The Pitching Backup Plans

(Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty)

If you haven’t headed over to our Depth Chart page in a while, you might not have noticed that as of right now, the Yankees currently sport a five-man pitching rotation of…

  1. CC Sabathia
  2. Phil Hughes
  3. Ivan Nova
  4. David Phelps
  5. Adam Warren

If you’re optimistic, you can say Michael Pineda will take Warren’s spot sometime in June. If not, then I don’t know what to tell you. Either way, that’s not a championship-caliber rotation. The Yankees have some work to do this winter, and for the most part I think the pitching plan involves waiting for Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte to declare their love of pinstripes and sign nice little one-year deals to rejoin the team in 2013. That would be ideal.

What if that doesn’t happen though? It doesn’t take much effort to envision a scenario in which Kuroda decides to return to Japan and Pettitte decides to stay home with the wife and kids. The Yankees would really be in a bad spot if that happened because … well … look at that rotation above. Luckily this free agent class offers some solid rotation options, so the Yankees would have plenty of alternatives if things don’t go according to plan. Some of those options are better fits than others, however.

Zack Greinke
The undisputed best pitcher on the market, Greinke is probably looking at a contract worth $120M+ across five or six years. Matt Cain type of money. Fair or not, the Yankees are concerned about how the 29-year-old would fit in New York though. Greinke met with Brian Cashman face-to-face during the 2010 Winter Meetings in an effort to convince him that he wanted to pitch in the Big Apple, but no dice. Cashman wasn’t having any of it. There isn’t a team in baseball that couldn’t use a pitcher of this caliber in their rotation, but the combination of asking price and other concerns make Greinke almost a non-option for the Yankees.

Dan Haren
There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t want their team to take a one-year flier on Haren this offseason. He’s been an ace-caliber pitcher for the last half-decade or so and he’s still relatively young (turned 32 in September), which is all you could ask for from a free agent. That said, there are major red flags here. Haren has battled back trouble through the years and they caused him to hit the DL for the first time in his career this season, plus his fastball velocity has been declining for years.

The Angels were trying to trade Haren before having to make a decision about his option last Friday, but ultimately they came up with nothing and had to decline the net $12M deal ($15.5M option with a $3.5M buyout). The combination of the Cubs pulling out of the Haren-for-Carlos Marmol trade talks and the fact that no other club made a viable trade offer makes me think his medicals are looking pretty grim. You also have to look at it this way: if Haren is looking for a one-year, “re-establish my value” contract, why would he come to New York? A fly ball heavy pitcher in a small stadium in the AL East is no way to rebuild value. The Yankees should look into him because of his track record, but I don’t see Haren as a slam dunk no-brainer they should go all out to sign. Lots of risk here.

(Pool/Getty)

Anibal Sanchez
I’m a pretty big Anibal Sanchez fan and I consider him the best non-Greinke free agent pitching option this winter. He offers the best combination of youth (28), performance (3.70 ERA and 3.40 FIP since 2010), and durability (major shoulder surgery in 2008, but 195+ innings in each of the last three years). Sanchez made a brief cameo in the AL this season following his trade to the Tigers and he handled himself well, plus he impressed in his three postseason starts. Not the sexiest name but a rock solid pitcher. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus about an appropriate contract, but it wouldn’t surprise me if a team gets an aggressive and offers the A.J. Burnett/John Lackey contract (five years and $82.5M). I highly doubt the Yankees would offer that much, but Sanchez would be my first target if Pettitte and Kuroda decline to come back.

Edwin Jackson
Keith Law said it best this weekend: “It’s time to accept that this is almost certainly what Jackson is going to be. He looks like an ace, holding mid-90s velocity or better for 100 pitches, but just turned in another season of good-not-great performance, this time entirely in the National League.” There’s nothing wrong with that at all, especially at age 29 and with his track record of durability (180+ innings in five straight years). I’m just not expecting Jackson to get any better even though he’s yet to hit 30. He would be my number two target behind Sanchez if Kuroda and Pettitte don’t come back, number three if Haren’s back checks out okay.

Kyle Lohse & Ryan Dempster
Lohse is going to get a significant contract this winter, maybe the biggest behind Greinke, but I wouldn’t touch either him or Dempster unless they’re willing to come real cheap. They’re two guys who have had most (all?) of their success in the NL and don’t operate with much margin for error. It’s also worth noting that Lohse received a qualifying offer from the Cardinals and would require draft pick compensation. Solid pitchers for sure, but not guys I would consider impact additions for the Yankees.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Jeremy Guthrie, Brandon McCarthy & Shaun Marcum
All three have their warts, but all three have some kind of track record of success in the AL. Guthrie is probably the safest bet while McCarthy is both the riskiest (very long injury history) and has the highest upside. Marcum’s kind of the in the middle. I prefer any of those three to Lohse and Dempster and would consider them solid additions on one-year contracts. Anything more than that is really pushing it.

