Well, today’s the day. The Yankees will either upgrade their starting rotation by 4 pm EST or they won’t do so at all. Remember, this year is the first year of no August waiver wire, so today’s all we’ve got. The deadline has already been a bit of an adventure for a few reasons, so here are a few assorted thoughts as we go into the day.
1. Marcus Stroman is off the Board: As we all know, Stroman was traded to the Mets in a move that shocked nearly everyone. I found this disappointing, personally, as I thought that Stroman was both the most likely SP upgrade the Yanks would make and also my preference among the rumored options. His 56.3% GB% ranks 2nd in the league among 74 qualified starting pitchers, and his 0.72 HR/9 ranks 4th among that same group. He’s averaging about 6 innings pitched a start, too. He would have made a nice addition to the Yankee rotation, even if he isn’t the dominating ace everyone expects for some reason.
As for the package the Mets surrendered to get him, well, it’s hard to say that the Yankees couldn’t have beaten it. Industry perception seems to be that the Blue Jays got fleeced in the deal–though, as always, it’s far too early to determine that!–and that the front office rushed into moving Stroman. Anthony Kay is a nice piece, but I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Yankees have comparable talent. Who knows what happened? I doubt it was on the Yankees’ end, though. His salary isn’t prohibitive (this year or next) and the Yanks had the pieces. Maybe Toronto just didn’t want to trade their ace within the division? Who knows. This is a bummer, though. For sure.
2. Trevor Bauer, Too: The Yankees also missed the boat on now-Red Trevor Bauer, who was shipped out of Cleveland last night in a three-team trade. Bauer is having a nice year and showed last year how dominant he can be, but his incident throwing the ball over the centerfield wall the other day just perfectly illustrates why a considerable number of Yankee fans simply didn’t want to root for him. In pure baseball terms, he’d have made the team better, though, and now he’s unavailable. I guess Cincy could try to flip him, but I doubt it. A rotation of Castillo/Bauer/Gray is pretty damn formidable.
Now, could the Yankees have beaten this package? On their own, absolutely not. Cleveland added Yasiel Puig and prospect Scott Moss from Cincy and Franmil Reyes, Logan Allen, and Victor Nova. That’s a haul better than what the Yankees could have given them. They probably could have been involved in a three-team trade, and maybe Clint Frazier gets it done, but Cleveland clearly wanted MLB talent, and they got it. I don’t know if the Yankees could have matched. Maybe Clint and Luis Gil? That feels light, and my trade proposals, like yours, suck.
What I do know is that, yet again, the luxury tax threshold is back amid Yankee trade rumors. Joel Sherman of the Post last night reported that the Yankees had “concerns” about where Bauer’s “$20 million-ish contract for next year would push a payroll that already projects to well beyond $200 million for luxury tax purposes.” Look. There are plenty, and I mean plenty, of reasons not to want Bauer on the team, but his salary isn’t one. This remains the single most infuriating thing the Yankees have done in probably over two decades, so it could be worse, but man is it infuriating.
3. Mike Minor Is Still Out There: So, in other words, after a few days of inaction, the two best starting pitchers on the market are no longer around, and neither of them are on the Yankees. That’s frustrating! Fans are allowed to be frustrated by this, but all hope is not lost. There are still a few other options, including Mike Minor of the Texas Rangers, who according to Baseball-Reference at least, is having the best season among all starters in the league. For real. Check out their WAR leaderboard for pitchers:
- Mike Minor: 5.9
- Max Scherzer: 5.4
- Lance Lynn: 5.0
- Hyun-Jin Ryu: 4.6
- Justin Verlander/Stephen Strasburg: 4.5
Holy smokes! That’s some real production right there. I had written up a (very) long post in the same style as my other trade analyses the other day, and then WordPress ate it, which was insanely frustrating. Sorry about that. However, the long and short of it is this: Minor is having one hell of a season. He’s limiting homers, generating a lot of swings and misses, keeping the ball on ground, and he is averaging about 7 innings a start on the season. He’s walking more guys than you’d like to see, but you can’t argue with the success this year. It’s been real. He also has one of the highest-spin fastballs in baseball, which the Yankees love.
