When Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda arrived in the Bronx, they were greeted with much fanfare and high expectations. Yankees fans hoped to have two rotation stalwarts in Eovaldi, a flamethrower on the cusp of transforming into a lights out flamepitcher, and Pineda, previously the 16th prospect in baseball and an All-Star in his rookie year.
Although both pitchers have flashed their considerable upside, inconsistency has derailed their seasons. Eovaldi and Pineda currently carry earned run averages 5.11 and 5.56, respectively, and now could be on their way out of New York.
Free agents after the 2017 season, the Yankees are beginning to explore trading Eovaldi and Pineda given their newly adopted ‘sell’ strategy. The philosophy behind selling is that Brian Cashman will deal almost every valuable piece on the roster that isn’t in the Yankees’ future plans. Aroldis Chapman and Carlos Beltran will almost certainly be traded, but there are other players who fall under a gray area… most notably Eovaldi and Pineda. Should 40% of the rotation be shipped off as well, or do they deserve to stay?
The first thing to address is that these two pitchers are completely separate entities. It’s unlikely they are going to be “packaged” in a deal, even though both are considered to be on the Yankees’ current trade block. Considering Eovaldi and Pineda are currently two-fifths of a rotation shrouded in uncertainty, maybe the Yankees are best served shipping off only one (if either) of them. Without those two, the future rotation of the Yankees is Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, and, well…that’s about it.
CC Sabathia is on his way out after next season and has a 7.94 ERA in his past five starts, while Ivan Nova is decidedly not meant to be a starting pitcher. There’s Chad Green and Luis Cessa in Triple-A, but the team doesn’t seem to have much confidence in them being contributors long term out of the rotation. There also isn’t a ton of minor league depth the Yankees can bank on, with James Kaprielian out indefinitely with an elbow injury and Ian Clarkin a divisive evaluation among scouts.
In addition, the free agent trade market is devoid of starting pitching, so the Yankees might not be able to deal both pitchers if they want to field a somewhat respectable rotation for next season. This shifts the discussion over to which of Eovaldi/Pineda should be dealt. The answer could be as simple as “whichever commands the better return,” or it could be more complex. Do the Yankees have more faith in one of them being a productive starter (read: ERA under 5.00) in the future?
If it comes down to that, the answer is probably Nathan Eovaldi. Eovaldi is a year younger at 26 (though they both are free agents after next season) and doesn’t have the same injury red flags. Although neither are short on stuff, Eovaldi has shown a more promising ability to harness the talent and turn it into results. He is currently mired in a brutal slump and was in the bullpen at the end of the first half, but before the rough stretch, (we’ll call May 29th the cutoff point), the righty also had a 3.71 ERA and promising peripherals. Sure, Michael Pineda has flashed upside over individual starts, but Eovaldi has carried excellent results over the course of month(s).
The wall Eovaldi has hit recently is a product of his home run issues (he has the fifth highest HR/9 in baseball), but it’s a problem he hasn’t had in the past and is likely fixable. Limiting the home runs once again would allow Eovaldi to become an at least average starter in the future. On the other hand, Pineda’s struggles aren’t new nor nearly as amendable. His problems lie in consistency, as hanging sliders and fourseam fastballs thrown right down the middle have proved fatal to his performance. At this point, the simple reality may be that Pineda just isn’t that good of a pitcher, incapable of avoiding throwing the occasional grooved pitches.
The argument could be brought up that the Yankees shouldn’t trade either pitcher, as the future rotation looks bleak with either Eovaldi or Pineda gone. Trading either of the two now would also mean selling low, as each have underperformed and should improve with time.
Given the current market that is lacking big names (the best pitcher on the block is former Long Island Ducks pitcher Rich Hill), the Yankees are probably best suited making moves now. Teams are willing to give up more at the trade deadline than during the offseason, and there aren’t many other pitchers to compete for value with Pineda and Eovaldi.
This isn’t to say the Yankees need to have a firm plan on who will be traded right now. The wisest route is probably to block both pitchers (which Brian Cashman has done), and listen to offers—but not to deal both arms. A best case scenario is probably shipping off Pineda (and his 3.26 xFIP…sigh) in a market desperate for starting pitching, while keeping Eovaldi and hoping he can avoid the long ball enough to be a productive starter. Anything can happen, especially when teams get desperate and don’t want to trade elite prospects for Rich Hill.