Archive for Trade Deadline
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.
* * *
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.
The Yankees are more or less one-third of the way through their season right now — it’ll be exactly one-third of the way through following Saturday’s game, if you must know — so it’s not that early anymore. I mean, yeah, it is still pretty early, no one is out of the race yet or anything like that, but we’ve reached the point where we have a pretty good idea of who the Yankees are. They have an injured riddled rotation, an inconsistent offense, and an overworked bullpen. It’s not all bad of course, but there are problems that need to be addressed.
And yet, the Yankees come into today with a 27-24 record, which has them sitting three games back in the AL East with a half-game lead on a wildcard spot. They’re a good weekend from first place with a long way to go. Things could be much worse, but the Yankee seem to have this knack for hanging around and outperforming their problems. They did it just last year. That club has no business even thinking about the postseason in mid-September, and yet there they were. Even in their current state, I think it’s very clear this year’s team is better positioned to make a run than last year’s. It’s not even close, really.
The Yankees will need help to make any kind of run though, either internal help or by acquiring players from elsewhere. The Red Sox (Stephen Drew) and Orioles (Nick Hundley) have already taken steps to improve their roster, and I’m sure the Blue Jays are eager to capitalize on their current position atop the division as well. How long until we start seeing “Toronto interested in Jeff Samardzija” rumors? I give it like two weeks. Before we get into how they can address their problems — trust me, there is plenty of time to talk about that — we have to figure out what those problems are. Some are obvious. Others not so much.
Huge Need: Another Starting Pitcher
Masahiro Tanaka has been everything the Yankees could have possibly imagined and more. He’s been elite since day one and while I’m not sure he will sustain a 2.29 ERA and 2.61 FIP all season (pitching is hard), Tanaka is the very least of the team’s rotation concerns. The non-Tanaka starters have a 4.49 ERA and a 4.02 FIP though, and that’s a problem. Michael Pineda is working his way back from his back/shoulder injury but is still several weeks away. Even when he does return, how effective will he be and will stay healthy the rest of the year? Guys who have major shoulder surgery tend to keep getting hurt.
Hiroki Kuroda has not been as bad as he was down the stretch last year but he’s been far from the Hiroki Kuroda we all know and love, the guy who was ace-like for months at a time. He has shown flashes of improving but nothing more. At this point it’s tough to expect meaningful improvement. David Phelps, Vidal Nuno, and Chase Whitley are the number three, four, and five starters when they should be like, numbers six, seven, and eight. CC Sabathia? I’m not even sure what to say about him. Between the terrible performances and degenerative knee injury, I’m not sure how the Yankees could count on him to be anything more than a innings eating fifth starter when he does return. Adding another quality pitcher alongside Tanaka and maybe Pineda is imperative.
Big Need: Get More From Guys On The Roster
This goes without saying, but the Yankees need to get more from the players already on the roster. Jacoby Ellsbury (94 wRC+) and Brian McCann (75 wRC+)? Yeah, they have to do better than that, especially McCann. They were signed to anchor the roster and especially the lineup, not be big name complementary pieces. Alfonso Soriano (81 wRC+) has also been terrible. Kuroda falls into this category and I guess all the injured players do as well. This goes without saying, right? Needing more from the players already on the team is pretty standard across the league. Every club has guys not playing up to snuff.
Medium Need: Another Power Bat
So far the news on Carlos Beltran and his bone-spurred elbow has been positive, but he isn’t out of the woods just yet. Not even close, really. Mark Teixeira wrist has been barking on and off these last few weeks, and apparently the doctors said this will continue to happen from time to time, so the flare-ups will be an on-going thing. Soriano has a recent history of slow starts and I suppose he’s going through the same thing, but right now the power isn’t there. that’s pretty much his only redeeming quality. McCann’s seven homers are great, but his .152 ISO is his lowest since his rookie year in 2005.
As a team, the Yankees have a .139 ISO and are on pace for 149 homers, a tiny bit better than last year (.133 ISO and 144 HR). Remember, they play in a tiny ballpark and in a division full of time ballparks. On any given day, the so-called Bronx Bombers have little-to-no power players at second, short, left, and center, and that’s only because I’m giving Yangervis Solarte the benefit of the doubt. That’s half the lineup. The power production isn’t there, and while there is certainly more than one way to score a run, that ability to create offense with one swing is a game-changer. It makes rallying from behind and tacking on insurance runs much easier. Even if Beltran comes through this bone spur incident perfectly fine, another bat would be a big help.
Medium Need: Another Infielder
I have to admit, the infield has been way better than I thought it would be. Solarte has definitely cooled off but he still remains productive and a net positive to the team. He’s been an enormous lift. Derek Jeter is getting on base just enough (.337 OBP and 85 wRC+) — especially compared to the league average shortstop (.308 OBP and 87 wRC+) — to remain helpful, though it’s a far cry from vintage Jeter. Besides, it’s clear the team is not going to reduce his playing time at this point. The Cap’n will play, like it or not.
