So, that was a whole lot about nothing, huh? It’s not strictly accurate to say that the Yankees did nothing–they did flip Joe Harvey for 20-year-old Alfredo Garcia, but that’s not a 25-man move. As far as the Yankees title chances go, the Yankees did not accomplish anything yesterday. As you can imagine, I have quite a bit to say about that. Here are some assorted thoughts about what happened.
1. No Additional Upgrade is Coming: Alright, so what we see is what we get with the Yankees. There is now no way that the team can make a significant upgrade to its pitching staff in 2019. I think it’s fair to say that this inactivity comes as a surprise, and probably not just to fans.
First things first: the Yankees are good. They’re really good. Really, really good. Yesterday was a bit of a rough day despite the win, so I do think it’s important to hammer that point home. The Yankees will likely win the American League East for the first time since 2012 and they will enter the postseason as one of the few teams who can win it all.
Their rotation and overall pitching staff, until very recently, is a big reason for that. Their historically bad 10 days or so really helped to obscure that fact for fairly obvious reasons. It sure would have been nice to get an upgrade–I was very mad yesterday–but I do think it’s important to remember that the team the Yankees currently have is one of the best in baseball. They’re good enough to win.
Also worth remembering: the team was not stagnant this season in terms of trading. There were just no deadline trades. They did, of course, essentially acquire Edwin Encarnación for free–and thank goodness they did that. With Luke Voit on the shelf for potentially 6 weeks or more (we’ll find out his prognosis today, I believe), that was one non-deadline trade the Yankees made that has surely helped their chances in 2019.
However, I am a bit stunned that there isn’t a starting pitcher or even a high-leverage reliever coming the Yankees’ way. Maybe I should not be, for reasons I’ll get into below, but I am stunned by it. Even if it was just an innings-eater like Tanner Roark, I’d expected someone to come provide a security blanket in case of injury or something else. Alas, not happening. I also predicted yesterday that if no SP came, they’d get a reliever. They didn’t do that, either. Shows what I know.
Finally, they also, unless I’m mistaken (correct me if I am), did not acquire any international free agency money, either. That may be the biggest surprise of all. Jasson Dominguez, the 16-year-old from the Dominican Republic that one brave anonymous scout compared to Trout, commanded a $5.1 million signing bonus, which is essentially all of the Yankees $5,398,300 pool. As Robert Pimpsner pointed out at the excellent Pinstriped Prospects back in May, the Yankees could have traded for an additional 60% of bonus pool space, which would have brought them over $8 million. Instead, it looks like the Yanks didn’t do that, although maybe we’ll learn more about the Colorado trade. Worth noting, at least.
2. Brian Cashman Says Why: More of less, Brian Cashman said that the price on each individual pitcher was too high, even accounting for a mid-season overpay, and aside from Stroman, I do believe him. But the more important point got buried yesterday, but Brian Cashman had some incredibly revealing comments for The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler at his press conference. She asked him about how the decision not to sign Patrick Corbin in particular had come back to bite the Yankees. Cashman gave a very sanitized answer that also had the benefit of revealing a critical truth. Here’s the full quote:
And here’s what I want to focus on for a second: “if you turn the clock back on Corbin, then there’s a lot of guys currently sitting in that locker room that wouldn’t be here because, again, all that money woulda gone in one direction which therefore takes away from other directions.” He predictably went on to specifically point out DJ LeMahieu and Adam Ottavino as two of those players.
I have said it before, a million times probably, but I am going to just say it again: that makes me want to pull my hair out. It is infuriating–absolutely infuriating!–that this is the case for the richest and most successful team in baseball history. The difference between Corbin and, say, J.A. Happ is $11 million on a purely annualized basis (I know some of Corbin’s money is deferred, as is Washington’s way, but the Yanks don’t do that so play along), and you’re really going to tell me that the Yankees can’t afford that $11 million?
