Scouting The Market: Last Minute Trade Targets

Thanks to their five-game winning streak, the Yankees come into Tuesday only 2.5 games back of the second wildcard spot with 33 games left to play. FanGraphs puts their postseason odds at only 12.8%, but the Yankees have a knack for outperforming expectations and projections and run differential and all that. Two and a half games with 33 games to go is a sneaky big deficit but it’s hardly insurmountable.

The non-waiver trade deadline was four weeks ago now, but the real trade deadline is midnight this coming Sunday. Players must be in the organization by 11:59pm ET on August 31st to be eligible for the postseason roster and there are no exceptions. No injury loopholes, no waiver tricks, nothing. If the player is not in the organization by midnight Sunday, they can not play in the postseason, end of story. It’s a hard deadline.

The Yankees swung four trades leading up to the July 31st deadline but they still have some holes to fill. They dumped Matt Thornton on the Nationals a few weeks ago and have yet to reinvest his salary — this is despite reports saying they were working on other things — though it’s unclear exactly how much wiggle room the team has financially. That’s up to Hal Steinbrenner, of course. Here are some last minute trade targets who could help the Yankees in the final five weeks of the season.

(Joe Robbins/Getty)
(Joe Robbins/Getty)

OF Alex Rios, Rangers
New York reportedly had interest in Rios prior to the trade deadline, but instead they opted for the more versatile Martin Prado. The 33-year-old Rios went into last night’s game hitting .283/.313/.401 (91 wRC+) with four homers and nine steals in 122 games this year, so his production has dropped off quite a bit from last year (104 wRC+) and the year before (126 wRC+). Even his usually strong outfield defense has slipped according to the various metrics.

Even after making those deals at the trade deadline, the Yankees are still short a right-handed bat or two in the lineup. I mean, Zelous Wheeler has started four times in the last five games, and as long as that continues to happen, the Yankees are short a righty bat. Rios has put up a .343/.374/.581 (155 wRC+) batting line against southpaws this year, so he’d fill a definitely need, especially now that Carlos Beltran is locked back in at DH following his recent elbow problem and Prado seems to have taken over at second base.

Rios is owed approximately $2.5M through the end of the season with a $13.5M club option ($1M buyout) for next season, so he’s essentially a pure rental at $3.5M. Calvin Watkins reported Rios cleared trade waivers earlier this month, meaning he can be traded to any team at any time. The Rangers traded Geovany Soto over the weekend and they failed to move Neal Cotts after he was claimed off waivers, so, if nothing else, they’re active on the August market. Rios is available and would address a need.

Ludwick. (Joe Robbins/Getty)
Ludwick. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

OF Ryan Ludwick, Reds
Not thrilled with Rios? The lower profile Ludwick is hitting .250/.310/.390 (94 wRC+) with eight homers in 97 games overall, plus he has a .253/.318/.506 (124 wRC+) line against lefties. He was once a really strong defender but his glovework isn’t quite what it once was — Ludwick has a bunch of experience in right but also hasn’t played there since 2011 — but he’s not a butcher either. Besides, acquiring Ludwick is about adding another right-handed bat, not upgrading an already strong outfield defense.

Bob Nightengale reported the Reds were letting teams know Ludwick was available before the trade deadline, though it’s unclear if he has cleared or even been placed on trade waivers yet. He is owed roughly $1.6M through the end of the season, and his $9M option for 2015 comes with a pricey $4.5M buyout. The total investment (~$5.1M) is quite a bit more than Rios’ ($~3.5M). Ludwick is very available — the Reds have fallen out of the playoff race this month — and might be easier to attain, however.

DH Adam Dunn, White Sox
If Beltran is eventually going to return to right field, the Yankees will have an opening at DH, at least in the sense that there won’t be one dedicated player for the position. (Joe Girardi tends to rotate players in that spot whenever possible.) Dunn, 34, has a .220/.343/.429 (114 wRC+) line with 19 homers this year, though he won’t help the team’s right-handed bat problem. He does offer made for Yankee Stadium left-handed power though, and there is no such thing as too much of that. There is roughly $3M left on Dunn’s contract through the end of the season and he’ll become a free agent this winter. He only makes sense if Beltran can play the outfield regularly and right now there is no evidence that is the case. It’s a less than perfect fit.

