With the news last week that the New York Yankees have signed soon-to-be 38 year-old journeyman pitcher Nelson Figueroa to a minor league deal, one has to wonder what kind of future general manager Brian Cashman is trying to set up for the Bronx Bombers. As the ink dried on the contract, it marked the third time since the end of last season that Cashman has added a pitcher at least 37 years of age to the organization (the other two being Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte). Add Freddy Garcia (who will be 36 this year), and you have four pitchers in the twilight of their careers all signed within the past five months.
What is the obsession with “old” pitchers?
Since they hoisted the World Series trophy in 2009, the list of pitchers in their mid-to-late thirties that the New York Yankees have signed reads like a “Remember the Nineties” roster. A closer look at some of those signings reveals mediocre results. The list includes :
Chan Ho Park – Signed in 2010, Park appeared in 27 games for the Yankees and pitched to a 5.60 ERA before being waived that year.
Javier Vazquez – Also signed in 2010, the 33 year-old was one of Cashman’s “younger” signings. Regardless, he appeared in 31 games, yielding 32 HR and had a 5.32 ERA in 157 innings pitched.
Bartolo Colon – The New York Yankees inked Colon in January of 2011 and for the first half of the season he was a valuable part of the rotation. However, as the season wore on so did Colon, and he finished with eight wins and a 4.00 ERA in 164 innings pitched.
Scott Proctor – I’ll just give you the 34 year-old’s 2011 stats with the Yankees – 11 innings pitched, 6 HR, 9.00 ERA. ‘Nuff said.
While the season is still young, and neither Pettitte or Figueroa has appeared with the big league club to this point, the early returns on Garcia and Kuroda have not been favorable for New York. Kuroda has made three starts and holds a 5.00 ERA in the early going of 2012, and Garcia has pitched just 12 innings in his three starts with a whopping 9.00 ERA.
Many will argue that Kuroda and Garcia both had shown solid performances in 2011, justifying their addition to the New York Yankees in 2012. But, you have to ask how many times will you catch “lightning in a bottle” with a 36, 37, or 38 year old player? The odds are simply not in your favor.
Kuroda previously pitched in the National League with a home park that was favorable to pitchers. It had to be understood that in coming over to the American League – in particular, the American League East Division – his ERA would jump.
Prior to 2011, Freddy Garcia’s ERA had not been below 4.20 since 2005. It would not be logical to think that he could replicate the 3.62 ERA of last season.
Andy Pettitte is a New York Yankees icon and beloved by fans – including myself. His 11 – 3 record and 3.28 ERA in 2010 as a 38 year old was remarkable to say the least, but can we expect more of the same two years removed from that season?
Nelson Figueroa strikes me as another Scott Proctor just waiting to happen. To this point he has pitched his entire career in the National League yet still has a lifetime ERA of 4.55. It isn’t going to get better coming to the AL East.
David Phelps (25) , Dellin Betances (24), and Manny Banuelos (21) all continue to wait their chance to display their wares in Yankee stadium. Only Phelps made the New York Yankees club in spite of the fact that all three have shown to be at, or near, major league readiness.
It is a delicate game that the New York Yankees GM is playing by constantly banking on pitchers who are well past their prime to carry the club to division titles, and it has been painfully obvious that, even when they do, their age ultimately catches up with them in October. With several good, young pitchers waiting in the wings for a shot in “the show”, why not change the strategy and give the future a chance?