanaka suffered a partially torn elbow ligament that essentially ended his season. Four-fifths of the team’s Opening Day rotation was on the disabled list by early-July.

That should have been the end of the line for the Yankees, but Brian Cashman & Co. did an excellent job cobbling together a pitching staff in the second half, a pitching staff that kept the Yankees close enough to the second wildcard spot to keep everyone interested. Brandon McCarthy and Chris Capuano were brought in on low-cost deals, and another quality rotation piece came from the (gasp!) farm system.

* * *

With Pineda, Tanaka, and the now-healthy Manny Banuelos hogging the pitching spotlight in Spring Training, right-hander Shane Greene was able to fly under the radar despite pitching well in camp. He struck out ten, walked one, and got eleven ground ball outs against just two in the air in 7.2 innings of relief work. Yeah, it was Spring Training, but guys like Greene need to have strong Spring Trainings to open eyes. I remember one outing against the Phillies in particular, in which he was breaking off nasty sinking fastballs like this one:

Greene was one of the very last roster cuts in Spring Training, which meant he wasn’t able to get properly stretched out before joining the Triple-A Scranton rotation. He opened the regular season in Extended Spring Training just to get some more tune-up innings under his belt before joining the RailRiders in mid-April. Greene made two relief appearances in Triple-A before being called up to the big league team on April 24th to help their overworked bullpen.

That night, Greene made his MLB debut against the Red Sox in Fenway Park. It was a disaster. He came out of the bullpen with the Yankees up 12-2 in the seventh, faced five batters, walked three of them, and allowed three runs while getting only one out (a strikeout of Shane Victorino). All three runs were unearned because Jeter made an error behind him, but still. Only eight of Greene’s 22 pitches were strikes and he looked very much like the marginal pitching prospect who walked 11.7% of batters faced in the minors from 2011-12 before breaking out in 2013.

The performance earned Greene a trip back to Triple-A, where he (finally) joined the rotation and was able to start every fifth day. His first eight starts with the RailRiders were pretty terrible: 6.56 ERA (3.72 FIP) with a 1.91 WHIP (!) in 35.2 innings. That’s a ton of base-runners. Greene’s strikeout (17.2%) and walk (8.9%) rates weren’t anything special either. It was hard not to think he was coming back down to Earth after such a strong breakout season last year.

Greene’s next five starts were much better (1.93 ERA and 3.25 FIP) — he threw seven scoreless innings on June 27th then another six scoreless innings on July 2nd — and, given the injury riddled state of the MLB rotation, that was enough to earn him a call-up. It was supposed to be just a one-start cameo, but Greene pitched well (two runs in six innings) in his first career start and the team kept him around for one more start to give the rest of the rotation an extra day of rest. Five days later, he did this:

Tanaka suffered his injury between Greene’s first and second starts, so even if he hadn’t dominated the Orioles the weekend before the All-Star break, Greene would have stayed in the rotation anyway. That was a good thing because his next three starts weren’t particularly good (ten runs in 15.2 innings), which probably would have earned him a trip back to Triple-A had the Yankees not already tapped out their pitching depth. (He made three errors in one of those games, as I’m sure you remember.)

Greene shook off those three lousy starts and fired eight shutout innings against the Tigers on August 7th. Only twice in his next eight starts did he allow more than two runs — he did have a disaster start against the Red Sox on September 2nd, allowing six runs in 2.2 innings — before the Orioles hit him around in his final start of the season on September 24th (six runs in 3.2 innings). Here is Greene’s game log after being called up to join the rotation:

