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Color By Numbers: Danks, but No Danks (for the Yankees)

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The trade market was supposed to be the Yankees refuge from this year’s class of overpriced, and perhaps overrated, free agents. Brian Cashman has reportedly been kicking the tires on several young pitchers, but, at least at this point, the demands have been too extravagant. One of the names in which the Yankees were believed to have an interest was John Danks, but now even he is no longer eligible for consideration. After weeks of espousing a “rebuilding philosophy”, the White Sox did a semi-about face and signed Danks to a five-year, $65 million extension.

Beyond the disappointment expressed by Yankees’ fans, the Danks extension was greeted by two common reactions. The first was confusion, namely, why are the White Sox handing out lucrative contract extensions when GM Kenny Williams has repeatedly talked about being a seller this offseason? The second reaction was incredulity over the terms, especially when compared to two recent extensions for pitchers with a similar amount of service time (Chad Billingsley and Wandy Rodriguez). However, both of these responses seem to miss a key point. Danks is a uniquely talented young lefty.

At age 26, John Danks is not that much older than some of the prospects over which so many drool. The difference, of course, is the White Sox’ left hander has five full major league seasons under his belt, during which he has compiled a WAR of 19.2. Put in a historical context, only seven other left handers, age-26 or younger, had a higher WAR over their first five seasons, and most on the list that surround him went on to very successful careers (1,769 pitchers qualified for this screen). In other words, not only has Danks been pretty darn good, but the best may be yet to come.

Top-15 Young Southpaws, from 1901*
*Noodles Hahn’s career began in 1899, and his statistics before from 1899-1900 are excluded.
Note: Data is from first five seasons of left-handed pitchers age-26 or younger.
Source: baseball-reference.com

Although it should be noted that Danks’ performance has fallen off since his peak 2008 season, his peripherals are strong and, just as important, he is still relatively young. So, if his past performance and future potential are accurately depicted in the chart above, it’s easy to see why the White Sox would be willing to extend him even if in the midst of a rebuilding process. Talented young left handers are a very valuable commodity, and they tend to do very well in free agency. Had the White Sox allowed Danks to hit the open market after this season, there’s a good chance the then 28-year old would have commanded a contract well in excess of the extension he just signed. After all, the White Sox will be paying Danks over the next four years the same amount the Rangers just bid simply for the right to negotiate with Yu Darvish. And, if other teams agree that Danks’ contract is a relative bargain, the White Sox should have no problem trading him should the organization determine that its “retooling” will take longer than expected.

In contrast to my viewpoint, some have suggested that the White Sox were overzealous in their decision to extend Danks because Billingsley and Rodriguez, two pitchers who have been statistically similar, recently signed three-year deals for $35 million and $34 million, respectively. Off the bat, the comparison to Rodriguez fails because the Astros’ lefty was 32 when he signed his extension, or one year older than Danks will be when his new deal expires. Billingsley, however, is a good comparison, but since when does one contract define the market?

As mentioned above, there is every reason to believe Danks would have been a very popular free agent in 2012, which seems much more relevant than what Billingsley accepted last spring. Furthermore, a comparison of the two contracts requires that one look at risk in two ways. In addition to the increased exposure to injury and underperformance that comes from a longer-term deal, teams must also consider the risk of replacement cost. Assuming Billingsley and Danks perform up to expectations, which is the basis for offering an extension in the first place, both pitchers will likely command another lucrative contract when their current one expires. Should that scenario come to fruition, the White Sox will likely be enjoying Danks’ age-31 season at a discount, while the Dodgers are forced to re-extend Billingsley one year earlier (Los Angeles has a $14 million option for 2014). Although a myriad of variables must be considered, many based on conjecture, the possibility of Danks’ longer deal being more cost effective can’t be ignored.

Who knows how seriously the Yankees and White Sox discussed a deal for John Danks? For months, I have been advocating (and hoping) for such an exchange, but now it’s time to move on to another target. Without many attractive options remaining (maybe Gio Gonzalez and Matt Cain), however, the new question becomes just how far to look ahead? Yankees’ fans may not like to hear this, but it’s entirely possible this offseason is simply laying the groundwork for winters to come.


1 Alex Belth   ~  Dec 22, 2011 11:29 am

"Yankees’ fans may not like to hear this, but it’s entirely possible this offseason is simply laying the groundwork for winters to come."


2 Dimelo   ~  Dec 22, 2011 12:59 pm

[1] The Rays are getting younger and better, the Yanks main competition almost always comes from Boston, and Boston has been quiet this off-season after all their recent additions the past two off-seasons. And those acquisitions didn't work out for Boston.

