Who Could Help the Yankees’ Rotation?


The New York Yankees enter 2015 with numerous question marks. One of their biggest concerns is the starting rotation. In 2014, the Yankees were battered by injuries and they watched their pitchers fall one-by-one. CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Ivan Nova, and Michael Pineda all missed extended amounts of time throughout the season. The health status for the rotation is just as much of a question heading into next season.

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As the Winter Meetings kick off, the Yankees will look to bolster their rotation through free agency. Let’s take a look at some possible free agents who could help contribute in 2015.

1. Max Scherzer:

Scherzer has thrown  1239.1 innings in seven seasons and has had a coming of age party the last two seasons. In those last two seasons, he has thrown more than 200 innings and posted a 10+ K/9. In 2013, his WAR was a stellar 6.7 and he followed it up with a 6.0 in 2014. At age 30, Scherzer, has developed into an ace and has the stats to prove it. His 21 wins and ERA of 2.90 in 2013 helped lead him to his first Cy Young. He is a two time All-Star and in the past three seasons he leads all pitchers with 723 strike outs. Scherzer has a four pitch (fastball, changeup, curveball, and slider) repertoire that he exhibits tremendous control of. He posted a strong 2.5 BB/9 in his two All-Star seasons in 2013 and 2014.  In that time batters swung and missed at 11.9 percent of his pitches which was ranked fourth in all of baseball.

However, Scherzer was tied for 17th in the MLB with 358 fly balls. A fly ball pitcher could see his stats inflated at Yankee Stadium because of the shallow walls. Despite this, Scherzer is the big name free agent that every team wants and is willing to pay for. While this type of scenario is the Yankees’ forte, they have been relatively quiet this offseason. He could reshape the entire Yankee rotation and make them an immediate favorite in the AL East again.

2. Jon Lester

Lester, 30, is coming off a season in which he was traded from the Boston Red Sox to the Oakland Athletics at the Trade Deadline to solidify their rotation for the postseason. He has been a dominant force to be reckoned with the past few seasons and flaunts the numbers to show it. His 1,596 innings pitched in nine seasons demonstrates his consistency. In six out of those nine seasons, he threw for over 200 innings. Since 2008 Lester has only been on the DL once and for only 19 days. He is coming off of a dominant 2014 campaign in which he posted a 2.46 ERA and a 9.0 K/9. Also, he bolstered a 61.4 percent first pitch strike rate. His control is what a team looks for and expects from an ace. In 2014, Lester proved his accuracy by only allowing a 2.0 BB/9.

Lester’s .81 ground ball to fly ball ratio could definitely be beneficial in Yankee Stadium. The fact that he is a lefty negates the short porch in right field. It also can help take some of the stress off of the aging and injury prone Sabathia. If the Yankees were looking to add a key piece with veteran leadership and postseason experience, then look no further.

3. James Shields

James Shields is the third big ace on the free agent market. He helped lead the Kansas City Royals to the World Series in 2014 with his lead-by-example philosophy. In 2014, Shields posted a stat line of: 3.21 ERA, 227 innings pitched, 7.1 K/9, and a 1.7 BB/9. Shields has consistently been the workhorse ace for teams to rely on. In eight of his nine seasons, he has pitched for over 200 innings and posted a career high of 249.1 innings pitched in 2011. If his reliability was not impressive as it was, it becomes even greater when you consider he has never been on the DL. A pitcher like Shields who goes deep into games can provide a day off for the bullpen as well. He averaged 6.68 innings per start last season. This makes an manager’s job early when he knows he does not have to worry about getting innings out of relief pitchers. Furthermore, in 2013, Shields qualified for the league lead with 27 quality starts.

However, because of this inning eating philosophy, clubs may fear giving him a long term contract. He has been overworked and pitched a total of 1910.1 innings. Shields is turning 33 and you have to wonder how much longer he can go on at this rate.

4. Brandon Beachy

Beachy, 28, is coming off of his second Tommy John surgery and because of that he was non tendered by the Atlanta Braves. However, rumors are ten clubs are already interested in the starter and he is expected to sign during the Winter Meetings. Beachy is young and has time to recover from surgery and develop into a star. He has shown flashes of brilliance in his time on the mound and owns a career 3.23 ERA. In 2011, Beachy posted a 10.7 K/9 and gave up only 46 walks. Also, Beachy has done a decent job of keeping opposing batters off base with a career 1.13 WHIP.

However, his inconsistency and inability to stay healthy have prevented him from developing into the player he could be. In four years of service,  he has only pitched over 100 innings once. Teams also might be scared of a pitcher who has already had Tommy John twice.

5. Francisco Liriano

Liriano, 31, has had a wild ride in his time in the MLB. This lefty, who was once the number two behind a dominant Johan Santana with the Minnesota Twins, has electrifying stuff. His career K/9 of 9.3 magnifies just how effective he can be. A;sp, his 9.7 K/9 in 2014 only trails Scherzer in this year’s free agency. However, his problems staying in the strike zone are what have caused him harm. Liriano’s lack of control at times has hurt him and his career BB/9 of 3.9 may scare teams away from giving him a big contract. The Yankees may choose to put this behind them and focus on his two good seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates in which he posted a 2.92 and 3.59 ERA. They have to love his 52.4 percent ground ball rate and the fact that he can neutralize lefties in their batter friendly ball park.  He can be the poor man’s Jon Lester if the Yankees do not feel like spending big money.

6. Justin Masterson

Masterson can be a smart move for the Yankees and be the 2015 version of Brandon McCarthy. He is not a dominant lights-out pitcher, but he is consistent and you know what you will get out of him. If the front office were to pursue Masterson, they would most likely have him in the back of the rotation. He has a career 4.24 ERA and 1.38 WHIP.  He commands a power sinker which led to a 58.5 percent ground ball rate. It is a smart sign because of his age, 29 years-old, and since he was a mid season trade there is no draft compensation tied to him. Masterson’s 11.7 fWAR in the last four seasons shows that he is actually in the top 30 starters. Masterson could be the cheap, reliable signing that will give the Yankees depth. It wouldn’t necessarily be the biggest game changing move though.

These are just a few of the options that the Yankees can pursue in the free agent market to help their rotation woes. Other possibilities that were not listed are: Hiroki Kuroda (again), Aaron Harang, Kris Medlen, Brandon Morrow, Jake Peavy, and Ervin Santana. It essentially comes down to if the Yankees are looking to buy a dominant ace or go the cheaper route and sign depth signings. You get what you pay for. I believe the Yankees should consider signing an immediate impact ace because of just how fragile the rotation is. Any cheap depth signing will be just a temporary solution that will continue the mediocrity.