How quickly things have changed for the Reds. Just one year after pushing the chips in toward contention, Cincinnati is signaling a step back. The team has already let go or traded a few key players, including Archie Bradley and Raisel Iglesias, and now appear to be heading toward even more significant subtractions. Ex-Yankee Sonny Gray came up in trade rumors a few weeks ago, but now, 28 year-old righty Luis Castillo is on the block. The cost to acquire him will be exorbitant, but surely the Yankees will ask anyway given the need for rotational help.
Background & Performance
Castillo’s been involved in three trades already in his young career. San Francisco originally signed him as an international amateur free agent in 2012, traded him to the Marlins two years later. Then, at the trade deadline in 2016, Miami included Castillo in a package to San Diego, only to have him sent back to the Marlins later. Colin Rea, a player acquired by Miami in the deal, got hurt immediately which resulted in Rea and Castillo going back to their original clubs. Finally, the Marlins sent Castillo packing for good in January of 2017 in a deal to the Reds.
The Reds summoned Castillo to the big leagues mid-2017 and haven’t looked back since. He’s made 90 starts for the Reds in his career and owns a stellar 3.62 ERA (124 ERA+) along with terrific peripherals. He strikes out a ton of batters (27 percent), has a pedestrian walk rate (8.6 percent), and keeps the ball on the ground (52.9 percent). His stuff is electric and the underlying Statcast metrics are terrific, too:
Aside from DJ LeMahieu’s free agency, we haven’t heard much about the Yankees’ workings this offseason. It’s been remarkably quiet, though not unlike many of the league’s other 29 teams. Typically, we start to get a decent amount of transactions by mid-December, particularly during the winter meetings. But this year, that of course was not the case thanks to COVID-19. We did get one rumor worth chewing on, though:
Heard today from a couple sources that the Pirates and Yankees have had conversations involving Jameson Taillon and Josh Bell. Unsure on seriousness or scope, but it’s an interesting match.
Unless I’ve missed it elsewhere, Jason Mackey is the only reporter to relay this rumor. Nothing from Yankees beat writers or national insiders just yet, at least. Nonetheless, I think the names involve pass the smell test for the types of players the Yankees are interested in. Allow me to explain why.
Background & Performance
Bell, 28, was the Pirates’ 2nd round pick back in 2011. He’s been Pittsburgh’s primary first baseman since late-2016. The switch-hitting slugger had put together some solid offensive campaigns through 2018, but really broke out in 2019. That year, Bell hit .277/.367/.569 (135 wRC+) with 37 dingers in 613 plate appearances. It all came crashing down for him this year, though, as his wRC+ dropped to 78 and his strikeout rate (26.5 percent) eclipsed the 20 percecnt mark for the first time in his career. Now, with two seasons until free agency, the Pirates appear ready to move him.
Lindor hails from Puerto Rico, though his family moved to Florida before he started high school. He attended Montverde Academy, a school you may be familiar with if you follow the NBA. D’Angelo Russell, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, among others, attended. Cleveland drafted Lindor out of Montverde with the 8th overall pick in 2011. He signed for a $2.9 million bonus.
He was a top prospect throughout his minor league career and debuted in the big leagues mid-2015. Since, Lindor has hit .285/.346/.488 (118 wRC+), swatted 138 homers, and stolen 99 bases in 126 attempts (78.6 percent). He’s elite defensively too: the two Gold Gloves to his name aren’t just because of name recognition. All told, Lindor is a five tool player at a premium position and hasn’t turned 27 yet.
Gausman was the 4th overall selection in the 2012 draft out of LSU. The Dodgers drafted him in the sixth round in 2010 out of high school, but he did not sign. By the way, you may have heard that Gausman was high school teammates with ex-Yankee Greg Bird. The former first baseman of the future was Gausman’s catcher at that time.
The Orioles hoped for Gausman and Bundy to develop into a formidable 1-2 punch atop the team’s rotation, but that never materialized. Gausman put together some OK seasons in Baltimore, but never lived up to his billing. The now 29 year-old righty was a consensus front-end top-100 prospect and didn’t take long to reach the big leagues. He first came up in 2013, just a year after he was drafted.
By ERA+, Gausman was perfectly average during his career with the O’s. He threw 763 2/3 innings and recorded a 4.22 ERA and 4.16 FIP. There were a couple of solid seasons mixed in there, particularly 2014 (3.57 ERA in 113 1/3 IP) and 2016 (3.61 ERA in 179 2/3 IP), but he was often inconsistent. The Orioles traded him to Atlanta at the 2018 trade deadline.
Gausman thrived for the Braves after the deal. He made 10 starts and posted a 2.87 ERA and 3.78 FIP. However, he really struggled last season with Atlanta (6.19 ERA in 16 starts) and was waived mid-summer. Cincinnati claimed him to pitch mostly in relief the rest of the year. The Reds non-tendered him in the offseason. That’s where San Francisco came in. The Giants signed Gausman to a one-year, $9 million deal. In six games (five starts), the righty has a 4.65 ERA and 3.12 FIP in 31 innings.
Still hittable despite more strikeouts
Gausman has been confounding for his entire career. He’s got the high velocity fastball and a good splitter, but he’s very hittable. Even in a year when he’s posted career-best strikeout and walk rates (31.6 and 4.5 percent, respectively), he’s allowed 34 hits in 31 innings. 5 of those hits have left the ballpark.
