I present to you the New York Yankees’ starting pitching performances of the last week:
- James Paxton: 3.1 IP, 5 H, 4 ER
- CC Sabathia: 4 IP, 6 H, 6 ER
- Domingo German: 3.2 IP, 9 H, 8 ER
- J.A. Happ: 3.1 IP, 6 H, 6 ER
- Masahiro Tanaka: 3.1 IP, 12 H, 12 ER
- James Paxton: 4.0 IP, 9 H, 7 ER
- CC Sabathia: 4.1 IP, 9 H, 5 ER
“We’ve been the reason why we’ve been losing games,” Sabathia said of the rotation, while pitching coach Larry Rothschild also took the blame, saying “It’s my responsibility to get it right.”
The Yankees are still probably playoff-bound, holding an eight-game lead over second-place Boston even after losing three straight at Fenway. But in the last few weeks, a team mashing dingers at a historic pace (they managed to sock their way to winning two of those games this week) and which has one of the toughest bullpens in baseball has started to look like an early-exit postseason candidate.
Blecch! There are a lot of reasons why things are the way they are, starting with the front office being uncharacteristically frugal on the starter market in the past few years, and, more recently, ace Luis Severino going down in spring training with rotator cuff inflammation and a lat strain. The Yankees hope Severino will be back in September, but they probably shouldn’t count on it.
But the past is the past, and the Yankees have exactly four days to address their starting pitching on the trade market. They’ve already been thwarted on a couple of their top targets, with Madison Bumgarner reportedly being pulled off the block because the Giants have won their way back into the wild card race, and Noah Syndergaard off-limits because Mets ownership refuses to deal with the Yankees because they think it’d be bad PR. Arizona’s Robbie Ray and Toronto’s Marcus Stroman have been linked to the Yankees, but reports say the Yankees value them more as middle-of-the-rotation guys. Which doesn’t mean the Yankees don’t need that; they desperately do. It does mean that the Yankees may be hesitant to pay top-of-the-rotation prices for them. (It was reported this week that the Blue Jays have asked for budding superstar Gleyber Torres, and, separately, New York’s top pitching prospect Deivi Garcia.)
By process of elimination, Trevor Bauer is the most sought-after starter on the market, and indeed the Yankees have been said to be in on him. But the Indians are now just a game out in their division, and may not be willing to part with him for less than a ransom, if they’re willing to part with him at all. And the Yankees may not have the pieces to get him, or at least to outbid the other teams that will undoubtedly push hard for Bauer.
The top of the Yankees’ farm system is relatively dry, because so many top prospects have gotten the call-up in the past couple of years. Their system is still pretty deep, but ESPN’s Buster Olney says that’s not a lot of help in these trade talks because other teams want MLB-ready prospects, not guys who are years away. The Yankees have been touting outfielder Clint Frazier as the centerpiece of their trade offers, but that may not be enough to land Bauer.
The Yankees have options. They could settle for rotation depth, in the form of Ray or Stroman or Detroit’s Matthew Boyd or Texas’s Mike Minor. They could pay the price for Bauer, if he’s available, which would probably mean including Deivi Garcia. That’d be painful, but the Yankees’ championship window is open, and those don’t stay open for long. They could get unorthodox and use “openers,” perhaps even in the playoffs, which would take advantage of their deep and overpowering bullpen. Or they could stand relatively pat and “not [overreact] to a bad week of baseball,” as manager Aaron Boone said. After all, no rotation is as bad as its worst week, and for the Yankees staff’s shortcomings, it’s been enough for the team to put up the AL’s best record. And Severino, if he returns and if he’s himself (big ifs, yes), could be like landing a No. 1 starter just in time for the postseason.
A lot of choices, none of them self-evidently more correct than the others, and the wrong choice could torpedo what has the potential to be a World Series team. Wednesday’s trade deadline promises drama, and for no team more than the Yankees.