Yankees general manager Brian Cashman knows he still has work to do this off season. Missing the playoffs once in the Bronx? Okay. Two years in a row? Say your prayers that you still have a job. Three years in a row? Let’s just say no one wants to find out the answer to that question.
For me, I would be most concerned with the starting rotation. The Yankees took another blow with the news of Hiroki Kuroda returning to Japan. Since joining the Yankees in 2011, Kuroda has been their most reliable starter. Just have a look at his three year breakdown with the Yankees:
2012: 16-11 (33 Games started) 219 Innings pitched 3.32 ERA
2013: 11-13 (32 Games started) 201 Innings pitched 3.31 ERA
2014: 11-9 (32 Games started) 199 Innings pitched 3.71 ERA
The Yankees also lost Shane Greene (Traded to the Diamondbacks), and David Phelps (Traded to the Marlins). While neither were expected to play an important part in the Yankees future plans, they both figured to be in the rotation mix at some point throughout the year, due to injury or promotion.
The 2015 Yankee rotation projects to be the following:
- Masahiro Tanaka – The Japanese import quickly established himself as one of the games top starters. Tanaka went 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA in 20 starts. He was well on his way to winning AL Rookie of the Year honors and was going to be in the AL Cy Young award discussion before an elbow issue shut him down. After resting for two months, he was able to return briefly in September to show the Yankees he was good to go for 2015. If healthy, The Yankees have an ace for their staff. Tanaka has avoided the three ugliest words in the game, Tommy John Surgery, for now.
- Michael Pineda – After missing all of 2012 and 2013 to injuries, he looked sharp in his 2014 return. Pineda posted a fantastic 1.89 ERA and looked to be a front-end starter in the makings. However, he was only able to manage 13 starts and 76 innings due to continued health issues and a notorious suspension. Hard to say what the Yankees can rely on getting out of a pine tar less Pineda.
- CC Sabathia – 2013 was ugly but 2014 was just down right forgettable for Sabathia, He was only able to make eight starts and posted a 5.78 ERA before suffering a season ending knee injury. The once ace of the staff is now a huge liability on the Yankees books. With three years remaining (The third being a player vesting option that is likely to be picked up) Cashman has his fingers crossed Sabathia is able to reinvent himself. I have him in the #3 slot but that is based on reputation alone. His recent results barely warrant him a spot in the rotation at all. We’ll give him the benefit of doubt that some of his struggles were injury based, for now.
- Nathan Eovaldi – The trade for the young flame thrower was the most surprising move Cashman has made so far this off season. Eovaldi is among the hardest throwing starters in all of baseball. The Yankees desperately needed to get younger, especially in the rotation, and acquiring the 25-year-old helped solve that problem. This will be pitching coach Larry Rothschilds biggest project. Despite consistently clocking one of the hardest fastballs, he also gave up hits at an alarming rate. The Yankees hope that Rothschild can help fine tune this talent and that they found themselves a diamond in the rough.
- Chris Capuano – In my opinion, the Yankees are in serious trouble if they are relying on a full season of Capuano in the rotation. I do like Capuano for what he is and the price was right to retain him. The 36-year-old lefty made 12 starts with the Yankees after being acquired from the Red Sox last year and posted a 4.25 ERA. I would prefer to see him fill the void left by the Phelps and Greene combination – becoming the teams swing man, spending time in the rotation as needed and the versatile arm in the bullpen.
In house help
Ivan Nova – After undergoing Tommy John Surgery last year, he is expected to be ready sometime in May-June. After posting a strong 2013 campaign, he struggled in 2014 before going down for the season after just four starts. It’s hard to have high expectations for a pitcher returning from surgery but he could provide a mid season boost.
Luis Severino – The 20-year-old has quickly made a name for himself and is now the organizations top-ranked prospect. Severino has a fastball that sits in the mid-high 90’s but will still need a little bit more fine tuning in the minor leagues. Although he won’t be with the Yankees come April, he is worth keeping an eye on throughout the season. It’s only a matter of time before Severino is on the mound in Yankee Stadium.
Max Scherzer – The 2013 AL Cy Young award winner took a chance when he turned down a huge extension from the Tigers last off season. But it appears his gamble is going to payoff, he returned with an equally impressive 2014 season and remains the biggest name in this free agency class. Being the top starter on the market doesn’t come cheap these days. The 30-year-old is said to be seeking a 7-to-8 year deal north of $200 million.
James Shields – He has been the poster boy of reliability for starting pitchers. Since 2007, Shields has made 30+ starts and thrown 200+ innings in each season. Although he hasn’t lived up to the “Big game James” moniker in terms of his October performances, he is exactly what the Yankees are in dire need of. There is no injury history to speak of when it comes to Shields and given the question marks surrounding the rest of the staff, Joe Girardi desperately needs an arm he can count on to take the mound every five days.
Cole Hamels – Unlike Scherzer and Shields, he is not a free agent. But, the Phillies are set to go into full blown rebuilding mode and have put Hamels on the market. It has been reported that the Yankees are one of the teams on Hamels list that he would waive his no trade clause for. Hamels has made 28+ starts in eight straight seasons and posted a career low 2.46 ERA in 2014. The 31-year-old has 4 years and $94 million left on his contract with a fifth year option for another $20 million.
At the end of the day, I think the Yankees need to either sign Shields or try to trade for Hamels. Scherzer might be the sexy move, but that doesn’t make it the right move. He is a power pitcher who is now entering the wrong side of 30. The Yankees don’t have to look any further than within their own rotation (Sabathia) to see how the back end of a contract with that type of pitcher plays out.
Shields provides the type of stability that Kuroda gave these past three years. Although he might not have performed in October last year, he did help anchor a staff into October, something the Yanks haven’t done in two years. Given his age and the way the market seems to be unfolding – a 4-year-deal might be able to land him. Even if they have to overpay it’s better to do that than give out the years. That is something Cashman must deter away from doing.
Hamels would be the most ideal fit. He has proven to be as durable as anyone in the game today. Hamels would combine with Tanaka to make one of, if not the strongest, 1-2 punch in all of the American League. He already has a contract in place that while high, isn’t unreasonable given his production. There won’t be any questions about his ability to pitch in New York given he has already proved himself in Philadelphia, a tough town in its own right. Plus he has succeeded in Citizens Bank Park, a field as hitter friendly as Yankee Stadium. The fact that his contract doesn’t have him locked up too far into his twilight years makes him even more attractive.
I don’t know what the Yankees will do. But I do know there are too many questions surrounding that projected starting rotation for Brian Cashman to sit idle.