New York Yankees' Trade Deadline Big Board: Ranking the Top Targets
At baseball's halfway point, just 20 percent of the New York Yankees pitching staff remains since Opening Day. Common sense, emotion, statistics and sabermetrics would all tell you the Bombers are doomed with four of their five starters on the disabled list. FanGraphs gives New York just an 11.4 percent chance of making the playoffs.
But this isn't the AL East of your youth—or of even a few years ago.
Forget that the likes of David Phelps, Vidal Nuno, Chase Whitley and Shane Greene have all played some part in keeping New York somewhat alive: The Orioles lead the division with just a .553 winning percentage (52-42). For better or worse, the Yankees are a seemingly disinterested 43-43 ballclub, but they have much more than a simple heartbeat with only five games separating them from Baltimore and two wild-card spots up for grabs.
Besides the three months of baseball still left to play, the Yankees also have over two weeks with which to work until the July 31 trade deadline.
Whether you'd call the never-say-die, scrap, scrape and pay method the "Yankee Way" or the "Steinbrenner Way," it's really interchangeable. The point is: You'd struggle mightily to find the last time Yanks brass called it a season prior to their mathematical or concrete elimination.
As evidenced by new, underwhelming Yankee pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Jeff Francis—and with the coveted Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel off the market—there isn't a bevy of truly great starting options out there. There are even fewer for the Yankees, an organization without many marketable, or even desirable, prospects to offer. They do have cash, however, and that cash flow must be considered for baiting a team like the Phillies into a trade for one of its expensive, front-end starters.
While other notable positions of need haven't been completely discounted (infielder, right fielder, reliever), this breakdown of New York's top trade targets admittedly, and rationally, prioritizes the most viable starting pitchers who could help this team find its way to the postseason.
If there's one kicker for the ultimate decisions, it's that the top targets are those for whom Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners wouldn't have to mortgage what could be the entire future of the ballclub (see: David Price, an unlikely target for division-rival New York, regardless of the package).
Yankees fans: Enjoy the mental break of the midsummer classic—the players aren't the only ones who need rest sometimes—and, for now, read on to get our take on six of the Yankees' top trade targets. Whether by way of stopgap solution or franchise face-lifter, Brian Cashman and company should be closely monitoring and targeting the following pitchers.
No. 6: RHP Kevin Correia, Minnesota Twins
19 GS, 109.1 IP, 5-11, 4.61 ERA, 4.38 FIP, 1.418 WHIP, 0.9 HR/9, 2.1 BB/9
Career Stats (12 Years)
209 GS, 1360.2 IP, 74-89, 4.50 ERA, 4.49 FIP, 1.413 WHIP, 1.1 HR/9, 3.0 BB/9
Kevin Correia may seem like a tough sell for the Yankees given the marquee names still in trade discussions, but consider: The 33-year-old right-hander hasn't missed a start for the Twins, it's a no-brainer that he'll give you innings and he could prove a wise addition on the cheap who helps stop the bleeding.
It was reported over the July 4 weekend that, although the Minnesota Twins would likely wait until after the All-Star break, they'd be expected to make Correia available if they're no longer contending, per CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman.
At 44-50—10.5 games back of the AL Central-leading Tigers and 6.5 games out of a playoff spot—it could take just one more week of sub-.500 baseball for general manager Terry Ryan to definitively shop him around. For added perspective, FanGraphs gives the Twins a paltry 0.8 percent shot of reaching the postseason.
Correia is near the end of a two-year, $10 million deal ($5.5 million in '14) and will be a free agent next summer. Eleven of his 19 starts have been of the quality variety (6 or more IP, 3 or fewer ER), and this season, his home run and walk rates have improved over his career averages.
YES Network's Lou DiPietro wrote Monday that, with some of the "big fish" off the trading block, and others like Price foreseeably unattainable, the Yankees may go after a dark horse like Correia: "Cashman may be left searching for more of an incremental upgrade than a blockbuster. ...and with just under $3 million left on the remainder of his deal, he could be the kind of innings-eater the Yankees will need to survive their current rotation shortage."
Correia isn't the flashiest name, but he comes in at No. 6 for New York's viable starting targets.
