Why Sell Low on Nova?

[caption id="attachment_79945" align="aligncenter" width="550"]Nova vs TOR 2015 Courtesy of Getty Images[/caption] I had a four year-old Chevy Tahoe with a lot of life left, but a fender-bender left it dinged, scratched, and missing a side window. The needed series of cosmetic repairs would’ve cost maybe $3K over a few months, and by using it over those months, I could’ve verified that nothing structural was wrong. But I was kind of sick of it, so I left it looking like a Sanford & Son junkyard prop, and I sold it for $9K less than bluebook value.

OK, I made that up. I just envy the southern/midwestern trial lawyers who sell their points with homespun anecdotes about good ol’ American cars, horses, and cheese grits. I was really talking about Ivan Nova: I don’t understand the sell-low strategy of trying to trade a potentially useful player exactly when his value is at a low point.

The problem isn’t just trading him after a bad half-year. The bigger problem is that we don’t know whether his 2015 performance (1) was just bad because he’s bad now or (2) was suppressed by injury recovery and rust that he could get past in 2016. And the biggest problem is that possible trading partners have less idea whether it’s #1 (bad) or #2 (rusty) than the Yankees do.

Let’s say the team's assessment is that Nova has a 50% chance of returning to second/third-starter form, but a 50% chance of remaining bad. That may be a decent expected value – call it “back-end of rotation,” on average. But another team has to wonder: is it because the Yankees know he’s not improving that they’re posting a “Buy It Now” Nova on eBay?

This asymmetric information problem is why it’s hard to get good value trading a player with injury recovery uncertainty: the acquiring team has to be wary that maybe the fellow is for sale because he’s like a lemon of a used car, a dud that the selling team knows to have low odds of returning to form. You just can’t easily trade your assets for good value when you have a more confident, inside-information-driven valuation than the other team does.

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Quick Hit: When Does Baseball Start Again?

With the calendar flipping over from December 2015 to January 2016 and the football regular season wrapping up, I think it's safe to say we've crossed the threshold from "excited about hot stove season" to "suffering from hot stove cabin fever" in the baseball world.  Good thing too, because with 46 days until pitchers and catchers report to Tampa, we're closer to the start of the 2016 season than we are to the start of the 2015 offseason.  That's a good thing.  Means it won't be long now before we can step out of the hot stove haze and into some fresher baseball air. But in the meantime, can somebody go check on my boy John Harper?  Maybe fluff his pillows a little bit, get him some more juice, and take his temperature?  He's taking the hot stove fever thing a little too far with his latest trade proposal:

"If only the Mets and Yankees would be willing to take the chance.

Because wouldn’t trading [Andrew] Miller and Brett Gardner for Zack Wheeler, Rafael Montero, and Alejandro De Aza fill important needs for both teams?"

John, buddy, come back to us.  In what universe is that a trade that works for the Yankees?  With what we've seen closers go for on the trade market this offseason, both the high and low ends of the return spectrum, what makes you think Cash would entertain the idea of trading his 2 best Major League chips for injured guys and a garbage outfielder?  That's like something a delusional Met fan would call into Francesa trying to sell to Mike as a great deal.  It's ludicrous.  It's not going to happen and it never should.

On a more serious note, I think we've reached the point of the offseason where keeping Gardner and Miller is more likely than either of them being traded.  Even if they're put into a package that brings back a solid-or-better starting pitcher, I don't see how the Yankees are a better team this season with that pitcher and without whatever it took to get him and I don't think Cash sees how either.  The markets on both Gardner and Miller have quieted over the last few weeks, and while there's always the chance that it's because the Yankees are working something they've been keeping under wraps, I think it's more likely that Cash and the Yankees have disengaged after seeing what teams were willing to offer.

The Chapman trade reminded us once again that the Yankees always have more going on than they let on, and there's still a greater-than-zero chance that Gardner or Miller gets traded before February 18th.  But I don't see the Yankees moving them for a less-than-optimal return package and I certainly hope they wouldn't trade both for John Harper's proposed return package from the Mets because that would be less than less than optimal.

