Archive for Trade Deadline
The Yankees continue to prioritize pitching help in trade talks, Brian Cashman confirmed to Brendan Kuty. About a week ago we heard they were targeting starters “almost exclusively.” “I’m looking to make some additions if I can, so I’d like to try to do things before (CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda) get back if possible,” said the GM. “But I’ve already been trying. There’s a reason we haven’t done anything. It’s not because of a lack of phone calls. But we’ll see.”
I think it goes without saying that the Yankees need both pitching help and offensive help. This isn’t a one or the other thing, they need both. Sabathia is still a few weeks away, Pineda just started (another) throwing program, Chase Whitley is not so slowly turning into a pumpkin, and Vidal Nuno is Vidal Nuno, so bolstering the rotation is definitely a pressing need. The Yankees have some internal options that may be able to give the lineup a shot in the arm, but no such pitching options exist. As always, the sooner they can swing trades to improve the roster, the better their chances of actually going to the postseason.
The Yankees have a long list of needs heading into the trade deadline, and the Cubs are one of the few teams that we know will be sellers for certain. They’re in the middle of a big rebuild and have been trading away veteran players for prospects since the Theo Epstein-led regime arrived in town during the 2011-12 offseason. This summer figures to be no different.
This morning we looked at Cubs’ pitchers (three, specifically) who could possibly help the Yankees not only this season, but in some cases next season as well. Now we’re going to look at the position players because hey, the Bombers really need some offense. The infield and right field are the two most obvious (only possible?) areas to upgrade. Here’s a look at the Cubs’ position players who could potentially interest the Yankees.
SS Starlin Castro
It’s amazing how quickly the perception of players can change. At the end of last season, Castro was an overpaid, unproductive malcontent who embodied the Cubs’ player development and rebuilding failures. Now? Now Castro is the co-cornerstone of the infield along with Anthony Rizzo, rebounding from a terrible 2013 season to be a top notch producer and model citizen under new manager Rick Renteria. The fielding gaffes and apparent disinterest have been kept to a minimum.
Castro, who is still only 24, has hit .284/.331/.478 (121 wRC+) with eleven homers in 320 plate appearances this season after mustering a weak .245/.284/.347 (70 wRC+) line with ten homers in 705 plate appearances a year ago. He hit .297/.336/.425 (102 wRC+) with 27 homers total from 2010-12, his first three years in the show. Castro’s batting ball profile returned to its pre-2013 levels and at his age he’s simply getting stronger and better. He remains a total hacker (5.6% walk rate) but his bat-to-ball skills are very good (17.2% strikeout rate). It’s also worth noting he’s played in 556 of 561 possible games from 2011-14. Castro’s tools are very impressive.
The Cubs have a top shortstop prospect in Triple-A in Javier Baez, though that doesn’t automatically mean they will trade Castro. Neither guy is a standout defender and could wind up at second base. Plus there’s the matter of Baez hitting .226/.278/.424 (74 wRC+) while striking out in 34.2% of his plate appearances this year. (He had a 28.8% strikeout rate in Double-A last season, so the hacktastic ways are nothing new.) The kid has electric, Gary Sheffield-esque bat speed, but he’s ultra-aggressive and there are serious concerns about his ability to hit at the higher levels. Trade Castro and the Cubs might wind up with no viable young shortstops within a year or two.
Castro signed an eight-year, $60M extension during the 2012 season and is under contract through 2019 (option for 2020), when he will still be only 29 years old. If the Cubs were open to trading him, they’d market him as if 2013 was just a bump in the road. Young, high-ceiling middle infielders signed through their peak years never get traded. I can’t come up with a comparable deal to reference and will simply say it will take a package of several high-end prospects to bring Castro to the Bronx. I don’t see this happening at all.
IF Luis Valbuena
Valbuena, 28, is quietly hitting .266/.359/.425 (117 wRC+) with four homers and a 12.7% walk rate in 237 plate appearances this year. He’s always been a patient hitter (career 10.2 BB%) and last season’s .218/.331/.378 (95 wRC+) batting line would have been better if not for a career low .233 BABIP. He has a .336 BABIP this year and a .267 BABIP since getting to the Cubs in 2012 (.266 career!), so his true talent level is probably somewhere between his 2013 and 2014 performances.