Rk Date Tm Opp Rslt IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP ERA BF Pit Str StS
2 Jul 7 NYY @ CLE W,5-3 6.0 4 2 2 0 2 1 1 2.84 22 88 56 3
3 Jul 12 NYY @ BAL W,3-0 7.1 4 0 0 2 9 0 0 1.32 27 106 65 15
4 Jul 21 NYY TEX L,2-4 5.2 5 4 4 1 5 0 1 2.79 26 113 73 13
5 Jul 27 NYY TOR L,4-5 5.1 8 3 3 2 2 1 0 3.28 24 86 56 7
6 Aug 2 NYY @ BOS W,6-4 4.2 6 3 3 2 5 1 0 3.68 22 96 52 3
7 Aug 7 NYY DET W,1-0 8.0 5 0 0 3 5 0 0 2.89 30 99 64 9
8 Aug 16 NYY @ TBR W,3-2 6.0 7 2 2 1 10 0 1 2.91 27 102 68 17
9 Aug 22 NYY CHW W,4-3 5.0 9 3 3 2 7 1 1 3.17 25 92 61 11
10 Aug 27 NYY @ DET W,8-4 7.0 5 2 2 1 8 1 1 3.09 29 101 69 12
11 Sep 2 NYY BOS L,4-9 2.2 6 6 6 3 3 2 1 3.88 18 67 38 4
12 Sep 7 NYY KCR L,0-2 5.0 5 2 0 3 4 0 0 3.57 22 90 54 10
13 Sep 13 NYY @ BAL W,3-2 5.1 7 2 2 1 9 1 0 3.56 23 112 71 13
14 Sep 18 NYY TOR W,3-2 6.2 3 0 0 2 6 0 0 3.24 24 105 73 10
15 Sep 24 NYY BAL L,5-9 3.2 7 6 6 3 5 0 0 3.78 21 73 49 8
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/22/2014.

That four-start stretch from August 7th through August 27th is when Greene really made his mark and solidified his standing as a member of the rotation. He had a 2.96 ERA (3.59 FIP) during his eight-start stretch from August 7th through September 18th, which is cherry-picking at its finest, but I don’t care. Greene was tremendous during that stretch and it looked like the Yankees had themselves a real live homegrown rotation stalwart.

Greene finished the season with a 3.78 ERA and 3.73 FIP in 78.2 innings, which includes the ugly MLB debut out of the bullpen. He posted excellent strikeout (9.27 K/9 and 23.5 K%) and ground ball (50.2%) rates, and his walk rate (3.32 BB/9 and 8.4 BB%) was fine. Lefties did hit him a bit harder than righties — .281/.365/.400 (.345 wOBA) with a 30/18 K/BB against lefties and .240/.305/.356 (.297 wOBA) with a 51/11 K/BB against righties — which isn’t surprising since he’s basically a two-pitch pitcher, relying on that sinker and slider.

Those two pitches are very, very good though. Greene’s sinker averaged 93.9 mph this season, making it the third fastest sinker in baseball among pitchers who threw at least 70 innings this season. Only two relievers (Jeurys Familia and Tony Watson) had harder sinkers. Furthermore, the sinker had a 13.2% swing-and-miss rate and a 56.5% ground ball rate, both better than the league average for the pitch (5.4% and 49.5%, respectively).

Greene’s slider would sometimes come in at 87-88 mph, so PitchFX often classified it as a cutter. The slider had a 40.2% (!) swing-and-miss rate and a 45.4% ground ball rate, and again both were better than the MLB slider average (15.2% and 43.9%). Greene threw very few straight four-seamers and changeups in 2014 (~18% combined). He’s a sinker/slider pitcher and both the sinker and slider were above-average at getting whiffs and ground balls. That’s huge. Greene legitimately has two above-average pitches in his arsenal.

* * *

If not for Greene and the team’s other midseason rotation additions, the Yankees would have been knocked into irrelevancy in late-July. They kept them in the race longer than they should have been. McCarthy and Capuano were rentals who will become free agents in about a week. Their time in pinstripes may be short-lived.

Greene, on the other hand, will turn 26 next month. He emerged as a potential rotation building block going forward, even if he’s nothing more than a mid-rotation guy with a big platoon split. That has a lot of value. I won’t do it, but if you’re an optimist and you squint your eyes, maybe you can see the next Doug Fister (another former Yankees draft pick). That would be awesome.

Either way, Greene is a major player development success story for the Yankees. They drafted him in the 15th round of the 2009 draft and gave him a $100k signing bonus after only seeing him throw a handful of bullpens as he rehabbed from Tommy John surgery. The Yankees did a helluva job developing him over the years and getting him over his control issues. Now he’s a bonafide big league starter.

(Title comes from @JakeMHS, who has terrible opinions.)

Sabathia close to throwing off mound, says knee has “been feeling great”

Via George King: CC Sabathia is close to throwing off a mound as he rehabs from surgery and stem cell treatment on his right knee. “I will play catch at 90 feet for three or four days and then go to 120 feet and after that probably get off a mound,” he said following the end of the season last weekend. “It feels good after the stem cell. It’s been feeling great. I am definitely coming back.”

