While New York Yankees fans await the next impact offensive signing, welcome Brian McCann to the Bronx and hope Jay Z is bluffing when talk of $250 million for Robinson Cano surfaces, the franchise has more work to do in order to field a championship club in 2014.
According to Hal Steinbrenner, the team is focused on doing just that. As part of a statement released to officially announce the signing of catcher Brian McCann, the Yankees owner talked about putting a team on the field capable of winning in October.
"The singular and unwavering desire of this organization is to construct a team each and every season designed to play meaningful baseball deep into October," Steinbrenner said, per CBS New York.
If Steinbrenner is serious about October baseball, a major task will center around rebuilding a starting rotation that is currently barren.
With Phil Hughes officially gone and Hiroki Kuroda floating somewhere between retirement, Japan and another major league team, the Yankees have major holes to fill in 60 percent of their projected rotation for 2014. As of this moment, only CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova are guaranteed spots in the Yankees rotation next season.
As the hot stove continues to burn, expect the Yankees to amp up their pursuit of starting pitching, specifically arms that have the ability to pitch 200 innings in the American League East. In order to feel confident heading into 2014, the Yankees need to slot two reliable arms into the staff with Sabathia and Nova.
Allowing a young, unproven arm like Michael Pineda or David Phelps the opportunity to earn the fifth spot in spring training is logical only if the team anchors down the top four spots with sturdy and strong starting pitchers.
The following is a blueprint to fix a staff that finished 18th in starters' earned run average in 2013, per ESPN. If Brian Cashman can follow the plan, along with improving the offense, while staying under the $189 million luxury tax, the organization will be set up for both short- and long-term success.
Build around CC Sabathia
Take a deep breath, Yankees fans. The prospect of building a rotation, in the American League, around the current version of CC Sabathia and enigmatic Ivan Nova is scary. That doesn't mean it's not the most logical course of action for Brian Cashman.
As the team looks for upgrades this offseason, innings, production and consistency have to come from the current state of the 40-man roster. Even if the Yankees had the desire to totally remake their rotation from scratch, acquiring five new arms is totally unrealistic.
In Sabathia, the Yankees must bank on track record, their own recent evaluation of the big lefty and peripheral statistics that suggest a much brighter 2014 than 2013 season.
With the franchise in search of durable arms, at least the most durable arm in baseball resides in the current incarnation of the roster. Since 2007, CC Sabathia has thrown at least 200 innings in every single season. Over that span, his 1,610 innings pitched puts him ahead of every pitcher in the sport.
While the Yankees might not be able to count on Sabathia to pitch like an ace any longer, they know he'll give them innings every turn through the rotation.
|Innings Pitched Leaders (2007-2013)|
However, if Sabathia does bounce back from an awful 2013 (85 ERA+), the team can cite their very recent faith in his long-term ability. After signing the then-28-year-old to a seven-year, $161 million deal prior to the 2009 season, Sabathia used an opt-out clause to leverage the Yankees into adding an extra year and $25 million to his existing deal after the 2011 season.
Essentially, with the chance to let a heavily taxed pitcher leave after three highly productive seasons, the Yankees guaranteed Sabathia over $100 million after his 30th birthday. If they were right about his long-term ability, building around him again in 2014 is a no-brainer.
That thought process should be enhanced by some of Sabathia's statistics this past season. While his ERA (4.78), ERA+ (85) and WHIP (1.37) were all career worsts, the 33-year-old lefty posted almost identical numbers in certain categories as he did during a successful 2010 season.
|CC Sabathia: 2010 vs. 2013|
The days of Sabathia as one of the very best pitchers in baseball are over, but the Yankees need to rely on a return to quality from their hired gun.
Count on consistency from Ivan Nova
From July 5 to September 26, few pitchers in baseball could match these numbers: 15 GS, 104.1 IP, 2.59 ERA.
During the thick of a pennant race, Ivan Nova wasn't just good; he was the best pitcher on the New York Yankees staff. Every fifth day, the 26-year-old right-handed pitcher took the mound and gave Joe Girardi's rotation a major boost.
Of course, that same pitcher started the season by sporting a 6.48 ERA in April, essentially losing his spot in the Yankees rotation and pitching his way almost totally out of the long-term thinking of the organization.
As Michael Barr of FanGraphs wrote in August, Nova evolved. With an excellent, hard fastball and sharp, biting curveball, the young pitcher always had the stuff to succeed but failed to find the right combination of pitch selection, consistency and command on a start-to-start basis.
