The New York Yankees will enter spring training with a virtually set starting rotation. That is a luxury among major-league clubs but there are some concerns about the staff and how effective it will be. Let’s examine each starter individually in a five-part series.
HIROKI KURODA (16-11, 3.32 ERA)
When the Yankees decided to sign right-hander Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million free-agent contract there were a lot of naysayers voicing a litany of concerns about the 37-year-old right-hander.
After all, in his four seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Kuroda was 41-46 and only posted one season above .500 in victories – an injury-plagued 2009 season when he was 8-7 in just 20 starts. Though he posted excellent ERAs in those four saesons (3.73, 3.376, 3.39 and 3.07) the conventional wisdom was coming over from the National League to the designated hitter in the American League would see his ERA explode.
The skeptics also pointed out that Kuroda would struggle in the competitive A.L. East.
You won’t hear those arguments anymore. Kuroda silenced his critics with his best season since he left Japan in 2008. He was absolutely brilliant from mid-May through August. Even though his ERA took a big hit in September he finished the season after Sept. 1 with a 4-1 record.
Y0u could even make a case that Kuroda’s season was better than CC Sabathia’s because Kuroda was healthy throughout and he even was more consistent than the Yankees’ left-handed ace.
Kuroda ended up setting carer major-league highs in victories, innings pitched and strikeouts. Kuroda emerged as the team’s No. 2 starter and he earned it by pitching deep into games and baffling hitters with a wide assortment of breaking pitches that offset his 90-mph plus fastball.
After getting blasted early and often in the first month, Kuroda made some adjustments and then never looked back. It was really no surprise when general manager Brian Cashman decided to sign Kuroda for another one-year deal but this time for $15 million.
Kuroda certainly earned the raise.
The veteran from Osaka, Japan made two starts in the playoffs for the Yankees and both were brilliant. However, Kuroda did not get any run support in either start and was 0-1 despite a sparkling 2.81 ERA.
In the American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles, Kuroda gave up just two runs on five hits and one walk in 8 1/3 innings but did not earn a decision. Then he gave up three runs on five hits and no walks and struck out 11 in 7 2/3 innings against the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series but lost because the Yankees did not score him a single run.
There are higher hopes for 2013, which is why Kuroda elected to re-sign with the Yankees.
“I am very grateful for all of the interest and all of the offers that I received from the various teams that courted me,” Kuroda said when he signed. “It was a tough decision for me to make, but at the end of the day, I wanted to try to win a championship with the teammates that I went to battle with last season.”
This season does figure to be a battle for the Yankees because the teams in the A.L. East appear to be stronger while the Yankees lost a lot of offensive firepower when Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones left the team as free agents, taking 94 home runs with them.
Kuroda will have to adjust to a less explosive team that might score a lot fewer runs. Of course, that is not unlike Kuroda’s seasons with the Dodgers when he received very poor run support and was a major reason why his season records there were below .500.
Kuroda gradually earned the trust of manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild by limiting his pitch counts so he could last deeper into games. With a bullpen that was missing Mariano Rivera and Joba Chamberalain for most of the season, Kuroda’s stamina in games was very much welcome.
Kuroda also won over skeptical Yankee fans, who were absolutely stunned a National League pitcher could have success with the Yankees after the team had suffered through the likes of Javier Vazquez and Carl Pavano in previous seasons.
Kuroda will have to adjust this season without his favorite catcher in Martin. Martin, who caught Kuroda in his first three seasons with the Dodgers, elected to take his shin guards and his bat to the Pittsburgh Pirates. But that issue does not seem to be too great because both Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli have caught Kuroda since he became a Yankee.
The only real obstacle may be for Kuroda to stay on the mound long enough to allow the Yankees to get a lead for him in the late innings. With less firepower it also figures the Yankees will be in a lot of close games. That could mean a lot more no decisions for Kuroda.
Though Yankee fans would prefer to see a rotation made up of young hard-throwing starters, Kuroda allows the Yankees to buy time to let their young pitchers such as Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and David Phelps to develop and also allows Michael Pineda, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances to rebound from injuries and ineffectiveness.
That is not a bad tradeoff if Kuroda can duplicate his 2012 season. The Yankees will just be hoping for anything close to what he produced for them last season.
One thing is certain: With Kuroda pundits can no longer say the Yankees’ rotation is Sabathia and four other guys. Kuroda is just that good.
