Late last night we learned that the Yankees aren’t having any “hi-level” trade talks about a starting pitcher at the moment, a vague little term that could mean lots of things. Are they not having serious discussions about any pitchers, or are they not having discussions about a high-end pitcher? Could be either depending on how you interpret the report.
Anyway, we all know the Yankees are indeed in the market for a starting pitcher and perhaps a lefty reliever as well, so let’s take a look at a player that could potentially fill either role: Tom Gorzelanny of the Nationals. Washington has surprising rotation depth, with Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman fronting a group that also includes Chien-Ming Wang, John Lannan, Ross Detwiler, Brad Peacock, and Tom Milone. They’re also dipping their toe in the C.J. Wilson/Mark Buehrle end of the free agent pool, which would further push Gorzelanny out of the picture. Let’s break down the 29-year-old southpaw’s credentials…
- A four-pitch lefty, both of Gorzelanny’s fastballs (two- and four-seamer) sat right around 88-89 mph as a starter before jumping to 91-93 out of the bullpen in the second half. He also uses a changeup and slider — both in the low-80’s — pretty regularly.
- Gorzelanny was pretty dynamite after moving to relief this summer, striking out one-third of the 27 left-handed batters he faced while surrendering just three singles and two walks. In a small sample (190 plate appearances), he’s held batters to a .283 wOBA with 20.5% strikeouts and 10.5% walks while coming out of the bullpen.
- He’s done some fine work against same-side hitters throughout his career, holding them to a .294 wOBA with 24.6% strikeouts (9.11 K/9) and 7.9% walks (2.93 BB/9). This past season, Gorzelanny set career bests in strikeout rate (8.14 K/9 and 21.3% of batters faced) and walk rate (2.83 BB/9 and 7.4% of batters faced).
- During his time with the Cubs (mid-2009 through 2010), Gorzelanny managed to provide 2.7 fWAR and 1.6 bWAR of value in 174.2 IP, the best stretch of his career since a strong 2007 campaign. His pitching coach in Chicago was current Yankees’ pitching coach Larry Rothschild, so there’s some familiarity there.
- Gorzelanny has been on the DL twice in his career, both times for elbow inflammation (26 days in 2011 and 31 days in 2006). He does have a knack for the fluke injury though; he’s dealt with six different hand/arm injuries as a result of being hit by batted balls since 2006. Six times! None required a DL trip, but sheesh, the guy is a magnet for comebackers.
- He’s solid against lefties and as a reliever, but the numbers against right-handed batters and as a starter are not all that impressive. Opposite-hand batters have tagged him for a .354 wOBA with a 15.6% strikeout rate and a 10.4% walk rate during his career, and as a starter those numbers are .346, 17.1%, and 9.9%, respectively.
- Gorzelanny is a pretty extreme fly ball pitcher, getting a ground ball just 36.2% of the time this past season and 41.1% of the time in his career. That number against lefties isn’t any better (43.9%), and he’s been rather homer prone as a big leaguer (exactly 1.0 HR/9).
Gorzelanny is a candidate to be non-tendered next month (deadline is December 12th), and MLBTR’s projections peg him for a $2.8M salary in 2012, his third time through arbitration before becoming a free agent after the season. He cleared waivers last August, indicating that no team (including the Yankees) thought he was worth the pro-rated portion of his $2.1M salary. Acquiring a player in the offseason is different than acquiring the player during the season though, only because there’s a bit more flexibility about how the available payroll space is distributed. Just because no team claimed Gorzelanny off waivers in August doesn’t mean a team wouldn’t be willing to trade for him now.
These non-tender/trade guys typically don’t bring much back in a trade; their teams are just trying to get anything back rather than nothing. Both Andrew Miller and Zach Duke were traded for fringy Triple-A relievers before being non-tendered last offseason, two fringy Triple-A relievers that have already been let go by the Marlins and Pirates, respectively. Gorzelanny is better than either Miller or Duke, so maybe the Triple-A reliever will have to be slightly less fringy, but I think you get the point. We’re not talking about a multiple prospect package here.
Ultimately, we’re likely looking at a lefty reliever, because I’m not sure Gorzelanny can make it work as a starter in the AL East. This situation is somewhat similar to what I wrote about Chris Volstad in the mailbag two weeks ago; Gorzelanny does make some sense for the Yankees as a lefty reliever/emergency starter, but the Yankees don’t make sense for Gorzelanny. If they don’t trade for him and he hits the free agent market as a non-tender, then chances are he’ll be able to find a starting job somewhere, or at least find a better opportunity to win a starting rotation spot. It’s a question of whether or not the Yankees will want to give up something to get him in a trade, then pay him close to $3M to work out of the bullpen exclusively for the first time in his life.