Avoiding the Cost of Interest

(The following is being syndicated from The Captain’s Blog).

“Not interested” have seemingly become Brian Cashman’s favorite two words, which hasn’t exactly been music to the ears of many Yankees fans (or agents hoping to ignite a bidding war). Although it’s easy to see why Cashman would remain aloof when it comes to big ticket free agents or inflated trade demands seeking the team’s best prospects, the cold shoulder given to pitchers like Hiroki Kuroda and Roy Oswalt has been harder for many to understand.

Is Roy Oswalt the best option for the Yankees? (Photo: AP)

As the winter has progressed, and the Yankees’ Hot Stove has remained without a flame, there has been a growing disenchantment among the fan base. All of sudden, the likes of Oswalt and Kuroda have become “must haves”, and the Yankees’ lack of interest a sign of irrational fiscal restraint. Earlier, I suggested the team might be in a warped version of a rebuilding mode, and apparently, many in the Yankees’ Universe have taken that sentiment a little too much to heart.

Whether or not the Yankees are laying the foundation for when Cole Hamels becomes a free agent next season, there is no reason for the team to make a rash decision on players whom, only weeks ago, most would have agreed weren’t a great fit. After all, is a 34-year old Oswalt, who is coming off a season with a bad back, really what the Yankees need? Is a 37-year old Kuroda, who has spent his brief career in the NL West, any better?

As constituted, the Yankees’ rotation has several question marks, but the only real candidate to be removed for an acquisition would be Phil Hughes. Considering his struggles over the last season and a half, many fans would likely welcome a veteran replacement, but should the Yankees be willing to pull the plug on a pitcher who was not only a highly touted prospect, but has had some success in the major leagues? Granted, penciling Hughes into the rotation represents a risk, but the potential reward (a young, reliable starter under team control for three more years) suggests it should be one the Yankees are willing to take, especially when contrasted against what could be expected from some of the proposed alternatives.

If the Yankees’ signed Oswalt, Kuroda, or a pitcher of that ilk, it would be a sign that A.J. Burnett is here to stay and Hughes is probably destined for the bullpen. Neither decision would be in the team’s short-term or long-term best interest. Instead of settling for a stop gap measure, the best strategy, for both now and the future, would be to remove Burnett from the rotation and acquire a pitcher with staying power. Otherwise, the Yankees could find it hard to get ahead by opting for a fall-back.

Obviously, it will take some heavy lifting to dispose of Burnett’s contract, but there have been reports of interest from other teams. If true, maybe Cashman is currently working on a deal, one that could be the linchpin for another acquisition (John Danks or Gio Gonzalez, perhaps?). Admittedly, such a scenario is pure conjecture, but I’d rather hold out hope for a rotation that includes Danks/Gonzalez and Hughes than settle for one that features Oswalt/Kuroda and Burnett. Not only would that configuration represent an improvement in 2012, but it would also set the team up for a stronger rotation going forward (not to mention provide some financial flexibility for a run at Hamels).

Patience isn’t a virtue most Yankees’ fans possess, but before advocating a rush to judgment, it worth remembering that the negative effects of a poor decision last much longer than the immediate gratification. The Yankees should be focused on making the right moves, not the most convenient ones, and fans of the team should have two words for those advocating panic: “Not Interested”.

10 thoughts on “Avoiding the Cost of Interest

  1. I completely agree with you and made a similar point in Matt’s building frustration thread. There’s little reason to acquire a starter (unless it’s a low cost depth move) who isn’t better than the best case scenario for Phil Hughes unless you can dump AJ on someone.

  2. I don’t get the necessity of dumping AJ in order to replace him with a better SP. If there are 5 better SPs on the team, then AJ shouldn’t start. At that point, it’s only a detail as to wether he’s dumped, sent to the bull pen, or released. If he keeps a better pitcher from starting, then he has negative value.

    • If there are five better starters on the team, it’s easy to say that he shouldn’t be a starter then. The question is more is it worth it to pay $12-13 million/year for a middle of the rotation starter to bump him from the rotation, even assuming he would be the one to be bumped. I’d argue it’s probably not. If you could trade Burnett while not eating the entire contract, you could allocate the savings to Kuroda or Oswalt which might make the upgrade worth it.

      I also don’t think that Burnett would be the one to be bumped from the rotation. I agree with William that it would most likely be Hughes. Garcia didn’t get a $4 million contract to serve as a long reliever/spot starter and AJ is the only one of the three that you could pencil in for 180-210 innings (even if they aren’t very good ones). I don’t think any of us really know what to expect from Hughes this year. He could continue to struggle or he could rebound and perform closer to the pitcher he was in the first half of 2010. I’d prefer to see what Hughes could do or Noesi for that matter if Hughes doesn’t earn the 5th starter job out of spring training and look to upgrade before the train deadline (if necessary) than lock into Kuroda for $12-13MM per year and just give up on Hughes. Hughes as recently a year and a half ago looked to be a better pitcher than Kuroda.

      If you could find a taker for Burnett while eating some of his contract, as mentioned above it becomes a different story. You aren’t blocking/giving up on Hughes then and you are making a cheaper upgrade than if you just signed a guy for $10+ million without the salary relief of dumping Burnett.

      • “Hughes as recently a year and a half ago looked to be a better pitcher than Kuroda.”

