Capuano a nice depth pickup, but only part of the rotation solution

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

The Yankees came into the offseason in a need of at least one starting pitcher — preferably two! — and that was before they used Shane Greene to acquire Didi Gregorius. After that trade they definitely needed two starters. New York acquired one of those starters yesterday by re-signing Chris Capuano to a reasonable one-year contract, and Brian Cashman made it clear Capuano will be in the rotation during a conference call yesterday afternoon.

“He’ll come to Spring Training as a starter. He’s coming in as one of our starters,” said the GM. Capuano joins CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Masahiro Tanaka as rotation locks, assuming Sabathia’s knee and Pineda’s shoulder and Tanaka’s elbow make it through camp in one piece. Both David Phelps and Adam Warren are coming to Spring Training as starters, and Cashman also named Bryan Mitchell, Chase Whitley, Jose DePaula, and Esmil Rogers as internal rotation options.

Needless to say, there’s nothing particularly exciting about bringing Capuano back. He’s a boringly serviceable back-end starter who seems to pitch just well enough to keep his team in the game while occasionally throwing a gem. (Over the last four years, Capuano has as many starts with an 85+ Game Score as Zack Greinke and Doug Fister. It seems like once or twice a year he’ll unexpectedly throw a masterpiece.) Is he the fourth starter we were all hoping for? Nah. But does he help? Sure.

And Capuano is nothing more than that, a help. He’s not the answer to the team’s rotation problems all by himself. He’s just a very small part of the solution, a solution that frankly the Yankees might not completely find this winter. There are two top free agent starters still on the board (Max Scherzer and James Shields), no more mid-rotation guys, and then a whole lotta Capuano types and reclamation projects. Unless Hiroki Kuroda decides to continue playing*, those middle of the rotation starters are all gone.

* I get the feeling that if Kuroda does decide to continue playing, there will be one big announcement. “Hiroki Kuroda has decided to pitch in 2015 … and oh by the way the Yankees have signed him for one year and $15M.” Something like that. I don’t think it’ll be a prolonged free agency.

“We are never done or finished, so I will continue to be engaged in the free-agent and trade markets … I think it’s safe to assume we are open to any legitimate possibilities to improve our club,” said Cashman during yesterday’s conference call (via Chad Jennings and George King). “Obviously making sense in the current circumstances that we have … The preference would be to never have to go to the free agent market to get what you need, but that’s just not realistic.”

Since the Yankees seem disinclined to pursue Scherzer — I assume the same is true for Shields, though I won’t rule them out on either pitcher until they sign elsewhere — the only way they’re going to get an impact starter this winter is through trade, which is always possible. The Padres and Mets have arms to spare, the Phillies are still looking to unload Cole Hamels, the Reds could still move Johnny Cueto or Mike Leake, so on and so forth. A trade is pretty much the only way the Yankees will get guys who pass the “better than Capuano” test unless they change course on Scherzer and/or Shields.

The Yankees re-signed Capuano because they need multiple starters and he was among the best of the non-elite remaining on the board. A signing like this was inevitable, even if they had signed Scherzer or Shields first. Capuano should only be part of the rotation fix and not the whole thing. At worst, he’s a stopgap until Ivan Nova is healthy or Luis Severino is deemed ready. At best, he’s 2011 Freddy Garcia. If the Yankees stop here and don’t add anymore pitching, then yeah they have a problem. There’s still a lot of offseason left and Cashman is clearly open to more moves. As long as Capuano is nothing more than one piece of the solution, then he’s a fine depth addition.

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Chris Capuano is back on a one-year deal

Chris Capuano
(Patrick Semansky/AP)

The Yankees have signed LHP Chris Capuano to a one-year deal, according to YES Network’s Jack Curry. He’ll earn $5 million in 2015.

Capuano, 36, started 2014 with the Red Sox, but he pitched poorly enough to get DFA’d from that last-place team. He then signed as a free agent with the Rockies, but didn’t pitch at all for them before the Yankees purchased his contract.

By ERA Capuano didn’t fare much better for the Yankees than he did for the Sox: 4.25 vs 4.55. But he did cut down on his walks, which helped him eat some innings as a starter (5.5 innings per start). Basically, you could count on him for between five and six innings and between three and four runs per start. That worked better in the mid-00s, when the Yankees had 900-run offenses, but with all the injuries last year it came in handy in the second half.

This move was predictable once the Yankees signed Chase Headley yesterday. A week ago Joel Sherman noted that if the Yankees sign Headley, “they will have to bottom-feed for starting pitching.” Capuano is pretty much the definition of bottom-feeding.

While Capuano doesn’t really move the needle for the team, he does help lengthen the starting rotation. If he can give them six innings per start — not unfathomable, given that he spent the entire first half of last year in Boston’s bullpen — he can probably keep them in enough games that the back of their bullpen can close the door.

In a world where Brett Anderson gets $10 million and J.A. Happ costs you an average-hitting outfielder, spending $5 million on Capuano seems like a downright decent deal.

Heyman: Yankees targeting McCarthy, Capuano, Hammel

Via Jon Heyman: The Yankees are currently focusing on Brandon McCarthy, Chris Capuano, and Jason Hammel as they look to upgrade their rotation heading into next season. Heyman reiterates the club is unlikely to pursue Jon Lester or Max Scherzer.

McCarthy and Capuano were with the Yankees this past season, so we’re all already familiar with them. The 32-year-old Hammel had a 3.47 ERA (3.92 FIP) in 176.1 innings with the Cubs and Athletics in 2014, though he was great in Chicago (2.98 ERA and 3.09 FIP) and not good in Oakland (4.26 ERA and 5.10 FIP). He signed a one-year deal worth $6M with the Cubs last year and is probably looking at a similar deal this winter. Meh.

