Heading into the off-season, it was apparent that Masahiro Tanaka would be the Yankees' number one target on the starting pitching front. After all, of all the available big-name starters on the market he is the youngest and potentially the most cost-effective. However, there have been several conflicting reports as to whether the Japanese right-hander will be able to be posted or not. So, what are the Yankees' backup plans if there isn't an agreement reached by Major League Baseball and the Nippon Professional Baseball league on a new posting system?
Target the other big-name starters
The "big-name starters" include Ricky Nolasco, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Matt Garza. Out of those names, the only one I wouldn't complain too much about the Yankees signing is Garza. Despite his rough stint with the Rangers last summer, he has been pretty solid over the past few years and has experience in the American League East, for whatever that's worth. Personally, I'd stay away from all of the others, mainly due to them consistently under-performing their peripherals (Nolasco), their overall inconsistencies (Jimenez), and allowing a bunch of home runs (Santana). Since these guys are the biggest names, they will, obviously, be the most expensive and will command a lot of years on their deals.
Target the medium range starters
These "medium range" starters are guys who we've certainly heard of, but won't command the type of years/money like the big names will. Some of these guys include Scott Kazmir, Bronson Arroyo, Scott Feldman, Dan Haren, Jason Vargas, etc. Most of these guys, if not all of these guys, are guys I'd want to stay away from. Kazmir had a good year in 2013, yes, but was a complete disaster and/or hurt the previous three seasons. Dan Haren used to be someone I'd like for the Yankees to target (namely 2010), but he's had his share of back injuries and has given up a lot of home runs in recent years (1.5 HR/9 in 2012-2013) despite pitching his home games in pitcher-friendly Angel Stadium and Nationals Park.
Speaking of home runs, Arroyo gives up home runs, and a lot of them. He has had a HR/9 rate of 1.2 or above in every season since 2006 (1.3 HR/9 overall from 2006-2013, spanning 265 starts), including a 2.1 (!!!) HR/9 in 2011 when he allowed more homers (46) than walks (45). Meanwhile, there's Scott Feldman, which, like the rest of these starters, you can put in the "meh" category. While he did have a decent 2013 split between the Cubs and Orioles, he has been very inconsistent over the years (ERA+ from 2008-2013, respectively: 84, 114, 82, 113, 86, 105).
Try to convince Hiroki Kuroda to return
This would include upping the qualifying offer that he received (and ultimately turned down) from the $14.1 million figure to, perhaps, the $15 million he earned in 2013. I love Kuroda just as much as the next guy, but I think the Yankees and Kuroda should part ways. Giving someone who ran out of gas in the final quarter of the season a touch over $14MM is enough already, but raising that figure for someone who will turn 39 and has more than 2800 innings under his belt (including from his time in Japan) might be asking too much. The general consensus seems to be either the Yankees, Japan, or retirement for Kuroda since he was given the qualifying offer and other Major League teams may be hesitant to give up a draft pick for his services.
Take a flier on a high-risk, high-reward starter
Two guys that come to mind in this category are Tim Hudson and Josh Johnson. Both are coming off injuries (Hudson ankle; Johnson triceps, knee, forearm, elbow) but have the potential to be high-end starters (more so Johnson than Hudson, however). Hudson, prior to 2013, posted a career ERA+ of 126 and threw at least 179 innings in 11 of those 14 seasons, but will turn 39 next July and is coming off that aforementioned ankle injury. I originally thought he could be had on a one-year deal, but evidently he could get two years from someone. I hope that someone isn't the Yankees, in that case. Johnson, on the other hand, is said to be looking for a one-year deal to re-establish his value as a front-line starter. If his medicals check out well, I hope the Yankees would at least be interested on a low-ish base, incentive-laden deal.
Go dumpster diving and hope to strike gold
Something like this isn't foreign to the Yankees. After failing to sign Cliff Lee prior to the 2011 season, the Yankees, instead of signing an intermediate free agent option like Jon Garland or Jake Westbrook, decided to try to save some money and go dumpster diving for the likes of Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. As we all know, those two moves worked out and they each helped the Yankees capture the American League East crown that ensuing season. Some of this year's dumpster diving candidates include the aforementioned Jake Westbrook as well as Jason Hammel, Roberto Hernandez, Scott Baker, and Mike Pelfrey, among many, many others. All of these guys have their respective warts, whether it be injuries or just being plain awful. It'd be nice if the Yankees didn't have to resort to options like these.
Make a trade
Since we're still relatively early in the off-season and not quite at the Winter Meetings yet, the trade market hasn't been quite established just yet. However, there are two high-profile names that could be on the move in David Price and Max Scherzer (more so the former than the latter). At the same time, I seriously doubt the Yankees have the pieces to acquire either one of those arms. In order, I'd say the Yankees' best trade chips are Ivan Nova, Brett Gardner, David Robertson, Gary Sanchez, and J.R. Murphy, at least in my opinion. Trading Nova wouldn't make a whole lot of sense in this case because they're looking to add starting pitching, not subtract it, and Nova is one of their best starting pitching assets at the moment. Maybe a package of Gardner and Robertson could net them a decent starter, but by doing that you're filling one hole while creating two other holes in the outfield and bullpen in the process. For now, the Yankees' best bet to land an impact starter is through free agency.
Obviously, you can see that the drop-off from Tanaka to the next set of free agents is a pretty significant one. If MLB and the NPB can't come to an agreement on a new posting system, I could definitely see the Yankees grabbing at least one of the big-name, high-money free agents even though most/all of them aren't great fits. Since Brian Cashman is looking to replace 400 innings (which means acquiring two starters), I could definitely see someone like Dan Haren being signed by the team (remember, the Yankees tried to acquire him in September to make a late postseason push, so you know there has been previous interest) considering he fits the "veteran innings-eater" mold at this stage of his career. With all this said, though, I feel it's pretty unlikely MLB and NPB don't come to an agreement eventually on this posting system, but, say they don't, things may get kind of ugly. You can't blame the Yankees for putting all of their eggs in the Masahiro Tanaka basket given the lackluster backup options.