NEXT: ANDY PETTITTE
With the end of the holidays and the beginning of the new year, the Yankees got busy after sitting out a good portion of the offseason bidding and dealing. Here are some bits and pieces of information and some analysis on what it all means:
THE DH ‘RAUL’
Apparently former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez is on the New York Yankees’ short list of players they might want to sign to take over as the team’s designated hitter, the New York Post reported.
Ibanez, 39, was allowed to walk as a free agent by the Phiilies after a 2011 season in which he hit a career-low .245 but still managed to hit 20 home runs and drive in 84 runs in 144 games. Ibanez is career .280 hitter with 252 home runs and 1,054 RBIs in 16 major-league seasons with the Seattle Mariners, Kansas City Royals and the Phillies.
The right-handed-hitting Ibanez was an All-Star selection in 2009 with the National League-champion Phillies.
With the four-player trade that sent Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners for pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos, the Yankees seem to have an obvious opening for a primary DH in their 2011 lineup. Jorge Posada held the role at the start of the 2011 season.
With one possible candidate, Carlos Pena, re-signed as free agent by the Tampa Bay Rays, it appears the Yankees are looking at free agents including Ibanez and former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.
Damon, 38, played last season with the Rays and wanted to return to the team. However, the signing of Pena likely means the Rays are not interested in keeping Damon after he hit .261 with 16 home runs, 73 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in 150 games in 2011.
Matsui, 37, played last season with Oakland and hit a career-low .251 with 12 home runs and 72 RBIs in 141 games. The Athletics, who are retooling with younger players, seem to be uninterested in bringing Matsui back for a second season as the team’s DH.
The Yankees have not commented publicly about Ibanez, Damon or Matsui. They have said they are interested in looking at 29-year-old former Mexican League star Jorge Vazquez this spring as a potential DH.
Vazquez, who can play either first or third base, hit .262 with 32 home runs and 93 RBIs in only 118 games with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season. The right-handed slugger is not consider to be a very good defender but the Yankees have been impressed with his hitting potential.
At this point, it comes down to payroll economics. If the Yankees feel a pressing need to have a professional hitter at the DH spot and they are willing to shell out about $5 million to $8 million to get one of the three free agents, they will certainly do it. But if they feel they can’t afford it, Vazquez will get a shot this spring.
Odds are the Yankees are definitely looking outside the organization. That is why Ibanez’s name surfaced. So look for a free-agent signing real soon to fill the role.
OKIE DOKEY, HIROKI
The Yankees officially announced the signing of right-handed starter Hiroki Kuroda this week.
The former Dodger signed a one-year deal worth a reported $10 million. He left the Dodgers as a free agent after going 13-16 with a 3.07 ERA in 2011. In his five seasons with the Dodgers, the 37-year-old Kuroda was 41-46 with a 3.45 ERA in 115 major-league games, all with the Dodgers.
Kuroda will join Pineda in a revamped Yankee rotation for 2012. With CC Sabathia the unquestioned ace, Pineda figures to open the season as the team’s No. 2 starter and Kuroda likely will be the No. 3 starter. Ivan Nova, 25, after a sparkling 16-7 record and a 3.70 ERA as a rookie, figures to have a starting job locked up also.
That leaves Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and A.J. Burnett to battle it out this spring for the final starting spot.
The signing of Kuroda was a fallback position by the Yankees’ front office. Both general manager Brian Cashman and managing general partner Hank Steinbrenner felt the price of top free-agent pitchers like C.J. Wilson, Edwin Jackson, Mark Buerhle and Japanese import Yu Darvish was too high.
They also felt the asking price in trade for starters such as John Danks, Jair Jurrgens, Matt Garza and Gio Gonzalez was also too pricey.
As it is, Cashman needed Steinbrenner’s assent to pay Kuroda the $10 million he was seeking. That is one reason why the Yankees do not wish to overpay for a DH and add much more money to the payroll.
Kuroda, like a number of other National League pitchers who have been signed or acquired by the Yankees, will be under the microscope when he faces much tougher hitters in the American League, and those particularly in the East.
Pitchers such as Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez and, even to some degree, Randy Johnson have found it difficult to put up good numbers in the A.L. Kuroda, however, is in a somewhat better position than some of those previous pitchers because the Yankees have one of the deepest and best bullpens in baseball heading into the 2012 season.
