While their young position players have made a big impact, the New York Yankees remain short on quality pitching. Unfortunately, the upcoming free agent market won’t offer much help.
The loss of Nathan Eovaldi for the 2017 season was the last thing the paper thin New York Yankees pitching staff needed. Ace Masahiro Tanaka is on borrowed time with the partial UCL tear in his elbow, CC Sabathia’s early season renaissance is long gone, Michael Pineda doesn’t look like he will ever capitalize on his nasty stuff, and Luis Severino’s future may very well be in the bullpen.
The emergence of young sluggers Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, and Tyler Austin in the Yankees lineup the past few weeks has been the most exciting part of the 2016 season for many fans, but it also highlights that New York does not really have the equivalent impact talent on the pitching side.
Luis Cessa and Chad Green have both joined the Yankees rotation to replace Eovaldi and Severino, but neither is expected to be more than a number five/swingman type of guy. They could certainly surprise us. That’s part of the fun of baseball. At the same time, it’s probably foolish to count on that given what we know about them.
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If the Yankees actually want to contend next year, and they say they do, then the first order of business is adding some rotation depth behind Masahiro Tanaka. The team has nothing remotely close to a number two starter at the moment.
The usual answer for Yankees ownership would be targeting the top available arm on the free agent market. We saw last offseason that approach may no longer be an option because of Hal Steinbrenner’s desire to lower payroll. Even if they did want to make a big splash, it would be really hard to do with the arms expected to be available.
The only guy with a realistic shot to be a front of the rotation arm is Rich Hill, who has managed only 76 innings this year due to blister and back injuries. He does have a 2.25 ERA, 10.66 K/9, and 2.5 WAR in that time, but I’m not sure I want to be the one to give the injury-prone 36-year-old with almost no track record the big multi-year contract he will certainly command.
Before a terrible 2016 season, Andrew Cashner looked like he might be one of the best available starting pitchers in the 2016-2017 class. From 2013-2015, Cashner had a 3.43 ERA and 3.48 FIP in 483 innings of work. Diminished velocity and a big up-tick in home run rate has caused those numbers to jump to 5.08 and 4.87. At 29, he may be young enough to turn things around, but could be overpaid just because of his track record.
Perhaps the two best fits for the Yankees are 29-year-old Jeremy Hellickson and 32-year-old Doug Fister. Both have been up and down in their careers, but look like solid mid-rotation options for at least the next season or two. If something like three years and $45 million could get it done, it’s probably worth it for New York.
The Yankees could also take a flier on one of the two injury prone Dodgers lefties expected to be available. Scott Kazmir has been knocked around with LA in 2016 (4.44 ERA and 4.35 FIP in 127.2 IP) after three strong campaigns in the AL. Brett Anderson is expected to make an August comeback after missing the majority of this season. For what it’s worth, he was excellent in 2015.
Of course, this speculation may all be moot because we don’t know that the Steinbrenner clan will be willing to make any salary commitments this offseason. Recent history suggests they could sit out free agency completely and count on improbably comebacks from their internal options like CC and Big Mike.