Reports: Orioles land Ubaldo Jimenez

The Orioles have finally made a move to improve their team. According to multiple reports, Baltimore has signed right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez to a fiour-year contract worth approximately $50M. They’ll also have to forfeit the 17th overall pick. The Yankees were never connected to Jimenez but he was often mentioned as a potential fifth starter candidate should be remain unsigned for another few weeks and his asking price drop even more. That was always a long shot though.

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Ubaldo Jimenez and the shiny new toy

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

Everyone likes a shiny new toy. The Yankees have plenty of them this spring, having spent hundreds of millions on seven new players. But here’s the thing about shiny new toys: no matter how many we have, we never mind having another.

The desire to sign Ubaldo Jimenez absolutely stems from the idea of acquiring another shiny new toy. Removing that aspect from the equation reveals reality. The Yankees don’t need to sign Jimenez.

At the same time, there are practical reasons why signing Jimenez could benefit the Yankees now and in the future.

The Pineda factor

If the Yankees signed Jimenez, they would bring five surefire starting pitchers to camp. It would terminate the fifth starter battle, effectively ending Michael Pineda‘s chances of breaking camp with the team.

By all appearances, Pineda is ready to win a rotation spot. Given his youth and potential to help in 2015 and beyond, he is the ideal fifth starter candidate. Why remove him from the race, then?

Consider that:

1) Pineda has never thrown more than 171 innings in a season, and that came two full years ago. He threw just 40 last year. Coming off major shoulder surgery, can the Yankees count on Pineda for even 120 innings this year?

2) Five starters might come into camp, but what are the chances all five are healthy and effective come June 1? They’ll need a sixth starter before long, whether that’s due to injury or even Ivan Nova pitching like he did in 2012. Pineda will have opportunities.

3) If the Yankees don’t need a sixth starter until, say mid-May, they might even eke out yet another year of control on Pineda. This is not a decisive factor by any means, but rather an added bonus.

The Yankees can manage Pineda’s workload much more closely in AAA, where the results won’t affect their playoff chances. They can pace him for 120 or 130 innings (if that’s their goal for him) and adjust when he’s needed in the majors.

In an ideal world, Michael Pineda breaks camp as the fifth starter and pitches like a No. 2 or No. 3 all season long. In reality, that’s not at all likely. Adding Jimenez would hold back Pineda, but it might make his transition back to the majors a bit easier.

Warren, Phelps, Nuno

Even if the Yankees don’t sign Jimenez, they have alternatives in case Pineda does indeed require more seasoning. Adam Warren, David Phelps, and Vidal Nuno all started games last year. Why not just use them?

None of them strikes me as a long-term starter on a first-division team. If needed to spot start four or five times during the season, they’re fine. But are they guys capable of taking the ball every five days while facing off against AL East offenses?

Consider also the bullpen situation. Both Phelps and Warren have shown success in the bullpen, and could strengthen a unit that has just lost the greatest closer of all time. There are plenty of bullpen spots up for grabs this spring. It’s doubtful any of the candidates fit the bill better than Phelps and Warren. Even if one of them does shine, there are four total spots up for grabs.

The man himself

It has become clear that Jimenez will not get an A.J. Burnett contract. Rumors swirled that he was willing to take three years and $39 million, but he might not get even that much. What seems more realistic is the Kyle Lohse special, three years and $33 million.

That price seems reasonable for a 30-year-old who just put up the best strikeout rate of his career. Jimenez started slowly, which was concerning after his nosedive in 2012. But he came back strongly and looked straight dominant in the second half. He might not be an ace, but in this situation he wouldn’t need to be one, nor would he get paid like one.

Three years seems a reasonable commitment. The Yankees will almost certainly need another starter next year, assuming Hiroki Kuroda retires. Jimenez could give the Yankees another decent starter while they clean up the mess on the farm.

Do the Yankees need to sign Ubaldo Jimenez? Absolutely not. That’s money they could spend elsewhere, namely the infield, even if they don’t spend it until mid-season. (Because it’s tough to spend money now when you can count the remaining infielder free agents on one hand.)

But if Jimenez falls into their laps for three years and $33 million?