Kuroda could have his ERA jump a run and he still could win 15 games for the Yankees in 2012.
The Montero-Pineda trade was made official this week when Montero passed his physical with the Mariners.
There has still been a major flood of angry comments from Yankee fans who are upset the Yankees traded a 21-year-old catcher who looked to be the best power prospect the Yankees have had in their minor-league system since Mickey Mantle was promoted to the major leagues in 1951.
Yankee fans also have pointed out that Pineda faded badly in the second half of 2011 and he has had a history of elbow problems stemming from a very violent follow-through in his motion. That does not bode well for the 23-year-old right-hander’s long-term prospects.
However, just about every analysis of the trade by experienced sports writers such as Peter Gammons and Ken Rosenthal have praised Cashman for making the deal.
What do they know that Yankee fans don’t?
For one reason, Montero’s work behind the plate is in question and will remain in question throughout his development in the major leagues. Though he has made vast progress, the Yankees were concerned they could NOT compete with teams that run a lot like the Rays and the Los Angeles Angels with Montero behind the plate.
They also saw a move to right-field or first base as impossible. Montero would really struggle in the outfield and Mark Teixeira is entrenched at first base and simply is the best-fielding first baseman in the game.
So Montero’s long-term future would have to have been as a DH and part-time catcher. That would limit his impact because manager Joe Girardi would still have Russell Martin as a starter with either Francisco Cervelli and rookie Austin Romine backing him up. Plus, Girardi would have to give veterans like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher some time off at DH during the season.
Also figure that 19-year-old catcher Gary Sanchez is considered the No. 4 catching prospect in baseball. The Yankees and scouts see him as the whole package behind the plate. He is excellent on defense and he has the ability to become a very good major-league hitter. He won’t hit for the prodigious power Montero might. But he will hit for average and power, scouts say.
So the Yankees felt with Montero’s defensive liabilities and the limited nature as a DH and part-time catcher, they could use Montero’s high value to get a pitcher, who not only figures to improve on his 9-10 record and 3.74 ERA in his rookie season, but could eventually become the ace of the staff in a few years.
Pineda projects as a potential No. 1 starter now. With he and Sabathia at the top of the rotation they figure to dominate any three-game series in which they pitch. If you are talking a potential playoff series the possibilities are even better. That is why the Yankees chose to make the deal.
They gave up a potential superstar but they may have got one in return also. What’s done is done. So let’s wait to evaluate the trade five years from now.
The Yankees also made it official this week they have re-signed Andruw Jones to a one-year contract for a reported $2 million plus $1.4 million in incentives.
Jones, 34, batted .247 with 13 home runs and 33 RBIs in 77 games for the Yankees last season. Jones appeared as a DH, outfielder and pinch-hitter, but his calling card was his ability to hit left-handers. He hit lefties to the tune of .286.
Jones can play both corner outfield spots, DH and pinch hit. Because Brett Gardner struggled against left-handers last season, Jones could also be used to replace Gardner against some left-handers next season.
The Yankees have also managed to sign most of their arbitration eligible players in the past weeks including Gardner, Martin, David Robertson and Boone Logan.
The result is the Yankees have managed to improve the team while at the same time being able to hold the line on spending, which Steinbrenner is determined to do.
The Yankees would seem to only looking to add a bench infielder and a DH to the team before spring training.
Eric Chavez, who played first and third base for the Yankees last season is still available to be re-signed if the Yankees wish. We have already discussed the potential free agents available to DH.
Jorge Posada also made it official this week that he was retiring after all 17 seasons with the Yankees.
Posada, 40, thought about offers from other teams such as the Rays and the Mets, but ultimately chose to end his career as a Yankee.
Now the discussion starts as to whether he has the credentials to be inducted into the Hall Of Fame. The fact that he is the only catcher among the group of catchers already in the Hall except the great Yogi Berra, who has either more home runs, RBIs or a better batting average than all of them gives him some standing.
In addition, he has four World Series rings and he was one of the best hitting catchers of his generation.
It will be close, but Jorge stands in Yankee history among legendary catchers such as Berra, Bill Dickey and Thurman Munson. So he has a good chance of having his No. 20 retired by the Yankees at some point.
That would be a fitting tribute to a man who was a leader among the best Yankee teams in a generation. Thank you, Jorge!
