The New York Yankees have one of the five most talented rosters in Major League Baseball, but continue to not make the big-boy move to address their Achilles heel — and there’s no excuse for it.
Leading up to the MLB trade deadline, it felt like a given that the Yankees would address their starting rotation. It’s the one drastic flaw on their roster, and with the likes of Marcus Stroman, Trevor Bauer, Noah Syndergaard, Robbie Ray, and Zack Greinke, among others, available, they had plenty of options at their disposal.
Well, they didn’t acquire any of them. Instead, they watched the Houston Astros acquire Greinke and Aaron Sanchez, as well as the Minnesota Twins bolster their bullpen by adding Sergio Romo and Sam Dyson.
However, this isn’t the first time General Manager Brian Cashman and the Yankees passed on a big trade that would’ve catapulted their ballclub, nor was it the only trade they didn’t facilitate at the deadline.
- Justin Verlander (2017): The Astros acquired Verlander from the Detroit Tigers minutes before the August 31 waiver trade deadline in 2017. His arrival was a pivotal factor in them winning the World Series and outlasting the Yankees in the American League Division series. Since going to Houston, Verlander has revived himself as one of the premier pitchers in the sport. Heck, he started for the AL in last month’s MLB All-Star Game.
- Gerrit Cole (2018): The Yankees were fresh off acquiring Giancarlo Stanton and in a no-lose situation, as they were viewed as winners of the offseason. However, they still could’ve used another starting pitcher. Unwilling to trade both left-hander Justus Sheffield and outfielder Clint Frazier, the Yankees didn’t strike a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates for Cole, and the Astros were willing to meet their demands. Cole has since established himself as an elite starting pitcher and formed a potent one-two pitching punch with Verlander.
- Patrick Corbin (2018): There was doubt as to whether Corbin was worth the six-year, $140 million contract the Washington Nationals gave him in free agency, but he has proven to be worth the price of admission. In his debut year with the Nationals, Corbin owns a 3.43 ERA and has totaled 164 strikeouts. The Yankees had interest in the left-hander, but didn’t pony up the same amount of dollar signs. Had they signed the left-hander, they would’ve added an ace without surrendering any top prospects.
- Dallas Keuchel (2018, 2019): Keuchel co-headlined the free agent starting pitching market alongside Corbin, but was a free agent throughout the entire offseason, dropping his price tag and demands. He was then a free agent through the first two months of the regular season. He ultimately signed with the Atlanta Braves. According to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, the Yankees’ offer was two million less than the Braves. He hasn’t been dominant (Keuchel owns a 3.86 ERA in nine starts), but Keuchel couldn’t have significantly helped the Yankees rotation?
- Marcus Stroman (2019): The New York Mets, who aren’t a playoff team, nor a team perceived as capable of being such a team, acquired Stroman for two of their top three pitching prospects (Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods Richardson). The Yankees could’ve countered with the likes of top pitching prospect Deivi Garcia and top positional player prospect Estevan Florial. They could’ve also thrown a young pitcher such as Jonathan Loaisiga or Chance Adams in the deal.
- Trevor Bauer (2019): The Cleveland Indians dealt Bauer to the Cincinnati Reds in a three-team deal that netted them pitchers Logan Allen and Scott Moss, outfielders Yasiel Puig — who’s a free agent after 2019 — and Franmil Reyes, and infielder Victor Nova. They received good players, but no top prospects, or elite players. The Yankees could’ve surely matched, or made a better trade offer for Bauer.
All six of the aforementioned pitchers would be the Yankees best and most proven starting pitcher. The Yankees likely regret, at the very least, not making one of the first four moves.
We’ll give them a pass on not acquiring Greinke, as the veteran right-hander had the Yankees on his no-trade list, and chances were he wasn’t going to waive it to call the Bronx home. At the same time, the only reason them not acquiring him is an issue is because they didn’t meet trade demands for Stroman and Bauer. It makes the Astros acquiring Greinke a devastating blow.
When you take a step back, you see the Yankees are 74-39. But beating up on the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles, as well as the skidding Boston Red Sox and other non-playoff teams doesn’t mean anything in the postseason. When October comes around, teams’ weaknesses are exposed, and the Yankees’ weakness has been exposed two months before such play.
Right now, they sport a starting rotation of veterans who are either on the decline, or enduring the worst season of their respective careers.
Masahiro Tanaka owns a career-worse 4.93 ERA and 1.32 WHIP, has been wildly inconsistent, and has struggled to give the Yankees length in recent memory. J.A. Happ, who the Yankees re-signed to a two-year, $34 million deal in the offseason, owns a 5.24 ERA, is on pace to surrender a career high in home runs, and has struggled with his command. James Paxton, who was acquired from the Seattle Mariners for, most notably, Sheffield in the offseason, owns a career-worse 4.61 ERA and 1.46 WHIP and is averaging just above five innings per start. C.C. Sabathia is on his last leg, owns a career-worse 4.78 ERA, and is on pace to surrender a career high in home runs.
Domingo German has been the lone bright spot, as he, for the most part, has given the Yankees length and been able to record strikeouts at a high rate. In a one-game playoff, manager Aaron Boone likely sends German to the hill.
Collectively, the Yankees starting rotation went into their Tuesday night matchup with the Orioles 18th in MLB in ERA (4.76) and 17th in opponent batting average (.263). Even worse, they went into Tuesday 24th in innings pitched (557.1). Their starters are being removed from the hill in the middle of games, which is a result of them putting too many runners on base and having high pitch counts. A rotation that doesn’t provide length and doesn’t get reinforcements inevitably wears out their team’s bullpen and, in some cases, leads to injuries.
Luis Severino‘s absence has been a death sentence for their starting rotation. When healthy, the hard-throwing right-hander has been the team’s ace and one of the best pitchers in baseball. Him missing the entire season, as well as the uncertainty of what the Yankees would get from him if he takes the hill in the near future, is what makes them not executing a trade for a starting pitcher difficult to fathom.
Now, you could argue that the Yankees have taken some chances in the past such as trading for Sonny Gray, who was in the midst of a challenging season when they acquired him, and Paxton, who was one of the best left-handers in the sport beforehand. But when Gray struggled, the Yankees had Severino, Tanaka, and others stepping up, which led Cashman to make smaller trades for Happ and Lance Lynn.
This time around, there’s no group of starters masking one pitcher’s struggles; it’s a collective struggle.
Sure, maybe Stroman and Bauer weren’t worth a king’s ransom, but either pitcher would’ve been the Yankees immediate ace and wouldn’t have forced them to delete their farm system. Sometimes you have to overpay a bit to get what you need, and, at some point, you have to take a chance on someone; Cashman decided not to do as such.
This team has a lineup which includes Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela, and Didi Gregorius. When healthy, the likes of Stanton, Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit, and Aaron Hicks join that lineup card. They have a bullpen that includes Aroldis Chapman, Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton, Chad Green, and Tommy Kahnle, among others. By the way, Dellin Betances has missed the entire season due to a shoulder injury.
The Yankees have a ballclub capable of winning the World Series, and they’re not capitalizing on that opportunity. It’s not to say that the Yankees are closing their championship window, but not taking chances, or opting to not swing for the fences with trades, is what pans out to be teams’ biggest regret when they don’t win in their window.
The Yankees continue to inexplicably not take chances on starting pitching, and it’s going to cost them a pennant that looked like theirs in the offseason. Don’t sugarcoat it, or look for a cop-out: Cashman and the Yankees had an awful trade deadline.