Writer Bob Klapisch had some interesting and probably unsurprising news on the Yankees' offseason efforts to improve their starting rotation:
#Yankees well aware of holes in starting rotation, but told they’re not leaning towards Garza and/or Jimenez. Will fill internally.— Bob Klapisch (@BobKlap) December 16, 2013
Should add, they’d be all in on Tanaka, if he’s posted. #Yankees— Bob Klapisch (@BobKlap) December 16, 2013
It's understandable why the Yankees would be thinking twice about adding a Garza or a Jimenez. Both have serious question marks around their game, but since they are the best non-Masahiro Tanaka arms on the pitching market, they will probably end up with high-salary free agent deals. It wouldn't be surprising to see them end up around what Edwin Jackson received from the Cubs last year (four years, $52 million). MLB Trade Rumors predicts a four-year, $64 million contract for Garza and a three-year, $39 million contract for Jimenez, neither of which are deals that should attract the Yankees' interest.
Garza's apparent marketability toward the Yankees is at first glance strengthened by his previous success pitching in the difficult AL East with the Rays from 2008-10. While overall, those three years were good with a combined 109 ERA+, he gradually declined each year until he was ultimately just a league-average pitcher in 2010 with a 100 ERA+. Garza then went to the Cubs in a trade for two and a half years and rebuilt his reputation as a pitcher of note with a combined 115 ERA+ in 60 starts. Keep in mind though that instead of facing a DH, he got to frequently face pitchers, and upon his return to the AL in a 2013 deadline deal with the Rangers, he was pretty mediocre. Like Ubaldo's 13 good second half starts, it's a small sample size, but Garza was unimpressive, ending his half-year in Texas with a 94 ERA+ and 1.316 WHIP. I think Garza is actually a decent pitcher who could probably still give a slightly-above-league-average performance in 2014 and maybe 2015, but I do not think what he offers is going to be worth a contract anywhere near the aforementioned levels. Recent DL stints for a shoulder strain in 2013 and a season-ending right elbow stress fracture in 2012 aren't particularly good seasons either for the 30-year-old. Pass.
Ubaldo was mocked for being hot trash from 2011-12, when he posted back-to-back awful seasons that combined for an 82 ERA+ and 1.504 WHIP. He wasn't much better in the first half last year, when he had a 4.56 ERA in 19 starts with a 1.490 WHIP. His free agent case seems to be based around his second half, during which he was admittedly dominant, pitching to a 1.82 ERA in 13 starts. He also is just turning 30 next January. Although those 13 starts look pretty, eight of them came against teams under .500. The Indians cruised to a Wild Card playoff berth last summer by beating up on awful teams in the second half, and Ubaldo took advantage of those crappy teams. That allowed him to build a narrative around "pitching his team to the playoffs" even though he often faced the likes of the Twins and Astros. Those starts are not a good enough reason to give him a big contract, and the Yankees are understandably shying away.
Klapisch's tweet seems to suggest that the Yankees are in on Tanaka or bust. Since Tanaka would fill just one hole in the rotation, the projected 2014 rotation will either look like this:
1) CC Sabathia/Masahiro Tanaka/Hiroki Kuroda/Ivan Nova/Internal option
2) CC/Kuroda/Nova/Internal option 1/Internal option 2
Those might not seem like overly impressive groups, but keep in mind that the Yankees' starting rotation was surprisingly decent despite giving 47 starts to April Nova, Phil Hughes, David Huff, and a pitching-through-injury David Phelps. Tanaka would obviously be a huge boon for the rotation if they are able to acquire him. Filling in the last spot with one of Phelps, Michael Pineda, Adam Warren, or Vidal Nuno would not be so bad. Few teams ever have a lockdown #5 starter.
It might be a problem if the Yankees have to give two spots to that quartet in Option Two, though. I still wouldn't be on board with bringing aboard one of Garza or Jimenez since they seem doomed to be bad overpays. A relatively low-cost buy-low candidate like Paul Maholm or Scott Baker wouldn't be a bad idea if they can't have Tanaka. Either way, Pineda deserves a shot at the rotation if finally healthy, and Phelps can pass as a back-end starter, so it probably wouldn't be the worst thing if the rotation was just CC/Kuroda/Nova/Pineda/Phelps.
It wouldn't inspire too much fear in opponents, but if the Yankees are going to try to incorporate low-cost players on the roster, they need to give kids like Phelps and Pineda a chance. The gamble that one or both of them will turn out to be decent rotation arms is a fairly comparable gamble as to whether high-cost free agents with big question marks like Garza and Jimenez will be worth the money and years they will find on the open market.
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