Last Friday, I mused on the possible acquisition of Dan Haren. There are numerous reasons why Haren doesn’t make sense for the Yankees, but I did come to the conclusion that, at it’s core, the idea of acquiring another starting pitcher is sound. Most notably, adding another starting pitcher would move Phil Hughes from the rotation to the bullpen, improving the team in two ways, by upgrading a starting pitcher and adding a possible high upside reliever. And as I also mentioned on Friday, the Yankees need to make every upgrade they can for September, even if it’s minor on the surface.
But very rarely will an organization find a top of the rotation starting pitcher available during August. The waiver trade deadline on August 31st is usually reserved for salary dumps and lottery tickets. While Dan Haren is less of a gamble than most pitchers currently available, he has far from any upside in the AL East, even if you believe that his last month and a half of production outweighs his first three months. Haren has evolved into an extreme fly ball pitcher through a fastball heavy repertoire, and you don’t have to look any further than Phil Hughes to see how well these types of pitchers fair in the small ballparks of the AL East.
I used Roy Halladay as the example of a better target. Realistically, the team isn’t going to be adding a Cole Hamels or even a salary dump like Cliff Lee, but Roy Halladay is the type of pitcher that could both clear waivers and waive his no-trade clause. He has experience in the AL East, in hitter’s ballparks, and a pitcher who’s maintained consistently low fly ball rates, even at current career lows. And through more than a decade with the Blue Jays, Halladay established himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball. 2011 was his last year with a low-2 ERA, but even in 2012, the right-hander earned a 3.69 FIP. 2013 has undoubtedly been a disaster for the 36 year old, but Halladay remains a year removed from a quality season, two years removed from ace status, three years removed from a Cy Young award and a postseason no-hitter, and he’s a whole new shoulder removed from a nightmarish April.
The biggest concern for Halladay is his health. The right-hander is coming off a mid-May shoulder surgery for a number of different issues. But Halladay, who struggled in the beginning of the season, finally saw a major league mound yesterday afternoon. Though he didn’t have his typical low-90’s fastball, his sinker averaged 88.6 mph with a ton of life on it. Against the National League’s 6th best offense by fWAR and 5th best offense by wOBA, Halladay pitched well against the Diamondbacks. In a rushed start, Halladay went 6.0 innings with 94 pitches, giving up just four hits, two runs, two walks, and earning two strike outs. Of course, Roger Bernadina helped out his box score by robbing Matt Davidson of a home run. There were also command issues with just 55 of his 94 pitches being strikes (58.5%). Despite the negatives, Halladay still showed the ability to generate weak contact, among other signs of a healthy shoulder.
Admittedly, it’s impossible to make much of a single start. Halladay’s status as a lottery ticket is the only reason why he’s available at this time of year. Yet even with all the injury and age regression taken into account, it’s hard to see the former ace producing much worse than the 5.97 ERA that Phil Hughes has accumulated since the All Star break. Even in the worst case scenario, the Yankees are still holding on to Phil Hughes in case of an emergency.
Facing free agency in November, Halladay’s cost is probably money alone, as he still has a little over $3 million left on his $20 million contract for 2013. But money is something the Yankees should have to spare, especially with this season’s crop of injuries. We know that the team is at least collecting insurance money for the loss of Mark Teixeira and missed time by Alex Rodriguez. For money alone, taking a risk on Halladay is hardly a risk at all for the Yankees.