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Report: Yankees Shopping Ivan Nova

I hope everyone had a relaxing and enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday.  It was a quiet week in Yankeeland, but there was one small story I wanted to go back and touch on before we pressed on into the heart of the offseason. Last week Joel Sherman reported that the Yankees had "let teams know Ivan Nova is available" in a trade if they were interested.  This is noteworthy for two reasons.  One, the Yankees are on the record as being in the market for starting pitching this offseason and Nova is a starting pitcher, and two, Nova really wasn't good this past season and hasn't been anything special in his MLB career.  The idea of teams lining up to make the Yankees a trade offer after finding out he's available is borderline laughable.

Sherman's report went on to explain that the Yankees are looking for starters with more years of team control remaining, something that Nova does not have.  The 2016 season will be his final arbitration year before free agency and the Yankees must be hoping they can move him for somebody who will be around a little longer rather than keep him next year and then lose him for nothing.

And therein lies the real story in this report.  This isn't about the Yankees trying to add more cost-controlled starting pitching in 2016 so much as it's about the Yankees' plans for Nova in 2016 and beyond.  What this report tells me is that the Yankees not only don't see Nova as part of their starting rotation plan next year, but they also aren't planning on re-signing him after next year.  They've already started the process of moving on from Nova and they'd rather trade him now and get something back that they need than hold onto him next year as a redundant, unnecessary part of the roster.

That organizational mindset is spelled out in Sherman's report.  He takes special care to point out that the Yankees "are not selling low on Nova" and then rattles off all the positively spun things that could be used to up his trade value in talks.  He'll be healthier next year, he'll be motivated, he's cost-efficient in his final arb year, and he's still in his physical prime at age 29.  All of those things are or could be true, but if they're all true then why are the Yankees trying to trade the guy?  He's a young, cost-controlled starting pitcher and they have said they're looking for young, cost-controlled starting pitchers.  The only reason they would be looking to move him is if they were selling low.

So take the report however you want, but the truth is that Nova has been inconsistent in his Yankee tenure and he's lost the position he once held as an important piece of the team's future plans.  By my count he's the 7th starter on the current 40-man roster, and if the Yankees think they can turn their 7th starter into a better starter, that's something they should pursue.  Nova isn't going to bring that kind of return back on his own, but I could see a scenario or two in which he's part of a multiple player package that brings back a better young starter.

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Report: Yanks And Mariners Have Had Talks About Brett Gardner

Here's the other new story I alluded to in the previous recap post.  According to Joel Sherman, the Yankees and Mariners have "discussed" a potential trade involving Brett Gardner.  This comes as the latest example of the "Brian Cashman is open to anything" storyline that's been gaining strength over the last week or so. Sherman's report is quick to state that the discussions are in the early stages and no specifics have been mentioned by either side, but there is a good fit and logical reason for both sides to pursue this.  The Mariners need to be competitive now and Gardner is the perfect type of top-of-the-order table setter they need in front of their big hitters.  Jerry DiPoto is the new GM in Seattle and has always liked Gardner.  From the Yankees' side, Gardner is arguably their most trade-able main roster piece as an above-average player with a reasonable contract.  With Ellsbury locked in, Beltran coming off the books after next season, prospects waiting in the wings, and some intriguing FA outfield options, Gardner is the best chance for them to move a piece while also helping another area of roster need.

The report mentions "high-end starting pitching" with team control as the desired return for the Yankees, and while Seattle is unwilling to discuss right-hander Taijuan Walker, the same does not hold true for lefty James Paxton.  The 27-year-old pitched to a 3.90 ERA/4.31 FIP split in 67.0 MLB innings in 2015, but has battled injury problems on and off for the past few years.

