The Athletics have acquired both Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Cubs, according to Ken Rosenthal. Top prospect Addison Russell is among those going to Chicago. The Yankees need pitching and both Samardzija and Hammel figured to be on their radar. Forget that now.
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.
For the fourth series in a row, the Yankees are playing a National League team. This time they’re on Chicago’s north side for two games against the Cubs. These clubs played two games at Yankee Stadium last month and the Yankees didn’t just win both games — the first game was rained out, so they played a doubleheader the next day — they shut the Cubs out both times. It was pretty great. Alfonso Soriano is returning to Wrigley Field for the first time since being traded back to New York last July, so it’ll be interesting to see the reception.
What Have They Done Lately?
The Lovable Losers took two of three from the Brewers over the weekend, winning both Saturday and Sunday. They dropped three straight and ten of 12 before that. The Cubs have lost 90+ games in each of the last three seasons and they are again terrible in 2014, coming into today with a 15-27 record and a -3 run differential. That is the very worst win-loss record in baseball despite a decidedly average run differential.
The Cubs average 3.95 runs per game and have a team 82 wRC+, so they are well-below-average offensively. They are missing two outfielders in OF Justin Ruggiano (80 wRC+) and OF Ryan Sweeney (36 wRC+), both of whom are on the 15-day DL with hamstring problems. Ruggiano started a minor league rehab assignment yesterday, so I suppose he could be activated at some point during this series. Sweeney is out long-term.
Rookie manager Rick Renteria has two above-average bats in his lineup in 1B Anthony Rizzo (134 wRC+) and SS Starlin Castro (126 wRC+). Rizzo has bunted to beat the shift several times this year, including once against the Yankees, so expect them to pull the third baseman a little closer to the line. Castro has rebounded quite well following a brutal 2013 season. IF Luis Valbuena (114 wRC+) plays just about everyday, either at second or third. OF Junior Lake (103 wRC+) has been solid in left field.
OF Emilio Bonifacio (89 wRC+) got off to a ridiculously hot start but has cooled down considerably. He leads the team with eleven steals and is their only serious threat to run. 3B Mike Olt (89 wRC+) has hit a bunch of homers (nine) but also has a .254 OBP and a 31.6% strikeout rate. C Welington Castillo (94 wRC+) has been good by catcher standards. Everyone else on the active roster — OF Nate Schierholtz (33 wRC+), OF Ryan Kalish (69 wRC+), UTIL Chris Coghlan (-6 wRC+), IF Darwin Barney (38 wRC+), and C John Baker (-46 wRC+) — has not hit at all.
The Yankees are in serious need of rotation help following the CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova injuries, and it just so happens two prime pieces of trade bait will be on the mound for the Cubs this series. They aren’t shy about being terrible for the sake of accumulating prospects with an eye towards a future that may never come. Consider this a chance to do some advance scouting.
Tuesday: RHP Masahiro Tanaka (vs. CHC) vs. RHP Jason Hammel (vs. NYY) (Pitcher GIFs)
Hammel, 31, took a one-year “I know you’re going to trade me but hey, money” contract from the Cubs over the winter and has a 3.06 ERA (3.36 FIP) in eight starts and 53 innings so far this season. His strikeout (7.30 K/9 and 21.2 K%), homer (0.85 HR/9 and 8.5% HR/FB), and ground ball (43.9%) rates are alright, his walk rate (2.04 BB/9 and 5.9 BB%) very good. Lefties (.303 wOBA) have hit him much harder than righties (.207 wOBA), and his still ridiculously low BABIP (.217) has recently started to correct. Hammel has been throwing his low-90s two-seamer way more than ever before this year while cutting back on his mid-to-upper-70s curveball. A hard low-to-mid-80s slider is now his top breaking ball. He also throws the occasional mid-80s changeup. Hammel held the Yankees to three runs in seven innings a few weeks ago.
It’s worth noting tonight’s game will be the first time Tanaka faces a team for the second time this season, so the element of surprise will theoretically be gone. He held them to two singles and a walk with ten strikeouts in eight scoreless innings last month, and I’m not sure the Cubs will be the best litmus test for how Tanaka will pitch the second time around the league because they aren’t a great offensive team.
