In New York, the Yankees are preparing to spend money like it's 2008 all over again. Five years after drowning their third-place finish sorrows away by spending over $400 million combined on CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett, the Yankees are poised to hand out big-money deals. The names have changed, but the objective remains to spend.
According to CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman, the Yankees are heading to next week's general manager meetings armed with cash to spend on free agents.
After watching the steady and reliable Andy Pettitte retire and allowing the unsteady and unreliable Phil Hughes to walk away without a qualifying offer, one of general manager Brian Cashman's main offseason priorities is to find starting pitching behind Sabathia and Ivan Nova in the five-man rotation. Unless Hiroki Kuroda accepts another one-year deal, three potential spots are open.
Even if Michael Pineda emerges from a two-year shoulder rehab to re-capture his 2011 form, the Yankees will need multiple arms to fill out a good rotation. At least one of them will likely emerge from the free-agent market.
Using Heyman's projected contracts for each of the six starters on New York's radar, here's a ranking of the best values of the group. The rankings are based on a 1-10 scale, with higher numbers signifying a better value for the Yankees organization.
The 24-year-old Japanese star is the ideal target for New York's offseason spending plans. As the franchise attempts to spend big while staying under the $189 million luxury tax in 2014, Tanaka represents the best of both worlds.
As chronicled in a September primer, Tanaka profiles as a top-tier starter in the majors. Even if he's not a true No. 1 starter, adding him to be a No. 2 or No. 3 starter is sufficient for New York's bottom line.
Sources: Yankees have made Masahiro Tanaka a top priority, and they are the team to beat in the bidding. The latest: http://t.co/IRKKR9TkLJ— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 8, 2013
According to Heyman, a seven-year, $140 million contract is reasonable for Tanaka, but only half of that will actually go the the player. With $70 million allotted as a posting fee for the rights to speak with Tanaka's agent, the Yankees would only be spending $10 million per season, against the luxury tax, on a pitcher with the potential to emerge as a valuable contributor.
Value ranking: 8
Despite including Garza, along with Jacoby Ellsbury, as free-agent targets the Yankees should avoid this winter, he's the second-best value on this board.
Since becoming a full-time starter in 2008, Garza has amassed a 108 ERA+ over 1,049.1 innings pitched. Although that's good for third on this list, not including Tanaka's stats from Japan, behind Jimenez (112) and Haren (111), the former Minnesota Twins, Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers starter has brought something to the table the others have not: consistency.
Despite never accumulating one great season or finishing in the top five of Cy Young voting, Garza has never posted a season with an ERA over 4.00. By maintaining a level performance for six straight seasons, the Yankees will know what they are paying for when offering a contract to the 29-year-old right-handed pitcher.
If Garza's deal comes in near the five-year, $85 million projection, it will be a decent deal for both player and team.
Value ranking: 6
When the 2011 season ended, Dan Haren looked like the type of pitcher who was poised to eventually hit the free-agent jackpot. After wrapping up an excellent season for the Los Angeles Angels, Haren was the owner of a career-adjusted ERA of 119, according to Baseball-Reference.com. His ability to pitch in both the NL (Arizona, St. Louis) and the AL (Oakland, Los Angeles) made him one of the surest things in the sport.
Over the last two seasons, however, the wheels have come off for the former right-handed ace. Over 60 starts in 2012 and 2013, Haren pitched to a 84 ERA+ over 346.1 innings, per Baseball-Reference.com. That adjusted ERA was 16 percent below league average. In the span of two years, Haren went from nearly 20 percent better than the average pitcher to nearly 20 percent worse.
Still, the projection of a one-year deal worth less than $10 million is far from a ridiculous pact. Even though Haren is not the pitcher he was just two seasons ago, he's still a lock for 30-plus starts every year. If the Yankees truly need two veteran starters, they could do worse than inking Haren to be the second-tier arm.
Value ranking: 5
As the offseason unfolds, the Yankees can attempt to fix their rotation issues by acquiring high-end ability (Tanaka, Garza), signing a low-risk, high-reward arm (Haren), or, in a route that won't be as popular in New York, turning spring training into a competition between young arms like David Phelps and Michael Pineda.
If that's the route Brian Cashman takes, an ultra-reliable arm will be needed if or when the young arms falter during the rigors of a 162-game season. If innings are needed, Bronson Arroyo fits the bill. Over the last nine years, Arroyo has cleared the 199-inning plateau in every single season.
Of course, the drawback with Arroyo is a lack of upside. As he gets set to embark on his age-37 season, expecting greatness is foolish. Over 14 seasons, the former Boston Red Sox farmhand has pitched to an adjusted ERA of 104.
On a one or two-year deal, the fit would be ideal. The projection of a three-year, $35 million pact is too high for a pitcher who has little upside.
Value ranking: 4
Will the real Ubaldo Jimenez please stand up? When baseball executives prepare offer sheets for the free-agent starter, it's likely the offers will vary based on which version of the pitcher is expected to arrive in 2014.
If the Jimenez of 2010 and 2013 is on the market, he's worth every dollar of the four-year, $68 million deal that is projected by Jon Heyman. If the Jimenez of 2011 and 2012 is back, anything more than a one-year deal is foolish.
The following chart isolates the contrasting versions of Jimenez. Notice the strikeout and strikeout-to-walk numbers. When the former Colorado Rockies and Cleveland Indians starter has command, he's excellent. When that command disappears, he's very easy to hit.
For the money he'll likely receive, there's too much variance in performance to be comfortable in New York.
Value ranking: 3
Unlike the other pitchers on this list, Feldman doesn't provide bang for the buck, upside, variance in performance or long-term durability. After 234 outings, Feldman isn't a surprise anymore. At age 30, the right-handed pitcher should only be brought aboard to compete for a spot in the back-end of a rotation and given no more than a one-year deal.
Which starter should the Yankees sign?
According to Heyman's projections, a two-year, $20 million deal could be in his future. For that cash, New York could sign both Haren and Arroyo.
If February rolls around and Feldman is still available, any team should explore trying to bring him in as spring-training injury insurance or to compete with a young arm on a one-year deal. Until that scenario presents itself, the Yankees would be wise to allocate their funds on an arm who can give them something concrete for the money spent.
Value ranking: 2