Available starters: Who for the Yankees?by Matt Filippi
December 29, 2011
After winning 97 games and the American League East in 2011, the Yankees are once again on the lookout for front line starting pitching. Last winter, they went hard after Cliff Lee, only to be dissed when the pitcher took a less lucrative offer from the Phillies. This offseason, there are a few more options on the free agent market, including Edwin Jackson and Hiroki Kuroda. But what about the names on the trading block?
Free agency has always been very appealing to the Yanks because of their ability to throw endless amounts of money at any player. However, with more quality options available via trade, General Manager Brian Cashman may have no choice but to give up some prospects to make a deal. If not, they’ll have to go into the 2012 season with A.J. Burnett and Phil Hughes as their four and five starters. And now that Yu Darvish has landed, it is more likely that a trade can get done.
One option available via trade is Matt Garza. Garza, 28, pitched to a 3.32/2.95/3.19 ERA/FIP/xFIP line in his first season with the Cubs in 2011. He also struck out almost nine per nine innings while walking fewer than three per nine. He’s made at least 30 starts and logged at least 180 innings in each of the last four seasons and does not become a free agent until 2013. Coupling this with his record of past success in the AL East, he could be a very good option.
The one problem I see with Garza’s numbers is how his strikeout rate (and swing and miss rate) fluctuates from year to year. In 2008, he registered 6.24 punch-outs per nine innings, in 2009, that rose to 8.39 and then dropped back down to 6.60 in 2010. After posting 8.95 per nine this past season, you could make the case that he has figured things out just as he enters what should be the prime of his career. But is the risk worth taking?
Another problem with the righty is that it will take a lot to bring him to New York. Coming off a great year, and with two years of control left, he may be the best option on the market. The Cubs' new front office is not going to trade him just for the sake of trading him. It’s probably going to take a package centered on Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances, pitchers Brian Cashman seems reluctant to part with.
Another pitcher who has reportedly been on the trade block is Jonathon Niese. The southpaw, 25, is under team control through 2015 and has put two consecutive solid seasons together. In 2011, he pitched to a 3.36 FIP while recording 7.89 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.25 walks per nine innings. All of this makes him a very nice option.
Since the Mets are rebuilding, they will probably be open to the idea of trading Niese if they can get a couple of solid pieces back. He won’t yield the same return as Garza because he doesn’t have the same track record, but it would still take two solid players to pry him away. I’d say either Adam Warren or David Phelps (a young, major league-ready starter), along with Austin Romine.
The last big name option on the trade block is Jair Jurrjens. With a lot of young starting pitching waiting to be broken in, the Braves have a surplus and Jurrjens is the guy they have chosen to shop. By posting a few solid ERAs over the past few seasons, he has been able to mask himself as a front-line starter, but the peripherals say otherwise.
Over his career, he has struck out only 6.15 per nine innings while walking 3.1 per nine to go along with a 3.88 FIP. There’s nothing that really makes him stick out: he has a career 44.4 groundball percentage, a career 8.2 percent swinging strike rate, and a fastball in the low 90s. Injuries are also a red flag when looking at Jurrjens, since he hasn’t made 30 starts in a season since 2009 and has logged 200 innings only once in his career.
In return for the young righty, Atlanta will probably ask for Eduardo Nunez—plus a little more. We know the Braves are looking for a young middle infielder and Nunez certainly fits the bill. Coupling Jurrjens’ pitfalls with the fact that he only has two years of control left, it shouldn’t take much more to land him. The problem is that, other than Nunez, the two teams don’t really match up. The Yankees' system is deep in pitching and catching—two things the Braves certainly don’t need.
Each of these options has its own cons—cost, tradability, or durability. In order, I would want Garza, Niese, and then Jurrjens. However, that is only if Cashman is able to make Betances the centerpiece. If not, Niese is also a very nice option, but I’m not sure the Mets will deal him if they can’t move him at their price.
If the first two options can’t be had, then I would look to free agency. There’s no need to pay prospects for Jurrjens simply because you need a pitcher. I’d sign Hiroki Kuroda or Roy Oswalt (only if the back is okay) to a one-year deal, as a stopgap. Both of these guys are older, so I can understand some hesitation, especially since they are trying to stick to a budget. Still, it would be good to have a one year stopgap before hitting the larger pitching market next offseason.
With high prices for what they feel are not front line starters, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Yankees stand pat with what they have and maybe try to acquire someone during the season.