Scouting the Trade Market: Tommy Joseph

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

If the Yankees are going to be buyers at the deadline, they’re more likely to go for a temporary replacement at first base rather than a long-term solution. Despite comments from an anonymous person in the front office, there’s still belief that Greg Bird can be the first baseman of the future.

Assuming the Yankees go that route, Domenic covered the options pretty well already. However, I’d like to throw out a name of a player that’s under long-term control and could fill the short-term need as well.

Phillies first baseman Tommy Joseph is in just his second MLB season and isn’t arbitration eligible until 2020. This isn’t a rental. But with first base prospect Rhys Hoskins knocking on the door of the major leagues, the team has made Joseph available.

Does he fit the Yankees? Let’s take a look:

Current performance

Joseph has been in the major leagues for nearly a year and a half now. He was called up last May. Initially, he was primarily a platoon bat alongside Ryan Howard. However, his early power earned him everyday playing time last summer before Howard surged in the second half.

This year, he has been the starting first baseman all season. He put together an abominable April (.179/.222./.254 in 19 games) before killing the ball in May to the tune of a .300/.373/.600 line with seven home runs. He’s hit well since then. In total, he’s hit .252/.313/.466 (102 wRC+), below the average first baseman’s line. Still, it’s better than anything out of a Yankees’ first baseman this season. For what it’s worth, he’s hitting .273/.339/.529 (125 wRC+) since May 1.

Diving further into his stats, Joseph has one significant tool: Power. 32 of his 74 hits have gone for extra bases, including 15 home runs. He hit 21 home runs in just 347 plate appearances last year. That power has been his calling card at every level. Through 670 MLB PAs, he has 36 home runs and 31 doubles to go with a .233 ISO.

He struggles to command the strike zone. His walk rate is up from 6.3 to 7.7 percent this year, but his strikeout rate also climbed from 21.6 to 23.5. Hoskins, who will likely take his job soon, has drawn plenty of walks in the minors, which Joseph never did.

Joseph, who turns 26 on July 16, was drafted by the Giants as a catcher, but concussions moved him out from behind the plate. He’s a well below-average first baseman. Better than Howard, but not by much. He makes the routine plays better than Chris Carter but his lack of range limits his ability to make any tough plays.

He’s also a negative on the base paths. His 25.7 ft/s sprint speed according to Statcast would make him the slowest player on the Yankees and he’s tied for third in baseball in double plays grounded into with 15, just two behind teammate Maikel Franco and Matt Kemp for first place. He often pulls the ball on the ground, though he hits the ball to all fields in the air. He’s still primarily a pull hitter, as you’ll see below.

(Baseball Savant)
(Baseball Savant)

He’s produced 0.2 bWAR (0.0 fWAR) this year after 0.5 bWAR (0.9fWAR) as part-time player last year. The Phillies have the third worst bWAR at first base, only one spot ahead of Yankees. That’s largely because of Joseph’s fielding and nearly zero production from the Phillies’ backups.

Contract and injury situation

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Joseph is very cheap when it comes to first base options on the market. He won’t be a free agent until 2023 and won’t make above the minimum until 2020. He’s been barely above replacement level thus far, but his contract gives him value, especially for a team that has received below replacement value at first this year. He still has options left as well.

As for injuries, Joseph has had a clean bill of health in the majors. His concussions issues have subsided in the last two years and that led to his resurgence as a prospect and, ultimately, his call-up to the majors. He’s been able to handle first base consistently without breaking down this season.

While he’s under control, the Phillies aren’t in a spot to demand much. Most teams don’t have a need for a no-glove first baseman with some power as most teams already have someone who at least fits that. The Yankees are one of a few teams that have an opening and could make sense.

Teams also know that the Phillies need to dispatch Joseph to give Hoskins an opportunity in the majors. Neither has the range to play the outfield and they’re both RHBs, so one has to go. Acquiring him shouldn’t cost too much more than a secondary or tertiary prospect or so.

Does he make sense for the Yankees?

Joseph would be an immediate improvement for the Yankees at first in the lineup, adding some power towards the end of the lineup. Realistically, he could do what Carter was expected to do. He’d make sense in a platoon with Ji-Man Choi for the time being as Joseph was solid in that role last season.

If you’re going to acquire a first baseman with this much control, you need to be certain that he fits into your long-term plans. And it doesn’t seem like he fits in New York beyond this season. In the case Bird comes back healthy, Joseph becomes a platoon bat at best. Expendable or optionable like he is for the Phillies at worst. If Bird isn’t healthy, the Yankees would likely acquire a veteran free agent to start in his place.

Joseph could be a serviceable placeholder with the requisite power to play first. The 25-year-old is not someone to acquire for significant assets, but he’s a useful depth piece in the short term. If the Yankees are intrigued by Pat Neshek, a package deal could work. Ultimately though, it’s tough to see where Joseph gets playing time beyond 2017 in New York.

Scouting the Trade Market: Miami Marlins relievers

Ramos. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
Ramos. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

Due to recent events, the bullpen is going to be a hot topic between now and the July 31st trade deadline. The Yankees have lost far too many games at the hands of the bullpen the last few weeks, and as long as they’re in the postseason race, they’re going to look for ways to improve the roster. They could call some youngsters up. They could also look outside the organization. Odds are they’ll do both.

The Marlins are far out of a postseason spot and expected to sell before the trade deadline, making them a potential trade partner. They shipped Adeiny Hechavarria to the Rays a week or two ago, so yeah, the Marlins are open for business. In fact, they’re said to be scouting the Yankees’ farm system. Miami figures to market some of their pricier bullpen pieces before the deadline, and perhaps one or two of them are a match for the Yankees. Let’s take a look.

RHP Kyle Barraclough

Background: The 27-year-old Barraclough went from the Cardinals to the Marlins in the Steve Cishek trade three years ago. So far this season he has a 3.54 ERA (3.89 FIP) with 24.5% strikeouts and 14.7% walks in 40.2 innings. In parts of three MLB seasons Barraclough has thrown 137.2 innings with an 3.01 ERA (2.87 FIP). He’s settled in as a setup man for the Marlins.

The Stuff: Barraclough is a two-pitch reliever with a mid-90s fastball and a hard upper-80s slider. He has pretty consistently thrown 55% fastballs and 45% sliders as a big leaguer. Pretty straightforward guy. Barraclough gets ahead with the heater and tries to put hitters away with the slider.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Barraclough misses a ton of bats. A ton. Last year only Dellin Betances (126) and Andrew Miller (123) had more strikeouts among full-time relievers than Barraclough (113). That career 32.0% strikeout rate is no accident. Barraclough’s slider is a legit put-away pitch, and relievers who can make hitters swing and miss are the backbone of any successful bullpen. The pitch is so good he has a small platoon split (career .275 wOBA vs. .258 wOBA in favor of lefties). Also, Barraclough won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2021 season, so he’d be a long-term buy. (At least as long-term as any 27-year-old slider happy reliever can be.)

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? With those strikeouts come a lot of walks. Barraclough’s career walk rate is 15.1% and it’s been high throughout his career, even in the minors, so this is just who he is. You can survive as a late-inning reliever with command issues (see: Betances, Dellin) though no one like free baserunners in the late innings of a close game. Also, Barraclough’s strikeout rate has dropped from 36.9% last year to 24.5% this year, which is a red flag. Lots of walks and fewer strikeouts generally isn’t a good combination.

RHP David Phelps

Background: Phelpsie! The Yankees traded Phelps to the Marlins three years ago, and initially he continued to do the swingman thing, then last season he moved into a full-time short relief role. The 30-year-old Phelps has a 3.68 ERA (3.53 FIP) with 26.4% strikeouts and 8.8% walks in 44 innings this year. In three years with the Marlins he has a 3.98 ERA (3.83 FIP) in 131 innings as a starter and a 3.06 ERA (3.11 FIP) in 111.2 innings as a reliever.

