Weekly Mailbag: Rotation Trade Options, Frazier, and the Bullpen!
In this week’s mailbag, we’ll scout the league for trade options for the rotation, talk about Clint Frazier’s defensive struggles, and think about what the bullpen might look like when Betances returns. Let’s get at it:
Lionel asks: Do you favor picking up a middle-of-the-rotation innings-eater at relatively low cost or digging deeply into the farm system talent for someone like Scherzer or any other (possibly) available ace?
Generally speaking, I think that Cashman is really good at taking what the market gives him. If a young, talented starting pitcher with years of control remaining were available, I don’t doubt that Cashman would find a way to get into the bidding. As far as an ace like Scherzer is concerned, I have a hard time believing that ownership would allow Cashman to acquire a pitcher that would cause the Yankees’ luxury tax figure to ascend through the highest tax ceiling, no matter what I think about a trade like that (for reference, I would be fine with the Yankees selling the farm for Scherzer…I love watching that guy pitch). That reality leaves the Yankees looking at options beneath the top-10 pitchers, if any are even available by the trade deadline.
I think we’re still a couple of weeks away from having a better feel for which teams will be willing to sell in July. Obviously, teams in the midst of rebuilds like Kansas City, the White Sox, and San Francisco are already open for business, in all likelihood. However, I think there could be some interesting rotation options available on the trade market. Teams like Arizona, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Texas, and Seattle might be open to giving up some of their rotation parts if they are far enough out of the race.
Would Cleveland be willing to part with either Trevor Bauer or Shane Bieber? Bauer is not having as strong a season as last year, but he has still been worth 1.1 bWAR thus far, and his peripherals are solid. From a baseball perspective, Bauer would be an expensive, but good option if Cleveland is willing to sell. I have a hard time believing the Yankees would be willing to deal with Bauer’s…strong personality. Bauer has been in repeated dust-ups with people on his social media accounts, and he has generally found a way to antagonize fans, media, and players alike, and the Yankees would likely pass on Bauer. I’ve noted my appreciation for the way Shane Bieber pitches, but even if Cleveland sells, Bieber is cheap, has years of control remaining, and is just 24. Bieber is the type of guy you build around, not the type of guy you sell when you are rebuilding.
As has been written in other places, Texas’ Mike Minor has been putting up big numbers thus far, accumulating 4.1 bWAR. He is a pure rental, is relatively cheap, and has a history of strong peripherals. The problem is that Minor has a scary injury history, so matching up on a fair-value trade would be tricky, to say the least. This is another option that I don’t think is realistic, despite the fact that I think Minor is the best rotation trade option for the 2019 season.
The first realistic option I’d like to highlight is Tommy Milone, who is playing for Seattle this season. At first blush, this seems like a terrible idea. Milone was a solid, pitch-to-contact lefty who floated around the American League in the earlier part of the decade. Milone always lived life on the edge with his approach, and his statistics fell off a cliff in 2016. However, his approach has changed this season, and though the sample size is very small (just 3 starts, and 20.1 innings), Milone’s peripherals and statistics are promising. Milone has struck out nearly a batter per inning this season, while limiting walks and hits to their lowest frequency in his career. Milone is a cheap rental who would not likely cost a top-5 organizational prospect. Milone, if his renaissance continues, would be a really good, cheap option.
If the Arizona Diamondbacks decide to sell, Robbie Ray could be available. Ray is a much bigger name, as he combines occasionally brilliant performance with high strikeout rates. He is extremely volatile, walking a high rate of batters, and allowing batters to reach base, even when he is going strong. That said, Ray has probably been a little unlucky this season, as his peripherals indicate that his 3.62 ERA could even be a touch better if everything else regresses to the mean. Ray is an average, mid-rotation starter in the aggregate, and could make the Yankees better this season. Ray has 2 years of team control remaining, and has previously produced at near-Cy Young standards, so he will be expensive if the Diamondbacks sell. I would guess something like Estevan Florial and a low-minors lottery pitcher would be a good Yankee offer that would likely be pushed aside by Arizona.