Maybe they can’t afford it under the salary constraints ownership imposed. That’s almost certainly true. Cashman wouldn’t say it otherwise. But, as usual, remember that those constraints are artificial and arbitrarily-imposed by the Steinbrenners. The Yankees payroll has barely increased at all over the last 15 years despite the game drowning in money–a fact that a lot of people scream at me when I point out, but has the unfortunate benefit of being true, as does their now long-standing tradition of passing on big-money starting pitching acquisitions. And that payroll figure is in raw terms, not even adjusted for inflation. The Yankees simply don’t spend like they used to, and their GM basically admitted out loud that his deck of cards is severely restrained and he has to make significant sacrifices during a legitimate title window.
In other words, the Yankees had positioned themselves, by choice, to have to upgrade at the deadline and risk exactly this happen. Now, have Ottavino and DJLM worked out? Obviously. But the Yankees could have signed them and also signed Corbin. Don’t believe it when they say otherwise. Maybe that’s why other teams asked for the moon and more in negotiations with the Yanks–they realized that the team needed the upgrade but boxed itself into a corner by passing, time and time again, on available starting pitchers in free agency because the team won’t spend over a certain amount. It’s infuriating.
3. James Paxton/Masahiro Tanaka: Hoooooo boy does a lot rest on the arms of Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton, though. The Yankees really need those two guys to snap out of some mid-season funks and deliver the results that everyone expects from them. The Yankees will need top-of-the-rotation performances from both of them down the stretch to finish the division, fight for home field advantage, and, of course, in the postseason itself.
The good news is that both are clearly top-of-the-rotation talents. Tanaka in particular has had a strange season, where he’s been actually quite good except for a handful of starts where he has not been able to get anyone out. He has clearly been impacted by the new MLB ball, which has altered his ability to grip his trademark splitter. Good news is that recently made a “significant change” to his grip on the pitch, which he deployed for the first time yesterday. The results? 28 splitters, 16 swings, and 6 swings-and-misses. That’s a 37% whiff-per-swing rate. He allowed 2 hits on the pitch, but this was very clearly a step in the right direction. So that’s very nice to see.
As for Paxton, I don’t think anyone doubts him or his stuff (okay, a lot of people do, but a lot of people are very reactionary). For him, the problem has obviously been the first inning–after that, with a few exceptions, he’s been pretty damn good. Derek explored his first inning woes the other day, so check that out. He’ll need to course correct to deliver the results the Yankees now need from him.
The bad news is that there is almost no security blanket should these two guys fail to step up. The addition of a Marcus Stroman or another quality MLB starter would help mitigate any potential struggles–it’s easy for me, a moron, to write “fix your splitter!” or “stop getting crushed in the first inning!” but a different thing to actually do–and provide a cushion. That cushion isn’t there and there isn’t one coming. These guys are going to have to step up. Domingo Germán, as good as he’s been, isn’t going to pitch this team to number 28 by himself.
4. Stop Killing Aaron Boone: After yesterday’s win, Boone told reporters, more or less, that he looked around the clubhouse and saw a group of guys in that room that are capable of doing special things. I am paraphrasing, but I think you can all hear Boone saying it. And I saw countless people, on Twitter and otherwise, just ripping him for saying that. But honestly: why? What do you expect him to say? Our rotation is trash, these guys suck, and Cashman blew it? Come on now. He’s the manager. Of course he’s going to support the guys he’s got in the room.
Despite his reputation, Boone is quite good at many things as Yankee skipper, and one of them is remaining positive and supportive. That was true last year when the Yankees struggled, it was true last week as the team had a historically-awful stretch of pitching, and it will be true if they win 20 games in a row. His demeanor simply doesn’t change. I think that’s a good thing, and I’d wager that the 25 guys in the Yankee clubhouse do, too.
5. Clint Frazier Remains a Yankee: Well, if there’s one piece of good news out of all of this, it’s that Clint Frazier is still in Scranton. Here was his reaction to the trade:
Hilarious. I find it tough not to love the guy, myself. We all know about his defensive struggles, but he did perform in New York this season, as well. Anyway, yesterday’s inactivity and injury news means that there’s now an opening at the DH slot in New York that Clint Frazier may get to fill. Will he get called up? I’m not so sure. Before the deadline, I thought that the Yankees didn’t like Clint as much as I do, and while that still may be true, the reality is that he’s still here. He has survived every trade rumor so far. That tells us something.
