With the trade deadline behind us, teams are limited in the players they can acquire. Rather than having unrestricted trading access with the other 29 clubs, each team is restricted to players who clear waivers, or on whom they make a claim. Yankees GM Brian Cashman harkens back to earlier in this decade, when he, using the Yankees financial might, put in claims on nearly everyone in order to block trades to rivals. This year, with many teams at or above their target payroll, putting in a claim leaves a team at risk of absorbing a poor contract.
Cashman says he expects more activity in August this year than in years past, but considering the lay of the land, that might not be the case. As it stands the Red Sox are behind the Yankees in the standings, so they have a chance to put in a claim first. When the Jays place Roy Halladay on waivers — and they certainly will — the Sox will almost certainly put in a claim. Even then, a team like Texas or Detroit might place their claim first, effectively cutting out the Sox. The pickings could be slim by the time it gets to the Yanks and Sox.
Still, there are some extraordinarily bad contracts out there and not even the Sox, with their relatively low payroll, will dare put in a claim. That could open the negotiating table for the Yankees to acquire that fifth starter they sought last week. Problem is, few if any of the potential options do the Yankees much good. Jon Heyman breaks down the players who will clear and who might clear. He adds those who won’t clear but could be dealt to a claiming team, but the Yankees aren’t in a position to be dealing with those players.
The pitchers include Bronson Arroyo, to whom we should just say no; Aaron Harang, who is pitching like a No. 5 but is being paid like a No. 2; Miguel Batista, who is 38 (!!), hasn’t started a game this year, is walking 5.2 per nine innings, and despite the M’s stellar defense has allowed 10.1 hits per nine; Juan Cruz, who is pitching horribly (and people wanted to kill Cashman in April for not signing him); and Ron Mahay, whose walks would make us want to throw a brick through the TV.
There are still some who could clear waivers. With the Red Sox behind the Yankees in the standings, it’s not likely. As Heyman writes, “The Yankees need a No. 5 starter, and the Red Sox know it.” Yet, let’s not forget that the Red Sox could use another starter themselves. The question, of course, is of whether they’d jettison Brad Penny or John Smoltz for a better option. The further question is of whether any of the might-clear names represent any kind of significant upgrade.
Of the players who might clear waivers, Heyman calls Jon Garland dependably mediocre, while I call him dependably crappy — his K rate continues to decline despite a move to the sissy league; Doug Davis, who leads the NL in walks — and the Yankees already have the AL leader; and Gil Meche, who like Harang is pitching like a No. 5 but is being paid like a No. 2. It doesn’t help that Meche hasn’t pitched a game since July 11 and has basically been pitching hurt to some degree all season. Oh, and don’t forget Uncle Ronny Villone, whose 1:1 K/BB ratio just isn’t welcome back in New York.
With Sergio Mitre holding down the fifth spot, there is plenty of room to improve. But look at the names above. Do any of them represent a true upgrade? Perhaps marginal, but even then you have to factor in the cost to acquire the player. At that point even a marginal upgrade might turn into a long-term downgrade. All that just for a few runs saved. Given what we know about Brian Cashman’s M.O., it’s safe to say that he’ll stay away from this crop.
The best thing that could happen to the Yankees is for some improvement in the bullpen. If Brian Bruney finally regains his form (and he was pretty good in the first 1.1 innings he pitched on Saturday), if Mark Melancon keeps throwing like he has his last three times out, if Damaso Marte can come back strong, and if Al Aceves is really only suffering from shoulder fatigue, the Yanks will have a strong bullpen even without Phil Hughes. While some think it’s too risky to put him back in the rotation after a long stint in the pen, he’s clearly their best option to fill the fifth starter hole. He can always return to the bullpen for the playoffs (though at that point you might see Joba in the pen and Phil in the rotation).
That’s a lot that has to go right, though, including the transition of Hughes back to the rotation. It’s not at all likely, and the Yankees face the prospect of Sergio Mitre or, gasp, Kei Igawa filling the fifth spot in their rotation for the rest of the year. There’s always the Jason Hirsh experiment, but that’s just as unlikely as the above scenarios. The Yankees are not in an easy spot with their pitching staff right now. They can, however, take solace in knowing that every other team in the AL has similar problems. It’s just a matter of whose are more exposed down the stretch. The above-mentioned players aren’t going to turn it around for any staff.