The Yankees need infield help and Valbuena has a lot of experience at both second and third bases, so he provides some flexibility. The various defensive stats rate him anywhere from average to slightly above at the two positions. Valbuena is a left-handed hitter with patience who could see his power production tick up in Yankee Stadium (his spray charts suggests it may), plus he’ll remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2016. Not the sexiest name in the world, but Valbuena would be an upgrade at either second or third bases for New York. Yunel Escobar fetched a Grade-C upper level prospect (Derek Dietrich) when he was dealt from the Marlins to the Rays two years ago, if you’re looking for a comparable trade.
3B Mike Olt
If you’ve been reading RAB long enough, then I’m sure you’re familiar with Olt. The Connecticut raised third baseman was discussed as a possible trade target more than a few times over the years, particularly when he was with the Rangers. Texas traded him to Chicago as part of the package for Matt Garza last year.
Olt, 25, is having a statistically fascinating season as a part-time with the Cubs. He’s hitting .146/.225/.354 (55 wRC+) with a 38.2% strikeout rate and an 8.4% walk rate, so he’s an extreme hacker/swing-and-miss guy, but he’s also clubbed ten homers in 178 plate appearances. The right-handed pop is there and always has been. Olt is okay defensively at third and he has years to go before being eligible for arbitration, nevermind free agency. He’s a project. If the Yankees think their organizational hitting gurus can fix him up, then he would make sense as a buy low, possible long-term third base option. Olt is not someone who can help the team right away, however.
OF Justin Ruggiano & OF Nate Schierholtz
I’m going to lump these two together because they’re both platoon outfielders. Ruggiano, 32, is hitting .220/.321/.352 (88 wRC+) overall this year with a 102 wRC+ against lefties. The 30-year-old Schierholtz has a brutal .205/.260/.308 (52 wRC+) batting line overall and with a 54 wRC+ against righties. He’s the better defender of the two but Ruggiano is about average himself. Schierholtz will become a free agent after the season while Ruggiano is under team control through the 2016 season.
The Yankees are currently riding the underwhelming Alfonso Soriano/Ichiro Suzuki platoon in right field and could use some more power from the position. Neither Ruggiano nor Schierholtz seems likely to provide that based on their performance this year. Utility man Emilio Bonifacio got off to an insane start back in April but hasn’t hit a lick since and is sitting on a .261/.306/.340 (75 wRC+) batting line. He can provide some speed and versatility off the bench, but nothing more. None of these three would move the needle.
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Since it seems unlikely the Cubs will move Castro in the coming weeks for anything less than a substantial haul, Valbuena appears to be the only option who would actually help the Yankees this season. Olt is interesting in the sense that he has power and is a former top prospect, but he needs to be fixed. He’s not going to help anyone right away. Castro is a stud and Jeff Samardzija is very available and a true impact pitcher, but I think Valbuena and Jason Hammel are the more realistic fits for the Yankees.
The non-waiver trade deadline is fiveweeks from tomorrow and there is no reason to think the Yankees won’t be an active buyer leading up to July 31st. They’re 3.5 games back of the AL East lead and 1.5 games back of a wildcard spot with 86 games to play. Brian Cashman has already said he expects to make some moves before the deadline because … well, duh. The Yankees need help. Rotation help, infield help, and offensive help in general.
Baseball’s league-wide mediocrity — I’m sorry, “competitive balance” — means more teams are in the postseason hunt than ever before, so very few clubs are willing to throw in the towel and sell right now. One club who will definitely be a seller in the coming weeks is the Cubs, who are far out of the race and have several desirable pieces to offer. The Theo Epstein-led regime has been selling since they got there.
The Yankees and Cubs hooked up for the Alfonso Soriano trade last July (they also made smaller deals involving Brent Lillibridge and Alberto Gonzalez last season), which is the only notable deal between the two clubs since the Matt Lawton swap in 2005. I had completely forgotten Matt Lawton was a Yankee. What do the Cubbies have to offer the Bronx Bombers? Let’s first look at the pitchers.
RHP Jeff Samardzija
Samardzija, 29, will be the best right-handed pitcher on the market this trade deadline. He recently rejected a five-year, $70-80M extension according to Jon Heyman, which makes sense in the wake of Homer Bailey’s six-year, $105M deal. Samardzija will earn $5.345M this season and remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player next year before hitting free agency. Whoever trades for him will be getting him for potentially two postseasons, not one.
