According to Jon Heyman, Orioles left-hander and impending free agent Wei-Yin Chen is a possible target for the Yankees this offseason, along with Jeff Samardzija. Although he’s only been in the big leagues for four seasons, Chen’s contract allows him to become a free agent before reaching six years of service time. That’s common for guys who played overseas.
Chen, who turned 30 in July, had a 3.34 ERA (4.16 FIP) in 31 starts and 191.1 innings this season. He has averaged a 3.72 ERA (4.14 FIP) and 176.2 innings per year during his four years with the O’s. The rate stats — Chen’s walk rate (5.2%) was great this year but his strikeout (19.3%), grounder (40.5%), and homer (1.32 HR/9) rates were below-average — suggest he’s a classic mid-rotation type.
The Orioles are going to make Chen a qualifying offer and he’ll reject it, because he will easily clear $15.8M guaranteed this offseason. (He’s a Scott Boras client.) My guess is he gets something in the three-year, $39M (Francisco Liriano) to four-year, $48M (Ervin Santana) range. I tend the underestimate free agent contracts, so maybe something like five years and $80M (Anibal Sanchez) is more realistic.
Chen is unspectacular but he is a quality pitcher who would improve most rotations. The Yankees do have seven starters either under contract (Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia) or team control (Nathan Eovaldi, Luis Severino, Adam Warren, Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda) next season, but pitching depth is never a bad thing. Tanaka, Sabathia, and Eovaldi all have some level of injury concern right now.
My thinking is the Yankees are unlikely to forfeit their first round draft pick for anything less than a player with high-end skills — Jason Heyward or even Samardzija, who’s an ace on his best days, for example. Chen’s a very good AL East proven pitcher, and there is value in reliability, but I wonder if the Yankees will to shoot higher this offseason. They have a lot of mid-to-back-end starters as it is.
Then again, Chen could be the “second” signing. For example, the Yankees could give up their first rounder to sign Heyward, then only give up their second rounder for Chen. That would allow them to trade someone like Pineda to fill a need elsewhere. That’s how the Yankees tend to operate — if they’re going to forfeit a pick, they might as well forfeit two or three. It’s better than giving up your first rounder every winter.
I like Chen. There’s nothing sexy about him but he’s reliable and has been relatively healthy throughout his MLB career. Well, his arm has been healthy. He had some oblique and knee trouble in 2013. The Yankees are not shy about bringing pitchers into the AL East — Eovaldi last offseason, for example — but Chen’s experience in the division has to be a plus, right?