Another day, another free agent case to consider. Yesterday it was Chase Headley, the crown jewel of Cash's position player haul from the 2014 trade deadline. Today it's Brandon McCarthy, the equally shiny jewel of the pitching acquisitions. McCarthy was outstanding in 14 starts for the Yankees this season, at times pitching like an ace. That performance was surely enough to earn him a new deal somewhere next year. Was it enough to convince the Yankees that they should be the ones to give him that new deal?
- Sneaky Goodness- Pitched to a 2.89/3.22/2.85 slash line in 90.1 IP as a Yankee in 2014; has 4 straight seasons of 3.76 FIP values or lower; has averaged 2.775 fWAR per season since the start of 2011; career 5.9% BB rate. He ain't Lester or Scherzer, but he ain't some bum either.
- Mid-Rotation Uncertainty- Nova won't be ready for the start of 2015, Sabathia might not be. Kuroda might not be back, and Pineda might get hurt again. The Yanks need arms between Tanaka and Greene.
- Fit- McCarthy has said he loved playing in New York and wants to come back next year. By all reports he was a great clubhouse guy after coming over and his semi-goofy personality meshes well with some of the quieter, stiffer guys.
- Bang For Your Buck- As one of the 4-6 best starters available this offseason, McCarthy will come at a much lower price than the 9-figure top-of-the-heap guys.
- Potential Market Value Increase- The aforementioned Yankee performance could bump McCarthy's market value up. SSS or not, the 2.89 ERA, 22.2% K rate, and 3.5% BB rate in pinstripes were all career bests and the 200.0 total IP was a career high.
- Long Injury History- McCarthy has battled shoulder problems since 2007; he's missed significant playing time in 4 different seasons because of shoulder problems and missed all of 2010 recovering from a second shoulder surgery. 2014 was the only time McCarthy made more than 25 starts or pitched more than 170 innings in a season.
- Availability of Cheap Internal Depth- As with Hirok, the presence of guys like David Phelps, Shane Greene, Bryan Mitchell, and Manny Banuelos combined with the rest of the starters already under contract makes signing another starter less of a priority over addressing other areas of roster need.
While Headley was the best position player deadline pickup for the Yankees this season, McCarthy arguably one of the best deadline acquisitions for any team period. He was a top-tier starting pitcher in the second half of the season and showed how meaningful a change of scenery can be in some cases. Getting out of Arizona allowed McCarthy to get back to doing what he does best- mixing fastballs to generate groundball outs and set up his plus changeup as a swing-and-miss out pitch. He showed he's still got what it takes to be a very good MLB pitcher and looked as good in New York as he did during his career-best 2011 season in Oakland.
The key thing now is seeing just how much that hot finish will impact McCarthy's market value. He pitched incredibly well for the Yankees, but less so in Arizona before being traded. He's shown that he can be an above-average starter capable of pitching effectively and efficiently in different environments when he's healthy, and he's also shown that he more often than not can't stay healthy. Any team will have to weigh those very real health risks against those pockets of above-average production when deciding what McCarthy is worth to them.
His last contract was for 2 years and $15.5 million, so something in the 3-year/$30 mil range seems like a fair starting point for determining his potential value this offseason. At that price, the Yankees should absolutely be in on McCarthy and I expect they will be. He's a great fit pitching in that park and his personality brings a fun aspect to the locker room that hasn't been there since Nick Swisher left. If his price gets driven up from that 3/30 baseline based on his strong post-deadline performance, I think there's a chance the Yankees pass on him. But of all the 2014 deadline pickups, I believe McCarthy is the most likely to be re-signed.