Sabathia, 34, was limited to eight starts and 46 innings (5.28 ERA and 4.78 FIP) because of knee problems this year. He says he’s anxious to pitch after missing almost the entire season — “Having almost a year off has gotten the fire back in me. Having baseball taken away from me stunk. I am excited to get going,” he said — but the Yankees have to assume Sabathia can give them nothing in 2015. If he comes back and pitches well, great. But they have to prepare for the worst case scenario, which means adding pitching depth and maybe penciling Shane Greene into the sixth starter’s spot rather than the number five.

Mailbag: Castro, Russell, Six-Man Rotation, Jeter

Seven questions and six answers this week, the final mailbag of the 2014 regular season. Don’t worry, the mailbag continues in the offseason. This is a year ’round feature. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything throughout the week.

Castro. (Jeff Gross/Getty)
Castro. (Jeff Gross/Getty)

Dustin asks: If the Yankees prefer a long-term solution at shortstop to a free agent, what would it take to pry either Starlin Castro or Addison Russell from the Cubs?

Even though there are a ton of quality shortstops set to hit free agency this winter, I think trading for a younger, more long-term solution at the position is something the Yankees should pursue. The Diamondbacks and Cubs have a stockpile of young shortstops but Chicago’s group is better, mostly because they’re more high-ceiling players. I like Chris Owings a lot, but he’s no Castro or Russell. Or even Javier Baez, who’s been awful so far in his MLB career (51 wRC+ and 41.9 K%) and has always had very high bust potential because of his plate indiscipline.

Castro, who is still only 24, rebounded nicely from his down 2013 season to hit .292/.339/.438 (115 wRC+) with 14 homers this year. He’s played in 740 of 778 possible games since making his debut — most of his missed games have come this month due to an ankle sprain — and while he’s not a great defender, he isn’t as bad as his reputation either. Plus he’s under contract through 2019 for a total of $44M. Castro is young, he’s productive, he’s durable, and he’s signed cheaply for another half-decade. He’s someone the Yankees should be very interested in if he’s made available.

Russell is just the prospect, on the other hand. A great prospect, but a prospect nonetheless. He is a riskier of the two shortstops. The price for Russell has already been established, right? Basically a Jeff Samardzija caliber pitcher. It’s worth noting the Cubs balked when the Phillies asked for Russell in Cole Hamels trade talks last month, according to Gordon Wittenmyer. (Hamels’ salary came into play there.) Castro should be similarly expensive. The Yankees aren’t getting these guys with David Phelps and a prospect. Michael Pineda would have to be on the table and you know what? I’m not against that given his shoulder history. I’d prefer Castro to Russell ever so slightly but would be thrilled with either.

nycsportzfan asks: I was wondering if you thought we should trade Shane Greene while his value could be at his greatest this offseason? He could be almost a centerpiece for a mid-rotation guy (Matt Latos, Mike Leake, Tyson Ross, etc.), really.

Mark asks: Would you rather see the Yankees sign a big free agent starter this offseason or acquire a starter in a trade. Some of the Reds’ starters could be interesting targets.

Gonna lump these two together. Greene was very good this season up until his disaster final starter earlier this week. I wouldn’t be opposed to trading him at all but the Yankees can’t afford to give him away either. Their 2015 rotation options are risky and they’ll need the depth. I also don’t think his trade value is high enough to be the centerpiece of a package for a guy like Latos or Ross either. Greene is only one year younger than Latos and two years younger than Ross, remember. We’re not talking about a 22 or 23-year-old here. I’m not sure his trade value is all that high on his own. Definitely not high enough to land a real difference maker.

Cueto. (Jason Miller/Getty)
Cueto. (Jason Miller/Getty)

Four of the Reds’ five starting pitchers are due to be free agents after next season — Latos, Leake, Johnny Cueto, and Alfredo Simon. They do have Homer Bailey signed long-term and Tony Cingrani under team control, but still, losing four starters is tough. Cincinnati is a medium payroll team ($114M in 2014) that already has $70M on the books for just four players in 2016 (Bailey, Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips), so re-signing all four of those starters will be impossible. Heck, re-signing just one of Latos or Cueto will be tough. Speculation is they will trade at least one of those two to clear payroll and fill other roster holes this winter and obviously either would make sense for the Yankees. Expect a lot of trade chatter about the Reds’ starters this winter and expect the Bombers to be involved.

Paul asks: Say the Yankees made the playoffs, how scary would be a rotation of Masahiro Tanaka, Pineda, Brandon McCarthy and Hiroki Kuroda/Green be?

