Mailbag: April Rotation, Lohse, Stanton

Only three questions this week because you folks sent in a whole lot of repeats and wildly outrageous hypotheticals. Don’t get me wrong, I love to talk about crazy trade scenarios as much as anyone, but no, the Yankees won’t make a monster offer for Bryce Harper in the wake of Curtis Granderson‘s injury. So yeah, use the Submit A Tip box and step up your mailbagin’ game.

(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
(Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

Paul asks: In years past I remember the season starting off with enough off days to make a fifth starter unnecessary until 2-3 weeks into the season. Freddy Garcia specifically had that happen. What’s this season like in that regard? Any chance that, even if Phil Hughes is on the DL they just go with four starters for a couple of weeks?

Unfortunately the schedule works against the Yankees this year. They play their first game on April 1st, have April 2nd off, then play 12 games in the next 12 days. Barring any weather-related postponements, the absolute latest the Yankees will need their fifth start this season April 8th in Cleveland, the seventh game of the season. They’ll need him again five days later, so it’s not even a situation where they would need him once in the first four weeks or something.

The Yankees are in relatively good shape because they do have have that spare starter — the loser of the Ivan Nova/David Phelps fifth starter battle — to stick in Hughes’ spot if his back injury delays the start of his season for any reason. My big concern is someone else getting hurt and having to miss time. All of a sudden Adam Warren would be taking the ball every five days in April and that is less than ideal. As I’ve written recently, I’m a fan of exploring a contract with Kyle Lohse even though it’ll cost a draft pick. If he’s willing to take favorable terms (one or two years at $7-8M annually?), having that extra quality depth will be nice. The Yankees are going to lean on their pitching staff more than usual this year, so might as well beef it up as much as possible.

Ben asks: Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re the GM of a team that has either a protected first round pick or you’ve already lost it because you’ve signed a qualifying free agent. Would the thought of signing Kyle Lohse to a one-year deal cross your mind? Consider this: if you do, you lose a second round pick, but if he pitches well then you can make a qualifying offer and be in line to get a BETTER pick than the one you gave up. How long would you entertain that idea before you dismissed it?

Well, isn’t that convenient. As I just said, I would absolutely explore signing Lohse at this point. I think draft picks are being overvalued these days, especially by legitimate contenders who are trying to win now. If you’re trying to win in 2013 and 2014, adding Lohse is going to help you a helluva lot more than a draft pick in whatever round. The scary part is that these St. Louis journeymen/reclamation types tend to stink as soon as they leave the Cardinals, however. The Jeffs — Suppan and Weaver — are the primary examples. That does make me nervous.

I’m not sure I buy the idea of getting a pick when Lohse leaves — given how his free agency has played out, I’m guessing Lohse would take a qualifying offer in the future, especially since they’re expected to climb into the $14-15M range in the coming years — but that’s always possible. I certainly wouldn’t assume a future draft pick when signing the right-hander. Without knowing what Scott Boras is seeking, I think there’s a pretty great opportunity out there for someone to get a bargain with Lohse at this point. The Braves, who already forfeited their first rounder to sign B.J. Upton and have questions at the back of the rotation, should be all over him.

"Someone get me the hell out of here." (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
“Someone get me the hell out of here.” (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

Frank asks: Nonsense (maybe not) hypothetical … If Tyler Austin, Slade Heathcott, and Mason Williams have somewhat outstanding years in AA/AAA, would you trade all three for Giancarlo Stanton, straight up?

Yep, in a heartbeat. Stanton is a proven star at the big league level and is basically in those guys’ age range — he’s ten months older than Heathcott and less than two years older than Austin and Williams — so it would be both a win-now and win-later move. I said before that I think draft picks are being overrated and I feel the same way about prospects, even top prospects. If you can’t trade multiple top prospects for someone like Stanton, who can you trade them for?

As much as we don’t want to admit it, those three young outfielders aren’t all going to work out. If the Yankees get one above-average big leaguer from that group, they should be thrilled. Two would be a minor miracle. Heathcott is an injury risk because he plays like a maniac, Austin’s power ceiling is limited because he doesn’t generate enough backspin, and Williams is a bit of a hacker. There are red flags there. Stanton isn’t the perfect player, but he fits the Yankees’ needs so beautifully. Empty out that farm system.

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Update: Yankees still don’t have any interest in Kyle Lohse

February 28th: Scott Boras contacted the Yankees about Lohse but were told they don’t have any interest according to Buster Olney. I’m guessing this happened shortly after the new of Phil Hughesback injury broke. As I wrote last week, I do think the Yankees should explore signing the right-hander, but the contract would have to be pretty favorable.

February 21st: Via Joel Sherman: Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees still do not have any interest in free agent Kyle Lohse despite Phil Hughes’ recent back trouble. They would have to surrender their first round draft pick to sign the right-hander.

Lohse, 34, has gotten to the point where he’s been so overrated that he’s now underrated. He’s pitched to a 3.11 ERA (3.58 FIP) in 399.1 innings over the last two years, but he doesn’t miss many bats (5.72 K/9 and 15.5 K%) or get ground balls (40.9%). Instead, he limits walks (1.80 BB/9 and 4.9 BB%) and uses those fly balls to keep his BABIP low (.265). Plenty of journeymen have turned into quality starters with St. Louis only to turn back into journeymen after leaving (most notably Jeff Suppan and Jeff Weaver), which makes Lohse quite scary. If the Yankees could get him cheap, say one or two years at $5-7M annually, I think it would be worth exploring even giving up the pick. I don’t see Scott Boras taking that though.

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.

Could the Yanks move on Lohse?

Jayson Stark adds another name to the available starting pitchers: Kyle Lohse. Could the Yankees, given the death of the Jarrod Washburn proceedings, refocus their attention with just a few hours remaining before the trade deadline? It wouldn’t be easy, but as we’ve seen from Cashman in the past week, he’s open to the right deal.

Problem is, I don’t see this being the right deal for the Yanks. According to Stark, the Cardinals want a bat and a bullpen arm. We just dished one of our bullpen arms, and it’s not like we’ve got an endless supply. You want to have as many options as possible there, in case one of your guys has a bout of ineffectiveness. We’ve yet to see Veras, Edwar, and Robertson sustain quality performances over an entire season, so holding onto guys like Bruney, Cox, Melancon, etc. will be an important insurance policy.

As far as a bat, don’t we need those ourselves? They could try to flip Abreu, I suppose, though I’m sure that’s not even on Cashman’s mind. It would clearly be contingent upon the return of Hideki Matsui, which is looking more and more in doubt as each day passes. Beyond that, there is little we can offer St. Louis in those terms.

Plus, is Lohse worth it in the first place? Ya gotta remember why Minnesota got rid of him. He’s not a power guy, he doesn’t have the best control, and he’s prone to the longball. Or at least he was in the AL. In 2006, when he got booted from the Twins, he held a 7.07 ERA through 63.2 innings, and didn’t even maintain a 2:1 K/BB ratio. He’s been better with St. Louis this year, pitching to a 3.68 ERA and keeping his homers relatively in check. Still, you never know what’s going to happen when he jumps into the pressure cooker that is the AL East.

Stark mentions the White Sox and the Rockies as other suitors. The White Sox, with the acquisition of Griffey, seemingly have a spare bat. But with Scott Linebrink on the shelf, do they have a reliever to spare?

In any case, count me against acquiring Lohse. The price will be too high, as will the risk. No reason to blow prospects or proven guys on a pitcher who might implode in a return to the superior league.