But back to the matter at hand. Clint’s season in Triple-A has been not as dominant as you might expect offensively, even though he’s been much hotter of late. I think a good bit of that can be chalked up to good ol’ human nature. He just doesn’t want to be in Scranton. Here’s what he told the irreplaceable Conor Foley last night:
Yeah, that sounds like a guy who’s frustrated and in his own head. Probably trying to do too much. You have to think he’s going to get called up today or tomorrow anyway, though. There’s a spot, he can hit and the Yanks can limit his time in the outfield. Win win win. If they don’t, well, I think we’re in service time manipulation territory. I haven’t done the math in a while, but I think it’s early-to-mid August where the Yankees gain another year of team control. This is just Something To Watch for now and hopefully Something To Forget About when the Yanks call him up in the next 36 hours.
6. Luis Severino/Dellin Betances Made Progress: Hooray, Luis Severino and Dellin Betances both threw from 90 feet yesterday. That is…good news. No, it is. I mean, it’s August and Severino hasn’t thrown a pitch in a professional baseball game all season, exhibition or otherwise, and Betances barely pitched in Spring Training, but hey. Progress. Yesterday I noted how Severino was the best SP acquisition the Yanks could make, which, while an annoying Yankee brass talking point, also has the unfortunate benefit of being true. Let’s do that for Betances, shall we? Check out Betances’ statistics among key metrics from 2014-2018, with his rankings among the 273 qualified relievers in parentheses:
- ERA: 2.22 (8th)
- FIP: 2.26 (4th)
- Strikeouts per 9: 14.63 (3rd)
- Strikeout percentage: 40.3% (4th)
- Home Runs per 9: 0.60 (29th)
- Innings Pitched: 373.1 (1st)
- Average Leverage Index When Entering Game: 1.44 (44th)
- fWAR: 11.3 (2nd)
Getting anything close to that guy back this season is the single-best addition that the Yankees can make to their bullpen. I wish they didn’t have to count on him miraculously getting healthy and also being effective and instead had him as a safety blanket, but hey. What can you do. Good news is good news, right?
But much like with Paxton and Tanaka above, the Yankees are now counting on these guys. They really are. I don’t care what they say. No matter what else happens, if these two guys come back healthy, the Yanks are way, way better and increase their odds of beating a team like Houston tremendously. The Yankees know that, too. Let’s just hope the medicals are all clear and the Yanks know something we don’t. That’s usually the case. Hopefully we see these guys soon.
7. Zack Greinke/Astros: And finally, the one bullet point here I did not want to write. The Astros, because of course it was the freaking Astros, traded for Zack Greinke yesterday. Greinke, of course, is dominant and the Yanks just saw him yesterday, so no need to repeat his stats. A rotation of Verlander/Cole/Greinke sure looks formidable, and it’s extremely annoying that two of those guys have been deadline acquisitions and the other was a guy the Yanks passed on in an offseason trade, but what can you do?
In terms of Greinke specifically, the Yankees were never an option. Greinke and the Yankees both have been open and honest about the fact that New York would not be a great fit for him or his mental health, and we have to respect that. He wouldn’t have accepted the trade to New York. Please, please, please do not argue on this point. Both parties have said so, openly. It is the smart decision for both parties. These are people, after all, not robots, and Greinke deserves the right to choose not to play in New York.
However, the Greinke trade is a perfect example of how the Yankees leave themselves shortchanged and vulnerable. Cashman and the Yankees simply never budge from their internal SP valuations and seem terrified of “overpaying” for a guy. Each decision in a vacuum might make sense and be justifiable–Yanks weren’t good when Scherzer was out there, Cole didn’t seem as good as he has been, too many years for Corbin, etc.–but when you add them all up, you get to 3:50 pm on July 31, boxed into a corner, while the only actually available dominant SP is a guy that just isn’t a match. A total non-option. Instead, he ends up on the team’s biggest threat this season while the Yanks do nothing.
Now, anything can happen come October–remember the 1990s Braves or the early 2010s Phillies?–but as of right now, this sucks. This one would sting a whole lot less had the Yankees simply ponied up the cash for Patrick Corbin last offseason, but I suspect you already knew that.