Here is tonight’s open thread. The Knicks and Nets are playing tonight, plus the Olympics are on as well. Talk about that stuff, Loaiza’s arrest, or anything else here. Just not religion or politics.
With this year’s offseason moving slowly, the flood of veteran non-roster invitees or low-level signings hasn’t happened yet. Therefore, there’s plenty of reclamation projects or mid-tier players still on the market.
And that’s mostly what the Yankees are looking for at this point. Perhaps there’s a $10 million second baseman or starting pitcher that they’ll add in the coming weeks. I’d bet though that the Yankees are more looking on the fringes of the roster. Those high-risk, high-reward types either coming off an injury or bad season that may have a bounce back, or just a dead-cat bounce.
So here’s four pitchers worth a look. I wouldn’t toss the rest of the Yankees’ money under the luxury tax at these guys, but they could be worth a look in Spring Training, or a month in Scranton if they’re willing to go back to the minors. Some of them could even be worth MLB deals.
The knuckler! If you’re looking for a player that will rebound and then give your team a few years of value, I wouldn’t be looking at Dickey. At 43, there’s a limit on how much longer he’s going to keep pitching. Heck, even though he reportedly has offers on the table right now, he still may retire right now.
After a series of middling years in Toronto, he went to Atlanta and was essentially average. Almost exactly. His 4.26 ERA was good for a 99 ERA-. His ERA- the last five years go as follows: 104, 96, 96, 105, 99. Average as can be. He’s nowhere close to his 2012 Cy Young numbers when he struck out nearly a batter per nine, held his walks in check and wasn’t half bad limiting homers. You’re not seeing 2012 Dickey (when, fun fact, he became the most recent Mets pitcher to lead the NL in strikeouts).
But there is one thing you’re essentially guaranteed with the middling performance: Innings. He’s thrown at least 169.2 innings each of the last eight seasons and 190 or more in six of those. He made 31 starts a year ago and there were some real gems in there. As always with Dickey, there are some clunkers as well with the knuckleball not twirling quite as well.
If the Yankees want a sixth starter, he’s a perfectly fine pitcher. Toss $6-7 million his way and you can basically count on somewhere between one and 2.5 WAR.
Yes, him! That Clay Buchholz. The last time he was on a mound was in April, when he suffered a torn flexor muscle in his right arm after 7.1 bad innings with the Phillies. His 12.27 ERA was indeed representative of how he looked over two starts.
The bet on this former Boston All-Star would be that he would return to his 2016 and earlier form. Now, if you look at his overall 2016 numbers, they’re not great. But his second half was a sign there was something left, actually earning him a meh playoff start.
Finding his way in middle relief before returning to the rotation, Buchholz adjusted his pitch mix, going up and in on hitters more often and lessening his reliance on his sinker. It worked for a few months, but one would have to think going back to his sinker would be necessary if he made Yankee Stadium his home.
Buchholz has always been injury prone, not topping 190 innings and not even reaching 170 since 2014. He hasn’t posted strong full season numbers since 2015 and that was over 113 innings. However, even though he made his MLB debut in 2007, he’s only 33 and could still have another strong half or two in him.
The previous two names have been more familiar due to their time in the AL East. Putnam is a relative nobody in comparison.
And I’ll give you the red flags up front. He is a 30-year-old pure reliever who barely tops 90 mph with his fastball and just underwent Tommy John surgery. He’s out until midseason at the earliest.
But here’s why he could be the perfect buy-low candidate: his splitter. Before he joined the Chicago White Sox in 2014, he wasn’t much to notice. But then he began using his splitter between 55 and 70 percent of the time, even more than his four-seamer and cutter. He knew what was working for him and he went with it.
Ubaldo Jimenez Chris Tillman
I’ll admit it: I looked into Ubaldo. After all, he was worth 2.7 fWAR just two seasons ago and had a fine K-BB% last year. But I just couldn’t throw out two seasons of downright bad performance, even if you believe he isn’t the walking home run machine he was last year. Fewer walks and more flyballs make Ubaldo a pitcher to stay away from.
