Monday, April 1, 2013

Comparing the AL East, Part 3

We left off on second base, so let's go to shortstop.


1. Jose Reyes, Blue Jays: There are some concerns about Reyes moving to a new league, playing on the turf, etc, but he's still a great player and the best shortstop in the AL East at this point.

2. Derek Jeter, Yankees: I'm working under the assumption that Jeter doesn't miss much time; if he does, then Nunez would take his place and move farther down this list. Jeter is getting old and I am concerned about his ankle, but he's still a solid player. Even if he can't repeat last year, I still like him more than most of the shortstops in the divison.

3. JJ Hardy, Orioles: I went back and forth on Hardy or Escobar...I ended up going with Hardy, because the power is for real. He's not going to hit for a great average and he's not going to get on base, but at least he provides power at a position that isn't famous for it.

4. Yunel Escobar, Rays: If Escobar had had a better 2012, he'd rank above Hardy. While he has very little power, he's always done a good job getting on base. Last year, though, he had only a .300 OBP (and still no power). Moving to a pitchers park, that worries me a lot.

5. Stephen Drew, Red Sox: Like Jeter, this is dependent on Drew returning soon, although the ranking wouldn't change either way. Drew has had problems staying healthy in recent years, and simply hasn't put up the numbers he used to (which were usually solid but not amazing). Until I see him healthy, I can't rank him any higher.

Third Base:

1. Evan Longoria, Rays: I actually think Longoria is a tad overrated. He's a great hitter, but I think people view him as better than he is. He's had some injury problems and hasn't quite put everything together in the same year. He's still excellent, but the monster season hasn't happened yet. That said, I would not be the least bit shocked if that season does happen, and he's clearly the best third baseman in the division.

2. Brett Lawrie, Blue Jays: Based mainly on his upside and the fact that he's actually done SOMETHING in the majors, although last year was not very good. He'll start the season on the DL, and I'm not sure how much time he'll miss...if he misses significant time, his replacements drop down to the #5 spot, as I don't like either of the possibilities.

3. Will Middlebrooks, Red Sox: I'm actually not a huge Middlebrooks fan; I think he's fine but not as good as he was last year. That said, I can't pretend last year didn't happen, he did a very good job and I do expect him to be solid again this year. He has less upside than Lawrie or Machado, but he had a clearly better year than either guy.

4. Kevin Youkilis/Jayson Nix, Yankees: Again, a platoon here, with Nix playing third against lefties and Youkilis playing third against righties (reportedly). I like Youkilis to bounce back a bit this year, closer to his 2011 numbers over his 2012 numbers. Nix brings it down a bit, although he's okay against lefties.

5. Manny Machado, Orioles: I was prepared to put Machado at #4 based on upside, but actually looking at his numbers, I really need to see more. He wasn't that good in 2012, which is totally understandable for a rookie jumping from AA, but he honestly wasn't that great in 2011 and 2012 either in the minors. He certainly has upside and I would not be at all surprised to see him move up the list here, but until he hits like we think he can, I can't put him higher.


1. Matt Wieters, Orioles: Wieters hasn't quite reached the levels people hoped for, but I think he's clearly the best catcher in the division right now.

2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Red Sox: Saltalamacchia and Arencibia are actually extremely similar hitters, but Saltalamacchia has a little more power, so I went with him.

3. JP Arencibia, Blue Jays: I'm not a huge fan of Arencibia, but he does have some power, so he'll rank middle of the pack. Outside of Wieters, the catching in the AL East is pretty weak offensively, with some one dimensional players and some defense only guys.

4. Jose Molina, Rays: I expect Molina to be the worst offensively on this list (although it may be close with the two Yankees), but I like his defense, so here he is.

5. Francisco Cervelli/Chris Stewart, Yankees: It's surprising how many times I have to include two players for the Yankees. We don't really know which guy will get more starts at catcher or if they'll split it. Cervelli will likely hit a bit better, but Stewart is probably better defensively. Neither guy is likely to do much hitting. If Cervelli can improve his defense, he could move up a bit based on the ability to kind of get on base, but he still has no power. Catcher is very much a weak spot for the Yankees this year.

Right Field:

1. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: Bautista had a down year last year (compared to 2011) and had an injury that concerns me a bit, but by now he should be fine. He's the best right fielder in the division, in any case.

2. Ben Zobrist, Rays: I'm a big fan of Zobrist. Some of his value comes from his ability to play a ton of different positions, but he still gets on base a lot and contributes in many ways.

3. Nick Markakis, Orioles: Markakis hasn't quite broken out as many thought he might, but Markakis is still going to give you a good average, get on base a decent amount, and hit a lot of doubles. He's a solid player.

4. Shane Victorino, Red Sox: Victorino was bad last year, but I do think he'll bounce back a little bit. He's got more power than Ichiro, which is why he ranks here.

5. Ichiro Suzuki, Yankees: I actually like Ichiro a bit this year, as I could see a power increase (say, 10 home runs and maybe even slightly more with the short porch). His defense remains great, but the days of Ichiro hitting well over .300 with 40 stolen bases may very well be over.


1. Adam Jones, Orioles: I had a lot of trouble deciding who to put first, but durability put Jones here. 2012 seemed like a breakout year for Jones, and I could definitely see him repeating.

2. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox: He has the highest upside of any of the centerfielders here, and he was a legitimate MVP candidate in 2011. That said, I just don't think the power was for real. He'll still steal you a ton of bases with 10ish home runs, and there's tremendous value there. Just not more than Adam Jones. I still might have put him higher based on that one MVP caliber season, but his injury history pushes him down.

3. Brett Gardner, Yankees: Granderson will be here eventually, but since May seems to be the best case scenario for Granderson, I'm not including him. I'm a big fan of Gardner, and while there are some guys on this list who have the ability to theoretically get on base a good amount, Ellsbury and Gardner are the only two who have actually done it over a full season. Gardner was a little off in 2011, and missed most of 2012 with an injury, but he's looked solid this spring, and I think you'll get a good season out of him. Plus, defensively, he's one of the best in baseball.

4. Desmond Jennings, Rays: I like Jennings potential, with some good speed and some power. The problem is, as of now he hasn't really gotten on base much in the majors. He had a great OBP in the minors so there's reason to think he could improve there, but for now I have him ranked below the guys who have actually done it in the majors.

5. Colby Rasmus, Blue Jays: Rasmus had one really good year in 2010 and that's it. He's had an OBP below .300 for two straight years now. He's got some power, but that's about it. If he could improve his OBP he might be higher, but until then, he's last.

Left Field:

1. Melky Cabrera, Blue Jays: I'm as surprised as you. It speaks more to the ugliness of left field in this division, but still. Melky the past two years has been a very solid player, hitting for a high average with a ton of doubles to go along with double digit home runs and stolen bases. PEDs are definitely a question with him, and there will likely be some regression, but even so, he's a good player.

