The New York Yankees desperately need starting pitching help, the San Francisco Giants want prospects to build around for the future, and Madison Bumgarner wishes to pitch for a World Series contender once again. It seems like a simple move: Bumgarner to the Bronx for a package of prospects and maybe a major-league player or two.
But of course, every trade comes with risk, especially for the contender who buys a star player, and the Yankees have been burnt on transactions like this recently. On the flip side, there may not be a better opportunity for them to win the World Series with their current core of players than in 2019, with a weak, albeit top-heavy American League; they should be willing to accept the inherit risk in acquiring Bumgarner to give themselves an increased shot at lifting the Commissioner’s Trophy.
The Yankees went for it all in each of the past two seasons and saw no reward for their inclination to make big moves. They dealt three prospects to the Oakland Athletics for Sonny Gray in the summer of 2017, only for the former All-Star to go 15-16 with a 4.51 ERA over two seasons with them. In 2018, they reeled in late-season help from Andrew McCutchen and J.A. Happ, who were excellent down the stretch, but it still wasn’t enough to get past the historically good, 108-win Boston Red Sox in the AL Division Series.
This season, the setting is much different. The Red Sox, A’s, and Cleveland Indians — all postseason teams last year — have struggled mightily in an AL full of underwhelming teams. Of AL clubs, only the Minnesota Twins (47-22) and Houston Astros (48-23) sport better records than the Yankees (42-27), who have been, by far, the most injury-depleted team in baseball in 2019. On account of that, you can argue that the Yankees at full health are the best and more talented team in the AL.
Since their last World Series title in 2009 (which is an eternity in New York years), they really haven’t had a better chance to make some noise than they do this season, even counting their surprising 2017 run to the AL Championship Series. In assessing the relative talent level of their AL counterparts, it’s easy to say that the Yankees should be going for it all.
And the one thing they need most right now is help in the starting rotation. Though Trevor Bauer and Marcus Stroman are intriguing names, neither pitcher has the big-game track record of Bumgarner, who is 8-3 with a 2.11 ERA in postseason starts. Bumgarner, one of the remaining pieces from the Giants’ incredible run of three World Series titles in five years, has not had the best of seasons, but is still reliable; the four-time National League All-Star has a 3.87 ERA, 109 ERA+, 90 strikeouts, and is on pace for his seventh 200-inning season in the last nine years.
The Yankees starting rotation went into their Saturday night matchup with the Chicago White Sox 10th in Major League Baseball in ERA (4.18), but also behind non-playoff teams like the Miami Marlins and Cincinnati Reds. Only Masahiro Tanaka and Domingo German, among Yankees pitchers with at least 10 starts, have an ERA under four. Since May 15, New York starters have gotten through seven innings just twice and have a combined 6.12 ERA in June.
Bumgarner has completed at least six innings in 14 of his 15 starts this season, and in the other one, he threw 5.2 innings. At best, he’s a stretch-run/postseason hero, but at his worst, he is still a capable backend starter who can eat innings with ease and pitch deep into games better than any current Yankees starter.
The Yankees are almost certainly not parting ways with MLB Pipeline top prospect Estevan Florial, or fourth-ranked prospect Deivi Garcia, as both are considered untouchable by many outlets covering baseball in NYC. But a prospect package featuring a couple of high-ranking minor-leaguers and perhaps a major-leaguer (Miguel Andujar, Clint Frazier) solidifies a deal that both teams would benefit from.
When Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Giancarlo Stanton, and others return, their presence will bolster a team that has somehow emerged as a pennant contender despite many injuries. They have role players like Gio Urshela, Luke Voit, and DJ LeMahieu enjoying career-best seasons, some studs at the top of their rotation like Tanaka and James Paxton, and a deep bullpen led by Aroldis Chapman and Adam Ottavino. Second-year manager Aaron Boone is doing a marvelous job keeping morale and energy high in the midst of a challenging season.
But clearly, it’s starting pitching that will make or break this team. In the AL, there are so few teams that can actually contend for the pennant that the Yankees really only need one guy to put them over the top, and that guy can be Madison Bumgarner. It’s a risky move to make, but there has never been a better year to embrace risk and just go for it all than 2019.