There's an interesting situation unraveling in the Bronx with Mike Mussina. If the Yankees decide to stick with Ian Kennedy, then there is a good chance that Mussina will be dealt, as he is not a viable an option in the bullpen. In his entire MLB career, Mussina has never pitched even a single inning as a reliever. Given the possibility that the Yankees want to move Mussina and the Reds perpetual need for another quality starting pitcher, the situation begs the question of whether the Reds should attempt to acquire Mussina.
THE TRADE IDEA
Given that the waiver trade deadline is approaching, it would seem to make sense for the Reds to attempt to acquire Mussina now. Given his lower level of performance in 2007 and his high salary, Mussina would likely clear waivers. That would enable him to be traded before the deadline on August 31.
The Yankee bullpen currently lacks lefthanded pitching. Given that, the Reds could try to trade Mike Stanton to the Yankees for Mike Mussina. Mike Stanton also is likely to clear waivers, as his performance does not justify his salary. Also, Stanton has a long history of pitching for the Yankees, so he might prove to be an attractive option.
The Yankees would be able to shed payroll in the deal and *possibly* improve their bullpen, by adding an left-hander with substantial post-season experience to the team. Given that the Yankees are pushing for the playoffs, Stanton is someone who could improve their chances of reaching the post-season.
Maybe the Reds would have to add something else to the deal (a second tier prospect?) for it to make sense for the Yankees, but I think those should be the two principle players. Both teams subtract a player they don't need, improve their salary situation, and add a player who may be able to help them reach their respective goals.
Given that the structure of the deal makes some degree of sense, the question then becomes, is Mike Mussina a good bet to bounce back in 2008?
Mussina's performance in 2007 has not been stellar, but is it indicative of a poor 2008 season?
Mussina has maintained his walk rate, groundball/flyball ratio, and his homerun rate. His ERA and WHIP have skyrocketed because his strikeout rate has fallen. His K/9 is currently about 1.5 strikeouts per nine innings below his career rate. A 5.5 K/9 is still high enough for a pitcher to maintain long-term success, but clearly Mussina would like to miss a few more bats.
Given that Mussina's strikeout rate has fallen by ~1.5 K/9, you would expect some increase in hits allowed. However, Mussina is giving up almost 3 more hits per nine innings than before, which seems too high.
That said, Mussina is suffering from some poor hit luck. Mussina's BABIP for 2007 is high at .348. Another problem with his 2007 performance is his 63.5% Strand Rate, which is well below his career rate of 71.9%. If BABIP is a measure of how many balls in play will fall in for hits, then Strand Rate is a measure of how those hits are distributed. Obviously, clusters of hits will result in more runs allowed than a more well dispersed pattern. Mussina has suffered from both poor hit luck and poor distribution of hits in 2007.
If you look at his pitch data, his 2007 season has seen him throw a similar amount of both strikes (66%) and first pitch strikes (64%). He's also been consistent in the types of counts in which he has worked, as 2% of the Plate Appearances he has seen have been 3-0 counts and 19% have been 0-2 counts. All of those rates are in line with his career performance, but the one statistic that stands out is his Contact Rate.
This season, Mussina has just been more hittable. He is getting fewer swings and misses than in years past. In 2007, when batters have swung at Mussina's pitches they have made contact 86% of the time, which is up from his 81% career and 81% 2006 mark. It's difficult to be successful in the majors if you aren't missing more bats than that, so it is cause for concern.
So, the $10M question is whether the decreasing strikeout rate is a sign of father time catching up to him or is it something that he can bounce back from?
In the offseason, the Yankees signed Mike Mussina to a two year contract extension. The terms of the contract included salaries of $11,000,000 in 2007 and $11,000,000 in 2008.
The Reds signed Mike Stanton to a contract which included a $2,000,000 salary in 2007, a $3,000,000 in 2008, and a $2,500,000 club option for 2009. The 2009 option comes with a $500,000 buyout.
So, if the Reds could use Mike Stanton and his contract to reduce the amount of money and the inherent risk in acquiring Mike Mussina. If the Reds swapped Stanton for Mussina, then they would save around $3.75M on Stanton, which would reduce their net salary obligation on Mussina to $7,250,000 for 2008. Given the contracts handed out to free agent pitchers last offseason, $7.25M could be a bargain for a pitcher of Mussina's caliber.
By lowering the amount owed to Mussina in 2008, the Reds would also be reducing the inherent risk that he won't provide the amount of production needed for his salary. The lower the salary, the more likely the Reds will get their money's worth out of Mussina.
Another factor at work in determining the risk on Mussina is the switch from the AL East to the NL Central. Given the payroll explosion in the AL East and the existence of the DH, there are some strong offenses in that division. By moving from the AL East to the NL Central, Mussina would be facing weaker offensive lineups and his numbers would likely improve.
In 2007, the non-Yankee AL East teams have scored 4.8 runs per game (2528/528). The non-Reds NL Central teams have scored 4.5 runs per game (2981/657). A switch from the Yankees to the Reds would allow Mussina to face offenses that score fewer runs per game. It worked with Bronson, maybe it'll work again with Moose.
Given the needs of both teams, this might be a deal worth considering. The offseason free agent starting pitcher pool is weak and the Reds may need to look elsewhere to fill out their rotation. The Yankees have three young starters in Phillip Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy who could be ready to fill out the rotation with Andy Pettite and Chien-Ming Wang in 2008. Accordingly, they may not have much need for Mike Mussina. However, the Yankees could be interested in fan favorite Mike Stanton as a situational lefty to help them out in October.
Mike Mussina does have no trade protection, but with some convincing maybe he'd be willing to hang his hat in Cincy. It'll be interesting to see what happens to Mussina as the waiver trade deadline approaches, but a 1-2-3 of Harang, Mussina, and Arroyo could be a big improvement in Cincy in 2008.
For the Reds, it all depends on risk and Mussina would seem to be a lesser risk than throwing ~$10,000,000 at a league average starting pitcher in free agency.