Now, is it sustainable over the long term? I’m not sure. Minor hasn’t ever really had results like this, save 2013. But sometimes it’s not always about the long-term. Would Minor make the Yankees immediately better? Yes. Is he available now? Also yes. The Yankees are in contention for the World Series, and I do think that adding Minor would better position the team to bring the trophy home in October, his performance next year be damned.
4. Robbie Ray, Too: The Yankees have also been linked to Arizona’s Robbie Ray, who is I think the most intriguing of the available starters. Let’s first focus on the good: holy cow does he miss bats. His 12.07 K/9 is 5th highest among qualified pitchers, and this isn’t a new skill. Check out his K rate rankings among pitchers with at least 100 IP in each season over the last few years:
- 2016: 28.1% (9th)
- 2017: 33.0% (5th)
- 2018: 31.4% (8th, min 100 IP)
- 2019: 31.6% (6th)
- Cumulative (2016-19): 30.8% (3rd among 153 qualified pitchers)
So, yeah. That’s legitimate stuff right there, and it speaks to why Ray is appealing. Here’s the bad news: Ray also walks a lot of guys. A LOT of guys. I don’t think I need to do the same exercise again to prove this point, but here are the cumulative walk rate numbers from 2016-2019 among qualified pitchers for Ray: 10.7%, which ranks 6th highest out of 153. That’s way, way too many walks for my tastes. This year, though not as much historically, Ray is also surrendering a lot of homers, and walks and homers are an ugly combination. Especially in the AL East. Those might be warning signs.
However, with that said, I think the fanbase at large is a bit too dismissive of Ray. He’s not the big name we wanted or maybe even expected, but you don’t miss that many bats without legitimate stuff. The Yankees may see in Ray the potential to unlock an ace. I’d have to look under the hood to get a better sense of what that might be, but again, his stuff is clearly legit. Now, that’s also what’s been said about guys like Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Pineda, Sonny Gray, and, most recently, James Paxton. We know what those results have been. I can see why fans wouldn’t want any more experiments like that.
But you know what? The Yankees also developed Luis Severino, which you never hear discussed, and that guy is pretty damn good. And the Yankees pitching staff has actually been one of the best in the league in 2017 and 2018 and it was pretty good until 10 days ago this year, too. The idea that the Yankees are completely lost when it comes to pitching is misguided at best, though there’s no denying that it’s been frustrating this week. (Also: pitching is hard and there aren’t many success stories out there, as a whole. Keep some perspective, please.)
Point is, the Yankees are very smart, and may be able to tweak Ray’s approach and turn him into a real difference maker, and if they don’t, they’d be adding a pitcher who can soak up innings, generally limit the damage, and help stabilize the rotation for now. That’s a win in my book.
5. Madison Bumgarner’s Availability: Is Madison Bumgarner really available? That’s a huge question today, and I have to say that I’m conflicted. But first, let’s establish something: Bumgarner is flying under the radar, a bit. I think signs of his decline are way too premature.
When I wrote about Bumgarner a few weeks ago, I was impressed to see some under-the-hood figures that suggested a resurgence was in order. I even talked myself into being excited should the Yankees acquire him. He made a start the next day after that posted. Here’s his line since: 3-1, 3.47 ERA (2.97 FIP, 81 ERA-) with 9.64 K/9 (26.3% K%) and only 1.74 BB/9 (4.7% BB%) in 46.2 IP. Sign me the hell up for that!
Now, back to the conflicted part: the Giants are on quite a run right now and have literally been the best team in baseball for the past month. They’re only 2.5 games out of the NL Wild Card. Now, Bumgarner is almost surely going to walk after the season, but aren’t the Giants–the GIANTS!– the perfect case study in “make the playoffs and anything can happen?” I think it would be a distressing sign for the health of the league if the Giants sold MadBum. It would really bother me on a deep level as someone who cares deeply about baseball as a whole.
