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Shopping Lance Lynn to the Yankees

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There’s interest on the Yankees' part, and there seems to be a match on paper as well.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Lance Lynn may not be a Cardinal much longer. It’s no sure thing that he will be traded, as teams are reportedly still waiting to see if the Cards intend to do so. The Cards are still “in the process of generating a market and offers” for him.

I’ve supported trading Lynn for a while. I have to emphasize that the reason I hope the Cardinals trade him isn’t that I don’t think he’s a good pitcher. I think he’s one of the more under-rated pitchers in the game actually. If you disagree, I’ll refer you to a great article by John yesterday.

The reason I hope they trade them is that the Cardinals aren’t all that likely to make the playoffs right now, with about a four to one chance of making the NLDS. At the same time, his presumed replacement - Luke Weaver - has a pretty good chance of actually being better than Lynn. Indeed, that’s what both of the best public projection systems think. Even if you disagree, which is reasonable, the difference between the two probably isn’t very large.

The Cardinals could hang onto Lynn, and make him a qualifying offer at the end of the year. Assuming that Lynn would turn down the ~$18M one year offer (he’s worth more than that) and signs for more than $50M somewhere else (he probably will) the Cardinals would receive a pick in-between the second and third round. However, that pick is only worth a few million. The Cardinals may be able to get more than that by trading Lynn now.

That’s because it appears to be quite the seller’s market this year in terms of starting pitchers. Pegasus referenced this less than a week ago, but if you missed that excellent post, he shared a quote Mariner’s GM Jerry DiPoto made after the Marco Gonzales-Tyler O’Neill trade:

We have talked to every team in the league regarding starting pitching, and the league demand greatly exceeds the supply. And as a result, the asking price — you think we gave up a lot to get David Phelps? The starting market is particularly high in what the asking prices are in return. We’re going to be realistic in what we can afford to let go. If we are to give away the types of asks that are being requested in return for starting pitching, we want someone who’s not just sustainable for 2017 but for the foreseeable future.

With a crowded A.L. Wild Card picture, not many teams are looking to sell, and there’s just not very many arms to go around. Sonny Gray has been getting the most coverage, and the Rangers just recently decided that they’ll be trading Yu Darvish, but he’s had a rough year. Other than that, there’s really not that much left.

However, there’s still a number of contending teams that could use an extra starting pitcher. To illustrate this, I utilized Fangraphs’ depth chart projections, which are an average of the two best public projection systems, ZiPs and Steamer, with writer-maintained projected playing time.

Anyway, for each team I took the five pitchers with the most projected starts remaining, and ranked each team’s five by projected FIP. For each team, the highest projected FIP of those five would presumably be replaced if they made a trade. Here is each team’s fifth starter by FIP:

Of course, the teams can and do have their own internal valuations, and a team only needs four starters in the playoffs anyway. Teams need five to get there of course, but it stands to reason that a team with four good starting pitchers and one weak one is less likely to upgrade than one with three good starters and two weak ones. So here’s each team’s fourth-best starters as well:

I think this visual illustrates this better than a bunch of words and numbers, but if you’re interested in the names behind these rankings, here’s a sortable table with each team’s fourth and fifth best starters, by the projections:

Fourth and fifth starting pitchers

Team Fourth-best FIP Fifth-best FIP
Team Fourth-best FIP Fifth-best FIP
Dodgers Kenta Maeda 3.84 Brandon McCarthy 4.07
Cubs Kyle Hendricks 3.89 John Lackey 4.45
Red Sox Drew Pomeranz 3.94 Eduardo Rodriguez 4.32
Cardinals Mike Leake 4.11 Lance Lynn 4.33
Giants Matt Moore 4.22 Matt Cain 5.04
Nationals Tanner Roark 4.25 A.J. Cole 4.89
Diamondbacks Patrick Corbin 4.27 Taijuan Walker 4.32
Pirates Chad Kuhl 4.29 Trevor Williams 4.41
Astros Joe Musgrove 4.3 Mike Fiers 4.53
Rays Jacob Faria 4.45 Jake Odorizzi 4.55
Mets Zack Wheeler 4.46 Seth Lugo 4.69
Athletics Kendall Graveman 4.47 Paul Blackburn 4.88
Braves Sean Newcomb 4.54 R.A. Dickey 4.78
Blue Jays Francisco Liriano 4.54 Marco Estrada 4.61
Indians Mike Clevinger 4.55 Ryan Merritt 4.74
Yankees Jordan Montgomery 4.58 Luis Cessa 5.26
Royals Jason Hammel 4.59 Ian Kennedy 4.68
Angels JC Ramirez 4.6 Parker Bridwell 5.25
Padres Travis Wood 4.68 Christian Friedrich 4.85
Rangers Tyson Ross 4.68 Andrew Cashner 5.04
Rockies Jeff Hoffman 4.74 Kyle Freeland 5.01
Marlins Jose Urena 4.78 Tom Koehler 4.92
Tigers Matt Boyd 4.78 Jordan Zimmermann 4.79
Twins Adalberto Mejia 4.81 Hector Santiago 5.48
Brewers Matt Garza 4.82 Junior Guerra 5.26
Phillies Jeremy Hellickson 4.93 Ben Lively 5.05
Mariners Ariel Miranda 4.95 Andrew Moore 5.13
Orioles Ubaldo Jimenez 4.99 Chris Tillman 5.08
Reds Tim Adleman 5.19 Robert Stephenson 5.48
White Sox James Shields 5.37 Mike Pelfrey 5.37