The Stuff: As a true one-inning short reliever, Phelps will average right around 95 mph with his two and four-seam fastballs and 91 mph with his cutter. He’s shelved his changeup entirely out of the bullpen and instead uses a low-80s curveball as his top secondary pitch. So it’s four distinct pitches out of the bullpen. A straight four-seamer, a running two-seamer, a cutter, and a curveball.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Phelps has found a home in short relief. He was okay as a swingman all those years, but when he can air it out for an inning or two at the time, Phelps can miss bats and be a weapon in the late innings. Plus he’d remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2018. It doesn’t hurt that he’s played for the Yankees before, so he knows the ropes.  You always wonder how guys are going to react when they first come to New York and all that. There’s no such worries with Phelps.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? There aren’t many reasons, really. Phelps still walks a few more guys than you like — how he got a reputation for being a strike-thrower with the Yankees, I’ll never know — and that’s about it. It is worth noting he’s not cheap. Phelps will earn $4.6M this season and probably something close to $7M next season, his final year of arbitration-eligibility before qualifying for free agency.

A.J. Ramos

Background: Ramos, 30, took over as Miami’s closer back in 2015. He has a 3.51 ERA (3.60 FIP) with 29.6% strikeouts and 12.7% walks in 33.1 innings this year, making this his worst season since breaking into the big leagues for good in 2013. His career numbers are much more impressive: 2.75 ERA (3.19 FIP) with 27.8% strikeouts and 12.6% walks in 321 innings.

The Stuff: Ramos is a three-pitch reliever with mid-90s fastball, a mid-80s changeup, and a low-80s slider. The slider is his go-to secondary pitch. Ramos will also cut and sink his fastball on occasion, and he even throws a curveball once in a while. He’s primarily a fastball-changeup-slider guy but there are more tools in the shed.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? Among Miami’s relievers, Ramos has the longest track record of missing bats, and only veteran sidewinder Brad Ziegler has more experience in the late innings. He’s been pitching high-leverage innings for a few years now and he’s shown he can handle them thanks to three pretty good pitches and the ability to keep the ball away from the fat part of the bat. Also, Ramos will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2018, so he’s not a rental.

Why Should The Stay Away? The walk rate (career 12.6%) and general lack of ground balls (career 39.5%) are pretty scary, even though Ramos has not been home run prone in his career to date (0.48 HR/9). Still, walks plus fly balls is a less than ideal combination in Yankee Stadium. Also, Ramos is making $6.55M this year and could pull down upwards of $9M next season through arbitration. That’s what 89 career saves (and counting) will do for you. That’s pretty darn expensive. It’s not crazy to think Ramos might be a non-tender candidate after the season, so maybe he is a rental after all.

RHP Junichi Tazawa

Background: The Marlins gave the 31-year-old Tazawa a two-year deal worth $12M this past offseason, and so far he has a 5.87 ERA (5.97 FIP) with 18.4% strikeouts and 11.2% walks in 23 innings. That one isn’t working out too well. He’s been relegated to mop up duty the last few weeks.

The Stuff: All things considered, Tazawa’s stuff is relatively unchanged from the last few years. He’s still low-to-mid-90s with his fastball and upper-80s with his splitter, and he also throws a mid-70s curve.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? History suggests Tazawa is not actually this bad. He dealt with a rib injury earlier this season and that certainly could have negatively affected his performance. Tazawa is a buy low bounceback candidate, basically. Just last year he had a 4.17 ERA (4.23 FIP) with 26.0% strikeouts and 6.7% walks. That’s … better. Plus he knows the AL East from his time with the Red Sox.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? A lot of reasons, really. For starters, his performance has been terrible this year, and we can’t ignore that. His strikeouts are down and his walks are up, and hitters are squaring him up more than they have in the past. There’s also $7M left on his contract for next season, so he’s not cheap (by middle reliever standards) either. There is something to be said for buying low on a guy. I think steering clear of a reliever with a 4.45 ERA in 131.1 innings over the last three years is a pretty good idea no matter what the peripherals and track record say, and that goes double for dudes with a decent chunk of change coming their way.

RHP Nick Wittgren

Background: Wittgren, 26, is probably the guy you’ve never heard of in the Marlins bullpen. He has a 3.62 ERA (3.31 FIP) with 26.3% strikeouts and 4.6% walks in 37.1 innings this year, and that’s after a 3.14 ERA (3.67 FIP) with 19.7% strikeouts and 4.7% walks in 51.2 innings last year. The Marlins have themselves a nice little cheap, homegrown middle reliever.

The Stuff: The right-handed Wittgren is low-to-mid-90s with his fastball and he backs it up with a mid-80s changeup and a breaking ball right around 80 mph that sometimes looks like a slider and sometimes looks like a curveball. He throws both secondary pitches pretty regularly, so he is a true-three pitch reliever.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? I dunno, Wittgren is reasonably effective and he’s young and cheap with minor league options remaining, which makes him a decent depth piece in my opinion. He’s also shown improvement from last year to this year, namely in his strikeout rate. I don’t think Wittgren will one day be a shutdown high-leverage reliever or anything like that. Can he get outs in the sixth inning though? Sure, and the Yankees need a guy like that.

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? The biggest concern with Wittgren is his propensity to give up fly balls (career 36.5% grounders) and home runs (career 1.11 HR/9). He won’t beat himself with walks and he can miss enough bats to escape jams, so the home run risk is mitigated somewhat. Is another unspectacular reliever the solution to the Yankees’ bullpen woes? I mean, sure, it’s possible, but I don’t think Wittgren moves the needle a whole bunch.

RHP Brad Ziegler

Background: Miami tried to strengthen their bullpen with Tazawa and Ziegler over the winter and it hasn’t worked. Ziegler received two years and $16M and has a 6.52 ERA (4.29 FIP) with 12.3% strikeouts and 9.4% walks in 29 innings. He is still getting a ton of ground balls (64.6%), which has always been the Ziegler trademark. He’s a funky sidewinder who keeps the ball on the ground.

The Stuff: From that funky arm slot comes a low-to-mid-80s sinker, a mid-70s changeup, and a low-70s slider. Ziegler is the rare submarine pitcher with a changeup. The velocity seems alarming but that’s who he is. Ziegler’s been a mid-80s sinker guy for years. The deception and arm angle make it work.

Why Should The Yankees Want Him? As with Tazawa, Ziegler is a buy low bounceback candidate, though we don’t have to look back too far to see the last time Ziegler was very good. Just last season he had a 2.25 ERA (3.10 FIP) with 20.1% strikeouts, 9.0% walks, and 63.3% grounders in 68 innings for the Diamondbacks and Red Sox. Ziegler has been pitching in late-inning roles for a long time and he’s comfortable in any role. He’ll set up, close, middle relieve, whatever. Basically, any team looking at Ziegler is thinking his .382 BABIP won’t last and I want him on my roster when the correction comes. (Career .288 BABIP.)

Why Should The Yankees Stay Away? At 37 years old (38 in October), it’s entirely possible Ziegler has reached the point of no return and this is who he is now. The BABIP is way up and the strikeouts are way down, from 20.1% last year to 12.3% this year — to be fair, he had a 13.7% strikeout rate with a 1.85 ERA (3.44 FIP) in 2015 — and his walk rate keeps trending up. Ziegler’s margin for error seems to be shrinking. And he’s got $9M coming to him next season, which isn’t great.

* * *

Given the way the Marlins operate, my guess is they would love to unload their pricey relievers (Ramos, Ziegler, Phelps, Tazawa) and keep the cheap guys in their pre-arbitration years (Barraclough, Wittgren). Well, I guess every team would like to do that, right? The Marlins aren’t so unique in that regard.