In 16 starts and 103 innings this season, Samardzija owns a 2.53 ERA (2.89 FIP) with very good strikeout (8.48 K/9 and 22.8 K%), walk (2.71 BB/9 and 7.3 BB%), homerun (0.44 HR/9 and 6.6 HR/FB%), and ground ball (52.4%) rates. Lefties (.311 wOBA) have had a bit more success against him (.272 wOBA) than righties. Samardzija has made the jump from very good to elite on a rate basis this season, though I think it’s premature to call him an ace. Let’s see where that homer rate sits in a few weeks (1.04 HR/9 and 13.4 HR/FB% from 2012-13).
Samardzija has shown he can hold up under a starter’s workload after beginning his MLB career in the bullpen, throwing 174.2 innings in 2012 and 213.2 innings in 2013. It’s worth noting he’s never been on the disabled list and, after spending time as a standout wide receiver at Notre Dame, he’s pretty used to being in the limelight. The Yankees do value that. Here’s a PitchFX breakdown of Samardzija’s arsenal:
Whiff+ and GB+ are swing-and-miss and ground ball rates for the individual pitches relative to league average — 100 means average, the higher the better. It’s like ERA+. The swing-and-miss rate on Samardzija’s four-seamer is 19% better than league average. The ground ball rate on his cutter is 9% below league average. Simple enough, right?
As you can see from the table, Samardzija misses bats and gets ground balls at an above-average rate with just about his entire repertoire. He has high-end fastball velocity and I think the ability to simply reach back and throw a fastball by a hitter in a fastball count is underrated. It can help you escape a lot of jams. Samardzija has elite stuff, it really is ace-caliber power stuff, and it appears he has figured out how to turn it into ace-caliber production in his third full season as an MLB starter.
The Cubs managed to turn Matt Garza into two top 50 prospects (Mike Olt and C.J. Edwards), an MLB ready back-end starter/long man (Justin Grimm), and a near MLB ready bullpen prospect (Neil Ramirez) last summer. Garza is not only not as good as Samardzija, but he was also coming off a series of injuries (lat strain, elbow fracture) and was due to become a free agent after the season. You’re kidding yourself if you think the Yankees can land Samardzija with, like, John Ryan Murphy and Nik Turley. If you want him, it’s going to hurt. I don’t think New York has the prospects to win a bidding war.
RHP Jason Hammel
Hammel has gone from an afterthought on the free agent pitching market to a suddenly desirable trade chip for few reasons, but I do think it’s funny how the perception has changed in just a few months. The Cubs gave the 31-year-old Hammel a one-year, $6M contract over the winter and he’s given them a 2.99 ERA (3.06 FIP) in 15 starts and 96.1 innings. His strikeout (8.50 K/9 and 23.9 K%) and walk (1.87 BB/9 and 5.3 BB%) rates are career bests while his grounder (40.1%) and homer (0.75 HR/9 and 8.2 HR/FB%) numbers are closer to his career norms.
The Cubs were able to sign Hammel so cheaply because he was pretty bad last year (4.97 ERA and 4.93 FIP) and hurt the last two years — he threw only 118 innings in 2012 due to knee surgery and 139.1 innings in 2013 because of a flexor mass strain in his elbow. He’s remained healthy this year and is going to pass his innings totals in each of the last two seasons within a month. Here’s the PitchFX breakdown of Hammel’s stuff:
After going from the Rockies to the Orioles prior to the 2012 season, Hammel reinvented himself as a sinker/slider pitcher and it led to great success (3.43 ERA and 3.29 FIP). He threw more four-seamers and fewer offspeed pitches last year, possibly due to the elbow issue, but this year he’s really cranked up his slider usage while still throwing more four-seamers than sinkers. Hammel is a three-pitch guy with a show-me changeup and curveball, basically.
The Cubs traded Scott Feldman under very similar circumstances last year. They gave him that same one-year, $6M contract after he missed time with injury in previous years, then traded him after 91 innings of 3.46 ERA (3.93 FIP) ball. Hammel pitched better but his injury history is a little scarier. Feldman fetched an erratic reliever (Pedro Strop) and an inconsistent starter (Jake Arrieta) from Baltimore last summer. Hammel, who has AL East experience, shouldn’t cost much more.
RHP Edwin Jackson
I never got the appeal of Jackson beyond his value as a workhorse. He’s a classic example of a guy who has ace-caliber stuff but far from ace-caliber results. A lesser version of A.J. Burnett, basically. Burnett at least had some dominant years earlier in his career.
