The Yankees, surprisingly, have not been impressive as of late. On June 21, the team sat 50-22 with a two-game division lead and had just swept the Mariners. Since then, success has been hard to come by. In their last 27 games, the Yankees are just 14-13, and have failed to win more than four games in a row since the beginning of June. When the bitter rival Red Sox have gained seven games on them by virtue of going 21-6 in that same span, the Evil Empire couldn’t simply sit idly to hope and pray that their problems worked themselves out.
The culprit? You guessed it: that rotation. The bullpen in the last month is tops in the game with 1.6 WAR, a 3.00 FIP, and a 1.03 WHIP, among other key metrics supporting their dominance. The team’s lineup has been among the MLB’s top five as well. In the last month, the team has combined for 38 homers (1st), a 117 wRC+ (4th), .463 SLG (4th), and .338 OBP (6th). The rotation, however, is a different story. Tanaka has quietly been much better across his last six starts, particularly his shutout last night that was arguably the best outing of his career. In that span, he’s 3-0 with a 2.75 ERA, having pitched 36 innings, allowing 11 ER, walking just nine batters and striking out 42. He’s sacrificed seven long balls in that six-game stretch; however, three of these came in Baltimore in one poor outing back on June 2. His ability to build on some recent positive performance will be essential to New York’s ability to get back on track, as the two key cogs upon whom the Yankees have relied this year – Luis Severino and CC Sabathia – have hit scuffles of late. Sabathia started out 2018 with a stretch of unpredictably strong performances, going 2-0 with a 1.39 ERA across his first six starts. Since then, however, he’s come back to earth and looked more like a #4-type starter who has the ability to play up to a #2-#3. His last 12 starts have seen him go 67.2 innings (about 5.2 innings per start), allowing 75 hits, striking out just 54 batters, and posting a 4.52 ERA. More concerning, opposing batters are hitting a strong .278/.348/.456/.803 combined line off him across that stretch. To break it down, he’s had about six good starts and six troublesome outings across those 12 games. That inconsistency is why I feel safer calling him a #4, who has the ability to randomly throw in a #2-esque start. Severino’s last month hasn’t come sans difficulty, either. In his last six appearances, he’s pitched only 34.1 innings (less than six innings per start, which is concerning over an extended period for an ace), allowing 41 hits, 16 ER, and seven homers, to the tune of a mediocre 4.19 ERA. Hitters are mashing him in that stretch as well, for a .299/.338/.496/.834 clip.
Here’s the problem: Michael Fulmer, Carlos Martinez, Jeff Samardzija, Garrett Richards, Jason Vargas, and Blake Snell are all hurt. Madison Bumgarner and Jacob DeGrom are 99.9% not going anywhere. Tyson Ross, Cole Hamels and JA Happ have struggled to the point where their teams are practically working overtime to move them before they can pitch their stock down any further. Chris Archer, Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy are wild cards. Unfortunately, the starting pitcher market appears right now as barren as an Italian family’s cupboard two days after thanksgiving. This is why, late Tuesday night, the Yankees and Orioles announced a trade that had been in the works for days and grew closer to agreement as the day unfolded. The transaction: former Cy Young candidate relief pitcher Zach Britton to New York, and a prospect package of Dillon Tate, Cody Carroll, and Josh Rodgers to Baltimore.
From Baltimore’s Perspective:
If I were a Baltimore fan, I’d be very happy with the package that the team received in return for a 30-year-old rental reliever, who is two years removed from posting the kind of numbers that made Zach Britton a household name, and coming off major health issue. I dislike the comparisons that have been made between this and the Familia or Chapman returns. Familia had a cleaner bill of health and more recent success and consistency, while in contrast also having the cloud of his off-field (alleged) transgressions. Chapman was viewed as the missing piece by a team that hadn’t won a title in over a century and was under immense pressure to do what it took to end a curse, and set its sights on a specific player. Nobody in 2018 was looking at Britton in that way.
Starting with Tate, he was one of my favorite prospects in the Yankees’ system. Aside from all the 40-man roster ramifications at year’s end, this is a guy with three potential plus pitches, and he’s shown on multiple occasions throughout his two years in New York’s farm why Texas made him the fourth overall selection in 2015’s First-Year Player Draft. He is a particular risk due to a history of health concerns and his issues with fastball command, which are chief among the reasons why many people see him best suited as an eighth-inning reliever. Those who believe in him claim he’s got the upside of being a #4ish type starter when he settles in at the Major League level, finds the consistency that has eluded him, improves his off-speed offering, and again, improves that command significantly. He’s the boom-or-bust member of this package, but if he booms, he’s someone who could give AL East hitters fits in a few years.
Cody Carroll is a high-level player enough to the point where he can make his debut as soon as August, if he continues his recent performance at Triple-A when he joins the Norfolk Tides (Baltimore’s affiliate at that level). His heater sits 95-98, but can play up to peak in triple digits when he reaches back. His arsenal also features a split-finger fastball as well as a slider which are decent but lack the consistency to play up to average with regularity. He keeps the ball in the park, having not allowed a single home run this season despite nearly 42% of contact against him coming in the form of fly balls. His strikeout ability has developed as he’s matured as a prospect, now punching out almost 1/3 of his opposing hitters this season. Most scouts see him as a seventh-inning guy, but he’s looks to be a safe bet as a reliable relief option at the Major League level before long for the Orioles.
Josh Rodgers is a low-risk arm who projects as a back-end starter in Baltimore’s rotation, though he’ll join Carroll in Triple-A for now. Though the velocity ceiling is limited, he has impressive command of his heater and the resultant movement allows his fastball to play up to average. He also throws a slider, curveball and changeup. His strikeout ability has deteriorated as he’s advanced to higher levels of the minors, and promotions to Double-A and beyond in the last year led to subtle increases in his walk rate and a more flagrant leap in his homer-prone tendencies, despite his fly-ball rate continuing to decrease (his line-drive rate has been the highest of his career at the same time, which helps to explain this to some degree). He’s a pretty vanilla prospect package, one who won’t jump off the page but with little room for things to go totally awry as long as the surge in home runs allowed doesn’t become exacerbated by pitching in Camden Yards. Prior to the trade, he saw his name surface in conversation on three different occasions this year when the Yankees were in need of a rotation jolt at the back-end, following Montgomery’s surgery, Gray’s struggles, and German’s demotion, and he should become a #4-#5 starter for Baltimore, perhaps by September or sooner.
From New York’s perspective:
As a Yankees fan, I’m slightly disappointed to lose Tate, but I’m ecstatic with this trade. Adding someone who at his peak was in the conversation with Kenley Jansen for the best reliever in baseball, and who has shown glimpses recently of returning closer to form, is a solid play by Cashman in order to deepen the game’s strongest bullpen even further. It allows New York to shorten games for some of their weaker or less consistent starters (a la 2015 Royals en route to a World Series title), even though the expectation is that Cashman and Co. still have something up their sleeve, likely relevant to the state of the rotation. What did New York give up for this? Their fourth-best pitching prospect (according to Baseball America, and #6 overall in the organization), and two other arms not ranked among the top 10 in an organization flush with pitching depth. They still have plenty of chips with which to sit at the poker table in case, say, Chris Archer becomes more available as is rumored, or the Mets do what most people believe they should do and seriously consider a Jacob DeGrom deal. It’s worth noting that Jon Paul Morosi, Ken Rosenthal, and Jeff Passan have all stated in the last 24 hours, even following the Britton deal, that they believe the Yankees have “something big” up their sleeve for the next six-plus days.