*John Sterling Voice* Howevah, I really, really, really want the Yankees to win the World Series and I think Bumgarner would greatly improve their chances of doing so, so I’d be willing to look past this obvious red flag if the Yankees got him. Any other team, though? Time to be mad online, folks. But for real, in terms of Ray, Bumgarner, or Minor, I think Yankee fans should be happy if Cashman acquires any of those 3 today. They can really pitch, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of squinting to see real positives from any of them. They’d all help make the team better, which is the point of all this.
6. Adding a Reliever Instead: But what if they don’t? Cashman and the Yankee front office’s modus operandi in recent years, particularly with pitching, seems to be sticking to a set price and never once wavering. We’ve seen it a million times. Corbin, Cole, Scherzer, etc. I don’t need to keep going, do I? I think it keeps most of us up at night.
Anyway, if they stick to this again and don’t make a move for a starter, I don’t think they’l stand pat. They’ll add a reliever, preferably a high-leverage one, and bank on being about to go four-and-fly come October with one of the best pens in league history. And yes, everyone will whine about the starters not being championship level or whatever, but this exact strategy worked for the Kansas City Royals (who had a much worse offense) exactly…*checks notes*…3 seasons ago. That’s not ancient history. I don’t know who that is–Archie Bradley? Will Smith? Edwin Diaz (lol)–but this feels inevitable should the Yankees miss out on a starter. Hell, it might be inevitable anyway. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Yanks add a reliever either way. Who that is might just depend on the SP market.
7. “Adding Severino is The Best Trade We Can Make”: Look, I know we hate it. We all hate it. But that’s what Brian Cashman is going to say, and in fact, he’s already said it. I know it sounds like a BS PR excuse, and the reality is that it is that to a great extent. But what if I told you…it’s also…true? There isn’t a pitcher out there as good as Severino. Here are some key stats from 2017-2018, with his rankings among qualified starters in parentheses:
- Wins: 33 (4th)
- ERA: 3.18 (11th)
- FIP: 3.01 (5th)
- Innings Pitched: 384.2 (10th)
- Strikeouts per 9: 10.53 (9th)
- Walks per 9: 2.27 (13th)
- HR per 9: 0.94 (17th)
- fWAR: 11.2 (5th)
The Yankees aren’t getting a pitcher like that out there on the market. Pitchers like that barely even exist. Now, should that stop them from acquiring a starting pitcher today? Absolutely not! Say it again: absolutely not! In no way, shape, or form should the Yankees count on Severino (or Betances) for a single inning this year. They should make every possible move to ensure that they don’t need to rely on him, in fact. That should be, and I think it is, a priority.
But, even if they do trade for MadBum or Minor or Ray, if Severino returns and is able to start games for the Yankees in 2019, then Brian Cashman will be right: the very best starting pitching “acquisition” of the entire season will have been the return of Luis Severino. There’s no denying it.
8. Delayed Keuchel Reaction: Good grief has this deadline really hammered home the fact that the Yankees made a big mistake in passing on Dallas Keuchel a few months ago. I wrote about it at the time, but it’s not exactly a radical position. Everyone seemed to feel that way except the Yankees. It remains utterly baffling to me that the Yankees didn’t sign him. He’d have been a perfect fit. This entire deadline would be way, way less stressful for everyone, and the Yankees would be way less desperate.
Keuchel has made 8 starts since he signed with Atlanta, and he’s averaging over 6 innings per start with a 3.86 ERA (4.82 FIP) and a 60% grounder rate. He’s surrendering a few more homers and walks than you’d expect, but by and large, Keuchel has been exactly what you’d have expected and exactly what the Yankees need. The team simply wouldn’t budge from their internal value for Keuchel and they’re paying the price. Now they’ll have to surrender several prospects or they’ll have to stand pat with this rotation (which, I *insist* is much better than people think). Not great.
We’ll have an active thread throughout the day, dutifully updated by Derek. Additionally, we will provide as-instant-as-possible reaction to any trades that do go down. The Yankees are, in my view, the best team in baseball in terms of pure talent. They have a real opportunity to get better today. Let’s hope they do just that.