But I’m slightly intrigued by Tillman, his rotation mate the last few years. For pitchers to throw at least 90 innings last year, Tillman (7.84 ERA) was the only pitcher worse than Jimenez in all of baseball. It’s amazing the O’s won 75 games with those two taking up more than a full spot in the rotation.
As Mike said in November, Tillman is only worth it if you believe he’ll be back to form further removed from shoulder surgery. At that time, it was questionable whether Tillman would settle for a MiLB deal, but that seems inevitable at this point.
And if you can get him on a spring invite, why not? This is a pitcher who found ways to limit home runs and outperform his peripherals even while pitching at Camden Yards. Who says he can do that at Yankee Stadium? He’s made his living in the AL East. I doubt he’d want to rebuild his value at the #littleasspark in the Bronx and with the Yankees’ limited room for another starter, but from the Yankees’ side, he’s worth a tryout.
The Yankees are still in search of another starting pitcher, having most recently (so far as we know) checked-in on Jake Odorizzi. That news came from Ken Rosenthal‘s article on the trade interest being generated by Odorizzi and another arbitration-eligible starting pitcher — 30-year-old Collin McHugh. It’s not a name that generates a great deal of buzz on its own, but he might just make sense as an under-the-radar acquisition for the Yankees.
McHugh was an up-and-down arm for the Mets and Rockies in 2012 and 2013, tossing just 47.1 uninspiring innings across those two seasons. The Astros picked him up on waivers in December of 2013, and he has, when healthy (hold onto that thought) been a member of their rotation ever since. Let’s take a look at his four seasons in Houston:
Nothing really stands out about his numbers, aside from the relative consistency of performance between 2015 and 2017. McHugh’s walk and strikeout rates are both better than average and, with the exception of his abbreviated 2017, he keeps the ball on the ground at an average or better rate. He’s essentially been a league-average pitcher over the last three years by ERA (1% below-average), FIP (9% above-average), bWAR (2.2 per 180 IP), and fWAR (3.1 per 180 IP), and there’s plenty of value in that.
It’s also worth noting that McHugh is fairly difficult to square-up with any semblance of authority. He has surrendered a 27.7% hard-hit rate over the last three years (good for the 14th among 123 qualified starters), as compared to the league-average of 30.7%. And, as per Statcast, his average exit velocity over that same time is right around 86 MPH, which is comfortably below-average.
McHugh became a four-pitch guy last year, throwing a low-90s four-seamer, a mid-80s cutter, a low-80s slider, and a low-to-mid 70s curveball. That slider is a pitch that he’s dabbled with before, and oftentimes played as a slower version of his cutter – but he threw it more than ever last year, and with pretty good results. You can see the evolution of his pitch selection here:
There has been some discussion about McHugh’s velocity dipping in recent years, as it peaked at 92.4 MPH in 2014 and has decreased since. However, 2014 was a fairly significant outlier, as his average velocity has never been higher than 91.5 MPH otherwise. Take a look:
I don’t mean to be dismissive of any drop in velocity, as that is frequently a warning sign – but McHugh has never been a hard thrower and, with the exception of 2014, his velocity has stuck within 0.5 MPH or so on the whole. And it’s difficult to worry too much about his fastball when his curveball has one of the highest spin rates in the game, and also does this:
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 31, 2017
And here we go.
McHugh opened the 2017 season on the disabled list with shoulder tendinitis, which isn’t great. He made his first rehab start at Triple-A on April 6, and left the game with tightness in his arm, which was eventually diagnosed as a right elbow impingement. McHugh sat out until June 30, when he made a rehab start at Double-A, and he didn’t make his way back to the majors until July 22. That’s not great.
That being said, McHugh’s only prior stint on the disabled list was way back in 2014, when he tore off the nail on his middle finger. And he looked like himself when he did return last year, which is certainly a good sign.
McHugh is in his second year of arbitration eligibility, and is slated to head to arbitration. He filed at $5 MM, and the Astros filed at $4.55 MM, so he’ll make one of those two figures in 2018, and will remain under team control through the end of the 2019 season.
