In a year that the New York Yankees will aim to improve their starting rotation, they find themselves cash short and wondering what a 2021 season will look like. As the Yankee brass sits at their desks, they have no feel for if there will be fans in the stands or will lose even more money next year. They also are not oblivious to the fact that the coronavirus has left many out of work and unsure of their future, a future where they may not afford tickets and baseball merchandise.
This entire situation is also not good for free-agents that may not get what they would have expected due to the virus and clubs looking to save money. Strangely, the clubs and players’ answer may be to accept less money and be more inclined to offer and accept short one or two-year contracts than they normally would.
There is a log jam of available pitchers out there; there are a few that any team would want to sign but may be too expensive this offseason. But looking carefully, there may be some off-the-radar intriguing picks that would be, for the most part, economical. The first on the list might be the most surprising of all to New York Yankees fans.
J. A. Happ:
Yes, he was a Yankee last year, and yes, the Yankees did not give him a qualifying offer after missing his vesting option. Yankee fans know that when he is hot, he is unhittable. In 2018 J.A. Happ joined the team before the trade deadline and did nothing but win; he went 7-0 in eleven starts. In 2019 he was 12-8; that’s not bad either. In this shortened 2020 season, he had the second-lowest ERA next to Gerrit Cole with all the controversy.
Both Masahiro Tanaka pitched to the same winning percentage, but Happ’s ERA was lower. The big difference is the Yankees are contemplating taking Tanaka back, but not Happ. Happ had one horrible game that began his season and spoiled a low ERA that could have been lower. In August, he pitched to an ERA of 2.81; in September, he pitched 29.1 innings for an ERA of just 3.07. Included in those games was an eight-inning shutout of the Red Sox.
But with the seemingly bad relations between him and the Yankees, it’s doubtful the Yankees will consider the 38-year old for even one year.
Shoemaker might not seem like a pitcher that the New York Yankees would be interested in, but looking closer, he has some upsides. His ERA is not something that would draw attention to him. He also hasn’t pitched a lot in the last three years. This would make him more likely to accept a one year deal on the cheap. Of lower-tier free agents, he has above-average stuff. Interestingly his fastball velocity was up nearly 3 mph compared to last season. Smyly, Ray, and Gausman’s fastball were up less, but all of them were already signed.
Walker is often talked about as a mid prize free agent. He pitched exceptionally well for the Toronto Blue Jays last year. You often hear that a pitcher pitched better than his stats show, but with Walker, it’s the opposite; he didn’t pitch as well as his 2.70 ERA. Nonetheless, he is a good pitcher that might be a fit for the Yankees. His four-seam fastball is his best pitch, whether you look at process or results. It’s the only pitch he has that gets above-league-average whiffs. While with the Jays, he constantly changed up his pitches, which led to success, which could bode well for whatever team lands him.
Chatwood is also another pitcher that might look kindly on a short term contract. Chatwood has not been the best pitcher in his career but performed an amazing makeover in his last years with the Chicago Cubs. His record with the Cubs is 11-11 with an uninspiring ERA. Chatwood threw harder last year than he ever has in his career. The 30-year-olds 94.9 mph average four-seam fastball velocity is the best of the four pitchers in this article.
Chatwood is a fastball pitcher, but he has more recently thrown more curveballs and with a high spin rate. He also threw a cutter more often than in the past, making him a truly three-pitch starter. By throwing harder and using more pitches, the Yankees may see that as an upside.
As I evaluate these four pitchers, it appears to me that J.A. Happ may be the best option for the New York Yankees if the two can repair their relationship.