The competitive-balance tax isn’t a salary cap, not in the hard and fast sense, but sometimes it acts in the exact same way. As a consequence, you can have big-budget teams in the business of cutting payroll, which can lead to situations like Tuesday’s, where the Padres have come to the aid of the Yankees. The Yankees are trying to stay below the threshold, even after acquiring Giancarlo Stanton, and that almost fully explains this morning’s exchange.
This is a trade involving three major-league players. And even though I’m not at all convinced Blash lasts the winter on the Yankees’ 40-man roster, there are things about him to like. Ultimately, though, this is really quite simple to understand — the Padres are taking Headley’s $13-million final year, and they’re getting Mitchell for the trouble. The Yankees drop their payroll, and the Padres get a project.
I don’t want to write Blash completely off. I know that he’s 28, and I know that he has a big-league wRC+ of 84, but let me quickly introduce you to Jabari Blash, the hitter.
Blash is a big strong man. He’s beaten the absolute crap out of Triple-A pitching, and he’s always drawn a high rate of walks. The issue, as you could imagine, is that he runs low contact rates, but he doesn’t often chase, and the power is legitimate. Though he might be designated for assignment tomorrow, if not today, you can’t help but think about the things Blash has in common with 2016’s Aaron Judge. Even though Blash doesn’t really fit with the Yankees, it would be fun if he did fit, because it would be fun to see him get a year against major-league pitching. I’d like to see someone find out. Maybe that’s my own pro-power bias.
But I won’t linger on Blash. From the Yankees’ perspective, this is easy. Mitchell had fallen down the depth chart. And although Headley was slotted as a starter, the Yankees always wanted to improve at third base. Headley is neither particularly bad nor particularly good, and he’ll turn 34 years old in May. Even though he’s not a total sunk cost, the 2018 Yankees weren’t going to lean on Headley, so they seized a chance to send him off. The salary now is completely gone, and only Mitchell has been stripped from the ranks to make it happen.
That being said, I like this gamble for the Padres. As interesting as Blash might be, the odds are clearly stacked against him. The team has plenty of short-term financial flexibility, and Headley is going to play. The Padres can use Headley for a little while, even if they have next to no shot at contention in the season ahead. A competent player is a competent player. And Mitchell? Mitchell is the key, and he’s more interesting than his career 4.94 ERA might indicate.
Mitchell is a 26-year-old righty, and he’s appeared in the majors in each of the past four seasons. He has both started and relieved with the Yankees, and his strikeout rate is a mediocre 14%. You’re not going to look at Bryan Mitchell’s major-league track record and come away impressed. The statistical markers are entirely forgettable, and for that reason you can justify the Yankees giving him up.
But let me tell you just a few things. First of all, the Padres have room in their rotation. Mitchell is likely to get a chance to start, and if he works out, he’s got another four years of team control. The Padres’ burden here is their blessing; they can give Mitchell an opportunity. And this past season, Mitchell performed very well in Triple-A. He appeared in 14 games, making 13 starts. There were 185 pitchers in Triple-A who started at least ten games. Out of that pool, Mitchell ranked ninth in K-BB%, fourth in ground-ball rate, and first in FIP. He threw two-thirds of his pitches for strikes. Mitchell, in the high minors, was very good. That didn’t carry over to the Yankees.
And there’s stuff here to back it up. Mitchell isn’t some finesse righty who hangs around the corners and relies on minor-league over-aggressiveness. Mitchell has a high-spin curveball, he has a cutter he throws almost a quarter of the time, and the fastball can hang around the mid-90s. Mitchell’s big-league average fastball velocity sits at 96.2. Even in starting appearances, it hasn’t been a whole lot lower. The arm strength is clearly present. There are the makings of a full repertoire. It just hasn’t fully translated.
You can think of Mitchell as being a 26-year-old prospect. He’s worth giving 100 innings to see if he can put it together. And the comp I can’t get out of my mind is Tyler Chatwood. It’s not that Mitchell and Chatwood are exactly the same, but they do throw similar pitches, and they’ve never been impressive by their major-league peripherals. The Cubs just gave Chatwood $38 million over three years because they think they can get him to throw his pitches more consistently. The Cubs think they can get Chatwood to throw strikes. Mitchell isn’t a dissimilar project, and he doesn’t have Chatwood’s background of two Tommy John surgeries. Chatwood has had more success in the actual majors, but this is the same kind of profile, and Mitchell won’t cost the Padres nearly so much. If you’re a Chatwood fan, you should see this as a promising roll of the dice.
The probability is that Mitchell won’t reach his ceiling. Maybe he ends up a swingman, and maybe he ends up worse. Remember, as much as the Padres are happy to take this chance, the Yankees are going along with it. The Yankees made Mitchell available. But this is a bet on Bryan Mitchell’s tools, and on his recent minor-league record. The stuff should be there for Mitchell to make for a pretty effective major-league starter, and an actual effective major-league starter costs a whole hell of a lot more than one year of Chase Headley. The Padres don’t have a very good rotation. In a way that just worked out in their favor.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.