Yankees free agent targets: Who’s available this winter?

Matt Garza might be this winter's winner for free agent starting pitchers. - David Banks

A list of 2014’s likely available starting pitchers on the free agent market, and whom the Yankees might want to target for next year’s rotation.

While it's disappointing to be writing this article at this stage of the season, it's also not terribly surprising given the rash of injuries and age of the roster. In fact, it's pretty amazing that they made it to the last week of the season still technically in the hunt for a coin flip playoff spot. However, now that we're here, it's time to start looking ahead at what might be in the 2014 season.

I've been having a lot of depressing talk with fellow Yankee fans concerning the future outlook. It's important to remember though that the Boston Red Sox outlook going into this year looked just as bleak as the Yankees current state of affairs. With that in mind, let's take a look at what might be available for the Yankees on the free agent market this winter to fill out their rotation next season.

I'm making the assumption that the Yankees are going to need to hit the free agent pile for help in the rotation next year. Right now it only seems safe to assume that two slots are taken in the rotation with Ivan Nova and CC Sabathia. Hiroki Kuroda is 38 years old and has made statements in the past about retiring or going back to Japan after this season. David Phelps has shown periods of promise as a starting pitcher, but he's 28 years of age and hasn't pitched over 100 innings in a season at the MLB level.

The farm system produced a bit of a disappointing season this year in terms of the upper level talent progression. It's hard to be confident in predicting anyone jumping into the rotation next year to be a reliable contributor. Can Michael Pineda finally make his Yankees debut at age 25? Vidal Nuno had initial success in a very limited role, but also suffered from the injury bug. He wound up pitching in only 45 innings across all levels. No one at this point from the minors stands out as a lock for a spot in the rotation next year.

It may turn out that all three of Phelps, Pineda and Nuno wind up as the three missing parts of the 2014 rotation, but I'm assuming that the significant uncertainties around them is going to drive Brian Cashman to seek one or two rotation helpers from available free agents. So who is likely to be available for the Yankees to bring into new Yankee Stadium?

The list below is taken from Cot's potential free agent list for 2014. I've excluded anyone with an option for next year. I'm assuming that if the Yankees would want him, then the current team is likely to keep him. I've sorted the pitchers with lefties on top and righties on the bottom. That horribly short wall in right field definitely increases the desire for capable lefties. I then sorted the groups by R/9 which is just total runs scored per nine innings. The last thing to note is that I grey scaled the boxes of players who will be entering typical years where starting pitchers experience significant fastball velocity decline risk. In this article I discussed the issue in detail, but for now what to think of is that at age 29, and then 32-33, there are typically material declines. Thus, pitchers entering those ages next year entail greater risk than those either before or after those periods. Finally, all stats are year to date figures for the 2013 season.