The Cubs bought the hype and signed Jackson to a four-year contract worth $52M two winters ago, and he’s since pitched to a 5.03 ERA (3.81 FIP) in 259.2 innings. Ouch. That includes a 5.12 ERA (3.86 FIP) in 84.1 innings this year. Jackson has underperformed his peripherals in each of the last five years (4.38 ERA and 3.77 FIP since 2010) and after 850+ innings, it’s not a fluke. That’s just who he is. Some guys consistently outperform their peripherals (Jeremy Guthrie), some consistently underperform their peripherals. Jackson’s the latter.
So far this year the 30-year-old Jackson has a career high strikeout rate (8.86 K/9 and 22.9 K%), though his walk (3.74 BB/9 and 9.5 BB%), homerun (0.96 HR/9 and 11.7 HR/FB), and ground ball (40.5%) rates are his worst in years. He is pretty durable, making at least 31 starts and throwing at least 175 innings every year since 2008. The Yankees could use an innings guy. Here’s the PitchFX breakdown of Jackson’s pitches because why not:
Jackson has always had a strong fastball/slider combination, but again, he doesn’t get the most out of it. There is still approximately $28M left on his contract through 2016 and I think the Cubs would trade him in a heartbeat just to save some salary. Jackson would still require some kind of prospect return because he is relatively young and he will give you innings, if nothing else. It won’t be a pure salary dump.
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Epstein & Co. have made it clear they prefer quality to quantity. They don’t look to fill specific needs in trades, they simple hoard as much talent as possible. They’ve drafted (Kris Bryant) and traded for (Mike Olt and Christian Villanueva) several young third basemen in the last two years, for example. They just want talent, regardless of position. Unless the Cubs specifically target a catching prospect, I’m not sure that helps the Yankees.
Later today we’ll look at the position players Chicago has the offer, though their best available talent is on the mound. Samardzija and David Price are the only two impact guys who are realistically available, though Hammel has been solid this year. I wouldn’t go near Jackson, but that’s just me. Do the Yankees bite the bullet and give up prospects for Hammel at the deadline when he had trouble finding a job over the winter? They might not have a choice.
As you know, the Yankees are planning a massive spending spree on international free agents when the signing period opens one week from tomorrow. They’ve been connected to almost every notable prospect in recent weeks and are said to be willing to spend upwards of $30M between bonuses and penalties. They want to add some young impact talent to the organization and will do it via the international market this summer, when they can sign any player they choose and aren’t limited by draft position.
The Yankees were assigned a $2.2M bonus pool for international players this summer, which is nothing. It’s less than what they gave Gary Sanchez ($3M) a few years ago. Heck, the Yankees reportedly have verbal agreements in place with three players — Dominican SS Dermis Garcia ($3.6M), Dominican 3B Nelson Gomez ($2.8M), and Dominican SS Christopher Torres ($2.6M) — that are worth more than their spending pool. That $2.2M is relatively meaningless.
Because the pool value means so little in the grand scheme of the spending spree, the Yankees are in position to use it in another way: as a trade chip. The Collective Bargaining Agreement allows teams to trade their international pool money and it’s happened a few times these last two years. The Cardinals traded Mitchell Boggs to the Rockies for a little more than $200k in international cash last July, for example. The only purpose that $2.2M serves is to slightly reduce the penalties, so why not use it as a trade chip instead?
Now, trading international money is a little weird in that you can’t simply offer a team some arbitrary sum of money. The international bonus pools are broken up into four slots — like four rounds in a draft, this was put into place as a precursor to an international draft — and those individual slots are traded. You can’t trade a portion of a slot, the entire thing has to be moved. Here are the Yankees’ four international slot values, courtesy of Ben Badler:
- Slot #17: $677,400
- Slot #47: $386,300
- Slot #77: $260,800
- Slot #107: $168,600
In addition to the four slots, each team gets a $700k base that can not be traded, as far as I know. Add those four slots with the $700k base and you get the team’s ~$2.2M total pool. The Yankees can’t just trade a lump of, say, $500k in international money, they have to trade Slot #17 or Slot #47. If the $700k base is untradeable, New York has approximately $1.5M in bonus money to peddle. Got it? Good.
There are two other restrictions to trading international pool space. One, a team can only acquire an additional 50% of its pool, so the Yankees can’t send all of that ~$1.5M to one team in most cases. Two, the pool money can only be traded during the signing period, so between next Wednesday and July 1st of next year. That last part doesn’t figure to be a problem, but it does mean the Yankees can’t use their pool money as a chip for another week.