Yeah, that rotation would be pretty dynamite in a short series, at least on paper. Who knows what would happen in the actual games. I’d use Kuroda as the fourth starter and put Greene in the bullpen as a multi-inning guy. Joe Girardi would be able to lean heavily on David Robertson, Dellin Betances, and Adam Warren in a short postseason series with built in off-days, so the pitching staff could have been excellent. Too bad the Yankees couldn’t hit at all this year. Thinking about what could have been with this pitching staff is a bummer.

Kevin asks: I have forever been against the idea of a 6-man rotation, however going to next year I don’t think it could make much more sense. CC Sabathia, Pineda, Tanaka and Kuroda (aqssuming return) would all benefit greatly from the extra day for one reason or another. What are your thoughts and do you see the Yankees pursuing this?

There have already been reports indicating the Yankees are considering a six-man rotation for next season as way to give their starters extra rest. Tanaka (elbow), Pineda (shoulder), Phelps (elbow), Sabathia (knee), and Ivan Nova (elbow) all have injury concerns and could benefit from working in a six-man rotation. How much would the extra day of rest help keep them healthy? Who knows. It’s worth noting pitchers across the league this year have actually performed slightly worst with an extra day of rest than on normal rest.

The Yankees would have to use a three-man bench to make a six-man rotation happen — nothing they’ve done in recent years makes me think they would go with a four-man bench and a six-man bullpen — and that’s doable because players like Martin Prado provide some versatility. They’d have to come up with a similarly versatile backup infielder and have a backup catcher who could maybe play a little first base and left field. I don’t love the idea of taking starts away from Tanaka and Pineda — the difference between a five-man rotation and a six-man rotation is about five starts across the 162-game season — but if it helps keep them healthy, it might be the best course of action. I don’t think there’s a clear right answer here. This is a very debatable topic.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Stephen asks: Now that we know how many we’ll have this season, I’m curious what the percentage is for how many of Jeter’s games played were “meaningless games” — those in which the Yankees were already eliminated from postseason contention. I’d bet it’s probably close to 1%, right?

The Yankees were eliminated from postseason contention in Game 157 back in 2008 and in Game 158 this year, so that’s nine meaningless games between those two seasons. Jeter was injured last year when the Yankees were eliminated and didn’t play in any of those meaningless games. He’s played 2,745 total regular season games in his career, so less than 1% have been meaningless — 0.0033% of his games have come with the Yankees mathematically eliminated from postseason contention. That is: crazy.

Update: Reader @Fgerlando points out Jorge Posada played zero meaningless games in his career. He was hurt at the end of the 2008 season and did not play.

Randy asks: Do you think Jeter will get a monument? Do you think he deserves one?

I was thinking about this yesterday and decided against including it in the thoughts post. Right now there are monuments for Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Miller Huggins, and George Steinbrenner in Monument Park. All of them were dedicated posthumously. If the Yankees decide to add a monument for Jeter after he retires, he’ll be the first person to have one dedicated in his honor while still alive. So, really, this question is asking whether he will be worthy of a monument in 40, 50, 60 something years. My answer is yes. Jeter is the greatest Yankee since Mantle and he was at the core of their most recent dynasty. If he isn’t worthy of a monument, I’m not sure how anyone else would be.

Greene’s success a product of recent player development changes

(Scott Iskowitz/Getty)
(Scott Iskowitz/Getty)

Since joining the rotation a little more than a month ago, Shane Greene has been arguably the Yankees’ best starting pitcher. The rookie right-hander has a 2.93 ERA (3.25 FIP) with good strikeout (21.4%) and excellent ground ball (55.3%) rates in seven starts and 43 innings, and he’s shown no signs of slowing down either. He’s made it very easy to forget his ugly five batter, three walk MLB debut out of the bullpen back in April.

The Yankees called on Greene last month because they really had no other choice. CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Michael Pineda were all hurt and Chase Whitley was crashing back to Earth. That was before Masahiro Tanaka went down too. Greene had mediocre Triple-A numbers overall (4.61 ERA and 3.41 FIP) but he had strung together a few strong starts, which was enough to get him a shot given the state of the rotation. He’s obviously taken advantage of the opportunity.

