The Yankees continued to tweak their roster on Tuesday by adding Chris Carter, the reigning National League home run king, to serve as the backup first baseman and designated hitter. For $3.5 million, the Yankees secured much-needed right-handed power.
The Carter signing raised a few eyebrows, but I believe it speaks to two important points. First, it reiterates that Brian Cashman is among the best bargain shoppers in baseball. It’s tough to land 40-homer talent for under $4 million, even a flawed player like Carter. More importantly, however, the signing demonstrates that the Yankees remain committed to fielding a competitive team in 2017. With that in mind, Cashman should turn his attention to the remaining free agent starting pitchers in hopes of finding a similar bargain.
Free agents who remain on the open market this late into February aren’t without their flaws. There’s typically a reason why they have yet to find a job. Nonetheless, it’s possible that one of the remaining pitchers would fit as an incremental upgrade over the small army of in-house fifth starter candidates.
Reports surfaced earlier this week connecting the Yankees to left-hander Travis Wood. The Cubs southpaw pitched to an impressive 2.95 ERA (4.54 FIP) in 2017. Working mainly as a reliever, however, he accrued only 0.5 rWAR. This hasn’t deterred teams from expressing interested in Wood as a starter. As a left-handed pitcher with negligible platoon splits, it’s possible that he entices the Yankees.
There’s also Colby Lewis, the erstwhile Texas Rangers right-hander. Lewis, 37, enjoyed a successful 2016 campaign, albeit in limited time. Working around injuries, he posted a 3.71 ERA (4.81 FIP). While it’s impossible to count on Lewis to remain healthy over the course of a full season, his 2016 renaissance indicated he remains effective.
One of the more intriguing options still on the market is Doug Fister. The former co-ace of the Tigers and Nationals saw his performance unmercifully crash in an injury-shortened 2015. He pitched a full season with the Astros in 2016 and was mostly serviceable. His poor numbers - a 4.64 ERA with a 4.75 FIP - were largely the product of a dreadful September, as our own Kunj Shah noted. Fister is also a cerebral pitcher whose repertoire would compliment the Yankees hard-throwing, poor command rotation stalwarts.
There are two obstacles that stand in the way of adding a veteran pitcher. That said, neither are insurmountable. On the one hand, the Carter signing supposedly maxed the Yankees out of payroll space for 2017. Additional moves would require Hal Steinbrenner’s blessing.
With $3.5M invested in Carter (pending physical), #Yankees now tapped out unless Hal agrees to raise payroll again— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) February 8, 2017
This line of thinking pops up after every Yankees move these days. We heard it most recently after the Matt Holliday and Aroldis Chapman deals. I wouldn’t read too much into this, however. Steinbrenner seems willing to extend the payroll for the right deal, and a flyer on a cheap number five starter shouldn’t be an issue.
The other hurdle comes as a by-product of the youth movement. The Yankees have a veritable army of fifth starter candidates. That said, none of the immediate arrivals have particularly high ceilings. Several have little experience at the Triple-A level. Adding a veteran starter would buy more time and allow the Yankees to focus on a Wild Card spot. Just as Tyler Austin and Rob Refsnyder didn’t stand in the way of Carter, neither should Luis Cessa, Chad Green, or Dietrich Enns (among others) block a potential free agent deal.
These are low-risk incremental upgrades. If the the pitcher struggles while Green carves up Triple-A, then the Yankees can cut bait. It’s not like top prospects are being blocked either. A flyer deal won’t impact the timetable on James Kaprielian or Justus Sheffield.
Going into the season with two rookies in the rotation sounds nice, but that can end poorly. The Yankees are determined to maintain competitiveness during the transition, and I support that. There’s no need to root for a 70-win team if it means the kids will play. There’s a balancing act at work, and the smart move is to add a veteran pitcher. With Cashman as the helm, a bargain is never out of the question.
Data courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.