2. Matt Joyce, Rays: Joyce had an off year in 2012 and has struggled to play a full season, but when healthy he's a solid player with some power.

3. Jackie Bradley Jr./Jonny Gomes, Red Sox: This is a really tough one to rank, because there are a ton of questions. Will Ortiz miss a lot of time, or only a couple of weeks? Is Bradley headed for the minors when he returns no matter what, or can he keep the job? Were they honestly going to play Jonny Gomes everyday or did they have a platoon of some sort? If it's Bradley, this is an upside ranking, because he had a fantastic year in 2012, but really has not had much time in the minors and is jumping straight from AA. If Gomes, he's a solid hitter coming off a great season (in Oakland of all places), but he can't hit righties well and he's constantly injured.

4. Vernon Wells/Maybe Brennan Boesch, Yankees: THAT'S RIGHT. I SAID IT. Wells isn't dead last on the list. Two reasons for this. First, it's possible Boesch is part of a platoon with him, which would greatly increase his value as Wells actually hits lefties quite well in his career (not so much last year, but even in his terrible 2011 he killed lefties). Even if it's just Wells straight up (until Granderson returns), he does have some power. Besides, isn't Wells just the kind of guy who has been bad for an extended period of time, then suddenly sees a resurgence in New York? We can hope, right?

5. Nate McLouth, Orioles: Not a fan of McLouth (clearly). He's been really bad for three years now. He did improve some with the Orioles, but the sample size isn't big enough for me to declare him back after some really bad seasons with Atlanta and some really horrible at bats with the Pirates.

Designated Hitter:

1. David Ortiz, Red Sox: This assumes health. Ortiz is clearly the best DH option in the division and it's not close. Moving on.

2. Travis Hafner, Yankees: A huge drop from Ortiz to Hafner. Hafner has a ton of trouble staying healthy and had a bad year in 2012, but hopefully he can bounce back some. He still hit for good power and did manage a respectable OBP (especially considering how low his batting average got). I could also see Hafner platooning with Boesch, especially once Granderson returns.

3. Adam Lind, Blue Jays: What happened to you, Adam? After a great 2009 he totally fell apart. I could easily see him being lower on this list, but the 20-25 home run power keeps him here. Yikes, though.

4. Nolan Reimold, Orioles: I'd have ranked him higher, but really, he hasn't played more than roughly half a season, ever. Last year was way too small a sample size to be at all meaningful. He did have a solid half a season in 2011 though, so here he is.

5. Luke Scott, Rays: Scott will open the season on the DL, but should be back soon. I'm not a fan. He kills righties but can't hit lefties, and he's coming off a bad season. The injury doesn't help either.

I was going to rank the overall lineups, but the truth is, every single lineup here has some holes. Some are better than others, but none truly stand out and any of these lineups could be the best in the division simply via one player overachieving.

So how do I rank the teams overall? First off, this is VERY close and I could see any team finishing in any spot. I don't expect a near 30 win difference between first and last place, like in previous years.

#1. New York Yankees: This is based on the fact that I like their pitching the best. Their lineup has serious issues and unlike nearly every year in recent memory, I don't believe I would rank their offense #1 in the division...however, I'm not so sure I'd rank them last either, especially since at least some of their injured guys should be returning, and if used properly, they do have some interesting platoon guys.

#2. Tampa Bay Rays: Their pitching is only slightly worse than the Yankees (and could even be better), and their offense is decent enough for the division they're in. The main difference to me is the Rays are essentially what you see is what you get offensively, whereas the Yankees could be getting a lot of injured players back, leaving only catcher as a real hole. If some of these guys stay out longer, different story, but that's why I rank the Rays second.

#3. Toronto Blue Jays: They have the potential to be the #1 team, but I do think people are, as usual, overselling them because they "won the offseason". Bonifacio and Buehrle are nothing special. The other three players they got could be, but every one of them has serious questions. Yhe Jays have multiple holes in their lineup (catcher and center field stand out, Lawrie has to show more when he comes back, their DH hasn't been good in years, etc). If everyone stays healthy and plays to their potential, this could be a World Series winning team, but I'm sorry, I think it's garbage when I see writers declare the worst case scenario for the Yankees, the best case for Toronto, and use that as evidence to show Toronto will be better. Most teams don't hit their best or worst case scenarios, and if that happens, I think the Rays and Yankees are better.

#4. Boston Red Sox: I actually think the Red Sox will be better than they were last year, by a decent amount. But the bottom line is, I think their pitching is behind the three teams above them in the division, and their lineup, like everyone else, has some holes (catcher outside of some home runs, shortstop) and a huge question mark in left field. If Bradley is as good as they obviously hope or Gomes hits like he did last year and stays mostly healthy, they could have the best lineup in the division, but even then it'd have a couple holes, and that's a lot of ifs.

#5. Baltimore Orioles: I just think they overachieved last year. They have some good young hitters but just as many holes as everyone else in the division. The Orioles pitching is what puts them last for me. I just don't think they're as good as they were last year, not even close. I don't think they'll be as bad as some think, but to me we're looking at more of a slightly below .500 or right around .500 team, and I think everyone else in the division is more of a 83-89 win team.

Happy Opening Day!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Comparing the AL East Teams, Part 2

Yesterday I compared the starting rotations for the AL East teams; today I''ll look at the closers, and start the position rankings. Bullpens in general fluctuate so much that I'm reluctant to grade the rest of the's difficult to see who is going to pitch in what situation for many of them. The closers are fairly straight forward though.


1. Mariano Rivera, Yankees: It's interesting just how good the AL East is for closers. Every single team has a guy I consider a legitimate guy. In this case, the only thing that gives me pause about Mariano is last years injury; however, it shouldn't effect his pitching. I fully expect him to return to the old Mariano.

2. Fernando Rodney, Rays: I really, really hesitated on this one, because Fernando Rodney of 2007-2011 is easily the worst of the 5 pitchers we're looking at here. But he was so incredibly dominant last year that I can't put him lower. That said, there was definitely some luck involved, and his walk rate last year was mind boggingly lower than he's ever had before, i just can't see him repeating it. Still, with the Rays defense behind him and the possibility that he did figure something out, I'll rank him here.

3. Casey Janssen, Blue Jays: He took over partway through the year and pitched great. He's been borderline elite for two seasons now, and had a fantastic strikeout to walk ratio last year. The only thing that I'm concerned about is offseason shoulder surgery.

4. Joel Hanrahan, Red Sox: Hanrahan is a very good pitcher who has been a strong closer for two years now. He's moving to more of a hitters ballpark in a hitters league, but I do expect him to be good. That walk rate keeps me from moving him higher, though.

5. Jim Johnson, Orioles: Johnson had a great year in 2012, and I think he's better than most people think. That said, he doesn't strike guys out. I really considered moving him above Hanrahan, but I decided not to based on that. Honestly, though, the AL East is strong in closers.

