It is becoming increasingly clear that the Yankees will make a big move in the next four days. Earlier in the month it might have appeared that the trade market was relatively bare and that there was no clear upgrade for the Yankees. Yet, as happens every year, the story has changed as we have approached the non-waiver trade deadline. The Yankees have a definite need in the rotation, and there are a couple of starters on the market who could help fill that.
Ubaldo Jimenez and Hiroki Kuroda could not be more different. One’s old, one’s young; one throws a mid-90s fastball, the other in the low 90s; one relies on ground balls, while the other is more the strikeout type; one is 36 and a free agent at year’s end, while the other is 27 and has two more years before reaching free agency; one will cost a bounty in prospects, while the other might not even agree to a trade. Yet both of them can help the Yankees rotation by slotting into the upper portion. In the coming days we could see one of them in pinstripes. Which one makes more sense?
If you look at only ERA, you might wonder how in the world Jimenez has out-performed Kuroda. Jimenez owns a 4.20 ERA, while Kuroda is at 3.11. Of course, that would suggest that ERA is completely under the pitcher’s control, which it is not. Jimenez has both a lower FIP and xFIP than Kuroda. He also has performed much better since struggling earlier in the year, producing a 3.03 ERA in his last 11 starts. Again, ERA isn’t everything, but he’s also struck out a batter per inning in that span, while walking just 17 (2.14 per nine).
Considering Jimenez got a late start in the spring, and missed two weeks in April, it’s understandable that he needed most of May to round back into form. But now he’s in that form, and he’s looking like an ace again. This isn’t a knock on Kuroda, whose performances have been very good since coming to the States in 2008. But in that span Jimenez ranks 10th in all of baseball with 18.8 WAR. His ERA, FIP, and xFIP are all relatively in line with Kuroda, but he has pitched 130 more innings.
It’s hard to make an argument that the Dodgers would get even one of the Yankees’ top five prospects in exchange for Kuroda. He’s a free agent after the season, and if he doesn’t retire he’ll either re-sign with the Dodgers or move back to Japan. In fact, it’s not even a sure thing that he’ll waive his no-trade clause: “My honest feeling is that I can’t fathom wearing another uniform than the Dodgers uniform right now,” he said yesterday. The point might be moot.
Jimenez, on the other hand, is said to cost three of the Yankees’ top prospects. If that seems like a steep price, well, it is. But remember, the payoff is a top-15 pitcher since 2008, so he’s not only good, but he has a track record. Is that worth eighteen years of total team control on three top prospects? It’s impossible to get a strong consensus on that, because of the polarizing prospect bias. Some think you always trade prospects for vets, while others would rather hang onto every prospect.
Yet here’s an interesting twist. CBS Sports’s Danny Knobler mentioned that the Rockies want three or four players from this list: Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, Dellin Betances, Ivan Nova, or Phil Hughes. If they can get Hughes into that deal, maybe that changes things. Hughes, Betances, and Romine is a much easier pill to swallow than Nova, Betances, and Montero. Though when we hold this up to the reality test, and we see Hughes’s performances lately, it’s tough to imagine that the Rockies are interested.
Overall Help: Jimenez
Jimenez not only slots into the Yankees rotation right behind Sabathia this year, but he could remain there for at least the next two. That takes the pressure off the Yanks to make a splash in the free agent markets to come, which don’t appear particularly strong. Remember, many teams are locking up their young aces, and so we won’t see many of them reach free agency. That’s where the Yankees are strongest. They might have to make a sacrifice now in order to maintain a strong rotation.
If the Yankees get Kuroda, they might be tempted to spend $90 million on C.J. Wilson this winter. While that wouldn’t be the worst investment — I fully believe he’ll perform better than A.J. Burnett, though that’s not setting the bar particularly high — it’s another big contract for a player around age 30. It might cost some pieces from their farm system, but getting Jimenez in pinstripes means they can forget about the free agent class this winter and focus on developing from within. They’ll have three surefire bets for the rotation next year in Sabathia, Jimenez, and Burnett, with a few guys from the farm who could step into those final two spots.
Jimenez’s contract, too makes matters a bit easier. He’ll be a No. 2 getting paid like someone of lesser ability, and so can free up payroll for the Yankees to make other acquisitions. While the Yankees do play a different game than everyone else, I’m sure they’d like to play the value game every once in a while. After all, they need cost-controlled players so that they can continue spending $180 million on guys like Teixeira and $160 million on guys like Sabathia.
There is nothing wrong with the Yankees’ pursuit of Hiroki Kuroda, and if they ended up with him by Sunday I’d honestly be thrilled. He’ll provide an upgrade over their current fifth starter, Phil Hughes, and will stabilize the rotation heading into the playoffs. Jimenez, on the other hand, will be their No. 2 for years to come. He’ll cost considerably more, but he brings more benefits, both in the short and long term. It hurts to give up prospects, but in this case, considering the alternatives — and the alternative of doing nothing — Jimenez makes the most sense.