        He did? I certainly don’t remember that.

        Hiroki Kuroda ERA/FIP
        2009: 3.76/3.58
        2010: 3.39/3.26
        2011: 3.07/3.78

        Kuroda isn’t an ace by any stretch of the imagination but he doesn’t walk the ballpark and he doesn’t get bombed. For 1Y/$12M, I don’t see how it wouldn’t help the Yankees to take a chance on Kuroda in the #3 slot of the rotation.

        Moreover, I don’t see why the Yankees should continue trying to develop Hughes as a starter at this point. With poor command and a lack of a credible third pitch (or, frankly, a credible second pitch), he hasn’t shown much reason to make anyone think that he can remain a rotation mainstay.

        He’s got two years of control left and the Yankees should squeeze the last remaining juice out of this lemon in the bullpen (with the reality that he’ll probably make some spot starts as well, given injuries that always crop up).

        • Ok, I sloppily worded that in a way that invited a who has performed better over the last 3 years type of reaction. The point I was trying to make was mid-season 2010, few if any of us would have preferred to have Kuroda in the rotation than Hughes. Yet, now it seems that a huge chunk of the fan base would exile Hughes to a mop up duty/spot starter role.

          I absolutely agree that he needs to work on his secondary pitches if he is going to be more than a mid to back of the rotation starter and I’ve never really thought that he had a lot of potential to become an ace. That said, I would say he was probably a better starter in the first half of 2010 than Kuroda when considering competition and ballpark differences. You add and age and cost and it’s no competition. Hughes hasn’t been very good the last 1.5 years but I think that’s in large part explained by the jump in innings in 2010 and a tired arm as a result. Without his best fastball, the lack of secondary pitches killed him. He has to know that he’s not getting many more chances so I would much prefer to see what a highly motivated (and presumably more healthy and in shape) Hughes could do this year than bump him for a pitcher of Kuroda’s ilk.

          Young pitchers struggle and have differing development paths. If we really want to act like Hughes has no more potential than Dustin Moseley than we ought to just give up on developing young pitchers and trade Betances and Banuelos for whatever we can get for them.

          • Mid 2010 or the first two months of 2010? I love the myth that Phil Hughes was anything more than an average pitcher during the almost entire 2010 season.

            In 2010 from June on Hughes pitched in 119.2 innings to a tune of a 4.90 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP. So outside of the first 56 innings of the year he was a very mediocre pitcher. So maybe no one would have wanted Kuroda over Hughes during the first 56 innings of the year, but over the final 120 innings everyone in their right mind would have chosen Hiroki over Phil.

            Even breaking it down by month over the course of 2010 doesn’t paint a better picture.

            June: 5.17 ERA, 3.97 FIP, 4.22 xFIP
            July: 5.52 ERA, 5.91 FIP, 4.44 xFIP
            August: 4.22 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 4.95 xFIP
            Sept/Oct: 4.67 ERA, 5.37 FIP, 4.16 xFIP

            Add to that a career 4.90 ERA, 4.45 FIP, 4.49 xFIP as a starter and I would say Hughes has been one of the most overhyped pitchers in recent memory. He’s had one decent season as a starter, in which he was no more than average for a third of it. Yet somehow he is talked about like he is constantly one start away from turning it all around and becoming an ace.

  3. I really feel like we should trying shipping AJ out for salary relief, include Hughes & Swisher in a package(+2 level B+ prospects (maybe Sanchez?) in a package for an elite arm (Felix – next year hes going to start getting very expensive though) then sign Yoenis for a 4 year deal @ 7-8M per year.

    with a rotation of :CC, Felix, Nova, Garcia,( Noesi, Betances, Banuelos or 1 year deal pitcher (Oswalt / Kuroda))

    Hopefully now that Darvish is gone we can get moving on signing people and figuring out our rotation, this waiting is killing me.

    • Hughes & Swisher in a package(+2 level B+ prospects (maybe Sanchez?) in a package for an elite arm (Felix

      The price for Felix starts with Montero and one of the Killer Bs. A package of more guys who are lesser players and prospects isn’t going to get it done. Swisher is going to be a FA and will rate 4-5 years at $12-15 million per. That’s not salary relief. Hughes doesn’t have much trade value now.

      • The price for Felix starts with Montero, Nova, Banuelos, and Betances. In reality though it starts no where, because Jack Z has once again stated that he wouldn’t trade Felix for the entire New York Yankees roster. He isn’t getting traded period, no one is even listening to a trade about him.

  4. No one I’ve seen is saying he’s 1 or even 100 starts away from becoming an ace. You can’t ignore the context though of his age, his injuries, how they mishandled his development, and the jump in innings and need to build arm strength before he can be an effective starter for 180-200 innings.

    I can understand why people have their doubts. I have some too and I’ve said I don’t think he’ll ever be more than a mid rotation starter. I don’t agree that anyone would have preferred Kuroda to Hughes though given first half performance, age, cost,and potential upside midseason 2010. You are taking a very narrow view if you look only at their performance. If they could acquire a Felix Hernandez type and it meant Hughes got bumped from the rotation, I’d be all for it. I don’t see the point in giving up on Hughes and making him a reliever to add someone who has no more upside than Kuroda or Oswalt though.