Ah, trade rumor season. That magical time of year is upon us, where various MLB executives and agents leak tidbits to the media and the general public often doesn’t know which way is up. This year’s first bit of contradicting news comes out of New York, and surrounds a former Tigers prospect. On Sunday, MLB.com’s Barry Bloom reported that the Yankees told reliever Andrew Miller that he would not be traded this July. Less than 24 hours later, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the Yankees are “taking offers for Miller,” along with several other players on their roster.
Miller, a 31-year-old lefthander originally drafted by the Tigers in 2006, could be the most sought-after player on the trade market if the Yankees decide to sell. He has a 1.47 ERA and 1.92 FIP in 36 2/3 innings this season, and is striking out a whopping 16.2 batters per nine innings. He owns a career 2.77 ERA as a reliever, but is sitting at 1.90 with a 0.80 WHIP in the past three seasons. Though many originally cringed at the contract that is paying him $9 million per season through 2018, his dominant numbers have turned that deal into a relative bargain.
Naturally, a pitcher of Miller’s pedigree and relative cost — remember, $9 million is a drop in the bucket for the Yankees — is going to be an expensive piece to acquire. The Chicago Cubs are one of the teams that is reportedly interested in Miller, and their farm system is far deeper than what the Tigers have. Though the Tigers and Yankees have made several trades in the past, including one move since Al Avila took over as GM, Detroit may not have the pieces the Yankees want to move a pitcher who could feasibly contribute to the next contender in the Bronx.
If the Yankees do decide to sell, one of the first players on the move will be left-handed closer Aroldis Chapman. The flamethrowing Cuban is in his final season before free agency, but is such an elite talent that he will still command a solid return on the trade market. The Baltimore Orioles were forced to cough up top-100 prospect Eduardo Rodriguez in exchange for Miller at the 2014 trade deadline, so one could presume that Chapman’s cost would be similar. Chapman has only pitched 22 innings this season after serving a 30-game suspension for violating MLB’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse policy. His strikeout rate has dipped thus far, but he has a 1.90 FIP and 0.96 WHIP in 24 appearances.
Olney also identified a few of the Yankees’ starters as potential trade candidates. Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi both have multiple years of club control remaining, but could be more valuable to the Yankees as trade chips when pitching-starved teams come calling. Free-agent-to-be Ivan Nova was also mentioned. Pineda has a 5.24 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in 16 starts, but is striking out nearly 11 batters per nine innings and has a 3.84 FIP. He was brilliant in June, holding opponents to a 2.75 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 36 innings. Pineda will be a free agent after the 2017 season.
Eovaldi and Nova represent more modest upgrades. Nova, a 29-year-old righty, has a 5.06 ERA and 4.80 FIP in 74 2/3 innings this season. However, he has lowered his walk rate to a career-best 5.2 percent and has a 3.86 xFIP away from Yankee Stadium. Eovaldi started the year brilliantly, with a 3.72 ERA and 3.58 through the end of May, but has struggled mightily since. In his last six starts, he has allowed a 9.20 ERA and 8.25 FIP. His strikeout rate has dropped from nearly 23 percent to just over 13 percent during that span, and the Yankees recently announced they were moving him to the bullpen. Trading him now would be selling low on a pitcher with mid-rotation potential, and with one more year of club control remaining, they can afford to be patient.
While the language used in these reports allows for some wiggle room on both sides, our friends at Pinstripe Alley point out that principal owner Hal Steinbrenner is likely the person holding up the proceedings.
Hal Steinbrenner hasn’t yet conceded that his team of notorious buyers should be on the other end of deals this summer. Not wanting to declare the season lost and potentially cost himself ticket sales is understandable, but the team isn’t a good one even without selling off pieces. It seems like most fans have even warmed to the idea of trying to sell and regroup going forward.
At first glance, the Yankees do seem like the last team that would be interested in selling at the trade deadline, and their position in the standings may reinforce that belief in the owner’s box. The Yankees are currently one game below .500 at 41-42, and sit four games out of the second AL Wild Card spot. Many, including our friends at Pinstripe Alley, have identified the reasons why the Yankees should sell — spoiler: they’re in a similar position that the Tigers were in last season — but the ones collecting ticket revenue may see things differently.