Which Free Agent Pitcher Should the Yankees Pursue?

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 JacksonEdwin 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 DarvishThough 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.

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13 Responses to Which Free Agent Pitcher Should the Yankees Pursue?

  1. Tanned Tom says:

    Pass on Darvish. Dominating in 4A ball, which is what the Japanese league is, does not impress me. $100 mil for that? Nope, let other teams overpay for him.
    Jackson still has potential and is the right age, but what does it say that he's been with 6 teams in 8 years? People see him up close and then get rid of him. No way he's worth the money he'll be asking.
    Oswalt only makes sense on a one-year deal , he's too old and too injured for anything else.
    Wilson has been very good for the last 2 years, doesn't have the mileage other 31 year olds do, so it comes down to proce and length of contract. If 5 years at $85 mil will sign him, it's worth the risk.
    Buehrle is the best pitcher on this list, 11 years in a row of over 200 innings and at least 10 wins. This is called quality. He's not the #2 starter NY needs, but if 3 years at $15 mil per will sign him this seems the least risky acquisition. Although his ceiling is less than Wilson's or Darvish's, there is no doubt about his ability or durability and his contract would be shorter, which with all the young arms NY has, might be a good thing.

  2. Tanned Tom says:

    Of course the best course might be to sign BOTH Wilson and Buehrle, trade Garcia, Burnett and Hughes, and fill the 5th spot from the AAA squad.
    In any case trade Burnett, who is no longer a major league caliber starter. Then move Hughes to the pen and trade Soriano, who is ridiculously overpriced as the 7th inning reliever.

  3. Susan says:

    For once I'd like to see Cashman back up his words and go after "pitching, pitching, pitching" instead of lollygagging around talking about who he wants and who he supposedly doesn't want. Of this list, I'd take Buehrle any day of the week. He'd be a great 2 or 3 starter for us. Wilson would be a decent 3 or 4 but he thinks he's worth way more money so I'd pass. We already have enough playoff tanks, we don't need another. I wouldn't mind Oswalt or Jackson but I say a big hell no to Kuroda or Darvish. Of course Cashman can always get creative and actually trade for a pitcher instead of just trying to buy one but I won't hold my breath on that.

    • Alex Taffet says:

      I understand the weariness toward Darvish as he has not thrown a pitch in the majors, but why Kuroda? He has been consistent for the Dodgers for four years in a row now. Agreed on Buerhle, but I cannot see him coming to New York. Hope I'm wrong!

    • Renee4ever21 says:

      I totally agree with you Susan. The Yanks have needed pitching for a while now. I don't know what Cashman is doing, as you put it, lollygagging around again. Why can't he get past the waiting game? If the Yankees want to win another World Series, they need to enhance their pitching. What is their fascination with making Hughes a starter, he & Joba do so much better as relievers. With them both as relievers their bullpen will be pretty killer. Now get some decent starting pitching!! Every other team seems to be doing their best to enhance their teams, Cashman needs to get off his butt & get moving!!!!!!! I can't believe they extended his contract for not doing what can to help the team. Get out there & do the job they are paying you to do!!!!!!

      • Mike Sommer says:

        They are not increasing payroll. Period. Apparently Cashman has been given a budget and/or told to get it cut to $189 million for 2014 (it's about $200-$205 million now). For 2012, ten players take up $161 million. Meaning $40-45 million for the rest of the team, and you have to factor in possible player raises in arbitration. The only way to add on (and remember, with the luxury tax, a $10 million salary for the Yanks is actually a $14 million salary) is to add payroll, which the Yankees apparently are refusing to do. This isn't George's Yankees anymore.

  4. Susan says:

    Kuroda is already old in baseball terms, I think he's 35 or 36. While he's been consistent in the NL West I see him getting lit up in the Big Boy's League, (AL East). Plus he's made it clear umpteen times he wants to stay with the Dodgers for whatever reason. That would be the absolute last place I'd want to play.

    • renee4ever21 says:

      I think Cashman blew it with Darvish!! From what I have heard about him, he would have been very good for the Yanks. Cashman is doing the same thing he has been doing. Now that Darvish is gone, go out & get 2 more pitchers who can be your 2nd & 3rd starters! The biggest reason the Yanks didn't make it to the World Series last season was because their pitching just could not compete, even C.C. didn't have his best year, the games that he did win were because of the offense, not because of his great pitching. We need pitching, pitching, pitching & more pitching!!!!

  5. renee4ever21 says:

    Alex Taffet is right, Darvish should have been the Yankees number one target, but as is Cashman's m.o., he didn't bid enough. The Rangers won the bid. Why can't Cashman make a decision? Several years ago he did very well at getting top notch players, what happened to him? When will the Steinbrenner's wake up & find someone who is willing to go after players that will help the team? They could have gotten Theo Epstein, but no, they decided to pay Cashman more money for just more of the same!!!

    • Mike Sommer says:

      The Yankees bid was $15 million. The Rangers won with a $51.7 million bid. Not even close. As mentioned, the Yankees are operating under a budget (wish Congress would do the same!)

      As for a couple of years ago getting top players, that was because he had big money coming OFF the books (Mussina, Abreu, Giambi, Pavano) that he could then transfer to CC, Teix and AJ. That isn't the case now. The only big $ coming off from 2011 is Posada. A lot of big money is tied up, and for far too long.

  6. Cyril Morley says:

    The Yankees could look with in there system. Pitchers like Rafeal DePaula, Ronny Bautista, Nik Turley, Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Chris Dwyer, Chris Cabrera, Kramer Sneed, Jose Ramirez, Hector Noesi, Graham Stoneburner and Shaeffer Hall.
    Look at these pitchers Scott Kazmir, Joel Zumaya, Rich Harden, Taylor Tankersley, Jose Quintana, Josh Rommanski and Cesar Cabral

  7. Cyril Morley says:

    Trade that can help the yankees.
    Trade Nick Swisher, Eduardo Nunez to Braves for Steven Kkent, Arodys Vizcaino and Jason Heywood.
    Trade Francisco Cervelli to Royal for Micheal Montgomery.
    Trade David Phelp to Orioles for Brain Matusz.
    Trade Nick Swisher to Dodgers for Andre Ethier
    If there any word on Jorge Soler from the yankees