The price of pitching is too damn high

I discussed this topic over the weekend when the blockbuster Mat Latos trade occurred, and I think it still holds true following the news of the recent John Danks extension with Chicago.  To paraphrase worldly philosopher Jimmy McMillan: The price of pitching is too damn high. Danks was considered a likely trade target for the Yankees because the White Sox were reportedly in a rebuilding stage (having shipped their young closer Sergio Santos off to Toronto for a prospect), and Danks was going into a contract year. Rather than risk losing Danks for only draft picks in free agency, it made sense to imagine that Danks would be shopped around for a trade.

The idea of trading Danks presumably crossed GM Kenny Williams’ mind (reportedly asking for Montero and Banuelos in any deal from the Yankees), but given the price, it was a non-starter.  It was pretty clear that he had little intention of dealing Danks unless he received an absolutely absurd offer, and no such offer was forthcoming.  Instead, he inked Danks to a surprising 5-year $65 million extension, a fairly lucrative deal that will presumably greatly reduce Danks’ trade value, and keep him in Chicago for the near future.  This is not really a move that one would expect a rebuilding team to make, though as well know very well, Kenny Williams is not always the most predictable GM.

Both the Danks extension and the Latos deal, as well as the record-breaking Rangers bid for Yu Darvish, are indicative of the ever-increasing value of young pitching.  Teams seem to be putting an ever-increasing premium on young frontline starters, increasing their price both on the free agent and trade markets, and increasing the incentive for teams to lock up starters early in their career to buy out free agent years.  Danks is not even an ace, but a rebuilding team was willing to lock him up for 5 years without getting much in the way of a discount.

For the Yankees, this situation presents a challenge both in the present and the future.  The importance of developing starting pitching from within is greatly increased in this climate, and this is an area where the Yankees have not been exceptionally successful in recent years.  Ivan Nova is showing promise and Phil Hughes is still young enough to turn things around, plus Hector Noesi, Manny Banuelos, and Dellin Betances are several intriguing names that loom on the horizon.

The Yankees have had the luxury of being able to acquire their ace, CC Sabathia, via free agency, but it’s very possible that few ace pitchers will hit the market in their prime in the near future.  Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, and Zack Greinke are all aceish options in the 2013 free agent class, but I would be willing to wager that two of these guys will either sign an extension with their current team or be traded to a team that extends them before they hit the market.  Cliff Lee was on the market last year, but he was on the back end of his prime, which creates additional risk for a big contract.

The Yankees will still be able to go big on free agent aces that hit the market, but I suspect this occurrence will be rare enough to the point that the Yankees cannot rely on free agency to fill their frontline pitching needs.  As a result, this will place increased pressure on the farm to either produce frontline starters from within, or at least viable trading chips that can be used to acquire one.

Update: The Athletics and Nationals apparently have agreed to a trade for Gio Gonzalez involving a number of Washington’s top prospects (non-Harper edition) in AJ Cole, Brad Peacock, Derek Norris, and Tom Milone.  That’s a pretty big haul for a pitcher with as many question marks as Gio has, which further indicates how expensive the market for young, cost-controlled frontline starters is.

12 thoughts on “The price of pitching is too damn high

  1. Jeez look what Washington just gave up for Gio. From reading keith Law, it seems it’d be the equivalent of the Yankees giving up Betances, Banuelos, Romine and a back end starter arm (Phelps, Warren). Or something close to that.

    • Yeah, it’s a pretty big haul. If I were giving up that type of a package, I’d want somebody a little better (or safer) than Gio. The Latos haul was bigger, but I’d want somebody closer to what Latos is capable of.

    • I’m all for it, but due to this pitching market there will be a lot of competition for his services. The Yankees can certainly afford a big 1-year offer, but many other teams will be able to as well.

      • I’m all for a 12-15 million dollar 1 year deal, but under no circumstances should a 37 year old career NL pitcher get multiple years from us right now.

      • There might be competition but the Yankees don’t seem to even be engaged at present.

        I’d rather say we tried to get Kuroda than to not have tried at all.

        • The Yanks will often sit back, wait for the market to establish a price and then sweep in at the last moment and sign the player. It’s what they did on Tex and some lesser FAs in recent years. Cash may just be in ninja mode at this point.

  2. The market determines the price you have to pay to acquire an asset. In the case of young pitching, the price is only “too high” if you are unwilling to bid. Cashman has shown himself unwilling, and time will tell if his reluctance is justified.

    That leaves two paths to remedy the team’s pitching weakness. First, you can compete for what is available on the free agent market. Again, though, Cashman has refused to engage in bidding for Wilson and others, at least to date. Whether he’s making the right move remains to be seen. We also don’t know whether he’s operating under tighter budget constraints.

    Second, a team can develop its own starting pitching. Although this sounds good in theory, the Yankees have a weak track record with home-grown starters during the Cashman era. You have to have a lot of faith to belive that the upcoming wave will be better than the previous ones. But there is another problem: young pitchers take time to figure it out on the major league level. Nova was the exception in 2011; more often than not, good young pitchers need a couple of seasons to really settle in. The problem is that the position players are aging, so the window of opportunity to win with A-Rod, Tex, and Jeter may close before a Banuelos is ready to contribute in a big way.

    This is the dilemma that the Yankees face right now. I would like to believe Cashman has something up his sleeve, but he has been shooting blanks when it comes to the quest for an ace-caliber pitcher for the past couple of years, including both in-season and off-season.

  3. Cashman certainly seems to lack the required knowledge base and instincts when it comes to making quality decisions on pitching. He did slam dunk the C.C. thing so he deserves credit for that but, then again, my mom could have probably figured that one out. The blame for the lousy track record can probably be assigned to many others in the organization as well. If the Yankees are to compete in the future and do it within the constraints of an actual budget, there will need to be a paradigm shift in the organization that emphasizes drafting pitchers intelligently and then developing those pitchers effectively. Of course, that’s just stating the obvious. What it will need to come down to is Cashman bringing in someone to ride shotgun who better understands the ins and outs of pitching development because, with the new CBA and an international draft on the horizon, it’s going to get even tougher for teams like the Yanks.