With the New York Yankees seemingly in the market for some starting pitching help this winter, one cold, hard fact is obvious when looking at the potential free agents available: This is a thin market. There is a good reason for that. Teams have been much more diligent in identifying there talented young pitchers and locking them into long-term deals that cover their arbitration-eligible years. Thus, instead of becoming free agents when they are 27, pitchers are being locked into deals until they are in their 30s. That is why there is not a Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander or Jared Weaver out on the open market. But let’s take a deeper look into what is available and rate the pitchers who should be at the top of the Yankees’ Christmas shopping list.
As I posted earlier, the top target on the Yankees’ list is currently C.J. Wilson of the Texas Rangers.
Wilson is a 31-year-old left-hander who was 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA in 2011. On the positive side, Wilson is a lefty and the Yankees did miss have a second lefty in their rotation when Andy Pettitte chose to retire after the 2010 season. The record and ERA he posted also show that Wilson was an effective pitcher for the American League champions.
Wilson also has pitched only two seasons as a starter. He has a combined record of 31-15. Since he was a relief pitcher for the Rangers for his five previous major-league seasons, Wilson does not have the normal wear and tear on his arm a normal 31-year-old would have. He also was the ace of the Rangers’ staff in 2011.
But there are some negatives.
The most glaring is that Wilson is 1-5 in his nine postseason starts with an ERA of 4.82. He was 0-3 with a 5.79 ERA this past postseason. So maybe Wilson is not quite ready for prime time as his regular season record might indicate. The Yankees would prefer to have a proven postseason winner like a Pettitte rather than a guy who will not deliver when it counts.
Wilson may not be that guy.
However, Wilson remains the top target of a lot of teams such as the Washington Nationals, the Los Angeles Angels and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Not to mention the Rangers would love to keep Wilson in the fold themselves.
But the biggest factor in Wilson’s favor is that his price will not even come close to that paid to Cliff Lee by the Philadelphia Phillies last winter. Lee received a five-year, $120 million contract. Wilson will not receive offers anything close to that because he is not in Lee’s neighborhood as a pitcher.
Wilson likely will get offers of around four years and $80 million. The Yankees can certainly afford that since they did not have to really break the bank to retain ace lefty CC Sabathia. Sabathia did not opt out of his contract, which would have driven his price up. Instead he signed a modest extension, leaving some dollars for general manager Brian Cashman to offer Wilson a nice deal.
It is pretty obvious with Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett and Ivan Nova lined up behind Sabathia in the Yankees’ rotation, the Yankees will look to add at least one free agent to the mix. There could be a possibility of two.
Wilson stands above the rest of the free-agent class and Cashman will likely stay in the bidding with Wilson’s agent, Bob Garber.
Yu Dravish comes with a gigantic question mark because he is not officially a free agent yet.
Darvish, 25, is the best pitcher in Japan and likely would become the best starting pitcher ever to pitch in the major leagues from Japan. He currently is pitching in the playoffs in Japan with the Nippon Ham Fighters. Nippon is in a bad situation with the right-hander.
They do not have the financial ability to keep him and they would benefit greatly by “posting” him. That would allow the team to receive bids just for the right to speak to his agent. That money would allow the Ham Fighters to rebuild their team with a huge infusion of cash.
Daisuke Matsuzaka drew a huge posting fee of $50 million from the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox then signed Matsuzaka for $53 million for a total investment of $103 million (of which only the salary of $53 million counted against the salary cap for the Red Sox).
Darvish is somewhat different than “Dice-K.”
Darvish is 6-foot-5, 190 pounds. He also is of part Middle Eastern descent. But what really sets Darvish apart is his ability to throw fastballs in the upper 90s, in addition to an excellent array of breaking pitches. But Darvish does not nibble with pitches out of the strike zone like Matsuzaka. He attacks hitters.
In his six seasons in Japan, he is 88-33 with five seasons of an ERA under 2.00. He also has pitched against the world’s best hitters as the MVP of the last World Baseball Classic as he led Japan to victory.
The negatives are that Japanese pitchers have not fared well as starters in the States. The most successful was Hideo Nomo, who was 123-109 with a 4.24 ERA in 11 major-league seasons. There also have been the Hideki Irabus and Kei Igawas the Yankees have signed and become dismal failures.
Japanese pitchers also have their own different way of preparing for their starts and they do not often like changing their routine once they reach the States.
