("Gosh. This free agent pitching market is sooooo boring." Courtesy of John O'Boyle/The Star-Ledger)
(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)
It's been a somewhat quiet first 2 days at the Winter Meetings for the Yankees, at least compared to last week. Many of Cash's comments to the media yesterday were indicative of a team still trying to figure out its strategy for this week, trying to identify the best opportunity to upgrade the roster. The bulk of the early buzz has been around next year's outfield: who's playing where, who's not playing where, who's on the trade block, and who's not. There's also been a little talk about the open infield spots and the players currently on the radar as free agent targets, most notably Omar Infante and Mark Reynolds.
What there hasn't been is much activity on the rotation front. The Yankees locked up what they hope will be half of the 400 innings they're looking for when they re-signed Hiroki Kuroda last Friday, and one of the major goals of this week was thought to be securing that other half. Cash said yesterday that signing another pitcher would be easier than trading for one and he's right. The Yanks have much more to offer by way of dollars than they do prospects. But they don't seem to be all that interested in any of the top free agent starters, and even if they did have pieces to trade there are red flags attached to almost every conceivable trade target. So where do the Yankees go for the rotation help they need? Because right now they're sort of stuck in no man's land.
Personally, I like the idea of going after Cliff Lee if the Phillies are serious about moving him. He's older (35) and he's owed a ton of money, but that monetary commitment would only be for the next 3 years at the most. Despite Cash's claims to the contrary, the foundation of Operation 189 has been falling apart ever since the Yankees opened their checkbook a few weeks ago, and with the loss of Robinson Cano they almost have to spend through that luxury tax ceiling to build a contending team next season. Signing anybody from the Jimenez-Garza-Santana trio is going to take a commitment of at least 3 years and could come at the additional cost of another draft pick depending on who the Yankees signed. None of those guys offer the upside of Lee, a legit left-handed ace who has shown no signs of breaking down or regressing in the last 3 years. If the goal is to build a championship-caliber team, why not go after the player most capable of aiding that cause?
What would it take to get Lee? This is all just spitballing, but I would start with 1 or both of the team's top catching prospects. Philly is going to want Major League-ready players in return and J.R. Murphy kinda sorta fits that bill, more so than Gary Sanchez. But Sanchez is the higher ceiling prospect and things aren't looking too good for the Phillies' future behind the plate based on the deal they just gave Carlos Ruiz. David Phelps gets thrown in as a starter with higher potential in the NL, as there wouldn't be much of a place for him in the Yankee rotation with Lee on board. After that, they can pretty much take their pick of another prospect or 2 to fill out the trade package. Nobody in the Yankee system should be considered off limits when the return is a Cy Young-caliber starter.
Does that get it done? Probably not. But it might. And if it doesn't, what are the better options? David Price? The Rays don't sound like they're anxious to move him right now and if they were it's highly unlikely they'd trade him within the division. Even if they did, their formula for trading their top pitchers is set and the Yankees match up even worse with them than they do with the Phillies. Brett Anderson? Dude's pitched 163 innings since the start of 2011. Is it worth giving up multiple prospects for that type of injury risk? At that point the Yankees might as well just go ahead and sign Jimenez or Garza. At least then they'd only be giving up 1 potential prospect and getting more innings.
The other thing the Yankees could do if nothing in the free agent or trade realms inspires them right now is nothing. They could just wait. Their #1 target, Masahiro Tanaka, is still stuck in posting limbo, as his team president seems happy to drag things out as long as possible in protest of the new MLB-NPB posting agreement. There's a non-zero chance that Tanaka doesn't get posted this offseason, in which case the Yankees could just stand pat for now, hold onto their money, and wait another year to see if he's posted so they can spend it on the guy they really want. Next year's MLB free agent class could also be chock full of top-of-the-rotation starters, like Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and Jon Lester just to name a few. That crop, along with Tanaka, would be much more attractive to a team like the Yankees with money to spend and rotation spots to fill.
Of course, those players and some of the others who could hit the market next offseason might not ever make it to free agency. The Dodgers have been trying to lock up Kershaw to a long-term deal for some time, and the recent moves made by the Tigers appear to have been made with freeing up money for Scherzer in mind. The Yankees could be taking just as big a risk standing pat and waiting for next year's free agent class as they would be by signing Jimenez or Garza now and getting burned.
So what to do? There's no shortage of options, just a lack of simple, surefire ones. A lot of this would be cleared up by Tanaka being posted, but that's not something the Yankees can count on happening quickly. They've been waiting for it to happen for a while already and there doesn't seem to be a reliable Plan B in place in the event that it doesn't. I expect we'll hear more over the next 3 days about the Yankees engaging teams in trade talks for a starter. What those talks lead to, if anything, and where the Yankees go from there is anybody's guess.