The Yankees will have to work through some obstacles to use their international spending money as a trade chip, but the idea is sound. They’re already going to spend a boatload of cash on players, so rather than have that pool money serve no other purpose than to save a little on the penalty bill — whatever they trade away is how much extra they’ll have to pay in penalties — they can use it almost as another “prospect” in a trade. It’s another asset that can be moved.
The real question is how do teams value international money? Like I said, Boggs was traded for roughly $200k last summer. He was a middle reliever whose control had deteriorated (26 walks and 25 strikeouts at the time of the trade) and been demoted to Triple-A. At least in that one instance, the $200k in international money had small trade value. The Yankees can use their pool money as a trade chip but it isn’t landing them any impact players by itself. Remember, that money will be used to sign 16-year-old kids who are a half-decade away from MLB.
Brian Cashman has already said he expects to make moves before the trade deadline, but making a deal felt inevitable even before he said that. The Yankees are only 2.5 games out of first place and one game back of a wildcard spot. They’re in contention but need help at several positions. Their international spending pool will be made irrelevant by their spending spree, so they can use that money to land help for the big league team at the trade deadline. It’s not much, but it something they should be very willing to offer.
12:16pm: Buster Olney (subs. req’d) says the Rays are prepared to trade Price “right now,” though no deal is imminent. He is very much on the market.
12:00pm: Via Marc Topkin: The Yankees were among several teams to have high level/additional scouts watch David Price’s start last week. The southpaw struck out 12 while allowing two runs in eight innings against the Astros. He has double-digit strikeouts in four straight starts. Tampa has the worst record in all of baseball and figures to sell off some pieces before the trade deadline next month.
Price, 28, has pitched to a 3.81 ERA (3.02 FIP) with an absurd 133/23 K/BB in 16 starts in 115.2 innings this season. He’ll earn $14M this year and remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player next year. The Yankees need another starter and the fit is obvious, right? Price isn’t just an ace-caliber performer, but he’s also AL East tested and a proven workhorse. Would the Rays trade him within the division? I’m guessing yes if the price is right (pun unintended). Do the Yankees have the pieces to meet that price (pun intended)?
Via Jayson Stark: The Yankees are asking “almost exclusively” about starting pitchers in preliminary trade talks with other teams. Stark doesn’t mention any names or anything fun like that. The need for rotation help is clear at this point, same with infield help. A right fielder with some pop belongs on the shopping list as well.
The non-waiver trade deadline is six weeks from yesterday and I think we’re still in the posturing phase. Teams are just now starting to feel each other out — remember, so many clubs believe they are in contention and just about everyone is looking to add pitching — and I don’t think the Yankees are ignoring the infield just because they’re prioritizing a starter. Kelly Johnson, Rob Refsnyder, and Jose Pirela represent internal infield options, but the pitching well is dry due to injury. The sooner they upgrade the rotation, the better their chances of playing into October.
Via Jim Salisbury: The Yankees have some interest in John Mayberry Jr. and had a scout at the Phillies’ recent series in Atlanta. He went 2-for-8 with two singles, three walks, and two strikeouts during the three-game set. Philadelphia has played well of late but still has the seventh worst record in baseball. Rumblings that they may finally sell and start to rebuild are growing louder and louder.
Mayberry, 30, had a huge year in 2011 (132 wRC+) that made everyone think he was the next great bench player, but then he dropped off to an 87 wRC+ from 2012-13. Mayberry is hitting .256/.363/.526 (147 wRC+) with five homers in only 91 plate appearances this season. He’s a right-handed bat who has always hit lefties (183 wRC+ in 2014 and 125 from 2011-13) and can play both corner outfield spots as well as first base. Imagine that, a real backup first baseman. Mayberry, who is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2016, would be a clear upgrade over the current version of Alfonso Soriano in my opinion.
Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline is exactly six weeks from today. That really doesn’t seem so far away, does it? I still feel like the season just started. This year is flying by.
Anyway, the Yankees have more than a few needs to address in the weeks leading up to the deadline, at least if they want to remain in contention. These last two wins over the Blue Jays have moved them to within 2.5 games of the Blue Jays for the AL East lead and that’s nothing at this point of the season. You can make that up in the weekend. Contention is not some far-fetched idea.