The other problem is that if the Yankees do decide they really want Darvish, they better be prepared for a posting fee that could approach $100 million and a contract of five years for upwards of $90 million. That is going to push the Yankees a lot further over the salary cap and managing partners Hank and Hal Steinbrenner have instructed Cashman to either hold it steady or reduce it where he can.
By signing Darvish the Yankees would have to have the Steinbrenners’ blessing to break the bank as they did in signing Mark Teixeira in 2009. This seems unlikely but certainly within the realm of possibilities.
But it is almost sure the Yankees will not sign both Wilson and Darvish. It will be one or the other.
Oswalt is 34 and is coming off a 9-10 mark with a 3.69 ERA with the Phillies last season. He was injured for a month with some recurring back issues.
When he was healthy, he actually pitched quite well. He finished the season well by throwing quality starts in four of his last seven starts. The veteran right-hander is what the Yankees used to love: a reliable older veteran pitcher who has pitched in big playoff games and someone who definitely knows how to pitch.
The Yankees succeeded in signing veteran free agents like Jimmy Key, David Cone and Mike Mussina. However, at the other end of the spectrum they also have signed or traded for mistakes like Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez and Burnett. So to be a little wary of Oswalt and his balky back might be another cautionary tale.
Insiders seem to believe that the Yankees interest in Oswalt is minimal at best, which would be fine by me. There may be too much mileage on that right arm to risk signing Oswalt at this stage of his career. There are much younger and cheaper options below him.
At age 28, Jackson has already modeled six different uniforms and five in the last four seasons. The right-hander seems to burn bright with promise and then fizzle out like a dud roman candle.
Last season, Jackson was a combined 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA between the Chacago White Sox and the world champion St. Louis Cardinals. In fact, Jackson was 5-2 with a 3.58 ERA for the Cards in 12 starts down the stretch.
But he was 1-1 with a 5.80 ERA in his four postseason starts.
Jackson is one of those high-risk, high-reward free agents. He has the stuff and the stamina to dominate any team in baseball for nine innings. But he also can unravel like a cheap suit against the weakest hitting team in the league. Hence, his career ERA of 4.46 and a WHIP of 1.48.
The hope of signing Jackson is that he is young enough to turn his career around and become the star pitcher he was predicted in his younger days with the Los Angeles Dodgers. But you have to raise a red flag when a pitching coach like the esteemed Dave Duncan is willing to allow you to leave the Cardinals as a free agent.
Jackson would be much cheaper to sign than all the other pitchers listed above. But he also may be just a younger version of Burnett – some good days and a lot of bad ones. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild is not a young man. Why give him two potential heart attacks with Burnett and Jackson?
I do not see much interest in Jackson from the Yankees. Let him ruin another team’s staff.
He is 32 but he also is left-handed. So there is a lot to like in Buerhle.
Last season, Buerhle was 13-9 with a 3.59 ERA for the White Sox, the only organization he has ever known. In his 11 full seasons he is 161-119 with a 3.83 ERA.
Buerhle has never been a Josh Beckett, Roger Clemens or Stephen Strasburg pitcher who lights up radar guns. Buerhle just pitches and gets outs. He throws 200 innings every season and he not missed much time with injuries. He has no season in which he made less than 30 starts.
Reliability and effectiveness are two of Buerhle’s best descriptions. He also has been the unquestioned ace of this staff for all of those seasons and he has postseason experience. He was 2-0 with a 3.87 ERA in the championship season of 2005 for the White Sox.
This would be a perfect kind of target for the Yankees if they fail to sign or either Wilson or Darvish. He also could be a likely target if the Yankees intend to trade Burnett this winter, which has been circulating as a rumor ever since Cashman made the comment about “if Burnett is back with us next season.”
Buerhle is the antithesis of Burnett, Burnett has “stuff” but Buerhle gets by on guile. Buerhle is as steady as plane on autopilot. Burnett is be as unpredictable as Lindsay Lohan on Rodeo Drive.
It would stand to reason the Yankees might have an interest in another left-hander. If Wilson goes elsewhere, look for Buerhle to get an offer from the Yankees. Lefties fare much better in Yankee Stadium because teams stack righties and we all know the short porch is in right. So Mr. Buerhle certainly bears watching this winter.
He may just find a friendly home in the Bronx in 2012.
On the surface, Kuroda may appear to be better than Buerhle. After all, he was 13-16 but had a sparkling 3.07 ERA for the Dodgers in 2011.