Because he doesn’t really fit anywhere else, I’m going to mention Carlos Villanueva here. I’m a big fan (perhaps too big), but I like him best as a sixth starter/swingman. I wouldn’t want the Yankees to sign him with the idea of him making 30 starts and throwing 200 innings. I can’t see how anyone could expect him to do that in 2013.

Francisco Liriano, Joe Blanton, Joe Saunders, Scott Feldman & Roberto Hernandez
I wouldn’t trust any of these guys with a starting spot, at least not right out of the chute in Spring Training. To be honest, Liriano is the only one who is remotely intriguing to me. He’s still on the right side of 30 and has a year of ace-caliber performance in the not-too-distant past to his credit (2010). I consider guys like Jeff Francis, Erik Bedard, Scott Baker, Kevin Correia, Dustin Moseley, and Jason Marquis to be minor league contract only options for the Yankees. This is the bottom of the pitching barrel right here, but thankfully there are plenty of other options out there.

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ALCS Pitching Preview: Anibal Sanchez

While everyone was focused on Ryan Dempster and Zack Greinke at the trade deadline, the Tigers swooped in and acquired Anibal Sanchez (and Omar Infante) from the Marlins for a package of prospects headlined by right-hander Jacob Turner. It’s a pure rental since Sanchez is due to become a free agent after the season, but the still only 28-year-old right-hander is now in position to help Detroit get to the World Series.

A bit of a sabermetric darling for his work last season (3.67 ERA and 3.35 FIP), Sanchez pitched to a 3.74 ERA (3.68 FIP) in a dozen starts for the Tigers following the trade. His strikeout rate predictably dropped (no more whiffing the opposing pitcher twice a game) following the move to the AL, but he finished the season with eight dominant outings (2.15 ERA and ~2.60 FIP) before holding the Athletics to two runs in 6.1 innings in Game Three of the ALDS last week.

2012 Performance vs. Yankees

Date Tm Opp Rslt Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP ERA BF Pit Str
Aug 8 DET NYY L,8-12 L(6-9) 3.0 7 7 7 2 2 1 2 4.37 20 65 40
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/13/2012.

I had completely forgotten that the Yankees faced Sanchez this season, but they did see him in his third start following the trade to the Tigers. They obviously hit him pretty hard, including a two-run first inning (run-scoring singles by Eric Chavez and Curtis Granderson) and a three-run homer by Granderson in the third. Nick Swisher ended Sanchez’s night with a single in the fourth. Eleven of he 20 men he faced in the game reached base, which is the exception and not the rule. It’s great they hammered Anibal the only time they faced him this summer, but I wouldn’t assume they have his number, not by any means. Casey McGehee starting that game for cryin’ out loud.

Pitch Selection (via Brooks Baseball)

Sanchez uses five pitches regularly and he’s very offspeed heavy, throwing his low-90s four- and two-seamers less than 50% of the time overall. Most of them come on the first pitch as well. Right-handers will see his mid-80s slider more than any of his other secondary pitches while lefties will get the full complement — mid-80s changeup, upper-70s curveball, and slider. There is a little bit of Hiroki Kuroda in Sanchez, meaning he’ll break out any one of his many pitches at any time.

Performance & Results

TBF wOBA FIP K% BB% GB% FB% LD% HR/FB%
vs. RHB 376 0.341 3.87 19.4% 5.1% 42.2% 35.4% 22.4% 12.2%
vs. LHB 444 0.284 3.26 21.2% 6.5% 50.2% 29.2% 20.7% 9.0%

Given how he uses all of pitches against lefties, it’s not a big surprise that Sanchez has a reverse split. BABIP plays a part in that (.331 vs. .292) but it isn’t everything. The strikeout and walk rates hold steady against batters on both sides of the plate, but right-handers really hammered him whenever they did make contact. Not just homers either, he gave up a lot of doubles as well. That slider is his least effective offspeed pitch, hence all that hard contact by righties. I’m not saying the Yankees should trot out as many right-handed hitters as possible, but Russell Martin and Alex Rodriguez (if he plays) could end up playing a major role in Game Two.

Like Game One starter Doug Fister, Sanchez is pretty efficient with his pitches (3.73 pitches per batter faced), so driving up his pitch count in an effort to get to that shaky bullpen won’t be easy. Given how often he’ll throw a first pitch fastball, it might be worth it to jump on him early in the count if Anibal is consistently in the zone. Five of the seven hits he allowed to the Yankees in that August start came within the first three pitches of the at-bat, which might not be a coincidence.

