It’s July, and as Yankee fans, we’re all wondering who’s available at the trade deadline. Matt looked at Cole Hamels a couple days ago, Mike Axisa over at RAB likes Ramon Hernandez, and Steve Goldman at Pinstripe Alley took an interest in personal favorite Chase Headley. What makes this time of year so much fun are the countless trade rumors and proposals to consider, but most people don’t consider the expenses it takes to make these types of trades actually happen. Without Jesus Montero, the Yankees are in an unfamiliar situation, without a clear tradable piece.
Yesterday, Baseball America released their top 50 midseason prospects, with Mason Williams (28), Gary Sanchez (30), and Tyler Austin (39) placing for the Yankees. While these three positional Single-A players have an incredible amount of upside, and would most certainly be expendable from the Yankees’ perspective, other teams prefer to target players closer to the majors. The more mature and more tradable Yankee prospects, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, have fallen due to inefficiency and injury, and selling now would be selling low. When considering the type of package the Phillies want for Cole Hamels or the Cubs for Matt Garza, the Yankees no longer have that highly desired major league ready top 10 prospect, and it’s hard to imagine who teams could fall in love with. But there is one players who might fit some of the mold, and that’s David Phelps.
The 25 year old right hander was only a 14th round pick in the 2008 draft, and he never landed on any top 100 lists. Phelps always produced quality numbers and starts in his minor league career, but it wasn’t until the last couple of years that he better developed his secondary pitches that lead to better strikeout numbers. After shoulder problems last year, the starter made a strong comeback in the Arizona Fall League. This season, he finally received some praise from FanGraphs, as well as John Sickels, who ranked him the Yankees 7th best starter with a B- grade.
Phelps has built his biggest trade value this year, posting a 3.05 ERA, a 9.1 K/9, a 8.1 H/9, and a 3.7 BB/9 in 41.1 IP as a starter and reliever. He seems to have lucked out a bit this year, posting a 4.38 FIP and an 86.4 LOB%, but producing like this in Yankee Stadium in the AL East is no easy feat. With CC Sabathia scheduled to make his next start, David Phelps was seemingly hasted away to Double-A yesterday, despite a strong but shortened performance, striking out 8 Rays on Wednesday. While the move has something to do with adding Darnell McDonald to the 25-man roster, it also has something to do with Phelps’ trade value. Stretching Phelps out as a starter means he can be sold as a starter, which obviously gives him more value than selling him as a long reliever. It’s hardly a coincidence the Yankees have chosen to do this in the trade months of June and July.
The raw numbers are there for Phelps, and his surprising success is starting to look a little bit like Ivan Nova’s of last year. When Nova started the 2011 season, he posted strong numbers in the first half, but many doubted it would continue with his FIP hinting at regression. Through adding the slider, Nova only started to look like the real deal in the second half of last year. When evaluating Phelps, I think it’s fair to be on either side of the debate, whether you believe he’ll follow the same path as Nova or regress to his FIP numbers. Personally, there’s nothing about Phelps’ secondary pitches that impress me. While his slider is hard, it lacks horizontal movement, and looks more like a cutter, earning him a 10.4% whiff rate. The curveball also only breaks about 3 inches into left handed hitters, and has earned him an 11.8% whiff rate. Somehow he’s produced a 9.1 K/9 in his first 41.1 major league innings, more than he ever produced in the minors. While I don’t expect it to continue, I didn’t expect Nova’s success to continue either.
With Sabathia coming back, Phelps becomes the sixth starter in an organization that already has 7th starter DJ Mitchell, 8th starter Adam Warren, and Andy Pettitte coming back sometime in September. If the Yankees choose to sell David Phelps and one of the three High-A prospects for a pitcher, they’re losing very little depth, and starting to put together a good base package. If the team can find a believer, it would seem that David Phelps is the most tradable piece this July.
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