The 2018 New York Yankees lost to the future World Champion Red Sox in four games in the American League Division Series. The Yankees season may have ended for many reasons. The lineup couldn’t score. They couldn’t hit with men in scoring position. Aaron Boone made mistakes. Fingers can be pointed at just about anything, but one issue lingered throughout the season and into the playoffs: starting pitching.
The Yankees have been trying to improve their starting rotation for years, but it has yet to click. To make up for their struggling starters, the Yankees decided to go out and build a monster bullpen. Behind Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Zach Britton, David Robertson, and Chad Green, the Yankees constructed arguably the greatest bullpen in the history of baseball. If their starters could pitch okay, and get the ball to the ‘pen, the game was pretty much over. “If,” didn’t end up being good enough.
In the regular season, the Yankees rotation was flawed but seemed to get the job done. The starters pitched to a combined 4.05 ERA, 14th in baseball. Despite this, they still won 100 games behind their elite offense and a stellar bullpen. Against the Red Sox in the playoffs, the rotation showed their true colors. In the ALDS, the Yankees starters combined to go just 13.0 innings and allow 15 runs (10.38 ERA) in the four-game series. This atrocious number includes Masahiro Tanaka’s five-inning, one run outing in Game 2. If Tanaka’s performance is subtracted, that ERA goes up to 15.75. Yuck.
Currently, the Bronx Bombers have just two for sure members of next year’s rotation on the roster. Luis Severino, a soon-to-be 25-year-old with ace stuff. Severino seemed to be living up to his potential in the first half of the year, earning a 2.31 ERA and earning an All-Star selection. Then, teams started catching up with the Dominican righty. In the second half, Severino was abysmal, pitching to a 5.57 ERA and allowing seven runs in just three innings in Game 3 against the Red Sox. While Severino has the stuff to be the ace of this staff, and one of the best pitchers in baseball, the Yankees cannot enter next season assuming he will be his ace self.
The other member of the staff is Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka opted-in to his last three years of his contract last winter, and threw to a 3.75 ERA in 2018. Tanaka was also once again stellar in the playoffs. While he has proven to be inconsistent and allowed many home runs, he is still a great number two or three option for the Bombers.
With the offseason coming up, New York’s general manager, Brian Cashman, has once again made it priority number one to improve the rotation. So, who could the Yankees go after, whether it’s free agency or trade?
Patrick Corbin and the Yankees are a match made in heaven. With Clayton Kershaw staying in Los Angeles, Corbin is the best starter available. Last year, Corbin did more than anyone in recent memory to boost his value in a walk year. The 29-year-old lefty dominated the National League last season, finishing the year with an 11-7 record and a 3.15 ERA, as well as a FIP of 2.47, good enough for third in baseball. Corbin also struck out 246 batters in 200.0 innings last year, boasting a slider that has been compared to Steve Carlton. While he had a great 2018, Corbin is the definition of buyer beware. Before this year, Corbin had a career 4.12 ERA and just a 7.9 strikeouts-per-nine. Despite the uncertainty, it would come as a shock if he doesn’t end up in pinstripes. Jon Heyman reported that Corbin is one of the Yankees’ top targets, and the feeling is mutual. Corbin back in May, said, “It would definitely be great to play there. I grew up a Yankee fan. My whole family are Yankee fans. My mom, my dad, my grandpa, everybody. Really, every generation of my family has been Yankee fans.” At this point, it isn’t a matter of if, but when Corbin will sign on to the Bombers.
Happ was acquired by the Yankees at the trade deadline of 2017 and was everything the Yankees hoped he would be. In the regular season with the Yankees, Happ started in eleven games and pitched to a 7-0 record and a 2.69 ERA. While Happ was less than dominant in those games, he still got the job done, including two spectacular starts against the Red Sox as the season came to a close. In his rematch against Boston during Game 1 of the ALDS however, Happ was lost, getting tagged for five runs over just two innings of work. As the 35-year-old lefty hits free agency, many teams will be in the running for Happ’s services, and his price could go up to around $20-million. Happ is a great addition but is nothing more than a number three in the rotation at best. With that being said, if the Yankees can get Happ on, say, two-years, $30-million, they should pull the trigger.
