Back of the rotation option: Randy Messenger



The Yankees need pitching and quite a bit of it this winter. CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova are the only pitchers on the roster guaranteed rotation spots come Opening Day and both come with question marks following 2013. New York will reportedly go all out to land Masahiro Tanaka, but he alone won’t solve their issues. They’re going to need some back-end help as well, cheaper arms to fill out the rotation and provide a safety net for David Phelps and Adam Warren.

Obviously back-end fodder is plentiful and cheap in the offseason — Chris Capuano, Jason Hammel, and Mike Pelfrey stand out from the free agent crowd at first glance — but the trick is finding guys who will actually be effective. The Yankees have been hit (Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia in 2011) and miss (Sergio Mitre, Garcia in 2012) with this stuff in recent years like almost everyone else. These pitchers are pretty unpredictable. If they weren’t, they’d be getting much larger contracts.

An outside-the-box rotation option this winter is 32-year-old right-hander Randy Messenger, who flunked a big league trial with three teams as a reliever (4.87 ERA in 184.2 innings from 2005-2009) before joining the Hanshin Tigers in Japan and dominating as a starter (2.75 ERA in 543 innings from 2011-2013). Obviously there is much more to life than ERA. From Jeff Passan:

After reinventing himself as a starter in Japan with the help of a split-fingered fastball, the 6-foot-6, 260-pound Messenger has thrived. He led the Central League in innings pitched and strikeouts this season with 196 1/3 and 183, and his 2.89 ERA was fifth among starters. It was his third straight sub-3.00 ERA season, though with run-scoring up across NPB this season, it marked Messenger’s best year compared to the rest of the league.

Scouts this season saw Messenger’s fastball reach up to 96 mph, though one said he sits closer to 92-93. His splitter and slider give him a strong enough off-speed complement that the scout believes he could be a back-end major league starter.

That’s not much, but it’s better than nothing. The addition of the splitter — a commonly taught and heavily used pitch in Japan and Korea — provides a tangible reason for the improvement. If there was no new pitch, I’d be inclined to think Messenger’s success stemmed from moving to the easier league more than anything. Colby Lewis and Ryan Vogelsong are the most notable recent examples of pitchers who flamed out in the big leagues, found success in Japan, then carried it over when they returned to MLB. It’s not unprecedented.

Brian Cashman has an affinity for physically huge pitchers like CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda — “I’m addicted to those big, hard throwers,” said the GM in February 2012 — so if nothing else, Messenger’s size* figures to grab their attention. They’ve apparently been scouting Asia pretty heavily — in addition to Tanaka, they also have interest in Korean righties Suk-Min Yoon and Seung-Hwan Oh — so I’m sure they’ve seen him a few times in person as well. Given their pitching needs, they should be considering all options, including unconventional ones like Messenger.

* Between the mound, being 6-foot-6, and that over-the-top delivery (check the photo), Messenger must release the ball from like ten feet in the air. Geez.

Now here’s the problem. According to Passan, Messenger has a standing three-year offer worth up to $15M from the (Hanshin) Tigers and has set a November 15th deadline to entertain offers from MLB teams. That’s one week from tomorrow. He is reportedly seeking a two-year deal in the $8-10M range to return to the States and, according to agent Matt Sosnick, he has only received one-year offers so far. One team offered one year plus an option. It’s unclear which teams made those offers. The price is reasonable and he’s obviously willing to take a discount to pitch back home.

The Yankees won’t know exactly how much money they have to spend this winter until Alex Rodriguez‘s appeal hearing is wrapped up, but there does appear to be $5M or so available for non-Tanaka pitching help. If Messenger can’t hack it in the rotation, they could always stick him in the bullpen and let him air it out with the fastball and splitter. There’s a need for relief help as well. I am very intrigued by Messenger but I wish we knew more — I can’t even find video of the guy from his time in Japan. His aggressive signing timetable doesn’t jibe with New York’s situation, which could remove him from the pitching picture entirely.

Categories : Hot Stove League


  1. pat says:

    The next Colby Lewis? Sign me up.

  2. Need Pitching & Hitting says:

    They have plenty of cheaper back of the rotation options.

    They need front of the rotation arms.

    • Preston says:

      Agreed, Phelps/Warren/Pineda/Nuno/Marshall/Banuelos are all deserving of a shot at the back end of the rotation, we don’t need more bodies, we need a front end guy. The only guys available that fit the bill are Kuroda, Tanaka and maybe Garza.

      • Preston says:

        Of course I say this with 189 in mind, in past years I would have been all for this, you can never have enough pitching, but with 189 paying 4-5 million for a back end starter who may not be an improvement over what we have in house seems unwise.

