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.

The Fun And Frustration Of Being A Yankee Fan On A Budget

(The following is being syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)

As the Yankees continue down their path of self-imposed penny pinching, focusing on the big picture and future benefits of cutting payroll for 2014 rather than the immediate benefits of signing someone like Roy Oswalt or Hiroki Kuroda, we Yankee fans and distinguished members of the Yankee blogosphere suddenly find ourselves in some unfamiliar territory.  By now we are (or should be) used to the Yankees not always getting their man during Hot Stove season.  But to see them take a backseat approach to the offseason proceedings and not really attempt to get any man or even make other teams think that they’re trying to get their man?  That’s Dimension X-level weirdness to many, and it’s already starting to get to some of us.

Because we know the Yankees have needs.  They aren’t glaring needs, but any relatively smart Yankee fan knows that this team has needs, mainly another big-time starter.  Cash himself came out and openly admitted that to us at his year-end press conference when he name dropped improving the rotation.  Sure, bringing back CC was a great move, and Freddy provides depth, but did bringing back 40% of 2011’s rotation to join up with the remaining 60% really make the 2012 rotation any BETTER?  Probably not.  And we’ve been conditioned to expect big things when the Yankees make it known what their target areas of need are.  But this offseason we’ve seen them content to linger in the background, seemingly ignoring the very holes in their roster that Cash admitted they have while those who could conceivably fill those holes are snatched up by the competition.  This is frustrating.

The frustration, almost certainly rooted in our being conditioned to expect the Yankees to always get their guy, is understandable to a degree.  With the resources and money at their disposal, there is no reason that the Yankees couldn’t have snatched up both C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish, continued to pursue guys through a trade, and build a brand new mega-rotation.  But the Yankees appear to have decided to re-allocate their resources, namely the ones with the $ signs, and plan for the future rather than address the present.  It’s not a familiar strategy for us as fans to see play out.  New CBA or not, the Yankees are still the biggest dog in the uncapped MLB yard, and they shouldn’t be letting the smaller, weaker dogs come up and steal their Kibble.  But that appears to be the path they’re planning to take to achieve their future goals, which means we could have to get used to this kind of offseason for the next few years.

On the positive side, in focusing so much on controlling costs and moving further away from the quick-trigger, free-wheeling spending days of the early 2000s, the Yankees are setting the stage for their latest crop of young homegrown talent to step up and establish themselves, and that should be fun to watch.  With Bernie and Andy and Jorge gone, and Jeter and Mo closer to the ends of the playing careers than their primes, the core of the most recent dynasty is almost gone.  Now we get to see who can step up and replace them, who can live up to the hype, who can fly under the radar and surprise us, and who can start to build the foundation to the next great Yankee dynasty.

Will Manny Banuelos replace Andy as the big-game lefty in the rotation?  Will Mason Williams blossom into a new generation Bernie Williams 2.0?  We don’t know.  But what we do know is that the Yankees aren’t trading all these young assets off like baseball cards to fill the holes they don’t fill through free agency anymore.  And if the Yankees aren’t going to be the big spenders on the block for the foreseeable future, and aren’t going to trade their youth for a quick fix, they are going to have to fill holes from within, which means it’s very likely that many of these guys are going to get a real shot to become the next generation of Yankee greats.

It’ll suck if the Yankees continue to be bystanders during the next few offseasons, no doubt.  But to be able to witness the potential beginning of the next generation of homegrown Yankee stars isn’t a bad trade-off.  And while offseasons might not be quite as exciting as we’re used to while the cash isn’t being thrown around, the infuse of young talent and all the possibilities that lie with it should ensure that the next few seasons are exciting.

We’re all thinking it, so I’m going to say it

No interest in C.J. Wilson.

No interest in Hiroki Kuroda.

No interest in Roy Oswalt.

No (apparent) interest in Edwin Jackson.

No good deals out there on the trade market, and John Danks just signed an extension to keep him with the White Sox.

So where should the Yankees look to improve the rotation?

Continue reading We’re all thinking it, so I’m going to say it

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”.

Fear the Canadians?

The Blue Jays, the designated bridesmaid of the AL East, almost got Yu Darvish. Their bid ended up falling just behind the Texas Rangers. They are coming off a thoroughly average 81-win campaign with a young, promising team, while the Yankees and Red Sox haven’t made significant upgrades this season. Is this their year?