I am kinda sorta intrigued by Ziegler as a buy low candidate. Phelps and Ramos are the headliners here though. They’re performing well and they come with an extra year of team control, even if it will be on the expensive side. The Yankees have reportedly contacted the Marlins about both guys already and that in no way surprises me. They’re going to call on every available reliever between now and the trade deadline out of due diligence.

Scouting the Trade Market: First Basemen

Lucas Duda. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Lucas Duda. (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

On the off-chance that Ji-Man Choi is not a true-talent 216 wRC+ hitter, the Yankees are going to need a first baseman to solidify and stabilize both the lineup and the infield defense. Chris Carter played himself into a second DFA, Greg Bird may require surgery on his balky right ankle, and none of the team’s internal options seem befitting of a team with playoff aspirations.

All of that put together, assuming the Yankees do not continue to struggle into the waning days of July, should make them something of a buyer as the trade deadline approaches. The question then becomes a simple matter of who is available, and at what cost?

The simplest way to hazard a guess at the marketplace is to see what rentals are available (meaning who will be a free agent at season’s end). As per MLB Trade Rumors, that group is mildly enticing:

  • Yonder Alonso, Oakland A’s
  • Pedro Alvarez, Baltimore Orioles
  • Lucas Duda, New York Mets
  • Todd Frazier, Chicago White Sox
  • Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals
  • John Jaso, Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Adam Lind, Washington Nationals
  • Mitch Moreland, Boston Red Sox
  • Logan Morrison, Tampa Bay Rays
  • Mike Napoli, Texas Rangers
  • Mark Reynolds, Colorado Rockies
  • Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
  • Danny Valencia, Seattle Mariners

There are several names that can be ruled out immediately – Alvarez (trading within the division for a player reminiscent of Chris Carter), Lind (the Nationals aren’t selling), Moreland (the Red Sox aren’t selling), Morrison (trading within the division for someone that needlessly bashed Gary Sanchez), Reynolds (the Rockies aren’t selling), and Santana (the Indians aren’t sellers) are unlikely to pop-up on the Yankees radar for various reasons. Napoli is an unlikely target, as well, given that he may be the worst first baseman in the game this year, with a 77 wRC+ and -0.6 fWAR. That leaves us with:

Yonder Alonso

Alonso has been one of the best stories of this half-season, serving as a standard bearer for the flyball revolution (or the juiced ball, whichever point of view you prefer). He is currently slashing .280/.375/.568 with 19 HR in 280 PA, good for a 150 wRC+. There have been some signs of regression, though, as Alonso hit .267/.353/.433 with just 3 HR (114 wRC+) and an elevated strikeout rate in June. He’s also struggled with some nagging injuries, which has been the case on an almost year-to-year basis.

I’d be a bit weary of Alonso, due to how inflated his numbers are by his incredible May. A team might be willing to pay for his line on the season, rolling the dice that he’s broken out after years of mediocrity, and the A’s are sure to shop him aggressively.

Lucas Duda

The Yankees have not made many deals with the Mets, but it does happen on occasion – and there could be a definite match here, as the teams trend in different directions. Duda finally seems to be healthy, and he’s batting .249/.359/.548 with 14 home runs and a 137 wRC+ in 231 PA. He has a 123 wRC+ for his career, and he posted a 134 wRC+ between 2014 and 2015, so this isn’t a complete outlier. Duda may not hit for average, but he takes plenty of walks (11.5% for his career) and hits for power (.211 ISO).

As a result of this, Duda is likely the best hitter of this group, when healthy. That caveat bears repeating, but he feels like the safest bet to be a middle of the order thumper.

Todd Frazier

Frazier is a solid defensive third-baseman, so this is cheating a bit – but he has played a few games at first this year, and 94 in his career. He’s batting .215/.332/.450 with 16 HR (107 wRC+), but that is weighed-down by his early struggles. Frazier raked in June, with 8 HR and a 144 wRC+ in 109 PA, and he has hit for power throughout his career. His month-to-month inconsistencies, however, have followed him for several years now.

That being said, Frazier is an interesting target, if only because of his positional versatility. If Bird manages to get healthy or another internal option rears his head, Frazier could shift across the diamond and relieve Headley of everyday duty. He’s a feast or famine type, but the famine isn’t as bad some other options.

Eric Hosmer

I struggled with including Hosmer here, as the Royals aren’t all that far from contention. He’s in the midst of a bounceback season (he’s always better in odd-numbered years), with a .313/.371/.484 slash line (126 wRC+) in 348 PA, and he’s been a key to the team’s turnaround. The Royals have several key players coming up on free agency this off-season, though, so they may be inclined to cash-in now, instead of chasing a wild card berth and little else.

Hosmer is the youngest option here, at 27-years-old, and might be the least obtainable player in this group. There’s probably a team out there that would swing a deal for him with an eye towards re-signing him, and that’s unlikely to be the Yankees.

John Jaso

Jaso is strictly a platoon player at this point, with only 69 PA against LHP since the beginning of 2015. He has done fairly well in that role, though, with a 119 wRC+ against righties in that stretch (108 in 2017). Jaso is hitting .250/.326/.459 with 7 HR (107 wRC+) in 193 PA on the season, spending time at first and in both outfield corners.

If I had to handicap this group, I would bet that Jaso is the most available and most easily attainable player. He’s also the most uninspiring, though, as someone that only partially fills the need at first.

Danny Valencia

I nearly left Valencia out due to his character issues, but that hasn’t necessarily dissuaded the Yankees lately. The 32-year-old journeyman (he has played for seven teams since the beginning of 2012) is batting .272/.335/.412 with 8 HR (104 wRC+) in 310 PA, as he adjusts to being a full-time first baseman for the first time in his career. Those numbers are a bit skewed, though – he had a 53 wRC+ in April, but a 122 wRC+ since. And that 122 wRC+ is essentially the happy medium between his 2015 and 2016 seasons.

Valencia offers some positional flexibility, having spent time at first, third, and both corner outfield spots. His defense isn’t particularly strong at any position, though. I do like Valencia’s bat, but I do worry that his bouncing around the majors and last year’s fight with Billy Butler may be indicative of a somewhat toxic presence.


Each and every one of these guys likely represents an upgrade over Choi, though I wouldn’t be terribly enthusiastic about bringing Jaso or Valencia on-board. Jaso would need to be leveraged as a platoon bat in order to extract the most value, and Choi’s production at Triple-A, age, and five years of team control may just merit being afforded that same opportunity. And, as much as I try to avoid harping on unquantifiable concerns, Valencia’s history is disconcerting for such a young team.

That leaves us with Alonso, Duda, Frazier, and Hosmer. I won’t hazard any trade proposals, as mine would almost certainly suck, but I would be most interested in Duda, Hosmer, Alonso, and Frazier, in that order. And, depending upon the cost, I think that all four are worth kicking the tires on.

Scouting the Trade Market: Pat Neshek

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

At the moment, the single biggest issue facing the 2017 Yankees is their bullpen, specifically the middle relief. Adam Warren is currently on the disabled list, and both Tyler Clippard and Jonathan Holder have been ineffective the last few weeks. Chad Green is the third option in the bullpen right now, and while I like Chad Green, the Yankees clearly need more help. The bullpen as is won’t cut it.

If the Yankees do decide to go outside the organization for bullpen help — they could also call up some of their starting pitching prospects and use them in relief — one veteran reliever who will undoubtedly be available at the trade deadline is Phillies setup man Pat Neshek. The Phillies are terrible and Neshek is an impending free agent. He’s getting traded at some point. No doubt about it. He’s not the sexiest name, no, but let’s see if he’s a fit for the Yankees.