Stove's gettin' hotter.  It's definitely worth watching where this rumor goes over the rest of this week and in the weeks to come leading up to the Winter Meetings.  Gardner is one of the core members of the Yankees now and a well-known leader in the clubhouse.  Losing him would be tough, but it would also create more opportunities for young players to step in and could bring a good return to bolster the rest of the roster.

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Should the Yankees Reacquire Martin Prado?

The Yankees need a second baseman. Starters at the position have hit a team-low .193 this season, with a .619 OPS. Stephen Drew continues to draw starts despite his disappointing play, Jose Pirela's bat hasn't quite packed the punch the Yankees had hoped, and the team doesn't appear ready to give Rob Refsnyder a shot yet.

Several teams have noted interest in 2B Ben Zobrist of the Athletics, so his price may be a bit too high for New York's liking. A cheaper option may be looking to acquire an old friend.

According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, Martin Prado might be an option for the Yankees.

The Yankees traded for the 31 year-old at last year's trade deadline, before shipping him off to the Marlins last December along with David Phelps for Nate Eovaldi. He missed some time due to a shoulder ailment this season, and has posted an 88 OPS+ in 73 games. That would be an upgrade over Stephen Drew's 76 OPS+ in twelve more games.

The question is, though, would reacquiring Martin Prado be worth it for the Yankees?

It all depends on demand. The shoulder injury has seemingly dissuaded some ballclubs, seeing as how the Marlins have gone from wanting a big return to now being a bit more open. From the sounds of it, it doesn't seem like the Yankees would need to part with one of their top prospects, their reported goal for the trade deadline.

Prado nearly pushed the Yankees into the playoffs last season. His leadership was vital, and his power saw a nice bump playing in a hitter's ballpark like Yankee Stadium. In order to get there again this season, they might need it back. They're paying him $3 of his $11 million each of the next two seasons regardless of where he plays, anyway.

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Ben Zobrist Is A Bigger Upgrade Than You Think

[caption id="attachment_76932" align="aligncenter" width="575"]Zobrist Courtesy Scot Tucker/ SFBay[/caption] Despite having to suffer through Stephen Drew all year at second base, the feeling I get from most Yankees fans is that they think Ben Zobrist wouldn't be a real difference making acquisition. Maybe it's because Zobrist isn't a flashy player and is a little older, but Yankees fans should know how good this guy is from his days in Tampa Bay. Somehow, he is still so underrated.

Zobrist has played 60 games for the Oakland A's this season after recovering from a torn left meniscus in his knee. He has posted a .258/.347/.421/.768 slash line with a .334 wOBA and a 117 wRC+. That is only slightly below his career line of .264/.354/.428/.782 with a .343 wOBA and a 118 wRC+.

Zobrist also defends whatever position he is playing extremely well. He's the kind of player the Yankees love because he's a switch hitter who takes a ton of walks. Incredibly, he has put together four straight seasons with a WAR over 5.0 and three of those seasons it's been at least 5.6. That's about a five win improvement over what the Yankees have at second base right now over a full season.

Zobrist's BABIP is a low .265, so I would expect him to improve as the second half of the season continues because all his other peripherals are about what they usually are. Yankees second basemen this year have a .259 wOBA, a 59 wRC+ and a -1.8 WAR. How is Zobrist not going to make a huge difference? Yes, even if Rob Rensyder was given a shot at the every day job it would still be a big upgrade. He's the biggest upgrade the Yankees can make by far at this point.

The issue with committing to Refsnyder at this point is that it's just too big of an unknown for a team that seems like it has legitimate AL pennant aspirations Who else in the AL is scaring you? The Royals are very good, but look at their starting pitching. The Twins won't keep up this pace. Mike Trout is insane, but what else do the Angels really have other than Albert Pujols? The Astros are extremely young. The Tigers seem out of the picture. Everyone else in the AL East still can't put anything together consistently.