However, Kuroda will be 37 when the 2012 season starts and he has pitched a lot of innings in Japan before he came to the Dodgers in 2008. He is 41-46 with a 3.45 ERA with the Dodgers.
The biggest drawback with Kuroda, besides his age, is the fact he has not pitched in the American League. So his value, much like Oswalt’s, may be inflated a bit by pitching in a less tougher league where pitchers bat.
His biggest positive for the Yankees is he is left-handed and the Yankees could use another lefty. He also is a low WHIP pitcher, His career WHIP is 1.19, which is excellent in any league.
But it is hard to imagine that the Yankees, who have been burned by National League pitchers like Brown and Vazquez before would not be salivating to add a 37-year-old Japanese pitcher who has not pitched in the American League.
The Yankees would have to be real desperate to show much interest in Kuroda.
The biggest trade target the Yankees would seek would be Hernandez of the Mariners.
Hernandez is only 25 and he is pitching for one of the weakest offensive teams in the A.L. He was 14-14 with a 3.47 ERA in 2011 and that was considered an off-year for the King.
He won the Cy Young Award in 2010 and is considered one of the best pitchers in baseball. So why wouldn’t the Yankees target him?
Well, Cashman has already weighed in on that subject by saying that he would much rather sign a pitcher as a free agent than trade away top-flight young players like Jesus Montero, Eduardo Nunez, Adam Warren, D.J. Mitchell, Delin Betances and Manny Banuelos.
The nice thing about signing a Wilson, Darvish or Buerhle is that Cashman still gets to keep the building blocks to the future of the club. Trading for Hernandez or any other pitcher like him would gut the farm system just as the Boston Red Sox have done by trading for Victor Martinez and Adrian Gonzalez the past two seasons.
Cashman would love to have King Felix in the fold. But not at the price the Mariners would want in return.
So do not bet the ranch Hernandez will be in pinstripes in 2012. It is just not likely to happen.
The bottom line is the Yankees are definitely targeting Wilson and Darvish. But they likely will sign only one of those two because they can’t afford both. Wilson tops the list because he is left-handed and he does not have the mileage most 31-year-old pitchers have on them.
But if Wilson eludes them or gets too pricey, Darvish will become priority No. 1 because he is not your typical Japanese import starting pitcher. Darvish has plus stuff and he has a competitive streak that makes him attack hitters without fear. The problem is it is hard to guarantee Cashman will even get a chance to negotiate with Arn Tellem, Darvish’s American agent.
The reason is the posting fee is a crapshoot. The Red Sox outbid other teams by more than $20 million in the Matsuzaka sweepstakes. Darvish is drawing interest from a lot of teams with bankrolls who can post $100 million. The Yankees just have to guess how high that fee might be and try to beat it if they want Darvish that badly.
Whatver money is left could possibly go to another pitcher if the Yankees are sure they want to ship Burnett out of town and they are willing to pay most, if not all, of his contract. If they do make that decision, Buerhle looks to be the most attractive target to replace Burnett.
A startung staff of Sabathia, either Darvish or Wilson, Buerhle, Hughes and Nova somehow does not seem so bad, does it?
With the disappointing loss to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Divisional Series a distant bad memory, the New York Yankees will look to reconstruct a championship caliber team for the 2012 season. To that end let’s look at what possible moves the Yankees might make to improve their roster. It might seem like a daunting task. But it sure could be worse. Think how tough a time the Boston Red Sox will have rebuilding without general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona.
PART 1 – Starting Pitching
PRIORITY NO. 3 – Finding help with free agents or trades
Looking at the New York Yankees’ starting rotation you have the possible loss of CC Sabathia, the return of injured right-hander Phil Hughes, the return of severely underperforming and overpaid right-hander A.J. Burnett, the sophomore season for rookie surprise Ivan Nova and the likely release of free agents Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon.
Even if Sabathia somehow decides to re-sign with the Yankees, they will still likely need another starter to add behind the ace left-hander and Hughes, Burnett and Nova. So that begs the question: Will general manager Brian Cashman be looking to spend big bucks to add another starter or two to the Yankees for the 2012 season?
That seems likely given that the Yankees were so hellbent on signing left-hander Cliff Lee last winter. But Lee spurned a better contract offer to sign for less money to pitch with the Philadelphia Phillies. Despite the fact Lee thought he was joining a super rotation of Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt, the Phillies got no father than the Yankees did in the playoffs and Oswalt was allowed to become a free agent.
