The New York Yankees need starting pitching. Unfortunately for them, this happens to be a less than ideal offseason for a team to find itself in that position. Sure, Masahiro Tanaka is out there, and the Yankees are reportedly after him, per Ken Davidoff of the New York Post, but even the pursuit of a Japanese star is no longer tilted in the Yankees' favor, as it arguably once was, due to the changes to the posting system that went into effect for the first time this winter.
You could argue the Yankees badly need to land Tanaka, because after him their options to reinforce their starting rotation are less than ideal or simply unclear.
The crop of available free-agent starters is checkered with question marks, and the trade market for pitchers—if there's one at all—appears murky at best. If the Yankees choose to go the latter route, they could find themselves at a marked disadvantage in bargaining power.
Nonetheless, if the Yankees whiff on Tanaka, they may pivot to other options.
Here are five possible strategies they could employ, based on recent reports as well as my own analysis. As you'll see, each scenario is problematic to some degree, which in my opinion makes it that much more obvious that the Yankees must emerge victorious in the Tanaka sweeps.
As mentioned earlier, there's not a can't-miss starter remaining in free agency, and most of them figure to be expensive, to boot. The Yankees seem to recognize as much. According to Dan Martin of the New York Post, the Yankees "remain unimpressed" by Ervin Santana, Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Bronson Arroyo.
Martin's source on that is a Yankees official, so, yes, it could be a negotiating ploy.
But taking it at face value, you can't blame the Yankees if this is how they feel. Santana has had injury and inconsistency issues throughout his career, and he's a fly-ball pitcher, which isn't ideal in Yankee Stadium.
Garza has missed substantial time in each of the past two seasons due to injuries. Jimenez's brilliant second half in 2013 was preceded by two years of mediocre pitching. Arroyo, meanwhile, is an innings-eating No. 5—not exactly the top-of-rotation hurler the Yankees need.
Aside from the concerns surrounding these pitchers, there is another factor that could end up keeping the Yankees away from them. According to Alex Speier of WEEI.com, the Yankees are under the luxury-tax threshold now that Alex Rodriguez's $25 million salary is off the books for 2014, and team brass may not think it's worth going back over to sign the likes of Santana, Garza, Jimenez or Arroyo.
Of course, money is just money to the Yankees, and they could easily snap up one of these pitchers if they are motivated to do so. But for now, it looks like they might stay away.
To be clear, this is my own speculation, but such a deal would make sense, certainly for the Yankees, and perhaps for the Cubs. While the Cubs are also reported to be a serious bidder for Tanaka, per Carrie Muskat of MLB.com, there have been conflicting reports throughout the offseason about whether they want to deal Samardzija, hold on to him for another two years before he hits free agency, or sign him to a long-term extension.
The Cubs could end the Samardzija speculation with a simple statement—"we're keeping him"—but they haven't. Why? It's hard to say, but they may be keeping their options open in case a desperate trade partner—perhaps a team that whiffs on Tanaka—comes calling about the right-hander.
The Cubs and Samardzija are far apart on a salary for 2014 and could be heading to arbitration, according to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune. However, a trade may not be in the cards, Gonzales notes, because teams like the Braves and Diamondbacks have said that the Cubs are asking for too much in return.
That could be problematic for the Yankees.
The Yankees had only one prospect in ESPN analyst Keith Law's midseason top 50 (subscription required), and that was catcher Gary Sanchez at No. 49. Even in that, Law noted Sanchez was struggling, and that several of the Yankees' top prospects were having dismal years.
Even if the Yankees wanted to pry Samardzija away from the Cubs, do they have the requisite prospects to get a deal done? It looks dubious.
The Yankees and Reds have been cited as potential trade partners a couple times the offseason, though those reports have centered around the teams perhaps swapping Brett Gardner for Brandon Phillips, a proposal the Yankees turned down in December, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (via Twitter).
That offer is sensible, considering the state of second base for the Yankees, but I humbly propose Gardner for Bailey as an even better option.
Bailey, like Gardner, is entering his final year of arbitration eligibility before potentially becoming a free agent next offseason. The Reds and Bailey have talked about a long-term extension, according to Mark Sheldon of MLB.com. However, Sheldon previously reported that Reds GM Walt Jocketty cautioned that it could be "difficult" to extend Bailey because "young pitchers are getting quite a bit."
If the Yankees miss out on Tanaka and the Reds can't extend Bailey, doesn't New York have to make that phone call?
The Reds, after all, are turning to rookie Billy Hamilton in center field now that Shin-Soo Choo has departed, writes John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer, but clearly they explored other options before doing so. It seems the Reds are hoping the speed-demon Hamilton will be a net positive with the value he brings on the basepaths and in the field, but his bat may still be a question after he posted a .308 on-base percentage in 547 Triple-A plate appearances last season.
As they say, you can't steal first base.
Common wisdom might suggest that, all else being equal, you hold on to the pitcher—meaning the Reds should pass if the Yankees were to make this offer. But the tea leaves suggest finances are a concern for the Reds. Just guessing here, but Gardner would do well to land something like the four-year, $48 million contract Michael Bourn signed last offseason with the Yankees. Bailey, meanwhile, might cost as much as $100 million in free agency, D.J. Short of Hardball Talk speculates.
Nothing the Brewers have done this offseason suggests they're willing to deal away Yovani Gallardo or any of their core players. But I think they should, and it would behoove the Yankees to explore this option to its fullest should they strike out on Tanaka.
The Brewers have done little to improve their team this offseason, instead betting that they'll be better in 2014 simply by virtue of healthy and productive returns for injured and suspended players like Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Braun, according to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
It looks to me like there are still question marks littering the roster: Khris Davis in left field; Rickie Weeks at second base; Mark Reynolds at first base; and a rotation of Kyle Lohse, Gallardo, Wily Peralta, Marco Estrada and Tyler Thornburg.
Gallardo is under contract through next season at a total cost of $24.25 million, according to Cot's Contracts—not an outrageous bill for the Brewers to pick up by any means—but to what end?
It's unclear whether the Brewers can afford to re-sign Gallardo or if they're even inclined to do so. If not, it could make sense to deal him now if they can extract a favorable return from a team like the Yankees.
What that return might look like is a little murkier. Trading Gallardo would signal something of a rebuild for the Brewers, so it makes sense they'd want prospects in return. The Yankees' farm system is not in good shape, writes Josh Norris of Baseball America. It might take selling low on multiple prospects—essentially mortgaging their farm—but if that would satisfy the Brewers, wouldn't the Yankees have to do it?
The Yankees needed a lot of good fortune last year just to finish with 85 wins, according to Rany Jazayerli of Grantland. Are they ready to test whether there was more to it than just dumb luck?
Despite a still-suspect rotation—CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, David Phelps and Michael Pineda—and the loss of Robinson Cano, the Yankees in my opinion have improved their team with the additions of Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. Plus, Mark Teixeira will be back, assuming he can stay healthy.
Their lineup and defense look strong; are they willing to roll the dice that Sabathia recaptures his ace form, Kuroda remains ageless, Nova takes a step forward and Pineda is effective after a two-year injury hiatus? Certainly, such a strategy would be risky. But if the Yanks can catch a couple breaks and remain in the hunt through the season's first couple months, they can always address their rotation via trade in June or July.
By then, the situations surrounding starters Samardzija, Bailey, Gallardo, and even Jorge De La Rosa of the Rockies could come into focus, depending on how their teams are faring.
It's not ideal, of course. But this is the reality the Yankees may be facing if none of the previously outlined scenarios materialize.