Of course, about 25 other teams have their eyes set on the postseason as well, a product of baseball’s push for league-wide mediocrity. (I recommend this Tom Verducci article on the game’s so-called parity.) More teams want to buy and fewer teams are looking to sell. The market is all demand with little supply. Despite that, Brian Cashman expects to swing a deal these next six weeks.
“Usually when everybody’s bunched together, it constrains the ability [to complete trades],” said the GM to Ken Davidoff. “We usually make moves every year, so I expect to make moves … I feel that we do have the ability to make trades if that’s a route we so choose. How we line up with other clubs, I don’t know … but I definitely have people that are wanted within the industry. But we want those guys, too. We’ll see.”
The Yankees’ needs seem to change by the week but I think they are pretty obvious at this point. They definitely need another starting pitcher, a reliable workhorse type. CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda are not coming back anytime soon and, as good as he’s been, Chase Whitley does not give the team many innings. Vidal Nuno simply hasn’t been very good. Another starter feels like a must.
Cashman’s club can also use another infielder, especially now that Yangervis Solarte has come back to Earth. Adding a power bat for right field should also be considered as well. Ichiro Suzuki has done a fine job as a platoon player but Alfonso Soriano has been atrocious with no signs of snapping out of it. Carlos Beltran is locked into the DH spot, making right field the obvious non-infield spot to add a bat.
That’s the big stuff. A starter, an infielder, a right fielder. Every team could always use another reliever or a better bat for the bench, and the Yankees are no different. It’s entirely possible those three main needs are too much to address at one trade deadline and it’s entirely possible swinging deals for each of those spots still won’t be enough to put the team over the top. It would definitely put them in a better position, however.
As currently constructed, the Yankees are good but not really good enough. That’s just my opinion. They don’t have enough power to hang with their AL East brethren and the starting rotation is asking too much of the team’s core relievers. At some point Joe Girardi‘s going to have to take his foot off the Dellin Betances/Adam Warren gas. Cashman expects to make some moves before the deadline and that’s great. The sooner they make them, the better.
Now that the season is roughly 40% complete and we’ve had more than two months to evaluate the Yankees, their needs are obvious. They need another starter and another bat, in simplest terms. You can argue they need two starters and two bats, really. Specifically, they need a veteran innings eater and either an infielder (either second or third base works) or right fielder. Alfonso Soriano looks toast and Carlos Beltran‘s bone spur means he’s stuck at DH for the foreseeable future.
Digging up trade candidates these days is not easy because of the second wildcard spot, which keeps most teams in contention until August or even September. Even if they’re not really in it, they can still sell the idea that they are in it, like the Yankees did last year. All you need to do is stay close enough to keep fans excited. Selling off veteran players may be the best baseball move, but driving fans away has a very real and negative impact. Ask the Astros.
As of today, the division rival Tampa Bay Rays have the worst record in baseball. By a lot. They currently have the worst record (25-42) and second worst run differential (-52) in baseball, three games worse than the Cubs. The next worst AL team is the Red Sox at 29-36. Tampa was recently shutout in 31 straight innings and they’ve been a disaster this season. I thought they’d be good because the Rays have been annoyingly good since 2008, but the magic finally wore off. The pitching well dried up too.
Because they’re so bad, there are already rumblings the Rays could look to trade some veterans and restock the young player cupboard. David Price is the big name for obvious reasons. He’s making huge money ($14M) and will be a free agent after next season, and there’s no way Tampa will a) let him walk for just a draft pick, or b) be able to afford to sign him long-term. Expect a ton of Price rumors in the coming weeks. Others like Matt Joyce, David DeJesus, Jeremy Hellickson (once healthy), and Joel Peralta could be shopped as well.
Then there’s Ben Zobrist, the versatile switch-hitter who seems to play a different position every other game. He is the team’s third highest paid player at $7M and his contract includes a very affordable $7.5M club option for 2015 that will surely be picked up. Like Price, the Rays probably won’t let him walk for nothing more than a draft and probably won’t be able to sign him long-term. Even if they could, he’s already 33, and they might not want to re-sign him after next year.
Zobrist, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, is that “perfect fit” I referred to in the post title. He can play both second base and right field, two positions of need in the Bronx, and he’s a switch-hitter with some power and a lot of patience. His walk rate has always been strong (10.6% this year, 12.1% from 2011-13) and while his power production has dipped to a .121 ISO this year (.176 from 2011-13), it may be partially explained by the dislocated thumb he suffered sliding into a base earlier this season. We’ve seen Zobrist play against New York for a long time, we know he’s a quality player.