What Would it Take?
Thanks to the acquisition of Gerrit Cole, McHugh now finds himself sixth or seventh on the rotation depth chart, so it would make sense for the Astros to move him. The reigning World Series champions don’t have an obvious need anywhere on the big league roster, though, so what they might want in return is anyone’s guess. The most recent deal for a starting pitcher with two years of team control remaining is … Gerrit Cole. It’s something of a stretch to compare Cole and McHugh, given that Cole is three years younger and was largely perceived as a highly desirable trade target – but that can still inform our expectation of a trade package.
The Pirates return for Cole was swingman Joe Musgrove, RP Michael Feliz, 1B/3B prospect Colin Moran, and OF prospect Jason Martin. It was something of a quantity over quality return, though it also represented four players that were at or close to the major league level. I suspect that the Astros might be more willing to take a better prospect regardless of his proximity to the show, given their roster construction and still solid farm system; but it’s anyone’s guess.
Does He Make Sense for the Yankees?
I think so. The injury risk is there, but the cost should (hopefully) be fairly low – and there is a bit of a ceiling there, too. It’s definitely more of a risk vs. reward scenario than many of the other pitchers that we’ve discussed, but he has a track record of average-ness and is proven in a hitter’s park in the American League. I don’t know that he’s a safer or better bet than Jordan Montgomery, but I do think that he’s a better bet than the Luis Cessas in the organization … and that might be the best that the Yankees can get while also staying under the tax.
2017 Regular Season Record: 91-71 (858 RS, 660 RA, 100-62 pythag. record), second in ALE
2017 Postseason Record: 7-6 (51 RS, 42 RA), won AL WC Game, won ALDS, lost ALCS
Top stories from last week:
- The Yankees remain in the market for a starting pitcher and an infielder. They won’t be signing Yu Darvish or Todd Frazier though. Darvish went to the Cubs and Frazier went to the Mets.
- At long last, the Yankees officially announced their new coaching staff. There were no surprises. P.J. Pilittere is the new assistant hitting coach.
- The Yankees signed outfielder Shane Robinson to a minor league deal and traded for Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. He’ll spend some time in Spring Training.
- Injury Updates: Albert Abreu (appendix) will miss the start of Spring Training following surgery. I suppose that’s not really an injury, but whatever.
- I posted my annual Top 30 Prospects List. Both Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs had five Yankees on their annual top 100 prospects lists.
Please take a second to answer the poll below and give us an idea of how confident you are in the team. You can view the interactive Fan Confidence Graph anytime via the Features tab in nav bar above, or by clicking here. Thanks in advance for voting.
Friday: Here is tonight’s open thread. The Olympics Opening Ceremony is on tonight (8pm ET on NBC), plus the Rangers and Islanders are playing. Talk about those games or anything else here. Just not religion or politics, please.
Saturday: This is the open thread again. The Nets and Devils are playing, there’s a bunch of college basketball on the schedule, and the Olympics are on all day. Have at it.
Sunday: For the final time, this is the open thread. All the local hockey and basketball teams are playing except the Nets, plus there are some college hoops games on, as well as the Olympics. I dunno about you, but I think the Olympics are pretty great. Anyway, enjoy the rest of the weekend.
Nothing ever happens in a vacuum. When decisions are made–or not made–there is always some context to consider. We make our choices to do or do not, be or not be based on the circumstances that surround whatever situation we’re in. Then, those choices have consequences, which lead to new contexts, which lead to new choices, which lead to…you get where this goes. Yesterday, a choice the Cubs made got me thinking about a choice the Yankees didn’t and the possible consequences of that non-choice.
The Cubs signed free agent pitcher Yu Darvish, someone to whom the Yankees were linked for much of the offseason. The deal has a $126M base salary, with incentives to bring it up to $150M, over six years. As Mike said in the post, seems about right. Maybe it’s a little less inflated than recent pitcher contracts have been, especially given Darvish’s track record and reputation, but underwhelming contract returns seems to be a theme of the 2017-2018 Hot Stove. Despite that, and the aforementioned connection between the Bombers and Yu, Ken Rosenthal revealed that the team never even made an offer to sign Darvish. Why not? Say it with me, folks: the luxury tax.