Greene’s path to the big leagues and pro ball in general was a rather unique, which makes his story and success that much more interesting and amazing. I’m going to save some time and quote myself from last winter’s prospect profile:

Greene was a mop-up man [at the University of West Florida] as a freshman … He blew out his elbow late in the season and had Tommy John surgery in May 2008 … The Argos took his scholarship away following the injury, so Greene transferred to Daytona Beach Community College. He didn’t pitch as a sophomore and wasn’t on the draft radar at all. Greene was throwing a bullpen session at his high school when he asked a Yankees scout (who was there to see someone else) to watch him throw and put in a good word with the University of Central Florida. The team ended up bringing him to Tampa for a workout three weeks before the 2009 draft … The Yankees liked what they saw during the workout enough to select him in the 15th round (465th overall) even though he had not pitched in an actual game in over a year.

Even if he crashes back to Earth in his next start or never throws another MLB pitch for whatever reason, the Yankees have already gotten a huge return on their investment in Greene. We’re talking about a late round pick who signed for only $100k, a relative pittance. Just getting a guy like that to the show — especially after drafting him even though he hadn’t pitched in a real game in a year due to injury — is a huge success.

Greene’s climb up the minor league ladder was not fast. He spent parts of two seasons with both Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa, and it wasn’t until his sixth pro season that he reached Triple-A despite being a college draftee. Greene’s stuff improved as he got further away from elbow reconstruction but a general lack of control held him back. He had a 4.4 BB/9 (10.4 BB%) across two Single-A levels in 2011, then a 5.1 BB/9 (12.5 BB%) at High-A in 2012. Greene looked like a classic big arm, small command guy.

Then, last season, the now 25-year old Greene broke out with a 1.7 BB/9 (4.5 BB%) split between High-A and Double-A. Forget about cutting his walk rate in half, he cut it by almost two-thirds in an offseason. This year Greene has a 3.5 BB/9 (8.8 BB%) in Triple-A and a 2.9 BB/9 (7.7 BB%) in MLB. (The AL average is 2.9 BB/9 and 7.7 BB% this year, coincidentally.) That’s not as good as last year but it’s a major improvement from two or three years ago. That ability to harness his stuff and throw consistent strikes has taken Greene from interesting prospect to bonafide MLB rotation member.

There is no “the light bulb just came on” story here. Greene didn’t magically wake up one day with the ability to throw strikes with his mid-90s sinker and upper-80s slider. He cut his walk rate so much last year thanks to mechanical tweaks implemented by some of the Yankees’ minor league pitching gurus. George King (subs. req’d) explained last September:

Greene, 24, is armed with a 90-94 mph fastball, but it was an adjustment he made working with pitching coordinator Gil Patterson and Greg Pavlick, a senior pitching instructor, that helped him turn the corner.

“He was helped with the delivery where he kept his head more in line with the plate,” (VP of Baseball Ops Mark) Newman said. “He made a commitment to throw strikes and not throw the ball to the edge and nibble.”

Pavlick has been with the Yankees for more than a decade now, but Patterson is a relatively new hire. Well, a new old hire. He coached in the team’s minor league system from 2005-07 before leaving in 2008 for a similar position with the Athletics. The Yankees brought the very highly-regarded Patterson back and hired him away from Oakland in November 2012.

The club has gotten a lot of heat for their unproductive farm system over the last year or so, so much so that they essentially audited their staff and policies and implemented some procedural changes over the winter. In reality, the changes started both with the re-hiring of Patterson as well as the firing of long-time pitching honcho Billy Connors in September 2012. No personnel changes were made last winter, but two pretty big ones were made the year before.

There is no possible way of knowing how Greene would have developed without the help of Patterson (and Pavlick) — would he have made those same mechanical adjustments and improved his command anyway? Would he have never figured it out? Would he have done something else entirely and become even better than he is right now? We’ll never know. The timeline fits so wonderfully though. The Yankees bring back Patterson, he tinkers with the live-armed Greene, and suddenly he throws strikes and is awesome. It’s a great story, especially if it’s actually true.

Many fans, myself included, were underwhelmed and unhappy when the Yankees announced they were only making procedural changes to their player development system over the winter. After all, we don’t know what those changes are and we can’t actually see him at work, so they don’t really exist to us. The Patterson move flew mostly under the radar for the same reason: we don’t actually see him at work. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have an impact though. He helped Greene clean up his delivery and get over some serious control problems, which has turned him into an important member of the MLB rotation. Every time he takes the mound, it is the organization’s recent player development changes at work.