Entering 2014, Nova will be a 27-year-old with four years of experience under his belt. After emerging as a Rookie of the Year candidate in 2011, he regressed in 2012 before resurfacing as a building block this past season.
For the Yankees to feel comfortable about their 2014 rotation, consistency from Nova is paramount. No longer are we talking about an arm with potential. Instead, this is a pitcher who posted a 130 ERA+ during his age-26 season in the Bronx.
By accomplishing that feat, Nova became the first Yankee since 1992 to pitch that well at this young of an age.
Add 400 innings from outside the organization
This mandate comes from Brian Cashman himself. With Phil Hughes set to revive his career in Minnesota, Andy Pettitte off enjoying retirement and Hiroki Kuroda in limbo, the Yankees need to find two reliable arms behind the Sabathia-Nova combo.
Unless the team is interested in spending over $75 million in costly free agents like Matt Garza, Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez, the best place to look for rotation help is Japan. Specifically, one Japanese pitcher headed to American and another contemplating one more year in New York.
First, we'll start with the incumbent.
Don't let the poor results of late August and early September fool you when breaking down the excellence of Hiroki Kuroda. Since arriving in Los Angeles for the 2008 season, Kuroda has been one of the most durable and dominant starting pitchers in all of baseball.
Over that span, he's one of only 13 starters to post an ERA+ of at least 117 while throwing 1,000 or more innings. Some names that didn't qualify for that distinction: Max Scherzer, James Shields, R.A. Dickey and Matt Garza.
Yes, Kuroda won just one of his last 10 starts and pitched to an ERA over 5.00 during that span, but the Yankees will gladly take another 30 starts and ERA under 3.50 in 2014.
Ideally, Brian Cashman would add another, younger Japanese right-handed pitcher to the rotation by winning the posting fee for Masahiro Tanaka and securing him with a reasonable long-term deal. Right now, that proposition is up in the air due to complications with the posting process.
According to Brendan Kuty of NJ.com, the deal currently on the table would limit the Yankees' ability to come in with the highest bid and give the power to the player in selecting his next team. Under that scenario, there's a chance Tanaka could land elsewhere.
Assuming MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball work out a deal in time for Tanaka to enter this free-agent class, the Yankees would be foolish not to bid as much as possible for the 25-year-old ace. In a primer written in September, the comparison was made between Tanaka and Kuroda. When evaluating and scouting the newest Japanese sensation, it's impossible not to be reminded of a younger version of Kuroda.
When Brian Cashman looks to fill 400 innings from outside the organization, acquiring the older and newer versions of Hiroki Kuroda is the best route possible.
Give Michael Pineda a chance to shine
When the Yankees and Seattle Mariners agreed to swap Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda in the winter of 2012, the baseball world exploded. One of the top young arms in baseball for one of the biggest power-hitting prospects certainly had the potential to reshape the future of both organizations.
|Projected 2014 Yankees Rotation|
|1. CC Sabathia||85|
|2. Hiroki Kuroda||122|
|3. Masahiro Tanaka||--|
|4. Ivan Nova||130|
|5. Michael Pineda||--|
Thus far, it's done just that.
Unfortunately, the net return has been poor for both sides. Heading into 2014, Pineda, due to lingering shoulder issues, has yet to throw a pitch in pinstripes. Montero, after several call-ups and demotions, has produced a listless 89 OPS+ in 663 plate appearances for the Mariners.
If Pineda can make it through spring training healthy, it's time for the Yankees to bank on talent and give the 24-year-old a chance in the 2014 rotation. If you don't agree with this assessment, listen to the words of one of the greatest hitters of all time.
During a rehab assignment last summer, Alex Rodriguez crossed paths with Pineda. After watching him work out and throw, the embattled third baseman had this to say about his potential, per ESPN New York:
"Michael's a very special kid," Rodriguez said. "You couldn't believe how fast this guys is, probably as fast as any [pitcher in the organization]. You've got to see him run. In the weight room, he's like a monster, as strong as you get ... and I think that will translate, especially when he gets back from his surgery. It's going to take time for him, especially a power pitcher, but I see him next year pitching 94-98, getting back to that velocity. And I think this year he's going to be a factor at some point."
Believing any A-Rod story is tough to do, but his depth of knowledge about the game of baseball is inarguable.
If the Yankees see the same potential they did in 2012 as A-Rod did last summer, it's time to give Pineda a chance to round out a new, improved Yankees rotation in 2014.
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