No. 5: LHP Jorge De La Rosa, Colorado Rockies
19 GS, 102.2 IP, 10-6, 4.56 ERA, 4.64 FIP, 1.305 WHIP, 1.70 K/BB, 1.1 HR/9, 52.3% GB
Career Stats (11 Years)
178 GS, 1050.2 IP, 80-63, 4.69 ERA, 4.39 FIP, 1.463 WHIP, 1.79 K/BB, 1.0 HR/9, 45.9% GB
The New York Daily News' Mark Feinsand wrote prior to the left-hander's last start—a victory—that "The Rockies aren't going anywhere, meaning the 33-year-old De La Rosa could be dealt before the deadline. He's 9-6 with a 4.75 ERA, and his ground-ball style could work well at hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium."
A ground-ball rate of about 44 percent is league average, by FanGraphs' accounts—just below De La Rosa's career rate (45.9). But the lefty with the funky three-quarters delivery has noticeably exceeded that figure a few times: in 2005 (49.2), 2010 (52.3) and again so far in 2014 (52.3).
He doesn't overpower hitters with a career 7.5 K/9 rate and 6.2 K/9 since 2013, and his effectiveness is not as simple as merely pitching to contact, since he's seen trouble with control throughout his career (4.2 BB/9) and through his bloated 3.8 BB/9 in 2014.
Last week, FanGraphs' Dave Cameron further tempered some of the hotter characterizations being tossed around about De La Rosa: "He still gets his fair share of groundballs, but he’s gone from an above average strikeout pitcher to a below average strikeout pitcher, and he still doesn’t throw enough strikes."
It's in his deception and effectiveness against lefties, where the Rockies starter finds his success. De La Rosa is above average in SwStr%—the percentage of pitches where a batter swings and misses—where league average is 8.5 percent, his career average is 9.8 and his 2014 rate is 9.1 (11.2 in 2010).
He's thrown fastballs about 40 percent of the time this season, splitters 24 percent, sliders 19 percent and cutters, two-seamers and curves for the other roughly 17 percent. But hitters are batting below .200 against his deceptive splitter and slider, with wRC+ of just 83 and 78, respectively.
RotoGraphs' Eno Sarris, who used pitch-type whiff rates (swinging strikes per swing) to find value earlier this year, noted: "[H]is combination of swinging strikes and ground balls is one of the better he’s put up in his career. The fact is, once you add in his cutter, he’s got three decent pitches and his fastball isn’t embarrassing, nor his command terrible."
It's not pretty that righties are batting .270/.355/.470 against him in 2014, but, as alluded to, lefties are just .154/.228/.220. And in 2014, his strikeout rate of 13.5 percent is below average against righties but sparkling against lefties at 27.7 percent.
Could his best value be in the pen for the Yankees, then? As Sarris points out: "[H]is platoon splits suggest that he’s probably best off in relief, where he could dominate left-handers and not get exposed against right-handers."
This could be a flexible and valuable pickup for that reason alone when you consider lefty specialist Matt Thornton has somewhat quietly accumulated three losses and four blown saves to his name, and that he's oddly put up better strikeout rates against righties (20.5) than against lefties (15.1) in the first half.
No. 4: LHP John Danks, Chicago White Sox
19 GS, 119.2 IP, 8-6, 3.99 ERA, 4.60 FIP, 101 ERA+, 1.370 WHIP, 1.80 K/BB, 3.5 BB/9
Career Stats (8 Years)
200 GS, 1229.1 IP, 69-80, 4.18 ERA, 4.33 FIP, 106 ERA+, 1.317 WHIP, 2.31 K/BB, 2.9 BB/9
For White Sox GM Rick Hahn, the price for one of his lefties—and really, any of his top-tier players—is young talent.
"The Yankees are one team rumored to have interest," wrote the Chicago Sun-Times' Daryl Van Schouwen in the first week of July. "[A]nd the better Danks, 29, pitches, the less prohibitive his contract becomes."
Van Schouwen said Hahn "would listen to offers on [a short list of players] who would bring young talent in return, including Danks, the Sox’ highest-paid player this season who has 2 1/2 years left on a five-year, $65 million contract."
The other name of the game is determining whether you're still in the race. Van Schouwen noted on July 3: "The Sox, who salvaged a win in the three-game series [vs. the Angels], haven’t won more than three consecutive games and aren’t contending, in large part, because their starting rotation and bullpen aren’t deep enough."
If we're getting technical about the White Sox' mediocrity: They won three straight games for the first time last week. But they're still 45-51 and 6.5 games out of the final wild-card spot—just like Minnesota, with whom they occupy the cellar of the AL Central—and FanGraphs says they have a 0.6 percent chance to reach the playoffs.
