On Tuesday, December 17, the Yankees made two signings in Brian Roberts and Matt Thornton that have the potential to fill areas of need. The Yankees have agreed to a low risk high reward $2 million, one-year deal with Roberts, who is going into his 14th season.
Since the Yankees lost the ineffective Joba Chamberlain to the Detroit Tigers and the reliable Boone Logan to a three-year contract with the Colorado Rockies, the Yankees needed to acquire another arm for their bullpen. They signed Matt Thornton to a two-year, $7 million contract that was first reported by Jack Curry. Thornton is the second player that the Yankees have signed this offseason who has previously played for the Boston Red Sox. Jacoby Ellsbury, their new $153 million center fielder, played the first seven seasons of his career in Boston.
Thornton is coming off a season where he had a 3.74 ERA while appearing in 40 games for the Chicago White Sox and 20 games for the Red Sox. He had his highest ERA and WHIP since (3.74/1.43) his outlier season of 2007 when he had a 4.79 ERA and 1.50 WHIP at age 30 (Walks and Hits divided by Innings Pitched). Thornton, from 2008-2010, while playing for the White Sox never had an ERA above 2.74 or a WHIP above 1.07. He has also averaged better than a strikeout per inning for his career as he has 582 strikeouts in 568.1 innings.
The 37-year-old lefty from Michigan is showing signs of declining with age based on his 2013 season, but when you compare his stats from last year to Logan’s he is not really that much of a downgrade. Logan had a 3.23 ERA in 39 innings with 50 strikeouts and Thornton who pitched better in the second half last season with Boston had a 3.74 ERA in 43.1 innings and 30 strikeouts. However, Thornton is much more deserving of his 3.5 million annual salary than Logan is with his 5.5 million annual salary.
If Thornton could pitch like he did in 2012, when he had a 3.46 ERA, pitched 65 innings in 74 games while striking out 53 batters and only walking 17, then he would be a steal. He will be the primary lefty in the bullpen. Another potentially useful lefty that the Yankees have is Ceasar Cabral. The Yankees could use one more reliever with the ability to close since right now, in addition to Thornton, they have Shawn Kelley, Preston Claiborne and Cabral to combine with David Robertson in the bullpen.
In regards to Brian Roberts, the whole story with him is if he can stay healthy. He has spent his whole career as a productive second basemen for the Baltimore Orioles, when not on the disabled list. In the past four seasons, he has only played in a combined 192 games. Between 2010 and 2013, Roberts missed a substantial amount of games due to an abdominal strain, a concussion, recovery from the concussion the following season, right hip surgery and right hamstring surgery. However, in 2009, which was his last healthy season, he had a .283 average, 56 doubles, 16 homers, 79 Runs Batted In and 30 steals. Those are great numbers that prove that he can help a team in a variety of ways.
If Roberts can stay healthy he would form a formidable second base combination with Kelly Johnson, who was signed a few weeks ago. Johnson has hit 16 homers in each of the last two seasons, but is not known for being nearly as reliable defensively as Roberts is. Roberts is known for being a defensive player and an offensive catalyst. He played well to conclude the 2013 campaign since in his final 22 at-bats he hit .364 with two homers and five runs scored.
A benefit to signing Roberts and Thornton to relatively cheap contracts, and not getting one of the more expensive second basemen like Omar Infante, is that the Yankees will have more money available to potentially sign Masahiro Tanaka.
Multiple Japanese newspapers are now reporting that Tanaka will not actually be posted. The Rakuten Golden Eagles, who own his rights until 2015, are now not going to permit major league teams to bid for him. The Yankees will likely now become more interested in Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez. They haven’t been interest in them so far based on the salaries that they would command. They could still trade Brett Gardner, even though they have said they don’t want to trade Gardner, or Ichiro Suzuki for a starting pitcher.