Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Searching For Some Free Agent Backup Plans

(Courtesy of Getty Images)

(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)

Free agency is just over a day old, and while the Yankees haven't signed or re-signed anybody yet they've definitely been among the most active teams so far.  They've reached out to a few teams to inquire about possible trades, they've built a long list of free agent targets to address the many holes on their roster, and they've set themselves up to possibly recoup some compensatory draft picks by making qualifying offers to 3 of their own free agents.  The activity is only going to increase from here and I expect the Yankees to start getting aggressive soon.

But what about players who haven't been connected to the Yankees yet?  There are a lot of guys out there who could be good fits for what New York is trying to do this offseason, at the very least solid backup options in case the Yanks don't hit on their primary targets.  Keep in mind that my mentioning of these names is not my way of saying I think the Yankees should or will go after these players.  Just pointing out that they're players who fit the Yankees' roster needs, their desire to keep payroll below the luxury tax threshold, and their preference for recognizable names.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia- C

He's not nearly as good offensively as Brian McCann, even with his career year in 2013.  He's probably not as good defensively either (22.66% career caught stealing).  But Saltalamacchia wouldn't be a bad secondary option to upgrade at catcher should the price for McCann get too high.  He's 28 years old, he's a switch hitter with legit power from the left side, and he won't cost the team that signs him a draft pick after not being offered a QO by Boston.  His 29.4% career K rate isn't pretty and he can appear clunky behind the plate at times, but supposed defensive specialist Chris Stewart wasn't winning many games with his glove last year.  Even if he's not McCann, Saltalamacchia would be way better than any catcher the Yankees used last year.

Roy Halladay- RHSP

The days of salivating over the idea of adding Halladay to the rotation are over.  He turns 37 next May and he's coming off pretty serious shoulder surgery that limited him to 62.0 below-average innings last year.  Injured, healthy, or otherwise, it's hard to look at a 6.82/6.14/5.10 slash line and not cringe.  Halladay's perceived value couldn't be lower right now and that could be what makes him a worthwhile gamble.  Expectations after his surgery were that his velocity would return and an offseason of rest and a regular throwing program should help make that happen.

Even if the velocity doesn't come back to where he wants it, Halladay's command and feel for his pitches should improve as he gets further away from surgery.  Let's not forget that it was only 2 seasons ago that this guy was the best pitcher in baseball.  A 1-year "show me" deal for a few million for Halladay would really be no different than what the Yanks tried to do with Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon a few years ago.

Scott Kazmir- LHSP

He looked like he was going to be one of the AL's premiere left-handed pitchers for years when he first came up with Tampa in the mid-2000s.  Elbow and shoulder injuries stripped him of both his velocity and his command to the point that he was pitching in the independent leagues in 2012.  Kazmir signed with the Cleveland Indians last year and turned in one of the most unexpectedly good seasons in all of baseball, pitching to a 3.51 FIP in 29 starts with 162 K and just 47 BB in 158.0 IP.  His arm is finally healthy again, his velocity and command have returned as he's re-worked his mechanics, and he's armed with a nifty 4-pitch mix of low-90s 2-seamer and 4-seamer, slider, and changeup.  Kazmir turns 30 in 2 months, still in his prime, and his history of struggles before 2013 should keep his asking price down.

Brian Wilson- RHRP

Yes, he's another guy coming back from injuries/surgery.  But like Kazmir, Wilson is still in his prime and he showed he can still get it done coming back from his 2nd Tommy John Surgery with the Dodgers this year (0.66 ERA, 13 K in 13.2 IP).  And like Halladay, there's reason to anticipate an uptick in his fastball velocity after he has a regular offseason program.  The Yankees need to replace 66 late-game innings with Mo retiring and Wilson has a ton of experience in that arena.  Even with the concerns about his arm, he's a better candidate to set up D-Rob than anybody who's currently on the Yankees' 40-man and he probably won't command much more than a year and $2 or 3 million to prove he can stay healthy.  Don't be fooled by his goofy personality, the dude can pitch.  The Yankees would be foolish to let his eccentricity, or his beard for that matter, prevent them from going after him.

Obviously there's risk that comes with all of these guys, especially when the 3 pitchers are not far removed from major arm injuries.  But is there any more risk in signing them to a 1-year deal than there is in signing Tanaka, Beltran, or McCann to multi-year deals?  None of those players have clean injury track records either.  Pursuing guys like Halladay and Wilson for low dollars would be a step up from the scrap heap dealings of the last few offseasons.  They might never be the players they once were and yeah, they might be cooked.  But if they're not, they've got much higher ceilings than the Travis Hafners and David Aardsmas of the world.

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