The current rotation for the Yankees, after the recent departures of Shane Greene and Brandon McCarthy, would be Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Adam Warren and David Phelps. Ivan Nova will slot into the rotation likely in June when he is recovered from the Tommy John surgery he had on his right elbow last April.
This is a rotation with health question marks and unproven pitchers at the four and five spots, which means that the Yankees need to overpay Max Scherzer in order to have a better season than they did in 2014. Scherzer will not turn 31 until the end of July and is coming off of two consecutive All-Star seasons.
He has only thrown more than 200 innings twice in his career (2013 & 2014), which proves that he probably will not breakdown as early as a pitcher like Jon Lester, who has done so six times. Scherzer and Lester are both 30, but Lester has made 252 starts while Scherzer has made only 198. Lester has already signed a six-year, $155 million contract with the Cubs, and James Shields, who is the other marquee free agent, is not worth signing because he is 32 and has made 285 starts.
Scherzer reportedly wants a six-to-seven year contract that could reach $200 million, which would be the second highest total contract ever given to a starting pitcher after the one Clayton Kershaw signed, but the Yankees need to listen to his agent, Scott Boras, because he will be able to be counted on to be an ace for the next three-four years. Scherzer won the Cy Young in 2013 and has had ERAs of 2.90 and 3.15 in each of the last two seasons. Also, he has averaged 32 starts, 197 innings and 209 strikeouts in the last six seasons.
He needs to be given this contract because he is a strikeout pitcher who doesn’t allow many homers or walks as he hasn’t allowed more than 18 homers, walked more than 63 batters or struck out fewer than 240 batters in the previous two seasons.
Scherzer has also done very well in some of the new sabermetric stats. He WHIP, which is walks plus hits divided by innings pitched, has been an outstanding 1.175 and 0.970 during the last two seasons. Scherzer’s FIP, which measures a pitchers effectiveness at preventing walks, homers and hit by pitches and causing strikeouts, was seventh in league in 2013 and 11th last season. He had the third highest strikeouts per nine innings in MLB with 10.29 and had the seventh best Wins Above Replacement (WAR) among starters.
Scherzer, who will be starting his eighth season and seventh complete season after making his debut in 2008 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, has not had any significant injuries during his career with the Diamondbacks and Tigers. Tanaka and Pineda, who pitched very well when healthy last season, both had their seasons interrupted by injuries.
Tanaka should be relied on next year and was an All-Star in his rookie season after posting stats of 140 strikeouts, a 2.77 ERA, 14 wins, 1.056 WHIP and only 21 walks in 136 innings. However, he missed about 11 starts after his start against the Cleveland Indians on July 8 because of elbow inflammation. An MRI revealed that he had a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. He will be a bit of an unknown until he can stay healthy the whole season, but according to Brendan Kuty, Joe Girardi said he is expecting Tanaka to “make his 32 starts” in 2014.
Pineda, who is an imposing pitcher with a 6’7″, 265 pound frame, had an outstanding 1.89 ERA and 59 strikeouts in only 13 starts. His strikeout to walk ratio was remarkable since he only walked seven batters, and his 0.8 walks per nine innings proves how effective he was. His curveball, slider and fastball combo make him very difficult to hit.
However, after being an All-Star with the Mariners in 2011 and being traded to the Yankees in January of 2012, Pineda has had tendinitis in his right shoulder and then an anterior labral tear in his right shoulder that caused him to miss the 2012 season. He began the 2013 season on the 60-day DL as he was still recovering from the shoulder surgery he had as a result of the labral tear in his right shoulder. He was activated in July and pitched six games in the minors.
He pitched his first game for the Yankees on April 5, 2014 and had his first of many dominating performances. However, while pitching in a simulated game while serving his 10-game suspension for pine tar usage, he suffered a Grade 1 strain of his Teres Major muscle below his right shoulder. This injury forced him to the miss the months of May, June and July.
Tanaka and Pineda proved to be very effective when not injured last season, but their health question marks combined with Sabathia’s decline and the fact that Warren is best suited for the bullpen proves that Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman need to give Scherzer the contract that he is looking for. If Pineda and Tanaka can stay healthy and only miss about five or six starts combined they would form an imposing top three in the rotation with Scherzer. The Yankees are already counting on Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran having better seasons than they did in 2014, which makes improving the rotation even more important towards making and advancing in the playoffs in 2015.