This year’s crop of free agent pitchers isn’t super exciting, but there are still some solid arms in the bunch. FanGraphs worked through the whole group this morning and listed these six guys as their “Top Tier”:
CC Sabathia (assuming opt-out)
So how would these guys fit into the Yankees rotation?
Let’s start by crossing Javy Vazquez off this list. I still shudder when I think of the 2010 season.
CC Sabathia is obviously the strongest choice on this list, and I’m confident that he’ll remain in pinstripes. The big question is whether Brian Cashman will be able to come to some sort of agreement with Sabathia this week before the World Series ends and he has the chance to opt-out. There’s no question that Sabathia will require a huge money commitment – his current contract would pay him $23M/year through 2015, so if he opts out it will certainly cost the Yankees a bit more.
Outside of CC, C.J. Wilson is the pitcher drawing the most buzz. He’s going to command top dollar as well, likely somewhere in the $100M range. Ricky Keeler detailed his concerns with committing such a large sum to Wilson, and I would echo many of them. The great thing about C.J. Wilson is the fact that he has only been a starter for two seasons, so he likely has more life left in his arm than the other guys on this list. But this short history as a starter also works against him, as it is difficult to predict future performance on such a limited sample size. His 2010 season was solid, but nothing spectacular. His 2011 season, on the other hand, has been fantastic and clearly established him as the ace of the Rangers staff. His 2.94 ERA and 8.3 K/9 are impressive in any light, but even more so considering that he pitched half of his games in the league’s most hitter-friendly ballpark. At the end of the day I like the idea of Wilson in the Yankees rotation, but not for $100M. But if the Yankees are able to work something out for less money, I think this is a deal that has to get done.
Edwin Jackson is a workhorse, but an inconsistent one. In the last three seasons he has averaged 210+ innings pitched with an average of 6.4 IP per start. At 28 years old Jackson is just entering his prime, so agent Scott Boras will likely be looking for significant years on any deal Jackson agrees to. I’m standoffish on Jackson simply because the Yankees already have an expensive, inconsistent starter in the form of A.J. Burnett. Like Burnett, Jackson shows flashes of pure brilliance at times. But he often has trouble finding the strike zone, and as a result he walks a lot of batters (also like Burnett). I’m not confident that Jackson will perform consistently wherever he ends up, and given that the Yankees already have a number of question marks in their rotation, I don’t think they will seriously pursue Jackson.
Mark Buehrle is a solid left-handed starter who could be a great fit for the Yankees. He’ll certainly earn a tidy sum of money (he is coming off of a 4-yr/$56M deal), but he won’t break the bank like Wilson and Sabathia are likely to do. Buehrle can be counted on to deliver innings – since becoming a full-time starter in 2001 he has never pitched fewer than 200 innings in a season. At 4.8 K/9 in 2011 he’s not really a strikeout guy, but he keeps his walks relatively low and put up a 2.42 K/BB ratio this season. For the right price, Buehrle should be a guy the Yankees can confidently slot into the rotation and count on for the next 3-4 years.
Hiroki Kuroda has been mentioned in connection with the Yankees lately, and they have definitely shown an interest in him. The chances of him coming to New York are probably pretty slim, though, as he would prefer to remain with the Dodgers. At 36 years old, Kuroda is the oldest pitcher on this list. In 2011 he recorded personal bests in ERA (3.07), innings pitched (202.0), and strikeouts (161). However, he also posted career highs in home runs (24) which could be a problem with the short right field porch in Yankee Stadium. If the price is right and Kuroda is interested in coming to New York