Even ignoring the shiny new toy aspect, it’s something they’d have to consider.

Mailbag: K-Rod, Ichiro, Villarreal, Fifth Starter

Eleven questions and eleven one-paragraph answers this week. You can send us mailbag questions or anything else using the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Dan asks: Doesn’t it make a lot of sense for the Yankees to go after Francisco Rodriguez? He’d provide a power arm for the bullpen (which clearly still needs one or two more pieces). He has closer experience if Robertson doesn’t work out.

Rodriguez, 32, didn’t sign until the middle of April last year, remember. He did pitch better in 2013 (2.70 ERA and 3.65 FIP) than he did in 2012 (4.38 ERA and 3.83 FIP), so maybe that means he won’t have to wait as long to find a new team this offseason. K-Rod still misses plenty of bats (10.41 K/9 and 28.0 K% in 2013) but he’s also become way more fly ball (only 36.4% grounders) and homer (1.35 HR/9 and 15.2% HR/FB) prone in recent years as he’s lost velocity. He’s not the elite, shutdown reliever he was as recently as 2011 anymore, but Rodriguez is still a solid bullpen arm who can help the Yankees. They might be wary of his off-field issues though.

David asks: Now that the Yankees have signed Masahiro Tanaka, are they more free to trade Ichiro Suzuki? I thought they might hold onto Ichiro long enough for him to help with the sales pitch, but they really need an OF who can hit the ball out of the park now and then. On the days Beltran plays the OF and Jeter plays SS, would Ichiro be the current option at DH?

I don’t think Ichiro was ever part of the sales pitch to Tanaka — if we was, we haven’t heard anything about it — and they were always free to trade him. It just seems like there are no takers, even if the Yankees eat some salary. The bench right now looks really awful (Frankie Cervelli, Brendan Ryan, Ichiro … Scott Sizemore?) with no one who can be used as a pinch-hitter or anything like that. Beltran and Alfonso Soriano figure to split DH and right field, but on the days one of them sits, it’ll be Ichiro who plays. That’s not ideal. I’d like to see an actually hitter on the bench, someone who can run into a fastball or at least get on-base at a decent clip.

Sam asks: We see Robinson Cano get 10/240, Clayton Kershaw land 7/217, and Tanaka (without an MLB pitch to his name) get 7/155. Is there a point, in your opinion, where we hit a ceiling of what an MLB player is being paid, or are we looking at $500+ million dollar contracts down the road?

This isn’t an MLB only thing, though MLB salaries have inflated more rapidly than the rest of the working population’s. It’s only a matter of time before we get a $500M+ contract and I bet it’ll happen sooner than we expect, maybe within the next 20 years or so. Heck, there will be a point where the average annual salary in the U.S. is $500M, but that won’t happen in our lifetimes. As long as the union stands its ground and does not allow a salary cap, MLB salaries are only going to continue going up. It’s the way of the world.

Kevin asks: Do you think last year’s three first round draft picks and the planned spending frenzy in international free agency can lead to the Yankees’ farm system being decent and (dare I say it) maybe even good? I know they won’t have a first round pick this season, but it’s not like you are completely missing out on talent if your starting your draft in the second round.

Jagielo. (Robert Pimpsner)
Jagielo. (Robert Pimpsner)

To steal a phrase from Hubie Brown, there is a lot of upside potential in the Yankees’ farm system this year. They’re adding what amounts to four first round talents in Eric Jagielo, Aaron Judge, Ian Clarkin, and Ty Hensley, who is due to return from his hip(s) surgery. Manny Banuelos will also return from Tommy John surgery to give the system a boost. International guys like Abi Avelino and Luis Severino will have a chance to improve on last year’s success as well. Just based on the guys already in the system, there’s a lot of potential for a big step forward in 2014. Every team has a handful of guys who could really awesome if they stay healthy and take a step forward and yadda yadda yadda, but I feel like the Yankees have more than the average team.

Dan asks: Will the failure to achieve $189m put away all talk of getting under for the foreseeable future? Or every offseason from now on will the Yankees consider $189m as a possible offseason strategy to evaluate each year?