With all of that being said, this seems like a good year for the Yankees to go for it. Mike Axisa made this very good point on Twitter -- when can you expect Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez to be this good again? That's all the more reason to pounce on the opportunity the Yankees have in front of them. So it's really no time to be experimenting to see if Refsynder can make it as a big league player. You still don't know if his bat will play in MLB, and even though he didn't make any major mistakes he didn't exactly look very smooth in the field.

The issue with Zobrist is that with his versatility pretty much every contending team could use him, so he isn't going to come cheap. Other than Aaron Judge and Luis Severino, everyone is pretty much on the table for me for Zobrist. If you read the tea leaves from Brian Cashman's comments after Refsnyder was sent down, saying he wants to keep all his options open screams trade to me. Perhaps trading for a second baseman, keeping Brendan Ryan as the backup shortstop and releasing Stephen Drew.

After two long years the Yankees have a chance at something big again and that's really exciting. They should make it even more exciting by bringing a real and professional second baseman like Zobrist to town.

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Four Reasons Why the Yankees Should Trade for Papelbon, Make Him Closer

The trade deadline is just two weeks away. The Yankees are in a great position to the buyers. That said, I don't think anyone wants the Yankees to completely sell the farm and mortgage the future yet again. So here's a trade target they can pick up for little while still improving the team: Jonathan Papelbon. You know him. The Phillies have him signed to an over-market contract at $13 million with a vesting option that is almost sure to hit for next year. They don't want him. He doesn't want to be there. You probably hate him too. I know I did for years. But he's the perfect low-cost piece for the Yankees to add at the deadline. Here's why:

He's still very good

Papelbon has been on a terrible Phillies team for a few years now, so I know I've tended to forget how good he is. His headline numbers since signing:

  • 2012: 70 innings, 2.44 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 11.9 K/9, 2.3 BB/9
  • 2013: 61.2 innings, 2.92 ERA, 3.05 FIP, 8.3 K/9, 1.6 BB/9
  • 2014: 66.1 innings, 2.04 ERA, 2.53 FIP, 8.5 K/9, 2.0 BB/9
  • 2015: 33.2 innings, 2.60 ERA, 2.75 FIP, 9.4 K/9, 1.9 BB/9

He's pretty good! Papelbon would easily be the 3rd best reliever in the Yankee bullpen behind Miller an Betances. He's right-handed, which the Yankees are desperate for right now. His velocity is down in recent years, but consistent since the beginning of 2014. You could see an argument that Papelbon was on the decline a few years ago, but seems to have righted the ship, and has maintained a high level of play, mostly by replacing two-seam fastballs with four-seam fastballs.

He Makes the Yankee Bullpen Much More Flexible

Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller are better pitchers than Jonathan Papelbon. They're probably two of the four best pitchers in the AL. You've heard this argument before: the Yankees are probably better off giving themselves the flexibility of pitching Miller and Betances all over the innings, instead of holding one back for the 9th. Throwing with the opposite arms increases the ability to leverage their innings even more.

Now, the Yankees can't just throw any old guy in the 9th inning. The closer role is pretty arbitrary, but it's not entirely arbitrary. The closer role naturally evolved out of the logic of inherited runners. When Justin Wilson lets a few guys on in the 7th inning, the Yankees have Dellin Betances to pitch with those guys on. In a close game with lots of relief pitchers used, your closer is the captain who goes down with the ship: no one comes in to relieve him, because the best guys have already been used.

Papelbon is good enough to take that job. He hasn't blown a save all season. There are very few situations where bringing in Betances or Miller to relieve Papelbon will be a plus, and many more where you'd rather Betances or Miller come in to clean up other middle relief messes. And plus, Papelbon has plenty of 'proven closer' street cred with media, and Girardi can lean on that when dumb reporters criticize smart baseball moves.

He might save the Yankees some money

$13 million over 2 years is a lot of money for a relief pitcher. Papelbon is the highest-paid closer in the game, and probably not worth that much money in an absolute sense. It's the reason why he is still a member of the Phillies even as he continues to pitch well. The Yankees have a financial advantage over other teams, and should leverage it regardless of the next paragraph.

