Dallas Keuchel signing a one year deal with the Braves closes the door on the 2018 player offseason. The remaining free agents of note are now off the board. One could make the case that the Yankees had a very successful winter with the acquisition of James Paxton, Adam Ottavino, DJLM and Zack Britton. An equally strong case can be made that the inability to sign Dallas Keuchel highlights the fundamental flaw in the Yankees 2018 offseason strategy.
Hal, Cashman and company made it clear on multiple occasions during the winter that bolstering the rotation was priority number one. The first move they made was to bring back future hall of famer CC Sabathia for his final season. Despite not representing an upgrade from last year’s rotation, you could do much worse than having Sabathia as your fifth starter.
The first big move to strengthen the starting corps was the trade for James Paxton. By trading top pitching prospect Justus Sheffield, the Yanks were making a win now move that brought the team much closer to achieving their stated goal of improving upon 2018’s rotation. With top pitching free agent Patrick Corbin available and reportedly very interested in signing with the Yankees, it made sense for the two sides to come to an agreement.
It made so much sense that Patrick Corbin signed with the Washington Nationals to a deal the Yankees could have matched. The team was so focused on upgrading the rotation that they signed 36 year old J.A. Happ to a three year deal including an option despite clear downward trends in his performance. Despite pitching well in Toronto his last time out, inconsistency is probably the best (or nicest) way to describe Happ’s season up to this point.
Now, the rotation has performed pretty well as Bobby goes into detail here. But there are two pretty significant issues the rotation is facing that signing a healthy Keuchel would have addressed. The rotation, featuring only one true upgrade from last year, lacks both depth and in game length.
Starting Rotation Depth Concerns
The available and viable starting rotation options are limited. This is obviously the case because of injuries to Luis Severino, Jonathan Loaisiga, Jordan Montgomery and now Domingo Germán, but this was an issue coming into the season. Assuming full health of the projected rotation, the 40 man roster depth options were Germán, Luis Cessa, Loaisiga, and Chance Adams. These options, outside of Germán, don’t inspire much confidence for a contending team.
The timing of Germán’s hip flexor injury couldn’t have been worse. The rotation already features multiple health risks and Domingo’s unexpected injury compounds this issue. Combine this with an innings limit that he is facing whenever he returns, the Yankees have at least one spot in the rotation that will still need to be filled later in the season. The problem is they don’t have a suitable replacement. It feels a little premature to say Luis Severino will be the one to take the spot. Increasing the depth, and more importantly the quality of the depth, should have driven the Yankees to make stronger acquisitions both during the winter and in season especially considering the onslaught of injuries this year.
The Rotation Doesn’t Stick Around Long
Length is a significant issue for the rotation. As Bobby notes in his post:
Of the current division leaders and 1st Wild Card spot teams, only two teams get fewer innings out of their starters than the Yanks.
There is a major emphasis on bullpen usage and third time through the order stats, but for a team that made it clear that rotation upgrades are in order this stat is pretty disappointing. They’re essentially giving the same length as the last couple of years. Dallas Keuchel, when healthy, has pitched over 200 innings in multiple seasons. Above to slightly above average production over 200 innings is incredibly valuable. It also creates opportunities to give the bullpen more rest, which is always a good thing.
We’re Living In A New World
There was a lot of time and energy spent on the team not signing Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. The more significant issue is the team simply did not do enough to improve the rotation despite multiple quality options being available. It’s mind boggling that this was the very publicly stated goal of the winter and then the Yankees simply refused to achieve it. The easy explanation is the team is being cheap, but is this the core reason for these decisions?
The question “are the Yankees cheap or smart?” sits at the center of many conversations amongst the fans nowadays. As their player acquisition model continues to change, the organization’s dependence on their analytics department grows greater by the day. Of course, analytics provides an opportunity to assign specific financial values to a player that almost always skews to the benefit of ownership. Beyond that, the analytics department has seemingly created a rigid profile of player skills that the team will pursue let alone sign. It is increasingly clear this profile is valuing different players than the ones fans believe the team should acquire. Dallas Keuchel is the latest example of the analytics team winning the discussion of whether or not it’s the right move to sign a specific guy regardless of need and what the market was willing to pay.
We can complain about it all day, but this approach is not going to change. It may be time for us to finally adjust to this new paradigm despite its obvious flaws and frustrations. In truth, the team is experiencing success with it, which only validates the strategy. The true measure will obviously be the playoffs. The Yankees are betting on their player development and analytics staff to win them a title. These next few years will determine the big payoff of that bet.