Given all the long-term commitments they handed out this winter and the fact that Alex Rodriguez‘s salary will be back on the books next year, I don’t see how the Yankees could get under the luxury tax threshold in the future. My real quick math already has the 2015 payroll at $152.1M for only eight (!) players, and that’s with two above-average producers (David Robertson and Brett Gardner) heading for free agency and needing to be either re-signed or replaced. The Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after the 2016 season and I have to think the luxury tax threshold will rise at that point. There’s too much money in the game to keep it at $189M; they might have to bump it up to $200M or even $210M.

Uke asks: Now that the Yankees have gone over the $189 million goal, why don’t they offer Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez one-year contracts with the stipulation that they won’t make a qualifying offer next year?

The Collective Bargaining Agreement says you can’t sign a player and promise to not make the qualifying offer in the future, though I’m not sure how they’d go about enforcing that. I’d love to see Ubaldo fall into their laps in March, similar to what happened with Kyle Lohse last year, but I’m counting on it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he signed this weekend. Adding another starter, even someone like Bronson Arroyo, to knock the internal guys down a peg would be awesome in my book, but the infield and bullpen have to be the priorities right now.

Dustin asks: Should the Yankees put a claim on Brayan Villarreal if he falls to them? He walks way too many, but his strikeout propensity would do well in low-to mid-leverage innings, kind of like how Joba Chamberlain was used of late.

The Red Sox designated the 26-year-old Villarreal for assignment a few days ago after an ugly season in which he walked nine and struck out six while allowing ten runs in 4.1 big league innings. His 2.67 ERA (3.17 FIP) in 42.1 minor league innings looks great, but he also walked 30 batters (6.4 BB/9 and 16.5 BB%). Villarreal had a strong 2012 season with the Tigers (2.63 ERA and 2.98 FIP in 54.2 innings) but he’s a classic hard-thrower who has no idea where the ball is going. Very similar to Brian Bruney when the Yankees signed him. All you can do with a guy like that is hope he irons out his command for a long stretch of the season. The Bombers need bullpen help but they don’t have room for Villarreal on the 40-man roster and I’m not sure if he’s worth clearing a spot for.

Charley asks: Do you think now that the Yankees got Tanaka that Vidal Nuno has a leg up on the fifth starter spot since he is a lefty? Joe Girardy typically likes to split his lefty/righty pitchers and now they have only one lefty in CC Sabathia.

In a perfect world, the Yankees would have more than one left-handed starter because of Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch and the various power lefty bats in the division (David Ortiz and Chris Davis, primarily). I don’t think it’s a requirement though. At this point the team needs to just assemble the best pitching staff it can regardless of handedness. If Nuno wins the fifth starter’s spot in camp, great. If it’s David Phelps or Adam Warren, well that’s okay too. To answer the question, no, I don’t think Nuno’s handedness gives him a leg up on the competition. I think they’ll give the job to whoever impresses the most.

(J. Meric/Getty)
(J. Meric/Getty)

Paul asks: Let’s play glass-half-full for a moment and assume that Michael Pineda is healthy and producing in ST and gets the #5 rotation slot. Phelps would almost certainly go to the BP. What about Warren and the other #5 competitors? Are they too similar in the roles they would fill to go with him?

I think both Phelps and Warren would go to the bullpen in that case, one as the long man and one as a more traditional short reliever. Warren was the long man all last year while Phelps did the short relief thing in September after returning from his forearm injury. It’s possible one would go to Triple-A to remain stretched out as the sixth starter, but I think both would wind up working in relief given the state of the bullpen. Using both as multi-inning middle relievers (rather than a long man and a one-inning guy) would be pretty neat. It would obviously be awesome if Pineda showed enough to win a rotation spot in camp. That would really create some roster options for the Yankees.

Tucker asks: In the past with these ST starter competitions, we’ve seen the Yankees seemingly give one candidate a leg-up. I think this year we could see that happening with Pineda. Do you agree, or do you think that a different starter fits that role better?