Name

Throws

Age

IP

R

SwStr%

k%

bb%

HR/FB

GB%

FIP

R/9

Jorge De La Rosa

L

32

167.2

70

9.2%

15.7%

8.7%

7.7%

47.3%

3.76

3.77

Bruce Chen

L

36

80.2

34

6.7%

15.5%

6.2%

7.0%

28.2%

4.04

3.82

Jason Vargas

L

30

143.2

64

8.8%

17.0%

7.1%

9.8%

41.5%

4.14

4.02

Paul Maholm

L

31

146

79

6.7%

15.3%

7.3%

13.7%

51.8%

4.30

4.87

Erik Bedard

L

34

127

77

8.3%

21.5%

11.7%

9.8%

36.0%

4.43

5.46

John Lannan

L

28

74.1

48

7.1%

11.5%

8.1%

7.9%

52.4%

4.36

5.83

Ted Lilly

L

37

23

16

9.1%

16.5%

9.2%

11.8%

35.4%

5.17

6.26

Barry Zito

L

35

123

86

7.3%

14.2%

9.3%

10.2%

36.2%

4.80

6.29

Jeff Francis

L

32

52

43

8.8%

18.1%

7.2%

20.4%

50.3%

5.18

7.44

Jonathan Sanchez

L

30

11.1

16

6.6%

17.2%

12.5%

35.7%

41.5%

9.48

12.97

Bartolo Colon

R

40

184.1

58

6.0%

14.6%

3.8%

5.4%

41.8%

3.16

2.84

Hiroki Kuroda

R

38

201.1

79

9.9%

18.2%

5.2%

10.3%

46.6%

3.56

3.54

Ervin Santana

R

30

205

81

10.2%

19.1%

5.7%

12.4%

46.7%

3.85

3.56

Scott Baker

R

31

15

6

8.0%

10.5%

7.0%

11.1%

28.3%

5.64

3.60

Bronson Arroyo

R

36

197.1

82

6.0%

15.3%

4.1%

12.4%

44.4%

4.19

3.74

A.J. Burnett

R

36

183

78

10.6%

26.3%

8.6%

8.7%

56.6%

2.76

3.84

Ricky Nolasco

R

30

192.2

84

10.6%

19.5%

5.6%

8.5%

43.2%

3.33

3.93

Scott Feldman

R

30

179.1

79

7.1%

17.7%

7.4%

10.8%

50.6%

3.96

3.97

Tim Hudson

R

37

131.1

60

9.2%

17.8%

6.7%

9.5%

55.8%

3.45

4.12

Matt Garza

R

29

150

69

10.0%

21.4%

6.4%

11.9%

38.8%

3.90

4.14

Jason Marquis

R

34

117.2

61

7.3%

13.9%

13.1%

18.2%

52.3%

5.64

4.68

Tim Lincecum

R

29

190.2

100

11.0%

23.1%

9.1%

12.4%

45.3%

3.77

4.73

Dan Haren

R

32

161.2

92

9.1%

21.0%

4.4%

13.5%

36.0%

4.20

5.14

Phil Hughes

R

27

143.1

84

8.5%

19.1%

6.4%

11.4%

30.4%

4.50

5.28

Roberto Hernandez

R

32

142.2

84

7.7%

17.3%

5.4%

21.1%

53.0%

4.59

5.32

Jason Hammel

R

30

133

80

6.8%

15.4%

8.0%

13.3%

40.0%

5.08

5.41

Mike Pelfrey

R

29

152.2

92

5.3%

14.9%

7.8%

7.0%

43.2%

3.99

5.44

Gavin Floyd

R

30

24.1

15

11.2%

22.7%

10.9%

20.0%

50.0%

4.61

5.60

Shaun Marcum

R

31

68.2

45

9.3%

17.6%

6.8%

8.3%

36.2%

3.90

5.94

Jon Garland

R

33

68

45

5.9%

10.6%

7.6%

13.6%

49.1%

4.93

5.96

Daisuke Matsuzaka

R

32

31

21

7.4%

19.6%

10.1%

9.1%

27.0%

4.72

6.10

Edinson Volquez

R

29

164.1

112

8.5%

18.4%

9.8%

12.3%

48.0%

4.27

6.14

Josh Johnson

R

29

81.1

64

9.3%

21.6%

7.8%

18.5%

45.1%

4.62

7.10

Chien-Ming Wang

R

33

27

24

6.4%

11.4%

7.3%

23.8%

58.0%

5.41

8.00

Chris Carpenter

R

38










Colby Lewis

R

34










Despite the preference for a lefty to pitch in new Yankee Stadium half of the time, there doesn't appear to be a lot of viable options. Jorge De La Rosa stands out in this group. He keeps the ball in the park with a fairly high GB%, and then hasn't given up a ton of dingers when they do get in the air. That's a fairly significant trait, considering he's been pitching in Colorado where there's less air to begin with. The problem is he's in that velocity decline risk zone. In fact, his velocity has already been declining this year and his K% and SwStr% are already showing the signs of strain relative to his career norms. To be blunt, he looks a lot more risky than his surface stats suggest. Not shown is his WHIP which is 1.38 this year.

If you've got to have a left handed starter, then I'd probably recommend taking a flyer on Paul Maholm. He's not that different from De La Rosa and Jason Vargas, but should come much cheaper given his season. He already doesn't have much in the way of fastball velocity averaging in the high 80's. So the age risk is less of an issue affecting his game going forward. Having said that, I really don't think this will work. Both Maholm and Vargas share a similar risk which you can see in their Home/Road splits. They're both low velocity pitch-to-contact lefties that need very pitcher friendly parks in order to be around league average. That doesn't sound like a good plan for a Yankee team that pitches in a match box. Thus, I don't think there are any good or affordable options for a lefty on the free agent market this winter.

So how about the righties? Bartolo Colon will be 41. He pitched fairly well for the Yankees when he was here, but I'm guessing he stays in Oakland if they still want his services. We don't know if Kuroda is available or not. Ervin Santana had a nice bounce back year pitching for the Kansas City Royals. He's still homer prone despite this year's improvement, but he's getting more ground balls as his GB% ticked up 3% from last year to a career high. He's no more than a year or two away from the risk of velocity decline, but if he is available on a two or three year deal I'd take a shot at him. Unfortunately, Royals GM Dayton Moore has already publicly stated his desire to try and bring him back before he hits free agency. So the Yankees may never have a chance.

Bronson Arroyo might be an interesting pick up for a guy who'll be 37 next year. He's already a control pitcher who has had decent success pitching in an unfriendly environment for a pitcher. He's been extremely durable since he was made a regular in 2004, and he limits the short porch risk by inducing a decent level of GB% while limiting walks. I think the Yankees could do a lot worse if they wound up signing him on a one to two year deal.

