Mark Feinsand of the NY Daily News reports that the Yanks are pursuing their starting pitching targets now that the talks between them and Johnny Damon appear to be at a standstill. He writes:
Brian Cashman is looking to add at least one more starter from outside the organization to a rotation that includes CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Pettitte, Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. Such a move would allow him to move Hughes and/or Chamberlain to the bullpen.
While Cashman continues to monitor the Roy Halladay situation in Toronto, the general manager is looking at a couple of pitchers coming back from arm surgery: Justin Duchscherer and Ben Sheets.
Neither righthander pitched in 2009; Sheets has the longer track record. The Yankees have spoken with Sheets’ agent, Casey Close, but Sheets is looking for $11 million-$12 million after earning $11 million in 2008 – a price the Yankees are unlikely to meet. The Yankees were interested in signing him as a free agent last winter, but they opted to sign Burnett instead. Sheets went 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA in 2008, but there are questions about how he would fare in the American League after pitching his entire career in the NL with the Brewers.
Duchscherer, 32, went 10-8 with a 2.54 ERA in 2008, his first as a starter after four years in the A’s bullpen. He was chosen to the American League All-Star team in 2005 as a reliever, then again in 2008 as a starter. He had elbow surgery during spring training, then battled a bout of clinical depression in August.
A few things to address here. I agree that we could use a starter, having two young and still relatively unproven starters in Hughes and Chamberlain is a risky strategy heading into a season, as we saw in April/May of 2008. Yes, adding a starter would allow them to move either Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes to the bullpen, but that’s assuming everyone else stays healthy. We all know that’s rarely the case with starting pitchers. With Sheets, he’s rarely been able to go wire to wire in any season without something going wrong physically, so the guy you’d be bringing in would be the most likely candidate for a DL stint. If this signing was to come to pass, expect both Joba and Hughes to prepare as starters, and then move to the bullpen on Opening Day assuming everyone’s healthy. If/when someone gets hurt, you have the option of sending them down to AAA to get stretched out, as well as the Chad Gaudins and Sergio Mitre’s of the world.
The longer track record of Ben Sheets makes him far more attractive (and expensive) than Duchscherer, who was a reliever until his breakout season in 2008. Sheets is a power pitcher who walks very few batters (2.0/9IP) and gets his share of Strikeouts (7.6/9IP). Those are numbers that translate anywhere. We know from last winter that Girardi’s a huge fan of Sheets, and his laid back style would fit in well with his fellow starters CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett. A reunion with former teammate CC Sabathia would smooth the transition as well, and Sheets may be able to learn something from AJ Burnett. He was an injury-prone power pitcher who’s learned what it takes to stay on the field and has actually become something of a workhorse for the past few seasons.
If anything Duchscherer would be the far bigger question mark in the AL East, who had a slightly higher walk rate (2.2/9IP) and lower Strikeout rate (6.2/9IP) in his one season as a starter. I must admit the clinical depression report bothers me as well. I know that it came while he was on the DL, and was not due to anything performance-related, but New York is a tough place to play. Its a big media town with a rabid fan base coming off a World Series championship. Expectations couldn’t be higher, and Baseball is constantly a game of failure. You need a thick skin to play here even under the best of circumstances. The Yanks are held to a higher standard than any other franchise in this town, perhaps any other franchise in professional sports. We’ve seen far too many players come through here who either couldn’t handle it or just didn’t want to. Character matters, being a Yankee isn’t for everyone, and shouldn’t be.
For me, the clear choice is Sheets. Both pitchers are coming off elbow operations, so that’s a wash. While Duchscherer would likely cost far less, I still don’t view that money as well spent. Too many questions about how he will translate in the AL East. Sheets has the stuff and makeup to pitch in New York and succeed. I would do it even if it meant passing on Johnny Damon and signing a lesser OF like Mike Cameron, or not signing one at all and playing Melky in Left. Pitching wins, and when healthy Ben Sheets is one of the top pitchers in the game.