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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Homer Bailey

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He may not be flashy, but if healthy, Homer Bailey can be a league-average starter on the strength of his split-finger.

Detroit Tigers v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

New York Yankees’ fans are expecting a big signing this offseason, especially if it will address pitching. They want DJ LeMahieu back, but they also want a hurler like Trevor Bauer, who is the best free agent pitcher out there. However, by now, it is pretty clear that the Bombers won’t be players for any major player available not named DJ LeMahieu.

If the latest reports on Bauer are true — Jon Heyman said he wants a $200 million deal — there is just no way the Yankees pursue him. They could pivot to the middle tier of the market, namely Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, Corey Kluber, Tomoyuki Sugano, or Jake Odorizzi. They could also kick the tires on some potential trade targets, like Joe Musgrove or Jameson Taillon. But even those scenarios are looking like longshots for the Bombers.

I firmly agree with the notion that the Yankees should go after at least one of the aforementioned names this offseason. But it’s not looking good on that front, so I will propose a cheap, veteran pitcher who could give the organization a fallback option in case Luis Severino’s rehab goes south or the young guns — namely Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt — encounter some bumps in their development: Homer Bailey.

No, he’s not a sexy option. He’s a 34-year old injury-prone veteran whose best days are behind him. However, that doesn’t mean the Yankees shouldn’t explore a deal with him so he can offer some depth in the rotation. The downside is almost non-existent!

It looks like the market for starting pitchers will be very slow and not at all pleasant for the players’ side. That means Bailey could be had at a very low one-year contract.

He had an injury-plagued 2020 season with the Minnesota Twins, in which he pitched eight innings of 3.38 ERA and 4.57 FIP ball. A biceps ailment sealed his fate and limited his contributions to the AL Central leaders.

Before signing with the Twins for the 2020 campaign, Bailey started 2019 with the Kansas City Royals and was traded to the Oakland Athletics near the deadline. As you can see, contenders want him because he provides cheap, quality depth. He started 13 games in the second half for Oakland in 2019, and had a very respectable 4.30 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP.

In 2019 as a whole, between the Royals and A’s, Bailey started 31 games and had a 4.57 ERA and a 4.11 FIP. He accumulated 2.9 fWAR, a decent figure firmly placing him as a starting-quality pitcher, with an 8.21 K/9 and a 2.92 BB/9. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if a healthy Bailey makes some starts in 2021.

From 2015 to 2018, Bailey was very bad, constantly running ERAs above 6.00. However, in 2019, he decided to use his deadly split-finger more, and his fortunes changed. According to Statcast, he started using a splitter in 2017, when he threw it roughly 19% of the time. In 2018, that usage decreased to 16%. In 2019, his splitter usage jumped to more than 26%, and that’s when his career resurrected. That year, he had a whiff rate of 38.4 with the split-finger, and a .208 xwOBA.

Bailey also uses a four-seamer, a curveball, a slider, and the occasional sinker. He will not overpower hitters at this point of his career, but he knows how to pitch, has good command, and would be a low-risk target because he wouldn’t cost too much.

I’m not saying that the Yankees should just sign Bailey and do nothing else in the offseason. They still need one or two reliable starters, via trade or free agency. But whether they manage to bring that stellar pitcher or not, adding Bailey wouldn’t hurt. He could buy the organization’s top pitching prospects some more time in the minors, and he could represent some league-average, cheap innings.