New York Yankees: Ranking the Top 10 Pitchers on Their Free Agent Wish List

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistOctober 19, 2011

New York Yankees: Ranking the Top 10 Pitchers on Their Free Agent Wish List

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    At this point, fans of the New York Yankees know that after every season, bolstering the pitching staff and finding quality left-handed relievers is going to be Brian Cashman's top priority.

    It has been for the past decade, so why should this year be any different?

    Cashman has had some hits (CC Sabathia) and some misses (A.J. Burnett).

    With Sabathia's expected free agency looming large (no pun intended) and the team's highly touted pitching prospects Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos another year away from making an impact in the Bronx, Cashman has some work to do.

    Unfortunately, the free-agent pitching class of 2012 is lacking in bonafide, front-of-the-rotation starters and shut-down relievers.

    But there are still a number of quality arms available for the Yankees to choose from.

    After the jump, the 10 pitchers that they will focus on will be adding to the fold.

10. Bartolo Colon

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    Nobody expected Bartolo Colon to do much of anything in 2011—especially considering that he had been out of the game for over a year and was not getting any younger.

    However, the 38-year-old righty cemented himself as the Yankees No. 2 starter until he injured his hamstring in a June 11 start against the Cleveland Indians.

    This past season was a story of two pitchers: the pre-All-Star break Colon and the post-All-Star break Colon.

    First Half: 6-4, 3.20 ERA, 1.14 WHIP over 90 innings.

    Second Half: 2-6, 4.96 ERA, 1.47 WHIP over 74 innings.

    While his age and weight are a concern, Colon showed that he is capable of providing quality starts and going deep into games by today's standards.

    Colon is likely looking for a raise from his $900,000 salary this past season, but if he is willing to take a one-year contract for less than $3 million, he's worth bringing back to the Bronx.

9. Jeff Francis

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    When Jeff Francis became a free agent following the 2010 season, the Yankees were rumored to have some interest in bringing him to the Bronx. Ultimately, Francis joined the Kansas City Royals.

    For the Royals, Francis went 6-16 with a 4.82 ERA and 1.44 WHIP over 183 innings. 

    What those numbers do not show is that, as the level of competition rose, so did his game.

    Against teams with a winning percentage of .500 or better, Francis was 4-6 with a 3.61 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over 82 innings.

    While I expect the Royals to look to re-sign him for something close to the one year, $2 million contract that he agreed to last season, the chance to join a contender could entice Francis to leave the up-and-coming Royals.

    As a No. 5 starter, there are worse options than Jeff Francis, a talented lefty who went 44-32 from 2005-to-2008 for the Colorado Rockies

8. Freddy Garcia

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    Like Bartolo Colon, nobody expected much out of Freddy Garcia when the Yankees signed him before the 2011 season.

    Like Bartolo Colon, Garcia exceeded expectations, going 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA and 1.34 WHIP over 146 innings.

    While some have taken exception with his performance in Game 2 of the ALDS against the Detroit Tigers, if you actually look at his pitching line it should have been a more-than-acceptable performance for a team with as high-powered an offense as the Yankees have.

    Now 35-years-old, Garcia will likely be looking for a multi-year contract and a raise from his $1.5 million salary as his career begins to wind down.

    The Yankees know what to expect from him, and the familiarity with the team and coaching staff could lend itself to a mutually beneficial situation.

    While not ideal for Garcia, I would think that a two-year contract in the $8-to-10 million range could keep Freddy in pinstripes to shore up the back of the rotation.

7. Roy Oswalt

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    We looked at Roy Oswalt last week, though fans were divided on whether or not signing the veteran was a wise decision.

    Normally, I am against bringing pitchers who have spent their careers in the NL over to AL, especially the AL East.

    For Roy Oswalt, I would make an exception.

    Granted, he is not the same pitcher that he was 10 years ago, but the 34-year old is still an effective, consistent starter.

    The problem, of course, is injury. Oswalt missed all of July this year due to back problems, though when he returned from the disabled list he threw fairly well: 5-4, 3.59 ERA, 1.35 WHIP over almost 68 innings.

    How hard the Yankees look at Oswalt will depend on what happens with CC Sabathia, but Oswalt will likely not receive offers offering anything close to the $16 million salary he had in 2011.

6. Javier Lopez

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    Since leaving the Boston Red Sox after the 2009 season, 34-year-old lefty Javier Lopez has done nothing but shut down left-handed batters.

    Last year for the San Francisco Giants, Lopez went 5-2 with a 2.72 ERA and 1.28 WHIP over 53 innings in 70 games.

    Most importantly is what he does to left-handed batters, holding them to a .163 BA and .430 OPS. For his career, lefties are hitting a paltry .223 off Lopez with a .624 OPS.

    Lopez made $2.375 million last year, so chances are that he'll be looking for a raise as part of a multi-year contract.

