2012 Will Be a Clarifying Year for Yankee Pitching

I’ve been thinking about the big picture of the Yankee future for some time now. We’ve had a lot of recent developments over the last couple of months that seriously impact how the Yankees are going to compete and try to win for the next 3-6 years. The new CBA, and the $189 million payroll plateau that the Yankees have very strong financial incentives to get under, really is a game-changer for the team. They will need a completely new player development strategy, and can no longer afford to make bone-headed roster decisions like the Rafael Soriano or Alex Rodriguez (or for that matter, Derek Jeter) contracts. The hitting roster is very much locked in for some time now – the Yankees largely are going to go forward with a very similar-looking group to what they currently put on the field for at least through 2014, and possibly longer.

The starting rotation, on the other hand, is in as fluid a state as it gets. C.C. Sabathia is about as close to a constant as it comes in the major leagues, and will be under contract for five years. Eventually, he is going to start to show some age, but for now there is no reason to believe he will. But the rest of the rotation? Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda have to follow up on strong rookie seasons. We’ll see if Nova’s debut was a fluke, or if he really can be that good. For Pineda, the question is really about how close he can be to a legitimate, #1 ace behind Sabathia, or if his true talent level is closer to what he did in 2011.

Down farther, the Yankees have plenty of pitching prospect at Triple-A who are close to major league ready. We’ll know a lot by the end of the season about whether or not Manuel Banuelos or Dellin Betances will evolve into above average (or better) starting pitchers, capable of posting sub-4.00 ERAs and providing presences in the middle of the rotation. And even farther down, we’ll learn about who, if any, of Adam Warren, David Phelps and D.J. Mitchell will hold down the 5th spot for years to come.

I can’t remember a year with so many questions about to be answered. By the end of 2012, the Yankees will know a lot more about the answers to important questions: What will their rotation look like for the next 5 years? How much will it cost? Do they need to go out and sign someone like Cole Hamels, Shaun Marcum, or Zach Greinke to improve it and stay in contention?

In a lot of ways, the answers to these questions are going to start coming in at the perfect time for the team. If the Yankees view $189 million after 2014 as a hard cap, which I think they may, they don’t have a ton of wiggle room to get there. The contracts given out to Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira are quite prohibitive in this regard. They have money to spend, but also have a large number of players to spend it on. Potential new contracts to Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano could be very expensive. But if the Yankees can emerge from 2012 with reasonable confidence that C.C. Sabathia and a bunch of young pitchers earning near the MLB minimum wage (or at least, arbitration-level wages) can hold down the rotation, the Yankees can be more aggressive in resigning their soon-to-be-FA stars. If the Yankees aren’t so confident, they can go out into the richest free agent class of pitching in some time and sign a pitcher to fill that hole, even if it means cutting some costs on other parts of the roster.

Collectively, this puts the post-2012 Yankees is a pretty enviable position. They have will have both the information to make good decisions about their the long-term future of their roster and the opportunities to shape it based on that information. If the Yankees are going to remain perpetually competitive over the long term, they are going to have to be much more careful with roster construction. Rafael Soriano-type deals just can’t happen, and they need to be wary of the potential dead weight that Teixeira and Arod deals bring. I regard roster flexibility as one of the most important priorities for Brian Cashman to think about. This is the biggest thing that the Michael Pineda deal brings to the table. I love Jesus Montero, but he’s a DH who can play the occasional game at catcher. He doesn’t open up the possibilities for roster construction that a successful Pineda does. Even if both are equally successful, that’s where the true value lies for the Yankees, I think.

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He is a Ph.D. student at University of Texas at Austin.

20 thoughts on “2012 Will Be a Clarifying Year for Yankee Pitching

  1. I do think the Pineda deal opens up possibilities for the Yankees to be better post-Montero trade than they were pre-Montero trade, but that hinges on them properly addressing their offensive needs. They can’t afford to add a Hamels at the expense of another big bat.

    • James

      I’m thinking that big bat could be Chase Headley. He is a great fielder, a switch hitter, and in Yankee Stadium he could be one of the best 3B in the game. Look at his home road splits and then compare them to his minor league numbers. I would trade Warren and Phelps for him.

