*All statistics were accurate as of Tuesday, May 29 unless otherwise indicated*
The calendar is flipping to June, and baseball fans everywhere know what that means: trade season will soon be upon us. One team that is unsurprisingly expected to be active is the Yankees. They have the most potent lineup in the game (and it’s not particularly close), and continue to have one of the strongest bullpens in the league despite recent struggles from David Robertson and a couple of others.
The rotation, however, is a different story.
Beyond ace Luis Severino, the rotation has not been among the most impressive in the American League in the first two months of this campaign. Of their other four active starters, none have a FIP (fielding-independent ERA) of better than 4.50 (Jordan Montgomery, who is injured and will be out for several more weeks, was at 4.17 before hitting the DL). Whether it’s walking too many batters (Sonny Gray and Domingo German), being susceptible to the long ball (Tanaka and German), or father time (Sabathia), the most critical of the concerns about each of the players have been exacerbated throughout the early going. When looking at the likely two biggest challenges to the Yankees’ quest to claim the AL pennant or more, it’s likely the Astros and the Red Sox. If I’m the Yankees, I’m comfortable with Severino matching Chris Sale or any potential #1 starter from Houston. But I don’t see any of my starters going up against either Porcello/Sale/Rodriguez or McCullers/Keuchel/Morton where I’m reasonably confident in my pitcher’s ability to keep us close until the pen takes over.
This is especially true over the last month. Entering Sunday, they averaged 6.1 runs scored in their last 18 completed games (doesn’t include suspended 5/15 game @ WAS). In the same span, the team’s average runs allowed is over 5.1 per game. Right now, it seems reasonable to project that the offense will slow down a little at some point. The recent stretch would have them on pace to score over 988 runs this season, when no team in recent years has eclipsed 900. It would make sense that this team would be the one to do it, but that’s a remarkably tall order and something I’m much more comfortable filing under “hopes” than “expectations”. That being said, there’s not been much of anything to indicate that Sonny Gray will suddenly rise to the occasion under the New York spotlight, Sabathia can slow down a ticking clock, or Tanaka is able to stop getting taken deep.
There is a point here that needs to be understood. That being, the period of a label as a “feel-good story” is over. The window of “the Baby Bombers who arrived a year early” slammed shut. These excuses evaporated into the air with the fumes from the engines of the plane that landed at JFK on December 10, with one Giancarlo Stanton in tow. It’s no longer 2016, the year of potential. It’s no longer 2017, the year of upside. It’s 2018, the year of expectations; the year of results. This is the first season of what is expected to be the new era of Yankee dominance. In that vein, I don’t want another pitcher with “#1 stuff” who comes with #4-#5 results and doesn’t have the psyche to hold up in a major market (ahem…Sonny Gray, who looks like he’s about to face prime Tyson whenever he’s answering to the New York media after an outing that begs the question “Was that trade worth it?”). I don’t want another late-30s, 150,000-miles-on-him has-been who is a few games or a bad step off the mound from retirement (a la CC). The Pinstripe beacon has gone dark over the last 17 seasons, with only one championship since 2000, having missed the playoffs four times and failed to win a single game in their 2015 postseason birth.
What the Yankees have are: a bona-fide ace, and (between Tanaka, Montgomery, Sabathia, Gray, Sheffield, and German) six decent options for how to fill out their 3-to-5 slots in the rotation. After this season, if they lose Sabathia as expected, their rotation stands to look like: Severino, Tanaka, Montgomery, Gray, Sheffield. Not bad per se, but again, can that rotation stack up in September and October with teams like Houston and Boston? If it did, could it go toe-to-toe with Washington, St. Louis, LA, Philadelphia in a potential fall classic? The possibility exists, but if the team’s intention is to truly go for it in the near future, I can’t see them ignoring the glaring hole in the rotation between their #1, and the rest.
So, who are some options? I threw some names down below and broke them down by contract situation, how I believe they’d fit in New York, and what it could potentially cost to acquire them. From this, I will rank how I believe they should be prioritized by the Yankees’ front office as targets going into the summer.
Age: 34 (35 in December)
Contractual situation: $20 million salary, free agent after this season, option for 2019
Fit in New York: I have heard Hamels’ name connected to the Yankees probably more than any other potentially-available starting pitcher this summer, and I can’t understand why. Hamels is 34, on an expiring deal, and has appeared in decline for about three years now. From 2012-2014, Hamels started 94 games, posting an impressive 3.21 FIP and a WHIP of 1.144. His HR/9 average came in at just under 0.83. In the three-plus years since, he has ticked up to a 4.09 FIP and 1.238 WHIP, and his HR/9 in that span jumped to 1.11. That doesn’t sound like much – however, he was going from a very homer-prone park to one that is at least somewhat less exacting for pitchers, and it still increased by over 33%. Putting him, at this stage, in the most notorious bandbox in the American League seems like a marriage made in Hell. This fact, coupled with his age and contract situation, makes it one I would not…propose, if you will…for the Yankees.
