Here's a new entry to my in Pinstripes feature: Scott Downs.
Scott Downs, as you may know, was the set-up man/lefty specialist/closer for the Blue Jays this past season. The Yankees may need another lefty out of the pen, so I spoke to Jesse Fruchter of Bluebird Banter about the possibility of Downs being traded to the Yankees.
In answer to your first question, Scott Downs is definitely available. As far as what it would take to get him, he is likely to be a Type A free agent after this season, so you're going to have to beat two solid draft picks right off the bat. It's kind of a rarity for teams to give up a lot for middle relievers in trades, but -- in this case -- that's what would have to happen.
I'd say that the deal would probably have to involve either one extremely good prospect or two lower level, but still high ceiling, ones. This may sound like an overvaluation of Downs, but it's not. Since Downs will be a Type A, letting him walk would net the Jays (or whoever decides to trade for him) two very nice picks.
At this point, since the Jays are rebuilding, we're looking at the best available players, but position players would be optimal. In a perfect world, the Jays would net 3B and CF prospects (someone like Austin Jackson would have been nice . . . sigh . . .) as we don't really have anyone terribly close to the majors at those positions (unless Aaron Hill moves from 2nd to 3rd).
Scott Downs can fill any role (aside, perhaps starting, though he did start 5 games in 2006 and served as a swingman in '05) you would ask him to, and fill it exceptionally well. Downs does not look terribly intimidating (kind of a running joke in Toronto) or throw hard, but he's remarkably effective. He started 2009 closing and, before an injury in June, he'd pitched 27 innings, struck out 28 and walked 4. He was not quite as effective when he came back from the injury, but he should be healthy this year. The Yankees tend to use lefty relievers as loogies and they might do so in his case, but, if so, they'd be wasting him. He's the rare lefty who is just as effective against righties, because his best stuff is his curve, which also serves as a change. In 2009, Downs held righties to a .246 / .309 / .333 line. In 2008, they hit .226 / .323 . / 301. In '07, .238 / .313 / .327.
The Blue Jays wouldn't hesitate to deal within the division (and particularly with a player like Downs, who will likely be somewhat declining before they're competitive), but the deal that it would take might not be worth it to the Yankees, unless they were planning to let Downs walk and claim the two draft picks, themselves. A reliever's services, no matter how good he is, just are not that useful in only one season. As good as Downs has been, and he's been great, he'd still just be a setup man (if not, inexplicably, a loogy) on the Yankees.
I'll let you guys decide if you want Downs or not. I certainly would love to have Scott Downs in Pinstripes but maybe not at the cost Jesse was offering. Maybe if Jorge Vazquez or a combination of one of the utility guys and another prospect could get it done I would consider it. Thoughts? Thanks again to Jesse for answering the questions!
UPDATE: 5:45 PM: Two quick notes. For all of my in Pinstripes articles I am in no way stating that I would like this player on the Yankees. I am stating that I was asked about the possibility and I looked into the realisticness. As for Downs, he would not replace Marte. He would be the second lefty out of the pen, like last year with Coke and Marte.
UPDATE: 6:15 PM: Didn't mean to do two quick updates like this, but Jesse emailed me and told me these were his responses to your comments.
As far as Downs accepting arbitration, the Jays shouldn't be interested in whether or not he would accept it with the Yankees. He's unlikely to accept it with the Jays, so what the Jays ask for regarding the "Type A" portion of his compensation doesn't change much (what really matters is whether he's signed by a team with a protected pick), though it's probably worth a lot less to you all.
Downs should be worth about a win (possibly a bit less) again this year, so at $4M his contract should be about a wash with his value (about $4.5 M/win). His surplus value comes mainly from his Type A status. According to Victor Wang (http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/valuing-the-draft-part-one/), If he's signed by a team without a protected pick, we're looking at about $8 M surplus. If he's signed by a team with a protected pick, it's closer to $3.5 M. According to Sky Kalkman (http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2009/7/20/950254/which-is-better-compensation), Grade B pitchers (as graded by John Sickels) are worth about $7.3 M and Grade B hitters are worth about $5.5 M. Sickels has Austin Jackson as a Grade B prospect (http://www.minorleagueball.com/2010/1/3/1231796/detroit-tigers-top-20-prospects). Maybe he should have graded him higher, I don't know. I've never seen him play. I'm just letting you know my methodology.
As I noted before, unless someone in the Yankees bullpen gets hurt, Scott Downs probably isn't worth it for the Yankees. If they want him, they're probably better off waiting until the end of the season and just signing him then. Since they'll probably sign two other Type As again, like A.J. Burnett, he'll only cost them a third-rounder. If anything, this excersize probably did a better job of illustrating the problems with MLB's compensation system than it did regarding the trade value (or cost) of Scott Downs, but oh well.
Thanks again to Jesse for the update, thoughts?