All of that said, Papelbon could save the Yankees considerable money over the long term. Dellin Betances is really good. He's probably the best or second best relief pitcher in baseball, and is heading for arbitration after next season. Baseball arbitration is medieval and stupid, and still uses saves as the most important statistic in arbitration decisions. That's why David Robertson earned just $1.6 million, $3.1 million, and $5.2 million in his three arbitration years, while Greg Holland earned $4.7 million and $8.25 million in his first two years, and would likely have earned north of $10 million after this season had he stayed healthy.

If Betances starts earning any real number of saves--either because Miller gets injured, or because they just decide to go with a righty closer in 2016 for non-financial reasons--his arbitration awards could be huge. If the Yankees can knock ~$10 million off Betances' arbitration award, less than the difference between Holland and Robertson, Papelbon's contract looks a lot more affordable. And the best part is the Yankees are one of the few teams in a position to reduce future arbitration dollars by buying Papelbon, which will reduce the Phillies asking price.

Another relief pitcher could be huge in the playoffs

The Yankees will probably make the playoffs. They'll be faced with starting some combination of (if healthy), Michael Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova, and whomever they can get at the trade deadline that is better than CC Sabathia or Nathan Eovaldi. Either way, the team should probably go for the Kansas City Royals strategy of leaning heavily on the bullpen.

Having Papelbon at the back end of the bullpen allows Girardi to pull a starting pitcher in the 5th inning and still only have to piece together 3 or 4 outs with Chasen Shreve, Justin Wilson, and company, just like Ned Yost was able to do with his bullpen last season. They can still lean more heavily on the bullpen without Papelbon, but he makes it much more likely we'll have to see some of Bryan Mitchell or Chris Capuano in close game, or that Girardi will let Nathan Eovaldi try to pitch out of a jam the third time through the order.

Playoffs are about short benches. Your 25th man is a lot more important over 162 games than over three short series. Papelbon makes the short bench much stronger.

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Report: Yankees Among Several Teams "Looking At" Jeff Samardzija And Clay Buchholz

Interesting tidbit of trade rumoring from Nick Cafardo today.  Buried in a larger article of mostly Red Sox-ian topics, Cafardo included the Yankees in a group of teams who are reportedly "looking at" right-handed starters Jeff Samardzija and Clay Buchholz as we inch closer to next month's trade deadline. These are new names as far as the Yankees and their potential deadline targets are concerned.  We've been hearing a lot more about Cueto, Leake, and Cole Hamels lately.  But both Samardzija and Buchholz would be upgrades over the guys currently occupying the back end of the Yankee rotation.  Samardzija has seemingly taken a step back this year (4.56 ERA, 123 hits, 19.0% K rate in 108.1 IP), but he's still a workhorse and his velocity hasn't dropped so presumably he's healthy.  Buchholz has actually been one of the best starters in the AL and the only full-time starter in the Boston rotation who's been any good.

Samardzija is a true 2-month rental while Buchholz has a few team options years attached to him, so the asking prices could vary a little.  Regardless, I don't see the Yankees being willing to pay the prospect price it's going to take to acquire either.  There's no incentive for either color of Sox to take a lesser prospect package, and even less for Boston to trade their best pitcher to their biggest rival.

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Quick Hit: How Active Will Yankees Be At Trade Deadline?

It's almost July, so that means the MLB trading season will be kicking into high gear soon. We have heard a few Yankees rumors already with them scouting Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake extensively, and Joel Sherman speculating they might have interest in Jeff Samardzija. The Yankees are in contention in both the AL East and wild card races, so they will be involved in many rumors as usual. Despite that, I really do not see them being that active this year. The only place the Yankees can add to their lineup is second base. They're not going to upgrade at any other starting position, and they are pretty set on the bench as well. Besides Ben Zobrist -- who will be in very high demand -- what other good second basemen will be available? The Yankees offense has been among the best in baseball anyways, although it would be nice if they could be more consistent on the road.