Wednesday: RHP Chase Whitley (No vs. CHC) vs. RHP Jeff Samardzija (vs. NYY) (GIFs)
Some pitchers get undeservingly raised to ace status for some reason, and the 29-year-old Samardzija is one of those guys. He’s been excellent so far this year — 1.62 ERA (2.86 FIP) in nine starts and 61 innings, and prepare yourself for a lengthy discussion about his 0-4 record — but there’s also nothing in his track record as a starter to suggest his homer rate (0.30 HR/9 and 4.2% HR/FB) is close to sustainable. Samardzija’s strikeout rate (7.50 K/9 and 20.7 K%) has fallen off big time this year while his walk (2.80 BB/9 and 7.7 BB%) and ground ball (50.3%) numbers are right in line with the last two seasons. Like Hammel, he’s been getting knocked around by lefties (.308 wOBA) but not righties (.228 wOBA). I mean, don’t get me wrong, he’s very good. Let’s pump the breaks on the ace talk for a bit though. Samardzija sits in the low-to-mid-90s with his running two-seam fastball and a couple ticks lower with his cutter. A low-80s slider is his top offspeed pitch, and he’ll use a mid-80s splitter as a changeup. The Yankees did not see Samardzija in the Bronx earlier this year.
The Cubs are carrying eight relievers for the time being, presumably until Ruggiano is ready to come off the DL. Former Yankee RHP Jose Veras (10.03 FIP) just came off the DL himself and is being eased back into things right now. Renteria has been using RHP Hector Rondon (1.60 FIP) as his closer even though he’s stopped short of declaring him the guy. RHP Pedro Strop (4.65 FIP) and former Yankees property RHP Brian Schlitter (3.45 FIP) have been seeing most of the setup time. Schlitter never actually pitched for the Yankees; he was briefly with the team between waiver claims in 2011.
LHP Wesley Wright (3.46 FIP) and LHP James Russell (5.77 FIP) are Renteria’s two lefties, and both are specialists more than anything. RHP Justin Grimm (3.66 FIP) and RHP Neil Ramirez (1.89 FIP) fill out the rest of the bullpen. The Cubs were off yesterday, so their bullpen is nice and fresh. The same is true for the Yankees. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for details on the recent reliever usage, then check out Bleacher Nation for whatever you need to know about the Cubbies.
Today is the halfway point of Masahiro Tanaka’s 30-day negotiating window. He has 15 days left to work out a contract before the 5pm ET deadline on January 24th, and the entire deal must be complete by that time. Tanaka needs to pass a physical and sign on the dotted line by then. There won’t be any of this “agree to a deal and three weeks later it’s official” nonsense. Only 15 days until he is on some team’s roster. Love the hard deadline.
Anyway, we know the Yankees have already contacted with Tanaka’s agent Casey Close, but there haven’t been any real updates since. That doesn’t mean talks have stalled or anything like that, just that no updates have leaked. The whole process has been very tight-lipped, it seems. I’m guessing that’s by design. Here are some Tanaka-related notes from around the league in what I suspect is the first of many update posts:
- Tanaka flew to the Los Angeles yesterday to begin face-to-face meetings with teams. He is slated to meet with the Yankees, Diamondbacks, Cubs, White Sox, Dodgers, and Angels this week and he will also be seen by a doctor to get the physical process going. [David Waldstein, Bill Plunkett & Jon Heyman]
- D’Backs GM Kevin Towers said Close “pretty much asked those clubs that are involved that just less is better and not to really say anything or divulge the process or what’s happening.” That explains the lack of updates. [Steve Gilbert]
- Dodgers GM Ned Colletti confirmed he has touched base with Tanaka’s camp but the two sides are in the “feeling out” stage. Negotiations with various clubs are “still in a very preliminary phase” and things might not heat up until next week. [Dylan Hernandez & Andy Martino]
- If you missed it earlier this week, here is our massive Scouting The Market post on Tanaka. Pretty much everything you need to know about the guy is in there.
Via Chris Cotillo: The Cubs have claimed right-hander Brett Marshall off waivers from the Yankees. Chicago has since announced the move. Marshall, 23, had been designated for assignment last week to clear a 40-man roster spot for Carlos Beltran. He had a disappointing 5.13 ERA (4.62 FIP) in 138.2 innings for Triple-A Scranton in 2013, though he did make his big league debut over the summer. I ranked him as the team’s 13th best prospect prior to the season but his stock has dropped.
Via Mark Gonzales: The Cubs have “made it clear through channels” they are willing to top whatever contract offer the Yankees make Joe Girardi. George King says New York offered their manager a three-year deal worth north of $12M guaranteed with bonuses that could push the total value to $15M. It would make Girardi one of the highest paid managers in baseball and they’re still waiting for his response.
We heard the Cubs were willing to make a “serious contract offer” just last week, but Girardi’s contract doesn’t expire until October 31st and the Yankees are not giving him permission to negotiate with other teams in the meantime. In addition to increasing the risk of losing him, they would also be gift-wrapping Girardi some serious leverage by allowing him to talk to the Cubs or whoever else before his contract runs out. I’m going to stick with my original not-so-bold prediction that if he doesn’t re-sign with the Yankees before his contract expires, Girardi’s a goner.