Combined with the starting rotation, I'm fairly comfortable saying the Yankees and Rays are neck and neck for best pitching in the AL East, and I give the slight edge to the Yankees. I would also not be surprised at all if the Blue Jays ended the year with the best pitching; they have the talent. The Red Sox are a step behind but still have solid pitching. The Orioles have a decent bullpen but a lot of starters that probably overachieved last year; we'll see if I'm wrong about that, but I'd rank them last for now.

The hitting is likely a different story, so let's start ranking that. I'm going by CBSSports projected lineups as of a couple days ago, if I'm wrong about who is playing the position I'll correct it.

First Base:

1. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays: First base is really ugly in the AL East, with Encarnacion being the only good one here. I don't think he quite repeats last year, but he's far and away the best first baseman in the division. I'd rank him higher even if Teixeira returns fairly quickly and shows no ill effects.

2. Mike Napoli, Red Sox: I'm a Napoli fan but the injury issue is a problem. Still, I think he's better than the other options here.

3. Chris Davis, Orioles: Chris Davis is not an amazing hitter. His average is at best acceptable and he doesn't get on base a ton. He does, however, hit home runs, and that alone puts him third on the list. I also think last years numbers were not that out of the ordinary and are repeatable for him.

4. Lyle Overbay/Kevin Youkilis, Yankees: I put both since the current word is to expect a platoon, with Youkilis playing first against lefties and Overbay against righties. I'll cover Youkilis more when we get to third base. Overbay is what he is; he's not very good at this stage, but he'll play some solid defense, and perhaps Yankee Stadium plus sitting more against lefties will help his overall numbers.

5. James Loney, Rays: Loney is more or less the same as Overbay, I just think Overbay has a bit more upside, and Loney is coming off a worse year.

Second Base:

1. Robinson Cano, Yankees: A legitimate MVP candidate. I'm undecided whether he'll take a bit of a hit this year due to a worse lineup around him (less chances to drive in runners, less chances of being driven in) or if he'll do just as well if not better by getting his numbers with RiSP up (he's done it in the past, so bad luck may have been involved). Either way he's the best second baseman in the division.

2. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox: The clear #2 second baseman after Cano. A great player who had a bit of an off year, but I expect him to keep doing what he does.

3. Kelly Johnson, Rays: I'm not a Kelly Johnson fan, at all, and I debated putting Bonifacio higher, but Johnson has a lot more power and will still steal you 10-15 bases. He won't get on base much and won't come anywhere close to even Pedroia's power, let alone Cano, but he's not worthless.

4. Emilio Bonifacio, Blue Jays: I don't really like Bonifacio, but he's going to give the Jays a lot of steals with an okay (not great, but not below .300 either) OBP. Nothing special but I'd still put him here.

5. Brian Roberts, Orioles: I REALLY wanted to rank Roberts higher, but he hasn't had anywhere in the ballpark of a full seasons stats since 2009. If you add up 2010-2012, you STILL don't get a full seasons stats, and when he's actually managed to play the last two years, he's been awful. He has the upside to be the #3 second baseman in the division, but he really has to stay healthy and actually show something before I can move him higher.

That's all for now, but I'll post more later.

Comparing the AL East teams

After constantly hearing how the Yankees are sure to finish dead last, I thought I'd compare the 5 AL East teams, position by position, to try to get a better idea of just how the Yankees line up, position by position, with the other teams in the division. The Rules: Anyone on the DL to start the season is not counted unless they are expected back very soon. Hence, Hughes will be considered as the #4 starter, but Teixeira will not be considered as the first baseman.

#1 Starter:

1. David Price, Rays: Probably the best starter in the division. Both Cy Young winners are in the AL East now, but Price is the one I see coming closer to repeating.

2. CC Sabathia, Yankees: Sabathia's durability finally showed some cracks last year, but even with injuries and missing 5-6 starts, he still threw 200 innings with an ERA in the low 3's.

3. RA Dickey, Blue Jays: The NL Cy Young winner had a fantastic year and I think, to some extent, it was for real. However, I just can't see him repeating that, and knuckleball or no, you're talking about a 38 year old moving to the American League. I think some people don't realize how good he was in 2010 and 2011...he's not a one year wonder. However, that strikeout rate that helped propel him to the Cy Young is way higher than anything he's done before. He could move up this list, but I can't reasonably put him above Price or Sabathia.

4. Jon Lester, Red Sox: Lester was not good at all last season, the story of a lot of Red Sox players. Lester's strikeout rate and home runs allowed have been trending in the wrong direction for years, but his biggest issue last year seemed to be a ton more hits falling in. I'm not so sure he returns to his former low 3 ERA self, but I do expect him to be much better than last year.

5. Jason Hammel, Orioles: The real question with Hammel is did he get very lucky last year, or did he figure something out? Here's a guy with a career ERA (AFTER last season) of 4.78. Before last year, he only managed to be even an average pitcher one time. His 2012 season was excellent, with a much better strikeout rate, many less hits allowed, and less home runs allowed than ever before. It is worth pointing out he had been in Colorado from 2009-2011. Do I think he's as good as he was last year, no. Do I think he's better than he was prior to 2012? I do, but I can't reasonably put him anywhere but fifth.

#2 Starter:

1. Hiroki Kuroda, Yankees: I'm a big fan of Kuroda, and was thrilled when the Yankees signed him. He gave the Yankees a great season, and I feel comfortable putting him at the top of this list. The one real concern is his age, but he hasn't shown any signs of slowing down yet.

2. Jeremy Hellickson, Rays: Look, I'm not going to sit here and say Hellickson isn't for real. I thought that after his 36 innings in 2010. I thought that after he put up an ERA under 3 in 2011. Now, though, after 2 years and 402 career innings with an ERA of 3.06, at some point we have to acknowledge that he has some ability to "outpitch" his mediocre hit, walk, strikeout, and home run rates. Part of that is undoubtedly his home ballpark and the defense behind him, but he does still have a 3.32 ERA on the road in his career. However, because of those bad rates, I feel like, even if he does have a strong defense, a good home ballpark, and some ability to control his hits, he's walking a tightrope that sooner or later he'll fall off of.

3. Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays: Now here's a guy who finally may have put it together. His strikeout rate plummeted (although it's still strong), but perhaps that was actually to his benefit. His walk rate has been improving for years now. I don't feel comfortable putting him any higher than 3 when we're talking about 124 innings one year, but I do think it's possible he's a legitimate #2 starter.

4. Wei-Yin Chen, Orioles: Chen had a decent rookie season. His home run rate was too high, but everything else was pretty solid. I'm not sure he'll repeat it, but I'm interested to see how he does this year.

5. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox: I'm not really a big Buchholz fan. His strikeout rate isn't very good, he has trouble staying healthy, his home run rate is mediocre to bad...he had some success in 2010 and 2011, but a lot of that seemed to be luck. I originally had him above Chen, but I ended up moving him down because Chen's walk rate was better than Buchholz has ever had, and his strikeout rate was better than Buchholz has had since 2008, not to mention he immediately threw more innings than Buchholz has ever managed. He could move up in the list, but I just don't trust him.

