In the next three weeks, odds are that the Yankees will have a new pitcher in the rotation. Perhaps it will be Marcus Stroman or Matt Boyd. Either way, the Yankees might not have been in a pitching predicament had they signed Patrick Corbin in the winter. Many, including yours truly, lamented the Yankees not getting Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, more so than Corbin. Lately though, Corbin looks like the one that got away.
The 29 year-old lefty has been excellent for Washington. In 113 innings and 18 starts, Corbin has a matching 3.34 ERA and FIP. He probably wouldn’t pitch quite as well in the American League, but that’s no matter. He’d be an upgrade to a rotation that currently ranks 12th in ERA and 20th in FIP. Now, in order to buoy the rotation, the team probably will have to part with young talent like Clint Frazier.
Meanwhile, the Yankees have been fine where Machado and Harper would have played. The team’s third basemen have a 127 wRC+, sixth-best in baseball. Bombers’ right and left fielders have a 126 wRC+, fifth-best in the majors. Those marks are better than Machado (116 wRC+) and Harper (118 wRC+). Does that justify the Yankees’ decision? Not exactly. They’ve had some very good fortune, particularly with players like Gio Urshela and Cameron Maybin. Luck or not, there have been far fewer complaints about Machado and Harper. That sentiment could change in the future, but for 2019, it’s not looking like a missed opportunity.
Back to Corbin. Instead of him, the Yankees re-signed JA Happ and traded for James Paxton. The former has not worked out, and although Paxton has had his ups and downs this season, he looks like a sound acquisition. Happ, who is guaranteed $34 million dollars for two seasons, was a much cheaper option compared to Corbin’s $140 million over six seasons.
Happ has pitched a little better of late, but he’s definitely looking like a penny-wise, pound-foolish signing. The Yankees saved $6 million towards their luxury tax payroll (based on average annual value of the contract) and avoided a long-term commitment, but that’s now come back to harm them in the present.
Would the Yankees still pursue another starter before the deadline if Corbin was here instead of Happ? I think so. However, the team likely wouldn’t go big fish hunting. A back-end innings eater who wouldn’t be needed in the playoffs could have been enough to get through the rest of the regular season, assuming Luis Severino does indeed return (a big if, of course).
Had the Yankees signed Corbin, the organization would have maximized its title chances today and tomorrow. First and foremost, the 2019 rotation (and beyond!) would have been better. But furthermore, the team would have felt less pressure to trade young talent. Corbin would have been a win now and later move, but instead, the Yankees settled for less.