(Anybody wish these 2 were around right now? Courtesy of US Presswire & Getty Images)
Interestingly enough, or frustratingly enough depending on how against the austerity plan you are, the Yankees really kicked this plan into high gear last offseason when they failed to get involved in the international free agent market. It was one of the best classes in recent memory, highlighted by Yu Darvish and Yoenis Cespedes, 2 players who, ironically enough, play the positions the Yanks most need to fill this offseason. At the time, the Yankees' reasons for passing on both players were good ones. The history of Japanese pitchers making the transition to MLB was short on success stories, and the Yankees had been on the losing end of that gamble before, and there were questions about Cespedes' ability to come right in and play at the Major League level.
Not wanting to commit high dollars to 2 risky options that might not have returned comparable rewards, Cash decided to play it safe with his bids on each player and the Yankees lost out on both. Darvish ended up in Texas and Cespedes in Oakland, and both of them finished in the top 3 of the AL Rookie of the Year vote yesterday, an award that they could have battled it out for had Mike Trout not come and blown everyone's doors off. Now that their first years as Major Leaguers are over, let's take a look back and play a little "what if?" game with each guy.
For all the talk about his weird throwing schedule and too many pitches having a negative impact on his effectiveness, Darvish certainly hit the ground running in 2012. He pitched 8.1 shutout innings with 10 K in just his 4th career start, a start that just so happened to be against the Yankees, giving Cash and everybody else in the front office a good look at what they missed out on. He did struggle with walks early in the season, and for the whole season for that matter as his 4.19 BB/9 and 10.9% BB rate were both higher than you'd like to see, but Darvish made up for that with his swing-and-miss stuff (27.1% K rate) and didn't have much of a problem adjusting to the American game. Despite missing a handful of starts due to injury, Darvish still pitched to a 3.90/3.29/3.52 slash in 191.1 innings, good for 5.1 fWAR, which was tied for 5th most in MLB. Oh, and he's just 26.
Now here's where the fun starts. The Yankees weren't as aggressive on Darvish as they've been in the past because of the performance questions but also because of the money. After winning the posting with a $51.7 million bid, the Rangers signed Darvish to a reasonable 6 year/$60 million deal, bringing the total AAV of his contract to $18.6 million per season. If the Yankees had won the bidding and signed Darvish to the same deal, it's safe to assume that the Michael Pineda trade never gets made and Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte never get signed. Maybe Kuroda, since the rotation at that point would have been CC, Darvish, Hughes, Nova, and Garcia, and Kuroda was a great value at $10 mil. But I'm going to go ahead and say that Hirok and Andy would not have ended up in a Yankee uniform if Darvish did.
From a performance standpoint, there wouldn't have been a whole lot of difference this past season. Kuroda made more starts and pitched more innings, but the rest of Darvish's stats were better almost completely across the board. Everything going down the way it did this season, Darvish for Kuroda would have been worth about 1 more win, which would have still put the Yankees right where they ended up in the postseason and still probably resulted in an ALCS loss due to the offensive blackout.
From a financial standpoint, Darvish would have cost a little north of $6 million more against the cap this season compared to Kuroda and Pettitte's combined value ($12.5 mil). With the raises Kuroda and Pettitte are expected to receive if they come back this season, we'll call it $15 mil and $7 mil for the purposes of time, Darvish's cap hit this coming season would actually be less than what the Yankees will pay to fill their rotation without him. The big ding is what would come in 2014, when Darvish's $18+ million would almost certainly be more than what the Yankees would be looking to spend to keep payroll down. But with Darvish being young, under team control, and entering his prime, wouldn't that have been money worth spending?
The situation with Darvish and what coulda, woulda, shoulda happened with the rest of the rotation and the payroll is clearly pretty complicated. The situation with Yoenis Cespedes is much less so. Yes, he wasn't exactly a need for the Yankees going into this season and yes, committing that much guaranteed money (4 years/$36 mil) to an international player who you aren't 100% sure can step right into the Majors is very risky, but I'm sure the Yankees would love to have Cespedes in the fold right now. He battled injuries a little bit too, but he showed that his 5 tools weren't just a workout mirage, hitting .292/.356/505 (.368 wOBA) with 23 HR, 16 SB, and 3.1 fWAR in 540 PA. Cespedes would have been a perfect candidate to replace Brett Gardner as the full-time LF this season and allowed the Yankees to maintain some bench flexibility, and he would slide right into Nick Swisher's vacated spot in right in 2013 at just $9 million per year, a very team-friendly number. Oh, and he's just 27 years old.
It's easy to sit here and Monday morning quarterback this situation, and I'll be the first to admit that I shared all the concerns about both players when they were on the open market last offseason. But it's fair to say that passing on both Darvish and Cespedes may turn out to be mistakes in the long run. They stayed healthy, they were both wildly productive, they're in their mid-20s, and they would have filled the greatest positions of need on the roster while still leaving room to get under the $189 million ceiling in 2014. I'm sure the Yankees were a little gun shy after the Kei Igawa disaster, and that's understandable, but the early foundations of the future payroll plans set last offseason that contributed to them passing on Darvish and Cespedes could wind up costing them the chance to stay competitive in 2014.