    • T.O. Chris

      Wouldn’t a rotation of Sabathia, Hamels, Pineda, and Nova be the kind of rotation you could afford to have a less than top 5 offense with? I still don’t believe Hamels is going to be a free agent at the end of the day, but if he is I would take him over any of the big name offensive player available next year. Plus at that point the Yankees could package both Betances and Banuelos together for some young bat to fill a need in the lineup with no problems.

      the 2013 lineup is likely going to be almost exactly the same as the 2012 one if you look at the likely moves to be made. Swisher is likely gone, Martin may not be back, but outside of that no one else is leaving. I doubt the Yankees plan on transitioning Alex to DH full time for even 2013, so he likely still starts at 3B, and if Jeter is playing he will be penciled in as the starting SS. That leaves RF, C, and DH to add a bat to the lineup.

      Looking at the 2013 list of free agents the only catchers I would want other than Martin are Miguel Montero, Yadier Molina, and Mike Napoli. Montero is the youngest of the 4 at 29, has a perfect Yankee Stadium lefty swing, and unlike our last Montero can actually play C. Yadier is better and healthier than Martin but both will be 30 when they hit the market. Napoli will be 31, but he has a great bat, though I like him more as a DH/C/1B with someone like Romine backing him up. I would rank the 4 in order of preference Montero, Molina, Martin, and Napoli. With Napoli and Montero being the two who will make the biggest impact on the lineup itself.

      There is no one on the market I would add who plays RF, though I would be happy if the Yankees signed BJ Upton to play CF and move Granderson to RF. That would cover Swisher’s loss in the field and add another 50-60 steals to the team, but would probably be a downgrade in the lineup from Swisher and Granderson’s value.

      Outside of Napoli who would be able to sign somewhere else as something more than a DH there isn’t any real DH candidates worth discussing. Hamels is certainly the most worthwhile name in the entire 2013 group, and there is no huge impact bat available. Just smaller moves that would beef up the back half of the lineup.

      • Nah, I don’t like that very much. Sure the pitching staff is top-of-the-line, but you’re talking about running a lineup out there everyday that includes Brett Gardner, B.J. Upton, a rapidly declining Derek Jeter and A-Rod (how many more years do they have in them?) in addition to the vacancies at C and DH without any money to address them via trade or free agency.
        Of course they could trade Betances and Banuelos as you mentioned, but there are just too many moving parts to go through all the scenarios. I just think the Yankees need to emphasize offense from this point forward.

      • James

        Agreed, the only issue is: How can the Yankees resign Granderson and sign Hamels AND get bats for DH, C, and RF. Personally, I would try Jones for a year after Swisher leaves, use Romine at catcher till Sanchez or Murphy is ready, and use Jones at DH sometimes so Maxwell [if he stays] can get at-bats. Then after 2014, spend big! 20+ mill to spend. [the plus is whoever’s contract comes off the books] Check out to see what I mean: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1032868-mlb-free-agency-looking-ahead-at-the-next-3-free-agent-classes

  2. RYan

    Zimmerman is a free agent after ’13 and he’ll only be 29. Shift Arod to DH in 2014 and slide Zimmerman into 3B. If the Nationals don’t lock him up longterm first that is.

    • James

      I like this^ idea better :P

    • Reggie C.

      Nats working on that extension as I type this post. Locking up ZImmerman makes more sense than paying 22 Million per year for the next 7 years for Prince Fielder. The Nats don’t need Prince as that lineup is shaping up darn well for the 2013 season.

  3. T.O. Chris

    I honestly think they’d be fine if they just added Upton and Montero and no Hamels. You’d have a lineup of Jeter, Granderson, Cano, Teixeira, Rodriguez, M. Montero, Upton, Gardner, and whatever DH or 3B you could find to pair with Alex in the middle somewhere.

    You could even then take RYan’s idea and sign Zimmerman the year after that and have him to plug into the middle of that lineup.

    Either way I think Miguel Montero is something we really need to look into as a team. He hit .282/.351/.469, .351 wOBA last year with 18 HRs in 553 PAs with Arizona. He’d be in the 20’s in HRs in Yankee stadium easy with his left handed swing. He’d up the production from C and he’d be a year younger than Martin, with less health risks than Martin.

    • I don’t mind the idea of M. Montero at all. Let’s see if he even hits the market first though.

  4. T.O. Chris

    You couldn’t and get below 189, though if they signed Hamels they wouldn’t be getting below 189 anyway.

    There is no way I would have Jones and Maxwell be my starting RF and DH. I’d rather not sign Hamels than do that.

    Let me just make it clear that I don’t think Hamels will be hitting free agency, I still 100% believe he will be re-signed by the Phillies before that. So I am not thinking he will ever pitch for the Yankees, I was just pointing out that a rotation with Sabathia, Hamels, Pineda, and Nova would mean the Yankees wouldn’t need quite same offense they’ve had in the past.