Mailbag: Ortiz, Jackson, Choo, Sanchez, Soler

Got five questions this week; a nice mix of hypotheticals, prospect talk, and future targets. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in anything, including mailbag questions.

lol (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Matt asks: Let’s say this Montero trade had happened a couple months ago, and the Yankees had been looking for a DH from the beginning of the offseason — would you have wanted the Yankees to go after David Ortiz for DH? I know he accepted arbitration, but couldn’t he have become a free agent if he had declined his option with the Sox? If that had been the case, and he had become a free agent, wouldn’t you have loved to sign Ortiz for a one or two year deal? I would have supported that completely, personally. Not only would we have taken him from the Sox, but I think Ortiz would kill it in Yankee stadium. Let me know what you guys think.

I’ve thought about this over the last few weeks and I keep going back and forth. Part of me says absolutely, that big left-handed bat sure would look wonderful in the lineup while simultaneously taking it away from the Red Sox, but another part of me thinks that 2011 was Ortiz’s dead cat bounce, his last hurrah. The Yankees would have also surrendered their first round pick to Boston, and that just feels yucky. Ultimately, yeah I would have been for it on a one-year deal. Two years would have been pushing it. I doubt it would have happened though, the Yankees don’t seem to like the idea of spending upwards of $15M for a DH, and I can’t say I blame them. I don’t think that would have been any different earlier in the offseason.

Mark asks: Now that we know that Edwin Jackson signed a one-year deal with the Nationals, in retrospect and assuming they could be bought for their current contracts, who would you have rather had the Yankees sign: Kuroda or Jackson?

I’d rather have Jackson because he’s ten years younger and more likely to repeat (and improve upon) his previous performance. That said, this wasn’t an either/or situation. The Hiroki Kuroda deal set the market for workhorse starters on one-year contracts, and we have no idea what Jackson would have signed for prior to the Yankees landing Kuroda. It changed everything. I’m pretty thrilled about getting Hiroki on that contract, so I have no complaints about how things turned out.

Nick asks: Make sense to try for Shin-Soo Choo?

(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Sure, he’d step right into the lineup this year before taking over in right field next year. It’ll buy the Yankees time to sort out the position long-term, which could very well mean re-signing Choo when he becomes a free agent after 2013. I don’t have many concerns about his down year at age 29; I think he’s got a number of .290/.390/.480, 20+ HR, 20+ steal seasons left in him. The only problem is how are they supposed to get him? The Indians fancy themselves a contender at the moment, so I doubt they’ll trade their second best offensive player. The Yankees have the pitching to get a deal done, but it would really thin out their upper level depth. So yeah, it’s not going to happen, but definitely a guy worth pursuing in a trade.

Charlie asks: Hey guys, what about Anibal Sanchez? If Hamels and Cain sign extensions and the Yankees feel Greinke is too risky, is Anibal Sanchez a strong option on the free agent market next season?

Yes, definitely. Joe was touting him as a trade target last offseason, and the great year he had — 3.35 ERA in 196.1 IP, a mirror image of his 2010 season — only makes him that much more desirable. Sanchez is turning 28 this month, so he still has a number of peak years remaining, which is what you hope to get with every big money free agent. And make no mistake, if he has another year like the last two, he’ll command huge bucks. I think the Marlins will find a way to sign him long-term, maybe even before the season starts, but he’s definitely a worthy target.

Ross asks: If you guys have time, I would like to learn more about Jorge Soler. It seems like signing him wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg and he would provide the minor league outfield depth the Yankees currently lack … a perfect Cashmaneuver™.

Here’s a snippet of what Ben Badler wrote about the 19-year-old Soler earlier this week (subs. req’d)…

Listed at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds … Power is Soler’s best tool, as he shows great bat speed, the ability to hit balls out to all fields and the potential to hit 25 home runs per year. While scouts like his power and some like his swing, he bars his front arm and the stiffness in his stroke is a concern for some scouts. Scouts have offered differing opinions on his ability to hit breaking balls, but he has a history of laying off pitches outside the strike zone in international competition and has more on-base potential than Cespedes.

Soler is athletic for his size and there are reports of him running the 60-yard dash in 6.5 seconds—a time that grades out as well above-average speed—but several scouts have said he’s really an average runner at best … Depending on how much bigger he gets, there’s a chance he could end up at first base down the road, but he should be able to handle right field for the near future. Scouts are mixed on his outfield instincts but he does have an above-average arm.

I prefer Soler to Yoenis Cespedes based on the little we know, and I get the sense that the Yankees do as well. He’ll obviously need to spend a few years in the minors, but that’s to be expected with a teenager. I have no idea what it’ll take to sign him, but if the Gerardo Concepcion contract is any indication of the market, it’ll cost eight figures. Unlike Cespedes, Soler has not yet been declared a free agent and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement-mandated spending limits will apply to him come July 2nd. He’ll feel some pressure to sign for whatever he can get before the deadline.