#3 Starter:

1. Matt Moore, Rays: This was one of the tougher ones. I considered Pettitte here, but his injury last year, plus the defense behind him, made me move Moore to the first spot. I don't know that Moore will be as amazing as he's been hyped to be in the past, but I think he's going to be a very solid starter.

2. Andy Pettitte, Yankees: It's somewhat odd that after 4 straight years of ERAs over 4, Andy's last 200 innings, spread out over 3 years (with him not even playing in 2011) have seen an ERA barely above 3.00. He's limited his hits but otherwise hasn't done much else, which could suggest some luck is involved. Still, he's a proven guy who, when healthy, has been great since 2009. Unfortunately, at his age and coming off an injury, he does have to be considered a potential injury risk.

3. Ryan Dempster, Red Sox: I debated moving Dempster past Pettitte, based mainly on having less of an injury history (although he did have an issue last year, but it wasn't as bad as Pettitte's). I hesitated because of how bad he was with the Rangers last year (albeit in a small sample size). After an entire career in the NL, it might take him longer to adapt to the American League. I think his performance in the end will be somewhere in between his 2011 and 2012 numbers.

4. Mark Buehrle, Blue Jays: First off, I based the starters on who the teams have chosen to start in order...the Jays have Buehrle listed as their #3, so that's who goes here. I'm not a Buehrle guy at all. He's had plenty of success in his career, clearly, and he's a good bet to throw 200 innings, but he'll have a poor strikeout rate and a ton of hits allowed, and he doesn't actually have an incredibly low home run rate. He doesn't walk guys and he's durable, but that's about it.

5. Miguel Gonzalez, Orioles: Another Oriole who I think got very lucky last year. He's not a terrible pitcher and I could see him being better than Buehrle, but until he throws more than 105 innings, I can't put him any higher.

#4 Starter:

1. Josh Johnson, Blue Jays: I actually think he'll be much better than Mark Buehrle, but hey, he's listed as their #4 starter, so this is where he goes. The one issue with Josh Johnson is, obviously, health. However, while he does seem to be good for an injury every year, he's been a LITTLE more durable than people think. He's thrown 180+ innings 3 out of the past 4 years...not great, but certainly not the 100 innings or less I suspect most people think he puts up every year. His upside is clearly the highest of the #4 guys (and the #3 guys for that matter, except for perhaps Matt Moore). I think he's for real and I think he stays relatively healthy...he's the #1 here by a lot.

2. Phil Hughes, Yankees: I actually would have put Hughes lower, because while I've always been a big Hughes fan and rooted for him to succeed, he just has never quite put it all together. That said, the 180-190 innings with a low 4 ERA he gave the Yankees last year and in 2010 (his two mostly healthy years) are better than those ranked below him. He'll start the year on the DL but is already throwing, and is only expected to miss a start or two at most. The home run rate is terrible with Hughes, but the walkrate is solid to strong and he strikes out a good amount of guys. If he can start keeping the ball in the park he could be the Yankees second best starter after CC, but at this point that might require a move to a team with a bigger ballpark.

3. Alex Cobb, Rays: It's tough to determine whether Cobb should have been 2 or 3 here, since we don't have as big a track record, but I do like Cobb. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he outpitched Hughes this year. That said, I don't think we're talking about a future ace here. He's a solid middle of the rotation guy.

4. Felix Doubront, Red Sox: Doubront had a great strikeout rate last year, but the bottom line is he gives up too many hits and walks way too many guys with a mediocre to bad home run rate. I could see him having a solid year if he can get the walks down to where they were in the minor leagues, but I can't place him any higher until we see something out of him.

5. Jake Arrieta, Orioles: Arrieta actually had really solid numbers last year...if you look at his strikeout to walk rate (3.11). Unfortunately, he also had a 6.20 ERA, allowed way too many hits, and enters the year with a career 5.33 ERA. There's only so much a great strikeout to walk rate can do for you until you start showing some results. I might have considered him higher if he had an ERA in, say, the mid 4's, but 6.20? Can't do it.

#5 Starter:

1. Chris Tillman, Orioles: Hey, the Orioles are out of the basement! First off, this was probably the toughest group to pick. This is less a thumbs up for Tillman and more an indictment of the group as a whole. That said, I do think Tillman is headed in the right direction. Like practically every Oriole starter, I don't expect a repeat of 2012, but I also think he'll be much better than he was from 2009-2011. The walk rate may go back up (or perhaps he figured something out), and he'll probably give up more hits, but I don't think you'll see a hit rate well over 10 per 9 again.

2. Ivan Nova, Yankees: This could actually be David Phelps instead, once Hughes comes back, but my guess is Nova gets the initial shot. I actually like Phelps a bit better, but whatever. Nova had a bad 2012 after a strong 2011, but he actually seemed to make some strides in his strikeout rate. His biggest problem last year was home runs, but this is a guy with a career minor league home run rate of 0.6 per 9, with a very strong home run rate in 2011 as well. I'm not sure the strikeout rate is real, but I don't believe last years home run rate was either, so I think he'll be better. I've never been a Nova fan, but he could be a decent #5 starter.

3. J.A. Happ, Blue Jays: Mostly based on a decent strikeout rate, because he doesn't have much else going for him. If not for Lackey's health issues he wouldn't even be this high.

4. John Lackey, Red Sox: He has the potential to be the highest in this group, but there are serious problems here. He's had a terrible ERA in his Red Sox career and is coming off missing an entire season. In one way he's almost the anti Josh Johnson in terms of reputation, as prior to 2011 I recall him having a reputation of being a durable guy, but actually looking at it, he's missed time in 4 of his last 5 seasons (including all of last year) and the one time he actually threw 200 innings during that span, they were mediocre. He's gotta come back and show something before I can move him higher.

5. The Artist Formerly Known As Fausto Carmona (AKA Roberto Hernandez), Rays: So let me get this straight, here. The Yankees lose a couple guys to free agency and a couple to injury, and it's the end of the world. The Rays lose their centerfielder and their second best starter who pitched as well as an ace at times, replacing the latter with FAUSTO CARMONA, and nobody says a word? Rays win a billion games and easily destroy the Yankees? Oh, okay. Carmona sucks. He'll get a slight boost from a strong defense but he's bad.

The Overall Rotations:

1. Yankees: This was VERY close with the Rays, and I nearly gave the Rays the edge because of their better defense (I'm not including home ballpark because I'm not really trying to compare who pitches in a better park here, the Yankee opponents will have to pitch in Yankee Stadium too, and the Rays opponents will pitch at their home park as well. Defense is different though, it's team specific). The Yankees have their ace in Sabathia, two very solid starters in Kuroda and Pettitte, and a few high upside guys in Hughes and Nova with a solid #6 in Phelps. I give them the slight edge.

2. Rays: The Rays pitchers have a great defense behind them, the best pitcher in the AL East, one of the highest upside guys in the AL East, and a couple of solid guys who benefit from that defense. They also have Fausto Carmona. So they're #2.

3. Blue Jays: The Jays made some great moves to improve their staff, and I would not be surprised if they ranked #1. Johnson isn't quite as horribly injury prone as some think (albeit not durable), Dickey isn't the one year wonder a lot of people think, and Morrow could realistically have made some strides. There are just so many question marks in every single guy in that rotation though that I can't reasonably put them above the Yankees or Rays.

4. Red Sox: I definitely think we'll see better seasons from Lester and Buchholz this year, and a healthy Lackey, even if he's not good, could at least keep the Red Sox from running out terrible pitchers as they were forced to do in September 2011. In the end though, they just don't have the depth or the upside of the three rotations above them.

5. Orioles: Their rotation is really not very good. They could get some help from the minors, but they had a ton of starters get ridiculously lucky last year, and the only one I think even has a chance of repeating what he did is Chen (and he was solid, not dominant). Not a fan at all.

That's it for tonight, next time I'll look at the bullpen and maybe the offenses as well.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Recent Moves

Haven't had much to talk about for a while, but a few days ago the Yankees finally broke their offseason silence and made some big moves.

1. Yankees sign Hiroki Kuroda

May as well start with the more "basic" signing first. I love this move. Is Kuroda an ace? No. He is, however, a good pitcher who should give the Yankees 200ish innings with an ERA around 4 or lower. He's got good stuff and isn't simply a product of the NL West; he has good road numbers, complete with a solid strikeout rate and an elite walk rate. The only real question I'd have is with his home runs, which have fluctuated in his four years stateside. He had a high home run rate in 2011; however, it was actually higher on the road than at home, so it may have been a fluke. In any case, good signing, especially since it won't effect the team past this year anyway.

2. Yankees trade Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos

Whew, this was a crazy trade. When I first saw that the Mariners were finalizing a deal for a young impact bat, I immediately wondered if it could be Montero, and sure enough...

My last posts dealt with the idea of trading Montero. While I did mention Pineda as someone I would have considered trading Montero for, I didn't expect it to actually happen, even if it does make some sense for both teams. If the Yankees were going to trade Montero, though, this is the type of player they should have targeted...a young, high upside pitcher who has already pitched very well in the majors (but still has 5 years to go to reach free agency).

First off, what doesn't this mean? You can already see some of the spin that this means such and such for the future of the team, or how the Yankees must have been down on Montero. I do think it's entirely possible (especially given how September went) that the Yankees were more down on Montero the catcher than they were willing to let on. However, I think that's about the only thing it says. A lot of people have declared this means the Yankees didn't want a DH because A-Rod's going to be moved there in the next couple of years. However, that assumes the Yankees had no intention of ever keeping Montero, and I don't buy that for a second. There was never any indication they were interested in including him for any other pitchers fact, I think Pineda may have been one of the only possible pitchers he could have been traded for. Felix is unavailable and so is nearly every other ace or #2 type starter that it would have been reasonable to trade Montero for. If the Mariners had (very realistically) decided not to trade Pineda, I firmly believe Jesus Montero would be a Yankee next season and going forward. This trade was made because Pineda became available, not because the Yankees were trying to get rid of Montero.

Could this mean more DH time in the future for Alex Rodriguez? Absolutely. There's no immediate candidate to replace Montero at DH, now or in the future (more on that in another post in the next few days). However, does this mean they made the trade because they're expecting A-Rod to DH a ton soon? No, I don't believe that. The reasoning I brought up a couple months ago still stands.

So, what do I think about the trade? I'm not entirely sure. I'm tentatively in favor of it. I was a huge fan of Montero and didn't want him traded except for very specific circumstances...this was potentially one of them. If Montero is going to be a full time DH, that's less valuable than catching full time. Still valuable, but less so. Meanwhile, this gives the Yankees a #2 starter that is under team control for the next 5 years, who has a chance to become an ace. The possibility of getting Cole Hamels next year hasn't been eliminated either, although it seems less likely now. Imagine a top 3 of Sabathia/Hamels/Pineda? That's an insane top three that would make the Yankees the immediate favorites in any postseason series they're in. Of course, if the Yankees are serious about getting payroll under 189 million by 2014, then Hamels is almost certainly not possible. Regardless, this gives the Yankees more options. I hate to see Montero go, but if you're going to move him, this is the deal to do it in.

The "throw ins" are interesting as well. In the short term they clearly favor the Mariners, as Noesi is ready to contribute right now and Campos is years away. However, Campos actually has upside, with most saying he would have been a clear first round pick had he entered the draft this year. This is an interesting addition for the Yankees, brought on, I suspect, by the new CBA. The new CBA could significantly hurt the Yankees in terms of their farm system. They will have much less money that they can spend in the draft without sacrificing first round draft picks, and they're going to be extremely limited in how much they can spend on international free agents. In addition, because they're the Yankees, the team is always contending and rarely is able to trade players to rebuild their farm; the players they trade are usually younger guys traded away to help the major league team. This gives the Yankees a prospect that will fit into their top 10 (likely somewhere in the middle...5-7 or so). Noesi is a nice back end of the rotation/long reliever type, but he's an interchangeable part on this Yankee team. One out of Hughes/Garcia/Burnett seems certain to take the long relief role (I'll cover the 5th starter situation in another post soon), so Noesi was probably headed back to the minors anyway.

Finally, Pineda. I think there are a few legitimate concerns about him, and a few concerns that aren't fair. I've seen a few people bring up the fact that he has had elbow issues in the past. In 2009, he missed a good amount of the season with elbow soreness. However, from what I understand, it was at least somewhat precautionary. Elbow issues of any kind are a bad thing with pitchers, but the fact is he had elbow soreness 2 years and many innings ago and as far as I'm aware has never had the issue again. Besides, it was soreness, not elbow surgery. I'm not too concerned there.

The second concern I've seen raised is the home run rate. First off, let's be clear on this: Pineda is going to give up some home runs. He's a fly ball pitcher and Yankee Stadium has the short porch. That said, I think some of the concern is over the top. One of the reasons Yankee Stadium allows so many home runs is that the Yankees themselves are the best home run hitting team in baseball. That's somewhat of a "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" argument, but it does have to factor in. Meanwhile, the Mariners are the second worst home run hitting team in the American League (and if Morneau had played a full year, they probably would be worse than the Twins). Again, part of this is due to their park, but the team itself simply has no power. That's only a small part of it though; of course it's easier to hit a home run in Yankee Stadium than it is at Safeco. Pineda, though, oddly enough, had a better home run rate on the road than he did at home. Whether this suggests he got a little lucky on the road or whether it suggests he got a little unlucky at home, I don't know. His minor league home run rate was actually quite good. I suspect the end result for Pineda is going to be a home run rate about what he did last year, or slightly higher. Last year his home run rate was 0.9 per 9 innings, I expect something close to that, perhaps as high as 1 per 9. I don't think he's going to skyrocket up to 1.2 per 9 like some seem to think. Time will tell there, but I'm not too concerned about the home run rate.

The final main complaint is about Pineda's poor second half. It's true that Pineda's second half was worse than his first, in terms of ERA. Some of his other numbers were not that different, though. His K/9 and BB/9 were close to the same, which suggests he may have just gotten unlucky. Also, Pineda went through three terrible starts in a row in mid July...if you take those out, his second half ERA was, I believe, under 4.00, and his overall ERA is closer to 3.00 than 4.00. The reason I mention that is we don't really know why he got knocked around in those three starts. If he just got knocked around for no particular reason, then yes, that's something we may have to see every year. If, however, Pineda had a mechanical issue he needed to work out or a minor injury he didn't disclose, it's not fair to expect starts like that every year. I'd also point out that toward the end of the year, the Mariners were attempting to limit Pineda's innings. He was skipped at least twice, pushed back a day here or there, and taken out after 90 pitches multiple times (even when pitching well). His final start came on 11 days rest and lasted 80 pitches. It's tough to take a lot out of that, when so many pitchers thrive with consistency.

What does Pineda do right? He has a fantastic strikeout rate. Even if it goes down slightly in the AL East (no guarantee, the hitters are certainly better but it doesn't necessarily mean they strike out less), it's still an elite strikeout rate. What is perhaps even more interesting is the excellent walk rate. That's great to see from such a young pitcher with such good stuff.

If Pineda can stay healthy, he should be a strong pitcher for the Yankees for many years. I think Montero is going to be a very good hitter, and it hurts to lose him, but the Yankees have greatly improved their rotation without having to give out an enormous long term contract. Now, they have the option to try to get payroll down or to hand out that big contract to make a "super rotation" comparable to the Phillies. This trade is going to take awhile to fairly judge, though.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Should Montero Be Traded?

Yesterday I pointed out how silly the claim of "The Yankees can't keep Montero if he's a DH!" is, and why it would be stupid to trade him for "anything they can get" as some have suggested. However, there's another question...should Montero be traded? A lot of people have this assumption that ace pitchers are always available at all times, but is that actually true? I went through all the teams and pinpointed players I'd even be willing to trade Montero for. Rule #1: If they're going to be a free agent, they obviously don't count. Rule #2: If they have only one year left on their contract, I'm not interested. Montero has too much potential for too little money to justify trading him for a one year rental at this point. While you can make a case for a top, top pitcher (ala Cliff Lee), there aren't any guys of that caliber with one year remaining.

Over in the NL West, the Rockies have nobody I'd be at all interested in. The Diamondbacks only have Ian Kennedy, and he's not worth Montero at this point, even if he did have a great year. The Padres pitchers always scare me because of the Petco factor, and the only guy that even particularly interests me there is Latos, and I wouldn't trade Montero for him. Over on the Giants, there are two pitchers of interest, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Matt Cain is out for me...while I like him, I think he's more of a #2/#3 type pitcher, and he's only signed through 2012. I wouldn't be against trading for him, but not at the cost of Montero. Lincecum could be a different story, he's an ace. His walk rate is a little high but otherwise he'd probably be a top of the rotation guy anywhere. He's under contract for two more seasons. I can't imagine the Giants would ever do it but I'd probably go for that one. With Posey and Belt around and no DH though, it doesn't make much sense for them. The Dodgers have one pitcher I'd jump on, Clayton Kershaw. I'd make that trade in a second, but the Dodgers have even less reason to do that than the Giants. Kershaw is only just becoming eligible for arbitration; he'll be a bargain for years to come. So, from the NL West, we have Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum, and neither figures to be at all available.

Over in the NL Central, I don't think there's a single player I'd trade Montero for. Wainwright is coming off an injury, Carpenter is getting old and isn't as dominant (Game 5 of the NLDS aside). The Reds, Astros, and Pirates don't have anyone I'd be particularly interested in. I'd be a bit interested in Garza from the Cubs but certainly wouldn't trade Montero for him. That leaves the Brewers, but Marcum isn't worth Montero, and Greinke has concerns about pitching in New York and would be a free agent after 2012 anyway. That leaves only Gallardo, who is a bit more interesting as he's under contract through 2014, but he allows too many home runs and I just wouldn't trust him enough. So, nobody from the NL Central.

Over in the NL East, the Mets have nobody of interest. The Marlins and Braves both have an interesting pitcher, but they're coming off serious injuries to their arms/shoulders that would immediately stop me in my tracks. Josh Johnson and Tommy Hanson could both be aces or definitive #2 starters, but there is no way I'd trade Montero for either under the current circumstances, not until we know they're healthy. Those types of injuries are huge question marks. The Nationals have Stephen Strasburg, and I'm back and forth on him. On the one hand, he's also coming off a major injury; however, he's actually returned and pitched some, and looked good doing it. He doesn't seem to have lost a step. The question is, are there more injuries in his future? I think I would reluctantly do it; the Nationals never would. The Phillies have three interesting pitchers, but Hamels only has one year remaining, so I wouldn't do that trade. Lee and Halladay I would, but they obviously wouldn't be available. So, from the NL West, you have Lee, Halladay, and Strasburg, and none of them would be available. Seeing a pattern? From the entire NL, not one pitcher worth trading Montero for figures to be available, and I don't mean that we're guessing they probably aren't available, I mean it makes no logical sense at all that they would be.

Moving to the American League, let's start with the AL East. First off, it bears mentioning that it'd be extremely difficult to make any kind of a trade in division. The Red Sox have Lester, but obviously would never make a deal with the Yankees for players of that caliber. The Orioles have nobody interesting. The Rays have a lot of interesting pitchers, however. Price and Moore are both of great interest, although it's extremely doubtful either would be at all available, and certainly not to the Yankees. The realistic guy there is James Shields. I could definitely see James Shields getting traded. The question is, is he worth trading Montero for? My gut is no. If you knew you were getting the James Shields of this year, then of course, but James Shields prior to this year was solid to bad every other year. Before this year you'd never consider trading Montero for him, and I'm not sure anything has really changed right now. Not that the Rays would be at all likely to trade Shields and his three remaining years in division. As for the Blue Jays, the only pitcher of any interest is Ricky Romero, who has a shockingly great contract for the Blue Jays (he's signed cheap through 2015 with a relatively cheap 2016 option). I'm not the biggest Romero fan around but based solely on how good that contract is and how effective he has been in the AL East, you'd have to at least consider it. So for the AL East, you have Lester, Price, Moore, and perhaps Romero, but none of them would figure to be available, and certainly not to the Yankees.

Over in the AL Central, there is essentially one and only one pitcher that jumps out at me, and that's Justin Verlander. The Twins, Indians, Royals, and White Sox don't have anyone that interests me enough to trade Montero. Naturally, especially after the year Verlander had, I'd trade Montero for him, but of course the Tigers wouldn't.

Finally, the AL West. The Rangers have nobody interesting. CJ Wilson is a free agent and nobody else interests me enough to consider trading Montero for them. The A's have a couple interesting players and people have been linking the Yankees to Gio Gonzalez as recently as the trade deadline, but it's not a trade I'd make. The Angels have Weaver, who I might have been interested in, but his desire to stay on the West coast makes that a no go. I like Haren quite a bit and wanted the Yankees to get him last year, but at this point I wouldn't trade Montero for him. Finally, the Mariners. I might do it for Pineda, but the Mariners wouldn't go for that.

Which finally, leaves us with perhaps the only realistic option. Every single player I've said I would trade Montero for is almost certain to not be traded. The guys who could be traded only have one year left on their contracts, or simply aren't good enough (or have too many injuries in recent years) to justify it. However, the one player who could perhaps get traded, the one ace who doesn't play for a team with realistic expectations of contention, who has a large contract the team could want to move, is Felix Hernandez.

There are a few problems with Felix. For starters, he didn't look like his recent self this season. He looked more like the Felix of 2006-2008, who was very good but not really one of the best pitchers in baseball. However, his strikeout rate was the best of his career and his walk rate remained low; this could just be a fluke. Also, with three years remaining on his contract, if the Mariners would even entertain offers for him (and it's a big if, albeit realistic unlike many of the other aces in baseball), it would certainly cost more than Montero. Montero would likely have to be included in any offer, since the Mariners badly need offense, but they'd want more. Montero and Nova is a realistic start to the offer, with probably one additional player (likely not Banuelos, as that would probably be too high of a price, but Hughes/Betances would be possibilities). I actually don't think I'd do a deal of Montero/Nova/Hughes for Felix. It would create too many holes on the major league team, and if the Yankees took on Felix' salary (18.5 million in 2012), they'd be right up against the payroll limit Hal and Hank seemingly set last year. While they could probably be convinced to go a little higher, you're not going to fill those multiple empty spots. Everyone is down on Hughes, but he at least fills a starting pitching role on the team; trading him plus Nova opens up two holes while only filling one, in what is a terrible free agent market for pitchers (and that's assuming CC resigns with the Yankees), in addition to opening up a hole at the DH position. Betances and Banuelos have a lot of potential but simply aren't ready. I would, however, probably do a deal that included Montero, one of the starters, and Betances or a lesser prospect. Betances has a world of potential but has to get his walks under control, and it's possible he never does that. I'd hate to do that deal since I don't want to see Montero traded, but realistically you have to give up something of worth.

All that said, in all of Major League Baseball, looking at every single team, I found one single pitcher who I would trade Montero for this offseason that has any shot of realistically being available, and even that's guessing with him; there's no real reason why the Mariners couldn't simply wait til the trade deadline, or really, wait until the trade deadline of the 2014 season to trade him. If he keeps pitching well his value isn't going to go down, and they don't figure to contend next year no matter what they trade Felix for. You could even make the argument they'd be better off waiting and trading him for younger players under team control longer, once they feel they're within a few years on contention. Perhaps they feel that way now, and if so, they could make the trade, but if they don't, I'd keep Montero. The options aren't that good and I'm not at all interested in trading away the best hitting prospect the Yankees have had in a very long time, who killed the ball in September, for a one year wonder or back end starting pitcher.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Myth of the DH

Lately, I've seen a lot of people calling for Montero to be traded, and not just for an ace pitcher; for whatever the Yankees can get. The argument generally boils down to 2 points:

1. Jesus Montero is nothing more than a DH, he doesn't play a position.

2. The Yankees need the DH spot open.

First off, it's clear Montero doesn't have the speed to play the outfield. There are serious concerns about his catching ability; he seems to have a good arm, but his ability to block balls is another story completely. He obviously won't be playing shortstop or second, and he probably doesn't have the reflexes to play third, even if his arm is accurate enough. Which leaves first base, which Mark Teixeira has locked up for another five years. To which I what? It's not ideal, obviously. It'd be nice if he could effectively play a position the Yankees need. If he can't, however...well, last I checked, DH is a position too, one which the Yankees have open. If Montero can hit the way we hope he can (and he certainly seemed to show it in September), is it so bad? The Red Sox have had a set DH since 2003 in David Ortiz; how has that gone for them? Pretty well. So that really shouldn't factor in.

The second point is the one brought up the most. "The Yankees will need the DH position for Jeter and A-Rod as they get older!". That is more or less a media driven false claim that people keep repeating. Let's start with Jeter. Jeter has another three years on his contract. He rebounded to have a solid year after a terrible start. Realistically, there were still some less than great signs; even post All Star Break, he didn't hit for much power. Jeter's never been a big power hitter, but this is low even for him. However, if he can keep hitting close to .300 with an OBP in the .360 and up range, the Yankees can get by on that. His defense could be another story. While I think people oversell the idea that Jeter is a terrible defender, and I find defensive stats to be somewhat flawed, even the eye test shows that Jeter doesn't quite get to balls that other shortstops get to, especially up the middle. If I had an Italian restaurant, I'd serve "Pasta Divingjeter". However, Jeter isn't a complete waste at short either; as we saw from Nunez this year, there is value in someone that makes the plays when the ball is hit to them, something that Jeter typically does. And frankly, people have been claiming for years now that the Yankees need to move Jeter off shortstop. It doesn't look likely to happen. Jeter's going to keep manning that shortstop position until someone pries it from his cold, dead fingers, and even if he starts rapidly declining even more, he's only under contract for three more years. Jeter isn't the problem. He's not injury prone, so he's probably going to get the usual five or so games at DH (this year he had ten, mainly due to a couple minor injuries). If he's not hitting well and Montero is, maybe those turn into bench days instead. It's not a big deal.

A-Rod could be a different story, mainly because of his injuries. Since 2007 Alex seems to have a big injury every year, and the DH spot could, in theory, keep him healthier. However, in this case, defense doesn't seem to be a big problem. Most defensive stats (if you want to buy into them) have had him as below average at third base throughout his career, but this year he was above average. When healthy, he still seems perfectly capable of holding down the position. When he's not healthy, well...that's the problem. But if he's seriously hurt, he can go on the DL. If he's not, then maybe he splits a little time with Montero at DH. Again, all of this is under the assumption Montero is hitting. If he is, then maybe you sit A-Rod instead of DHing him when he needs a day off from the field. Is that honestly a huge problem? It's not at all out of the question to think Montero could outhit A-Rod from here on out, as we've seen A-Rod declining. Since we're not even talking about 2012 but sometime in the vague future, it even seems likely (once again, I stress, this is all under the assumption that Montero at least somewhat hits like we hope).

Finally, one thing that needs to be pointed out...those talking about this don't seem to think A-Rod and Jeter will need to be DHing this coming year. It's all somewhere in the mysterious future when they wake up unable to play their position. That may never happen with Jeter, he might retire before he gets to that point. For A-Rod, with six years remaining on his contract, that could happen, and when that time comes, we'll see what happens, but are we seriously talking about leaving the DH spot open now because maybe four years from now Alex will have to be the DH? That makes no sense at all.

So when people say Montero needs to be traded because the DH spot needs to stay open for A-Rod and Jeter, don't listen. That's a crap argument that hasn't been thought through. It's parroting other people who needed something quick to write about. I'm not asking you to take my opinion as the definitive word; if you disagree with me, I'd be happy to hear why. Maybe I'm wrong. But the idea of needing to move Montero now because maybe someday A-Rod will have to DH, that doesn't even make logical sense to me, and I suspect it wouldn't make logical sense to anyone who thought it through.

A better question is should Montero be traded this offseason? I'll cover that question in my next post (probably tomorrow).

Friday, October 7, 2011

Potential Starters for 2012

So, we've established now that overall, the Yankees can pretty easily fill 23 of the 25 spots on their roster for 2012 (again, assuming no injuries or trades, which are both possibilities but are tough to predict right now). But that starting pitching looks really suspect right now, with Nova the only one that's even close to a sure thing, and we're really working off a small sample size of half a season, his first half wasn't too good. Obviously, the one name that jumps out is CC Sabathia. He has the ability to opt out and most feel that he will, especially with the lack of starting pitching on the free agent market. While he didn't look quite as good in September and October, resigning CC is a must. There simply aren't other options for aces right now, and even if the Yankees were to pull off a huge trade, you'd only be replacing him (and losing top prospects to do it). Besides, let's be honest...while he was far from sharp in Game 3, he was getting squeezed pretty badly on that outside corner to right handed hitters. That game might have gone very differently if he wasn't. Let's work under the assumption that the Yankees do bring Sabathia back...he seems to love it in New York and the Yankees really do need him back. That leaves one empty pitching spot on the roster (at least, as Hughes or even Burnett could end up bumped from the rotation...but I think that's unlikely at this point).

To be honest, if you're looking at the free agent market and want a pitcher who can pitch toward the top of the rotation, rather than a 4 or 5 starter at best, there's only a single guy who would likely be worth it, and that's CJ Wilson. There are a couple decent options such as Roy Oswalt, but he's getting older, has pitched his whole career in the NL, and has an option for 2012. Hiroki Kuroda is also a free agent but seems to prefer to stay on the West Coast. That leaves CJ Wilson and a whole lot of meh. I've gone back and forth on CJ Wilson, personally. Prior to this season I wanted no part of him, but he had a really good year. Here are the pros and cons on him.

- Has thrown 200 innings the last two seasons (was a reliever before that)
- Strong strikeout rate
- Pitches in the AL in a hitters ballpark, so there's reason to think he could succeed anywhere
- Left handed pitcher, always a plus at Yankee Stadium
- Doesn't allow a lot of hits, while this can always change based on luck, it's good to see a consistently low hits per 9 rate.
- Limits home runs despite being in a hitters ballpark

- Very high walk rate. 3.0 per 9 (his walk rate for 2011) is workable, but before that he was around 4.0 per 9 or more, and that's just too many, especially pitching in the AL West for the one above average offensive team in the division. His walk rate could go even higher in the AL East.
- Went from being a reliever to suddenly throwing 200 IP two years in a row, including 223 this season. He didn't seem to have a problem this year, so it may not matter, but anytime you see that innings jump there are going to be at least questions about arm troubles.
- Is more of a #2 starter who could be paid ace money, due to being the only good free agent pitcher on the market if Sabathia stays with the Yankees, and due to currently being on Texas, who has money to spend as evidenced by their pursuit of Cliff Lee.

If the Yankees were to sign CJ Wilson (and resign CC Sabathia), I think I'd be okay with it, but I wouldn't have a problem with it if they didn't. The walks are the big concern for me. Did we see Wilson figure it out this season? Or was it a fluke and he'll be back to walking 4 per 9 again? Also, I know people like to just say "Yankees have money, who cares", but these things do matter. There are limits on payroll as we've seen recently. The Yankees are losing Jorge Posada and should be able to replace him with the league minimum Jesus Montero, but that's about all they're losing right now, and they do have to be wary of the fact that after 2013, Robinson Cano might have to be resigned to an enormous, superstar level contract. In addition, Felix Hernandez always looms as a possibility, and his 20 million a year salary likely wouldn't be possible if CJ Wilson were signed.

Speaking of Felix, he seems to be the only ace type pitcher who even might be available via trade this offseason (which isn't to say he even will be available). The Yankees could probably put together a good package for him, especially since Montero looked so good in September. However, any trade for Felix would create other holes, such as at DH, that would need to be filled, with little money to do it.

If Wilson returns to the Rangers, that leaves the Yankees in a tough situation. In that case, they might be best served doing what they did this year...signing a pair of back end starters to take a chance on (ala Garcia and Colon) and having Betances and Banuelos ready should they develop the way we hope they do. Neither guy is ready to make the team out of Spring Training, but both could be ready soon after. This would enable the Yankees to get by for another year and go after Cole Hamels after the 2012 season, or to hope the kids develop to an extent that they can full all the necessary roles in the rotation. It's also possible the Yankees could make a more minor trade without using Montero, to try to get someone like Matt Garza or Matt Cain.

One wild card in the whole thing is Yu Darvish, who is expected to be posted this offseason by Japan. His stuff is off the charts, but there are of course potential problems there. For starters, he'd cost a lot of money since any team would have to pay the posting fee as well as signing him to a contract. Second, while I'm not of the "Japanese pitchers all suck!" mindset that a lot of people seem to have, I do think Japan is different from the US, and it'd really be preferable for any Japanese pitcher coming to the US to spend some time in the minor leagues, to adapt to pitching every 5 days instead of every 6, to learn to face hitters who are more likely to take a walk or hit for power. The problem is, with so much money invested in these players via the posting fee, there's a lot of pressure on the team that gets them to have them in the rotation immediately. I could see Yu Darvish doing that; Daisuke Matsuzaka is the general go to for "great stuff but struggled in the US", but I like Darvish better. Look him up on YouTube to see him pitch; it's pretty impressive. Darvish is very much a difficult guy to predict, though, because there's no guarantee the Yankees would even win the rights to him (a place where offering the biggest contract doesn't work), and even if they do, he could be anything from an ace to a guy with great stuff that can't quite adapt. It'd certainly be a risky move.

One other name that should be mentioned, since he could become a trade target this offseason, is James Shields. While I certainly wouldn't mind having him, I imagine the Yankees would have to greatly overpay, beyond everyone else, considering the Rays are a constantly contending team and wouldn't want to trade him to one of their two main competitors.

It's very difficult to predict at this point what the Yankees will do in terms of starting pitching. Resigning Sabathia is an obvious move, but beyond that, they have a number of things they could do with that last rotation spot.