Saturday, December 27, 2014


This off season, as in the ones preceding it, much speculation has been made as to who the Yankees would pursue in the free agent market.  This year in particular, many would argue the Yankees need a “big name” star.  The retirements of Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, coupled with the departure of Robinson Cano over the past two seasons have left the team virtually barren of names that put fannies in the seats.  Without a big splash in the FA market, who will want to come out to the park?
The Yankees needs are many.  The team last reached the post season in 2012, and for a club with the storied history that the Bombers have, that’s just plain unacceptable.  Even less fathomable to Yankees fans is the fact that the team has just one championship since 2000.  For a team that averages one title every four-plus seasons over the course of its existence, this would be considered a “drought”.

One great need of the team lies in its starting pitching.  Yes, they have Masahiro Tanaka, the highly-touted star from Japan who began the 2014 in Cy Young style.  Only, his high-speed train was derailed with elbow issues that he is attempting to let heal on their own- rather than accept a surgical solution.  If things don’t go according to Tanaka’s plan, the Yankees are left without a true ace of the staff.

Behind Tanaka, the team has some young hurlers with high ceilings.  Michael Pineda is only now starting to demonstrate the great talent the team thought he had when they traded Jesus Montero for him (by the way, you can chalk that deal up in the WIN column for the Yankees).  He just needs to stay away from the pine tar.  Ivan Nova has shown potential for “ace” material, but he won’t be back until at least mid-season after having Tommy John surgery. 

Nathan Eovaldi was just acquired in a deal with the Marlins and has an electric arm.  His fastball averages between 95 and 98 mph, but he needs more experience and maturity to realize his true potential.

After the “20-somethings”, the rotation-for now- includes former “ace” CC Sabathia.  No one really knows what Sabathia will bring to the mound in 2015.  Just a couple of years ago he was firing pitches in at 93 – 95 mph, but those days appear over and he might be in the transition phase of re-defining himself.  With Sabathia, Brian Cashman brought 36-year-old Chris Capuano on board.  I don’t completely understand why, other than Capuano is a left-handed pitcher and Cashman believes we can never have enough of those – regardless of talent. 
With the loss of Shane Greene via a trade to bring Didi Gregorius to the club, the rotation is quite thin and full of question marks.  It only makes sense that rumors would fly about the Yankees pursuing the top-level free agent starters in the market.
One of those rumors revolves around Kansas City Royals starter James Shields.  The 33-year-old right-hander is coming off a season where he went 14-8 with a 3.21 ERA.  He’s an innings-eater, and has thrown at least 200 frames every season since his rookie year (2006).  Last year he led the league in starts (34), making it the second consecutive year he has done so.  Shields has struck out at least 180 in each of the past five seasons, and has been the Royals workhorse as the team developed into the 2014 AL Champions.

It would be logical to think that Shields is looking for a contract in the neighborhood of $100 million given what lesser pitchers have signed for this off season.  At first glance, one might think it reasonable for the Yankees to make an offer to Shields.  Since 2010, he holds a 3.78 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in Yankee Stadium.  Over the past two years he has owned the Yankees in the Bronx, giving up just one run and 10 hits in a little over 15 innings pitched – striking out 11.
Only, to me the last two seasons aren’t a true representation of what Shields would do in the Bronx.  Let’s face it; the last two versions of the Bronx Bombers are anything but representative of the Yankees.  In 2013 and 2014 our teams would have had trouble hitting in a 16 inch softball league, let alone the Major Leagues.
I decided to dig a little deeper and here is what I found:  In the three seasons prior to 2013 – all seasons where the Yankees reached the playoffs – Shields had a very un-impressive 4.73 ERA with a 1.23 WHIP in Yankee Stadium.  He yielded 10 home runs in 57.1 innings pitched.  If you expand that out to a 200-inning season, that equates to 35 home runs - hello Phil Hughes.

Given that Shields would find himself back in a division with re-tooled Boston and Toronto clubs, as well as the defending AL East champions – Baltimore Orioles, I can’t help but feel that the 2010-2012 seasons are more representative of what we’d get from Shields if we signed him. 
Right now, the Yankees are nothing more than a very distant blip on the Shields radar.  Front-runners for signing him are the Giants, Red Sox and Rangers.  I say good luck to those teams and good luck to James.  We’ll see him when he visits the Bronx with his new team.  Our $100 million can be better spent elsewhere.

--Steve Skinner, BYB Senior Writer
Twitter: @oswegos1


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