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.