Scouting the Free Agent Market: Pitchers on Minor League Deals

Yankees rank 20th in Keith Law's organizational rankings
Sherman: Yankees sign J.R. Murphy to one-year contract for 2014
Gonna have to shave that beard, Hanson. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Gonna have to shave that beard, Hanson. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The Yankees seem set with the top four in the rotation and their closer, but they could still use some help filling the other seven slots on the pitching staff. Particularly, adding a couple of pitchers to the fifth starter competition could help them.

Going with an internal candidate might seem ideal. If Michael Pineda steps up, clearly the Yankees should go with him in the fifth spot. But if he doesn’t they face a dilemma. David Phelps and Adam Warren might be better suited in relief roles, and the Yankees can use some bullpen reinforcements right now.

By picking up one or two free agents on minor league deals, the Yankees can offer new auditions for the fifth starter spot, perhaps making it easier to use Phelps and Warren in the bullpen if Pineda still needs time in the minors.

The list is thin, of course, and each pitcher is significantly flawed. That’s always the case when looking for players on minor league deals. But each of these three pitchers has at least some upside.

Tommy Hanson

If a 27-year-old former top prospect appears in line for a minor league deal, something must have gone horribly wrong. Hanson hasn’t been the same since a shoulder impingement and rotator cuff injury cut short his 2011 season. Since then he’s gotten progressively worse.

The shoulder injury seems to have taken all the life out of Hanson’s fastball, leaving his two breaking pitches less effective. While it’s possible for a pitcher to live right around 90 mph, where Hanson has been for the past two seasons, something else seems to be missing from that heater.

At just 27 years old, Hanson still has some promise. He did recover some of his velocity late last season, after moving to the pen at the end of September. If that helps him rediscover the pitch, he could become effective again. Even if he can’t break 90 when stretched out over 100 pitches, he could become a viable option in the pen. The Yankees need some help there as well.

The big upside in signing Hanson is that if he does bounce back, he won’t become a free agent until after the 2015 season. That’s a nice little bonus for taking a chance on someone.

Joe Saunders

Under normal circumstances, a 33-year-old lefty with a history of mostly average numbers would find a team willing to offer a MLB deal. But after his 2013 performance, Joe Saunders probably isn’t getting that from a non-desperate team. It’s hard to see how last season could have gone any more wrong for him.

After decent showings in 2012, including a fine run during Baltimore’s playoff push, Saunders moved to Seattle and one of the league’s most favorable pitching environments. The result: the highest home run to fly ball ratio in the majors despite pitching in one of the least favorable HR parks. His 5.26 ERA ranked second-worst among qualified pitchers.

Why even consider Saunders after that debacle? For starters, that performance probably makes him a minor league deal guy. Second, from 2007 through 2012 he produced a 104 ERA+. Third, it’s possible that the spikes in his HR/RB ratio and his BABIP could regress to his career norms. Saunders is still no great shakes, but he’s probably worth a look on a minor league deal.

Jair Jurrjens

The Yankees have been connected to Jurrjens in the past. After the 2011 season the Braves started shopping him around. And why not? He had undergone knee surgery after the 2010 season and saw those problems persist into 2011. Despite that, Jurrjens pitched reasonably well, a 2.96 ERA in 152 innings. It seemed like a great time to sell high.

The Braves found no takers, or at least no takers willing to meet their asking price. What followed was a two-year barrage of home runs and otherwise putrid performances, amounting to a 6.63 ERA in just 55.2 MLB innings. His stints in the minors weren’t particularly impressive, either. It would appear that Jurrjens is finished.

Every pitcher willing to take a minor league deal has to be flawed in some significant way. Jurrjens might be worth the flier because he’s succeeded in the past despite his so-so control that goes along with sub-par stuff. Chances are he’s done, but at 28 years old he’s worth one last look before closing the book on him.

Lightning Round

The MLBTR free agent list has a number of household names who could sign minor league deals this winter. Are any of them in any way appealing?

Roy Oswalt: We wrote about Oswalt earlier this off-season, though mainly as a reliever. Maybe he could bounce back as a starter if given a full spring training. Worth a look, but an aging starter with back problems probably won’t pan out.

Johan Santana: We also wrote about Santana, but it appears he won’t be back until the summer, so we can back off that idea for a while.

Barry Zito: I wanted to find something to like about Zito, I really did. Unfortunately, there’s just nothing.

Jeff Karstens: He essentially had a good year, maybe year and a half, but has been hurt and ineffective otherwise. It’d be nice to bring back an old friend (acquaintance maybe?), but Karstens isn’t going to help even in the best case scenario.

Aaron Harang: Like Saunders, he got thrashed in Seattle last year. Unlike Saunders, he throws right handed and is 36 years old. Harang had a nice peak just as he entered his prime years, but outside of three pretty good seasons, he’s been mediocre to horrible.