The appeal for the Yankees is obvious. Zobrist can not only play second and right, but he plays them both well and can shuttle between the two positions on a near daily basis without suffering at the plate. I don’t think everyone understands just how hard that is. He’s also a true switch-hitter without a platoon split historically, he walks, he has some pop, he steals some bases, he’s familiar playing the shift, and he’s very familiar with the AL East and those grueling late-season battles for postseason position. And the contract is more than reasonable. It’s a bargain, really.
I don’t need to spend any more time explaining why Zobrist would be perfect for the Yankees, right? The real question is whether the Rays would be open to trading him within the division, and, if they are, what they would want in return. The last time Tampa made a notable intra-division trade was … well, never, really. The three-team Joe Kennedy/Mark Hendrickson/Justin Speier deal with the Blue Jays and Rockies in 2003 is the biggest by far. The only trade they’ve made with the Yankees came in 2006, when Tampa sent Nick Green to New York for cash. That was before Andrew Friedman became GM.
The Blue Jays have made it clear they are unwilling to trade impact players within the division but the Rays have not really done that. They seem like the type of front office that would be open to trading a player anywhere as long as they received the greatest possible return, but who really knows? Zobrist figures to be in high demand (Mariners? Tigers? Dodgers? Giants? Blue Jays? Braves? Athletics?) so they shouldn’t have a problem digging up high-end offers. They’ll be able to get full value and deal him out of the division, so it’s the best of both worlds.
The Rays have shown a tendency to seek big trade packages with a lot of throw-ins — five players for Matt Garza, four players for Jason Bartlett, five players for Alex Torres (plus a prospect) — and I assume the same would be true with Zobrist. Victor Martinez, another solidly above-average player who was traded a year and a half prior to free agency, was dealt from the Indians to the Red Sox for a young MLB ready player (Justin Masterson) plus a top ten (Nick Hagadone) and top 20 (Bryan Price) prospect in the system. That seems like an okay framework for Zobrist.
What could the Yankees give the Rays along those lines? Geez, I don’t know. John Ryan Murphy, Manny Banuelos, Jose Ramirez, plus two throw-ins? Add another playing coming to the Yankees as needed? It won’t be Austin Romine and Vidal Nuno, that’s for sure. Figuring out an acceptable trade package is something for the front offices to determine. Talking about them is part of the fun of being a fan but ultimately we have no idea how these teams value these players. Based on everything I’ve seen in my years watching baseball, how we view players and how teams value them is often very different.
If the Rays do decide to sell — given their place in the standings and generally pro-active approach, it seems very likely they will sell — the Yankees should make a call about Zobrist because he’d be a great addition to the roster and help address several needs at once (offense, defense, second base/right field) both this year and next year. Several other teams will do the same and that will probably put the Yankees at a negotiating disadvantage with their division rival. Zobrist would be a perfect fit for the Yankees and chances are they have little shot of actually getting him.
Earlier today we looked at the Yankees’ long list of needs, and outside of getting some players back from injury, they’ll need to go outside the organization to find solutions. That makes them exactly like every other team in baseball. No club comes into the season with everything they need to contend, and even if they somehow did find that right mix in the offseason, chances are someone will get hurt or underperform during the summer. That’s baseball.
As always, the Yankees’ biggest asset is their wallet. They have more money than everyone else (at least more than every AL team) and that definitely comes in handy. They could go out and sign Kendrys Morales tomorrow to beef up the lineup if they wanted. The only payroll limit they are up against is their self-imposed limit. Not every team is in that position. Not even close. The Yankees have the ability to absorb considerable salary at the trade deadline and Hal Steinbrenner has already said he is willing to do that to improve the team.
Taking on salary is one thing. Having pieces other teams want in a trade is another. The Yankees have run into some trouble swinging deals the last few years because of a lack of quality prospects — they reportedly tried to acquire Justin Upton two offseasons ago, but the Diamondbacks did not love the prospects they had to offer — and while the farm system has improved this year, it certainly isn’t loaded with top notch talent. Most of their best prospects are in the lower minors, which makes them less valuable in trades. Let’s (try to) take stock of the team’s trade chips.
