OK, this article isn’t to say that John Lackey isn’t a good pitcher. He is.
And this isn’t to say I wouldn’t want the Lackey on the Yankees. I sure would.
This is to say when the terms “Zito-money” get thrown around regarding John Lackey’s free agency, it’s time to pull back on the reins a bit.
Sure the Yankees could use him, and assuming they don’t resign Hideki Matsui, they could have some money to spend.
However, signing a 31-year old pitcher with arm troubles and a history of getting battered by the Red Sox (a lifetime 5.25 ERA and a tOPS+ of 141), to a fat contract—no matter how you like his “toughness”—smacks of a touch of idiocy.
The Yankees were lucky with last year’s free agent signings—all 3 were healthy and pitched over 194 innings. However, that is a gamble one shouldn’t count on a whole lot—pitchers over the age of 30, with a lot of innings and arm troubles, don’t tend to magically get better as they get older. And Lackey, a workhorse his whole career, has begun to break down, missing 200IP the last two years—after pitching 198 innings the previous 5—and suffering some arm injuries.
Should the Yankees sign Lackey, their rotation would consist of pitchers aged, 30 (Sabathia, birthday in June), 33 (Burnett, birthday in January), 38 (Pettitte, birthday in June), and 31 (Lackey, turns 32 in October). Rather than the Yankees getting younger as Cashman claims to want to do, the Yankees would be relying on older pitchers, with a lot of mileage on their arms.
Again, signing Lackey wouldn’t be the worst thing. On the contrary, if rumor is true, and the Yankees do put Chamberlain back in the pen for good as an eventual replacement for Rivera, it could help in the short term. The problem comes in Lackey thinking he is worth a Zito-type contract (that’s 7 years at 18 per, for those that tried to block it out of their minds). If the Yankees could sway Lackey down from 7 years to say 4 ( or even 3 years with an option) years, as they did with Damon back in 2006, then maybe they can go for it. But a big, fat roster-clogging contract on a somewhat-risky pitcher is not what the Yankees need now. Ask the Braves, who put last year’s free agent signing on the trading block, but aren’t finding any takers.
In any case, they won’t be able to talk Lackey down. Sure, there is a recession, but someone, somwhere out there—my guess is the Rangers with the Mets a darkhorse—will pay something close to what Lackey wants. Pitching is always in demand.
After last year’s spend-a-thon, the Yankees are in a different position. Instead of the big splash, the Yankees this year, should be more judicious. They should look for a gem in the flotsam; a low-risk, high-reward type player. Say, a shortish, incentive-laden contract to Eric Bedard. Or perhaps, a 2-year contract to Jarrod Washburn (who is planning to retire soon, anyway) and giving him the chance to win another ring. Perhaps Justin Duchscherer could use a fresh start?
The point being that, of course, John Lackey is an excellent pitcher and any team would love to have him. But the risk-reward analysis, mixed with the fact that everyone knows that the Yankees have overspent in the past and will try to use that to their advantage, makes Lackey a real hazardous sign. The Yankees took a risk last year with 3 arms that had a lot of mileage on them—and it paid off. This time, “caveat emptor.”