The best way for the New York Yankees to upgrade their pitching staff without surrendering prospects this winter is signing free agent Rich Hill.
It may seem crazy for a rebuilding club like the New York Yankees to hand out a big contract to an injury prone 36-year-old pitcher this winter, especially one who has topped 100 innings exactly once in the last nine years, but that is exactly what I would do if I were in general manager Brian Cashman’s shoes this offseason.
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After trading away four key veterans at the trade deadline and subsequently jettisoning DH Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees were one of the better clubs in the American League in the season’s final two months. The team’s offense was revitalized by the addition of youngsters like Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, and Tyler Austin, and it’s reasonable to expect that trio to be even better next year.
Add in Greg Bird‘s return from injury and the possible addition of top prospect Clint Frazier at some point, and New York’s offense could be pretty exciting next year. There’s obviously some risk in counting on so many young players, but the payoff could be tremendous with so much talent on the roster.
Where the Yankees are really lacking is their pitching staff. They have plenty of back of the rotation types, but no real impact arms aside from ace Masahiro Tanaka. Michael Pineda and Luis Severino have the potential to emerge as the team’s number two starter, but neither guy has shown the ability to be that kind of pitcher consistently.
Shedding the contracts of Mark Teixeira, Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, Carlos Beltran, and Ivan Nova has cleared more than $60 million from New York’s payroll. Some of that will be taken up by arbitration increases, but ownership has plenty of free money to reinvest back into the club without increasing payroll next year.
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Brian Cashman has already said he doesn’t want to surrender a large package of top prospects to acquire a front of the rotation arm like Chris Sale. Luckily, the free agent market does have one guy who could have a similar impact next year without the Yankees having to take on a nine figure commitment.
The emergence of Rich Hill as one of baseball’s most dominant pitchers in the past year has been one of my favorite storylines in the game. In 110.1 innings for Oakland and Los Angeles this year, Hill put up a 2.12 ERA and 2.39 FIP, striking out 29.4% of the batters he faced and walking just 7.5%.
The journeyman LOOGY was once a promising starter for the Cubs (almost a decade ago) but more recently was forced to pitch for an independent club after not being able to find a job in affiliated ball. At age 36 this winter he will probably command a three year deal with around $50 million guaranteed after having to settle for a one year $6 million contract following his hot September last season.
Adding Hill is tremendously risky, but he is the only player who could potentially turn them into a postseason contender for a financial commitment that small, while doing nothing to harm the long-term outlook of the club. The risk is all monetary, but the reward is a playoff-caliber rotation to pair with the team’s promising offense.