Brian Cashman’s comments following the Winter Meetings suggested that the Yankees don’t have much of a budget left, so further major free agent additions are unlikely. The Yankees should not refuse to sign anyone else at all though. There are plenty of reasonable low-risk deals to be had still out there, and they need to improve their starting rotation. As it stands now, Masahiro Tanaka is the only man Joe Girardi can trust, and even his UCL is an enigma.
The Diamondbacks somewhat surprisingly made one intriguing name in particular available: Rubby de la Rosa. The right-hander finally seemed to be figuring himself out in the 2016 campaign until injuries cut his season short. An improved breaking ball led to impressive strikeout totals and made him a developing player to watch.
2016 Statistics: 13 G, 10 GS, 50 2⁄3 IP, 4.26 ERA, 4.49 FIP, 9.6 K/9, 3.6 BB/9
Age on Opening Day 2017: 28
Position: Starting pitcher
Originally a top 100 prospect with the Dodgers, de la Rosa had Tommy John surgery in 2011 after a nice 13-game debut that year and went to Boston in the infamous August 2012 trade that sent hefty contracts to L.A. He later found himself in Arizona when the Red Sox acquired Wade Miley from the Diamondbacks in December 2014.
A middling starter with unimpressive rate stats for most of the previous two years, de la Rosa had a bumpy beginning to 2016, as the eventual champion Cubs rocked him enough to get pushed from the rotation until April 23rd. When he came back though, he reeled off a terrific string of five starts, striking out 33 batters in 32 2⁄3 innings with a 1.93 ERA.
Ryan Romano at Beyond the Boxscore credited de la Rosa’s surge to a vast increase in his slider use. It generated a swinging-strike rate that ranked in the top 30 out of 206 qualifying pitchers this year. He had better command of the pitch than ever before, and paired with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s, it made him a tough pitcher to handle, even for a good team like the Cardinals:
Just when it looked like the game was finally breaking de la Rosa’s way, the injury bug struck. The Pirates hit him hard in late May and he landed on the DL with a sprained UCL. He visited Dr. James Andrews, but the expert decided that he did not a second Tommy John surgery. He eventually made his way back to Arizona for two mini-starts in September before being shut down for good.
After his September stint in Arizona, de la Rosa visited Dr. Andrews for a second time, who again thought that his elbow did not quite merit surgery. He prescribed him with stem cell treatment and that is de la Rosa’s current rehab status. Since Dr. Andrews knows eight billion times more about elbows than the average fan, that was the best course of action given what they knew.
Regardless, the Diamondbacks decided to non-tender de la Rosa. MLB Trade Rumors projected an arbitration contract increase to about $4 million for him in 2017, and new GM Mike Hazen decided to pass on him. As Romano noted in the aforementioned linked article, Arizona knows his medicals, so this is indeed a warning sign, though perhaps it was also Hazen exercising his right to dismiss someone acquired by the previous regime.
This is the kind of pitcher the Yankees should take a chance on though. He might very well end up missing the 2017 season if his elbow doesn’t get better. If the treatment works though, he could definitely eat up some innings that are simply lacking in the current rotation. If his early 2016 form returns, then that offer the potential for even more.
If the Yankees never took chances at pitchers, then Bartolo Colon might have never become a prominent figure in baseball again. Rubby de la Rosa is not going to be the difference-maker for the 2017 Yankees, but they need contributors, and the positive signs from this year suggest that he has potential to offer. Hell, he could even just be a modest bullpen addition if he can’t start. The Yankees absolutely have the financial flexibility to gamble on him, and they should.