Think back to July oh, say, 28th. The Yankees were streaking after the break, but still had a few holes to fill. Namely, adding another starter. With their preseason sixth starter, Phil Hughes, holding down the back end of the bullpen and with Chien-Ming Wang done for the season following shoulder surgery, the Yanks had but one in-house option for the fifth starter role: Sergio Mitre. Many fans weren’t happy with that, and clamored for Cashman to reel in another arm.
Leading into the trade deadline, there were a few names bandied about, but most were tossed out. By the time July 28th rolled around there were basically two options left: Jarrod Washburn and Brian Bannister. Neither was a perfect option, but both had been pitching better than what many expected from Mitre. So why not trade for one and see if he could fill the fifth starter role?
After a horrible 2008, Bannister had rebounded in the first half of 2009. After his start against the Orioles on July 28, Bannister held a 3.80 ERA and a .684 OPS against. As usual he hadn’t struck out many, just 72 in 116 innings, but he had allowed less than a hit an inning and had kept his walks in check. There were certainly concerns about his ability to sustain this success, but there were some indicators that he was worth the gamble.
At a $1.7 million salary for 2009, the remainder of Bannister’s contract was eminently affordable. In addition, he had just 2.158 years of service time heading into the season, and won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2012 season. Despite these factors, the Yankees turned away from a deal when Kansas City refused to eat the remainder of Banny’s 2009 salary. That might seem crazy for the Yankees, the richest franchise in baseball, but it’s what happened.
Washburn was a bit more interesting from a 2009 standpoint. He also pitched on July 28, spinning a seven-inning, one-run gem against the Blue Jays. That lowered his ERA to 2.64. For a guy who had been around a 4.50 ERA over the last three years, this was incredible. Some opined that the Mariners stellar defense was a big reason for Washburn’s rejuvenation, but there was an issue of a new pitch that was devastating opposing hitters. At the very worst, he’d probably be an upgrade over Mitre.
The issue of Washburn’s salary was a bit weightier than Bannister’s. Washburn is making $10.35 million this year, so even a third of that is a sizable sum on top of a payroll already over $200 million. On top of that, there was an issue of Seattle’s return on the deal. Reportedly they wanted Austin Jackson, which just wasn’t going to fly (though I suspect if Jackson’s name came up it involved Seattle picking up a good portion of Washburn’s salary).
In the end, the Yankees acquired neither. Instead they decided to go with Mitre in the fifth spot and see what came up in August. That yielded Chad Gaudin. While he didn’t come with the track record of Washburn or the success of Bannister, he represented a solid addition to the staff. That was all the Yanks did, and as it turns out it might have been the best possible tactic.
Washburn has been spectacularly bad in his six starts with the Tigers. He had one gem, an eight inning shutout against the Royals (the Royals) and a six-inning, three run performance against the Angels, but other than that has allowed five or more runs in his other four starts. His total line since joining Detroit’s playoff push:
37 IP, 41 H, 28 R & ER, 11 BB, 18 K, .924 OPS against, 6.81 ERA
Bannister has experienced a market correction since the calendar flipped to August. He started the month strong with seven innings of shutout ball against the Rays, which included seven strikeouts. After that he’s been downright atrocious. In five of those six starts he allowed four or more runs — including a stretch of three games in which he allowed seven runs. The only start in which he allowed fewer than four he allowed three in just 1.1 innings of work. His line since the Tampa Bay start:
31 IP, 42 H, 34 R, 32 ER, 11 BB, 19 K, .861 OPS against, 9.29 ERA
Just for comparison, Sergio Mitre’s line in seven starts this season (so not counting his relief appearance against Boston):
34.2 IP, 46 H, 23 R, 19 ER, 9 BB, 20 K, .801 OPS against, 4.93 ERA
So, just to be clear, Sergio Mitre, to this point, has pitched better as the Yankees fifth starter than both Jarrod Washburn and Brian Bannister have since the trade deadline. (Oh, and Banny’s hurt.) Brian Cashman caught his share of crap over the non-deals, and while it was tough to forecast exactly how bad Washburn and Bannister would be, it turns out, in hindsight, that no move was the best move.