Cincinatti is the team with the clearest need for both a center fielder and leadoff hitter, especially after losing Shin-Soo Choo to the Rangers last week. The Reds have already established interest in trading for Brett Gardner, after news broke that the Yankees turned down a Gardner for Brandon Phillips swap. After a year of struggle in Triple-A for top prospect Billy Hamilton, the Reds still maintain a need for a speedy glove and leadoff bat. With one year left on his contract, and Hamilton likely ready to step in as a full time player in 2015, Gardner fits the Reds’ needs perfectly.
But what the Reds have to offer outside of Phillips is mostly pitching. With Homer Bailey, Mat Latos, Mike Leake, Johnny Cueto, and Tony Cingrani in the rotation, the team has a superb set of starting pitchers. The team has meanwhile maintained interest in departing starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo, and landing the right-hander would give them one too many starters. At the same time, it looks like the Reds want to lose some payroll, perhaps to acquire one of the remaining free agent bats like Nelson Cruz.
Like Gardner, Bailey is in his final year of arbitration. The pitcher projects to make $9.3 million this year, while Gardner projects at only $4 million. While the Reds have remained reluctant to trade Bailey, supposedly in hopes of extending the 27 year old pitcher, the Reds could answer both their center field and leadoff hitter questions with this trade, as well as add another bat to the lineup by freeing up money in their budget.
But another reason for not trading Bailey is his potential draft pick compensation. The Reds are a win-now team and it’s very unlikely that prospects alone would net the starting pitcher. The team is well aware that Bailey’s ongoing success will likely earn him a qualifying offer at the end of the 2014 season, and thus a first round compensation pick if he were to move on from Cincinnati. Again, a Gardner swap makes sense here because the center fielder projects to earn a Michael Bourn-type contract in the 2014-2015 offseason, and thus a qualifying offer/draft pick as well.
In terms of Bailey’s performance, the pitcher has broken out over the last two seasons. In 2012, the right-hander pitched to a 3.68 ERA with a 3.97 FIP. He kept a decent 7.27 K/9 while posting a strong 2.25 BB/9. In that same year, Bailey saw his ground ball rates increase from 39.5% to 44.9%, largely due to a slight increase in his sinker usage. In 2013, Bailey improved to a 3.49 ERA with a 3.31 FIP. His K/9 jumped to 8.57, while maintaining a 2.33 BB/9, following by yet another increase in his GB% to 46.1%. The 27 year old looked much more comfortable with his sinker in 2013, as the pitch doubled in usage compared to 2011. He also saw an increase in velocity, from 92.4 in 2012, to around 94 mph on both his four-seam and sinker.
According to StatCorner, in 2013, Great American Ball Park carried a 139 home run factor to left-handed batters and a 142 home run factor to right-handed batters. (100 is average) This puts the stadium as one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in baseball, even more hitter-friendly than Yankee Stadium. (116 HR factor LHB and 122 HR factor to RHB) Bailey has found success in this atmosphere by limiting his flyballs, and that type of success should carry over well to Yankee Stadium.
The question remains whether or not trading Gardner for Bailey makes sense from the Yankees’ perspective. Though Bailey likely has a bit more value than Gardner, starting pitchers are still easy to find on the open market. Masahiro Tanaka, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Bronson Arroyo, AJ Burnett, and Paul Maholm remain free agents in January, and David Price and Jeff Samardzija are available via trade. After Doug Fister was traded for a small package of Robbie Ray, Ian Krol, and Steve Lombardozzi, pitchers don’t seem to have the same value as they did in seasons past. Many of these free agents also carry draft pick compensation, meaning most teams will have to give up their first round pick to sign them. The Yankees have already given up all their first round picks after signing Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran, making a free agent signing less impactful on their club.
While I personally remain a big fan of Bailey, I’m not so sure the Yankees should part with a position player like Gardner for a non-ace starting pitcher. If the Yankees want to acquire another starting pitcher, their best bet is likely to wait for desperation from free agents, as it seems some pitchers may lower their asking price or even take a one year deal to rebuild their value for the 2015 offseason. The Yankees have already been connected to Ubaldo Jimenez, and with his history of struggles and draft pick issues, I think there’s a case the Yankees swoop in on a one-year deal in late January. This gives Jimenez a chance to prove himself for the 2015 season, and it gives the Yankees a chance to lose their second round pick and potentially gain a first round compensation pick in the 2015 draft.
In the end, Gardner for Bailey makes a lot of sense for the Reds, but I’m not so sure that the Yankees need to lose Gardner to acquire a pitcher of Bailey’s caliber. It seems that the real position to trade for would be in the infield, and if Alex Rodriguez find himself suspended this month, the Yankees should instead look to trade Gardner for a third baseman.