This season the Yankees obviously will be focused on getting Sabathia to remain in pinstripes. Sabathia has two days to decide to stay with the Yankees for the four years and $92 million left on his contract or opt out and look for a more lucrative deal. Most baseball insiders believe Sabathia, never being accused of being foolish, will opt out to seek a longer term on his contract and more money.
The Yankees, unlike their attitude when Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract in 2008, are prepared to offer Sabathia a very lucrative six-year, $160 million contract modeled after the contract Lee signed with the Phillies. But Sabathia will have other suitors, including the Texas Rangers to increase the bidding price.
If the Yankees succeed in bringing Sabathia back into the fold, they will then turn their attention to acquiring a pitcher who they can slot in as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter.
TARGET NO. 1 – C.J. WILSON (16-7, 2.94 ERA)
Wilson is a 31-year-old left-hander who was the ace of the American League-champion Rangers. But unlike most 31-year-old starters, Wilson has only two seasons of throwing more than 200 innings behind him because he was a reliever in his previous five major-league seasons, all with the Rangers.
If the Yankees were to keep Sabathia and land Wilson it would a tremendous dual victory for the organization. They would have retained their ace and added a second left-hander to the rotation. In addition, it would be a double blow to the Rangers, who are not exactly swimming in starting pitchers who could pitch on the level of Sabathia and Wilson. Strengthening the Yankees while weakening the Rangers is a definite plus to a front office that is taken a great dislike in the Rangers’ front office over the past two years.
A rotation of Sabathia, Wilson, Hughes, Burnett and Nova does not sound all that bad when you add up their record from last season. That five (understanding that Hughes only pitched 74 2/3 innings) was a combined 67-35 with a 3.81 ERA.
Wilson will command a nice princely sum on the open market because he clearly is the best free-agent pitcher available this winter. In the past three season, the Yankees have not bid on pitchers like Halladay and John Lackey, preferring to either solve their problems from within or signing cheaper free agents like Colon and Garcia.
There is no doubt that Colon and Garcia helped the Yankees during the regular season. They were a liability at crunch time, however.
Colon was 6-4 with a 3.20 ERA and Garcia was 7-6 with a 3.13 ERA in the first half of the season. But in the second half, both pitchers struggled at times. Colon was 2-6 with a 4.96 ERA and Garcia was 5-2 with a 4.45 ERA. Colon pitched so badly he was not even placed on the active roster for the playoffs. Garcia pitched and lost Game 3 to the Tigers.
Neither Colon at age 38 or Garcia at age 35 figure to be back next season.
The Yankees also have a host of young pitching prospects like Manny Banuelos (20), Dellin Betances (23), David Phelps (25), D.J. Mitchell (24) and even Hector Noesi (24), who pitched out of the bullpen for the Yankees. Signing Wilson would give the Yankees an opportunity to bring those prospects along slowly. Banuelos and Betances are easily the most talented of the group and they could use a season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to fine-tune their electric stuff.
Of course, some of them can be used in trades if Cashman felt a need to make a deal for a bench player or a veteran pitcher.
TARGET NO. 2 – YU DARVISH (18-6, 1.44 ERA for the Nippon Ham Fighters)
Darvish is a 25-year-old right-hander who stands 6-foot-5 and weights 187 pounds. He is the Randy Johnson of Japan with 276 strikeouts in 232 innings this season.
Even more impressive is that he is 88-33 in his last six seasons with his highest ERA during that period of 2.89 in 2006 when he was just 19.
Darvish has requested that his team owner post his contract in order to make himself available as free agent in the United States. Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters owner Hiroji Okoso indicated his readiness to respect Yu Darvish’s decision earlier this month even though the Japanese baseball season has not concluded.
Darvish’s posting will make the posting of Daisuke Matsuzaka in the winter of 2007 look like a flea-market sale. Darvish is a much more gifted pitcher who challenges hitters with his mid-90s fastball and he has some dazzling breaking stuff to go with it. Darvish has also succeeded on the grand stage, being named as the MVP of Japan’s victory in the last World Baseball Classic.
The Yankees, who have been burned in the past with the signings of Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa, are nevertheless intrigued by Darvish. They have had a bevy of scouts in Japan clocking every fastball and monitoring the break on his curve. They see him as a potential ace in the major leagues.