The Yankees may not have the consummate blue-chip prospects or willingness to deal a high-upside young big leaguer for Chicago's No. 3 arm. But if the White Sox are willing to move him, you wouldn't imagine that taking on the remainder of Danks' contract would be a deterrent for the Yankees, who tend to scoff at luxury-tax and other spending thresholds.
"He should be movable because he's pitching well enough in the second year after Tommy John surgery," adds CBSSports.com's Heyman. "The Yanks would work for Danks."
And Danks would work for the Yanks.
He goes beyond patchwork, of course. He'd be a very reliable mid- to back-end rotation arm in the scenario in which Tanaka returns healthy six weeks from now (and possibly CC Sabathia or Michael Pineda before long, too). In the worst-case scenario, he'd be a fine fill-in pairing with Hiroki Kuroda and the 2-0 Shane Greene.
No. 3: RHP Ian Kennedy, San Diego Padres
20 GS, 124.1 IP, 7-9, 3.47 ERA, 2.94 FIP, 1.190 WHIP, 3.91 K/BB, 9.6 K/9, 0.7 HR/9
Career Stats (8 Years)
161 GS, 989.2 IP, 60-49, 3.94 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 1.259 WHIP, 2.75 K/BB, 8.1 K/9, 1.1 HR/9
Mark this one in the flying-under-the-radar category as far as starting pitchers go—especially one like Ian Kennedy, with whom Yankees fans may not be particularly enamored, having previously seen the 2006 draft pick in pinstripes.
But with a 2014 rebirth underway for the right-hander—his 9.6 K/9 is third-best in the NL—the Yankees should be looking at a potential excellent mid-rotation July pickup.
On Friday, the day before Ian Kennedy's 20th start, the New York Daily News' Mark Feinsand wrote: "The 29-year-old former Yankee has quietly put together a solid season in San Diego, going 7-9 with a 3.71 in a league-high 19 starts. He failed miserably in his first stint in pinstripes, but five years and two teams later, things could be different."
And if Kennedy weren't pitching for a weak Padres club (41-54) with an MLB-lowest 279 runs, you may have noticed him sooner. Notice, additionally, the difference between his 3.47 ERA (his full-season career low is 3.80, by the way) and his 2.94 FIP (career low is 3.22).
Perfect example: On Saturday, he went eight scoreless innings with just three hits and four walks but picked up a no decision in a 1-0 outcome. In six of his 11 losses, the Padres have scored one run or fewer.
The Yankees liked him enough to draft him, and perhaps they should like him again with that near-10 K/9 and 0.7 HR/9 that could absorb some of that Yankee Stadium shock from which even Tanaka hasn't been immune (15 total HR in 18 GS, 9 HR at home).
As the New York Post's Joel Sherman summed up back on July 2: "He averages nearly 10 strikeouts per nine innings. His peripheral numbers are better than a 6-9 record with a 3.87 ERA would indicate. Plus, San Diego is open for business."
Just how open? FanGraphs sets San Diego's playoff hopes at a measly 0.3 percent.
No. 2: LHP Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies
16 GS, 107.1 IP, 3-5, 2.93 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 126 ERA+, 1.211 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 0.7 HR/9
Career Stats (9 Years)
260 GS, 1704.0 IP, 102-79, 3.35 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 123 ERA+, 1.146 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 1.0 HR/9
"On the trade market, Philadelphia ace Cole Hamels might be the Yankees’ only hope to replace Tanaka’s performance level this season," writes Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi. "One GM thought the Phillies might listen on Hamels, if only because he would bring the best return of anyone on the roster," added CBSSports.com's Heyman.
It's fair to think Hamels should be the top viable trade target for the Yankees, as he's at the prime age of 30, and teammate Cliff Lee will be returning from elbow injury and turning 36 later this summer. To clarify, however, consider that the Yankees would have to mortgage much more of their future to package a deal for Hamels than they would for Philly's other lefty.
The good news for the Bombers is they're one of nine teams not listed in Hamels' no-trade clause, per Morosi. But the Philadelphia Daily News' David Murphy argues that the only conceivable way for the Phillies to deal Hamels would be a scenario that sends—at least—a big league-caliber pitcher back to the City of Brotherly Love.
And Murphy muses about the glaring issue: "Problem is, if the Yankees had an MLB-ready pitching prospect, he would already be pitching in New York, and they wouldn't be in the desperate position of further liquidating their farm system for Hamels. Remember, this team just traded for Brandon McCarthy."