This is where FIP can be a bit misleading. Yes, it’s a very good 3.12 mark this season on the back of his excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio. But while he’s missed more bats, hitters are still making the most of their contact against him. That’s why it’s no real surprise that Baseball Prospectus’s pitching metric du jour, DRA, actually thinks Gausman’s gotten exactly what he’s deserved (4.65 DRA). To corroborate, take a look at where he stands in a few Statcast metrics by percentile:
Exit Velocity: 60th percentile
Hard Hit Percentage: 62nd
Barrel Percentage: 20th
You’ll notice that his exit velocity and hard hit percentage marks actually aren’t bad. That might be noise, though. Gausman has typically been below average in those categories in prior seasons. Nonetheless, it’s the other items that are more concerning: barrel percentage, xBA, and xSLG. It’s reasonable to assume that his batted profile is the culprit.
Gausman has a hard time keeping the ball on the ground, this year especially so. Batters have a ground ball rate of 34.5 percent this season, down from 40.7 percent last year and 46.6 percent in 2018. That’s not a good trend with such a poor barrel rate against.
With all this in mind, I feel pretty comfortable throwing FIP out the door when it comes to Gausman. More strikeouts and fewer walks are great, for sure. It can certainly help mitigate some of the less than ideal contact he allows. But if he’s going to keep allowing barreled balls, especially in a transition from Oracle Park to Yankee Stadium, it’s not going to work.
Gausman’s earning roughly a third of his $9 million salary as a result of the short season. He’s a free agent at the end of the year and is purely a rental.
What would a trade look like?
Trading for 5 or 6 Gausman starts really shouldn’t cost the Yankees much. If anything, it should be salary relief for the Giants. Maybe a fringy prospect as a kicker. This is probably why he’s already been connected to New York — Brian Cashman won’t have to give up much to get him. MTPS: 2017 11th rounder Shawn Semple for Gausman.
Even though Cleveland is in the thick of the postseason picture, it’s quite possible that the team is ready to part ways with one of its star pitchers, Mike Clevinger. The 29 year-old righty has been bandied about in recent rumors. This comes after Clevinger broke COVID-19 protocols, was placed on the restricted list, and ultimately optioned to the Alternate Site. More on that (and other baggage) in a bit.
Clevinger would be the top pitcher on the trade block if truly available. Brian Cashman undoubtedly will make (or already has made) a call to Cleveland’s front office about him. After all, the Yankees’ rotation could use the boost.
Background & Performance
The Angels drafted Clevinger in the fourth round of the 2011 amateur draft. He wasn’t a big time prospect with the Halos, who dealt him to Cleveland in 2014 for Vinnie Pestano. Pretty bad return in retrospect, though at that time, Clevinger had yet to make it past High-A.
Things turned around fairly quickly for the righty in a new organization. Clevinger became emblematic of Cleveland’s knack for developing pitchers, in fact. He posted gaudy numbers in Double-A and Triple-A in 2015 and 2016, respectively. He also made the show in 2016, but it wasn’t until 2017 that Clevinger became a stalwart in Cleveland’s rotation. A late bloomer at 26 years-old, sure, but better late than never.
In 447 2/3 innings dating back to ’17, Clevinger owns a 2.96 ERA and 3.32 FIP. He’s fanned 28.3 percent of batters and allowed fewer than one homer per nine. His walk rate (9.1 percent) is a tad high in that span, but really not all that bad. Clevinger also went from averaging 92.5 MPH on his fastball to 95.4 last year (he’s down to 94.4 this season, for what it’s worth). The righty’s secondaries are pretty terrific too: he can miss bats with his slider, curveball and changeup. On top of the good stuff, he’s been excellent at limiting hard contact (95th percentile exit velocity in 2019, for example).
If acquired, Clevinger would immediately become the Yankees’ number two starter. This isn’t a case of pursuing someone like Dylan Bundy who’s starting to show flashes after a career of mediocrity. Clevinger is that good. Yet, even with the big numbers and impressive development, he may not be worth the headache. Let’s take a look at why.
Clevinger’s teammates were not too happy, and understandably so. That Francisco Lindor quote above speaks for itself. Cleveland held a team meeting about the situation that effectively resulted in Clevinger’s (and Plesac’s) demotion to the Alternate Site. It’s going to be difficult for those two to regain the trust of their teammates if and when they return.
Professional athletes cheating on spouses/significant others isn’t a surprise. If that alone was disqualifying for wanting a player on your favorite team, you’d probably have a hard time putting a squad together. That said, there are other more troubling allegations above, particularly involving his children. We’re never going to be able to get to the bottom of what happened between he and his family, but I can’t say I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt considering his other behavior noted above.
Clevinger had Tommy John surgery while in the Angels organization and missed most of 2012 and 2013 as a result. That’s pretty far past him now and his arm health has been fine ever since. However, other issues cropped up in 2019. Clevinger was on the injured list from April 9 to June 17 with a high grade back strain. He also missed some time after that return start due to an ankle sprain.
Further, Clevinger had knee surgery back in February that was all but forgotten as a result of the pandemic. He’d have missed a fairly significant chunk of the regular season had it gone on as originally scheduled.
Pitchers of Clevinger’s caliber aren’t available via trade very often. Of course, there are some underlying issues that probably bring down his trade value. For better or worse, these are the types of players the Yankees like to pursue.
I originally was going to reference the Sonny Gray and Chris Archer trades here, but those comps don’t make sense. Cleveland isn’t a traditional seller right now at 17-12. If they trade Clevinger, they’re going to want to try to offset his loss at the major league level. There’s one obvious place to do so. The team’s 112 runs scored is 23rd in all of MLB and Cleveland’s outfield have a league-worst 45 wRC+. I think you know where I’m going here. Clint Frazier, Miguel Andújar, and Mike Tauchman will be of interest. It’ll probably take at least one of those three and prospects to make a Clevinger trade happen.