It appears that the Yankees’ Plan C is continuing to evolve as expected. After the Phillies signed Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte retired, they were stuck in a holding pattern. With nothing of note immediately available on the trade market, the only reasonable plan was to fill the rotation with stopgaps and hope that someone unexpected hit the trade market around deadline time. At the time I thought that might be Chris Carpenter, but it turned out to be someone better. For the past week-plus we’ve heard non-stop talk about Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez, whom no one thought would become available this year. While the rumors started with interest from the Reds, the focus has shifted to the Yankees.
In pure player terms, Jimenez is exactly what the Yankees need right now. The pitching staff did a phenomenal job in the first half, but there are concerns going forward. While Colon’s and Garcia’s previous two starts aren’t necessarily a portend for the future, it’s certainly a possibility that their luck has run out. That would not only leave the Yankees searching for pitching, but top end pitching. Jimenez has been just that in the past two-plus seasons, with a 3.35 ERA and 3.27 FIP in 550 innings since 2009. Even more impressively, he has a 2.94 ERA and 3.04 FIP in 291 innings away from the hitter-friendly Coors Field.
In Jimenez the Yankees would get their No. 1a to Sabathia’s No. 1, and they’d have him at a steep discount through 2013 (he’ll surely void his 2014 option, as is his right if he’s traded). Given his talent and contract, the Yankees would have to part with a significant package of prospects to entice the Rockies. As Mike said in the obligatory Ubaldo post, think the original Dan Haren trade, which sent a legion of prospects to the A’s. We got a preview of a possible package over the weekend, when SI’s Jon Heyman noted the Rockies’ asking price: Jesus Montero, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, and Ivan Nova. That’s steep for sure, but it’s really just a starting point. They’re in the driver’s seat, so they might as well ask for the moon. The Yankees, Heyman further notes, will not part with any of those three pitchers along with Montero in a trade. Folks, we have what appear to be real, live negotiations.
(Unless, of course, you believe Buster Olney, who says that the two sides haven’t exchanged names. But, given their track records from this past winter, I’ll actually trust Heyman on this one. Plus, having names in place makes for better discussion.)
Once both sides step back from their original stances, the progression is logical. The Yankees will remove one of the pitchers from the deal, most likely Banuelos, leaving the package at Montero, Betances, Nova, and presumably another prospect, likely someone in the No. 8 to 20 range on the Yanks list. That’s a deal I would green light. There are no guarantees in baseball, and that goes doubly for guys who have yet to play in the majors. Both Montero and Betances have major upside and could contribute to future Yankees teams. But they both have enough flaws to leave the Yankees concerned. Cashing them in for a proven No. 1 or 2 pitcher who is right in the prime of his career provides the difficult balance between winning now and winning in the future.
Of course, it’s unlikely that the matter unfolds that smoothly. Two obstacles could stand in the way from the Yankees perspective. First is the matter of Banuelos. He’s the top pitching prospect in the Yankees organization, and this morning Heyman dropped an interesting item: the Rockies want a chip better than Montero as the centerpiece in any trade. That would seem to indicate Banuelos (though it could mean Betances, since Betances has a slightly higher ceiling). The trade does change if the Rockies demand Banuelos in Betances’s stead. He’s a lefty and a good bet to be in the rotation sometime in 2012, so it’s easy to see why the Yankees would be reluctant to include him.
The second obstacle is Ivan Nova. He’s the Yankees No. 6 starter right now, and their only real backup plan who has major league experience. Trading him would make Adam Warren the best depth option, since they’re apparently set on leaving Hector Noesi in the bullpen. True, acquiring Jimenez would give them a rotation of Sabathia-Jimenez-Hughes-Burnett-Colon/Garcia, but that fifth spot will still be important during the stretch run — more important still, because Burnett is pitching more like a No. 5, and Hughes still has plenty to prove. I still think the Yankees should go ahead, but I would understand their reluctance to remove MLB-tested depth options.
Chances are nothing happens on this front. The Rockies shouldn’t be overly motivated to move Jimenez, given his team-friendly contract and ace-like pitching. The prospective Yankees’ package of a front-line pitching prospect, a power hitting prospect, and a major league ready pitcher might be enticing, but I’m not sure it’s far enough over the top for the Rockies to take. Anything more than Montero-Betances-Nova plus a lesser prospect would have to give the Yankees pause. While Jimenez would help, they simply can’t empty the farm for him. With all of these moving parts, it’s likely the Yankees will have to turn elsewhere for pitching help. But if they can strike a deal in which they retain Banuelos, I think it would behoove them, both for this year and the future, to pull the trigger. It’s not often that a pitcher of Jimenez’s caliber becomes available. Considering the dearth of free agent pitching in the coming years, and the trend of signing young pitchers to long-term contracts, this is a move the Yankee should make.