This basically boils down to John Ryan Murphy and Gary Sanchez at this point. Austin Romine is not a complete non-factor, but he has little value at this point. If I was another team making a trade with the Yankees, Romine is someone I would target as the third or fourth piece in a package of players. He’s still young (25) and the talent is there, so I see him as a change of scenery guy. That said, Romine won’t net the Yankees much on his own. I don’t buy the “Frankie Cervelli could start for half the teams in the league!” line of thinking and think he has tiny, almost negligible trade value. Maybe they could get a Grade-C pitching prospect like the Rays got for Jose Lobaton over the winter.
Murphy and Sanchez are the team’s two best prospects and they offer very different things. Murphy is as close to big league ready as it gets. A team could plug him into their lineup tomorrow, though his ultimate ceiling is more along the lines of solid regular than future star. Sanchez has that star potential but he is still in Double-A and he isn’t exactly tearing it up either. Trade for him and you’ll have to wait a year or two before he starts paying dividends, maybe longer given how hard the transition from the minors to MLB can be for catchers. I am an unabashed Murphy fan and he’d be the guy I’d want in any trade with the Yankees, but it doesn’t matter what I think or what Baseball America thinks. It depends on the other team’s evaluation.
No, I don’t think the Yankees will trade Gardner. I don’t think they could afford to lose him at this point either, not without getting a bat in return. He’s been what, their second or third best player this season (again)? Anyway, I would be very surprised if the Yankees traded Gardner but I don’t think it’s completely off the table. If another club is willing to give up both a bat and a pitcher — who would do that, really? — then sure, I doubt he’d be a dealbreaker. That extension makes him mighty attractive, especially since the next few free agent classes have little to offer as far as outfield help. Gardner’s not untouchable, but he’s damn close.
Every team needs bullpen help (including the Yankees!) and with a bevy of hard-throwers in Triple-A, the Yankees could part with one or two to get help elsewhere. Would they trade Dellin Betances? Given his track record of sudden control issues, it’s not a crazy idea. How do you replace him through? That’s the problem. No team is giving up an impact bat or especially a starter for reliever, even a great one. It’s hard to see how the Yankees could trade him and make the team appreciably better.
The idea of trading Shawn Kelley and/or Adam Warren is the same as trading Betances. How do you trade them and improve the team? I’m not sure it can be done. Preston Claiborne though? He’s someone who should be very available if another team likes him. Same goes for the Triple-A guys like Mark Montgomery, Danny Burawa, and especially Jose Ramirez given his injury history. I can’t imagine a contending team would balk at including a minor league bullpen prospect in a trade that would improve their big league roster. Minor league relievers are on the bottom of the list of untouchables.
By mid-level I mean prospects at Double-A who are a year or two away from the show, not guys you’d find in the 10-20 range of the top 30 list, for example. I guess Sanchez would fit here based on that definition, but I was thinking more along the lines of Tyler Austin, Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, Peter O’Brien, Rob Refsnyder, Manny Banuelos, Bryan Mitchell … guys like that. Ramon Flores is in Triple-A, but it might make sense to classify him as a mid-level guy too. Can these prospects headline a package? Seems unlikely at this point. Austin, Heathcott, and especially Banuelos and Williams might have been able to once upon a time. The Yankees would be selling low on all four of them right now, though I don’t think that automatically means they should hang onto all of them either. You don’t want them to flame out all together and be left with nothing.
Lower Level Prospects
In about six weeks, teams will be able to trade their 2013 draft picks without having do the whole “player to be named later” trick. The Yankees could shop Aaron Judge, Eric Jagielo, and Ian Clarkin if they want — it wouldn’t be unprecedented, they did quickly cut bait on C.J. Henry to get Bobby Abreu a year after drafting him — plus others like Luis Severino, Abi Avelino, Rafael DePaula, Greg Bird, Jake Cave, and Miguel Andujar have some trade value. How much? That depends entirely on how the Yankees view them (they love them, all of them) and more importantly how the other team views them. These guys could be centerpieces or throw-ins depending on the team interested in acquiring them.
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I think the Yankees will be at a disadvantage come the trade deadline because they don’t have an elite number one prospect to peddle. The Blue Jays could shop Aaron Sanchez or Marcus Stroman. The Orioles have Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy (and Hunter Harvey). The Red Sox have a bevy of youngsters to offer. The Yankees don’t have a 2011 Jesus Montero or a 2006 Phil Hughes in their system. Their ability to take on money and their best realistic trade chip, and given how sky high revenues are these days, that isn’t an powerful as it once was.