Thursday, December 23, 2010

Potential Targets for the Yankees

When Cliff Lee spurned the Yankees 6 year $138M offer to pitch in Philadelphia, most baseball insiders figured they would use their prospect rich farm system to land an ace (or near ace) quality pitcher to fill the major hole in their starting rotation.  Since that time, several big name pitchers have come off of the board:  Zach Greinke was traded to the Brewers; Ricky Nolasco signed an extension with the Marlins; reports surfaced that there was a 30% chance of long-time Yankee Andy Pettitte returning to baseball; and Josh Johnson and Felix Hernandez were both declared unavailable by their respective General Managers.

Now that most of the true (or near) aces are unavailable, who do the Yankees target now?  Luckily for you, I have a few ideas:

Chad Billingsley - When Billingsley, 26, came up through the Dodger organization, many scouts saw him as the future ace of their starting pitching staff.  Despite immense talent, he seems to have fallen out of favor in Los Angeles.  Why that is, I'll never know.  Billingsley is a power pitcher who induces a lot of whiffs and ground balls.  He has struggled with his control at times in his career, but he's shown improvement in this area registering a career low BB/9 rate of 3.24 in 2010.  While his fastball could be best described as average, he has control of four secondary pitches.  His cutter and 12-6 curve ball are both plus pitches that induce weak contact and a lot of swinging strikes.  He also has a good slider and change-up, but he typically uses those as "show" pitches.

Billingsley put together an excellent season in 2010 going 12-11 with a 3.57 ERA, 3.07 FIP, 8.03 K/9, 2.48 K/BB, while providing 4.6 fWAR in value.  With two seasons of arbitration eligibility remaining, he should be very reasonably priced in comparison to comparable arms on the free agent market.  He looks like a great fit between Sabathia and Hughes in the rotation.

Joe Blanton - This is a pretty interesting option for the Yankees because it looks like the Phillies are willing to do anything to unload the $17M they owe him over the next two seasons; thus, he's not likely to cost much in terms of prospects.  Blanton is a solid middle to back of the rotation starter who neither induces a lot of whiffs or eats a lot of innings, but still maintains above average control.  He tends to give up more of his fair share of home runs (considering his fly ball rate), but that is partly due to the pinball machine of a ballpark he currently calls home.  Blanton primarily relies on his poor fastball, but also mixes in four other pitches in his repertoire.  His slider and change-up are above average, and occasionally reach "plus" status.  His curve ball and cutter are mostly "show" pitches that tend to be more effective than not.

Blanton threw only 175 innings last season due to injuries.  He still managed to go 9-6 with a 4.82 ERA, 4.34 FIP, 6.87 K/9, 3.12 K/BB while providing 1.9 fWAR in value.  Like I mentioned above, his contract is reasonable, and he's unlikely to cost a lot in return.  This might be a decent, albeit unspectacular, move for the Yankees.  Ultimately, he would slot in best behind Burnett as the number four starter in the rotation.

Mark Buehrle - I have to admit, I was surprised to see Buehrle was only 31 years old.  For some reason, I thought he was older.  Maybe it's because it feels like he's been in the league forever.  Anyway...  Buehrle's not an ace anymore.  In fact, one could make a great argument that he never was an ace.  He's not going to rack up high strikeout totals, eye popping radar gun numbers, or superb ground ball rates.  What he will give you is solid, steady production out of the number three spot in the rotation.  Buehrle works quickly, avoids home runs, and is one of the best in the business when it comes to limiting walks.   He has four primary pitches:  an effective fastball, solid change-up and a cutter and curve ball that have become less effective over the past couple of years.  He has a decent slider, but like Billingsley, it's a "show" pitch.

Buehrle put up his typical steady season with the White Sox last year.  He went 13-13 with a 4.28 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 4.24 K/9, 2.02 K/BB, while providing 3.8 fWAR in value.  Buehrle is under contract for one more season at $14M.  Due to his contract situation and undervalued skill set, it's possible the Yankees could pick him up for the relatively cheap cost of a B and a C grade prospect.  He would slot in nicely between Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett as the number three starter.

Matt Garza - Let me start out by saying that the Yankees are unlikely to acquire Garza because they'd have to grossly overpay to the Rays to trade him within their division.  Still, Garza has become known as a "Red Sox killer" throughout the league, so there's definitely a benefit to the Yankees making a deal.  Garza is about to enter his age-27 season, so he still his prime in front of him.  He has good fastball velocity that is still on the rise, and has ace quality stuff.  (Garza's problem is widely considered to be his mental make-up.  He tends to be easily frustrated, which causes him to implode at times.)  While Garza relies largely on his plus-fastball, he has three solid secondary pitches including his plus-slider and average change-up and curve ball. 

Garza had a solid year last year, despite a plummeting strikeout rate, which isn't a great sign for a pitcher that tends to allow more fly balls than ground balls.  In 2010, he went 15-10 with a 3.91 ERA, 4.42 FIP, 6.60 K/9, 2.38 K/BB, while providing 1.8 fWAR in value.  Based on his age, I think it's likely he reverts back to the (much better) pitcher we saw in 2009.  This is especially true if he's traded to a National League team.  Garza is in his second year of arbitration eligibility, and (as a super two) has another three years of eligibility left.  This makes him a very attractive, cost-controllable candidate going forward.  Ultimately, I think he'd fit best slotting in as the number two for now, while eventually taking on the number three slot in the Yankee rotation by the start of 2012 or 2013.

Derek Lowe - Most Yankee fans remember Lowe for his masterful performance in Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS while with the Red Sox.  Like Buehrle, Lowe is not an ace.  Still, he's a steady middle of the rotation starter that could provide some depth to the relatively shallow Yankee rotation.  As a true ground ball pitcher, Lowe will induce ground balls at a rate of 55-60%.  Lowe has four primary pitches:  an average fastball, plus-sinker, an above average change-up, and a fringy slider.  He doesn't induce a lot of whiffs, but he is capable of racking up surprising strikeout totals for a pitcher with his skill set.

After a tough first season with the Braves in 2009, Lowe bounced back in 2010.  He put up a 16-12 record with a 4.00 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 6.32 K/9, 2.23 K/BB, and provided 2.7 fWAR in value.   Derek Lowe still has two years and $30M remaining on the 4 year contract he signed in January 2009.  Going into his age-38 season, there is a little more risk involved in trading for Lowe.  Still, he's be a nice pick-up provided the price was reasonable.  Like Buehrle, Lowe slot in nicely between Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett as the number three starter.

Carl Pavano - Been there.  Done that.  This isn't happening.

Ideally, Billingsley would be the best fit in New York, although Buehrle would be a great pickup as well.  If anyone has any other reasonable trade targets for the Yankees, please send them my way.  Again, this is all speculation and projection.  I haven't seen any rumors stating the Yankees have interest (or are in talks to acquire) in any of these players.

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