In a somewhat surprising move, the Padres non-tendered Tyson Ross this week, rendering him a free agent for any of the 30 teams to sign.
Even though Ross was a non-tender, this was his last season of arbitration before hitting free agency, so he comes with no additional years of team control. Because the smallest contract a team can sign him to would be one year, he can essentially be treated like a normal free agent.
There are a couple reasons why his non-tendering was such a surprise. For one, he’s an excellent pitcher when healthy. In his three full seasons with the Padres, Ross was a top-20 qualified starting pitcher in the MLB by ERA (3.07, 16th), FIP (3.13, 20th), K% (24.6 percent, 15th), GB% (58.2 percent, 3rd), and HR/9 (0.52, 5th).
For another, the Padres are desperately in need of both starting pitching depth and major league trade chips. Ross is supposed to be healthy by spring training, and the Padres could have tendered him a contract in the hopes that he’d have a bounceback season, enabling them to trade him at the mid-season deadline or offer him a qualifying offer and come away with a draft pick after the season.
Of course, the flip side is that the Padres are an MLB organization, and MLB organizations usually make well-informed decisions. The Padres almost definitely have better medical records on Ross than any of the other 29 teams, and it’s easily possible that they decided there’s a good chance Ross never returns to his previous form. (Don’t forget that the Padres were also the organization that suspiciously withheld full medical reports in the Colin Rea and Drew Pomeranz trades last July.)
Also, assuming that the Padres acted optimally, they would’ve shopped Ross around the league and tendered him a contract even if they weren’t interested in his services. But this likely means that no team was interested in Ross for a one-year, $9.6ish million obligation.
Even with both of these caveats, though, signing Ross is too high upside of a play to ignore. Take a look at this offseason’s free agent starting pitching market and you’ll notice how barren it is. Rich Hill just signed; is there anyone else besides Ross that you’d feel comfortable with in one of the top two spots of your rotation?
The Yankees are in a somewhat unique position here. Most rebuilding teams aren’t looking to add payroll or don’t have the flexibility to even feasibly do so. Most contending teams with money to spend can’t afford to lock a rotation spot up with someone who is a huge question mark for next year.
Ideally, this is a developmental year for the Yankees’ young core. The front office is looking to build a competitive enough roster for there to be an outside chance at contending this season, but the steps being taken are made with the future in mind. The best-case scenario is the Cubs in 2015, but failure to make the playoffs wouldn’t necessarily represent a disappointment. That’s where Tyson Ross makes perfect sense. If Ross comes back with a great season this year, then great! Maybe he even helps the Yankees in a playoff push. However, as someone who may not start the year healthy, and who will probably get more effective the further removed he is from his injury, Ross is the rare free agent whose highest value does not come at the start of the deal. He’ll also be just 30 years of age for all of 2017, so he represents the perfect type of target for the Yankees to spend their money on this offseason. His pitching profile also fits in quite well with Yankee Stadium, as his elite ground ball and home run rates are a stark contrast to the gopherball problems suffered by many of the Yanks’ starters in recent memory.
Sure, Tyson Ross is a gamble…but isn’t every free agent signing? He just happens to come with higher risk, but with that risk comes a greater reward as well. And the Yankees are better positioned to deal with that potential risk than almost any other team in the market, which makes for an ideal signing of arguably one of the 20 best starting pitchers in the majors.
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