Dunn. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Dunn. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

RHP Matt Lindstrom, White Sox
I feel like I write about Lindstrom as a trade target every August. The 34-year-old has a 5.09 ERA (5.05 FIP) in 23 appearances and 23 innings this year, though that is inflated by two disaster outings earlier this month (six runs in one inning). Lindstrom missed three month with an ankle injury — he just returned two weeks ago — and at this point he’s just a ground ball pitcher (50.0%) who doesn’t miss many bats (5.48 K/9 and 13.6 K%). He’s owed about $800k through the end of the season and, given all the late-game experience he’s built up over the years, he could be a decent complement in the sixth or seventh inning as he gets further out from ankle surgery. If it doesn’t work out, then who cares? They can bury him in the back of the bullpen with expanded rosters in September.

* * *

As always, the key to these late-August trades is the price. You’re only getting five weeks of the player, and in the cases of Ludwick and Dunn, their teams would be motivated by dumping salary and not necessarily acquiring a real live prospect. If the Yankees have to give up anything more than a nondescript prospect for these guys, then forget it. They can only have so much of an impact at this point of the season. If they can get Rios or Ludwick for next to nothing to add another right-handed bat for the rest of the year, then they should be all over it. The Yankees only have six more days to make any additional moves and have that player potentially be available in October.

Gammons: Yankees “are claiming everyone” off trade waivers

Via Peter Gammons: The Yankees “are claiming everyone” off trade waivers this month. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are trying to make a trade, they’re most likely blocking players from getting to the teams ahead of them in the wildcard race. The Yankees can still use some help with five weeks left in the season — another reliever, a right-handed bat, etc. — like every other team, but it seems unlikely they will make another trade at this point. They made their moves before the trade deadline.

Moving Thornton creates flexibility, appears to be a precursor to a bigger move

"What'd they trade you for?" "Nothing." "Ouch." (Presswire)
“What’d they trade you for?” “Nothing.” “Ouch, dude.” (Presswire)

Yesterday afternoon, the Yankees dumped lefty reliever Matt Thornton on the Nationals after Washington claimed him off trade waivers. The Yankees literally gave Thornton away — the Nats claimed him and the Bombers could have pulled him back off revocable waivers, but they opted to send him and the $4.5M or so left on his contract south to the nation’s capital for no return. It was a surprising move only because the Yankees need as much pitching as they can get these days.

“We have some young left-handers who are emerging quickly that we’re excited about,” said Brian Cashman to Dan Martin after the move was announced. “It’s about flexibility in 2014 and 2015. I’m not shut down for business, whether it’s buying, whether it’s reshuffling the deck, as we’re doing today … We’ve been mixing and matching all year. That’s not going to stop. I can’t predict what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

Both Cashman and Joe Girardi cited the team’s collection of upper level lefty bullpen prospects — Tyler Webb, James Pazos, and 2014 second round pick Jacob Lindgren were all mentioned by name — as one reason why they let Thornton go. (Girardi didn’t seem to fully trust him, which I’m guessing made the move easier.) It seems they simply believe they can replace him from within and better use that $4.5M elsewhere. Given their recent history with veteran lefty relievers on multi-year contracts, dumping Thornton before he went all Damaso Marte or Pedro Feliciano on them makes sense.

Soon after the deal, Ken Rosenthal reported the Yankees are “working on other things” and could reallocate the savings from Thornton elsewhere. I know $4.5M doesn’t sound like much, especially when the team has a $200M+ payroll and $3.5M of the $4.5M comes next year, but Hal Steinbrenner is very focused on the bottom line and it does appear the club is bumping up against some kind of payroll limit. Hal reportedly had to give Cashman approval to up payroll at the trade deadline, and even then they had cash thrown into the Brandon McCarthy ($2.05M), Chase Headley ($1M), and Stephen Drew ($500K) deals.

