A look at Yanks offseason pitching targets

Monday, November 23, 2009

With nothing really solid happening on the free agent market yet, we'll take a look at some of the names being associated with the Yankees in regards to offseason plans, and how realistic the chances are they are wearing pinstripes in 2010.

First, note that with the free agents, the Yankees are currently on the books for a 2010 payroll of $166,334,714. There's a great chart at Cot's Baseball Contracts of the future payroll commitments by the Yankees. That number is considerably ($41 million) less than 2009's payroll, giving the Yankees plenty of money to spend (or not spend, but when has that ever happened?).

We'll split this up over a series of posts, organizing them by position. We'll start with what I believe is the most important, starting pitching:

Starting Pitchers
John Lackey
Age: 31
Status: Free Agent
2009 Salary: $10 million

This first target is very familiar to Yankee fans, as they've seen Lackey as the workhorse for the Angels since he came up as a rookie in 2002. He's started at least 30 games 5 times in his 7 full seasons, but the two season's he didn't were 2008 and 2009. He is not a true ace, but would fill in nicely as the Number 3 man in the Yankees rotation behind CC and AJ. Personally, I also loved and respected the fire he showed on the mound when Angels manager Mike Scioscia went to take him out of the game during the ALCS saying, "This game is mine!"

He is apparently looking for the type of contract the Yankees gave AJ Burnett last year, $82 million over 5 years. Considering I thought the Yankees gave Burnett too much money, I'm not sure they should make the same mistake twice. The Red Sox, however, are also interested, which obviously means the Yankees will be involved, if only to jack up the price for Boston.

Roy Halladay
Status: Under contract with Toronto Blue Jays through 2010 season
2009 Salary: $14.25 million ($15.57 million due in 2010)

The pièce de résistance of this year's trade market, Halladay will be the most talked about name until he is traded, whether it be this offseason, next season, or not at all. Halladay is not expected to resign with Toronto when his contract expires after next season, and the Blue Jays will try to get some value out of him. In a similar situation a few years ago, the Twins got fleeced in the deal that sent Johan Santanna to the Mets, so the Blue Jays won't want to make the same mistake.

Halladay is a bonafide ace and would give the Yankees two number one starters at the top end of their rotation, which would be devastating during the season and in postseason series. He has won almost 70 games over the past 4 years, and has had an ERA under 3.00 for the past two seasons.

The Blue Jays were reluctant to trade to an AL East team during the season, but a new general manager may see things differently. The Yankees would need to part with one of their top four prospects, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Austin Jackson, and Jesus Montero, to get this deal done. The talk is that the Yankees seem more inclined to give up Hughes or Joba in this deal, which makes sense. Halladay would come in and take up one of the rotation spots that would otherwise be filled by the two youngsters. Also, the Yankees would move to lock Halladay up long-term. If the Yankees gave him a 5-year extension, the top three spots in the rotation would be set through the end of Burnett's contract following the 2013 season.

As stated before, the Blue Jays will want the best package for Halladay. If they don't get that from teams, they could just sit back and take the two draft picks they'll get when Halladay signs with another team. Also, the Halladay situation could become a lot like the Sabathia situation during the 2008 season. The Indians didn't trade Sabathia during the offseason, but waited until midseason to do it. The Yankees decided not to pursue CC, and waited until he hit the free agent market and only gave up money for him (which the obviously have plenty of) instead of both money and prospects (of which they don't have many of high quality).

Aroldis Chapman
Age: 21
Status: Free agent
2009 Salary: N/A (Cuban Defector)

The other name you will hear a lot of from starting pitchers is Chapman. The Cuban defector has apparently been clocked at over 100 miles per hour by scouts. He pitched in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, going 0-1 with a bloated 5.68 ERA while striking out 8 in 6.1 innings pitched. Besides those six innings, there really isn't too much to go on besides what he does in front of scouts. There are his stats from his time on the Cuban National team, but can you take them at face value?

As a Yankee fan, I'm a little wary of Chapman just because he is so young, and apparently has some control issues. He recently fired his agent and joined the Hendricks Brothers, Alan and Randy. The Hendricks also represent Andy Pettitte and formerly Roger Clemens, so they have a solid relationship with the Yankees. As always, the Yankees and Red Sox will be battling tooth and nail over a player, but I'm still not convinced I want to win this time. We already had the failed Jose Contreras experiment this decade, and no one is sure if Chapman is even ready for the majors, as there is talk he would start in the minor leagues. The AAA Scranton/Wilkes Barre Yankees already have one starter with a huge salary (Kei Igawa, another failed investment in a foreign pitcher), I don't think they need two. Are the Yankees ready to invest upwards of $50 million in a big question mark, especially after the recent mistakes (Pavano, Wright, Vazquez, Igawa, Contreras, do I need to go on, because this is painful?)

So those are the big names attached to the Yankees right now. They could go for a cheaper option to just fill a spot in the back end of the rotation, or trust guys like Hughes, Joba, and Ian Kennedy to take one of those spots. There is also the question mark of Chien-Mien Wang. There's the possibility he comes back, which personally I would like to see. He won 19 games two years in a row, that doesn't usually happen on accident. And he would be the third starter, which would make it much easier on him than it was in 2006 and 2007 where he was the number one guy.

When looking at the plan of attack for the Yankees, or any team for that matter, you cannot simply focus on that year's class. The Yankees did this last year with Mark Teixeira. Brian Cashman knew that the 2010 free agent position players were limited to Jason Bay and Matt Holliday, so he made a push for Tex, and it worked.

The inverse situation exists this year in regards to starting pitching. While this year only has three big names, where one of them must be traded for and one comes with more questions than answers, that is untrue of the 2011 offseason. Some of the pitchers that will be free agents after next season include: Josh Beckett, Matt Cain (has a vesting option, so he will likely NOT reach free agency), Jeff Francis, Halladay (if he's not traded and signed long-term), Cliff Lee, Ted Lilly, and Brandon Webb. That's a very impressive class. Plus, with so many good pitchers on the market, simple supply and demand would indicate that the prices may be lower for these players than usual, if you strike early.

Of the three pitchers I named, I don't see any of them as a real fit right now. Lackey isn't worth what he is asking, but will probably get it anyway. Chapman is too risky of an investment for a AAA starting pitcher or even a major league reliever. Halladay would work only if the Yankees were to give up one of the blue chips and not much else. I'd like to see if the Yankees can take the Sabathia approach with Halladay, but if that doesn't work, at least keep him away from the Red Sox. I would say let Joba, Hughes, and/or Kennedy show you what they can do, for real since it seems the inning limit (at least on the first two) are finally out the window, and go hard after the free agent class next year. A (healthy) rotation of Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte (assuming he comes back), Joba, and Hughes, with the Yankees' lineup, will probably be good for a division title and a good chance at #28.



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