The Yankees have definitely held some rigged Spring Training competitions over the years, most notably the fifth starter competition in 2010 (Phil Hughes over Joba) and last year’s catching competition (Chris Stewart over everyone). If it does happen with the fifth starter’s spot this year, I think Phelps would be the guy with the advantage given the last two years. That’s just a hunch though. Pineda is coming off two lost years and might need more time in Triple-A to shake the rust off. As I mentioned before, I honestly think this competition will be more legitimate — whoever pitches the best in camp will win it. Of course, Spring Training competitions don’t end in Spring Training. If the fifth starter doesn’t perform well early on, someone else will take his spot. The team has enough candidates that they won’t have to live with a poor performing fifth starter for more than a few starts.

Kyle asks: Do you see the Yankees re-signing Brian Cashman or will they let someone else take the role as GM, like Billy Eppler?

I wrote this post about the future of the front office two years ago, after Eppler was officially named the assistant GM. It seemed like the Yankees were setting up a line of succession — Eppler spends three years learning the ropes as the assistant before taking over as GM when Cashman’s deal was up. Cashman would presumably be moved to some kind of president or director or chairman or whatever role. The Indians (Mark Shapiro and Chris Antonetti) and White Sox (Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn) have both made similar moves in recent years. I still expect something like that to happen. Ownership clearly loves Cashman but this will be his 16th year as GM. Things can get pretty stale after that much time and a new voice could do wonders for the organization (it could also do a lot of damage, remember). Moving Cashman into a different role and making Eppler the GM seems very possible and I do think that is what will happen.

Mailbag: Burnett, Haley, Marmol, OPS+, WAR

Got seven questions for you this week. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us mailbag questions, links, comments, whatever.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Anonymous asks: Why not an A.J. Burnett reunion? He could easily eat up 200 innings and wouldn’t be that expensive and doesn’t require a draft pick.

I mentioned this to Joe yesterday. If it wasn’t for 2010-2011, wouldn’t Burnett be the perfect one-year stopgap for the Yankees if Masahiro Tanaka is not posted? He has a 3.41 ERA (3.17 FIP) over the last two seasons, he misses bats (8.90 K/9 and 23.6 K%), the walks aren’t out of control (2.95 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%), he gets grounders (56.7%), his velocity has been steady, and he’s thrown 180+ innings in each of the last six years. What more could you want?

Of course, it’ll never happen. Burnett was a disaster during his final two seasons in New York and I think the Javy Vazquez wound is still fresh enough to keep the team from trying a reunion. Burnett has said he will either pitch for the Pirates or retire next season, so maybe he wouldn’t even entertain the idea of coming to the Yankees. If he was open to it and his name was anything but A.J. Burnett … man he’d be a perfect fit.

Dustin asks: If the Yankees miss out on Tanaka or he doesn’t get posted, what do you think of the Yankees offering Ubaldo Jimenez or Matt Garza a one-year contract with a promise of not extending a qualifying offer? Yankees get a decent pitcher for one year that they can replace with one of the man good pitchers next off season, and Ubaldo/Garza can get to negotiate without having a pick attached to them. Do you think this is at all possible?

First, Garza will not cost a pick this winter, so that’s not an issue for him. He was traded at the deadline and a player has to be with their team for the full season to be eligible for the qualifying offer. Second, the Collective Bargaining Agreement strictly prohibits teams from promising they won’t extend the qualifying offer to help entice a free agent. I guess they could still do it under the table, but MLB is watching.

Third, I don’t think either guy would go for that.  Ubaldo and Garza (and Ervin Santana for that matter) should have no trouble getting a nice multi-year contract as soon as the Tanaka situation is resolved. That is holding everything up, teams just want to know if he’ll be available before moving on to the alternatives. It would be hard for Ubaldo and Santana in particular to improve their stock in 2014 given their 2013 seasons. If any of those three are still sitting there unsigned when Spring Training rolls around, sure, make them a fat one-year offer. I just don’t expected them to still be on the board that long.

Kameron asks: Trey Haley was designated for assignment by the Indians yesterday. Do you think the Yankees should make a run at him? He has been around the 100 mph mark his entire career.

(Rich Pilling/Getty)
(Rich Pilling/Getty)

Yes, definitely. Haley’s name caught my eye when I saw the Tribe cut him to make room on the roster for John Axford. The 23-year-old had a 4.71 ERA (4.31 FIP) with 46 strikeouts and 39 walks in 44 innings at Double-A this season, so he’s a project. He has two minor league options remaining, so a team can afford to be patient with him.