Lynn ranks as the team’s 5th best starter, but relative to other 5th-best starters, he ranks fourth-best. Whenever I run this program the Dodgers always crush it, they just have such a deep rotation.

The question is, what contending teams are in most dire need of pitching? The Mariners have the 7th worst 5th starter and the 4th worst 4th starter, though those would marginally improve if they promote the newly acquired Gonzales. The Orioles also rank low, at 8th and 3rd worst respectively, but as I’m writing this I see they’ve just completed a trade for Jeremy Hellickson.

The Red Sox rank well by this, but David Price is still projected in their top 5 in terms of games started. Price recently went on the D.L. for elbow inflammation, and if he misses significant time then Doug Fister would take his spot, and he would rank in the middle of the road in terms of 5th starters. Losing a pitcher like Price - even in a down-year - is a blow to any team, but being that they only need four starters when the calendar terms to October, they may not be all that interested in upgrading the fifth spot.

For in-division fodder, the Brewers rank 5th and 6th worse respectively. If Lynn is the only big league piece they move, I have a hard time believing the deal gets done in the division though. If they do a more drastic sell-off, then hey why not? The Brewers would only have him for the rest of the year and if Lynn helps the Brewers hold off the Cubs, well that’s just a plus.

The Royals reportedly had recent talks with the Cards. After dealing for Trevor Cahill though, their rotation’s outlook has improved. They were in the bottom half in both rotation slots before the trade, but now they’re above-average in the 5th spot and in middle of the road on fourth starters.

The Yankees reportedly have interest in Lynn, and the results here show that it makes sense. They have the 27th ranked 5th-best starter and the 15th ranked 4th-best starter. Technically, Caleb Smith recently replaced Luis Cessa in that 5th spot, but his projection isn’t much better after adjusting it from relieving to starting (on average, pitchers gain 0.65 points of FIP when moving from the pen to the rotation, due to having to pace themselves more and hitters seeing them multiple times).

That seems to be where the best fit lies. The Yankees should probably be taking every upgrade they can get, as they’re a half game in front of the Red Sox in the division, who lead the Wild-Card race. Avoiding the Wild-Card game would be great, and they’re just three games up on the Rays, who are third in the Wild Card race (as well as the A.L. East). They could use five capable starters more than a team that is already bound for the playoffs. Lynn would also be a marginal improvement over the Yankee’s fourth-best starter, Jordan Montgomery, improving their odds in any potential playoff series.

The Yankees also have a strong farm to draw from. Based on the preseason rankings, my aggregate top prospect list has them ranked as the second-best system in the game. The White Sox (who placed 3rd at the time) have probably passed them at this point, after acquiring Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease, and Blake Rutherford, the last of which came from the Yankees in exchange for big league pieces David Robertson, Todd Frazier, and Tommy Kahnle.

Aaron Judge is no longer a prospect, though that’s certainly a good thing, and they’ve also recently promoted Clint Frazier, who ranked 20th on my aggregate list. They still have a lot of depth to draw from though. Here’s the remaining Yankee prospects that made one of five preseason top 100 lists or Minorleagueball.com‘s top 200, along with some estimated values for those prospects:

Remaining Yankees top prospect rankings

rank Prospect Pos. Value MiLB FG 100 BA 100 BP 101 361 MLB
rank Prospect Pos. Value MiLB FG 100 BA 100 BP 101 361 MLB
4 Gleyber Torres SS $72.20 Grade A/A- 60 5 15 9 2
50 Jorge Mateo INF $28.50 Grade B+ 50 85 43 54 44
95 James Kaprielian RHP $18.30 Grade B+ 55 87 58 97 55
97 Justus Sheffield LHP $18.20 Grade B+ 50 91 52 x 75
117 Chance Adams RHP $15.30 Grade B/B+ x x x x x
118 Domingo Acevedo RHP $15.30 Grade B/B+ x x x x x
138 Albert Abreu RHP $12.90 Grade B x x 82 x x
192 Miguel Andujar 3B $7.60 x x x x 100 x
196 Dustin Fowler CF $7.50 x 50 x x x x
200 Tyler Wade SS $6.80 x x x 101 x x