Since the summer, the Blue Jays have made some pretty significant moves. They brought in Colby Rasmus, Ben Francisco and Kelly Johnson via trade. They have lost backup catcher Jose Molina. Brett Lawrie, acquired in the Shaun Marcum trade, hit .413 wOBP after being called up last year, and will hold down 3rd base in 2011.

They’re going to have to deal with some potential regression from their best hitter. Jose Batista provided 8.3 WAR last season. That’s probably not going to happen again. However, the news is brighter for them with their other hitters, as the duo of Travis Snider and Adam Lind were pretty terrible last season, but have big-time hitting potential. The Jays scored the 5th most runs (743) in baseball last year, and they at least have the talent to score even more in 2012. Kelly Johnson and Brett Lawrie are pretty big upgrades at their respective positions, and a Francisco/Snider platoon has a lot of potential too. Colby Rasmus has big time breakout potential too.

As far as pitching, Darvish would have looked pretty good alongside Brendan Morrow and Ricky Romero. As far as a top-3. that’s a solid rotation. Without Darvish, they will need to fill the back end of their rotation with uncertain, if talented, pitchers like Brett Cecil and Dustin McGowen. Their bullpen got gutted too. Pitching won’t be the vehicle that carries them to the playoffs, but regression alone should help them improve their terrible 4.33 team ERA in 2011.

The Jays demonstrated with Darvish that they have money to spend. Obviously, pitching is a major priority for them. With a weak free agent market for pitching right now, they could end up turning to hitters. Carlos Beltran would be an improvement over Edwin Encanarcion at designated hitter, and they’ve been connected to him recently. Prince Fielder is an intriguing option that I wouldn’t want to see in the AL East. A hitter like that and someone like Edwin Jackson could make the Blue Jays pretty intimidating.

Overall, I think I’m pretty confident saying the following: while not probable, a playoff push by the Blue Jays is highly plausible next season, especially with the second wildcard. The Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays aren’t going anywhere, but the Blue Jays certainly have gotten better since the trade deadline last season. They are a young team. They managed to buy low on a lot of very talented players, including Colby Rasmus, who could be major contributors in 2012. And, to top it all off, they have the best hitter in the division patrolling right field. They’ll need a lot of things to get right for them – one of Rasmus, Lind, or Snider to have a big year, another free agent acquisition, and better pitching from the bottom of their rotation. They’ll need Yunel Escobar and Jose Batista to keep being awesome.

The Building Frustration

Generally, I’m a patient person. I work with kids all day, so I need patience–even if they try my last nerve each and every day. In my baseball life, I tend to be relatively patient. I don’t (usually) overreact to one instance in the season or in a game, knowing it’s part of the larger picture. Perhaps it’s the absence of anything exciting going on in Yankee-land, but I’m beginning to grow frustrated and impatient.

Yesterday, it was widely reported on the ‘net that Roy Oswalt has scaled back his “demands” and is willing to take on a one year contract. In the last few months, I’ve written about him twice and expressed at least mild interest in seeing him join the Yankees. But, the Yankees are apparently not interested in him, even on a one year deal. Hiroki Kuroda has been a frequent topic of conversation here at TYA (and other places in the Yankee blogosphere) and apparently he’s closing in on a deal that isn’t with the Yankees.

Okay. What the hell, people? I’ll start by saying that there are legitimate risks about both guys. Oswalt’s back is as balky as anything and Kuroda’s no spring chicken either. But they both represent possible or probable upgrades over what’s in the Yankee rotation, not including CC Sabathia. Neither one of them needs a long term commitment. The lack of interest on the Yankees’ part is stunning, and not in a good way. We keep hearing about the need for rotation upgrades and we keep hearing about high costs. Well, here are two relatively low cost options that are better than at least half of the non-CC Yankee rotation.

We could find ourselves arguing that the lack of interest here is calculated and they really are trying to work something out with one of these guys, but the Yankees’ lack of interest has been anything but bluffing this off season. They said they weren’t big on Wilson and they never made him an offer; and, as we all know, they didn’t make an overly competitive bid for Yu Darvish. Right now, I can’t believe that they are interested…and that annoys me.