Brian Cashman said yesterday that the team has two main priorities this off season, a starter and a lefty for the bullpen. Neither comes as any surprise, the Yanks have pined for Cliff Lee for years and on the heels of the news of Damaso Marte’s scheduled shoulder surgery there was going to be an opening in the bullpen. Chad Jennings of LoHud has the details:
“If I can find a left-handed reliever who can join Boone Logan, I think that will make our choices out of the pen better for our manager,” the GM said. “It’s easy to talk about it. It’s harder to find it. Those are the obvious things that stand out for me: Continue to improve your starting rotation, find a left-handed reliever and then get after it.”
There’s three paths he can take with this. Free agency, trade, or internal options. Given that Cashman said he’s looking to “find” a lefty, let’s put aside internal options for the moment. Today we’ll look at this year’s free agent crop and tomorrow we’ll peruse the arbitration eligibles to look for trade candidates. Here’s the list of 2011 free agents, courtesy of MLBTR:
Joe Beimel (34)
Bruce Chen (34)
Randy Choate (35) – Type B
Scott Downs (35) – Type A
Pedro Feliciano (34) – Type B
Mark Hendrickson (37) – $1.2MM club option with a $200K buyout
Ron Mahay (40)
Will Ohman (32)
Dennys Reyes (34)
Arthur Rhodes (41) – Type A
J.C. Romero (35)
Bobby Seay (33)
Scott Schoeneweis (37)
Hisanori Takahashi (36)
Taylor Tankersley (28)
Lets discard a few names right away. Taylor Tankersley, Scott Schoeneweis, Randy Choate and Bruce Chen have as much chance becoming Yankees next year as I do, which is zero. The fact that 41 year old Arthur Rhodes is a Type A shows the flaws in the Elias ranking system, despite his good season. Expect him to re-sign with the Reds or have a Juan Cruz-like journey to finding a new home. Another note, Hisanori Takahashi isn’t a free agent yet, he and the Mets agreed to extend his 10/31 deadline. He switched agents, and the extended deadline signals that both sides have expressed an interest in working out a deal. Had a nice first season in the bigs for the Mets and provided them some versatility as a starter and reliever.
On to the lesser names on the list. Joe Beimel doesn’t miss many bats (4.2 SO/9) Pedro Feliciano has had a very disconcerting workload under old school regime of Omar Minaya (86, 88, 92 Games past 3 seasons) Denys Reyes walks too many (5.0/9) and doesn’t strike out enough (5.5/9) and JC Romero has no idea where the ball is going (7.1 BB/9). They’re all out.
Onto the more attractive candidates. Will Ohman performed nicely for the Marlins after being traded from the O’s, but it was too small a sample to draw anything from. He is what his career 109 ERA+ suggests he is, a nice league average pitcher. Bobby Seay has good numbers, giving up less than a hit (8.7) per inning pitched and walking a reasonable amount (3.7/9). His strikeouts were down (6.9/9) a bit from last year (9.3/9) but in line with his career averages (7.7/9) Another solid, if uninspiring option.
The one who jumps off the list to me is Scott Downs. He’s been healthy, pitching 48 innings or more every year since 2006. He’s tough to hit, posting Hits per 9 of 7.3 or less in 3 of the past 4 seasons. His walk rates have only improved of late, declining to 2.5/9 in 2009 and 2.1/9 last year from his already good career average of 3.3/9 IP. He’s not an extreme strikeout pitcher but in his past 4 seasons he’s posted SO/9 rates of 8.8, 7.3, 8.3, and 7.0 last year. He’s done all of this pitching in the AL East, so there’s no surprises there. As a pitcher, there’s nothing not to like. The only question will be does Brian Cashman want to surrender Type-A draft pick compensation for a Lefty reliever, to a team in his division, no less. If the Yanks were to land Cliff Lee, Downs would be their second Type-A free agent this year. As you may recall in 2009, that means he would cost their 2nd rounder (61# overall) and a supplemental pick. The Yankee farm system is pretty stocked right now with pitching at the upper levels, so you could argue that they could afford it. But will they? Cash has been pretty steadfast about not giving up draft picks for relievers, but Downs would be such a good fit its possible they make an exception.