There’s no denying that the Yankees need to add impact starting pitching. The 2014 Yankee rotation will be led by Hiroki Kuroda, CC Sabathia, and Ivan Nova, which isn’t enough to withstand the grind of a 162 game season. To fill out their rotation, the Yankees could turn to either the free agent market or pick from uninspiring internal options. The Yankees are obviously interested in Japanese RHP Masahiro Tanaka, who may or may not be posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Nippon Professional Baseball league. Changes in the posting system, namely capping the maximum posting bid at $20 million, have made Rakuten rethink posting Tanaka. In fact, Rakuten has made Tanaka a generous contract offer in hopes of keeping its ace.
Given the uncertainty surrounding Tanaka’s posting status, this year’s free agent starting pitching market hasn’t taken shape. This year’s ‘Top’ remaining free agent pitching options include Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, AJ Burnett, and Bronson Arroyo. All five of these pitchers have obvious blemishes and would not provide more than a middling middle of the rotation option. Next year, however, potentially presents one of the best free agent classes in recent memory. Of note, Cy Young Award winners Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer could hit the open market. Established AL East options should as Jon Lester, Justin Masterson, Jake Peavy, and James Shields will be available. Finally, a few decent options from the NL Central, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, and Yovani Gallardo will also be available.
In Part I of this article, we’ll breakdown each of the available 2014 free agent options to see whether or not they’re a fit for the Yankees. Part II will address the 2015 free agent class. More after the jump..
Before we dig through the potential options, let’s analyze what a few pitchers, who are a tier below the remaining pitchers, received earlier this off-season. 31-year-old Ricky Nolaso received 4-48 from Minnesota, 38-year-old Tim Hudson received 2-23 from Atlanta, and big fat Bartolo Colon received 2-20 from the Mets.
Option #1: Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, 25-years-old
Background: If posted, Tanaka is head and shoulders above the rest of the free agent class. As noted above, Rakuten may not post Tanaka and that’ll definitely hurt the Yankees. The Yankees have been very, very candid about their interest in the young RHP. Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 27 starts last season. Tanaka didn’t put up big strikeout numbers, averaging just 7.8 K/9, which was his lowest total during his seven seasons with Rakuten. For his career, Tanaka has averaged a 8.5 K/9 which doesn’t compare as favorably to Yu Darvish, who posted 10.7 K/9 before joining the Texas Rangers. By comparison, Darvish (6’5″, 225 pounds) is a little bigger than Tanaka (6’2″, 205 pounds).
Fit For The Yankees?: The Yankees will be all over Tanaka if he’s posted. In fact, a lot of teams will be on Tanaka if he’s posted. Given the competition for his services, Tanaka may approach or exceed six-years, $100 million. There’s always some risk when signing Japanese players, but Tanaka would slide right into the top of the rotation.
Option #2: Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, 29-years-old
Background: Of the five available pitchers, I think Jimenez will demand the most years and dollars. As a member of the Cleveland Indians last season, Jimenez made $5.25 million and posted a 13-10 record with a 3.30 ERA. Jimenez posted an above average 9.6 K/9. After finishing third in NL Cy Young voting in 2010, Jimenez dealt with injuries and inconsistent performs in 2011 and 2012. Jimenez found himself again in 2013 and staying in Cleveland makes a lot of sense. He’ll likely command five or six years with annual average value of $15-$16 million per year.
Fit For The Yankees?: Not at this high price tag. The Yankees had a chance to trade for him during 2011 and decided against it. He has a lot of raw talent, but he’s been way too inconsistent to warrant his high price tag. Pass.
Option #3: Matt Garza, RHP, 30-years-old
Garza is a player that doesn’t warrant a big contract. Garza has dealt with a variety of injuries over the last two seasons and has only made 42 starts. He has spent the majority of his career in the AL and has been nothing more than a #3 starter. With the Cubs and Rangers last season, Garza went 10-6 with a 3.82 ERA and a 7.9 K/9. Garza would probably fit best on a team with two big time starters. Garza is a reasonable comparable for Ricky Nolasco, so 4-48 seems pretty reasonable.
Fit For The Yankees?: For the price, I think Garza makes some sense, but his fly ball rate has been trending up over the last few seasons, which does not make him a fit for Yankee Stadium. Pass.
Option #4: Ervin Santana, RHP, 31-years-old
Background: Santana is very, very odd pitcher. Santana has not posted a winning record since 2010, but posted a 3.24 ERA with the Royals last season. After making $13 million last season, Santana is seeking five or six year deal in the $15-$16 million range. Santana has been pretty durable over the last four seasons, averaging 32 starts per season. However, last season’s 3.24 ERA may be more of an aberration. Santana boasts a career 4.19 ERA as primarily a member of the Angels.
Fit For The Yankees?: Not good enough to command the years and dollars. Pass. Probably the worst fit for the Yankees.
Option #5: AJ Burnett, RHP, 36-years-old
For obvious reasons, Burnett is not an option for the Yankees. Reports suggest he’ll either return to the Pirates on a one-year deal or retire.
Option #6: Bronson Arroyo, RHP, 36-years-old
Background: Let’s start with the positives. Arroyo has never missed a start during the course of his career. Arroyo has been money in the bank for at least 32 starts and 200 innings. Outside of his durability, Arroyo doesn’t offer much value. His strikeout rate continues to plummet (5.5 K/9 in 2013), his career 4.19 ERA as primarily an NL start does not inspire much confidence, and he may not be better than what the Yankees have internally. He made $13 million last season, but he would need to take a pay cut for teams to be interested.
Fit For The Yankees: No thanks.
Outside of Tanaka, there isn’t much to get excited about. All of the free agent pitchers will likely receive $10 million per season. Tanaka is obviously the top option in this class and if he’s not posted, that will seriously hamper the Yankee rotation in 2014. In Part II, we’ll look at some 2015 free agent options, which appear quite attractive.