Oliver Perez was released by the Mets today, the most unsurprising move since the Russo-German non-aggression pact was broken. The next unsurprising news you will hear is that the Yankees have taken a look at him. I don’t expect they really will have, but if you believe everything you hear, the only pitcher they Yankees haven’t considered adding this year is Lew Burdette, and that’s only because (A) they haven’t forgiven him for beating them out of the 1957 championship, and (B) he is, sadly, deceased.
The fascinating thing is, they don’t need the help, don’t need Carlos Silva, Kevin Milwood, and a bag of nickels. Has Freddy Garcia pitched badly? His ERA says yes. His peripherals—those walks and strikeouts—say no. The same goes for Bartolo Colon. While the quality of their competition, defenses, and game conditions have varied, the elements those pitchers can control for, namely walks, strikeouts, and home runs, have been just fine.
The danger of spring training is making decisions over small samples. Just as Alex Rodriguez is not a .410 hitter and Robinson Cano is not a .233 hitter, Colon and Garcia are likely not going to be this good against real competition in the regular season. There are good reasons that they were available to the Yankees in the way that they were after Cliff Lee slipped away.
Yet, even if they and/or Ivan Nova prove to be Florida flashes in the pan, the road out of this mess seems clear. Give them six weeks or so of rope, barring truly horrific results, hoping that CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Phil Hughes are good enough that the Yankees have a reasonable chance to win three out of five games even if the back end of the rotation sputters. By that time, perhaps one of the minor league options seems more viable, you give them a spin or four, and suddenly you’re careening towards the trading deadline and teams are shopping pitchers.
This is a safe course and has the benefit of not loading down the staff with middling has-beens that no longer have the stuff to make even the convinced second-division teams and buys the Yankees to gamble on young pitchers with upside and/or put their chips on a vet whose team is bailing out of the race. It’s a course that requires patience more than anything else, and a resistance to the tempting notion that just because your organization is smarter than that of the Pirates or the Orioles that you can fix anyone. No disrespect to Larry Rothschild intended, but the list of middle-aged pitchers with declining stuff who suddenly discovered an extra gear, a new pitch, a way of turning back into a quality major-league starter is spectacularly short. I’ll give you Rick Reuschel and a few more, but it’s not a frequent thing.
In the end, whatever the pressures of New York, the roughness of their secondary pitches, or the innings limitations on their arms, the young pitchers have a far better chance of giving the Yankees an ERA of 4.50 or less than do all of the free agent and released pitchers you’ve heard about. Millwood hasn’t gotten there in four of the last five seasons. Silva has been all over the map with health concerns and strikes out no one. Perez has walked eight batters per nine innings over the last two seasons, leading to an ERA of 6.81. Doug Davis is coming off of elbow surgery. At some point, you have to trust the kids.
The media likes names. The Yankees like names. Redemption stories are fun but unreliable in terms of outcome. All should prefer upside to a 100-to-1 shot, and that’s what these retreads are.