The Yankees are presumably still looking to add some rotation help this month — Chuck Garfien noted Yankees special assistant Jim Hendry was in Chicago scouting the White Sox last night, presumably because the very available John Danks was pitching (he got capital-D destroyed) — and the Thornton deal gives them some extra money to make that happen. Not having that roster spot married to a specific veteran pitcher makes swapping out players easier as well, even if we’re only talking about calling up fresh arms whenever they’re needed. (Like today.)

I don’t see this as the Yankees admitting signing Thornton was a mistake. Not at all. Circumstances have changed over the last few months and right now the financial and roster flexibility is more valuable to them than a good but not great left-handed specialist. It’s not often you get to simply walk away from a contract like that, even a relatively small one like Thornton’s. The Yankees took advantage and are now in position to use the savings elsewhere, specifically on a rotation upgrade. I don’t think getting rid of Thornton was the endgame. I think it was the first domino.

Scouting The August Trade Market: Salary Dump Starters

(Leon Halip/Getty)
(Leon Halip/Getty)

The Yankees were unable to land pitching help before last Thursday’s trade deadline but that doesn’t mean they are out of the market for arms. David Phelps just landed on the disabled list and the team is somehow more desperate for pitching now than at any other point in the season, and that’s with Michael Pineda and Masahiro Tanaka seemingly on the mend. At best, Pineda is about ten days away while Tanaka could return next month.

The August trade season has been surprisingly active the last few years. Just last year guys like Justin Morneau, Alex Rios, Marlon Byrd, and David DeJesus were dealt in August. The Dodgers-Red Sox blockbuster went down in August two years ago. The Yankees themselves haven’t been all that active on the August trade front the last few years — they acquired Chad Gaudin in August 2009, but their only August trade since was the Steve Pearce pickup a few years ago — but that hardly means they’re against August moves. That’s just the way things shook out.

The Phillies got the August trade market going yesterday by putting just about everyone on waivers — Ken Rosenthal says Byrd, Jonathan Papelbon, Cole Hamels, A.J. Burnett, Roberto Hernandez, Kyle Kendrick, Antonio Bastardo, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, and Ryan Howard were placed on trade waivers. The Yankees don’t have interest in a reunion with Burnett, Hernandez and Kendrick are blah, and Hamels seems unattainable at this point. Cliff Lee’s injury completely killed his trade value as well.

Players have already started to hit waivers though, and that’s the most important thing. The August trade engine is revved up. Here are some potential pitching trade targets for the Yankees, with an emphasis on guys who might be available for little more than salary relief.

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

RHP Bartolo Colon, Mets
The Mets tried hard to unload the 41-year-old Colon at the deadline, but found no takers because he is owed another $3M or so this year plus $11M next year. He’s pitched well enough in 2014, with a 4.12 ERA (3.51 FIP) while averaging 6.2 innings per start, but something about a pitcher that old and with that arm injury/PED history scares teams away. Can’t say I blame them. The Mets will reportedly try to move Colon again in the offseason, when one year of him at $11M might be an appealing alternative to the free agent market.

The Yankees obviously know Colon after helping him bring his career back from the dead in 2011, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be eager to trade for him. It could mean the exact opposite, in fact. It could scare them away. I don’t think the Mets would let Colon go on waivers for nothing just to dump salary — he does still has some trade value as an innings-eater — but I am certain he’s available.

LHP John Danks, White Sox
We heard an awful lot about the Yankees and Danks these last few weeks, especially in the days leading up to the trade deadline. The two teams were unable to work out a deal in part due to a disagreement over how much of the ~$33M left on his contract the ChiSox would eat. Danks is signed through 2016 at $14.25M per year, and he’s been nothing more than serviceable since coming back from a torn shoulder capsule last year (4.63 ERA and 4.96 FIP). That includes a 4.50 ERA (4.85 FIP) in 136 innings this year.

