Some recent twitter conversation with
traitorous backstabber old buddy Moshe Mandel about the state of the free agent market for pitchers made it pretty clear to me that the Yankees should offer arbitration to Freddy Garcia this offseason. A certain photoshop-loving site made the case for not offering arbitration, saying essentially that Garcia’s performance in 2011 was not sustainable, and that the Yankees had back-end options in the minors that could perform at a similar level. I understand this argument, but nonetheless disagree.
Recent news that the Washington Nationals have reached a 1-year $4 million (plus incentives) major league contract with Chien-Ming Wang (who has not put together a full, healthy season in years) is illustrative of the fact that even back-end pitching has the potential to be quite expensive this offseason, especially with few top-end guys available. Similarly distressing was news that Bruce Chen, a soft-tosser who was not quite as good last season as Garcia (according to FIP and xFIP), already has several interested suitors. In what seems to be a bad market for starting pitching, players like Garcia could wind up making more than they are worth, and some team could be desperate enough to offer him a 2-year deal.
By offering arbitration, the Yankees get the opportunity to keep a solid back-end starter for roughly $5-6 million (I would estimate) if he accepts, which is not a major investment for the Yankees, and gives them flexibiliity should Garcia not perform up to expectations. Garcia was worth 2.2 fWAR last season, which put his value at about $9.9 million per Fangraphs. Of course Fangraphs is not exactly the gospel when it comes to determining player value (that one’s for you, Stephen), but it does give some idea of how valuable 150 innings of roughly league average pitching (99 FIP-) can be, and how expensive it could be on the open market. O could expect some regression from Garcia next year because he’s getting older, but he could still be worth the contract even with a minor decrease in production.
If Garcia declines arbitration, then the Yankees still have the opportunity to compete for him on the open market. However, if the price is too rich for the Yankees’ blood (I would hold firm at only 1 guaranteed year, but would include a team option), letting Garcia walk would give them a compensatory draft pick in the sandwich round (between the 1st and 2nd round) because he is a Type B free agent. I’d rather have Garcia than the pick, but at least the Yankees would get something if Garcia walks. I always like stockpiling extra draft picks because then losing a 1st-rounder by signing a free agent (say CJ Wilson) is less harmful to the draft, because the Yankees could still acquire a good talent in the sandwich round. Or if they have an extra draft pick because they don’t sign a Type A guy, even better!
I’m very much in the “more is better” category when it comes to back-end starters, so I would be happy to bring back a solid league-average performer in the 5th spot on an affordable 1-year deal and have several minor leaguers ready to step in if Garcia falters. As I wrote yesterday, the Yankees have several options with AAA experience who could be solid fill-ins if Garcia struggles. That said, I would rather start with the proven league-average performer and replace him if he is awful, rather than relying on the youngsters to rapidly adjust to pitching in the majors and the AL East immediately. None of the immediate fill-ins (Noesi, Warren, and Phelps) have top of the rotation ceiling, so it would be unreasonable to expect them to be better than Freddy immediately.
Based on Freddy Garcia’s recent track record of solid, consistent performance (and a demonstrated ability to survive in the AL East), I would have no problem with the Yankees bringing him back to occupy the #5 spot in the rotation. Offering arbitration increases the likelihood that he comes back with a reasonable contract. If he leaves, however, offering arbitration will give the Yankees another high draft pick, which could be a potentially significant asset for Damon Oppenheimer and co. to exploit.
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