Current Performance

Neshek is no spring chicken. He’ll be 37 in September and this is his 11th MLB season. He’s a known quantity. Here are his numbers the last three seasons.

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9
2015 54.2 3.62 3.94 22.9% 5.4% 32.0% 1.32
2016 47 3.06 3.68 23.2% 6.0% 33.3% 1.15
2017 30.2 0.59 2.07 26.4% 3.6% 37.0% 0.29

Neshek was rock solid with the Astros from 2015-16, and he’s been out of this world with the Phillies this season. It’s pretty obvious what’s going on though, right? He’s stopped giving up home runs this season without getting significantly more ground balls. Hmm. Neshek went from 10.9% HR/FB rate from 2015-16 to a 3.0% HR/FB this year. HMMM.

This isn’t a new man. This is the same ol’ Pat Neshek who just so happens to be on a run of good fortune when it comes to keeping the ball in the park. There’s no reason to expect that to continue though. Not with the way balls are flying over the fence this season. The Phillies might want to consider trading him before the home run correction comes and sinks his trade value.

I think any team looking at Neshek as a trade target has to go into it expecting to get the 1.0+ HR/9 guy because that’s who he’s been his entire career. And if you get the 0.3 HR/9 and sub-1.00 ERA guy, great! Another Neshek issue is his platoon split. He’s got a funky low arm slot and lefties see the ball out of his hand rather well. Since the start of the 2015 season:

AVG/OBP/SLG wOBA K% BB% GB% HR/9
vs. RHB .197/.235/.322 .237 24.2% 4.2% 36.1% 0.93
vs. LHB .230/.295/.443 .306 22.9% 6.9% 28.8% 1.19

Neshek isn’t awful against lefties, though he is clearly better against righties, which isn’t surprising considering his arm slot. That .213 ISO allowed to lefties is scary, especially since he would be moving into Yankee Stadium should the Yankees pick him up. The Yankees would almost have his treat him as a true right-on-right matchup guy, not a full one-inning reliever.

One thing that’s worth noting is Neshek’s usage restrictions. Apparently he only likes to work one inning at a time, and would prefer not to enter in the middle of an inning, then warm back up for a second inning. Both Neshek and Phillies manager Pete Mackanin downplayed those usage restrictions, but as Corey Seidman wrote, they’re starting to become a bit of a headache. Huh.

Current Stuff

From that low arm slot come two pitches:  a low-90s two-seam fastball and a low-80s slider. Neshek also has a soft, almost cartoonish upper-60s changeup, but he rarely throws it. Everything this year looks like it has the last few years. Velocity, movement, whiff and ground ball rates, the works. Neshek’s stuff is he same as it ever was. Here’s the best recent compilation video I could dig up:

That funky delivery combined with two good pitches makes Neshek effective. It’s easy to see why he’s been death on right-handed batters too. It can’t be fun seeing the ball come out of that arm slot.

Injury History

Neshek had Tommy John surgery way back in 2008, plus he had a finger issue in May 2010. Otherwise he’s been completely healthy in his career. Kinda amazing a dude at that age and with that delivery can pitch for so long without any serious arm problems since Tommy John surgery nearly a decade ago.

Contract Status

Three years ago the Astros signed Neshek to a two-year deal worth $12.5M. This is the club option year of that contract. He’ll earn $6.5M total this season before becoming a free agent this winter. Not that he would receive one anyway, but Neshek wouldn’t be eligible for the qualifying offer after the season. Only players who remain with their team all season can receive the qualifying offer. This section was unnecessarily long.

What Will It Take?

The Phillies did well to pick Neshek up in a salary dump trade over the winter. They’re now poised to flip him for a prospect(s) even though veteran non-elite relievers due to become free agents usually don’t fetch much in a trade. Three recent deals stand out as benchmarks for a potential Neshek trade:

  • Joe Smith: Traded for a fringe top 30 organizational prospect (Jesus Castillo).
  • Joakim Soria: Traded for a top 15 organizational prospect (JaCoby Jones).
  • Brad Ziegler: Traded for two fringe top 30 organizational prospects (Jose Almonte and Luis Alejandro Basabe).

The Ziegler trade seems most relevant to me, and not only because he and Neshek use funky arm slots. Both Smith and Soria had some nagging injury issues the year they were traded, plus there were signs of decline in their game. Ziegler had no such issues. He was perfectly healthy and pitching as well as ever. The same applies to Neshek now.

Even after graduating several players to the big leagues the last few weeks, the Yankees have a deep farm system, and trading two fringy top 30 prospects for an immediate bullpen upgrade seems like a no-brainer. An equivalent package to the Ziegler deal would be something like, say, Trey Amburgey and Stephen Tarpley, or Abi Avelino and Erik Swanson. The Yankees have a ton of those dudes to peddle.

Will the Phillies get a better offer? Ken Rosenthal recently reported the Nationals have interest in Neshek, and they’re a World Series contender with major bullpen problems. Their desperation could get them to up the ante. Jim Salisbury says the Phillies have a standing offer for Neshek from an unknown team. We don’t know what that offer is, but the fact the Phillies haven’t accepted it yet tells us they think they can do better.

In a vacuum, it seems the cost to acquire Neshek should be pretty low. In the real world, other teams will be competing for him, including several World Series hopefuls who figure to put their best foot forward. That doesn’t mean it’ll eventually take a top prospect to acquire Neshek (or maybe it does). It could mean getting him for two lower level lottery tickets is a pipe dream, however.

So Is He A Fit?

Yes, definitely. Even with the platoon concerns and his apparent disinterest in going multiple innings. The Yankees don’t need Neshek to be a late-inning guy or a high-leverage guy. They need him to be better than Holder and Clippard are right now, and based on his track record, Neshek can do that. I have no illusions of him maintaining his current performance all year. The 2016 version of Neshek would be an upgrade for the Yankees.

Because the Phillies are so bad, this seems like something that could get done soon. Make a good offer and Philadelphia will probably take it rather than wait a few weeks and hope Neshek somehow ups his value. They could try to start a bidding war, and they might succeed, but how much more would they realistically get anyway? Neshek is no savior. He’s an affordable and useful piece for the middle innings, and the Yankees need all the bullpen help they can get at the moment. That’s it.

Scouting the Trade Market: Gerrit Cole

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

One thing has become abundantly clear the last few weeks: the Yankees need pitching. All types. Starters, relievers, lefties, righties, the whole nine. Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery look like long-term keepers, though the remainder of the rotation is up in the air. CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda will be free agents after the season, and who knows what’ll happen with Masahiro Tanaka‘s opt-out.

The Yankees have the flexibility to fill out their rotation in multiple ways. Enough money is coming off the books after this season that they could sign a free agent or two. They also have the prospects to promote from within and/or make a trade. Brian Cashman and his staff will explore every avenue. That’s what they do. If a high-end starter with long-term control becomes available, they’ll get involved. I’m sure of it.

One such starter who may be made available at the deadline — but not definitely — is Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole, who the Yankees drafted in the first round in 2008. Cole didn’t sign, went to UCLA for three years, then came out as the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft. You know the story. That won’t stop the Yankees from pursuing Cole in a trade. There’s not enough quality pitching out there to hold grudges. Let’s break down Cole as a trade target.

The Performance

Somehow this is already Cole’s fifth season in the big leagues. He made his MLB debut in June 2013 and he has been in Pittsburgh’s rotation ever since. Here are his numbers over the years, real quick:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2013 117.1 3.22 2.91 21.3% 6.0% 49.1% 0.54 .294 .275
2014 138 3.65 3.23 24.2% 7.0% 49.2% 0.72 .294 .326
2015 208 2.60 2.66 24.3% 5.3% 48.0% 0.48 .283 .266
2016 116 3.88 3.33 19.4% 7.1% 45.6% 0.54 .285 .371
2017 96.1 4.11 4.57 19.7% 6.0% 46.7% 1.59 .285 .367

Two things immediately stand out. Well, three things, really. One, Cole is in the middle of his worst big league season, both in terms of ERA and FIP. Two, he’s been very home run prone this year. I mean, every pitcher has been home run prone, but Cole especially so. He’s allowed one additional homer per nine innings pitched compared to the last few seasons.

