Trade Deadline Preview: Pettitte has setback, Third Base Options

With the trade deadline now less than one day away, it’s easy to picture General Manager Brian Cashman with his phone glued to his ear, and his charger somewhere handy. In all likelihood, there’s been a constant flow of coffee to help him deal with such a busy period and a lack of sleep. Despite always playing down the team’s needs and his supposed willingness to stand pat, we know Cash is certainly doing his due diligence.  If there’s a sensible opportunity to improve the club, a move will be made.  Will it be a big name?  It seems impossible at this point.  Could the deadline come and go without any roster shuffling? It’s entirely possible. Regardless of what happens, there are areas of the team that could use some help, should the potential addition be cost effective without mortgaging the future.

Injury news and competitor’s moves may force the Yankees’ to make a move at the hot corner or the rotation.  With A-Rod until mid-September at the earliest, a right handed complement to Eric Chavez may need to be addressed, as documented in our article a few days back.  Now, however, the rotation may be an even more pressing need, with news yesterday that Andy Pettitte suffered a set back in recovering from a broken ankle.  He had to stop his throwing program, because the healing has been slower than anticipated.  Cashman, however, says that nothing has changed.  While Andy may still return in September, this is also partly Cashman not wanting to alert the other 29 teams that the Yankees are desperate for a starter, which would then take away any leverage in a potential deal.

At Pettitte’s age of 40, we simply cannot count on him to come back this year and be effective.  In fact, if he has any additional set backs, we may not be able to expect his return at all.  That HGH sure would come in handy right now…Anyway, here’s some of the Yankees options at the deadline, both internally and externally.

Starting Pitcher
If worst comes to worst, the Yankees have two internal options: Freddy Garcia (who has already replaced Pettitte) and David Phelps.
FIP and xFIP really like Garcia, indicating his ERA should be closer to 4.02 and 3.99 respectively. SIERA is an even bigger fan at 3.90.  His ERA currently stands at 5.16, which seems more accurate simply from watching his starts.  The biggest concerns with Sweaty Freddy is the amount of baserunners he allows and his home runs allowed.  He has 1.38 WHIP, and only induces ground balls 38% of the time leading to 8 home runs in 61 1/3 IP.
Phelps has been extremely impressive in mainly a relief role.  Of his 19 games, 3 have been starts.  In those three starts, he only allowed 3 runs in 13 innings and an impressive 16 strikeouts.  However, he was unable to go farther than 4 2/3 IP in any start and walked 7.  Overall, his K/9 is just a hair under 10, which is superb.  He’s likely gotten fairly lucky, however, considering he’s stranded 86.7% of runners and has a BABIP of .264 this season.  Additionally, let’s not discount the experience factor that he lacks compared to Pettitte and Garcia.
Outside of the organization lies quite a few options, some pricier than others:
Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza: Two Cubs starters who have been part of plenty of rumors this season, with Dempster linked to the Braves and Dodgers.  Dempster posted an impressive 33 inning scoreless streak this season, but his ERA (2.25) is likely due for a regression.  FIP, xFIP, and SIERA estimate 3.41, 3.70, and 3.84, which still is very effective.  A move to the hitter friendly AL East has to come into consideration, too.  Garza, on the other hand, has proven he can handle the division during his time with the Rays and has been effective the past season and a half with Chicago.  This year, however, he’s allowed more home runs than ever (1.3 per 9 IP) which could be an area of concern.  Price tags for both these pitchers are likely too high for the Yanks.  Dempster is free agent eligible after the year, while Garza has one remaining year of arbitration.
Josh Johnson: Health is always a concern with this Marlins’ hurler, but there is no denying his dominance when on the mound.  Although his ERA sits at 4.14, he’s gotten a bit unlucky: 70.1 LOB% compared to 75.4% for his career, and .338 BABIP vs .302 career.  Not only is health a concern, but price tag is certainly very prohibitive here, considering that the pitching market shrunk with Zack Greinke dealt to the Angels.  Johnson isn’t a free agent until next winter.
James Shields: Big game James hasn’t been quite the same this season.  He’s giving up homers at an alarming rate: 14.8% vs. 11.8% for his career.  He’s still striking out batters, at 8.78 K/9.  His ERA does sit at 4.52, but xFIP sees 3.47 after normalizing his home run total to league average home run rate.  The issue with xFIP here is that Shields would be moving to Yankee Stadium, which has a propensity for the longball.  FIP still likes him, however, at 3.84.  Doubt there is a chance at a deal for Shields going down anyway, considering it would be within the division and at a hefty price.  Shields’ has club options remaining through 2014.
Ervin Santana: The Angels’ starter has fallen out of favor this season with a brutal 6 ERA, much in thanks for a HR rate near 20%, almost twice his career average.  He’s also issuing more walks and striking out less batters than his career rates.  This could be an interesting buy low option, if the Angels are willing to deal with a team they could be facing in October.  He has a $13M club option for 2013 with a $1M buyout.
Jason Vargas: Cashman has already made one deal with Seattle, so perhaps another would could be in store.  Vargas is a left hander having an above average season, with a 3.76 ERA.  His strikeout rates are low, leading to ERA predictors above 4.  His home run rate is a concern (14.5%), especially considering it’s in a pitcher’s park at Safeco Field.  This may not bode well for Yankee Stadium, but he is likely not to require a package of top prospects.  Vargas is under team control through next year.
Joe Blanton: The Phillies are out of it, and it seems like almost anyone on their roster could be available.  Blanton has impeccable control (1.22 BB/9), and a pretty good strikeout rate (7.76 K/9). His ERA is high, at 4.59, much attributed to 1.49 HR/9, albeit in a hitter’s park similar to Yankee Stadium.  He could be a cost effective option and is a free agent at the end of the year.
Felix Hernandez: Back to the Mariners, but I don’t think I need to explain King Felix’ greatness.  I also don’t think I need to explain that it’s a pipe dream.
In the end, I expect Cashman to stand pat with the starting pitching.  The options out there that are cost effective are unlikely to be that much better, if at all, in comparison to Garcia and Phelps.  Plus, despite his age, it is hard to doubt Andy Pettitte’s determination to return.  The question will be his effectiveness coming off injury.
Third Base:

