The New York Yankees have missed out on the postseason for the second time in nearly a decade, and one of the many areas of blame is the team's pitching staff. To get back to the playoffs with an improved rotation in 2014, general manager Brian Cashman will have to stick to this plan.
The rotation was beyond inconsistent last season. Hiroki Kuroda acted as the ace, though he faltered down the stretch in September. CC Sabathia posted arguably his worst season as a professional and should be considered a question mark for next season. Andy Pettitte has retired, Ivan Nova is still unproven despite strong second-half numbers, and the fifth starter's job is wide open. Either David Phelps or Michael Pineda can occupy that slot.
There aren't many talented young hurlers in the organization ready to step in. Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno and Brett Marshall are probably the only major league-ready arms, but each saw varying levels of success in the bigs this season.
Attacking the rotation through free agency is the best option. By following this strategy, Cashman can effectively rebuild his pitching staff.
Figure Out if Kuroda Is Coming Back
The first step in the process is to determine if Kuroda is worth bringing back. He is a free agent and posted strong numbers for the majority of 2013. He could ask for a pay raise, though, and it'll be up to Cashman to determine if he's worth almost $20 million.
It's hard to argue in favor of a player who went 3-7 in the second half and compiled an 11-13 record overall, but plenty of people would be willing to give Kuroda nearly anything he asks for.
It'll really come down to Cashman's confidence in Sabathia. If he believes Sabathia can get back to ace status, then bringing back Kuroda becomes less of a priority. If not, then he'll have to try to retain him.
Kuroda shouldn't make more than $15 million next season—but he might.
Assess Rotation Following Kuroda Decision
If Kuroda returns, then the Bombers will only need one starter to replace Pettitte. If they aren't set on Phelps or Pineda at the No. 5 spot, then they'll need two. That is much easier to work with than having to replace three members of a rotation.
Assessing the rotation prior to signing free agents is the key to putting together a successful offseason. By only addressing areas of need (and making sure that they actually address those areas), the Yankees can have a successful offseason.
Expect the first two steps of the process to be resolved within the first two weeks of free agency.
Analyze One-Year Options
There are several options for one-year deals that could interest the Yankees.
Bronson Arroyo, Tim Hudson and Jake Westbrook would be worth one-year fliers, though each player is over the age of 35. Injuries haven't really been a problem for the three in recent memory (with the exception of Hudson, who injured his ankle in late July), so fans would be wrong to criticize Cashman for bringing one in on a single-year pact. Plus, none of them would cost a ton of money.
Arroyo and Hudson could be had for around $8 million, while Westbrook could earn a $6 million contract. For decent pitching in the middle of the rotation, it's hard to argue with those prices.
Arroyo would be the best of these options. He was 14-12 with a 3.79 ERA in 202 innings this season, and that type of consistency in a rotation mired by the opposite in 2013 would be an invaluable addition.
He may stick with the Cincinnati Reds, though, so going after either Hudson or Westbrook wouldn't be a terrible decision, either.
Analyze Low-Risk, High-Reward Options
This market is filled with players who could either be steals or busts.
Gavin Floyd, Roy Halladay, Josh Johnson, Scott Kazmir and Tim Lincecum could all potentially sign one-year contracts in an effort to re-establish some value. Kazmir and Lincecum are the least likely to sign one-year deals, but it is possible.
Even so, a two-year deal for a guy like Kazmir wouldn't be a bad idea given the way he pitched for the Cleveland Indians this season. He was 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA over 158 innings, and a two-year contract worth no more than $8 million would be worth the risk.
Should he fail, the Yankees would only be on the hook for $4 million per season. Should he succeed, it could turn into one of the steals of the offseason.
Guys like Floyd, Halladay and Johnson are too risky to go after. Injuries and inconsistencies have been their stories for the past several seasons.
Lincecum may be worth a decent penny for two or more years despite recent struggles, and investing in that type of player could easily backfire. There's always a chance he'll regain his back-to-back Cy Young form, but there's also a chance he won't.
I'd stay away from him.
Analyze Potential Multiyear Commitments
Matt Garza, Jon Lester and Ricky Nolasco are the only players on the market worth seriously committing to in terms of years and dollars. Nolasco would likely be the most affordable, though he comes with less of a track record than the other two.
His success with the Los Angeles Dodgers during the second half of the season will raise his price (likely inflating it past it's accurate value), but he has posted nearly 200 innings in each of the past three seasons. That type of reliability comes at a price.
Lester has a $13 million club option for 2014, but the Boston Red Sox can buy him out for $250,000. If the Red Sox seek to renegotiate with him, then the Yankees can attempt to swoop in and steal him away. He's most definitely a guy worth four or five years and decent money.
Garza is a volatile pitcher. He's never really been consistently dominant, though his stuff ranks among the best in baseball when he's on. If Cashman signs him, then it could easily turn into an A.J. Burnett-like situation.
Do we really want to revisit that?
What Should Be Done
After re-signing Kuroda (which must happen if under $20 million), the rotation stands to include Kuroda, Sabathia, Nova and Phelps or Pineda. This would presumably leave one opening, but Phelps and Pineda could be worked into the bullpen and saved as replacement candidates. The safe bet for Cashman is to go after two starters this offseason.
Lester would obviously be the biggest name, but acquiring him is still unrealistic. It's difficult to see Boston letting him walk easily to the Yankees.
Cashman will likely be intrigued by Nolasco's success with the Dodgers, and expect him to throw some money his way. On a three-year deal (and no more), signing Nolasco could work well for the Yankees. I expect him to be in the Bronx in 2014.
For the No. 5 spot, Cashman should sign either Kazmir or Westbrook/Hudson. With each of the three considered a question mark, having Phelps and Pineda waiting in the wings is key.
Imagine a rotation of Kuroda, Sabathia, Nolasco, Nova and Kazmir, with everyone performing at his full potential. That's a potential 20-game winner (Sabathia), two 15-game winners (Kuroda and Nova), a 12-game winner (Nolasco) and a near-160-inning eater (Kazmir).
It's a big "if," but this team can succeed with that rotation if it's up to snuff.