Baseball America (subs. req’d) ranked Haley as Cleveland’s 14th best prospect before the season, saying his “fastball now operates at 93-98 mph (and) has touched 100 (with) late, heavy life” and his “curveball had good depth … it shows flashes of becoming a plus offering.” The raw stuff is awesome — the Indians paid him $1.25M as a second round pick in 2008, so he didn’t come out of nowhere — but the general strike-throwing ability needs a lot of work. The Yankees have a tight 40-man roster but they could make room for an arm like this. Someone is going to trade for Haley or claim him off waivers and it would be cool if it was the Bombers.

Dale asks: If Seattle needs a backup catcher and are trying to move one of Dustin Ackley or Nick Franklin, would a Austin Romine for one of the two of them be fair enough? Or would we have to include another outfield prospect?

I don’t think Romine would be enough for either guy but especially not Franklin, who hasn’t been a Mariner long enough to have his value destroyed. A package of Romine plus a second prospect (Nik Turley? Jose Ramirez? Peter O’Brien? I have absolutely no idea) might be enough to land Ackley at this point, who I prefer to Franklin. I like the idea of buying super low on a guy who is only 25 and two years removed from being arguably the best hitter in the minors. Franklin is expected to be more of a solid regular long-term, and while that’s pretty good, I’d rather take a shot on Ackley’s talent while he’s still relatively young.

Adam asks: Thoughts on Carmol Marmol for the pen? Could he be a fit or is he done?

I don’t think he’s done, he’s just incredibly erratic. Marmol, 31, struck out 59 batters in 49 innings this past season (4.41 ERA and 5.19 FIP), but he also walked 40 (!). He’s got a 7.33 BB/9 and 18.0 BB% over the last two seasons. Few batters can miss bats as well as Marmol but few hit the strike zone less often. I’d take him on a minor league contract in a heartbeat — there’s always a chance it clicks and he has a Kimbrelian year or something — but I’d be wary about guaranteeing him a roster spot.

(Stephen Dunn/Getty)
(Stephen Dunn/Getty)

Jorge asks: Would you rather have a lineup composed of all 100 OPS+es or half 150 OPS+es and half 50 OPS+es?

Well, there are nine lineup spots, so let’s call it four 150 OPS+es, four 50 OPS+es, and one 100 OPS. The idea is that the nine spots would average out to a 100 OPS+ but that wouldn’t actually happen in real life. The four 150 OPS+es would be stacked at the top of the lineup and they’d get more at-bats than the 50 OPS+es. Instead of averaging out to a 100 OPS+, that lineup would average out to a 105 OPS+ or something like that.

Anyway, I’d much rather have a lineup of nine 100 OPS+ players. I prefer a deep and circular lineup to a top-heavy one. Those four 50 OPS+ spots are just killers. That’s three full innings in any given game where you have close to no chance to score. The lineup of league average hitters might not be sexy but the more good hitters you have, the better your chances are of scoring. Simple as that.

Jamie asks: What’s the difference between WAR used on Baseball-Reference.com and Fangraphs.com? And why can’t they just agree on one? I think a universal WAR algorithm would go a long way towards old school guys taking it more seriously than they do.

I agree that having one universal WAR would lead to it being taken more seriously, but I also think the different versions (we could throw WARP from Baseball Prospectus into this ring) are a feature, not a bug. The WAR model isn’t perfect and as long as the various systems are coming up with different numbers, they will continue to be tinkered with and improved. I consider that a good thing.

As for the differences, B-Ref uses Total Zone for position player defense while FanGraphs uses UZR. The different defensive stats lead to different player values. On the pitching side, B-Ref’s WAR is built on runs allowed while FanGraphs’ WAR is built on FIP. I prefer FanGraphs for position players and B-Ref for pitchers — FIP is theoretical and if you want to but a number on a player’s value, it should be based on what he’s done, not what we think he should have done — but either way WAR is not definitive. It’s one tool in the shed. The concept of WAR (combining everything a player does into one number) is a really good but it’s not close to being a finished product.