My favorite rental option this season is Jordan Lyles. Pittsburgh has no chance to keep up in the NL Central, so I think that they will be willing to trade any rental-type players on their roster by July. Lyles struggled as a starter for years, and following a successful stint in the bullpen for the Brewers last season, Lyles has shown continued success as a starter this season. Lyles has a sold strikeout-walk ratio of 3.05, is striking out a batter per inning, and is limiting hits at the best rate of his career (7.3 H/9). Lyles appears to have come into his own, and is in his prime at 28 years old, is cheap, and would be a pure rental. I can’t imagine that the cost for Lyles would be unpalatable, so do not be surprised to hear Lyles’ name as a potential trade target come July.
So in a roundabout way, I guess I prefer cheap, mid-rotation trade targets based on the current market. I do believe that the Yankees will target rotation depth in July, given the injuries to Severino, Monty, and CC, and Happ’s struggles. When the trade deadline comes, I think the Yankees will add at the bottom of the rotation as opposed to the top.
Brian asks: What should the Yankees do with Clint Frazier? He has been really painful to watch in the outfield. Minors? DH?
Frazier’s defense has become untenable in RF. His performance on Sunday night against the Red Sox was one of the worst outfield defensive performances I can remember, and the optics of his beef with the media are bad (stupid, as I think that the media has not been fair to Frazier over the years, but still not the face that the Yankees want their players to portray to their fans). That said, I have liked that the Yankees have continued to play him in RF.
At the moment, the Yankees are not exactly flooded with outfield options. Frazier really has not played much RF in the minors, and the angles look completely different between the two outfield corners, and he needs to learn in order to have a long-term place on the Yankees. I wish the Yankees could afford to put Frazier at AAA to learn, but that’s not an option due to the way he has performed at the plate this season. I also think that shielding Frazier from RF could create a psychological issue, so forcing Frazier to play the position after a night like Sunday is a good decision, in my opinion.
All of that being said, I think that Frazier should split his time between DH and the outfield. Morales was a nice idea, but his bat looks slow, and the performance has matched the eye test. Dropping Morales will allow Frazier to play at DH and the outfield in the short-term, at least until everyone gets healthy. Frazier is a young, former top-prospect, and it is time to figure out if he can get over the hump as an everyday player and outfielder. His bat is an asset, so the Yankees need to delicately balance the need to develop Frazier at the Major League level with their need to win baseball games.
Jeff asks: How does the bullpen shape up once Betances comes back?
I have a piece that will answer this question coming out Monday, but I’ll give a little primer here. The Yankee bullpen has not been historically good, as was predicted in the off-season by many (including me), but it still has been very, very good. Obviously, once Betances is ready to return, he will have a spot in the bullpen, but deciding who to cut will be a difficult decision. The advanced metrics, depending on which metrics are used (baseball-reference, Fangraphs, Statcast, etc.), wildly differ in their assessment of a couple of pitchers in the Yankee bullpen. A healthy Betances will make this bullpen even better (hopefully as soon as this month!), but I think that the decision will come down to cutting one of Chad Green, Jonathan Holder, and the shuttle/long relief arm (presently Luis Cessa).
Cutting Cessa seems like the easiest option, but the Yankees have shown in years past that they value a long-relief arm in the bullpen, so clearing room for Betances may be one of the more interesting topics we’ll have in the month of June. I know that this is a cop-out, but I am withholding my opinion on this one until Monday! Be sure to check it out then. All I know is that having Britton, Ottavino, Betances, and Chapman at the back of the bullpen is going to be sweet.
That’s it for this week’s mailbag! The Yankees are playing what should be a fun series against the Indians this weekend, and more importantly, DIDI IS BACK!!! Sorry, I’m very excited about it. Have a great weekend, and enjoy the games!