It seems to be the same speech out of Brian Cashman’s mouth every offseason, “pitching, pitching, pitching.” And year after year, the Yankees are linked at one point or another to each starting pitcher on the free agent or trade market. This year is no different, and with pitchers such as C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle, Roy Oswalt, Edwin Jackson, Hiroki Kuroda and of course Yu Darvish on the market, the Yankees have a handful of quality pitchers from which to choose.
C.J. Wilson– Starting with the most prominent name on the list, the 30 year-old Wilson has been a front-end pitcher for the last two seasons on a world series team. He is coming of a Cy-Young caliber season, going 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA and 206 strike outs in 223.1 innings. He was almost as good in 2010 as well, throwing 204 innings to the tune of a 3.35 ERA, albeit with some shaky peripherals.
Normally, when a pitcher has been this productive for two consecutive years heading into free agency, there would be no doubt that he’d receive multiple $100 million offers. With Wilson though, there are considerable red flags. For one, he is already on the wrong side of 30, making a long term deal considerably more risky. The track record for such deals is not too pretty.
And then there is the huge amount of innings he has thrown over the last two years compared to the early portion of his career. Wilson had been a reliever in the five seasons prior to 2010, making the sudden jump to 200+ innings a worrisome total. It would be of no surprise to anyone if he begins to experience some arm trouble down the road.
Finally, there is the question of his ability to continue to thrive as a pitcher in the AL East. With a BB/9 of 2.98 in 2011, C.J. Wilson exhibited solid control for the first time in his career. In fact, he got by with a rough 4.10 BB/9 mark in 2010. With a fastball that averages a hair over 90 mph, Wilson is not your prototypical soft tossing lefty. However, he is probably not a pitcher that will thrive AL East with less-than-stellar control.
C.J. Wilson would undoubtedly make the Yankees a better team in 2012, and there is no question that his previous two years of production have put him in place for a large payday. But at the ~$100 million price tag, he is a considerable risk, one which the Yankees should not commit to, especially considering the significant amount of money they already have tied to players on the wrong side of 30.
Mark Buehrle- Mark Buehrle is an interesting name. Unlike Wilson, Buehrle is the definition of a soft-tossing lefty, averaging just 85 mph on the fastball in 2011. However, he has also been the model of consistency throughout his career. He has thrown more than 200 innings every season since 2001, and has been better than league average in terms of ERA in all but two of those seasons.
Buehrle gets by with his impeccable control; 2.0 BB/9 over the last three seasons. This control is absolutely necessary as he does not strike out anybody; 4.5 K/9 over the last three seasons.
As Buehrle will be 33 come opening day, he would not command a long term contract, thus seems like a great fit for the middle of the Yankees rotation. He would add innings and stability, something the Yanks could use with guys like Burnett and Hughes in the rotation. However, he has indicated in the past that he would play only for Chicago or St. Luis, even considering retirement should that be impossible. He has also mentioned his weariness under the bright lights of New York, making his acquisition highly improbable.
Roy Oswalt– Oswalt has the sexiest name on this list following his years of dominant pitching with the Astros. In 2011, the 34 year Oswalt threw 139 innings with a 3.69 ERA and 3.44 FIP, proving that he can still pitch. He was even better in 2010, going more than 200 innings with a 2.76 ERA and 3.44 FIP.
It seems like a match made in heaven; a veteran pitcher who could slide right into the two spot in the rotation and not command a long-term contract. But Oswalt has two degenerative disks in his back, enough of a problem that the Yankees have reportedly crossed him off their list, according to Wallace Matthews of ESPN. At this point, the Yankees have enough question marks, and should not add another expensive one.
Edwin Jackson– Edwin Jackson is one of those guys who seems like he has been around forever, and that is because he came up as a flamethrowing 19 year old for the Dodgers way back in 2003. For a while, it seemed as though Jackson would never harness his vast potential, as his career ERA stood at 5.15 after the 2008 season. But he seems to have turned his career around.
Over the past three years, Jackson has thrown ~200 innings per year with ERA’s of 3.62, 4.47 and 3.79 for the Tigers, White Sox and Diamondbacks. His FIP has been equally impressive at 4.28, 3.86 and 3.55, turning Jackson into a legitimate candidate for the middle of the rotation.
It’s hard to believe, but the right-hander is still just 28 years old, meaning that a team would theoretically sign him for his prime seasons. At that age, with three years of solid pitching, no injury history and a fastball that averages nearly 95 mph, he could make a lot of sense. If Jackson could be had for 3-4 years and ~$36-$48 million, the Yankees would have to look into it.
Hiroki Kuroda– I have long been a fan of the Japanese right hander, and apparently so have the Yankees. They have twice shown interest in Kuroda: last offseason and at the trade deadline this year. This interest is for good reason. Kuroda, now 36 years old, came to the league and has not deviated much from his career ERA/FIP marks of 3.45/3.55.
The only problem is that Kuroda himself has not shown interest in coming to New York, and has indicated on many occasions that he does not wish to leave the Dodgers. Perhaps he changes his mind and entertains offers from New York, but for now, let’s move on.
Yu Darvish– Though he is not technically a free agent, the half Japanese, half Iranian Darvish is easily the most intriguing name on the market. Still just 25, Darvish is considered one of the best if not the best pitcher of all time in the Japanese league, having dominated opponents from a very young age. He throws a mid-90’s fastball and has several secondary pitches which scouts see as above average for the majors, including a slider, curve, changeup, splitter and shuuto (2-seam fastball). Though for what it’s worth, the same was said of Daisuke Matsuzaka and his arsenal.
Many are weary of pitchers from Japan, as the Japanese league does not boast the same level of competition as the majors. But no one is expecting Darvish to come anywhere close to the sub-2 ERA seasons he has been consistently putting up. Many point to the questionable track record of Japanese pitchers in the states, most notably Dice-K and our very own Kei Igawa. But Darvish’s stats thus far have far exceeded anything Dice-K ever put up. As for Igawa, the only thing they have in common is their ethnicity. Darvish is in a whole different league.
Furthermore, Darvish is built differently than most pitchers who have made the jump, and bulked up considerably in 2011. He now stands ~6’5″ and 220 pounds. He has also worked to get himself on the MLB 5-day starter schedule, as opposed to the traditional 7-day schedule in Japan.
It is likely that Darvish would cost anywhere between $80-100 million, including a posting fee that is expected to fall in the $42-47 million range. And as with any such investment on a pitcher, there is considerable risk. But the Yankees rarely get a chance to acquire a potential ace with his baseball prime still upcoming. And in this case, it would cost just money, something of which the Yankees have plenty. Yu Darvish, for all his potential, should be the Yankees number one target in this offseason.