But, if the Yankees are committed to re-signing Sabathia and they decide to make a long-term offer to Wilson, Darvish would be even out of reach of the Yankees deep pockets. The posting fee itself could be double the $100 million the Red Sox paid for Matsuzaka. Then the team that wins the posting must sign Darvish to a lucrative contract which might reach $150 million.
So it looks like Darvish would only come into the Yankees’ sights if they fail to keep Sabathia.
The Yankees would then have to pile their cash to sign Wilson and then offer a rich a posting fee to obtain the rights to sign Darvish. They could only afford that if Sabathia does not come back.
Darvish is Plan B if Sabathia leaves. If Sabathis stays, the Yankees likely will still look to sign Wilson and they will let Darvish go to another team with deep pockets like the Red Sox or Rangers.
TARGET NO. 3 – ROY OSWALT (9-10, 3.69 ERA)
Oswalt was injured in 2011 and he started only 23 games for the Phillies. He wasn’t bad as his ERA indicates.
But he also is 34 years old with 2,154 innings pitched in his major-league career. The Phillies chose to not keep him and he will be probably be the second-most sought after pitcher behind Wilson.
Oswalt is consummate pro with the ability to win at the major-league level with less stellar stuff then what he had in early days with Houston like 2005, when he was 20-12 with a 2.94 ERA and 184 strikeouts. Last season batters hit .280 off of him and he was forced to pitch out of a lot of jams.
Back issues forced him to miss all of July and he even considered retiring after this season. But he did throw four quality starts in his last seven appearances. But when it comes to signing Oswalt as a free agent, he is going to have to have doctors clear him to pitch in 2012 before he ever gets a contract offer.
The Yankees’ interest at this point of Oswalt’s career is unlikely. The Yankees would have to basically strike out on keeping Sabathia and signing either Wilson or Darvish before they would even consider making that move. Oswalt has pitched only in the National League and the Yankees have to be leery of guys like him and Javier Vazquez, who post low ERAs in the NL only to pitch with plus 5.00 ERAs in the American League.
Oswalt is the longest of longshots on the Yankees radar this winter. He has too much mileage, there are injury concerns and you have to consider he has not pitched in the AL.
TARGET NO. 4 – FELIX HERNANDEZ (14-14, 3.47 ERA)
With the Yankees, King Felix has been like Jonah’s whale. They try to reel him in but he slips through the nets every time.
Dealing with the Mariners in the past has not been pleasant. The Yankees attempted to deal for Lee when he was pitching for the Mariners in 2010. Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik induced Cashman to include Jesus Montero and Ivan Nova in a potential deal for Lee.
The Rangers, on the other hand, were offering a package including power-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak.
Zduriencik then got greedy and asked the Yankees to sweeten the pot by including minor-league shortstop Eduardo Nunez to the package. Cashman said no and Zduriencik went running back to the Rangers to accept the Smoak package. The fact that Smoak bombed badly for the M’s in 2011 gives Yankee fans a lot of pleasure.
The Yankees, in the long run, were better off hanging onto Montero, Nova and Nunez and all three have bright futures ahead of them in pinstripes.
Any deal involving Hernandez likely will start with Zduriencik requesting Montero, Nunez and either Betances or Banuelos or both. This would the cost of doing business with a team that is desperate to fill the seats with a creditable team building for the future. But the Yankees would be crazy to be locked into this madness unless they were real desperate to replace Sabathia and they had lost both Wilson and Darvish in free agency.
This would be their Plan C and it would have to make sense to Cashman to give up so much talent. But Hernandez is not even 25 yet. So if you are going to deal for an ace it might as well be a young one with talent like the King.
But I do not see this happening. The M’s are building a nice rotation of young pitchers and Hernandez is a big part of that. However, their offense is just dreadful and King Felix could bring a package of young hitters the Mariners could build around. Montero would be a special prize here.
But the odds of it happening are in the 500-1 range. Cashman knows Zduriencik practices legal extortion and Cashman may be unwilling to pay up.
NEXT: PART 2 – Relief Pitching
PRIORITY NO. 1 – Finding a second left-hander or two
o secret the Yankees covet Cliff Lee. They nearly had him at the trade deadline until the Mariners stabbed the Yankees in the back and made a deal with the Rangers instead. But Lee will be a free agent and his buddy Sabathia likely can convince him to sign if the money is right.