A recent post by Tyler Kepner in the New York Times Bats blog kicks around the idea that the Yanks could be looking at one of the many high-upside starters available this off season. He writes:
Ben Sheets, Rich Harden and Erik Bedard have all been top-of-the-rotation starters in the recent past. All are free agents coming off seasons marred by injury. Really, the Yankees would have nothing to lose by signing one of them. The price would probably be low enough that the Yankees could afford to outbid other teams, and if they sign someone and he gets hurt again, they are protected with the starters they already (h)ave.
Add Chien Ming Wang’s name to that list. While he may not have the strikeout ability of a Sheets or Harden, he eats up loads of innings and gives up very few HRs when he’s right, among the fewest in Baseball. Playing in the new Yankee Stadium that’s a persuasive selling point in his favor. But a 3rd shoulder injury in his time with the Yanks and the foot fracture that seemed to mess up his delivery (and confidence) are huge negatives. While his last two shoulder problems appear to have been minor, injuries do pile up at some point, especially shoulder injuries. The key to Wang’s effectiveness was always the enormous velocity he was able to throw his 2 seamer. At 95 MPH, he’s very difficult for oppsosing batters. At 90-92 MPH he’s a back of the rotation starter, especially since none of his other offerings are anything special.
Ben Sheets is the one pitcher who really stands out to me on this list. Despite a lengthy injury history, most of them weren’t arm related. Even his most recent elbow injury is considered to be of the less serious variety. When right, he’s a strong #2 starter who would be a potent 1-2 punch with (former Brewer teammate) C.C. Sabathia and move the inconsistent Burnett to a less prominent #3 spot in the rotation to which AJ is better suited. As a #3, his Jeckyl-Hyde nature is easier to swallow and less consequential in the playoffs. When AJ was signed last year, the hope was that Wang would come back strong and AJ would be relied upon less. That’s still the best way to set up our rotation, and is something the Yanks should be actively pursuing this off season.
Another avenue I’d pursue would be to see if Rich Harden would consider a bullpen role as our primary setup man. It’s an area of need for the Yanks, and I’ve always felt that Harden simply doesn’t have the frame (generously listed at 6’1 195 lbs) to hold up the rigors of starting pitching. I don’t expect to get anywhere with this, but it can’t hurt to ask.
It also leads me to another problem with all of these pitchers. They simply may not want to pitch here given the role the Yanks would have available to them. All of these starters would be looking at short, incentive laden deals wherever they land. They’ll want to get an opportunity to prove that they’re healthy so they can garner a longer deal for more guaranteed dollars next year. The Yanks may not be able to offer the one thing that’s most important to them, more important than money for this year, and that’s playing time.
Even as we kick around these possibilities, it’s important to remember that this was Theo Epstien’s strategy last year when he signed Brad Penny and John Smoltz. We all know how that worked out for the Red Sox. Pitchers that get hurt as often as these four have been in recent years tend to get hurt again and/or be ineffective at some point. But I think the Yanks are in a different position than the Sox were last year. Picking up a starter who won’t be ready to start the season will allow the Yanks to get a good look at Hughes and Chamberlain as starters next year, as well as see how their bullpen shakes out. As of now, the bridge to Mariano Rivera consists of Dave Robertson, Brian Bruney and Phil Coke. Sending Hughes to the rotation leaves a chasm in the bullpen that may or may not be filled by internal options. Is Robertson ready? Will Bruney ever figure it out? Is Melancon a realistic option? Having a high upside starter waiting in the wings could give the Yanks the kind of flexibility to go in a few different directions with the players they already have. I’m all for it.
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