Jake Westbrook: The former Yankee looks pretty toast.

Bruce Chen: He actually had a decent season last year, split between the rotation and the pen. But Chen is super homer happy. It’s tough to see that working at all with the Yankees.

Yankees rank 20th in Keith Law's organizational rankings
Sherman: Yankees sign J.R. Murphy to one-year contract for 2014
  • Dalek Jeter

    I’ll take a Tommy Hanson with a side of Santana and Jurrjens…and some Karstens and Zito for dessert. Offer them all MiLB deals, if they want to come on board with an invite to ST, awesome. I’m sort of unclear if they need 40 man spots though, if so then…obviously there is a limit of how many we can sign. If not, go MiLB deal happy and see if they stick.

    • The Great Gonzo

      I don’t think they need to offer up 40 man spots until the break with the big club.

      I think you can essentially photocopy your garden variety Minor League Contract with a Mapquest printout of directions to George Steinbrenner Field and hand them out at the mall at this point.

    • qwerty

      Santana, Zito, Jurrjens are done.

      • hogsmog

        I think Zito could still do long relief work, but I agree, his days as a regular starter are up.

    • Anthony

      One name interests me, Scott Baker. He is the first pitcher I would want to add as an option to look at for the fifth starter role.

  • Nick

    Zito seems like a nice guy and he can play guitar

  • Chris


  • Yankeefan91

    i can see hanson been a really good reliever for us.

  • Delbert Grady

    Not really seeing anything worth getting excited about there. Sure I’d take a flier on Hansen or Johan. It’d be like taking a flier on Mark Prior. Fans get excited, but most of the time these guys are cooked and it’s an uphill battle.

    I would sit still on the pitching front at this point and focus on this ridiculous infield they’re planning on marching into the season with. I can’t fathom for the life of me the plan in Kelly Johnson at 3b and Brian Roberts at 2b with Nunez behind them. And that doesn’t even begin to address the unease I have over Tex and Jeter being productive post injury.

  • Gonzo

    I’ll always remember Harang for that one relief appearance that may have ruined him. Dusty’d

  • The Great Gonzo

    Its amazing how many of those names I either liked or loved over the past few years.


    Dear Yankee prospects,

    Unless you can make the All-star team or are considered a top prospect, don’t bother showing up to camp in 2014.

    We’ll be much better off with our long and short-term development by signing washed-up tomato cans and guys coming off of multiple years of surgeries.

    We know how hard you’ve worked and have done a fairly decent job for us in your time through our system (as well as your time in the big leagues), but that doesn’t matter to us. We like people whose names our fans can recognize from playing MLB 2K9.


    The Yankee Braintrust

    • Dalek Jeter

      Dear Yankee Prospects above high A ball,

      Do something that shows that you can perform in the big leagues and that you aren’t in fact part of the 20th best farm system and that you’re better than that and you may have a shot to play. Then maybe we can stop signing guys like Tommy Hanson to come compete with you.

      Yankee Brain Trust

      There, FIFY

      • Joe Pawlikowski

        Seems pretty obvious to me. If they had guys who could compete, this wouldn’t even be an issue.

        It reminds me of 2006, when the Yanks desperately needed a starter in the summer. Commenters said “time to call up one of the kids from AAA,” oblivious to the lack of guys who could make a MLB start, let alone competently.

        • Dalek Jeter

          Seriously, last season guys like Almonte, Adams, Claiborne, Romine, Murphy, Warren, etc, all got chances and though some performed well (especially Claiborne and Murphy) it’s not like they blew away the field, and they will get another chance to prove it wasn’t a fluke this year.

          • BC203

            I’m missing which of those is the SP you plan on calling up to compete…

            • Dalek Jeter

              Any and/or all of them. MiLB contracts really mean nothing to me. Give them to every Tom, Dick or Harry who has ever had any success in the big leagues. If they can cut it awesome, if not send to the minors or cut ’em.


        So you mean that Phelps, Nuno, Warren and Pineda need MORE people to “compete” with them? Hanson may not be the worst addition, only because he’s young, but the rest of these guys? C’mon now.

        We are talking about the 5th starter spot. It’s not like they’ve been horrible in the past and have no upside or track record. Why not let them “compete” with each other? Let them compete, not just in spring, but throughout the season as well.

        If you aren’t going to use the “ok/alright” segments of the farm system to fill out the fringes of a team (5th starter, backups, middle relief), then why even have them?

        Plus, you mean to tell me that Nunez/CoJo/Adams (not sure if he was DFA’d before or after) couldn’t compete for 2nd base, rather than signing the oft-injured Brian Roberts (the broken down tomato-can I referenced)?

        • Dalek Jeter

          So you mean that Phelps….need more people to compete with them too? Yes. Phelps and Warren have proven to be at best league average. Nuno hasn’t proven anything, and Pineda hasn’t pitched in literally years. On top of that our bullpen could use guys like Phelps and Warren, even Nuno.

