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January 16, 2012

The BP First Take

Monday, January 16

by Daniel Rathman

On December 4, Joel Sherman of the New York Post explained why the Yankees were unlikely to make a free-agent splash this offseason. The new collective bargaining agreement provided tremendous incentives for Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners to begin paring their payroll down, with a two-year goal of dropping it below $189 million, the luxury tax threshold in 2014.

Forty days later, Cashman sought to accomplish that goal in one fell swoop. He acquired Michael Pineda and Jose Campos from the Mariners—pitchers he believes will form forty percent of the Yankees’ rotation in 2014 and allow them to control costs. Initial reactions from fans on Twitter suggested that the Yankees gave up too much, and Cashman himself even admitted that he gave up a player who could be the second coming of Mike Piazza or Miguel Cabrera.  But even if that were the case, the new CBA’s incentives make it worthwhile.

Pineda is built like his new teammate CC Sabathia, and profiles as a long-term number-two starter. He struck out 24.9 percent of the batters he faced last season, a rate that among starters was bested only by Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Brandon Morrow, Cliff Lee, and Justin Verlander. The difference is that Pineda did it at age 22. That’s not to say there are no chinks in the young Dominican’s armor; his fly-ball tendencies are a poor fit for a righty in Yankee Stadium, and his changeup lags enough behind his fastball and slider that some still see Pineda’s future lying in the closer role. Entering his fourth year of big-league service, Pineda would still be relatively cheap in 2014, and that’s likely to be the case regardless of whether he’s still on track for a frontline starter career.

Campos, the Yankees’ secondary piece, may be even more critical to their 2014 goal. He’s only 19 and in Low-A, but the righty already throws a mid-90s fastball with the pinpoint command that enables him to pitch entirely off of it. If Campos can harness his off-speed arsenal, he has ace-level upside and could be in the majors by the second half of the 2014 season. Together with New York’s own prospects, Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances, Campos could form part of an entirely pre-arbitration trio pitching behind Sabathia and Pineda that would enable Cashman to devote most of his resources to position players.

 With a combined $47.5 million committed to Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira for 2014, an extension needed at that point to retain Robinson Cano, and other lineup pieces requiring replacements, Cashman needs all the cost-controlled pitching he can get. This deal went a long way toward supplying it. The reward is a significantly friendlier revenue-sharing system and a realistic way to dodge the luxury tax while still fielding one of the most talented rosters in the American League. The cost was Jesus Montero.   

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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