Jaime Garcia Traded to New York, Becomes Poor-Man’s Mike Piazza

The New York Yankees had been in the trade market for a starting pitcher — or at least had been rumored to be in it — even before Michael Pineda was felled by an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. While a trade prior to Pineda’s injury was seen as a luxury, it became a necessity once he was out for the season. They fulfilled that necessity this morning, when they acquired Jaime Garcia — whose two trades in a week, with the final one landing him in New York make him a very poor man’s version of Mike Piazza.

Before we get into this trade, can we just acknowledge the bizarro world detail of it? Per Joel Sherman:

Not every day that you see that. OK, trade details:

New York Receives
Player Position Age 2017 WAR Rest of Season WAR Contract
Jaime Garcia SP 30 1.6 0.7 Free Agent After 2017
ROS WAR is based on ZIPS/Steamer projection and assumes 57 IP.
Minnesota Receives
Prospect Position Age Level Prospect Rank
Zack Littell RHP 21 Double-A Honorable Mention
Dietrich Enns LHP 26 Triple-A N/A
Prospect Rank is based on Eric Longenhagen’s preseason team write-ups.

For the Yankees, as we mentioned, Garcia immediately becomes one of the starters in the back-end of their rotation. That is a role that he can serve ably. His walk rate looks troubling, but it stems mostly from the beginning of the season:

Jaime Garcia Splits, 2017
Period GS IP K% BB% K-BB%
April-May 10 62.1 15.4% 10.4% 5.0%
June-July 9 57.1 21.4% 7.0% 14.4%

While his control was off in the beginning of the season, right now it’s doing just fine, and if he is able to maintain those percentages for the remainder of the season, he could top his rest-of-season projection.

Whether he can, he should be an improvement over Luis Cessa and Caleb Smith, who had made starts since Pineda hit the disabled list (Bryan Mitchell also made a start, but that seems mostly related to CC Sabathia having been moved up in the rotation because of a doubleheader).

Cessa and Smith are both fine options in a pinch, but rolling with them for an extended period is an untenable solution for a team trying to win the American League East for the first time since 2012. And while, as mentioned, Garcia has a reputation for being injury prone, his recent track record suggests a different pitcher. Save for one month missed in 2015, he has been a picture of health the past three seasons. Not only that, but his fastball has continued to increase in velocity, and it is up to a career-high 91.5 mph this season, per Pitch Info.

As Travis mentioned in his trade analysis piece on Garcia just a few days ago, Garcia’s sinker has been dominant this season. It’s been the fifth-best sinker in the game per Pitch Info in terms of total value, and the third-best on a rate basis.

In just over half a season, Jaime Garcia is now three teams removed from wearing this uniform. (Photo: Barbara Moore)

I bring up its value on a rate basis because for such a dominant pitch, Garcia isn’t leaning on it that much. While there are some pitchers — four to be precise — who toss their sinker more than 50% of the time, Garcia is tossing it just 30.6% of the time. I’m no pitching coach — perhaps it is most effective because he is being more selective with it — but if it is becoming unhittable no matter how much he uses it, then he’ll have an opportunity to get even better by leaning on it more often.

The Twins’ end of this trade is interesting. In the past week, they have essentially flipped Huascar Ynoa for Anthony Recker, Enns and Littell. And of the four players, it would seem that the player with the brightest future is Ynoa. Also of the four, the one furthest from the majors is Ynoa, so while he may have more talent, he is further from realizing it. In his tweet storm, Sherman noted that the Twins are trying to restock their pitching pool, and this certainly does that.

For their parts, Littell and Enns have pitched well this season. Enns has struck out 47 batters in 45.1 innings pitched this season, and for his minor league career, he’s racked up 397 Ks in 389.2 IP. At 26, he doesn’t figure to have much projectability, but he could be a nice piece if he can maintain that K rate in the majors.

Littell could be a little more than that. While Enns didn’t reach Double-A until he was 25, Littell got there this season at 21. Here’s what Eric had to say about him in his Yankees top prospects report back in March:

Zack Littell, RHP, 2.6 KATOH+ – Acquired in a November trade with Seattle, Littell is a pitchability righty with fringey stuff. He pitches heavily off of a loopy, early count-curveball and sequences well, but the stuff is that of a depth arm.

Also of note is that Littell had the highest KATOH+ score of the 34 prospects Eric wrote up for the honorable mention section. And while he may still profile as a depth arm, he has dramatically improved his K% as he has ascended to Double-A. For the first time in his pro career, he has more Ks than IP at a single level. That’s certainly encouraging. And MLB Pipeline — which constantly updates its prospect lists in-season — had Littell at No. 22 in the Yankees’ system this morning. The same No. 22 that Eric had rated Ynoa before the season. So if you’re being optimistic, the Twins just acquired the same ceiling player they traded away, except the one they have now is closer to the majors.

On May 14, 1998, Mike Piazza was traded from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Florida Marlins. Eight days later, the Marlins traded him to the New York Mets. Jaime Garcia lasted two fewer days on the Minnesota Twins, his interim stop on his way to becoming the poor-man’s Piazza. Now also in New York, Garcia fills two different kinds of needs for the Yankees. First, it fills the rotation hole left by Michael Pineda’s injury. Second, it gives them leverage in dealing with Oakland, Texas or anyone else marketing a higher-profile starter in the next ~36 hours. While it would sure be nice if the Yankees had a more bankable starter to pitch in the postseason, they no longer need one to march through the regular season. Jaime Garcia may not be the sexy name Yankees fans were hoping for, but he should get them the results they need to help put the team on the October dance card.

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Paul Swydan used to be the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com and The Boston Globe. Now, he owns The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Acton, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan. Follow the store @SilUnicornActon.

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Nelson S.
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Nelson S.

Now all the Twins fans are going to be annoying about Garcia wearing a twins hat in the HOF