By now, with Darvish off the table, Spring Training days away, and no other salary-related trades made since the Chase Headley one, I’m resigned to the fact that the Yankees are, very clearly, going to stay under the tax threshold. And I get it, when thinking from their point of view. It gives them savings shortly down the road that they’ll use to invest back into the team. On top of that, the team, as presently constructed, is good enough to win without adding a big piece. ZiPS and PECOTA have them at 93 and 96 wins respectively, both marks projected to win the division, the latter quite comfortably. And as counter intuitive as it may be, that rosy projection has me worried about the Yankees’ plans to spend going forward.
For a few years now, both Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman have beat a similar drum, one whose tune says “you don’t have to spend $200M to be a winner.” There’s truth to that statement and the Yankees are finally in a position to make it true. Between Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery in the rotation, along with Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Greg Bird in the lineup, as well as Chad Green in the bullpen, the Yankees have plenty of impact players making dirt cheap salaries. That’s to say nothing of both the depth and high-end potential of their minor league players–spearheaded by Gleyber Torres and Justus Sheffield–and their apparent starting third baseman, Miguel Andujar. This team is set up to win in the short term and the long term, just what everyone wants. And the more I think about it, the more likely it seems that the Yankees will not reinvest their luxury tax savings if they win this year.
Eight months from now, it’ll be November. The Yankees will almost certainly have made the playoffs. They’ll probably have one at least one round. They may have even gotten to and/or won the World Series. And those things, no matter how minimal, are going to influence the Yankees. With last year’s performance, the Yankees arrived ahead of schedule. They were able to win without a huge splash in the free agent market, and are poised to do so this year. The trade for Giancarlo Stanton makes them less likely to go after Bryce Harper, who’d really have no room to play in the Yankees’ outfield in 2019 and beyond. If the team wins with Miguel Andujar at third base all year, and he comports himself as well as he can and is able to, the Yankees could reasonably pass on Manny Machado, too. If Machado is set on playing shotstop, the Yankees can always point to Didi Gregorius and Gleyber Torres as reasons not to sign him to a big money deal.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing for the Yankees to sit out the free agent market next year if they show great success this year. Winning is winning, after all, regardless of how much you spend. But the Yankees’ actions this year, especially on the pitching market, and their team construction make me think they’re going to skip reinvesting the potential and probable luxury tax savings from 2018. That’s their prerogative since it’s their team, their money, etc. And if you can win and spend less doing it? Great! But we’ve been told for years that this plan was to get them reset to spend big when the time came. I can’t help but feel we’re in for a bait and switch.
4:50pm ET: Rosenthal says the Yankees never made Darvish an offer. They wanted to clear salary to get under the luxury tax threshold and haven’t been able to do it. At least not since the Chase Headley salary dump.
3:07pm ET: According to Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs and Yu Darvish have agreed to a six-year contract worth $126M. Incentives and whatnot can push the total value to $150M. Darvish will join Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, and Tyler Chatwood in Chicago’s rotation. The deal is on par with Johnny Cueto’s six-year, $130M contact. Makes sense to me.
The Yankees had been connected to Darvish throughout the offseason, though the luxury tax plan was an obstacle. To sign him, they either would’ve had to exceed the $197M luxury tax threshold, or trade someone to clear payroll. The Yankees have about $22M to spend under the threshold, but they’re setting $10M aside for midseason additions.
Even with Darvish off the board, there are still several quality starters available in free agency, namely Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, and Lance Lynn. As with Darvish, the Yankees would have to clear payroll space to sign one of those guys, realistically. The Yankees have been connected to trade candidates like Michael Fulmer and Patrick Corbin as well.
At the moment the Yankees have five starters (Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery, CC Sabathia, Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka) for five rotation spots, plus some nice depth pieces. They don’t absolutely need another starter. But still, there is no such thing as too much pitching depth. Expect them to continue scouring the market. See you in the World Series, Yu.