There have been rumors circulating in recent weeks that the Yankees are inquiring on Jose Quintana, and with good reason. The Yankees need a starting pitcher, and the free agent market looks less than barren.
Of course, the downside with going the trade route is the obvious — giving up non-money assets in return. And at the moment, with the place that the Yankees are at in their stage of development, it makes more sense to spend financial resources than it does to spend a comparable amount in terms of prospects. But that also means that the Yankees should only be interested in trading for players that come with ample team control. After all, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Bombers contend in 2017, but a higher premium on wins added should be placed on the years 2018 and beyond.
In all likelihood, the price for Quintana is much more than the Yankees would be willing to offer. It’s kind of a zero-sum game to be sacrificing future value for future value.
With that being said, there is basic groundwork for the type of player that the Yankees should be targeting:
1) Said player comes with multiple years of team control.
2) The probable acquisition cost must be reasonable. In other words, there should be an obvious reason why a team would deal the pitcher, whether because the team is in a state of rebuilding or because it has too many other options. I’m usually all in favor of trading for players that aren’t on the trading block, but those players usually tend to cost a lot because there is no reason for their team to move them (see White Sox and Adam Eaton or Tampa Bay and Wil Myers).
3) Ideally, this pitcher would generate an above-average amount of groundballs. This isn’t as mandatory as the first two, but over the past two seasons, the Yankees’ starting rotation has vastly underperformed its expected performance based on K/BB ratio because of a gopherball problem. Playing in a division with high-powered offenses such as Boston, Toronto, and Baltimore, not to mention the homer-conducive ways of all of those parks and Yankee Stadium, it’s understandable why the Yankees’ pitchers’ HR/FB rate would be expected to be higher than league average. Plus, employing so many flyball pitchers somewhat undermines the Yankees’ infield defense that is projected to have above-average options at every position except for second base next season (Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius, and Greg Bird). Obviously, talent is talent, but with the home stadium, competition, and current defense that the Yankees have to work with, it makes sense to target a given skill (groundballs) that is clearly advantageous in the current situation.
If the Yankees valued wins in 2017 over future years, then Jaime Garcia would’ve been a great target; alas, he only fits requirements 2 and 3. I almost wrote about Anthony DeSclafani for this article, but he doesn’t fit requirement 3, and he’s someone whose repertoire could cause his homer rate to go from mediocre to disastrous with a move to the Yankees. In addition, the acquisition cost for DeSclafani could be prohibitive.
That leads us to the subject of this article — the Dodgers’ Alex Wood. Heading into next season, the Dodgers currently have Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, and Julio Urias penciled in as locks for the rotation, and with Wood, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, Hyun Jin Ryu, Brock Stewart, Ross Stripling, and Jose De Leon all hopeful for a rotation spot as well. Despite the fact that, in a context-neutral vacuum, Wood and DeSclafani should be valued similarly, the Dodgers are probably more likely to let him go because they have, like, six too many starters — or, at the very least, they have more of a reason to move him.
Over his first two MLB seasons, Wood looked like a burgeoning ace…or, actually, he already was an ace. Between 2013 and 2014, Wood pitched to a 8.92 K/9, 2.60 BB/9, and 0.69 HR/9, culminating in a 2.89 ERA and 3.07 FIP. During that span, among pitchers with at least as many innings, Wood placed 11th in the MLB in ERA, one spot behind Madison Bumgarner. Wood’s 3.07 FIP landed him 14th in that metric, sandwiched between Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole. And don’t forget that these were Wood’s rookie and sophomore years. Then, in 2015, something happened, and Wood’s strikeouts declined along with his velocity. His K/9 dropped all the way to 6.60 per nine innings, while his average fastball dipped to 89.1 mph. Based on an excellent piece by FanGraph’s Jeff Sullivan and Wood’s comments himself, we finally found out what that “something” was in 2015. It was maybe or maybe not related to a foot injury, but Wood’s mechanics and arm slot subtly changed. However, as anyone who’s ever played baseball can attest, subtle changes in mechanics can be quite significant. Both Sullivan and Wood predicted before 2016 that we would see the Wood that dominated in 2013-14, and because of a truncated season due to injury, most of us didn’t realize that the predictions did come true.
Wood basically returned to his former ace self over 60.1 2016 innings, sporting a career-high 9.85 K/9 while maintaining walk and homer rates in line with his career averages. Sure, that’s nice, but isn’t a 60-inning sample a little small for a starting pitcher? It is, but the reasons behind those changes lead us to believe that we’re really seeing a pitcher that we’ve seen in previous years, and that sample size is no longer small. Wood’s velocity jumped a full 1.5 mph in 2016, and his arm slot returned to its 2013-14 slot. Wood also set a new career-high with a 53.5 percent groundball rate that would’ve ranked seventh in baseball if he had enough innings to qualify. Not impressed yet? Wood tightened up his breaking ball (career-high 82.1 average mph) in 2016, and opposing hitters managed just a .169/.224/.268 mark against it. Wood’s other offspeed offering, his changeup, was somehow even better last season, holding the opposition to a .186/.234/.186 line without a single extra-base hit all year.
Alex Wood also comes with three more seasons of team control, meaning he should still be around during the Yankees’ ideal window of contention. What exactly the Dodgers would want in return is unclear — they seem to be in negotiations for a starting second baseman, and maybe they want some prospect depth to flip or offset the return for said second baseman. Perhaps they really like Jonathan Holder, and the Yankees can throw in some non-Clint Frazier/Gleyber Torres/James Kaprielian prospects in addition to Holder to make a deal happen. I can’t tell you exactly what it will take, but I am reasonably certain that the difference in asking price between Wood and Quintana is significantly less than the difference between their talent. Alex Wood, come on over.
Photo: Kevin Kuo/USA Today Sports