Last year, the Yankees took a low-risk gamble on Freddy Garcia that paid off handsomely, so this year, they’ve decided to roll the dice again.
Before the 2011 season, Garcia wasn’t a lock to make the team, much less the rotation, but the veteran right hander wound becoming a key cog, going 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA in nearly 150 innings. On any team, that kind of production from a fifth starter would be exemplary, so it’s not hard to see why the Yankees would want to bring Garcia back on a one-year deal worth a reported $5 million. The only problem is Garcia currently ranks much higher on the Yankees’ rotation totem pole.
You could make the case Garcia was the Yankees’ second best starter in 2011, so, it’s not too farfetched to think he might be the same in 2012. C.C. Sabathia remains the rotation ace, but after the big lefty, not much else is certain. A.J. Burnett has been so bad for two straight seasons that any positive projection has to be considered blind optimism. Also, although the Yankees may be quietly confident about Phil Hughes having a bounce back year, his struggles over the last season and a half are hard to ignore. Finally, Ivan Nova’s breakout 2011 campaign seems to bode well for the future, but the 2010 performance of Hughes is a reminder about how inconsistent young pitchers with little big league experience can be. In other words, the 2012 Yankees’ rotation is full of question marks, and the return of Garcia doesn’t really provide any definitive answers.
Yankees 2011 Rotation
Source: baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com
Obviously, if the Yankees make a big free agent acquisition or pull off a blockbuster deal, the dynamics of the rotation would change. However, there is at least some reason to believe Brian Cashman could wind up biding his time during the offseason. Although patience proved to be a virtue last year, the Yankees’ general manager could be pressing his luck if he tries that approach once again.
If the Yankees were guaranteed Garcia would post the exact same numbers as he did in 2011, it really wouldn’t matter who else was in the rotation, but there can be no assurances that he’ll remain healthy or maintain his performance. After all, the 35 year-old righty has not thrown more than 157 innings since 2006, so the chances of him making it through the entire year seem remote. In addition, he is now coming off consecutive seasons with more innings in each than he had thrown from 2007 to 2009 combined. While that could be a sign that Garcia’s health has stabilized, there’s also a chance the increased workload could catch up with him in 2012. Also, even if he remains healthy, it isn’t a given that he’ll be as effective. According to advanced metrics like xFIP and SIERA, which seek to determine the degree to which a pitcher’s skill contributes to performance, Garcia’s ERA should have been about three-quarter runs higher. If these measures, which, admittedly, shouldn’t be taken as gospel, are accurate, the right hander could be in line for a regression.
The Yankees decision to re-sign Garcia can’t be evaluated in a vacuum. If Cashman is able to bolster the rotation with another acquisition or two, the margin for error provided would more than mitigate the risk of guaranteeing Garcia one of the five slots. However, if the Yankees once again find themselves with a makeshift starting staff, their reliance on Garcia could prove to be too much of a burden. It’s only Black Friday, so there’s plenty of time left in the shopping season. Garcia’s signing isn’t a bad stocking stuffer, but, if Cashman is unable to find something for under the tree, the Yankees’ World Series aspirations could be dependent on Christmas in July.