‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
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From the second his team was eliminated from the playoffs Brian Cashman kept his cards close to his chest as the media speculated which route the Yankees would go to obtain a talented starter. One by one, he passed on the most obvious options, to his team’s benefit.
Cashman did not want to tie-up the Yankees’ long-term payroll with potentially burdensome contracts like the ones given to C.J. Wilson or Mark Buehrle, or pay the exorbitant $51.7 million posting fee for the unproven Yu Darvish. Even Edwin Jackson’s contract demands proved to be unreasonable.
But then, in a matter of hours on Friday night, the Yankees waived goodbye to prized prospect Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi and welcomed long-awaited arms to their rotation. Young phenom Michael Pineda arrived from the Mariners and Hiroki Kuroda joined the Yankees on a one-year deal worth $10 million, according to WFAN’s Jon Heyman.
Most importantly, Cashman didn’t give up Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Adam Warren or David Phelps to acquire Pineda. They would have likely had to part with at least one of their coveted pitching prospects to land Gio Gonzalez (who went to the Nationals) or the Cubs’ Matt Garza.
Pineda enjoyed a tremendous All-Star rookie season in Seattle, posting a 3.74 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 173 strikeouts and 55 walks in 171 innings. He will turn 23 next Wednesday and has all the tools to become a top starter. Pineda can hit the upper 90′s and has strong command of his fastball and a devastating slider. Once he fine-tunes his change-up, he’ll have the kind of arsenal that hitters fear.
Since arriving from Japan, Kuroda has been a very reliable starter. His 2011 ERA was a sparkling 3.07, to go along with a 1.21 WHIP. Like Pineda, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was strong at 161-to-49. Kuroda will be 37 by the time spring training gets underway, but he’s shown little evidence of aging as many of his numbers have actually improved in each of his four major league seasons.
Both starters will benefit from greater run support in New York, so you can expect them to do better than the respective 9-10 and 13-16 records they posted in 2011. Each should fare better with the Yankees’ powerful lineup backing them in 2012.
The arrival of Pineda and Kuroda has given the Yankees a log-jam in their rotation. Along with CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova, they make up 4/5 of the Yankees’ projected rotation. That leaves A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes to compete for the final spot.
Some Yankee fans may be disappointed to see Montero as part of the Pineda deal, but there were legitimate concerns within the organization about his defensive aptitude. Montero’s potential at the plate is what most general managers salivate over, but it didn’t make sense for Cashman to hold on to a player whose value would be cut in half if he couldn’t catch at the big league level.
Austin Romine is considered to be a more capable defensive catcher who is projected to be an above-average major league hitter. Gary Sanchez, a 19-year-old, Class A project, could be the Yankees’ long-term catcher of the future. Romine could compete in spring training with Francisco Cervelli to back up Russell Martin in 2012.
The big question now is who Cashman will attempt to acquire at designated hitter. Prince Fielder would be an unlikely target as he would require a long-term contract and would prevent the Yankees from using the DH slot to rest veteran infielders Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. Eduardo Nunez spent time spelling both players in the field last season and served as an occasional DH.
Nunez could perform a similar role in 2012 but the Yankees would like to upgrade their strength at designated hitter. Andruw Jones agreed to a base salary of $2 million for next season, but has yet to complete his physical. Once the deal is official, he will be the most experienced DH on the Yankees’ roster.
Cashman will need to pursue a veteran left-handed free agent bat. Power-hitting Carlos Pena makes immediate sense. Johnny Damon is available and could also serve as a part-time corner outfielder, though the 38-year-old’s numbers and range have regressed.
Raul Ibanez is an unlikely target as his average and on-base percentage fell dramatically in 2011. Casey Kotchman is attractive, but he’s more inclined to sign with a team that would allow him to play first base. Eric Chavez has yet to declare whether he intends to play next season.
Other free agent options could be former Yankee hero Hideki Matsui, Maggilo Ordonez or Vladimir Guerrero. All three are likely low on Cashman’s list as they’re injury-prone and both Guerrero and Ordonez are right-handed hitters.
Regardless of the direction the Yankees choose, the coming weeks and months should be interesting for their fans.
What do you make of the Yankees’ new-look rotation? Would you welcome Damon or Matsui back to the Bronx? Is Pena the best DH available? Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.