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Yankees potential trade target: Mike Minor

The Rangers’ lefty represents an intriguing buy-low option for the Yankees’ battered pitching staff.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Texas Rangers Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The trade deadline is fast approaching in this abbreviated season, and as always seems to be the case, the Yankees may be in the market for some reinforcements on the mound. With the Texas Rangers entering action last night on an eight-game losing streak — the equivalent of a 22-game stretch in a normal season — it’s abundantly clear that they will be counted among the sellers. Although he has struggled out of the gate, Texas starter Mike Minor may represent a buy-low candidate for a veteran swingman.

Minor took the league by storm in the first half of last season, posting a 2.54 ERA in 18 starts, including two complete-games and one shutout, en route to his first All-Star appearance. It was on the back of this dominant first half that made Minor a down-ballot Cy Young candidate.

In the second half of the season, however, despite his K/BB ratio improving from 2.78 to 3.18, Minor fell apart: in 14 starts, his opponents’ OPS rose from .628 to .792, and he gave up six more home runs in the second half (18) than in the first half (12) despite pitching 26 fewer innings.

Unfortunately for the Rangers, Minor has picked up right where he left off, and has posted a 6.75 ERA (5.29 FIP) in his first six starts. According to Statcast data, his fastball is down two full ticks, from 92.5 mph in 2019 to 90.5 mph in 2020. Additionally, he has struggled with the long ball, giving up seven home runs in 29.1 innings to date. Put all this together, and you have the recipe for a potential disaster. Three things nonetheless make him an intriguing trade target for the Yankees: his versatility, his pitch selection, and his likely price tag.

Unlike most starters on the block at this time of year, Minor has both worked and dominated both as a starter and as a reliever over the course of his career. As we’ve seen in recent years, the Yankees have not infrequently gone after high-risk pitchers to fill out the bottom of the rotation or the bullpen at the deadline either in lieu of or in addition to an impact starter — most recently Lance Lynn during the 2018 season, but also Jaime Garcia in 2017 and Brandon McCarthy and Chris Capuano in 2014. If you want to go back further, Shawn Chacon in 2005 might also fall under this category.

Minor spent the 2017 season, fresh off a torn labrum that caused him to miss two seasons, in the Kansas City Royals bullpen, where he flourished. In 77 innings, he posted a 2.55 ERA (2.62 FIP) with a 4.0 K/BB, the highest of his career. As mentioned above, he did achieve a lot of success in the rotation last season, and over the last three seasons, he has posted a 4.08 ERA (4.40 FIP) despite his recent struggles. He has had the success in the past, and any team acquiring him would simply be trying to get him back on track.

The route to doing so, in fact, may be to borrow from the Yankees’ own playbook. Back when they traded for McCarthy, the veteran had been struggling in the Diamondbacks rotation, with a 4.75 ERA over a season-and-a-half with them. With the Yankees, he dropped his sinker and began to use his fastball and cutter more, and his performance improved.

A similar adjustment might help Minor. Back when he was in the Royals bullpen, Minor essentially dropped his curveball and changeup, turning into a fastball/slider pitcher. These two pitches have been the backbone of his arsenal in 2020, as he throws them a combined 70-percent of the time. This season, however, opposing hitters have been hammering them: his fastball has an xBA of .301, and his slider a .273. What changed?

As it turns out, both absolutely nothing and everything. With the dip in velocity has come a dip in effectiveness on the fastball, it is true, as its xBA last season was .244. However, that of the slider has hardly changed, coming in at about .271 — it’s not getting hammered any harder than it has been.

Last season, though, the slider was not Minor’s secondary pitch, his changeup was. In fact, according to the Statcast data, Minor’s changeup has, both last year and this year, been his most effective pitch, with an xBA of .178 and .182, respectively. Though he has dropped the usage of the pitch only marginally (about a 1.5% drop), by increasing his slider usage at the expense of his curveball, the change has lagged behind. Furthermore, his curveball has been (in an admittedly small sample size) significantly better than both his slider this year and his curveball last year, with about half an inch more horizontal break than 2019. All these numbers combine to suggest that a new mixture of pitch frequencies may go a long way to helping Minor get back on track.

Lastly, and arguably most importantly, trading for Mike Minor requires virtually no risk. Because he is an impending free agent, the Rangers have no reason to hold onto him, and because a buyer will only have him for about a month, buyers will feel pressure to not overpay. As such, it’s very possible that he can be gotten for the baseball equivalent of pennies. If that’s the case, he presents for the Yankees an intriguing depth option to pursue on the market.