Pitching is where the Yankees need more help, but I don't see them going crazy there either. I don't see Brian Cashman giving up Aaron Judge or Luis Severino for Johnny Cueto or Cole Hamels. Cueto is a true ace, but he's just a rental and unless you make the World Series it's hard to see it being worth it. While Hamels is under contract for three years, I don't know if he would be an ace in the American League.

Cueto and Hamels would be true upgrades, but the Yankees probably won't be willing to give up enough for them. Then you have the guys like Leake or Samardzija who may or may not even be upgrades. Leake has a 5.59 K/9 rate and a 4.49 FIP in the National League, and Samardzija's line drive rate is up while his ground ball and strike out rates are both down.

The Yankees are already probably pushing Adam Warren, who has been a quality starter this year, out of the rotation because they don't want to remove CC Sabathia. If they would not remove Sabathia for Warren why would they for either of those guys while giving up a prospect?  Can you even be guaranteed that Leake or Samardzija would be better than Ivan Nova or Nathan Eovaldi? Nova looked great in his debut, and Evoaldi has been good in four of his last six starts despite the disaster in Miami.

The bullpen depth can certainly be improved and that's one place the Yankees will probably add a piece. However, other than that I don't know if they will be making a big splash.

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Quick Hit: Why Mike Leake?

With the non-waiver trade deadline just over five weeks away, it is clear that the Yankees rotation needs a bit of help. CC Sabathia ranks among the worst starting pitchers in baseball, and Nate Eovaldi isn't too far behind (or ahead, depending on your point of view). Michael Pineda has been shelled in two of his last three starts, and four of his last seven. And, in the minds of some, Masahiro Tanaka has been downright awful. Sure - Adam Warren has looked quite good ... but he remains relatively unproven, and may not have much left in the tank (he's already at 77.0 IP, after tossing 78.2 IP 2014 and 77.0 in 2013). And, yes, Ivan Nova is back ... but consistency has never really been his game.

The Yankees recognize this, obviously, and their scouts have been busy. In the last week alone, they've scouted Reds starter Mike Leake twice; many believe that he is the team's chief target. And to that, I say 'why?'

Leake has time on his side, as he is only 27. Many have viewed him through that purview, in fact. But he will be a free agent at season's end, so focusing on his age is mostly irrelevant (and qualifying offers cannot be made to mid-season acquisitions). He is also a something of a worm-burning specialist, with his 53.5 GB% ranking 14th in the Majors (and that is no fluke - he had a 53.4 GB% last year, and a 50.2 mark for his career). And he's durable, having made at least 30 starts in three consecutive seasons, and making all of his turns thus far in 2015.

That all adds up to ... a rather average starter.

Leake's ERA (3%) and FIP (20%) are both below-average this season, and his strikeout rate is borderline awful (14.8% and 5.52 K/9 versus league-average marks of 20.1% and 7.64). He doesn't quite make up for not missing bats by being stingy with his walks, either, with BB/9 and BB% rates that are right around average. And, worst of all, he's home run prone - he's allowing 1.30 HR/9 this season, and has a 1.15 HR/9 for his career. Lefties are batting .255/.308/.462 against Leake this season, and .275/.326/.451 since he reached the show.

In short, Leake and Yankee Stadium seem like a match made in heaven for the opposing ballclub.

As readily apparent as the need for a starting pitcher is, I cannot understand the interest in Mike Leake. The only starters that he offers a clear-cut upgrade over at this moment are Sabathia and Eovaldi, the former of which I cannot see going anywhere (barring injury). Shifting Warren or Eovaldi to the pen may help bolster that group, but does not necessarily improve the rotation. It may actually represent a lateral move and, even if the cost is far below what Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto would merit, making a move for the sake of making a move seems inane.

And that is what Leake represents.

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