I think the Yanks should be quiet, they have a lot of talent on their roster, they have a lot of money committed to current players, and their major weakness is in their starting rotation. They should make one major move to improve their starting pitching, but is it absolutely necessary right now? Hard to say given the way things worked themselves out last year.

Cashman is hoping that a trade possibility will become available, if not, he has the pitching prospects that he thinks can help if one of his starters doesn't pan out. What he doesn't have a plan for is, if CC can't make 3+ starts this coming season. He is counting on his workhorse being on the mound every 5th day. From what I can tell, that's the Yankees plan, count on CC and hope for the best with the other four. If one/two/three of the other 4 (not named CC) don't work, then start integrating the kids into the rotation.

I think Cashman's plan is sensible, but if multiple things go wrong, then everything else mushrooms. The absolute worse being, CC going down for an extended period.

3 Chyll Will   ~  Dec 22, 2011 4:30 pm

[2] Yet how can you successfully plan to cover that many things going wrong? All you can do expect CC to make it through the season relatively unscathed. Cashman would not have deliberately built the pitching staff with so many question marks behind CC; he fully expected A.J. to pitch as he did in 2008-09, and he fully expected Hughes to improve on his 18-5 campaign. Everything else was "I hope this works" in regards to Nova, Bartolo and Garcia. If he gauged his decisions all on the inevitability of CC getting injured, he would have depleted the farm to get equally questionable talent to back him up; that's what happened when Kevin Brown, Jaret Wright, Aaron Small and Clemens II and the like were brought in to fill in for what they couldn't get when they tried. That's planning for failure, which they certainly succeeded in achieving.

4 Jon DeRosa   ~  Dec 22, 2011 5:04 pm

If the Yankees want to contend, they don't need to do anything. If they want to build dynasties, the pitching staff is woefully inadequate.

5 Chyll Will   ~  Dec 22, 2011 7:07 pm

[4] Yankee dynasties weren't built in a day. And neither was Rome. For that matter, depending on who you believe, it took at least a week to create the whole universe as we know it. Have patience >;)

6 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Dec 22, 2011 7:14 pm

[0] Interesting. I was confused by all the backlash to the deal too. Why is it bad to sign up a 26-yr old with his record? Isn't the point to get good, young pitching?

7 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Dec 22, 2011 7:15 pm

[5] I'm just waiting for Luis Sojo to make a comeback, they need his spirit!

8 Jon DeRosa   ~  Dec 22, 2011 7:16 pm

[5] The last one was so much fun, why wait?

9 William J.   ~  Dec 22, 2011 7:41 pm

[6] It seems to me as if there is a certain segment of baseball analysts/writers/bloggers/sabermetricians who just like to think they are smarter than the establishment.

[4] I agree, but I am not sure you can build a dynasty with Gio Gonzalez, Yu Darvish or CJ Wilson. Now, if you pair CC with Cole Hamels, that's another story.

10 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Dec 22, 2011 8:02 pm

[9] William, you're scaring me..we agree on this point completely! :)

11 Jon DeRosa   ~  Dec 22, 2011 9:00 pm

[9] Yeah the options this year are not great. They should have put CC next to two of Halladay, Lee and Haren. Those were the balls out moves and they couldn't/wouldn't pull them off.

And if Cole Hamels becomes a Yankee before the start of the 2013 season, I will be shocked. Why would the Phillies ever let him get that far? The Phillies have ascended to another level of franchise management, why would they suddenly go another direction on Hamels? I hope you are right, but of all the 2013 potential free agents, he seems most likely never to get there, and most of the others are already locked up.

12 kenboyer made me cry   ~  Dec 22, 2011 11:47 pm

How much longer 'till pitchers and catchers in Tampa?

I feat that the NY football season will be over shortly. It will take a lot to get excited by basketball, and hockey is gnocchi.

13 OldYanksFan   ~  Dec 23, 2011 12:15 am

The bottom line in our roster is both expensive, inflexible, and signed for a long time. The Yankees still have money, but it must be spent wisely. Cashman is smart and he is shopping carefully. I like that he is not just throwing money at problems. This is a good opportunity to see what Cashman's year of farm building have done.

14 William J.   ~  Dec 23, 2011 6:37 am

[10] No need to fear. I think we actually aren't that far apart on many principals, but just often wildly disagree on the means to achieving them.

[11] They did try for Lee, but he opted for Philly. Going all in for Halladay would have been a huge move. The Haren one completely passed under the radar. Without knowing if Cashman was involved, that seems like a big oversight.

As for Hamels, I have a feeling he is going to test FA because the market suggests he may be able to get a massive deal. If it comes to that, my gut tells me the highest offer wins.

[13] The Yankees past spending has put them in a position wherein they can still spend, but now must do so more wisely. That's not exactly dire straights, but for some Yankees' fans, I guess it seems that way.

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