Brian Cashman, the long-term general manager for the New York Yankees, is a man who appears to know exactly what he wants.
He has navigated some of the most treacherous corporate waters in all the world—namely, the front office of the New York Yankees—with a deft touch, internal confidence and the instinct to know when to go on the offensive.
Since the beginning of the offseason, Cashman has told anyone who would listen, and many who wouldn’t, that the Yankees’ sole interest this winter was to bolster their rotation.
Cashman has repeated this mantra ceaselessly, and his most recent comment, as quoted in Anthony McCarron's piece in Thursday's New York Daily News, doesn’t stray off the reservation in any way.
In McCarron's article, Cashman is quoted as saying “our club is pretty much set except for trying to shore up the back end of the rotation.” This comment was preceded by a comment captured on November first, wherein Cashman says “I don't anticipate a bat being a need at all. Offense is not a problem with this club despite what happened in the Detroit series.”
These are just two quotes by Cashman that appear to negate any possibility that the Yankees will focus on anything other than rotation help.
Additionally, the Yankees also picked up the option on Nick Swisher for 2012, furthering bolstering the impression that offense isn't anywhere on the menu in terms of acquisitions.
With all of this as context, a trade rumor reported in the Sunday edition of the New York Daily News outlines a possibility that, if it comes to pass, should alarm Yankee fans.
In the article by Daily News columnist John Harper, an unnamed source reveals that the Atlanta Braves, low on offense but overflowing with pitching at all levels, have expressed an interest in Yankees SS Eduardo Nunez, and it is speculated that Jair Jurrjens is being dangled as the return.
On the face of things, the Yankees would certainly appear to have a need for a soon-to-be 26 year old starting Major League pitcher who is a combined 50-33 with a career ERA of 3.40.
Further supporting the case for Jurrjens being a valuable target is that he has pitched in meaningful games consistently for a team with intentions to succeed.
When you dig a little further however, the positives associated with Jurrjens begin to fade. Though he has had success, the reality is that there are legitimate question marks surrounding both his health and his velocity.
On the health front, he was shut down completely in September this past season due to a cranky knee, the same knee that ended his 2010 season and resulted in surgery. Add this to other injuries to his hamstring, oblique and, most alarming, his pitching shoulder, and it would appear that Jurrjens is one of the more fragile mid-twenties pitcher in the bigs.
Concrete evidence of this is his 268 or so innings pitched for 2010 and 2011 combined.
Regarding his velocity, Jurrjens has seen his fastball go from a consistent 91 mph or so in the 2009-2010 season to a very pedestrian 88 mph when his season ended prematurely in August of this year.
This might be an acceptable velocity if you’re Freddy Garcia, with a decade or so of experience at the big league level under your belt to fall back on. For someone close to 26 year old with just 115 Major League starts, this diminishment in velocity is troubling.
The health and velocity issues, troubling as they are in and of themselves, become magnified by the fact that Jurrjens would be consistently facing some of the more potent lineups in the game as a member of the Yankees.
The AL East is a tough neighborhood—and the American League as a whole is a more challenging beast than the National League—making the transition for an injury-plagued pitcher with diminishing velocity all the more difficult.
There will be voices, of course, that suggest giving up Nunez in a one-for-one swap for Jurrjens would be worth the risk that Jurrjens represents. There would be credence to that argument, but in the final equation this argument falls flat.
Simply stated, Nunez has a higher upside for the Yankees, either as the potent utility player he was last season or as fodder for another trade.
Furthermore, at 24, Nunez is still young enough and talented enough to be thought of internally as the heir-apparent to Derek Jeter. This is no small thing, considering the Yankees do not possess a string of other options at shortstop.
As outlined in John Harper's Daily News article though, the trade for Jurrjens could very well require not only Nunez going the other way but possibly Nick Swisher and a second tier pitching prospect as well.
While Harper goes on to speculate that the Yankees could potentially replace Swisher with Cuban phenom Yeonnis Cespedes, a risky swap this writer would wholeheartedly endorse based on Swisher’s postseason ineptitude alone, the reality is that Jurrjens is far too big of a risk even if the deal was a one for one with Nunez as the return for Atlanta.
In straightforward terms, the Yankees do not need a mid-twenties pitcher with a serious injury history who has already seen his skills decline.
With a stocked system of pitching prospects, the Yankees can afford to hold on to Nunez and Swisher for better returns at the July trade deadline or keep them both and promote one or more of their own prospects when the need arises.
The Yankees, as presently constituted, have several needs. Pitching is clearly a need and, despite Cashman's comments, so is another quality stick.
Among the projected starting eight, only Robinson Cano can be considered a lock to produce at, near, or above his 2011 levels. This is indisputable, as there is simply too much age, uncertainty and fragility throughout the remainder of the lineup for there to be the level of confidence that Cashman seems to have.
With this said, Cashman seems singularly focused on exploring all reasonable options to supplement an extremely suspect rotation. Yankees' fans will have to hope that the patience exhibited by Cashman over the past several years continues.
The Yankees are at a very delicate point organizationally, attempting to strike a balance between gunning for a crown and planning for the future. Nunez could very well be a big part of that future, or possibly a valuable chip that will make the future that much brighter. Jair Jurrjens, conversely, is a name with a far too risky past.