Friday, November 13, 2015

If Yankees add outside starter, bullpen might benefit from excess arms

The New York Yankees are reportedly in the market for a starting pitcher, yet they have seven hurlers on their 40-man roster who made at least 11 starts for the club in 2015. If a starter is added to the mix this offseason, we might expect one of those seven pitchers is traded. We can speculate as to who that might be, but it’s also worth trying to determine who misses the cut to stick in the rotation (assuming good health).

The Yankees rotation is one with some questions marks, so adding depth or getting extravagant by signing an ace-type starter makes sense. But in order to do so, the Yankees will have to make some internal adjustments.

First, here is a chart showing each of the starters currently on the roster along with the number of starts, innings pitched in 2015 and 2016 salary (* = projected salary provided by MLB Trade Rumors).

Many would agree that CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka, Nathan Eovaldi and Luis Severino are not going anywhere; the first two due to salary and the latter two because the Yankees likely do not want to part with them. Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova and Adam Warren are surely able to be traded, but I would venture to guess the Yankees do not entertain moving Pineda because of his low cost and potential upside. If any of the seven above are dealt this winter, it would probably be Nova, again if the Yankees add a starter.

For argument’s sake let’s say that Nova is traded, after the Yankees do in fact add another starting pitcher via trade or free agency. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has flat-out stated that starting rotation slots are not assigned at the moment; each player will need to earn his spot. But, we can speculate as to who would have the upper-hand in the pecking order assuming good health across the board.

First, the pitcher the Yankees receive would most certainly have a greater shot of becoming a rotation member, otherwise, why bother? So, we’d likely see Tanaka, Eovaldi, Severino and Pineda round out the rotation, again assuming health and expected performance. That would leave Sabathia and Warren on the outside looking in.

Putting a man earning $25 million into the bullpen, likely for long relief and spot starts is pretty drastic, but does anyone believe that Sabathia is going to outpitch any of the five players mentioned? If Sabathia’s track record over the last few seasons indicates anything, it’s that he is declining, and might be better suited for this type of duty.

In this scenario Sabathia would be the first person to slide into the rotation if there was an injury; and with this group, that’s almost a sure thing. While Sabathia has seen better days, I’ll go out on a limb and suggest he’d be better than Chris Capuano, Esmil Rogers or a slew of others the Yankees tried in the spot in 2015.

Adam Warren
Photo credit: Keith Allison via Flickr
As for Warren, I’m one of the few people who believe that he provides the Yankees with more value as a reliever. The emphasis on those three words is important. I fully support the notion that Warren can hold his own as a starting pitcher in this league. He proved that in 2015. But, the Yankees need another setup man; so why should they go out and trade for one or sign one with a viable option in front of their faces who costs next to nothing? The Yankees desperately needed another right-hander for higher leverage situations in their bullpen last season, something Warren aptly provided from 2013-14.

Further, I would go so far as to say that Warren should never slot as a starter in 2016. If the injury bug hits and it requires going beyond Sabathia to fill the rotation, then Bryan Mitchell can take some turns; or the Yankees can fill the part with another ready arm from the system. Mitchell proved last season that he could not handle a bullpen role; he’s a starter plain and simple.

Some might argue that Warren’s value would take a hit by throwing strictly as a reliever in 2016. I’m fairly certain at Warren’s age (27) if the Yankees made him available in a trade, a team could decide whether he’s being brought in as a starter or a reliever. Hopefully for Warren his role in New York or elsewhere becomes a constant and he can carve out a career as one or the other. In my view another season as a full-time reliever is not going to preclude him from starting again.

Adding a starting pitcher from the outside might be the best way for the Yankees to improve their rotation for 2016, and in turn fills two bullpen spots which the Yankees sorely missed in 2015 without wasting prospects or more cash.

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Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.