And three, left-handed batters have really hit Cole hard since the start of 2016. He’s still the same ol’ Gerrit Cole against righties, but after performing very well against lefties from 2013-15, Cole hasn’t been able to keep them in check since the start of last season. I’m sure the home runs have something to do with that — again, everyone is giving up more homers these days — but it’s still a red flag. Here’s the batted ball data against lefties, via FanGraphs:

gerrit-cole-vs-lhb

So yeah, home runs have definitely been a problem. Nearly one-quarter of all fly balls Cole has given up to lefties have left the yard this season. That’s insane. Lefties aren’t getting the ball in the air that much more often against Cole, but they are pulling the ball and make hard contact more often. That makes sense. Most hitters have their most power when they pull the ball.

Cole has already allowed 12 home runs — 12! — to left-handed batters this season. He allowed 16 total from 2013-16. Hit Tracker data says only five of those 12 home runs were “Just Enoughs,” meaning the ball cleared the fence by fewer than ten vertical feet. Those barely got over the fence. The other seven qualifies as “No Doubt” and “Plenty,” meaning they were bombs. Not cheap home runs. Hmmm.

If you’re reading this, you know a right-handed pitcher who has trouble keeping left-handed batters in the park is bad news in Yankee Stadium. The short right field porch is only going to exacerbate that home run problem. Is this fixable? Or is this who Cole is now? That’s something the Yankees will have to consider before pursuing a trade.

The Stuff

Cole has five distinct pitches, but he is more of a four-and-a-half pitch pitcher than a true five-pitch pitcher. His curveball is basically a get-me-over pitch he’ll use to steal a strike now and then. It’s not a put-away pitch like his slider and changeup. And his fastball, for that matter. Here are the average velocities, via Brooks Baseball:

gerrit-cole-velocity

Yep. Cole throws hard. We knew that already. His four-seamer and sinker are both consistently over 95 mph — he’s topped out at 100.2 mph with the four-seamer and 99.7 mph with the sinker this season — while the slider and changeup are both a touch shy of 90 mph. Cole is Severino, basically. Everything he throws is hard. A power pitcher all the way.

Reading about pitches and seeing them in action are two very different things, so here’s some video:

Because of the issues with left-handed hitters the last two years, it’s worth digging a little deeper here. PitchFX and Trackman data shows Cole is throwing fewer four-seam fastballs to lefties this year and more of everything else. Cole may have changed his pitch selection a bit after last season, or this could be sample size noise. If he did change his pitch selection against lefties intentionally, it’s not really working. They’re taking him deep on the regular this year.

Here are the swing-and-miss rates by lefties against Cole’s various pitches, via Brooks Baseball:

gerrit-cole-whiff-vs-lhb

Just about everything is down from where it was from 2013-15, the years Cole more than held his own against lefties. The curveball is way down, though he has only thrown 91 curveballs to lefties this season. That’s not much. Then again, he threw 91 curves to lefties all of last season. He is throwing that pitch more often to batters on the other side of the plate and they are not swinging and missing much at all.

The changeup and slider are the important pitches here. Especially the changeup, though Cole will also back foot his slider to lefties. The slider is still getting plenty of empty swings relative to previous years. The changeup? Not so much. Only two of those 12 home runs by lefties have come against the changeup, but if the pitch is not on par with previous years, hitters don’t have to worry about it as much. It has an effect on Cole’s entire arsenal.

Something has gone awry here. Cole’s stuff is relatively unchanged, yet he’s been unable to keep left-handed batters in check since the start of last season. Just about all 12 of the home runs he’s allowed to lefties this year have come on pitches right out over the plate (via Baseball Savant) …

gerrit-cole-home-run-locations

… so obviously location is an issue. Tanaka has given up a ton of dingers this season. Why? Because he’s left too many pitches out over the plate. That’s the easy part. Why has he left more pitches out over the plate? In Tanaka’s case, we can see his slider and splitter haven’t been breaking as much as usual. I haven’t watch Cole as closely as I’ve watched Tanaka the last few seasons. I don’t know if he’s simply missing his spots, or if his pitches are backing up.

I suppose the important thing here is that Cole is still throwing hard and he’s still using his his four-and-a-half pitches. When the velocity starts to slip or a guy starts to stay away from one pitch entirely, it’s a big red flag. That hasn’t happened with Cole. His issues with left-handed hitters are very real, especially his home run problems. As long as Cole’s stuff is still there, there’s reason to hope those issues can be fixed.

Injury History

Cole, who will turn 27 in September, has been on the disabled list twice in his career, and both stints came last season. He missed a month with a biceps strain, then his season ended in late-August with elbow inflammation. The Pirates were out of the race and they decided to play it safe, and shut their ace down completely. Cole healed up over the winter and had a normal Spring Training, and his elbow has been fine since.

The fact Cole had two arm injuries as recently as last season is sorta scary, and that could also explain the issues with lefties last season. If his arm was aching, he might not have had the same finish on his pitches. That, of course, wouldn’t explain his problems with lefties this season, assuming his arm is not hurt now. Point is, Cole had been perfectly healthy up until last season, when his biceps and later his elbow started barking.

Contract Situation

This is Cole’s first season of arbitration eligibility. He will earn $3.75M this year and remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2018 and 2019, so he’s a two-and-a-half year pickup. Trade for Cole at this year’s trade deadline and you get him for three postseason runs and two full seasons. That’s not super long-term control, but he’s not a rental either.

It is worth noting Cole is a devoted Scott Boras client and union guy, which means he is expected to chase down every last dollar when free agency comes during the 2019-20 offseason. That doesn’t necessarily mean he wouldn’t re-sign with the Yankees (or whoever trades for him) when the time comes. It just means they shouldn’t expect a discount. They’ll have to outbid everyone else.

(Also, Cole has all three minor league options remaining, though that means nothing. You’re not trading for this guy with the idea of sending him to the minors at some point. The options are close to meaningless.)

What Will It Take?

(Joe Sargent/Getty)
(Joe Sargent/Getty)

Plenty of high-end starting pitchers have been traded over the years, though not many have been traded at the deadline, and with two-and-a-half years of team control remaining. Most trades involving big time pitchers take place in the offseason. That leaves us very short on trade benchmarks. Here are some pitchers who were recently traded with two or three years of team control remaining:

  • Chris Sale (three years of control): Traded for a top five global prospect (Yoan Moncada), a top 25 global prospect (Michael Kopech), a top ten organizational prospect (Luis Alexander Basabe), and a top 30 organizational prospect (Victor Diaz).
  • Wade Miley (three years of control): Traded for a preseason top 50-100 global prospect (Allen Webster), a reclamation project former top 100 prospect (Rubby De La Rosa), and a organizational non-top 30 prospect (Raymel Flores).
  • Wade Miley (two years of control): Traded with an organizational top 30 prospect (Jonathan Aro) for a high-leverage MLB reliever with five years of control (Carson Smith) and a depth arm (Roenis Elias).
  • Nathan Eovaldi (two years of control): Traded with an organizational top ten prospect (Domingo German) and an MLB bench player (Garrett Jones) for an everyday MLB player (Martin Prado) and an MLB swingman (David Phelps).
  • Drew Smyly (two years of control): Traded for an organizational top ten prospect (Mallex Smith), an organizational top 30 prospect (Ryan Yarborough), and an organizational non-top 30 prospect (Carlos Vargas).

