If not Lackey, then who?

Rich Harden (Type B): Rich Harden has as good “pure stuff” as any pitcher out there, including AJ Burnett. However, he makes AJ Burnett look like Greg Maddux when it comes to durability. Harden, when healthy, can be utterly and completely dominating. He had a mediocre 2009 campaign with the Cubs, but was fantastic in 2008, split between the Cubs and A’s. Harden made just 26 starts this year, finishing with a 9-9 record, 4.07 ERA and a 110 ERA+ in 141.0 IP, averaging 10.9 K/9 IP. Home run and walk rates were up in 2009, leading to a higher WHIP. Looking back at his 2008 season, he was splendid in 25 blended starts (13 w/OAK; 12 w/CHI): 10-2 record, 2.07 ERA, 211 ERA+ in 148.0 IP, averaging 11.0 K/9. His home run rate was half of his 2009 rate and he walked few batters, leading to a great 1.061 WHIP.

Here’s the fly in the ointment, a fitting analogy for Harden: He only started a combined 13 games in 2006-07, 19 in 2005 (age 23), 31 in 2004 (his career high). He just can’t stay on the hill long enough to complete a full season. But when he’s out there, he’s potentially dominating every night. A career line of: 3.39 ERA, 131 ERA+, 1.237 WHIP, 9.4 K/9 IP.

Is Harden worth the risk, the investment? Guessing it would be an incentive-laden contract (maybe a $5m base with the chance to double it, or more, if he’s not on the DL), with an option for 2011. If I am the Yanks braintrust, I am pushing for a guy like this. Either he’s pitching well or he’s not pitching. I’d rather have guy like that than a lesser innings-eater who is mediocre for 33 starts. Give me 25 great starts and I’ll backfill with my farm system as needed.

Ben Sheets: Sheets is quite similar to Harden, without the AL experience. All the talent in the world, but is another member of the DL All-Stars. Sheets didn’t pitch at all in 2009, recovering from shoulder surgery. A four-time All Star who, despite his “stuff”, is just a tick over .500 in the W-L category (86-83). Sheets had a sublime 2008 season with 31 starts but just a 13-9 W-L record to show for it. He posted an ERA of 3.09 and an ERA+ of 136; impressive to be sure.

From 2002-04, Sheets was an ironman, starting 34 games each season. Then the injury bug sunk its teeth into him, resulting in a games started progression that reads: 22, 14, 24, 31, 0. Zero last year.

His career stats remain quite good with 3.72 ERA, 115 ERA+, 7.6 K/9 IP, 1.201 WHIP, 3.85 K/BB.

Is Sheets all that different than Harden? What’s the risk here? Dollars? That’s it? Well heck, that’s the advantage of having the biggest yacht in the marina. The Yanks would be wise to consider adding Sheets (or Harden) as the cost/benefit analysis is tilted vastly in their favor. If either gets hurt, as we could almost expect, all that is lost is cash and that’s the one thing this team has in ample supply. But if he returns to form, you got yourself a bargain and this team needs pitching, as it always does.

Justin Duchscherer (Type B): And then we have the Duke. Talk about risky. He makes the first two seem like horses. Duke made the transition from reliever to starter in 2008, resulting in a fantastic season, including an All Star appearance. He finished the year making (a career high) 22 starts with a 2.54 ERA, 163 ERA+, 0.995 WHIP (!), and 6.0 K/9 IP. That was 2008. He was out all of 2009 with (according to Wikipedia, sic’d): “Duchscherer after being diagnosed with clinical depression he will miss the remainder of the 2009 season. Duchscherer didn’t throw a pitch in the majors this year. He was lined up to make his 2009 debut in late August, but was mysteriously scratched because of a non-baseball issue.”

Duke has been felled by a hip injury (2007) and a biceps issue (2008). He’s not the fireballer that the first two are and is an even greater risk.

