The buzz around the baseball world over the past 24 hours, has been about all of the hot stove moves being made by several teams. The day ended with the New York Yankees made the biggest splash of the day, signing Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury to a 7-year contract. While Yankees fans everywhere rejoiced at not only getting the one of the biggest free agent fish in the pond, they also weakened their bitter rivals, the Boston Red Sox. During that same 24 hour period, a perusing of the social media sites had Yankees fans feeling down about the fact that Carlos Beltran was in Kansas City, being offered a 3-year, $48 million dollar contract, and then watched as the Seattle Mariners became serious contenders to sign away second baseball Robinson Cano. The other underlying concern among the Yankee faithful was about their starting pitching. While signing two of the biggest bats on the open market is great, New York still has to answer the question about who is going to fill out their starting rotation.
The main target the Yankees have their eye on is Japanese pitching sensation Masahiro Tanaka, most recently of the Rakuten Eagles. Major League Baseball is continuing to negotiate a revamped posting system with Japanese baseball to ensure that all 32 MLB teams have a fair chance to bid on the best that the Far East has to offer, rather than just the big market clubs like New York, Boston and Los Angeles. The other interesting caveat if agreed upon, gives the player being posted, the opportunity to choose who to negotiate with if multiple teams post the maximum amount of $20 million dollars or tie for the highest posted bid amount. This option gives the Japanese player, and Tanaka in the immediate future, more say in whom he will play for once he comes stateside. Let’s play Devil’s Advocate for just a few minutes. Let’s say for example, that the Yankees, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Seattle Mariners all post a bid of $20 million dollars for Tanaka’s services. Now let’s say Tanaka chooses to head to the Pacific Northwest rather than going to L.A. or to the Bronx. Where does that leave the Yankees’ off-season pitching plans? Let’s take a look at a few options not named Tanaka, who might fit in well behind staff ace C.C. Sabathia.
The first of these starting pitchers is already a known commodity to Yankees fans…Hiroki Kuroda. During his two years in the Bronx, Kuroda has posted 27 wins, an earned run average of just over 3.31, and has pitched well over 200 innings in each season. While Kuroda ran out of gas down the stretch in 2013, he goes about his business in an unassuming manner, and is one of the few free agent starting pitchers who isn’t requesting a multi-year contract for monopoly money. The Yankees aren’t even sure if Kuroda plans on pitching in 2014, or if he will retire. New York made him a qualifying offer, which he turned down. Multiple media outlets have reported that as of Tuesday evening, a one-year offer in the $16 million dollar range has been offered to Kuroda for one final run in the Bronx. Given the thin market of top-shelf arms, the Yankees could do much worse.
A high risk/high reward option is former Cleveland Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez. In terms of age and quality, he leads the pack, as he is heading into his age-30 season in 2014. The Indians had previously given up two of their top prospects to acquire Jimenez, who struggled for the most part during his time in Cleveland. It wasn’t until the second half of 2013 where he began looking like the ace-in-making as he had previously in Colorado with the Rockies in 2010. Jimenez’s K/9 ratio was at an all-time high in ’13 at 9.2. While his BB/9 was at a career average of 3.9, Jimenez remains an elite strikeout pitcher, as well as an innings eater. From June forward, his earned run average was not above 3.10. So what’s the risk? The fact that prior to his Phoenix-like re-emergence during 2013, the previous two+ seasons in Cleveland were downright ugly. Jimenez had a combined E.R.A. of 5.25 after coming over from Colorado, led the American League in wild pitches in 2012 with 16, and gave up a combined 32 long balls in 241 1/3 innings pitched. Scouts had previously reported that his velocity was down as well, but picked back up some during his resurgent 2013 season. Jimenez turned down Cleveland’s qualifying offer of $14.1 million in search of a longer contract for more dollars. So what do the Yankees offer? Other free agents such as Ricky Nolasco and each received 4-year deals. Nolasco got $49 million, while Vargas received $32 million. A pitcher of Jimenez’s potential most likely is looking to get a 4 or 5-year contract, in the $72-$80 million dollar range, if not more. The Yankees need a young power arm, and Jimenez might fit that bill.
Much like Ubaldo Jimenez, free agent Ervin Santana is a risky target in free agency. Since tearing his UCL in 2009, Santana has logged more innings (980) than former phenom Josh Johnson has thrown in his entire career. Another problem for the Yankees, is that Santana is a fly ball pitcher, one who has been bitten by the home run bug more than once in his career. He has given up 20 or more home runs in eight consecutive seasons. While the Yankees chose not to bring Phil Hughes back for that reason, signing Santana to a 4 or 5- year deal in the $75-$80 million dollar range might be more of a risk than the team wishes to take on. The other risk of signing someone who has been as inconsistent as Santana throughout his career, is the fact that the Yankees would have to give up a high draft pick to do so. Another down point for Santana, is that he is not a strikeout pitcher, as his K/9 rate was under the league average with a 6.9. So what does Ervin Santana bring to the table that would make him an attractive option for the Yankees? Like Jimenez, he is durable, having been on the disabled list only twice in his career. Also like Jimenez, he is relatively young for a free agent pitcher, as he heads into his age-31 season in 2014. Santana also eats up innings, having logged over 200+ innings in five of his eight big league seasons. The Yankees have two rotation slots to fill, and Santana could plug-in nicely as a #3 starter behind either Kuroda or Jimenez. Other options the Yankees may look at if they lost out on Tanaka include: Matt Garza, Scott Feldman, and even perhaps Bronson Arroyo.