Brian Cashman and the New York Yankees should specifically target Zack Wheeler and Alex Wood this hot stove season.
The New York Yankees have made it clear that the team is after starting pitching this offseason. While Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg are the top-tier candidates on the market, the next tier isn’t starving for talent.
Zack Wheeler and Alex Wood are two potential free agent targets for the Yankees.
The Yankees operate under a budget, and while they are unlikely to go over that budget for a guy like Cole or Strasburg, the combination of Wheeler and Wood could keep them under the budget.
Let’s start with Zack Wheeler. The former Met has accumulated 8.9 fWAR over the last two seasons. That’s ninth in all of baseball over that time period. Wheeler’s career ERA of 3.77 doesn’t jump off the page, but possesses a lot of potential.
Wheeler is in the 90th percentile in average exit velocity, meaning he induces weak contact. Wheeler has plus velocity as well averaging nearly 97 mph on his fastball. I believe that Wheeler can be even better than his numbers might show.
Wheeler throws a sinker just as much as he throws his fastball. However, his sinker isn’t a particularly good pitch. On 212 batted ball events according to Baseball Savant, Wheeler had an xwOBA of .337 on the pitch. (For reference, a .320 wOBA is average.) It didn’t help the Wheeler had Wilson Ramos as his primary catcher.
Wheeler’s sinker needs to be down in the strike zone to be effective just like all sinkers and Ramos isn’t a good framer. He ranks well below average on all areas low in the zone according to Baseball Savant. So, if Wheeler either cuts out the sinker entirely or gets a better framing catcher, he can be even more effective. Every other pitch Wheeler throws is a plus pitch by xwOBA, so the free-agent pitcher has the potential to be even better than he is.
The next pitcher is Alex Wood. Wood was traded before the 2019 season from the Dodgers to the Reds. It was a lost season for the former all-star, he missed most of the season due to injury. That makes Wood’s demands for a big contract non-existent, as he will be looking for a prove-me-contract.
There are a few issues with Wood, most specifically, health. Wood hasn’t thrown more than 180 innings in a season since 2015. Given the health concerns for the Yankees in 2019, why would they be interested? Wood can play a big role as a depth piece and is a good pitcher.
Wood had one season in his career with over an ERA over four and that was in 2019. If we remove his 2019 season, Wood has never had an xFIP over 4.00 and only had SIERA over 4.00 once. His career 3.70 SIERA is above average as well.
Paired with new pitching coach Matt Blake, Wood is the perfect candidate for the Yankees to get. He has the ability to rebound well and give the Yankees over 120 innings this year. While that’s not a full season’s worth, 120 innings of Wood would be better than getting 120 innings of the 2019 Cortes/Happ combo. (Though I do believe Happ has the potential for a rebound.) Pitching depth is important and that’s what Wood can provide.
As I stated, it’s obvious that the Yankees operate under a budget and it seems very unlikely that the Yankees will break it for Cole or Strasburg. So how much would Zack Wheeler and Alex Wood cost?
Wheeler is looking at getting around a four-to-five-year contract for an average annual value of about $20 million. That’s very doable for the Yankees and right at his market value. Wood will probably be looking for a one-to-two-year deal that would have an average annual value of $5-10 million. The total cost of the two contracts could be at most 120 million dollars.
Combined, that’s probably less than half the cost of Gerrit Cole. The combination of the two players may not equal the production of Cole but, it will get close to it and bring depth to a pitching staff that needs it.
Some have argued that the Yankees need a true stud to put them over the top. I disagree with the word need. Though Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg would obviously help any team, the Yankees have two of the top 15 pitchers in baseball. Yes, a staff with three of the top 15 is better but, the starting staff of Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, Zack Wheeler, Alex Wood, Jordan Monty/J.A. Happ/Deivi Garcia/Domingo German may be the best in baseball.
Which team can say they have eight pitchers who could start games consistently for them? Brian Cashman has made a habit of finding great talent for cheap or small returns. The Wheeler-Wood combo could be that next deal.