2013 Winter Meetings Day Two Open Thread

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

By Winter Meetings standards, Monday was pretty slow. Most of the top free agents have signed already, and until we get some resolution regarding Masahiro Tanaka, the pitching market will remain relatively quiet. The Yankees are still looking for a starter even after re-signing Hiroki Kuroda, plus they need some bullpen help and either a second or third baseman. Oh, and general depth. That’s always necessary.

Here are yesterday’s Yankees-related rumors. The most notable thing we learned is that New York’s asking price for Brett Gardner is “through (the) roof” while rival executives think he’ll fetch a number three starter at best. His value is greater to the Yankees than it is anyone else, really. We’ll keep track of the day’s rumors right here, so make sure you check back often. All times at ET.

  • 9:18am: The Yankees want to import two relievers and they’ve been discussing Joaquin Benoit internally. Matt looked at him earlier today. [Bob Nightengale]
  • 5:46pm: The Yankees have not yet shown much interest in left-hander Paul Maholm as a back of the rotation stopgap. [McCullough]
  • 5:39pm: Unsurprisingly, Ichiro has a “limited trade market, maybe very limited.” The Yankees want to move him and keep Gardner. [Heyman]
  • 3:00pm: The Yankees are one of three teams to inquire about Dustin Ackley. He’s a buy-low second base candidate. Like the idea but not sure how salvageable he is. [Jon Heyman]
  • 2:08pm: “Signing one might be easier than trading for one,” said Cashman, referring to the market for starting pitchers. Not surprising given the team’s trade chips. [Chad Jennings]
  • 1:57pm: Cashman confirmed other teams have inquired about Gary Sanchez, J.R. Murphy, and Ivan Nova in addition to Gardner and others. [Andy McCullough]
  • 1:49pm: “I have thrown a lot of trade proposals out there, as well as conversations with free agents,” said Cashman while adding he’s unsure if these talks will actually lead to anything. [Barbarisi]
  • 1:38pm: The Yankees have not had any trade talks about their spare outfielders (i.e. Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki) with the Giants. [John Shea]
  • 1:28pm: Brian Cashman called Kevin Youkilis‘ agent to gauge his interest in returning, but Youkilis wants to play closer to his home in California. Funny, I want him to do that too. [Jack Curry]
  • 12:17pm: The Yankees do have interest in re-signing Mark Reynolds. Alfonso Soriano is the team’s only right-handed power hitter, so Reynolds would fit in a limited role. [David Waldstein]
  • 11:52am: The Yankees and others have interest in Danny Espinosa, but the Nationals are balking at moving him right now. I looked at him as a buy-low target back in August. [Ken Rosenthal]
  • 11:45am: There is nothing going on between the Yankees and Mets about Daniel Murphy at the moment. I looked at him as a potential trade target last month. [Andrew Marchand]
  • 8:24am: The Yankees are “very much interested” in Michael Young and have also checked in on Juan Uribe, Eric Chavez, Matt Garza, and Ubaldo Jimenez. Talks with Garza and Ubaldo are not serious. [Erik Boland & Steven Marcus]
  • The Yankees did contact the Reds about Homer Bailey. It’s unclear what they were offering or what Cincinnati was seeking in return. Gardner makes an awful lot of sense here. Two underrated players both one year away from free agency and the Reds needs a leadoff man/center fielder. [Dan Barbarisi]
  • Other clubs do not think highly of New York’s outfield prospects and that limits their ability to make trades. “The Yankees have no upper-level talent,” said a Cubs official after the Yankees asked about Jeff Samardzija. [Joel Sherman]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

Yanks could pass on the top free agent pitchers now and look for better next winter

Is a Garza now worth a shot at a Kershaw later? (Getty)
Garza now or maybe a shot at Kershaw later? (Getty)

Six years ago, the Yankees took one of the biggest risks in franchise history. The Twins were shopping two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana one year before free agency and he was a perfect fit for the Yankees, a team in need of a workhorse ace left-hander. There were offers and counteroffers, a bidding war between the Yankees and Red Sox, and weeks of rumors. It was exhausting, really.