          Let them compete through the season as well Absolutely they should, but why not up the competition and try to catch lightning in a bottle with guys who have major league records.

          If you aren’t going to use “okay/alright” segments of the farm system to fill out the fringes…why even have them? To be the last resort to fill a roster. If there is a better available than the one you have in your farm who could be had for money, do it. You don’t take a lesser talent just because they’ve been in your organization.

          Plus you mean to tell me that Nunez/CoJo/Adams couldn’t compete for 2nd base rather than signing the oft-injured Brian Roberts? Lets see what the numbers say:
          Brian Roberts 2013 wRC+ 90 fWAR 0.9
          Eduardo Nunez 2013 wRC+ 83 fWAR -1.4
          Corbin Joseph 2013 wRC+ 101 (repeating triple A)
          David Adama 2013 wRC+ 90 fWAR -0.2

        • Jorge Steinbrenner

          Actually, no. This isn’t about the fifth starter’s spot. This could be about the bullpen. This could be about a pitcher willing to go to AAA with an opt-out as a depth option which, yes, Virginia, just about every team does.

          To answer your question on Nunez/Cojo/Adams, Adams was considered limited at second due to injury, with “no” on the others.

          I still love your screen name. Very well played.

    • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

      Wow. How’s it feel to live in a black and white world with no shades of gray?

      • The Great Gonzo

        I’m sure he’s got at least 50 Shades.

        • Dalek Jeter

          DAMNIT GONZO!

          • The Great Gonzo


      • Dalek Jeter

        It’s pretty boring without those 50 Shades probably.

  • Dirty Water

    It’s weird how the Red Sox are the only rating that is inaccurate and “massively” overestimated. Media bias? They’ve been ranked in the top 5 by everybody so you’re saying there’s some sort of collusiion going on between ESPN (LAW),, Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, etc. If you watched Bogaerts in the WS, small sample size obviously, I don’t think you would be doubting his ranking. He could flame out like all prospects but I also remember highly touted prospects like Hanley Ramirez and Nomar becoming stars. Ellsbury was probably rated highly as well but I’m not sure. It’s ironic you cry media bias when you’re clearly affected by Yankee fan bias.

    • The Great Gonzo

      Reply Fail? Obvious troll success, but Imma guess thread reply fail.

      • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead


  • Farewell Mo

    On a minor league deal, why not on any of them.

    Out of this group, Hanson and Santana would seem to be the most intriguing.

    • Jorge Steinbrenner

      Exactly on the first sentence, except for Karstens, probably. Seen that film before, and it scarred me more than “Freaky Friday” did on a drive-in screen when I was three.

      I have a strange interest in Barry Zito.

      • Farewell Mo

        It seems like he’s been around forever but he’s still just 35.

        You’d think he’d be death on lefties with that curveball but they lit him up last year.

        Oh well, he’ll never hurt for money at least.

  • The Great Gonzo

    Despite his major obvious crater sized flaws, I am intrigued by a crafty left handed bullpen animal named Barry Zito. May be nostalgic, may be because he’s so dreamy with his guitar and his hipster attitude, may be because I think the name Zito is fun to say… But yeah, gimme that dude on a MiLB deal.

    • vicki

      and chicks dig him.

  • Darren

    Would Zito even take a minor league deal? Or would he be just as happy to play guitar and chill out with whatever’s left of his $136mm?

    Also, it’s amazing that Jake Westbrook is still around.

  • Kosmo

    Scott Baker ? would rather sign him to a MILB deal than any of the above mentioned SP.

  • dkidd

    ubaldo for 3/39 please

    • Yankeefan91

      agreed if that’s what it takes to sign Jimenez Yankees better sign him.

      3. Jimenez
      4. Kuroda
      5. Nova

      They Can Also Rest Kuroda down the stretch.

    • Dalek Jeter

      Yes. Yes please. I’m not even the biggest Ubaldo fan…but I’ll take him for 3 at 13 per. Allows us to put Warren and Phelps into the BP and gives Pineda a full season in the minors.

  • 28 this year

    Burnett anyone?

    • Chip Rodriguez

      No. The good moments were far and few, and the meltdowns… ugh.

  • mt

    Has anyone heard anything about Jason Hammel signing a MLB or MiLB deal with a team? He was injured last year but did pretty well in AL East the year before.

    All of these other guys are so unappetizing.

  • qwerty

    the yankees should be taking a hard look at Scott Baker.

  • YankeeBaseball

    What about Paul Maholm? I’d sign him on a low cost with big incentives 2yr major league deal.

  • Mayan Prophecy

    If Zito’s willing to go to the minors to develop another pitch, such as a sinker or a pitch that runs away from RHBs (i.e., two-seam fastball or screwball), he blows this group away. If he says, I’ll improve my current repertoire, then “no thanks”.

  • Eselquetodolosabe

    Hanrahan ?