Desperate times call for desperate measures in New York.
After missing the postseason for just the second time since 1994, the New York Yankees are considering adding significant free agent talent to their roster for the 2014 season.
According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the Yankees have added Jacoby Ellsbury and Matt Garza to a list of possible targets that already included Shin-Soo Choo, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka.
Despite a self-mandate to keep the 2014 payroll under $189 million, New York's front office, led by general manager Brian Cashman, has close to $80 million coming off the books in the form of free agents (Curtis Granderson, Phil Hughes) and retirees (Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte), according to Heyman. Additionally, Alex Rodriguez's impending suspension appeal could open up more than $30 million extra for the 2014 payroll.
Even if the team agrees to pay free agent Robinson Cano a deal in excess of $185 million, room will be left in the budget for big items. Despite the Red Sox capturing the AL East and World Series, the path to a title is far from closed for the Yankees. Aggressive shopping could land them back in October, but the right players must be targeted.
Jacoby Ellsbury and Matt Garza aren't the right targets for this Yankees team.
Due to durability concerns for both, questions of dominance surrounding Garza and a cheaper version of Ellsbury already entrenched in New York, allocating a major portion of the 2014 budget to either player would be foolish for Brian Cashman.
Let's review why each player would be attractive to the Yankees, but ultimately not worth the free agent risk.
Many narratives emerged from Boston's magical 2013 season. Among them: a team rallying around a city, mid-tier free agents representing a more efficient use of resources than stars, David Ortiz morphing into the new Mr. October and John Farrell's ability to be the polar opposite of Bobby Valentine.
Lost in the many columns to emanate from Fenway Park's press box: how much a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury can change a team.
Obviously, there was more to the Red Sox offensive equation than just Ellsbury's ability to reach base and wreak havoc atop the lineup, but his blessing remains his curse. Of a possible 972 regular season games since his first full campaign in 2008, Ellsbury has played in a grand total of 682.
Simply put, offering Jacoby Ellsbury over $100 million to ignite the Yankees lineup would be a mistake.
Although he's a brilliant defender, on-base machine and dynamic base stealer, Ellsbury misses too much time due to injuries to be relied upon, especially as a 30-year-old looking for a long-term deal.
In six full big league seasons, Ellsbury has surpassed 150 games played in a season just twice. Even in 2013, a relatively healthy season for the Red Sox center fielder, 28 games were still lost due to a foot ailment.
Even now, as the Red Sox franchise celebrates a third title in a decade, concern over Ellsbury's health clouds the parade. According to FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Ellsbury was in serious pain during October due to a swollen left hand. If the World Series had gone to a Game 7, he might not have been able to play. Per Rosenthal: Ellsbury told some of the team’s coaches (prior to Game 6), “I’ve got no more bullets in the gun. We have to win tonight.”
Durability and injury concerns shouldn't be the only reason for New York to shy away from the 2011 AL MVP runner-up. Instead, they should merely be red flags. If the Yankees desperately needed a center fielder and on-base presence atop the order, those concerns could be pushed aside and risk taken.
Of course, the Yankees aren't in desperate need of that type of player. In Brett Gardner, a similar player to Ellsbury already exists on the roster.
As side-by-side look at their standard batting numbers, while valuable, doesn't do justice here. In 2011, Ellsbury played 158 games, hit 32 home runs and posted an OPS+ of .928. If that was the player Ellsbury has always been, Gardner, owner of 23 career home runs, wouldn't be in his league.
Yet, it's not. 2011, in terms of power and durability, was an anomaly for Ellsbury. Instead, when looking at Ellsbury and Gardner side-by-side, let's focus on their ability to reach base, defend, and steal bases.
|Player||OBP||Total Defensive Runs Saved||SB|
Defensively, both excel. On the bases, both cause problems for opposing batteries. Clearly, both reach base at a clip high enough to bat atop the order.
The main difference: Gardner is under Yankees team control through 2014. Ellsbury, with the aforementioned risks attached, would cost millions in free agency.
When assessing the current Yankees roster, it's easier to see why the team would have interest in Garza than Ellsbury. With Andy Pettitte retiring, Hiroki Kuroda potentially heading back to Japan and Phil Hughes' free agency destined to land him anywhere but the Bronx, New York has three major holes in their starting rotation to fill behind CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova.
Considering that Sabathia is coming off the worst year of his career (85 ERA+ via Baseball-Reference) and Nova's emergence doesn't guarantee a 2014 repeat, effective innings are at a premium on the Yankees' shopping list. Even if the team believes Michael Pineda is healthy and ready to contribute, multiple holes are open in the team's 2014 rotation.
Thus, rumblings around available arms like Masahiro Tanaka and Matt Garza.
Tanaka, due to the success of recent Japanese arms and posting fee that could help keep his average annual salary down for the suddenly luxury tax conscious Yankees, makes sense.
Garza, despite success in the AL East with Tampa earlier in his career, does not.
When debating Matt Garza's durability, issues similar to Jacoby Ellsbury enter the conversation. He doesn't miss full seasons, but rarely has acted as a rotation anchor from April through September.
Since 2006, Garza has pitched 200-plus innings in a season just twice. After posting four consecutive 30-plus start seasons from 2008-2011, he has not reached that milestone in either of the last two seasons.
Much like Ellsbury, durability concerns can be eschewed if the player and fit profiled as a perfect match for the Yankees. Right now, the team needs durability and high-end production from a starting pitcher. Despite a reputation as a very good pitcher, the numbers don't place Garza among the best in baseball since his arrival.
To be fair, the ability to post an adjusted ERA of 108 for eight big league seasons is valuable. Garza is a good pitcher, but far from great or one of the best in the sport.
Furthermore, his free agent portfolio wasn't enhanced by a recent switch back to the American League this season in Texas. After pitching all of 2011 and 2012 for the Chicago Cubs, Garza was traded to the Rangers in July to aid Texas' run at a postseason berth. Over 84.1 innings, the 29-year-old pitched to a 4.38 ERA.
If Garza was a 200-inning horse, decent numbers would be tolerable. If he was a dominant ace, durability concerns could be justified. At this point in his career, he's neither and shouldn't be shown big money by Brian Cashman.
Which free agent makes more sense for the Yankees?
To be fair, both Ellsbury and Garza are valuable players that will help teams win in 2014 and beyond, despite the concerns that surround their free agent cases. For a team in desperate need of a center field with speed and on-base ability, Ellsbury will hit the jackpot. For a team willing to bank on the next chapter of Garza's career being his best, a long-term deal will be presented.
For the Yankees, neither player or hypothetical makes enough sense for the investment.
Agree? Disagree? Who should the Yankees target this winter?
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