After missing the past year and a half to Tommy John surgery, the Tampa Bay Rays took out a flyer on Eovaldi last winter. After a so-and-so start to the year, the righty was traded to the Red Sox at the deadline, and both parties reaped the benefits. Eovaldi had a 3.33 ERA in 12 games for the Sox in the regular season, but his postseason performance earned him millions. In October, the 28-year-old went 2-1 with an astonishing 1.61 ERA, including one of the greatest relief outings in postseason history during the Sox lone World Series loss. During Game 3, Eovaldi entered a tie game in the twelfth inning and dominated for six innings. It was not to be, however, as he allowed a walk-off home run to Max Muncy to leadoff the eighteenth inning, but the gritty performance brought teammate Rick Porcello to literal tears. Now, Eovaldi is back on the market and is set to make a ton. Eovaldi has developed a devastating cutter that completely changed his game, and despite this and the spectacular postseason, teams should be wary of giving Eovaldi a big deal. For his entire career, Eovaldi has been extremely inconsistent, and one good month doesn’t change that. While an Eovaldi reunion with the Yankees could be tempting, the price needs to be right.
When the media began looking ahead to the 2018 free agent class, the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner was supposed to be at the forefront. Since then, two out of three inconsistent seasons and injuries have destroyed Keuchel’s value. As the soon-to-be 31-year-old left-hander nears free agency, he will have many possible suitors. One of which, could be the team that he has dominated for so long, the New York Yankees. Coming off of a 12-11 year where he threw to a 3.74 ERA and led the majors in hits allowed, Keuchel’s price tag could be on the cheaper side. If it is $15-million or under, the Yankees should take a chance. There may be that Cy Young guy still in there, and, as long as the Yankees aren’t counting on him to be a frontline starter, they should go for it.
CC Sabathia walked off of the mound during Game 4 of the ALDS, knowing that that may be the final time he does as a member of the New York Yankees. Since signing on with New York in 2009, outside from a few, injury-plagued seasons, Sabathia has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the game. This past year, Sabathia made 29 starts and pitched to a 3.65 ERA, with a 9-7 record. Just 16 decisions, as Sabathia averaged only 5.1 innings per start. He consistently gave New York five, strong innings, but that isn’t enough from a starter. CC showed that, when he is on the mound, your bullpen better be ready. While it hurts to say, it would be smart of the Yankees to let the big man walk. He isn’t worth however much money he will demand. Unless he would accept a cheap, incentive-filled deal, CC may have thrown his last pitch as a Yankee
The Giants just wrapped up a disappointing 73-89 season that had high expectations after last winter, when the Giants went all-in, trading what was left of their depleted farm for Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen. It didn’t work out, and now the Giants are locked into big deals with veterans and have a minor league system that ranks near the bottom of baseball. A quick fix? Trade Bumgarner. Over the past couple of years, injuries have limited him to just 38 starts, and his velocity has taken a significant hit. Last season, he stopped throwing the four-seam fastball and began relying more on his cutter than he ever had before, a pitch that averages around 85 miles-per-hour. Bumgarner still has been able to manage around it, but it does present some questions as to how much longer he can be an “ace.” Despite this, his history speaks for itself. The 29-year-old lefty is the single greatest postseason pitcher in the history of baseball. His career postseason ERA is 2.11, while is career World Series ERA is an uncanny 0.25. In 36.0 World Series innings, Bumgarner has, remarkably, allowed just one run. The biggest hit to Bumgarner is the fact that he is a rental who will cost like he has years of control. While Bumgarner may at this point be a two or three starter in October, no one in the majors is more trustworthy come October.
Corey Kluber, who will be 33 in April, has been consistently one of the best pitchers in the game since his first full year in 2013, and the Cleveland Indians reportedly are shopping him. Since 2013, Kluber is 94-50 with an ERA under three and has brought home two Cy Young Awards (2014, 2017). In each of the last five seasons, Kluber has thrown over 200-innings and has ranked in the top-five in the American League in strikeouts. The most significant part of Kluber’s value, however, is his contract. Kluber is owed around $15-million per year for the next three years. He is an ace and consistently a Cy Young candidate, who is being paid like a mid-rotation starter. While his contract expires after his age-35 season, Kluber has shown signs that he can pitch at an elite level for years to come. Kluber is primarily a sinker-baller, throwing the pitch 32.7% of the time last season according to Baseball Savant. While his four-seamer has lost some velocity over the past few years, he throws the ball just 8.8% of the time, making it the fourth pitch in his arsenal. His velocity decrease shouldn’t be alarming, however, as he has never been a guy that blows by batters, instead relying on command and movement. Kluber will be very pricey, probably costing the Yankees a couple of MLB-ready prospects (Miguel Andujar, Justus Sheffield, Estevan Florial) and then some. While Kluber will take a hit out of the Yankees farm, a team that needs to go all-in for 2019 must make him priority number-one if Cleveland is serious about trading him.