Prospect rankings are a snapshot in time, and these are a bit dated now. When the usual outlets are finished releasing their midseason lists, this will be updated. At the same time, every team has their own way to evaluate prospects. This is just an attempt to gauge the best public sources, to get a rough over/under for how teams might value these players. By pinning a dollar value to each top prospect, we have a shorthand for comparing them to MLB players in an apples-to-apples manner.

Obviously Lynn wouldn’t nab Gleyber Torres, the fourth best prospect in my aggregate rankings. But what could he fetch? I found the price of a win to be $9M last offseason, and Dave Cameron found that the price of in-season WAR is double what it was in the offseason, giving us an $18M price per win in the current market. Again using Fangraphs’ depth charts for the projection, let’s look at Lynn’s value at the moment:

Lance Lynn trade value calculation

Lance Lynn 2017
Lance Lynn 2017
Price of WAR $16.0
Projected WAR 0.8
Projected value $12.8
Salary $2.5
Projected Surplus Value $10.3

Lynn comes in at $10.3M, less than all but three of the Yankee’s ranked top prospects. Remember though, the prospect values are from before the season began. Miguel Andujar for instance has posted a 149 wRC+ as a 22 year old in Triple-A this year, and right now plays third base. His one ranking was from being ranked 100th on Prospect 361’s list. He didn’t make MiLB’s Top 200 preseason list, but he received a “B-” grade from John Sickels, same as the last 20 players on their top 200. He’s probably raised his value this year, but he also didn’t appear on Baseball America or MLB pipeline’s Top 100 midseason lists.

Tyler Wade could also be intriguing. He didn’t make Baseball America or MLB pipeline’s midseason list, but he did rank 27th on KATOH’s midseason stats-only list. That’s thanks to a strong year at the plate in Triple-A while playing short, and at least one prospect analyst believes he profiles as average there. With Aledmys Diaz’s issues this year, and Paul DeJong’s extreme profile, adding another close to MLB-ready shortstop to the mx would be helpful. He also has spent time at second-base and center-field as part of an effort to make him a super-utility player, though those don’t appear to be positions of need right now.

I also think my calculation is a little lower than Lynn’s true value. Even with doubling the in-season premium, this might not fully capture how much starting pitching is valued at the moment. Going by at least one General Manager’s public statements, that appears to be the case.

The Yankees have three interesting pitching prospects that could match up with Lynn: Justus Sheffield, Chance Adams, and Domingo Acevedo. Sheffield ranked 93rd on MLB pipeline’s midseaon list and 73rd according to Baseball America. Adams ranked 61st for MLB and 56th for BA. Acevedo didn’t make either list, but has a 9.25 K/9 and 1.37 BB/9 as a 22 year old in Double-A, and was 77th on KATOH’s stats-only list. James Kaprielian was higher ranked than all three and made every top 100 prospect list, but has yet to throw an inning in 2017 thanks to an elbow injury.

Would one of those three pitching prospects be too rich for the Yankee’s blood? Maybe, but their rotation is pretty weak at the moment and their remaining prospects feature a lot of pitchers. Perhaps they could see it as dealing from an area of depth to fill a weakness.

So we’ve got five guys here: Wade, Andujar, Sheffield, Adams, or Acevedo. I have to stress at this point that I am by no means capable of judging these prospects on my own. I’m just telling you what the experts say. VEB’s own prospect guru The Red Baron likely could write a few thousand informative and entertaining words on these five, and it would leave us all with a very good understanding of these guys. I’m not that guy though.

He’s really good at it too. Back in 2015 he liked the Cardinals pick of Nick Plummer in the first round, though he really wanted them to take Walker Buehler instead. The same Walker Buehler that now ranks 13th overall on MLB pipeline’s list, 17th on Baseball American’s list, and 19th on Baseball Prospectus’ list. The Dodgers took him with the very next pick.

The point is, the Yankees have a lot of guys that could make sense to trade for Lynn, and all of them represent a much cheaper cost than what the A’s reportedly want from the Yankees for Sonny Gray: either Frazier or Torres. The depth of their system makes it seem fairly likely that the Cards and the Yankees could find someone they agree on as being worth two to three months of Lance Lynn. Let’s see if that happens.