Over the last few years, the knock on the Tampa Bay Rays has been that they are talent rich, but coffer poor. Pairing homegrown talent like Evan Longoria, David Price, James Shields, Carl Crawford, and B.J. Upton with players picked up through trades and free agency, the Rays have been a force in the AL East since 2008. This winter, Crawford, the fleet-footed left fielder signed with the Red Sox. With their shortstop Jason Bartlett slated for a raise via arbitration, the team traded him to the Padres. Yesterday, the Rays sent starting pitcher Matt Garza and minor league outfielder Fernando Perez to the Cubs in exchange for several prospects. The deal accomplished two things for Tampa. They continued to lower their 2011 opening day payroll. And they traded from a place of surplus, starting pitching, to restock one of the strongest farm systems in the league.
While all of this was happening, the Yankees have had a less than optimal off season. After just missing out on picking up Cliff Lee at the trade deadline, the Phillies swooped in and signed the former Cy Young winning pitcher. On the trade front, the Yankees decided to take a pass on another former Cy Young winner, Zach Greinke, over concerns he couldn’t handle pitching in New York. Currently, the Yankees are in something of a holding pattern. For the last few winters, Andy Pettite has toyed with retirement, but eventually decided to sign a one-year deal, in the process, bolstering the Yankees’ starting rotation.
On the surface, it is the same story this winter. But things are a little different. On
December 22 of last year, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that Pettite would normally be working out for the upcoming season so as to be prepared for spring training. Yesterday, the New York Post reported that Pettite, after spending a two week vacation in Hawaii is, “just chilling out, hanging. I’m relaxing.” This morning, Olney wrote that the Yankees are looking for an innings-eater for the back of the rotation, but that type of pitcher is far and few between on the free agent market.
This is where the Yankees need and the Cubs-Rays trade comes together. Even before the Cubs dealt for Garza, they had something of a surplus of starting pitchers. Now with Garza on board, they can turn one of those players around in a trade, helping to restock the farm system. The Yankees, sans Pettite in 2011, would have a rotation of Sabathia/Hughes/Burnett/Nova/Mitre. That will simply not do in the AL East. Even with perpetual doormats in Baltimore and a weakened Tampa team, Toronto’s swing-for-the-fences offense and the Red Sox, now with Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, will do some serious damage on that rotation. That is why Yankees GM Brian Cashman should call up Cubs GM Jim Hendry and start working on a deal for one of Chicago’s starters.
The player the Yankees could acquire and give up the least in return is probably Carlos Zambrano. Signed through 2013 and making north $18 million a year, he was in and out of the rotation last year as he got into fights with teammates and was suspended for six games by Major League Baseball. While Zambrano, who will turn 30 in June, would be a buy-low type of guy since his stock has dropped in Chicago, he is just too much of a head-case to be an appealing player for the Yankees.
The guy the Yankees would most covet is 33-year old Ryan Dempster. Signed through 2012, he had been a solid cog in the Cubs rotation, but Hendry is unlikely to move him. The Garza deal is an indication that the Cubs are looking to win in 2011 and moving Dempster would be a step back in that effort.
That leaves three other Cubs pitchers – Carlos Silva, Tom Gorzelanny, and Randy Wells. Silva was picked up in the deal before the 2010 season that sent Milton Bradley to the Mariners in a deal where the teams got rid of under-performing players. Silva was ghastly in two years in Seattle, but turned it around last year with Chicago. If I were Cashman, I’d be leery of bringing Silva, a pitcher who in seven full seasons has had negative Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in three of them, to the Bronx. So what if 2009 wasn’t a full season for Silva, he was so bad that year, the Mariners took him out of the rotation.
If you remove the players the Cubs won’t trade away and the ones the Yankees won’t trade for, you are left with Randy Wells and Tom Gorzelanny. Wells, in his second full year saw an uptick in his ERA and WHIP in a season where he threw nearly 200 innings. Gorzelanny, back in the rotation, after a tough couple of seasons in Pittsburgh that led to a 2009 trade to Chicago, kept his ERA below 4 until a particularly bad start against St. Louis in late September. Wells had one pretty good season followed an okay year in 2010. After pitching serviceably in 2007 as a 24-year old for Pittsburgh, Gorzelanny spent the next few years getting shellacked. Either would be a good addition to the back-end of the Yankees rotation for 2011.
The last piece of this puzzle is what the Yankees would have give up to pry either
starter from the Cubs. Back in July, the Yankees were planning to send catcher Jesus Montero, second baseman David Adams, and other players to Seattle in exchange for Cliff Lee. Maybe a deal centered around either Adams or catcher Austin Romaine, with a prospect who hasn’t made it to Double-A could get the deal done. As long as Andy Pettite continues to delay his decision, the Yankees need to move on and lock up the back-end of the rotation. If for no other reason than, that in the Yankees universe, “Wait Till Next Year,” is unacceptable.