Part of the fun as a front office executive is to examine and analyze potential trade options, such as a proposed deal for the Yankees to send catcher Austin Romine to the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitcher Chad Billingsley. From a pure name standpoint, the trade seems ridiculous. However, on closer examination, the player swap could be realistic.
For the Yankees, they have recently developed a surplus quality of backstops. The team signed Brian McCann as their everyday catcher this offseason, with Francisco Cervelli backing him up, and Austin Romine serving as a third catcher. Plus, the team already has a new promising catcher in Triple-A, J.R. Murphy. It would be senseless for the Yankees to waste a spot for three to four catchers in the majors. Even though Romine played better during the second half of 2013, nobody would argue that Romine should start over McCann, especially with the amount of money invested in McCann. But why trade Romine instead of Cervelli or Murphy?
The Dodgers have the exact opposite problem; they have a dearth of catchers. Aside from 32 year-old A.J. Ellis (.238 batting average in 115 games, 35% caught stealing percentage from behind the plate), Los Angeles has light-hitting options in Drew Butera and J.C. Boscan, along with other uninspiring journeyman catchers in their system. They make Chris Stewart look like Mike Piazza. If the Dodgers acquired Romine, they would acquire a young (he’s 25) and decent defensive backstop to play alongside Ellis. But Romine isn’t a game changer, and why would the Dodgers send a speeding Yasiel Puig to New York?
Instead, the Dodgers could send a pitcher. If they are earnestly committed in the David Price sweepstakes, then the Dodgers would have three ace pitchers in Price, Clayton Kershaw, and Zack Greinke. The fourth pitcher would be Hyun-Jin Ryu, a solid pitcher with a 3.00 ERA who could be any team’s number two option in a rotation. Stephen Fife or Chad Billinglsey would most likely round out the pitching staff. But Billinglsey comes with a catch. He pitched in two games last season before succumbing to an elbow injury that would require Tommy John surgery, and would be unlikely to return to the majors until May. After TJ Surgery, there is no telling if a pitcher will return as a Chris Carpenter (average to excellent after two operations) or Brandon Webb (Cy Young winner to instant retirement, very sad case). With four superb pitchers on their roster, the Dodgers don’t need the headache of monitoring Billingsley’s recovery.
Before the injury, Billingsley was always a good, but not great, pitcher who was an All-Star in 2009. His ERA is consistently around the high 3’s, and was a guaranteed 10 win- 10 loss pitcher. He walks a fair amount of batters, but also punches out a decent amount, too. He’s basically a Javier Vasquez lite, and that’s a compliment, as the former Yankee finished his career with 165 victories. The old Billingsley would have been a middle of the rotation hurler last year, behind C.C. Sabathia and Hiroki Kiroda and comparable to Andy Pettitte last year.
Basically, Billingsley would be a roll-of-the-dice for the Yanks. He will be thirty in July, in the late stages of the prime of his career. He could turn into a nice pitcher for the Yankees if, and there is no font large enough for this if, the Dodgers do actually decide to trade an eight year veteran for a backup catcher. But if the Dodgers start to actively search for catchers, and are desperate for another option to replace the void since Russell Martin left, then this trade becomes feasible. And as the Dodgers’ front office continues to wheel and deal, a Billingsley-for-Romine swap starts to sound more sane by the day.