The media hype surrounding the Yankees' efforts to acquire a top starter such as Sonny Gray before the trade deadline is bordering on surreal. Reporting on the happenings and speculating on the possibility has become an expectation that it will happen. But what if it doesn't?
The headlines will likely proclaim a "failure" by the Yankees, but it wouldn't be. They have already won the trade deadline. They clinched that victory when they acquired David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Todd Frazier. The team improved four roster spots in one move while simultaneously preventing the Boston Red Sox from doing the same.
Would the Yankees be better off with Gray, Yu Darvish or Justin Verlander in their rotation? Probably, but not definitely. Gray has had injury concerns and Darvish is a rental. Verlander has a ton of money left on his contract, while questions abound regarding how much he has left in the tank.
Is one of these pitchers the best option for the Yankees? Possibly, but it really depends on the cost. It was previously reported that the Athletics wanted Gleyber Torres or Clint Frazier as the centerpiece of a larger package for Gray before backing down on the price in the most recent rumors. The Rangers are said to be seeking the same for Darvish.
Who can blame them? Many teams are in the hunt for a top starter, while only three are available. The Rangers, Athletics, and Tigers are in the driver's seat. The market price was set high when the Cubs gave up their two top prospects to obtain Jose Quintana.
The Yankees would be foolish if they gave up Clint Frazier to get a starter, and general manager Brian Cashman is no fool. Frazier is not merely a prospect, as he has already become an integral part of the team. He appears to be the ideal No. 2 hitter that the Yankees have been searching for since Derek Jeter's retirement. Having pushed Jacoby Ellsbury into a bench role, Frazier has a .819 OPS, which jumps to 1.344 with runners in scoring position. Twelve of his 22 hits have been for extra bases. There is a lot of baseball to be played, but Frazier could end up finishing second in the Rookie of the Year Award voting behind Aaron Judge. Wouldn't that be something?
The Dodgers are said to be in win-now mode with Kershaw's potential opt-out looming in 2018, but the Yankees aren't. They simply don't need to trade the farm for a starter right now. The Yankees already have a solid quartet at the front end of the rotation.
Luis Severino has emerged as one of the top pitchers in the league. He is fourth in ERA (3.03), third in WHIP (1.09), third in strikeouts per nine innings (10.22), fourth in OPS (.624), fourth in WAR for Pitchers (4.0), third in FIP (2.95), and third in ERA+ (153). If the playoffs started today, Severino would be the Yankees' No. 1 pitcher.
Jordan Montgomery has surpassed any expectations that one could have for a rookie fifth starter. He has been a model of consistency all year, with only one bad outing on his resume. He pitched his best game the other night, flirting with a no-hitter. Montgomery should be a solid No. 4 starter moving forward.
CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka are both getting paid ace money, and have showed us glimpses of why. Sabathia has given up three earned runs or fewer in 11 of his 17 starts. He has given up four or fewer in each of his last 10 starts. Tanaka threw a complete game shutout at Fenway Park in April, recorded a career-high 13 strikeouts in a tough-luck loss to the Athletics in May, and surpassed it with a 14-strikeout performance during his pursuit of perfection on Friday night against the Rays. Eleven of his 17 starts have been quality starts.
Tanaka and Sabathia have both been plagued by inconsistency. If they can solve that, then the Yankees rotation will be in very good shape moving forward. Now is the time for the two aces to step up and get it done.
That leaves a total of 12 starts that will have to be made in place of the injured Michael Pineda through the end of the season. The Yankees have many internal options including Caleb Smith, Luis Cessa, Domingo German, Bryan Mitchell, and Chance Adams.
The ones who have appeared have not been particularly impressive, leading many to wonder when Chance Adams will be called up. The Yankees have repeatedly said that he is not ready yet, but it’s possible that the Yankees won’t head into the offseason without at least giving him a look. Even if they just give him a handful of starts at the end of the year, that means fewer starts that will have to be made by someone else.
We may have been given a glimpse into the Yankees' plans yesterday when they started Caleb Smith, but pulled him in the fourth inning before the game got out of hand. The team has the bullpen depth to do this, particularly with former starters Chad Green and Adam Warren able to pitch multiple innings. Saturday's game didn't go as smoothly as Tanaka's perfect game bid or Montgomery's no-hit attempt on Tuesday, but the result was the same: The Yankees won.
Another possibility is that the Yankees use the roster spot normally occupied by the fifth starter, as well as the final bullpen spot (currently occupied by Luis Cessa), to continuously rotate fresh arms in from Triple-A. In addition to starting pitching depth, the Yankees also have major-league arms in Scranton that they can drop into the bullpen. Jonathan Holder, Ben Heller, and Chasen Shreve are among those who have already contributed to the team this year.
New York also has the option to acquire a lower-tier starter that won't cost them a boatload of top prospects. Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia have been mentioned as potential trade targets.
The Yankees score a lot of runs, have a solid front four if everyone pitches to their ability, and possess arguably the best bullpen in baseball. If the Yankees don't acquire a top starter by Monday's deadline, they are still in a very good position to win the AL East.