A-Rod reinstated, ten Yankees become free agents

Now that the World Series is over, Alex Rodriguez has officially been reinstated off the restricted list by MLB and the Yankees. He was originally suspended 211 games for his ties to Biogenesis, but it was reduced to 162 games during an appeal. A-Rod would not have been eligible to play in the postseason had the Yankees qualified. He now counts against the team’s 40-man roster.

In other news, a total of 121 players became free agents at 9am ET this morning. Here’s the full list. Ten of those 121 players are Yankees: Chris Capuano, Stephen Drew, Chase Headley, Rich Hill, Derek Jeter, Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, David Robertson, Ichiro Suzuki, and Chris Young. No surprises there at all. Martin Prado, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Slade Heathcott all have to be activated off the 60-day DL if they haven’t been already. So, after all of that, the Yankees have 35 players on their 40-man roster.

2014 Season Review: Lefty rotation fodder

(Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
(Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

From 2009 through 2012, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte were the only lefties to start games for the Yankees. That’s a little odd, considering the huge number of random lefties that got spot starts from 2004 through 2008. So odd, in fact, that I made a Sporcle quiz that no one has even the slightest chance of completing.


The Yankees broke that four-year drought in 2013, when David Huff and Vidal Nuno combined for five starts. Heading into 2014, Nuno was in the running for a rotation spot. He understandably lost out to Michael Pineda. But when Ivan Nova went down with an elbow injury, Nuno lined up for the next start. It was his.

And it was a disaster.

You could be charitable and say sure, Nuno had some not terrible starts here and there. For instance, he lasted 6.1 innings in a 1-0 win against the best-record-in-baseball Angels. There were five shutout innings against the Rays in April.

The Yankees did have something of a reason to believe Nuno could help. He pitched well during his brief MLB stint in 2013, which followed a lights-out performance in AAA. In 2012 he cruised through A+ and AA with a 2.54 combined ERA and a 3.82 K/BB ratio. He didn’t have the stuff of an ace, but as a #5 starter it seemed he might cut it.

Cut it he might. Just not in New York. What stood out in his 14 starts was an alarming home run rate. In four of those 14 starts he gave up multiple homers, including three twice. In other words, when he’s off even a bit hitters can take advantage. Out in Arizona, another hitters’ park, he allowed a homer in nine of his 14 starts.

In other words, the Yankees might have given up a useful starter who, at the time of the trade, had five and a half years of team control. Yet they got back Brandon McCarthy, who seemed to find himself while wearing pinstripes. For a team with perpetual sights on contention, the trade was a coup for the Yankees. If they can re-sign McCarthy there will be no reason to ever look back on this one.

For a while it seemed as though the Yankees would forge ahead with a five-righty rotation. But in late July, three weeks after trading Nuno, they acquired Chris Capuano from the Rockies. And so the Yankees traded away a mediocre lefty and picked one up for cash considerations. Given the acquisition of McCarthy, that sounds like a great trade-off.

(Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
(Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Yet Capuano did play a valuable role down the stretch. Rarely did he dazzle, but he also rarely had a breakdown. (The exception being his 0.1 inning, four-run start against Tampa, which he redeemed in his very next start by pitching six shutout innings against them.) Never did he allow more than four runs in a start, and three times he allowed none. It’s more than anyone expected from a guy who couldn’t hack it on the last-place Red Sox.

Were it not for the huge number of starting pitcher injuries, the Yankees might not have even needed Capuano. They wouldn’t have run Nuno out there for so many starts. But when three fifths of your Opening Day rotation is on the DL by May 15, with two of them done for the year, you have to reach deeply into the pitching well. With a healthy Sabathia (potentially a problem of his own) and a healthy Pineda, chances are David Phelps takes over for Nuno. If Phelps still gets hurt in that scenario, there’s Shane Greene.

All told, the lefty fodder combination of Nuno and Capuano didn’t perform too too badly. They combined to pitch 143.2 innings to a 4.89 ERA, which is essentially what Mike Minor did. Given the unreasonable number of injuries to the staff, they could have done a lot worse.

Capuano among players going to Japan for All-Star Series 2014

MLB is sending a team of players to Japan to play a five-game series against the Japanese national team in November, an event they’re calling the All-Star Series 2014. Derek Jeter declined to participate in the event but Chris Capuano will be part of the team, according to a Japan-Baseball report passed along by Kazuto Yamazaki. Capuano will technically not be a Yankee when the series takes place (Nov. 11-20), but I’m guessing they’ll slap the pinstripes on him for marketing purposes.

The Japan-Baseball page has all 17 players currently confirmed for the event, but you either have to read Japanese or recognize their faces. Former Yankees Robinson Cano and Randy Choate are on the roster, ditto other notables like Yasiel Puig, Albert Pujols, Adam Jones, Bryce Harper, Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, and Jose Altuve. There are already 13 position players on the roster, so I’m guessing most of the remaining spots will go to pitchers. (They’ll probably take 30 or so players, right?) I’m sure MLB would love to squeeze another Yankee onto the roster for marketability and stuff, but I’m not sure who it could be at this point. David Huff?

Chris Capuano added to roster, will start tomorrow

The Yankees have added Chris Capuano to the active roster and designated Chris Leroux for the assignment, the team announced. Capuano, who acquired in a minor trade with the Rockies yesterday, will start tomorrow’s game. Shane Greene has been pushed back to Sunday and Chase Whitley is in the bullpen. The Yankees are still carrying eight relievers and three bench players, though I think that will change sometime soon. Jeff Francis‘ days may be numbered.