As you know by now, Andy Pettitte is set to retire Friday. It is just another blow to add to a terrible Yankees offseason, and it leaves New York in a tight spot with their rotation. However, if they look hard enough, they may find a viable option in Atlanta.
Their top three starters are set in C.C. Sabathia, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett. Their final two spots are up in the air. The current in-house options are Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre. That is not a very attractive list. You can find a decent starter in Garcia, Nova or Mitre, but you don't want to go into the season with two from that list in the rotation. The free agent options are thin, and teams are hesitant to trade impact starting pitchers. But the Braves have an option in Kenshin Kawakami.
First, I should say that Kawakami is not an impact starting pitcher. He is league average. But when looking at the current options for the Yankees, he becomes more attractive. Kawakami was worth 1.7 wins according to FanGraphs in his rookie season, recording a 3.86 ERA and 4.21 FIP in 156.1 innings, including a 3.28 BB/9, 6.04 K/9 and 0.86 HR/9. These numbers are league average and worthy of a 4-5 spot in a decent rotation.
He was kicked to the curb by the Braves due to their misuse of him, as well as the fact that they simply don't have room anymore. Looking back at the signing from today's viewpoint, it was a misguided signing. But at the time few had a problem with it, and he proved his worth right away. It's unfortunate that his surface stats took such a major hit in 2010, causing an unwarranted loss of worth, but his peripherals remained the same, and his FIP increased only slightly. Decline will set in, but there is no reason to believe he won't return to his 2009 numbers for at least another year.
Garcia threw 157 innings for the White Sox in 2010. The last time he reached that mark prior to 2010 was 2006, which was his sixth straight year of at least 200 innings. He is no longer the innings eater that earned him his money. He is also declining quickly.
Garcia had a solid 2.58 BB/9 in 2010, but his 5.10 K/9, 4.77 FIP and 7.2% SwingingStrike% were all worse than his career averages. A LD% of 21% and GB% of 40.7% are both worse than his averages, and while the line drive percentage has fluctuated throughout his career, the groundball percentage is likely on the decline. His fastball velocity is on the decline, going from low-90s in his prime to 87.8 in 2010. This is expected with age, but perhaps not this fast. As a result, his zone contact percentage of 88.6% is above his career average. Even worse, his outside zone contact percentage was 71.5%, which is about as bad as a major league pitcher can get.
Garcia may give you a low-to-mid-4 FIP for another year, but I feel the risk of failure is higher than with Kawakami.
Colon hasn't pitched 100 innings since 2005. I can't help but feel he is a long shot and nothing more than depth or insurance.
Nova is 24 this season and is entering his rookie year if he plays in the majors. He proved his worth in 145 AAA innings last season, recording a 2.86 ERA and 3.54 FIP with a 2.98 BB/9 and 7.14 K/9. Nova has maintained good walk rates and he keeps the ball on the ground well. He appears ready for a shot at a major league spot, and the Yankees would do well to give him a look in spring.
Mitre had a 3.98 FIP and 59.7 GB% in 149 innings for the Marlins in 2007, but he was tossed aside after that. He has been everywhere with the Yankees since 2008 and is only an option due to the pitching weakness. 2007 was probably Mitre's last shot at sticking, and I don't see it happening now.
Andrew Brackman has thrown just 80 innings at AA, so he is probably a long shot at this point. But if the Yankees become desperate, we might see him sooner rather than later.
Going down the list, the Yankees' best in-house options for 4-5 are Garcia and Nova. Both should be able to provide league average numbers, but both come with risk. Garcia's is health and durability. Nova's is rookie related. For the Yankees, trading beans for Kawakami provides no risk and league average reward. Plus they can afford to take the contract. There is no reason they should not look into this.