1. CC Sabathia 2. Phil Hughes 3. Ivan Nova 4. David Phelps 5. Adam Warren?
The New York Yankees have some holes to fill, but none are so urgent as their starting rotation. With Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte reaching free agent status, CC Sabathia is basically the only sure thing in the Yankees rotation. Let’s take a look at the rotation as it stands right now:
At this moment, the Yankees have one ace and a lot of a question marks. Phil Hughes is probably the only pitcher outside of Sabathia to have a guaranteed spot. When your second-best starter is just a year removed from a 5.79 ERA season, you know you’ve got some problems.
Luckily, there are a lot of good pitchers that can fill up those spots. First of all, there is a very good chance that the Yankees re-sign Pettitte, Kuroda, or both. With regards to Pettitte, it’s pretty much all his decision – the Yankees would surely sign him if he decided to pitch again, but given that he’s 41 years old and coming off an injury-riddled season, no one could blame him for calling it quits – for good this time.
Kuroda will definitely pitch next season, but it’s unclear whether he will pitch for the Yankees. He is reportedly seeking another one-year deal, but may make a good fit for the Los Angeles Dodgers or Boston Red Sox. As Chris Carelli suggested a couple days ago, the Yankees should, and probably will, offer him a qualifying contract worth one year, $13.3 million. As luck would have it, that’s probably right around what he’s looking for anyway.
But say the Yankees don’t sign one or both of Pettitte and Kuroda. What do the free agent options look like? Well, there are a number of options, ranging from higher-profile, expensive pitchers like Zack Greinke and Kyle Lohse, to bottom of the barrel guys like Jeff Francis and Scott Feldman.
Based on the likely cost of the bigger-name guys, the Yankees’ wish to lower their payroll, and the recent pattern in free agent spending, I believe that the Yankees would make the most of their money by finding a Kuroda-type pitcher – a veteran who is looking for a short-term deal, would be relatively inexpensive, yet has the potential to provide a lot of value for his cost.
Looking through the list of free agent pitchers this year, one name popped out: Roy Oswalt.
Oswalt spent the first half of 2012 as a free agent, hoping that he would make more as a free agent this year if he was signed by a contending team mid-season. The Rangers gave Oswalt about $5 million at the end of May, but his plan backfired, as Oswalt blew up during his time with the Rangers to the tune of a 5.80 ERA in 59 innings. In fact, he only made nine starts, and pitched out of the bullpen the rest of the time. He’s also 35 years old and clearly on the decline.
That’s the bad part about signing Oswalt. Here’s the good part. He’s only two years removed from a 200+ inning 2.79 ERA campaign, his peripherals were very solid last year, and over his career, he’s been fantastic at limiting home runs from left-handed hitters.
The first point doesn’t require much elaboration. He has a career 3.28 ERA and was extremely good just two/three years ago. In 2011 as well, Oswalt was solid, with a 3.69 ERA over 139 innings.
As to the second point, Oswalt actually had a 3.17 SIERA (an ERA predictor based on a number of factors, such as strikeout rate, walk rate, and groundball rate) this season, indicating that he was much better than his ERA indicated. His main issue was a .378 BABIP and an 18.6% HR/FB rate. Given the small sample of the season, his true talent ERA is likely to be much closer to his peripherals than his actual ERA, so in that regard, Oswalt doesn’t actually look so bad.
Finally, Oswalt has done a fantastic job at limiting home runs from lefties over his career. The Yankees have a 116 park factor for home runs by lefties, so this is a very important trait. Obviously, 2012 was a very bad year for Oswalt regarding the home run ball, but before that, he had been very very good at limiting home runs from the left side, giving up only 0.69 HR per 9 innings over his career. That is much better than the league average of about 1 HR/9 against lefties, so Oswalt would be a particularly good value for the Yankees.
Most importantly, Oswalt probably won’t cost a lot. He doesn’t have much bargaining leverage given his horrible 2012 performance, and his age along with some injury risk should drive down his cost significantly. He will also probably be looking for a one-term deal in order to raise his value for 2014. It seems very unlikely that Oswalt will ask for anything more than $10 million over one year, and it could be significantly less than that.
Oswalt is getting up there in years, but he’s still only 35, and clearly has the potential to be a very valuable pitcher. He is particularly well-suited for Yankee Stadium given his ability to suppress home runs from left-handed batters. Additionally, one-year deals to guys like Oswalt have been some of the best signings in recent years, as evidenced by Kuroda, Edwin Jackson, Bartolo Colon (well, sort of), Javier Vazquez in 2011, and so on. The Yankees should strongly consider giving Oswalt a shot. It would be low-cost but very high reward, for he could be next year’s Hiroki Kuroda, providing exceptional value from the #2 spot in the rotation for very little money.