Age: 25 (26 in March 2019)
Contractual situation: Free agent after 2022 season
Fit in New York: Unlike Hamels, Fulmer has never shown much evidence of being concerningly susceptible to the long ball. He also is young and controllable, which checks two known boxes for New York. It also, combined with the fact that he his statistically one of the better pitchers on this list right now, suggests his ceiling may be the most intriguing of all of these. He gets good separation between his fastball and offspeed, and seems to have a blend of humility and comfortable confidence that would hold up well in the Bronx, unlike some other recent acquisitions.
My main concern with Fulmer would probably be…he’s going to be incredibly expensive. Last year, Sonny Gray cost three top-100-caliber prospects for two-plus prime years of a mid-rotation arm. In Fulmer, we are looking at a younger, solid #2 arm with five years of team control and much more recent success than Gray, despite probably having all of his best baseball years in front of him. This fits much more of what New York should be looking for compared to Hamels. With all of this, I believe there’s no way this deal gets done without one of Torres/Florial/Sheffield and much more. If you’re the Yankees, is it worth that hefty price to add a player like Fulmer to your roster?
Age: 29 (30 in September)
Contractual situation: 2 years left of team control
Fit in New York: From a personal standpoint, there’s probably not a rival starter I like more than Chris Archer of the Rays. I watch him, his personality, and his intensity when he pitches, and something intangible about him just screams “Yankee material” to me. But, back to my point. Archer is a consistent, good pitcher who gets above-average results, as is evidenced by his numbers in his 145 starts since the beginning of the 2014 season. A number which I believe gets underrated is that, in an era that seems dominated by the bullpen, he averages 207 innings pitched across a 162-game season. In this span, he has a sharp 3.41 FIP, 1.23 WHIP, 106 ERA+, and a K/9 of over 10. His slight tendencies toward being homer-prone concern me to a point (he’s on par with Hamels over the last three years, though A) the more recent numbers tilt in Archer’s favor and B) you can also counter that by saying that he might have more experience pitching in the AL East than any realistically available arm this summer).
Age: 29 (30 in December)
Contractual: Free agent after 2021
Fit in New York: Duffy strikes me as kind of a Jaime Garcia-type option of this summer. He is the least-proven, therefore should be the least expensive and probably will be the most readily available. On the apple tree that is the 2018 starting pitching trade market, he is the infamous low-hanging fruit. He is not the same pitcher he once was. From 2014-16, he posted a 3.36 ERA in 103 games (75 starts), averaging 1.04 homers allowed per nine innings, a 1.20 WHIP, and walking fewer than three per game, despite a 4.00 FIP. That last metric seems to have caught up to him, however, as his numbers in the last two seasons have gone south. In 35 starts, his ERA lept to 4.48, accompanied by a 1.19 HR/9 and an unsightly 1.36 WHIP. This is not a move I’d touch with a 10-foot pole unless German struggles so badly they end up also needing a back-end starter and don’t feel that Sheffield is ready for the reins.
- Michael Fulmer
- Chris Archer
- Cole Hamels
- Danny Duffy
I have Fulmer atop my list because I believe the combination of his upside, controllability, track record, and ability to keep the ball in the park is worth whatever he would cost. If we assume a deal would have to include a top-tier prospect, a pair of guys who are close to the majors (perhaps an outfielder and a middle infield bat – where I believe Detroit could use some long-term help) and a fourth low-level high-upside player, we could be looking at a package of Estevan Florial (#34 overall), Clint Frazier, Albert Abreu and Luis Medina (maybe moving Clint would open a spot for Harper going forward?) There could easily be other names to pop into this mix as teams begin to fall out of contention and decide to start shopping key guys. This is a deal that New York could afford; as much of a pinch as it would be, the depth allows them to absorb that without too much long-term repercussion. Elsewhere, Chris Archer of the Rays would be my Plan B. This is a deal I would imagine being somewhat, but not too much, above the Gray package. I could see Chance Adams, Albert Abreu, and Domingo Acevedo, perhaps with one more throw-in type of player, being a package that could make something move on this front.
Of course, this is in no way a restrictive list or likely even half of the options who will be shopped this summer. As teams begin to fall out of wild card contention, unexpected pitchers from those teams could be put up for the highest bidder. The Blue Jays could be a team to watch with either Marcus Stroman or Aaron Sanchez, and New York might not be easy to count out in that mix should the opportunity arise (Toronto has dealt with division rivals on major deals before). San Francisco could stun people and put MadBum into the mix (if this happens, pretty much anyone would be in play from the Yankees’ farm). It’s sort of early to judge yet, but as pitching continues to cost the Yankees games in the standings to the rival Red Sox, I am reminded of 2016, when the first 28 games of that season probably changed the course of the Yankees franchise. Every one of the 162 games matters, so if you have a chance to get involved early for a guy you think is that missing piece, calendars be damned.
Which one of these pitchers will make a brand new start of it? It’s up to you, New York, New York.