  3. Frank says:

    Kazmir, Hammel, Vargas and Feldman are pitchers I’d consider for the rotation.

    • Robinson Tilapia says:

      I’d go Hammel and Feldman over Messenger any day.

      • nycsportzfan says:

        I agree 100pct on Hammel over Messenger. I woulden’t mind Hammel as a 5th starter anyhow, and woulden’t really entertain a 2yr deal for Messenger, as its to risky.

        • Robinson Tilapia says:

          If it’s a deal in which you wouldn’t mind it if wound up throwing middle relief innings if he bombed as a starter, fine. I just don’t think he’d come to the states for that.

          I irrationally like Hammel, and it’s probably due to all the Koal Hammmels jokes we made on here a couple of years back. Do I think the team needs to import a fifth starter from the outside? Probably not. Even if one of Warren/Phelps goes (and, in my dream scenario, I’m shipping one of them and Nuney for the Panda), you’d have Pineda/Banuelos/etc. around for that slot…..if the team does what I hope they do and shores up positions 2-4 in the rotation as well.

  4. Robinson Tilapia says:

    Seems like a Plan C/D kind of guy to me. Like Mike said, there’s some evidence of his changing what he does a tiny bit, but also not really enough to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    I wouldn’t offer him more than I would offer a swingman type. Wouldn’t want to overpay for a guy who may just wind up in the bullpen.

  5. ACYanks says:

    Barring injury, can’t be worse than the first half Nova and full season Hughes last year. With that ERA over three years in the NPB, there is clearly some huge upside there. I’d at least entertain offering him an incentive laden contract.

  6. nycsportzfan says:

    I don’t mind some under the radar deals, but guys asking for multi yrs who have totally stunk in the pros and isn’t even that young anymore, and has only dominated in a league that is well below MLB standards, just dosent intrigue me at all.

    I’d rather take a gamble on a Colby Lewis type before signing Messenger.

  7. dp says:

    Waste of time…stay in house for 5th starters and platoon/rotate them.

  8. Chris says:

    He’s not a bad option but I’d still give up my first round pick and try and get jiminez or try and sign garza..

  9. Coolerking101 says:

    Leave it to Mike to give us info about a guy I haven’t heard even mentioned by the NY press. Great job Mike!

  10. OldYanksFan says:

    A few thoughts:
    Will Hughes get more than 2/$8m? Could this guy be better than Phil?
    What is the League he has been pitching in? Is it Japan’s AL East or Japan’s NL Central?
    What about 3/$9m? It’s worth an extra million to bring his AAV down a million.
    Since we also need BP help, I think this guy might be worth it.

    The Yanks will need to do some catching lightning in a bottle. That can’t afford to buy too much ‘known talent’. We will need to take some chances and hope they work out if we are to have a fighting chance in 2014.

    • MannyGeee says:

      I don’t hate 3/9. I think he’d want more though.

    • mitch says:

      I think Hughes definitely gets more than that. Hell, i’d consider resigning him as a relief pitcher if that was the price. I think he ends up with something like 2/16.

    • Robinson Tilapia says:

      I wouldn’t like the three years on Messenger. Again, if the worst case scenario would wind up being taking, say, Joba’s innings out of the bullpen, I don’t mind him at 2/8.

      Frankly, I’d look at a one-year deal in the states, if I was him, try to excel, then set himself up for a bigger deal. If he fails, he could always go back to Japan in a year.

  11. cheddar says:

    Don’t shoot him.

  12. Matt DiBari says:

    Acquiring back end starters should be like the very last thing we do, if at all. We have plenty of people who can come up and be just as mediocre as Randy Messenger in that spot

  13. Eselquetodolosabe says:

    A “potential” 4/5 starter for 2 years at 4mm per ? Sounds reasonable to me. Can you ever have enough “back-end” rotation guys ? I don’t think so. Pitching is always needed and at a premium. This guy might be lightning in a bottle. IMO, NY needs some of these calculated risks.

    • Robinson Tilapia says:

      True, to an extent. You can absolutely have too many guys on the MLB level who are more swingman types. You can’t have enough depth between the MLB and AAA level, though.

      This never stops the usual gang from complaining, though, when the team brings in a Chris Bootcheck as that sort of depth.

      • Eselquetodolosabe says:

        Stash/trade, or what-have-you, too much pitching is always a good thing. “189″ would be the only road-block, but 2 at 8mm total ? Might be worth it.

  14. Farewell Mo says:

    If they think this guy is a legitimate upgrade over the Phelps, Warren, Nuno group then I’d say go for it though right now I think those 3 plus Pineda should be enough to battle for the 5th spot in the rotation with hopefully CC, Nova, Tanaka, Kuroda or Garza rounding out the 1st 4 spots.

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