By Mike Axisa
All throughout the offseason, we’ve heard the Yankees are looking for controllable young pitching because aside from Luis Severino, all of their current starters can become free agents within two years. Ivan Nova will qualify for free agency after 2016 while CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, and Masahiro Tanaka will do the same after 2017. (Tanaka can opt-out of his deal following 2017.)
While the Yankees do have some starting pitching prospects who figure to contribute at the MLB level come 2018 — James Kaprielian and Rookie Davis, most notably — they’ll need more arms. No doubt about it. Looking for young pitching now makes sense. The problem? It’s crazy expensive. Just look at what it took to get Shelby Miller. That package may be something of an outlier, but the point stands. Pitching is expensive.
The upcoming free agent classes don’t offer much help either. Stephen Strasburg will be the best free agent starter next offseason, and the second best is probably Brett Anderson. Francisco Liriano, Alex Cobb, and Clay Buchholz headline the 2017-18 free agent pitching class. Like I’ve been saying, this offseason’s free agent class was the best in years, and that means going forward too.
Given the cost of pitching and the lack of high-end starters in upcoming free agent classes, the Yankees’ best option for controllable pitching behind 2017 might be the guys already on the roster, specifically Eovaldi and Pineda. They’re still in their mid-20s — Pineda turns 27 in January and Eovaldi turns 26 in February — and both have had flashes of success in New York.
At the same time, both Pineda and Eovaldi have been pretty inconsistent in recent years, and both guys have a major arm injury in their history. Eovaldi had Tommy John surgery eight years ago and Pineda had surgery to repair a torn labrum in 2012. Both guys missed time with injuries this past season too — Eovaldi’s season ended in mid-September due to elbow inflammation and Pineda missed a month with a forearm strain.
The injury history and inconsistency are obvious red flags, though they also potentially help keep contract extension prices down. It’s a classic risk vs. reward situation. Eovaldi and Pineda are reasonably young and have the tools to be very successful, but there are enough red flags to justify going year-to-year contractually. I can understand both sides of the argument, extending them or going year-to-year.
Not many pitchers have signed extensions with four years of service time in recent years. Jordan Zimmermann took a two-year deal during the 2013-14 offseason that didn’t delay free agency — it only gave the Nationals cost certainty over his remaining two arbitration years. The last multi-year deal that bought out free agent years for a pitcher at this service time level was Matt Harrison’s five-year, $55M deal in January 2013.
Ideally, I think an extension for Pineda and/or Eovaldi would cover four years, so their final two arbitration years plus two free agent years. An option or two would be cool as well. The Yankees would get control of both through 2019 and the two pitchers would hit free agency at 29-30, an age where they could still land a big free agent deal. MLBTR projects Eovaldi for $5.7M through arbitration next year and Pineda for $4.6M. Using that as a starting point, how’s this for potential framework?
|2016 (Arb. Year)||$5.5M||$4.5M|
|2017 (Arb. Year)||$7.5M||$7M|
|2018 (FA Year)||$13M||$13M|
|2019 (FA Year)||$15M||$15M|
|2020 (Option)||$17M ($1M buyout)||$17M ($1M buyout)|
|Total Guarantee||$42M + option||$40.5M + option|
I just spitballed some numbers and looking them over, they seem too low. Wouldn’t you give Pineda and Eovaldi four years and $40M or so guaranteed right now given the current market? Mike Leake got five years and $75M. Jeff Samardzija got five years and $90M. Eovaldi’s currently scheduled to hit free agency at age 27 and Pineda will be 28. The market generally rewards youth, as long as they stay reasonably healthy and effective.
At the same time, I’m not sure how much higher the Yankees should go given their injury issues. Neither Pineda nor Eovaldi received large signing bonuses as amateurs — Pineda signed for $35,000 out of the Dominican Republic and Eovaldi got $250,000 as an 11th round pick — but they made $2.1M and $3.3M through arbitration in 2015, respectively. They have some financial security and may not jump at an extension.
Either way, the point isn’t the Yankees absolutely should sign Pineda or Eovaldi to a contract extension. It’s that they should at least explore the possibility and see what the other side has in mind. Perhaps both players ask for too much and that’s that, no deal can be worked out. It might have already happened for all we know. On the other hand, if the Yankees haven’t checked in, one or both might be more open to an extension than they realize.
The Yankees aren’t stupid. They know more about Pineda and Eovaldi than we ever will and it’s possible they have concerns about their health and effectiveness, and aren’t willing to assume the long-term risk. Extending both players is just one idea to give the Yankees some controllable starters beyond 2017. The trade market seems crazy and free agency doesn’t offer much help. Paying Pineda and/or Eovaldi might be the best way for the Yankees to get the pitching they need.