Given all the money left on his contract and the fact that he’s coming off a recent major injury, an injury that usually ends most pitchers’ careers, I do think the White Sox would let Danks go on waivers for nothing but the salary relief. They could try to work out a trade to get a prospect in return first, but, if push came to shove, I don’t think they would pull him back. Either way, no team will take the risk and claim him. He’ll clear waivers, allowing him to be traded anywhere. If Danks was a pure rental, it would be a much different story. But since he’s signed for another two years at significant dollars, I don’t think the Yankees should go after him without Chicago paying down a decent chunk of the salary.

(Jason O. Watson/Getty)
(Jason O. Watson/Getty)

RHP Jason Hammel, Athletics
Since being acquired from the Cubs early last month, Hammel has a 9.53 ERA (7.31 FIP) in four starts and 17 innings for Oakland. (Five homers with a 12/10 K/BB.) He’s been terrible since the trade — two of his starts have been disasters, the other two okay at best — so much so that I have to think it’s more than a simple statistical correction after he pitched over his head for the Cubbies for three months. Maybe he’s hiding an injury or a mechanical mess, a la Jim Johnson. Hammel was pretty awesome for Chicago, remember (2.98 ERA and 3.19 FIP). I doubt he forgot to pitch on the flight to join his new team.

Anyway, Rosenthal says the A’s placed Hammel on trade waivers yesterday and, right before the trade deadline, Jon Morosi reported GM Billy Beane was “getting flooded” with calls about the righty in the wake of the Jon Lester deal. That doesn’t mean they will trade him, he is still penciled in as their fifth starter following the Lester pickup, but maybe they’re open to moving Hammel after adding another ace to the rotation and pushing him down the depth chart. He’s owed another $2M this season before becoming a free agent. Beane could look to save some cash and recoup a prospect rather than carry a potentially terrible starter these last few weeks. I know he’s stunk lately, but when you have Matt Daley on the roster and are considering starting Esmil Rogers, claiming Hammel and his $2M salary off trade waivers seems like a no-brainer to me. I suspect some team will beat the Yankees to it.

RHP Colby Lewis, Rangers
Lewis beat the Yankees twice in the last two weeks, though he still has a 5.98 ERA (4.29 FIP) in 19 starts and 102.1 innings overall this year. He’s coming back from elbow and hip problems that cost him the second half of 2012 and all of 2013. Lewis has been much better over the last few weeks (thanks in part to the Yankees!), allowing no more than two earned runs in four of his last six starts and no more than three earned runs in five of his last six starts. The one exception was a total disaster (13 runs in 2.1 innings!). Look at his gamelog and you’ll see he’s been good more often than not over the last month or so.

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty)

There have been no trade rumors involving Lewis this year mostly because he hasn’t pitched well, but also because the Rangers are desperate for pitching themselves. They have six pitchers on the 60-day disabled list, including starters Derek Holland, Martin Perez, and Matt Harrison. Rotation options Alexi Ogando and Tanner Scheppers are also hurt. Lewis is only owed another $700k this season, give or take, so his salary isn’t an issue either. Holland is due to back relatively soon and maybe Texas would be open to dealing Lewis to a contender for a prospect or salary relief or whatever, but that seems unlikely. He’s an August trade candidate only in the sense that every player on a bad team is an August trade candidate.

* * *

Lee would have been the ultimate August salary dump trade candidate, but his latest injury put an end to that. He’s going to miss the rest of the season with a recurring structural problem in his elbow, so his trade value is shot both for this month and the offseason. Ian Kennedy, whose named popped up in plenty of rumors before the deadline, may still be available, but he’ll require giving up something of actual value. Brian Cashman has done nothing but add players on the cheap this summer.

