Hal Steinbrenner once again raised eyebrows during the quarterly Major League Baseball owners’ meetings yesterday. An overview of the Yankees’ current success gave way to discussions of the future. In particular, Steinbrenner looked forward towards the trade deadline and the offseason. The subtext of the conversation suggested a forward charge into free agency, a strategy the club has avoided in recent years.
"Clearly there's a very good chance of that [getting under the luxury tax threshold] and at the same time still having a significant amount of money to spend where we feel we need to spend it," Steinbrenner told ESPN’s Andrew Marchand. "To what degree and in what areas remains to be seen."
Although he wouldn’t admit as much, it’s fair to speculate the area in consideration is starting pitching. Michael Pineda will hit the open market following the season, and Masahiro Tanaka will likely join him after exercising his opt-out clause. The Yankees have some notable pitching depth, but not enough to cover for two starters. If the club cannot retain one - or both - of their own free agents, they must seek out external options.
Unfortunately, there’s an enormous flaw in Steinbrenner’s strategy. The starting pitchers available in the 2017 - 2018 class aren’t that good. The headliners, Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish, have a number of question marks surrounding them. Below them sits a plethora of rather mediocre arms - think Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson - who would likely serve as net-downgrades in the rotation. These options make Tanaka and Pineda seem rather attractive, don’t they?
The Yankees should especially steer clear of Arrieta. He’s looked lost on the mound since the middle of last season. Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs points out that his groundball rate has abandoned him. Given his age and ineffectiveness, red flags jump out with every pitch. This is the type of move the organization must avoid going forward. They would be paying for a name brand pitcher, but one whose best days are likely far behind him.
At the same time, doesn’t a move like this feels ominously inevitable? The Yankees will need pitching. They will also have money burning a hole in their pocket. That combination usually results in signing a free agent pitcher. With a core of young talent making strides at the big league level, the team might find it time to splurge on a front-end starter. After all, the Cubs did the same thing with Jon Lester during the 2014 - 2015 offseason.
In a sense, the Yankees might actually be like the Cubs. They’re a young team knocking on the door. The difference, however, is that a Lester or Max Scherzer isn’t available this offseason. Arrieta is broken, and Darvish has battled injuries of late. If the Yankees want to spend big on a starter, they will likely end up disappointed. It’s still early and a lot can change between now and the offseason. The fact that Streinbrenner is openly talking about free agency, however, should be a little concerning.