    I wouldn’t be counting on any of those free agent classes looking like that once we actually get there. Many will see extensions with their current clubs, or be traded and extended by the clubs trading for them. Some will inevitably hit, but nothing worth planning now for.

    • James

      Agreed on all points except 1. If the Yanks had a home grown bullpen, they could afford both Granderson and Hamels/Greinke/Cain. But that being said, it means getting rid of Rivera, Chamberlain, Soriano, and Logan [although Mo will be retired by 2014 and Soriano’s contract will be up].

      • James

        with pitchers and catchers reporting so soon I find it hard to think that none of these 3 will hit the market [Hamels, Cain, Greinke]

        • T.O. Chris

          If the Brewers are out of it by the trade deadline, which may very well happen with Fielder gone and Braun serving a 50 game suspension, I fully expect Grienke to be traded. They didn’t gut their farm system for him and Marcum to watch them walk away. They could get at least one decently high upside prospect for Greinek, with some filler prospects around him with a trade. Though if they don’t trade him Greinke seems like the most likely of the three to hit free agency to me. However I wouldn’t sign him even if the Yankees weren’t holding their budget down. I don’t want to take a risk on him in New York. His SAD may not be a big deal here, but then again it could be a huge problem here. That’s a big risk to take on someone who would be getting a 6-7 year deal worth that much money.

          I have to believe the Phillies will say screw the payroll and re-sign Hamels. If they don’t they are going to look up and have a shell of the team they spent all this money on. He’s the one player who’s come up in free agency for them with youth on his side, so to sign the rest and let him go would be really poor decision making. Doc’s contract ends in two years I think, so they are going to need another pitcher to pair with Lee especially when he starts to decline.

          Cain is the wild card. I’m not really sure what the Giants can do payroll wise. Can they afford both Lincecum and Cain? Lincecum just turned down a 5 year 100 million dollar offer from them, so if they can’t maybe they would be better off trying to re-sign Cain now and letting Tim walk away when he hits free agency in 2014. Cain seems like he may age better than Tim anyway.

      • T.O. Chris

        I personally don’t want Granderson to be re-signed anyway. I love Granderson as a player and a person, but his skill set doesn’t deserve a long term deal after he’s hit 30.

        Granderson is a small bodied power hitter, who generates all of that power through bat speed. Bat speed is the first thing that starts to decline as you age, once that starts to happen his bat is going to erode very quickly. At that point his low OBP and high strike out totals are going to become very glaring, as he won’t have the power to off set it. Also his defense is the kind of defensive skill set that doesn’t age well. Granderson tends to take very poor routes to balls, and he doesn’t react well to balls off the bat. Just like Johnny Damon did in his prime he makes up for this by having incredible speed, though that will be the first thing to go once he ages. As his speed falls he will have to be moved to LF, then he will be a small armed left fielder who takes poor routes to balls. We’ve already seen this movie before and I was no fan.

        The best option with Granderson in my opinion would be to hope he comes as close as possible to repeating his 2011 season, pick up his 2013 option, and then trade him at his peak value. Get back a corner outfield bat with power, sign BJ Upton to play CF or LF and move on. Other wise you are going to regret any 5-7 year deal you give Granderson, more than likely before the half way point. Having both Cano and Granderson inked to large extension after 30 is a mistake I hope the Yankees don’t make.

        • RYan

          Gardner could very easily move over to Center too.

        • T.O. Chris

          Yes Gardner could move over to CF but if you add BJ Upton you’d probably want him to play CF, because BJ’s never played another position in the OF and Gardner has been great in LF.

  5. James

    Off to dinner, chat later guys

  6. T.O. Chris

    We’ll have to see what the Diamondbacks are willing to do to their payroll. They currently have the 25th payroll in baseball at 53 million, they are going to have to extend Upton very soon and that contract is going to be a doozy. If they sign him to a contract at an AAV of 20 million per year, which the Kemp extension suggest would be the minimum, I wonder how much higher they can go in payroll.

    • T.O. Chris

      I forgot the Diamondbacks extended Upton on a 6 year deal in 2010, that makes things much easier for them payroll wise. He won’t even be making double digit million until 2014 and he won’t be a free agent until 2016.

      So they do have money available to extend Montero out, but I think he’s going to test the market. He’s going to be 29 next year so this is his last chance to get a big deal long term deal. No reason to take himself out of free agency to sign a team friendly deal with the Dbacks now.

      I wonder what kind of AAV he’ll be in line for. I would assume the minimum length of the deal would be 5 years, likely signing for 6.

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