Yeah. I don’t think any of those trades help us figure out what it’ll cost to get Cole. The Pirates will push for a Sale package, no doubt, but that’s not happening. Sale is much better than Cole, has no injury history, and he came with three full seasons of control, not two-and-a-half.

Both Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi recently reported the Pirates have no plans to tear things down and start a rebuild, making it unlikely they will trade Cole. They will, however, listen to offers. It never hurts to listen. Cole’s value is down at the moment — like I said, this is his worst MLB season — and while the idea of buying low sounds wonderful, I doubt the Pirates move him for pennies on the dollar.

This is what I think will happen: the Pirates will market Cole as an ace because he performed like one in the not-too-distant past, and they’ll seek multiple top prospects. Their ideal package probably includes two top prospects plus two nice secondary pieces. Can they get that? Hey, who knows. It only takes one team to say yes. Last year’s injury issues and this year’s homeritis will give teams pause. No doubt.

I don’t think it would be unreasonable for the Pirates to ask for Gleyber Torres in a Cole trade, and of course the Yankees will say no, even after his Tommy John surgery. A case can be made the three best non-Torres prospects in the farm system are outfielders: Clint Frazier, Blake Rutherford, and Dustin Fowler. The Pirates don’t need outfielders. They have Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco signed long-term, and they’re trying to trade Andrew McCutchen to open a spot for their Austin Meadows, their own top outfield prospect.

That said, when you trade a guy like Cole, the focus should be on getting as much talent as possible, not filling specific needs. If an outfielder is the best prospect they’re offered, they should take him, and figure out the rest later. The Yankees might have to build a package around Frazier, a strong secondary piece like Fowler or Chance Adams, plus two other players. Maybe an organizational 10-20 prospect (Domingo German? Dillon Tate?) and a 20-30 prospect (Josh Rogers? Zack Littell?). I’m spitballin’ here.

Does He Make Sense?

It depends on two things. One, the cost. Of course. The Pirates may market Cole as an ace but he is not an ace right now. Not with the way he’s performing and not with the way he’s been unable to neutralize lefties and keep balls in the park. He can be ace. But he’s not right now. The supply and demand nature of the trade deadline — will another pitcher as talented as Cole be available? — could push the price up into ace territory.

And two, are the problems with home runs and lefties fixable? That’s a huge question. Sticking a pitcher who can’t limit home runs and can’t handle left-handed hitters in Yankee Stadium — not mention in the DH league and in a division with three other hitter’s parks — is asking for trouble. Acquire this version of Cole and there are valid reasons to believe he’ll perform worse, not better. You have to be very confident in your ability to fix him.

The Yankees need rotation help beyond this season and the more high-upside starters they acquire, the better. Cole absolutely has the ability to be a top ten-ish pitcher in the big leagues. Every team would love to get their hands on this guy. There are enough red flags (injuries, homers, lefties) to make me skeptical, however. The Yankees drafted Cole, so they like him, though I wonder if they still like him enough to part with some of their best prospects.

Scouting the Trade Market: Brad Hand

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

One thing has become clear in recent weeks: the Yankees need bullpen help. Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances are arguably the best closer/setup man tandem in baseball, though there are other innings that need to be pitched, and those other innings have cost the Yankees too many games of late. The middle relief is a major weakness.

The Yankees could try to address the middle relief from within, something I suspect they’ll try at some point, though going outside the organization for help is always an option too. Trading for bullpen help can be tricky though. Relievers inherently work in small samples and weird things can happen in small samples. Your process can be sound and your evaluations correct, but a few hangers can cost you games and bloat an ERA.

One reliever who we absolutely know will be available this summer is Padres left-hander Brad Hand, a workhorse strikeout artist (30.6%) with a 2.72 ERA (3.17 FIP) in 39.2 innings this year. Since joining San Diego and moving into a short relief role last year, Hand has a 2.89 ERA (3.12 FIP) with 30.6% strikeouts, 9.2% walks, and 47.5% grounders. The Padres are terrible and in a deep rebuild, so Hand is available. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be. Does he makes sense for the Yankees? Let’s look.

What’s changed with his stuff?

Before joining the Padres last spring — as a waiver claim, I might add — Hand was a swingman with the Marlins. He came up from the minors as a starter and threw 288.2 innings with a 4.71 ERA (4.54 FIP) in 43 starts and 47 relief appearances with Miami from 2011-15. Now he’s dominating. Look:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 WAR
with Marlins 288.2 4.71 4.54 15.2% 9.6% 44.0% 1.00 +0.4
with Padres 127.2 2.89 3.12 30.6% 9.2% 47.5% 0.85 +2.7

Mediocre starter/swingman becomes dominant reliever. We’ve seen this movie before. More times than I care to count. Why is Hand dominant now? What changed? His role, yes, but that alone doesn’t explain it. Usually the first time that comes to mind is velocity. The move into short relief allows the pitcher to air it out, he adds some oomph to his fastball, and it makes a big difference. That’s usually how this works. That isn’t the case with Hand, however. From Brooks Baseball:

brad-hand-velocity

Same average velocity! Weird. Same max velocity too. It’s not like Hand suddenly has 98-99 in his back pocket. He doesn’t. I guess this means he’s one of those rare pitchers whose stuff doesn’t tick up in the bullpen. Weird.

What has changed is Hand’s pitch selection. He’s shortened his repertoire as a one-inning reliever. As a starter and swingman, he threw everything. Fastball, slider, curveball, changeup, the works. Now he’s primarily fastball-slider with a few show-me curveballs. The changeup is gone. Here are Hand’s pitch selection rates, via Brooks Baseball:

brad-hand-pitch-selection

Hand is throwing a lot of sliders now. A lot. Almost exactly half the time this season (49.2%). It almost makes you wonder whether Hand is throwing the slider too much. Yeah, it’s working, but how long can this last before his elbow says “okay, stop you jerk”? Heavy doses of breaking balls and healthy elbows usually don’t mix. Then again, maybe Hand is the left-handed Luke Gregerson, throwing slider after slider and staying healthy.

The change in pitch selection and heavy emphasis on sliders explains Hand’s success with the Padres, even without a velocity spike. Hand has a great slider. Check it out:

Throw that slider as much as Hand and you’re going to get a lot of outs. Strikeouts and weak contact. It helps the fastball play up too because the hitter has that slider in the back of his mind at all times. No more crummy changeups, fewer mediocre curveballs, and many more sliders. Lots and lots of sliders. It’s not an Andrew Miller slider, but it is pretty damn good.

Thanks to that quality slider, Hand has basically no platoon split. He’s held left-handed hitters to a .145/.249/.255 (.228 wOBA) batting line with 31.8% strikeouts, 11.1% walks, and 40.0% grounders since the start of last season. Righties, meanwhile, have hit .226/.299/.355 (.284 wOBA) with 29.9% strikeouts, 8.2% walks, and 51.5% grounders. Okay, so Hand does have a platoon split. But he’s quite good against righties!

Point is, Hand can get out batters on both sides of the plate. He annihilates lefties and more than holds his own against righties. He’s someone his manager can use for a full inning. Limit him to left-on-left matchup work and you’re doing it wrong. Hand is a capable late-inning reliever who happens to be left-handed. His stuff has not necessarily changed with the move into short relief. He’s just throwing his best pitch much more often.

Injury history

Hand has been on the disabled list once in his career, for an ankle sprain in 2014. He missed a month. It was a phantom DL stint though. As Clark Spencer explains, the Marlins put Hand on the DL because he’s out of minor league options and they didn’t want to expose him on waivers in order to send him to the minors. The fake injury bought the team some time to get their roster figured out.

