Last week, George King reported that the Yankees would look to add starting pitching depth through minor league deals. This has been a strategy for the team in recent years, and it worked out amazingly well with Bartolo Colon (2.1 bWAR in 164.1 IP) and Freddy Garcia (3.5 bWAR in 146.2 IP) in 2011. The Yankees have not had much success since then, albeit not for a lack of trying (Ramon Ortiz, Scott Baker, etc), but it makes sense that the trend would continue. After all, the worst case scenario is that the player opts out of his deal and costs the team a few thousand dollars along the way. Realistically speaking, the pitchers that are willing to take a minor league deal have some sort of glaring flaw, which is oftentimes of the injury or poor performance variety (or some combination of both). Expecting a repeat of Messrs Colon and Garcia would be optimistic at best - but that should not dissuade us from those pitchers that could potentially be had on such a deal. And with free agency progressing at a snail's pace, there are quite a few pitchers on the market that fit the bill, with at least a smidgen of upside. Without further ado:
Bronson Arroyo 2015 - Did Not Pitch
Arroyo missed the entirety of 2015 while recovering from Tommy John Surgery, and would have been forgotten had it not been for his role in the infamous Touki Toussaint deal. Prior to his injury, he was a durable, consistently average-ish pitcher, tossing at least 178 IP for ten straight seasons. Arroyo will be 39 when the season begins, and he has not pitched since June 15, 2014 - but he never relied on overpowering stuff, and the baseline is fairly low.
Brandon Beachy 2015 - 8.0 IP, 10 H, 6 BB, 5 K, 7.88 ERA, 5.76 FIP
The small sample size numbers from last year are quite scary, yet 2015 was all about the journey for Beachy. Prior to this June, the 29-year-old had last thrown a professional pitching August of 2013, undergoing his second TJS in March of 2014. He was solid for the Braves in parts of four seasons (267.2 IP, 121 ERA+, 3.4 bWAR), and is still young enough that you can still dream on him a bit. He made it through waivers twice last season, as well.
Chad Billingsley 2015 - 37.0 IP, 53 H, 8 BB, 15 K, 5.84 ERA, 4.81 FIP
Way back in 2008, Billingsley was the ace of the Dodgers staff, and Clayton Kershaw was a 20-year-old rookie attempting to sort out some serious command/control issues. Times have changed a bit, as Billingsley slipped back into league-average territory, and Kershaw turned into the best pitcher since prime Pedro Martinez. Like, Arroyo, Billingsley missed a year and a half with an elbow related injury (though he had TJS and a subsequent surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon). Unlike Arroyo, he returned last season, and showed that his stuff was mostly intact.
Mat Latos 2015 - 116.1 IP, 120 H, 32 BB, 100 K, 4.95 ERA, 3.72 FIP
Latos is the unlikeliest pitcher in this group to be available for a minor league deal, due to his age (28) and recent success (113 ERA+ in 102.1 IP in 2014, 8.1 bWAR between 2012 and 2013). It is more likely that he will seek a one-year pillow contract to rebuild some value, as he attempts to put performance and make-up questions behind him. Stranger things have happened, though.
Cliff Lee 2015 - Did Not Pitch
The contract that Lee will eventually receive is a mystery to me. Lee was basically the same pitcher that he had been for the last half dozen years prior to his injury in 2014, and there were upwards of fifteen teams checking in on him less than a month ago. There's probably a team out there that will guarantee him a deal, making his appearance here a bit misleading, but some reports indicated that he wants to pitch for a contender...
Tim Lincecum 2015 - 76.1 IP, 75 H, 38 BB, 60 K, 4.13 ERA, 4.29 FIP
The market for Lincecum has yet to develop, as he is reportedly planning on holding a showcase of his talents once he is fully recovered from hip surgery. That being said, he has not been connected to any teams thus far, and is four full seasons removed from being the Freak that we all knew and loved - he'd have to show quite a bit to earn anything more than a minor league deal (barring a panic move by a team with money to burn and seats to fill).
Kyle Lohse 2015 - 152.1 IP, 180 H, 43 BB, 108 K, 5.85 ERA, 5.12 FIP
Lohse is an example of a veteran pitcher that you hope has just a little bit left in the tank, given his horrendous all-around performance in 2015, which makes him an ideal target for a minor league deal. He was an above-average starter from 2011 through 2014, eating innings and limiting walks, and there was no noticeable drop in his stuff last season. He was hit very hard last season, which may be an indication that his once stellar command is now merely solid, but, again, the Yankees wouldn't be asking for much.
Alfredo Simon 2015 - 187.0 IP, 201 H, 68 BB, 117 K, 5.05 ERA, 4.77 ERA
Simon's two years as a full-time starting pitcher have been a tale of two halves. In 2014, he had a 2.70 ERA and 2.7 K/BB in the first half, and a 4.52 ERA and 1.9 K/BB in the second. In 2015, that breakdown was 4.53/2.3 and 5.65/1.2. The long time reliever clearly hits a wall around mid-season, and it remains to be seen whether that will ever change. An argument may well be made that his time as an effective starter is essentially limited to the first half of 2014 - but that doesn't mean that there's no potential for at least a bit more than what we saw last year.