    With the issues the Yankees bullpen had against left-handed batters at times this season, a two-year deal in the $7 million range could satisfy Lopez and give the Yankees another option against lefties.

5. Mike Gonzalez

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    I don't know about you, but I am tired of talking about how the Yankees should acquire Mike Gonzalez.

    On at least three different occasions this season, I wrote about how they should try an pick him up from the Baltimore Orioles, a team that was going nowhere and really had no use for a veteran left-handed specialist out of the bullpen. Instead, he ended up with the Texas Rangers and has helped them reach their second World Series in as many years.

    Since switching leagues—he spent the first seven years of his career in the NL— his ERA has gone up by nearly two full runs, but when used only to do his job, Gonzalez remains one of the best in the game.

    His job is simple—get left-handed batters out.

    Gonzalez has been tough against left-handed bats for his entire career, holding them to a .216 BA and .645 OPS. In 2011, he beat his career numbers, holding them to a .214 BA and .574 OPS.

    As with Lopez, Gonzalez is much tougher on lefties than Boone Logan—by a wide margin.

    Gonzalez, who will turn 34 next May, is finishing up a two-year, $12 million contract that he signed with the Orioles prior to the 2010 season.

    Left-handed specialists are valuable, and the Rangers have money to spend. Gonzalez's asking price is tough to call, but it's reasonable to assume he could receive a multi-year offer at slightly lower money than what he just made.

4. Yu Darvish

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    We touched on Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish last week, and he remains the "wild card" of free agency.

    High-profile Japanese pitchers have struggled mightily upon their arrival in the major leagues. Yankees fans know this all too well with the failed signings of Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa.

    How much money will it cost to win the right to negotiate a contract with the talented 25-year-old righty?

    After Daisuke Matsuzaka cost the Boston Red Sox over $50 million to have the chance to negotiate with, bids from teams are likely to be considerably lower. My guess? Somewhere around $30 million.

    Whether or not the Yankees seriously pursue Darvish will likely depend on the organization's willingness to potentially spend tens-of-millions of dollars and see them go to waste yet again.

    But with the dearth of young, impact arms available, Darvish could find himself in the Bronx.

3. Hiroki Kuroda

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    Brian Cashman and the Yankees really wanted Hiroki Kuroda from the Los Angeles Dodgers last season.

    As the season wore on and the trade deadline neared, the chatter surrounding Kuroda only increased.

    Would he waive his no-trade clause? The answer, as we are aware, was no.

    Kuroda continues to assert that he is only interested in pitching for the Dodgers, the only MLB team he has played for where he has a 41-46 record, 3.45 ERA and 1.18 WHIP for his career.

    He turns 37 in February and has continually stated that he only wants to pitch for the Dodgers, but that will not stop the Yankees from speaking to his agent about a possible deal.

    I think his loyalty and comfort with the Dodgers wins out and he stays in LA rather then accepting a potentially more lucrative offer from the Yankees.

2. Mark Buehrle

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    Mark Buehrle would be awesome on the Yankees.

    I'm not saying it, you are.

    Or, chances are, you have at one point or another over the past five years.

    I know I did. More then once.

    Buehrle has spent his entire 12-year career with the Chicago White Sox and his roots undoubtedly run deep.

    He is an innings eater, having thrown at least 200 innings in each of the past 11 years.

    His other numbers are pretty good too: 15-11, 3.83 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 223 innings in an average year.

    His 2011 numbers? 13-9, 3.59 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 205 innings.

    Not bad for someone who turns 33 in March.

    The White Sox are rumored to be willing to offer a two-year deal to the lefty—would the Yankees be willing to offer three?

    Without question I think the Yankees would jump at the chance to pick up Buehrle on a three-year deal in the $45-to-50 million range.

    Regardless of what happens with CC Sabathia, I expect the Yankees to go hard after him.

1. CC Sabathia

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    CC, CC, CC.

    It would be so much easier if you just did not exercise your opt-out clause and earn your $94 million over the next four years.

    However, I understand why you are going to opt-out. So do the Yankees.

    We all know what CC Sabathia brings to the table. We also know what CC Sabathia takes from the table.

    There is no disputing that Sabathia's weight can now be classified as a concern.

    He grew noticeably bigger as the season progressed and over the last two months of the season was, well, mediocre at best.

    Simply put, he was not the same pitcher we had seen over the first three months of the season.

    Sabathia's importance to the Yankees cannot be understated. Without Sabathia, the Yankees likely would not have made the playoffs the past three years.

    If fans are concerned about his weight and disappearing act at the end of the season, chances are that the team shares those concerns.

    The likelihood of Sabathia not re-signing with the Yankees is slim, but there is always a chance that things go awry.

    Personally, anything more than an additional two years would make me re-think my situation. Sabathia is currently signed through his 35th birthday.

    Being locked into a long-term contract past his 37th birthday is not something I think the Yankees will be quick to agree to, especially considering what seems to be happening with Alex Rodriguez before our very eyes.