It is no secret that the Yankees are desperate for starting pitching. If the team was divided into three parts: rotation, bullpen, and offense, the rotation is the one area where there’s an obvious need for an immediate upgrade. The offense could probably stand to upgrade in areas like third base and the outfield, but the bats of Gary Sanchez and Matt Holliday should at least help it from being as anemic as it was for most of 2016. Then there’s the bullpen.
Obviously the “big move” of the offseason so far has been re-signing Aroldis Chapman. His signing effectively pushes him into the closer’s role, with Dellin Betances taking the eighth inning. After reacquiring Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren at last year’s deadline, overall the bullpen looks like it’s in good shape. Clippard will likely take the seventh inning, and Warren can help in the middle innings, while also being of use in the late innings if needed. The rotation though? As Tanya and Andrew put it in PSA’s most recent podcast, “It’s Tanaka and a prayer.”
So should the Yankees take a flyer on someone like Doug Fister?
2016 Statistics: 32 GS, 180.1 IP, 4.64 ERA, 4.75 FIP, 5.7 K/9, 3.1 BB/9
Age on Opening Day 2017: 33
Position: Right-handed starting pitcher
Fister is coming off a one-year deal with the Houston Astros in which he wasn’t great, but he wasn’t exactly awful either. His overall season numbers are skewed due to a poor September where he went 0-4 over six starts with an 11.74 ERA (7.23 FIP). Obviously that’s not good, however, part of that could be attributed to fatigue. In 2015 Fister only pitched 103 innings, but in 2016 he ended his season at 180.1. Jumping 70+ innings from one season to the next definitely seems like a valid reason for some late-season wear and tear.
From his first start on April 9th up to his August 28th start, Fister pitched to a solid 3.60 ERA (4.39 FIP) over 26 starts. So there is reason to believe that fatigue played a role in Fister’s overall average season. Now that his arm is “used to” that much of a workload over a season, he potentially wouldn’t falter (at least not as much) over a full season.
There is also the added bonus that Fister wasn’t offered a qualifying offer, so he comes free of any draft pick compensation. That draft pick is very important to the Yankees, or else they might have pursued some of the bigger free agents like Edwin Encarnacion or Kenley Jansen. So really, he’d only cost money, and he’d fit in easily into the rotation.
Tanaka is undoubtedly the headliner of the Yankees rotation. After his bounceback year, one could argue that CC Sabathia is worthy of being second-in-line, at least to start the season. After that, Fister would automatically be on top of the depth chart. Pushing Pineda into the fourth starter territory where he likely belongs (okay maybe he belongs as the fourth starter on a Triple-A team) due to his inconsistencies does inspire a bit more confidence in the rotation.
That would leave Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Bryan Mitchell to battle it out for the fifth spot. Warren will likely fight for that spot too, but he’s probably better off in his old “do anything that’s asked of me” role.
Trying to guess what kind of contract Fister would receive is difficult. He’s obviously not that “ace type” pitcher that would need a five or six year commitment at $20+ million, but he’s also not so awful that he would take a one-year deal at whatever salary. 2016 was his “prove it” year, and for the most part he did “prove it.” Though it wouldn’t be shocking to see him take another “prove it” deal but with some more security. Perhaps a multi-year deal with an opt-out or something along those lines.
Personally, I’ve always been a fan of Fister and believe he’d be worth a risk. The Yankees are also in this weird state of competing and rebuilding. Having someone like Fister on the roster makes sense for a transitioning team, and he could help bridge the gap until some of the younger arms in the system are ready to step up or some better talent is available via free agency or trades.
Most importantly, the pun possibilities are endless. So do you think the Yankees should take a chance on Fister for the rotation?
*Season statistics provided courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs