Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Case for Nothing

Last year, some truly average free agent pitchers hit Lotto. Almost every team desperate for starting pitching threw crazy money at them to sign these paragons of mediocrity. Some guy named Gil Meche with a career record of 55-44 and who only once had an E.R.A under 4.00 (when he went 4-4 in 2000) signed a 55 million dollar contract. Lefty Ted Lilly, who's lifetime E.R.A. was over 4.5 got himself a 40 million dollar contract.

A lesson to be taken from this could be, if you're gonna go get a pitcher in free agency, grow one from your farm system instead.

Which is what the Yankees seem to be doing. After Wang came up and turned himself into a perennial 19 game winner, the Yanks have grown themselves a starting rotation. If Petitte takes his ball and goes home to retire, the Yankees with Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Joba Chamberlain and Wang could have 4 farm-groomed pitchers under the age of 28.

And that's fine with me.

The Yankees should NOT go after Santana. They should NOT sign Jennings to a huge multi-year contract. Those days are done (hopefully). If the Yankees do anything, they should add a complementary piece. A small signing.

The papers and talk radio would have us give up Melky, Kennedy and uber-prospect Jose Tabata for Santana. Or we should go after a top-tier free agent pitcher, Carlos Silva for instance (that is what passes for top tier these days).

Why not you say? Silva is a groundball pitcher who logged 200 innings last year for a 4.19 ERA. Not bad. But a few flags. First off, he gave up 229 hits in those 202 innings pitched. His lifetime BAA is .300. with lefties hitting a .472 slugging percentage off him. Also his ERA on grass is over a point higher than his ERA on turf. And lastly, and maybe most importantly, he's going to be expensive. The Twins have already tried to sign him for three years at 21 million and Silva laughed it off. Take last year's Meche/Lilly numbers and add a few zeros.

The Yanks should walk away from that as well as the Johan Santana drama. And from Livan Hernandez. And Jason Jennings. Face it—the Yanks track record on Big Money pitcher deals is G-O-D-awful with a list of tragedies from Andy Hawkins to Kei Igawa. Pitchers who were awesome suddenly implode when they touch Yankee Stadium grass (anyone remember Steve Trout?) Any free agent pitching signings should be of the low-risk variety.

And it's next to impossible to make a small move with even mediocrity getting Big Boy money. One small move might be fossil-reliever Todd Jones. A one-year deal for an experienced set-up man/"off day for Mariano" might be wise. Other than that, we should leave well enough alone. Walk away from the table.

To sum up, instead of signing a huge big bucks free agent and then crossing our fingers that it doesn't blow up in our faces, we should look for the guy to replace Petitte from where Petitte came from. Within.

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