As for third base, take a look at some of the internal and external options in our previous article here. Ultimately, I think this is the spot Cashman most likely makes a move for. There is a need to keep Eric Chavez healthy, and certainly a concern about Jayson Nix or anybody else receiving extended time in the lineup. Chavez has been known to be brittle, and Nix has never been anything more than a role player in the big leagues.

It seems like some people don’t think losing A-Rod will be a big blow to the Yankees lineup (Here’s one example). To me, losing a guy with a .356 wOBA and 122 wRC+ is a pretty big blow, especially with internal options being decidedly average (101 wRC+ for Chavez, 95 wRC+ for Nix). Yes, Chavez and Nix have had their moments this year, but if this was any other third baseman injured and not A-Rod, I would bet this would be a bigger deal. No, Rodriguez isn’t the superstar he used to be and is in a steady decline. But, taking the blinders off and accepting the fact A-Rod isn’t going to put up 40 home run seasons anymore, let alone 30, it’s still quite obvious that he is a very productive player. I know he’s not playing up to his salary, but it’s the Steinbrenners’ fault for giving him all that money when he had nowhere else to go.
Rodriguez will especially be missed vs. left handers, against whom he has a 138 wRC+. As for the Yankees internal options, Chavez should only be used vs. righties in order to maximize his value given his inability to play everyday. Nix has been above average vs. lefties (112 wRC+) in a small sample size of at bats, but is more likely to approach his career mark of 95 wRC+ going forward.
Here’s where a guy like Ty Wigginton may come into play.  As discussed in the previous article, Wiggy has a reputation for hitting well against left handers in his career (.349 wOBA).  His wOBA vs. lefties is down this year, at .312, but his low .204 BABIP against southpaws may be contributing to that low number.  The Phillies should be in sell mode over the next day considering that they are 17 games back in the loss column, and Wigginton should be affordable considering his age and production this season.  One final note, Wigginton has a $500K buyout at season’s end.
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