Santana was a perfect fit for the Yankees … except that he wasn’t. Not only would they have had to trade away some of their top prospects to acquire him, but they’d also would have had to give him a nine-figure contract extension to keep him around. Johan was also showing some signs of decline, particularly in his spiking homerun rate and sudden decreased usage of his slider. There were definite red flags. It was a risky move but the type of move the Yankees usually make, except this time they didn’t. They passed on Santana and off he went to the Mets for a mostly forgettable four-player package.

The Yankees passed on Santana for two reasons. One, they wanted to keep their young pitching. Given the state of the franchise at the time, it was the right move. Two, there was a better option coming along the next offseason. CC Sabathia, another Cy Young winning workhorse left-hander, was due to become a free agent following the 2008 season, when New York could acquire him for nothing but money (and a draft pick). It was an incredibly risky move because there was no guarantee Sabathia would actually hit the open market, but the Yankees rolled the dice and a year later they got their man. They kept their young starters and got their ace lefty. Santana, meanwhile, gave the Mets one Cy Young caliber season before starting to break down. The plan couldn’t have worked out much better for the Yankees.

Fast forward to present day, and the Yankees are in a bit of a similar situation. No, they aren’t trying to trade for a Cy Young winning ace southpaw (that would be David Price), but they are in the market for pitching and there are some pricey options sitting out there for the taking, namely Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, and Ervin Santana. Those are the three best free agent starters available right now while Masahiro Tanaka sits in posting system limbo. And you know what? None of those three guys is a slam dunk, we gotta have him starter. Jimenez was awful as recently as the All-Star break, Garza has been hurt the last two years, and Santana was awful in 2012. The track records are as sketchy as they get for a high-priced starter.

Those are the top free agent pitchers available right now, with Hiroki Kuroda off the board and Tanaka not yet available. Now, courtesy of MLBTR, here is a sampling of the hurlers scheduled to hit the open market one year from now, during the 2014-2015 offseason (2015 season age in parenthesis):

Homer Bailey (29)
Clayton Kershaw (27)
Jon Lester (31)
Justin Masterson (30)
Max Scherzer (30)
James Shields (33)

Those are six pretty great pitchers, right? Just about all of them are reasonably young too. I’d rather have any of those six over Ubaldo or Garza or Santana, that’s for sure. Obviously those guys could sign extensions between now and next winter — Kershaw, Scherzer, and Lester seem most likely to ink an extension at this time — but there’s just so many of them that one or two figures to slip through the cracks and be available next offseason.

If Tanaka doesn’t get posted — I still think they should go all out to land him if he does indeed become available at some point — I think the Yankees would be better off repeating their Santana-Sabathia strategy. Rather than pay for an imperfect solution like Garza or Ubaldo or Santana right now, they could sign a stopgap starter (Bartolo?) for this year before going hard after one (or maybe even two) of those top guys next winter. They’ll want to have as much money available as possible if, say, Kershaw and Scherzer hit free agency next winter. Or Bailey and Masterson. Or Lester and Shields. You get the point. A stray Ubaldo could gum up the works.

Would this plan be risky? Absolutely. There’s a chance all of them will sign extensions before free agency and the Yankees will be left out in the pitching cold. Is it worth the risk? I think it is when there are six (not one or two) of these guys and the alternatives are Garza, Jimenez, and Santana. That’s easy for me to say when my neck isn’t on the line, obviously. It could be that the Santana-Sabathia situation was a one-time thing the Yankees are not willing to risk again, but because they took that risk once before and it worked out so wonderfully, we kinda have to assume it isn’t completely off the table in the future. If Tanaka is not posted, the Yankees’ best course of action maybe be signing a stopgap starter and focusing on those premium arms slated to hit the market next winter.

Update: No traction in talks with Cano, Yankees have other offers out

3:56pm: According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are “currently engaged” in talks with Beltran, Drew, Kuroda, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, and various unnamed mid-rotation starters. Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez are not in the mix at the moment.

1:12pm: Via Buster Olney: The Yankees still have offers out to various free agents even after agreeing to sign Brian McCann last night. He says there is currently no traction in talks with Robinson Cano and the team doesn’t want to sit around and wait. I dig it. In addition to Cano, I’m guessing they have offers out to … Carlos Beltran, Stephen Drew, Grant Balfour, and Hiroki Kuroda. Whaddya think?