Hamels' price tag—over $100 million through the 2018 season—doesn't help the case; then again, this is the Yankees, far from cash-strapped if agreeing to cover the Phillies' cost would sweeten the deal.
"[W]ithout a rich farm system," notes Morosi, "the Yankees may struggle to compete with the prospect offers from other teams. But they do have a significant asset: money."
The Post's Sherman also noted the circumstances: "If he just becomes a salary dump by Philadelphia, then perhaps the Yankees will wait with open arms and run the risk. ... But if he goes on the market, the bidding will be strong. Will the Yankees have enough to get him?"
With Sabathia's short- and long-term futures uncertain, a southpaw innings-eater like Hamels is especially attractive for the Yankees. Although, the good and bad of the similarities are highlighted by Sherman: "He has a lot of Sabathia about him — an expensive workhorse lefty who won a Cy Young with the Indians who might be a physical calamity moving forward."
Among all starters who have tossed a minimum of 1,000 innings since 2006, Hamels' first season in the bigs, the Phillies lefty has the ninth-best WAR, ninth-best K/9 and 10th-best ERA. He has generated the second-highest swing percentage on pitches outside the zone (behind Kuroda), the third-lowest contact percentage of swinging batters and the second-highest swinging-strike rate behind Francisco Liriano.
For the Yankees, investing in someone like Hamels prior to July 31 could prove much more prudent than spending even bigger on the free-agent market at season's end (Jon Lester, Max Scherzer). Imagine this potential reality: a front three of Tanaka—knock on wood—Hamels and Kuroda.
No. 1: LHP Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies
10 GS, 68.0 IP, 4-4, 3.18 ERA, 2.70 FIP, 117 ERA+, 1.279 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 1.2 BB/9
Career Stats (13 Years)
321 GS, 2143.1 IP, 143-90, 3.50 ERA, 3.45 FIP, 119 ERA+, 1.192 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 1.9 BB/9
Another pricey option from Philly, some teams would be cautious about targeting Cliff Lee—especially with his advanced age and minor health-related red flags.
But the Yankees are not some teams, and it's common knowledge they've coveted the Cy Young winner and four-time All-Star for quite a while.
Last month, the Daily News' Feinsand summed up the Lee scenario, saying he "has been an object of the Yankees’ affection on more than one occasion and figures to be at some point again in the not-too-distant future if he can show his elbow is healthy," adding that the Phillies may "look to deal him for pennies on the dollar prospect-wise in order to save themselves a few billion actual pennies."
With Lee set to return after the break, the Yankees should be able to get a few starts' worth of a sample size on his health.
And, as CBSSports.com's Heyman points out, regardless: "[H]e may be worth the risk as a rare true No. 1 pitcher."
Some insiders, such as the Daily News' Feinsand, believe the Yankees wouldn't have to give up their best prospects to land him—so long, of course, that New York would eat that $50 million or so remaining on his contract.
Since 2008, his Cy Young season, the only qualified starter with a higher WAR is Justin Verlander (38.9 to 38.5). Only Stephen Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw have better FIP, and only Strasburg, Chris Sale and Roy Halladay have a better xFIP.
Perhaps most impressive, Lee owns the lowest BB/9 (1.32) over that time among all qualified starters—and it's not even close, as the next best comes in at 1.50.
Remember that Sabathia, if he returns, likely becomes a middle-rotation arm at best moving forward, and that neither McCarthy nor Francis is a front-line starter. Then ask yourself, if you're Cashman and the Yankees, whether you feel you'd "need" someone like Hamels or Lee.
The obvious answer looking ahead to New York's final three-month push this season? A resounding "Yes." And what about for 2015 and beyond, when the current rotation's uncertainty may become compounded by a free-agent Kuroda and the potentially unhealthy likes of Tanaka, Nova and Pineda?
The Yankees may not be able to wait for a true No. 1 until the next free-agent class, and they may rather bite the financial bullet on a potential ace now—when they need it most.
No one can accurately predict the future performance and health of Hamels and Lee, but few would find fault with Yanks management for trading for either. Hamels probably has the better, and more lasting, upside at this stage of his career, but Lee may be an easier get for New York.
Peter F. Richman is a New York Yankees Featured Columnist and Bleacher Report Copy Editor. For more NYY opinions, discussion, debate and analysis, feel free to reach out to him via Twitter: Follow @Peter_F_Richman