Aside from getting Hammel for nothing on waivers — I really doubt that will happen, Beane’s no idiot and he won’t let pitching depth walk away for nothing but salary relief — the best case August trade scenario is getting James Shields from the Royals. He’s a pure rental and he’s a very good AL East proven workhorse, which is pretty much exactly what the Yankees need. Kansas City would both have to fall out of race — they’re 4.5 back in the AL Central and 1.5 back of the second wildcard spot — and acknowledge they can’t afford to re-sign him after the season. Plus the Yankees would have to give up something more valuable than the supplemental first round pick the Royals would receive when he signs elsewhere. Shields (and Hammel) seems very unlikely, so the Yankees will have to pick through scraps to boost their starting staff down the stretch.

Phelps’ injury should push Yankees back into the trade market

Imagine where the rotation would be without him. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Imagine where the rotation would be without him. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

With David Phelps hitting the disabled list yesterday, you can make a pretty strong argument the five best starting pitchers in the Yankees organization are out with injuries. Phelps (elbow) joins Masahiro Tanaka (elbow), CC Sabathia (knee), Ivan Nova (elbow), and Michael Pineda (shoulder) on the shelf, which is a nice little staff. It’s remarkable the Yankees are still even remotely in the hunt for a postseason spot with all those guys out.

As of right now, the current rotation is Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, Chris Capuano, Shane Greene, and TBA. Esmil Rogers seems likely to replace Phelps in the rotation, at least until Pineda returns. Pineda made his first rehab start over the weekend, and, from the sound of it, he’ll make two more before rejoining the team. His return is far from a sure thing, of course. He’s already suffered one setback this summer and his rehab from surgery took much longer than expected. Still, Pineda is by far the team’s best hope for pitching help from within in the near future.

The Yankees know for certain Sabathia and Nova are not coming back this year following surgery. Pineda might be ten days away and, if everything goes right, Tanaka will be back in September. He played catch yesterday for the first time since getting hurt — the clip they aired during last night’s game showed he was basically lobbing the ball, a nice reminder of how far away he really is — and still has a long way to go before returning to the rotation. Bryan Mitchell, Chris Leroux, and Bruce Billings are stashed in Triple-A, but none sound particularly appealing.

The trade deadline brought the Yankees upgrades at second base and in right field even though just about every rumor connected them to some kind of pitching. Starters and relievers. They added McCarthy a few weeks ago and continue to pick through the scrap heap with guys like Capuano and Rogers, but that’s it. July 31st is not a hard trade deadline, however, so the Yankees still have an opportunity to add an arm or three through a waiver deal this month as teams fall out of the race. Some teams will inevitably look to shed some salary in the coming weeks. Happens every year.

Before Phelps got hurt, Capuano was the obvious one to go whenever the team acquired another starter. He’s done an admirable job in his two starts but he always seems to be walking a tightrope, and at some point he’ll slip up. The Yankees want to be find an alternative before that happens. But, now that Phelps is hurt though, Capuano is only second in line to be replaced behind the TBA pitcher, Rogers or whoever. They can barely keep their head above water with all these pitching injuries. Just when you think they’re ready to upgrade one spot, someone else goes down.

The rotation is averaging only 5.2 innings per start since the All-Star break and only once have the Yankees gotten seven full innings from a starter in the second half — Kuroda’s outing in Texas last week. Heck, on only three other occasions did they have a starter record even one out in the seventh since the Midsummer Classic I’m usually anti-eight-man bullpen, but the Yankees absolutely need one right now. It’s a necessity, not overkill. The starters aren’t giving the team length and someone has to get those outs. It can’t be the same guys every night.

Of course the Yankees have remained on the lookout for pitching this month and will continue to do so. The injury to Phelps increases the urgency for another arm — hard to believe that’s really possible at this point, they’ve been desperate for an arm for weeks now — and could force the team to be a little more aggressive in trade talks. Maybe that means being more willing to take on salary or give up a better quality prospect. Brian Cashman has shown he can find useful pieces at more than reasonable prices this summer and he has to do it again (and again?) to help the rotation.