I'm assuming no one wants to talk about A.J. Burnett despite the fact that he has altered his approach to become an extreme ground-ball pitcher. Scott Baker has just been too injury prone, and his fly-ball tendencies would likely meet a similar success rate as Phil Hughes. The usually frustrating Ricky Nolasco might be interesting. He's a guy who has perennially underperformed his skill stats until this year. Since he's pitched so well for the L.A. Dodgers, I'm going to assume that Steinbrenner-West will lock him up before he hits the market.

The next two guys on this list are both intriguing. Scott Feldman and Tim Hudson are now lower velocity types with extreme ground-ball tendencies. While neither has been as consistently durable as Arroyo, they both possess a kind of skill set that could survive in the Yankees new home. Hudson has the better pedigree, but will be trying to come back from a season ending injury at age 38. Feldman is already showing with the Baltimore Orioles that he can hold his own pitching in the AL East and he had a very good start in his one appearance in Yankee Stadium this year.

This is the guy you want to target. Of course everyone else probably does too. Matt Garza will be 30 next year, giving you a couple of years before you have to start worrying about velocity. He might be considered a bit of a disappointment for the Texas Rangers since the trade, but it looks mostly due to an elevated HR/FB which is likely a symptom of pitching in Texas itself. His other skill stats all look similar if not the same as before. He is the guy who is most likely to give you better than average pitching performance. Garza also has the AL East success-sticker already. That security, however, is likely to come with a price tag, and a contract duration that might not be acceptable.

There are other guys like Tim Lincecum and Josh Johnson who could give you higher caliber returns, but they come with significantly higher variability in performance and thereby risk.

The rest of the guys on this list entail more risk. Lincecum's problem has been velocity decline and an increased homer rate. Considering he's been pitching in one of the pitcher-friendliest parks in the league, it doesn't sound like a good idea to try him out here. Jason Hammel saw his GB% dip this year, and his effectiveness went with it. He's a sixth starter type if you get him since you don't know from year to year how effective he's going to be. Gavin Floyd would be a very interesting post-TJ pick-up, but he's not expected back until well into the season due to surgery on two parts of his elbow.

That leaves Josh Johnson as the last guy who's pitched this year to take a look at. I think he's worth taking a gamble on. He might be the best upside shot for the lowest price. He went through a small velocity decline in 2012, but his performance was still better than average. He is a high injury risk player as this year and many others have shown, but this year's poor performance seems to be primarily related to his HR/FB rate, which exploded. His career figure is 8.2%, but this year that rocketed up to 18.5% in just an 81 inning sample. I know that bringing in a guy with a home run problem doesn't sound like a good idea, but he still has great stuff and will be 30 years old by next season. That's on the younger side of the ledger in this pool of free agents. You can't count on him to anchor your staff, but he has the potential to give you top end performance for likely a lot less cost.

I put Chris Carpenter and Colby Lewis on here just to show that they are available even though they missed all of this year due to injury. Carpenter likely won't leave St. Louis, and Colby Lewis will also probably stick in Texas. If there is a chance Lewis would sign elsewhere, though, then I'd be calling his agent. He's not the best fit for the Yankees home, but his control since coming back from Japan has been exceptional. Since he's been pitching in Texas and surviving, it might not be a stretch to expect him to do the same up here. It might only take a low cost guaranteed MLB level deal to get him as well.

There are very few obvious targets, which means their price is likely going to be sky high and for contract durations that will turn into problems down the road. Matt Garza may be the only name I put into this bucket. The next set of possibilities are guys who are control pitchers with high ground ball tendencies that are reliable, but most likely will be very average in overall performance. I think Arroyo, Feldman and Hudson could all fit this role with greater emphasis on the first two. Finally, we have the higher risk/reward types who may come cheap enough to take a shot on. I'd spend my lottery ticket next year on Johnson.

I'm making some assumptions here on certain players in terms of their likely availability when the free agent market actually opens. If Ervin Santana is still there, then you can stick him in the obvious target bucket. Nolasco would fall somewhere in between that and the average guys. Lewis could be an alternative lottery ticket type of player, and if all else fails then Floyd might be a second half starter or 2015 contributor.

Unfortunately the reality is that the Yankees are unlikely to turn things around solely from their winter actions. If current staff members like CC Sabathia can't resurrect their fortunes next year, or perceived staff members like Pineda can't work their way back to being effective starters, then the winter actions of the organization won't be enough to turn the Yankees into a playoff caliber ball club. One or two names from this list may become important parts of a winning team, but no one here is likely to be the anchor of the pitching staff in the same way that Sabathia was when he first signed with the Yankees.

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