Yu Darvish’s 8 1/3 shutout innings were the insult. Michael Pineda’s torn labrum was the injury. The last two days haven’t been very kind to the Yankees, whose offseason blueprint has been dealt a significant blow.
Despite winning 97 games with a makeshift rotation in 2011, the Yankees entered the winter with a glaring need in the rotation. In the past, the team probably would have pursued veteran free agents like C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle, but this offseason, the team did not spend like your father’s Yankees, or more aptly, Hal’s father’s Yankees. Instead, Brian Cashman was instructed to begin laying the groundwork for a reduced payroll that would see the team fall below the luxury tax threshold by 2014.
One way that Brian Cashman sought to solve his pitching deficiency without breaking the bank was by acquiring Pineda from the Mariners. In theory, the move made a lot of sense. With the price of established starters on the rise, the Yankees figured Pineda would give them a top-of-the-rotation pitcher under team control for at least five years. Unfortunately, the cost to obtain Pineda was more than just Jesus Montero, who is widely considered to be one of the best young hitting prospects in the game. Rather, the team was also forced to take on a considerable amount of risk; the kind that is inherent with young starters.
The Yankees’ didn’t really have to choose between signing a veteran free agent or trading for a young prospect. In many ways, Yu Darvish was a combination of both. Despite being only 25, or just two years older than Pineda, Darvish, who pitched over 1,000 innings in Japan, also fit the profile of a battle tested veteran. Granted, his $108 million price tag wasn’t a pittance, but almost half of that figure was tied up in the posting fee, which doesn’t count toward the luxury tax. Considering the team’s desire to fall below the threshold in 2014, many expected the Yankees to leap at the chance to take advantage of that loophole, but instead, they opted to trade for Pineda.
This is on my watch. I own it. I hope there will be a time in the future when Yankee fans will feel better about the trade. The doctors are optimistic. But I understand that right now the trade doesn’t look good.” – Brian Cashman, quoted in the New York Daily News, April 26, 2012
Did the Yankees make a mistake by passing up on Darvish? After the events of this week, it certainly appears as if that’s the case. Putting the money aside, because that’s what the Yankees have historically done, the team would have been better off with the Japanese right hander and their prized catching prospect instead of Pineda, and that’s probably a conclusion most would have drawn before the trade was made. However, because the Yankees decided against making a big outlay, the team must now face a predicament that could have long-term implications, especially if Hal Steinbrenner isn’t willing to remedy misfortune by using his checkbook.
Will the injury to Pineda force the Yankees to rethink their austerity plan? The answer to that question could go a long way in determining the extent to which the team is impacted by the unfortunate loss of their young right hander. Signing Cole Hamels, for example, would go a long way toward mitigating the fallout from the ill-fated trade. However, if the Yankees stick to their budget and eschew that option, they could be feeling the effects of Pineda’s injury for years to come. In the meantime, it’s probably too soon to call the Pineda trade a bust from a long-term perspective, but the Yankees are a win-now team, so for this year and next, it definitely seems that way.