Aside from that, Hand has never been on the DL or injured. Not even in the minors. Completely healthy throughout his career. He’s a big dude (listed 6-foot-3 and 228 lbs.) with a strong frame that allowed him to make 82 appearances and throw 89.1 innings last season, most among all full-time relievers. Hand has thrown 39.2 innings so far this season, which has him in the top ten among all relievers. He’s healthy and he throws a ton of innings.

Contract situation

Over the winter Hand went through the arbitration process for the first time. He’ll make $1.375M this year and remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in both 2018 and 2019 as well. And because he’s a non-closer, Hand’s arbitration salaries won’t be too big. He’s looking at $3M or so next year and $5M or so the year after, even at this level of performance. Hand is out of minor league options, however. He can’t go to the minors without being placed on waivers, and that ain’t happening. Then again, if you trade for Hand and have to think about sending him to the minors at some point, something has gone wrong.

What’s it going to cost?

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

You know, with Zach Britton on the disabled list, you could argue Hand is the second best left-handed reliever in baseball behind Miller. Well, Chapman is back, so third best. It’s either Hand or Felipe Rivero. Maybe Jake McGee. Hand is in the conversation though. I’m sure the Padres would love to get a Miller package for Hand, but that’s not happening. Miller was better and had thrived in a big market.

Ken Rosenthal recently reported the Padres want a “Will Smith-type return” for Hand, which is certainly more reasonable than an “Andrew Miller-type return.” At the time of the trade, Smith had a 2.95 ERA (2.94 FIP) in 85.1 innings from 2015-16. On par with Hand, though in way fewer innings. Also, Smith came with three-and-a-half seasons of control. Hand comes with two-and-a-half. That extra year is big. Here’s what the Giants sent to the Brewers in the Smith trade at last year’s deadline:

  • RHP Phil Bickford: Baseball America ranked Bickford, San Francisco’s first round pick in 2015, as the 50th best prospect in baseball in their midseason top 100 prospects list a few weeks before the trade. He had a 2.71 ERA (2.95 FIP) in 17 starts and 93 innings before the trade, all in Single-A.
  • C Andrew Susac: Post-hype prospect who snuck onto a few top 100 lists in 2015. Susac hit .240/.309/.407 (104 wRC+) in 243 big league plate appearances and .282/.355/.469 (119 wRC+) in 299 Triple-A plate appearances from 2015-16 before the trade. He was blocked by Buster Posey.

Sad trade is sad. Smith allowed six runs in 18.1 innings for the Giants last year before blowing out his elbow this spring and needing Tommy John surgery. Bickford has not pitched this season because he’s serving a suspension for a second positive test for a drug of abuse. Susac is hitting .146/.196/.292 (18 wRC+) in Triple-A. That trade has no winners.

Anyway, if that’s what the Padres want for Hand, I suppose the Yankees equivalent would be something like Justus Sheffield (mid-top 100 guy like Bickford) and maybe Tyler Austin (former fringe top 100 guy with no MLB spot)? The Yankees don’t really have a Susac. A spare quality young player at a hard-to-fill position. Give me Susac last year over Austin this year eight days a week and twice on Sunday.

The general theme here is the Padres want two players for Hand: one top 100 prospect and an MLB ready young player. If they’re using the Smith trade as a benchmark, that’s the package. That’s a lot! But gosh, Hand is really good, and adding another great reliever to the bullpen sure would be a big help. And he’s not a rental either.

Does he make sense for the Yankees?

In terms of adding Hand to the bullpen, yes, clearly. He’d improve literally every bullpen in baseball. At that cost though? Eh, that’s up for debate. I do worry about Hand’s limited track record — again, this guy was on waivers last spring — and how well he’ll hold up while throwing so many sliders. Relievers are really risky. Even the good ones. And the more you give up to get them, the more risk you assume.

Although Hand would improve the bullpen, my guess is the Yankees do not want to trade top prospects for a reliever, even a great one. They were reportedly hesitant to trade their best youngsters for a starting pitcher in the offseason, remember. Now they’re going to turn around and deal young players for a reliever? Eh. Can’t see. I mean, they could always have a change of heart, but yeah. I don’t see this happening.

The last few times the Yankees traded for a reliever, it was either a buy low trade (Chapman, Tyler Clippard) or a perfect “my strength matches your weakness” trade (Justin Wilson). The Yankees are more likely to look for the next Brad Hand, that interesting swingman who could thrive in short relief, than trade prospects for the actual Brad Hand. The Padres will have no shortage of suitors for Hand and I don’t see the Yankees getting involved in a bidding war.

Scouting the Trade Market: Yonder Alonso

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Remember the offseason, when Greg Bird and various supporting cast members couldn’t possibly provide less production at first base than Mark Teixeira last year? Good times. We were so naive. So far this season Yankees first basemen are hitting .192/.291/.355 (54 OPS+) overall, easily the worst production in the league. This is the position with the highest offensive bar. It has been capital-B Bad.

Bird has been on the disabled list since early May with an ankle issue, and last week he suffered a setback that will sideline him for an unknown length of time. He saw a specialist yesterday and we’ve yet to get an update. Given the setback and Chris Carter‘s inability to find sustained success, it’s time for the Yankees to begin looking outside the organization for first base help. Carter isn’t cutting it and the Yankees have to give Bird all the time he needs to get healthy.

One first baseman who is very likely to be available at the trade deadline is Athletics masher Yonder Alonso, an impending free agent having a career year offensively. The 30-year-old is hitting .299/.392/.619 (168 wRC+) with a career high 17 home runs already. His previous career high was nine homers back in 2012. The Athletics have the worst record in the American League and it stands to reason they’ll, at the very least, listen to offers for Alonso.

Does Alonso make sense for the Yankees? Well, yes. That’s easy. A left-handed hitter with those numbers and solid defense is pretty much exactly what the Yankees need. That’s what they hoped to get from Bird! There are two questions here. One, why should we expect Alonso to keep up this level of production? He’s never done it before. And two, what’s it going to cost? Let’s try to answer those.

The Fly Ball Revolution

Thanks largely to Statcast, there’s a lot of talk these days about launch angle and a renewed emphasis on getting the ball airborne. I refuse to believe Major Leaguers are just now figuring out that hitting home runs and getting the ball in the air are good things, though now we can better quantify that, and perhaps that helps in some way. I’m certain teams use this data to educate their players and make mechanical tweaks.

Alonso, maybe moreso than any player in the league, has not only bought into the fly ball revolution, he’s also excelled at putting it into practice. It’s one thing to say or know you need to do something. It’s another to actually do it. Baseball is hard! Becoming an extreme fly ball hitter is not like flipping a light switch. Here are Alonso’s batted ball rates over the years:

yonder-alonso-batted-balls

Yup. Before this season, Alonso’s career low ground ball rate was 41.8% in 2011. His career high fly ball rate was 38.5% in 2014. So far this season he’s at 28.1% ground balls and 50.7% fly balls. Statcast data goes back to 2015, so here are Alonso’s 2015-16 launch angles and his 2017 launch angles:

yonder-alonso-launch-angles1

The ideal launch angle is 10-30 degrees. Below that and you hit a grounder. Above that and you hit a pop-up. Anything from 10-25 degrees is likely a line drive (depending on how hard the ball is struck, i.e. exit velocity). Most home runs fall in the 25-30 degree range. From 2015-16, Alonso’s average launch angle was 9.1 degrees. 9.1! This year it’s 21.8 degrees.

It’s also worth noting Alonso’s hard contact rate (36.3%) and strikeout rate (22.5%) are career highs for a full season as well, which perhaps indicate he’s selling out for power a bit. (Like Matt Holliday?) In an effort to get the ball in the air, he’s swinging harder than ever, which inevitably leads to more whiffs.