Brian Roberts has had his moments but has been pretty bad overall, both at the plate (85 wRC+) and in the field. He hasn’t been an outright disaster but he hasn’t exactly given the team a reason not to seek an upgrade. Kelly Johnson … I don’t get it. He’s been reduced to a once a week player and has struggled with the lack of playing time. I feel like Johnson is someone who could have helped had he not been buried. Whatever. And, of course, the overall infield defense has been a nightmare. All of them — Jeter, Solarte, Roberts, Johnson, and even Teixeira. Every game there’s a play(s) that hurts the team. There’s only so much the Yankees can do on the infield, but adding someone who can catch the ball and provide some pop should be on the trade deadline shopping list.
Small Need: Bullpen Depth
Both Adam Warren and Dellin Betances have been worked pretty hard these last few weeks, but Shawn Kelley will hopefully be back reasonably soon, and the Yankees do have some viable bullpen options in Triple-A, specifically Danny Burawa, Mark Montgomery, and Jose Ramirez. Matt Thornton has been good enough against lefties (.228 wOBA and 2.66 FIP) that replacing him isn’t a high priority. Getting some more length out of the rotation will make life easier on the bullpen, and even then there isn’t a team in the league that couldn’t use another reliever. Everyone wants bullpen help and the Yankees are no different. If they can find an upgrade, great. If not, well I doubt it will sink the season. The other problems are much more pressing.
From the obvious news department: Brian Cashman told Brendan Kuty the Yankees are definitely open to adding pitching help from outside the organization, but the pickin’s are slim right now. “Oh, I’d be open to any external options, but they’re really hard to find this time of year,” said the GM. Not many teams are looking to trade in May thanks in part to the second wildcard spot.
Non-Masahiro Tanaka starters have a 4.95 ERA this season and I’m surprised it’s that low, to be honest. CC Sabathia (knee), Ivan Nova (elbow), and Michael Pineda (shoulder) are all on the disabled list and the Yankees will turn to converted reliever Chase Whitley on Thursday. They don’t need to add an ace, though that would be nice. Someone who goes at least five innings every fifth day with a 4.00 ERA would be a big upgrade right now.
When position players reported to Spring Training yesterday, the competition for the final bench spot officially got underway. We all know Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter will start if healthy, and earlier this week the Yankees and Joe Girardi declared Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson the starters at second and third base, respectively. The competition is for the backup infield spot alongside Brendan Ryan.
Needless to say, an infield built around Roberts and Johnson doesn’t inspire much confidence. The Yankees are said to be done signing Major League free agents, but even if they were open to signing another player, there aren’t many available who fit what they need. Stephen Drew is pretty much the only option at this point and they don’t have interest in him. They did earlier this winter, however. From Joel Sherman:
Early in the offseason, the Yankees – with so many holes to fill – used a strategy of making many offers at one time, letting agents know that with each signing, they would re-assess and pull some bids. The Yankees actually made Drew an offer at that time, believed to be for two or three years, when the shortstop was still looking to do considerably better – four or five years.
And, as it happened, the Yankees spent more than they anticipated on players such as Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Masahiro Tanaka and, at some point, rescinded the offer for Drew. And once Tanaka was signed and the $189 million dream was crushed, Hal Steinbrenner put a clamp on going any further. That means they are not bending for Drew, a decision they believe is made a tad easier because they were worried about the condition of his ankles and hips anyway.
The Yankees basically put a bunch of offers out there and said first come, first serve. The first player to say yes got the contract. Maybe that’s how they wound up with Jacoby Ellsbury instead of Shin-Soo Choo, who they offered seven years and $140M. Same thing with Matt Thornton over Javier Lopez, who they also had interest in. I’m not sure if they could have used the same strategy with Masahiro Tanaka and Brian McCann though. Whatever.
Anyway, Sherman goes on to say Scott Boras’ current asking price for Drew is a two-year contract with an opt-out after the first year. So it’s basically a one-year contract unless he has a really bad year, in which case you’re stuck with him for 2015 as well. The Yankees have already forfeited three top draft picks, so signing Drew would only cost money and a second round pick, which might turn into a supplemental first rounder if he opts out and rejects a qualifying offer next winter.
The Yankees do not want to pay that money and surrender the pick for Drew right now, but in all likelihood they’re going to have to pay for infield help at some point this year. If they don’t give up money and a pick for Drew now, they’ll have to surrender prospects (and probably take on salary) to trade for someone at midseason. Roberts is a huge health risk and the chances of Johnson getting exposed as an everyday player are high enough that an in-season trade feels like an inevitability. Heck, they might have to make a trade even if they sign Drew.
“There are areas of concerns and we’re going to keep plugging away, but we’ve got to see how big of a concern they are,” said Hal Steinbrenner to Bryan Hoch yesterday. “They’re not problems yet because we haven’t even started playing. They’re areas of concern; I get it. Every team has them and every team works through them. We’re going to do the same thing. We got pretty good at it last year, I thought.”
Of course, the problem with standing pat and waiting for a midseason trade is that the Yankees will play a ton of games with a weak infield. Signing Drew or making a trade now improves the team on Opening Day, not on July 31st or whenever. Considering how tight the race for a postseason spot figures to be, the longer New York waits to get infield help, the tougher their road to October will be. The Yankees don’t want to pay for infield help now and that’s fine, as long as they understand they’ll have to pay for it later if they want to have the best possible chance to contend.