If the Yankees are unable to pry Kluber from Cleveland, Carlos Carrasco would be a great backup plan. After being acquired by Cleveland from the Phillies in the 2009 Cliff Lee deal, Carrasco struggled for the first few years of his career, and screamed bust. In 2014 though, Carrasco burst onto the scene. In forty appearances (fourteen starts), Carrasco went 8-7 with a 2.55 ERA and cemented his spot in the Indians rotation. Last year, the 31-year-old righty pitched to a 17-10 record with a 3.38 ERA, while striking out a career-high 231 batters. Carrasco has progressively become more efficient, and his increased use of the changeup was immense last year. The whiff rate on the pitch went up about 13% from 2017, making up for a loss in fastball velocity. Carrasco, who has one year and a team option remaining on his deal, for under $10-million a year, would be a great, cheaper option for the Yankees to grab if they cannot acquire Kluber or Bumgarner. While Carrasco is not an ace, he still can be a very consistent two or three starter in a Yankee rotation that could use one.
After the Arizona Diamondbacks season came to a disappointing close, many around baseball began speculating that the team could go into a fire sale of sorts this offseason. If that is the case, the Yankees should see what it would cost to pry away Zack Greinke. The 2009 Cy Young Award winner has been a consistent top-10 starter in baseball for years. After a dominant 2014 that saw him pitch to an astonishing 1.66 ERA, Greinke broke records for the largest contract in baseball history, when he signed a six-year, $205.5-million deal with the D-Backs. Outside of an iffy 2015, Greinke has been great for Arizona but is still nearing his upper-30s at over $30-million a year. If the D-Backs are serious about a youth movement, they need to unload Greinke. That can be advantageous to the Yankees. Both sides know that no deal will be agreed on unless the Diamondbacks eat a significant portion of Greinke’s deal, which has three years remaining. If the Yankees can get Arizona to commit to, say, 50% of the contract, they could acquire an all-star pitcher and pay him around $15-million a year. For Arizona to agree, they would want a hefty return if they are taking on that much. The Yankees could build a package around Justus Sheffield or another upper-level prospect and could get three years of Greinke. Many speculated that he couldn’t handle New York City, but he is worth the risk.
Finally, Greinke’s teammate, Robbie Ray. Ray made his name known in 2017 after a few mediocre years. The most significant change that Ray made from 2016 to 2017 was moving further away from his sinker and relying more on his fastball and the rest of the arsenal. In 2017, he began using his fastball 7% of the time more, and used his sinker almost 20% of the timeless, as well as re-introducing his curveball. This combination led to him finishing seventh in National League Cy Young voting, going 15-5 with a 2.89 ERA in 28 starts, and leading the league with 12.1 strikeouts-per-nine. Ray entered 2018 with the goal of solidifying himself as the ace of the Diamondbacks, but injuries limited him to just 123.2 innings. In 24 starts, the left went 6-2 with a 3.93 ERA, striking out 12.0 per nine innings. Ray does come with his share of warning signs. His flyball rate spiked over the last two years, and the hard-hit percentage against him has been alarmingly high, at over 40% each of the past two seasons. Both attributed to Ray taking the sinker out of his pitch rotation. Ray has two more years of arbitration before he hits free agency so that Arizona may have a relatively high asking price for the 27-year-old, but having just one real year of being elite, his flyball rate and his hard hit % all scream buyer beware. Ray would be a good fit in New York, as the Bombers love their tough lefties, but he is not the kind of player Brian Cashman will overpay for.
These are just ten of the numerous options the Yankees have for this offseason. The Bombers could consider Charlie Morton, Hyun Jin-Ryu, James Paxton, Jose Berrios, and others. No matter who they grab, the Yankees know that they must improve on starting pitching, something that has been their kryptonite for years.