Here’s a look at 2016 Alonso vs. 2017 Alonso. If a guy is hitting way more fly balls and way fewer ground balls, in addition to more hard contact and strikeouts, surely his swing is going to look a little different, right? I’d assume so. 2016 Alonso is on the left. 2017 Alonso is on the right.

2016-17-yonder-alonso-swing1

Looks … pretty much exactly the same? Dammit. I hate when that happens. Yonder has always had a pretty swing. That’s one of the main reasons he was the seventh overall pick in the 2008 draft. He just never developed the power many expected. At least not until this season. Before this year, he was basically James Loney 2.0.

Anyway, as for the GIFs, Alonso still uses both one-handed and two-handed follow-throughs regularly, so that’s not it. The GIFs are synced up at the moment his front foot touches down, and it does seem his leg lift is a little shorter this year. His leg hangs in the air a little longer in the GIF on the left, from 2016. Also, Alonso’s head is much more still in the 2017 GIF. Last year there was some herky-jerkiness in there. Keeping your head still is kinda important.

Ken Rosenthal recently profiled Alonso, who did some soul-searching this past offseason and was not happy with the way his career was playing out. From Rosenthal:

“It’s pretty simple,” Alonso says. “I was heading in a direction where I saw my career on the downfall. I think in August and September of last year I realized that if I don’t make some adjustments, I will be heading into a backup role, not get the at-bats that I want.

“I’m 30 years old. I’m in my prime. I pretty much was very truthful honest with myself. I realized that if you’re going to play first base, you’ve got to make sure you’re doing everything to make yourself valuable. I needed to work on my hitting.”

Alonso told Rosenthal he consulted with many former teammates and players around the league in the offseason. Everyone from Joey Votto to Rougned Odor to Danny Valencia to Carlos Beltran. Rosenthal and Susan Slusser say Alonso even sent video of his at-bats to Votto and Beltran for advice. This is a player who was not happy with his career, sought help, made changes, and is now reaping the rewards. Hooray hard work!

The Yonder Alonso we’re seeing this year is not the same Yonder Alonso as the past five years. He has made a drastic change to his batted ball profile and is now hitting the ball harder and in the air far more often than ever before. The difference is enormous. The power spike is not necessarily a fluke. It would be if Alonso were the same hitter with the same batted ball profile as in the past. That’s not the case though. He’s a different hitter. Because of that, there is reason to believe this version of Alonso is here to stay.

What’s it going to cost?

Alonso is a rental, not a long-term buy, which takes a bite out of his trade value. The A’s can still market him as an impact hitter, however. Here’s a list of rental bats traded at the deadline the last two years:

  • Jay Bruce: Traded for an up-and-down depth infielder (Dilson Herrera) and one organizational top 20 prospect (Max Wotell). (Bruce’s contract did in include a club option for another year.)
  • Carlos Beltran: Traded for a preseason top 50-75 global prospect (Dillon Tate) and two non-top 30 organizational prospects (Erik Swanson, Nick Green).
  • Yoenis Cespedes: Traded for a preseason top 50-75 global prospect (Michael Fulmer) and a top 20 organizational prospect (Luis Cessa).
  • Gerardo Parra: Traded for an organizational top ten prospect (Zach Davies).
  • Ben Zobrist: Traded for a preseason top 50-75 global prospect (Sean Manaea) and an up-and-down depth arm (Aaron Brooks).

Decent sample! The best comparable to Alonso is probably Parra, right? Beltran, Cespedes, and Zobrist were all high-end producers with long track records at the time of the trade. Bruce had some pretty great years earlier in career before slipping a bit, partly due to injuries.

Parra, meanwhile, was a solid player from 2009-14 who was an average-ish hitter and an above-average defender. He then had a huge first half with the Brewers in 2015, hitting .328/.369/.517 (137 wRC+) in 100 games, which is when they flipped him to the Orioles. Parra then hit .237/.268/.357 (66 wRC+) with the O’s. Heh.

There was no real reason to believe Parra was a changed hitter, however. That 2015 first half was a .372 BABIP fueled hot streak. Baltimore then dealt with the correction. With Alonso, there are tangible reasons to believe he is a different hitter now, specifically the sudden surge in fly balls. Parra had a hot streak. Alonso is a new player.

Davies actually represented the Orioles in the 2015 Futures Game, though he was by no means a top prospect. He was a good prospect in a bad farm system. Davies was a top ten prospect in that system. Bring a top ten prospect in the Yankees’ system means being in the conversation for top 100 lists. Davies is not comparable to, say, Chance Adams. Not close.

The current Yankees equivalent of Davies is probably Domingo German, though they are very different pitchers. (Davies is finesse, German is power.) German for Alonso? I’d do it, which probably means the A’s would not. Then again, the Athletics have made some terrible trades of late, so who knows. Maybe they’d go nuts for Tyler Austin or Rob Refsnyder. They seem like “random players the A’s build a trade around” players, no?

Keep in mind Matt Adams, a pretty similar player to Alonso, was traded straight up for a non-top 30 lower level prospect a few weeks ago (Juan Yepez). How many of these first base masher types were unsigned in February? The market for them is not robust. Alonso is better than Adams — he’s performing better at the time of the trade, plus he can play defense — but not so much better that it’ll take a top prospect to get him.

There aren’t many teams in need of first base or DH help at the moment. That could always change with an injury, but looking around the league, the only contenders with a need at either position right now are … the Yankees? That’s about it. Maybe the Cardinals if they’re willing to put Matt Carpenter at third and Jedd Gyorko at second. I suppose the Mariners could be in the mix too. That’s pretty much it.

So, given the overall lack of suitors and the fact Alonso’s track record is not long at all, it should not take a top prospect to get him. It might take two okay prospects, but not a great prospect. Not a top seven or eight prospect in the system. The Yankees have a ton of minor league depth and using some of it to improve the big league team through trades only makes sense.

Okay, so does Alonso still make sense?

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

I’m a big believer in not paying for outlier performance at the trade deadline. Example: Parra! Also: Xavier Nady. He had a huge first half with the Pirates in 2008, then went back to being regular ol’ Xavier Nady after getting traded to the Yankees. You remember that, don’t you?

Look at his career numbers, and this season is a clear outlier for Alonso. He’s never come close to doing anything like this in the past. Unlike Parra and Nady, however, there are some indicators Alonso has changed his hitting approach in a way that allows him to hit for more power. There are reasons to believe this is all very real.

If you buy into the new Alonso — I do, the Yankees may not — then yeah, he’d be a wonderful fit for the 2017 Yankees, especially since it probably won’t cost an arm and a leg to acquire him. Carter has been mostly terrible and who knows when Bird will be healthy. Given everything Bird has been through the last 18 months or so, it would behoove the team to be cautious and patient with him.

One thing I should note is that Alonso wants to remain with the Athletics long-term, so much so that he is open to foregoing free agency to sign an extension midseason. “I think that there is a great chance that I stay here. I really do mean that,” he said to Rosenthal. That gives the A’s some leverage in trade talks. They don’t have to trade him. They could keep him and try to re-sign now, before he hits free agency.

That all said, given their shoestring budget and the fact they have other first base options in house (Ryon Healy, Matt Olson), it would make sense for the A’s to at least listen to offers for Alonso. Billy Beane has a history of making trades early in the season too. This one might not have to wait until the July 31st deadline. The Yankees or any other team could probably get Alonso before the end of the month and squeeze that many more at-bats out of him.

Trading for a rental like Yonder is a win now move, and it’ll be up to the Yankees to decide whether they want to do something like that. They may decide to stay the course and go with the kids, and hope Bird gets healthy soon. Or they could decide that yes, they’re in the race, and yes, they have some excess prospects to trade. If they decide to make the win now move, Alonso would be pretty much the ideal first base target in my idiot blogger opinion.