Psychological issues are tricky. Can he regain himself and return to form or will this linger? It’s not like elbow surgery where we know how long the recovery process is. Zack Greinke had been treated for psychological issues and overcame them to win the Cy Young this year. I have no insight into Duke’s progress at this point. I hope he can return to the field soon.

I call this a “watch and follow”. If he’s still out there in late January/early February and the team still has a void, then maybe.

[UPDATE 11/25/09, 2:10pm: Jerry Crasnick of ESPN has a good story about Duke today and his battle with depression. Read it here.]

Jarrod Washburn: This guy has been on the Yanks’ radar for eons, it seems. Perhaps I am just biased or jaded or something, but I have never really been that impressed with Washburn. He was super the two-thirds of this season, his last year of a 3 year contract he signed with SEA. Through 20 games in SEA, Washburn was 8-6 but had a fancy 2.54 ERA, 164 ERA+, 1.068 WHIP. After being dealt to DET, Washburn was flat-out awful (and injured, we learned), posting a hideous 7.33 ERA and a 1.553 WHIP. Jeckyl and Hyde, to be sure.

Washburn’s been fairly durable, pitching more than 175 IP seven times in his career. He started 28 games in 2009, 32 (2008), 31 (2007), 29 (2006).

Has he benefitted from the great SEA OF defense and large park? Would the Yanks less-than-stellar OF defense expose Washburn? Do the Yanks need another older pitcher that closely resembles Pettitte?

Washburn’s been linked to the Brewers due to his Wisconsin upbringing. I wouldn’t chase after him.

Erik Bedard (Type B): This guy’s an enigma to me. And others. Reportedly surly, battles with the media, lone wolf. He can be dominating and successful in the AL East. He also only made 30’starts the last two years combined (15 each).

I’m going to pilfer from my friend at Jorge Says No! and share his thoughts, since I agree completely:

The fall has been quite steep for Erik Bedard. When Bedard arrived in Seattle two years ago, he was hailed as the Mariners newest ace and the guy, who would team with Felix Hernandez to give the Mariners one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball. The Mariners were willing to give up Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, and George Sherrill for Bedard even though they knew that Bedard was going to be a free agent after the 2009 season.

But now as Bedard plans to explore the free agent market for the first time, he will not be greeted by the lavish multi year contracts that the best pitchers are met with. And the reality is this: when Bedard is actually playing, he IS one of the best pitchers in baseball. But unfortunately for Bedard, the past two seasons have been riddled with injuries and as a result, he is too much of a liability right now for teams to commit to him long term.

What will the market hold for Bedard? Let’s take a look:

The Case for Bedard

-Quality left handed starting pitcher: When Bedard is actually on the field, he’s one of the best left handed starting pitchers in baseball. In 15 starts this season, Bedard struck out 90 in 83 innings, had a tremendous 2.82 ERA, and produced a 1.19 WHIP. In addition, who wouldn’t want a starting pitcher with a K/9 rate of 9.8!

In addition, since 2006 Bedard’s ERA has never exceeded 4 and his over the course of his career, Batters have only hit .247 against Bedard.

The Case against Bedard

-Injuries: Can Bedard actually stay healthy? That’s the big question. Bedard has only started 30 games in the past two seasons and needs to prove to teams that he can stay healthy and productive for a full season.

Good teammate? There have been numerous stories written about Bedard over the years stating that he’s a quiet guy and somewhat of a strange dude. I don’t really put too much stock into this, but we’ll see if Bedard’s reputation effects whether or not certain teams go after him.

Competition

-Because of Bedard’s injury history over the past two seasons, there is no way that he should garner anything more than a one year deal with incentives. As a result, Bedard will be competing on the market with other pitchers with a history of injuries and performing well: Justin Duchscherer, Kelvim Escobar, Brett Myers, Jason Schmidt, etc.

The major advantage that Bedard has over the rest of those guys is that he’s a left handed starting pitcher.

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So friends, what directions would you go in? Who would you target first out of this motley crew? None? More than one?

IIATMS overlord and founder. ESPN contributor. Purveyor of luscious reality.