[image title="73394623OG004_Oakland_Athle" size="full" id="12948" align="center" ]There are a lot of high-risk, high-reward free agents on the market today. The names by now are familiar to everyone: Rich Harden, Ben Sheets, Erik Bedard, Justin Duchscherer and Kelvim Escobar. The Yankees should sign at least one, and maybe two, of these pitchers. For the cost, they are great bets.
A player of the caliber of John Lackey (or A.J. Burnett) will cost at bare minimum 16 million dollars on the open free agent market. A trade for someone like Roy Halladay would at best cost two top prospects and one of our young MLB pitchers. These are steep costs. The money is easy to figure out, but what would the Halladay package be worth? According to Fangraphs, Phil Hughes alone was worth 10 million dollars alone last year, and Halladay’s salary is almost 13 million dollars.
That’s a lot of expense. The pitchers listed above, on the other hand, are probably looking for salaries in the 2-8 million dollar range. The best of the bunch is Rich Harden, who also has the highest price tag, and I am going to argue that the Yankees sh0uld sign him. However, the same argument stands for the other players, including Chien-Ming Wang.
Rich Harden has put up the following stat line since returning from persistent injury in 2008:
While his control suffered a bit in 2009, his K/9 rate didn’t budge. In terms of effectiveness, Harden is probably somewhere in the middle of his 2008 and 2009 seasons. However, those seasons also demonstrated that we probably cannot count on Rich Harden to play more than 140 or so innings over the course of a season. The silent fact about Harden is that although it seems as if he’s been around forever, the man will be entering his age-28 season, and therefore is still in his physical prime.
Let’s assume that Harden has more 2009 in him than 2008, and pitches a 130 ERA+. That would put his ERA somewhere around 3.40, which I think is reasonable. The Yankees would have to make up the 60-70 innings that Harden misses versus an option like John Lackey by playing a replacement pitcher, likely Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Chad Gaudin, or Zach McAllister. Let’s assume that these talented young players are not all they are cracked up to be and put up a mildly successful ERA+ of 95 when filling Harden’s playing time. Doing some basic math, we can then calculate what value our Frankenstein hybrid pitcher gives us. Let’s compare this to two separate options: John Lackey pitching 200 innings with an ERA+ of 120, and Roy Halladay replicating his 2009 performance with 240 innings and an ERA+ of 150.
John Lackey: Richard Harden’s 130 ERA+ in 140 innings + Replacement’s 60 innings of 95 ERA+ [(130 * 140/200) + (95 * 60/200)] = 119.5 ERA+
Roy Halladay: Rich Harden’s 130 ERA+ in 140 innings + Replacement’s 100 innings of 95 ERA+ [(130 * 140 /240) + (95 * 100/240)] = 115 ERA+
So, let’s compare the two options. Rich Harden and the Yankees replacement pitchers essentially equaled John Lackey’s expected production, assuming Lackey even reaches 200 innings for approximately 7 million dollars less money and no long term commitment. And while the group doesn’t measure up to Roy Halladay, the Yankees 115 ERA+ that they would get in the same number of innings for 4 million dollars less does not include the value of keeping at least three top young players long term.
Rich Harden, and the others, have a lot of risks attached to them. And they don’t provide the type of game-changing, complete game dominance that Roy Halladay brings to the table. But the Yankees already have C.C. Sabathia to help them do that, and need a strong supporting cast behind him. I think that Jesus Montero, Phil Hughes, Austin Jackson, and Joba Chamberlain are all going to be productive major league players. By betting broadly, and keeping our long-term risks hedged, we won’t be decimated by Roy Halladay being paid 20 million dollars at the age of 39, or stepping on 3rd base wrong while running the bases in June, or just not pitching well for a season.
I’d also like to point out that I tilted the assumptions toward Lackey and Halladay when making ERA+ and innings assumptions. Halladay’s career ERA+ is 133. Lackey hasn’t pitched 200 innings in the past 2 seasons. And in addition to that replacement-level group of starting pitchers, the Yankees would fill many of those innings with leveraged, matched up bullpen innings from a very good group of relief pitchers.
Part of the reason that the Yankees are not going out and getting Matt Holliday (and why Johnny Damon played with the Yankees for 4 years instead of Carlos Beltran) is that they committed their roster and ability to win to a very small number of players. A broader group, thanks to a cheap set of young, effective players, is much more effective.
Get Harden. Keep your depth. Spend the money elsewhere.
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