Front to back, the Yankees starting rotation in 2018 was good, but not great. Although mid-season trades brought J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn to the Bronx, the rotation still wasn’t good enough to give the team a solid chance to catch Boston in the AL East race. Yankees starters were out-pitched by their Red Sox counterparts in the Division Series, and likely wouldn’t have matched up well had the club advanced to play the Astros and Dodgers.
An upgrade is badly needed, but how? Only six starting pitchers in this year’s free agent class outperformed CC Sabathia’s 2.3 Wins Above Replacement during the 2018 campaign. Dallas Keuchel, Anibal Sanchez, Clay Buchholz, J.A. Happ, Charlie Morton, and Patrick Corbin headline this winter’s class.
The Yankees only have two quality starters under contract for next season in Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka. General Manager Brian Cashman already announced that Sonny Gray would probably be traded, so that leaves a minimum of three slots to fill. Four are needed, though, if the team wants to avoid heading into the season with no real depth.
Re-signing both CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ are obvious moves, but that means signing two even better arms to take the other two spots. If Clayton Kershaw decides to opt out of his contract, the team could go all-in on the probable future Hall of Famer. If he doesn’t, then that leaves Corbin as the top available free agent.
Signing Corbin would be a risky move. Although the 29-year-old southpaw produced a solid campaign in 2018 by notching a 137 ERA+, he pitched barely above league average across his six-year MLB career (109 ERA+).
A better option might be found on the trade market. The Diamondbacks are already open for business, with right-hander Zack Greinke among those on the trading block. Greinke is one of only nine pitchers to compile 10 WAR across the last two seasons. The 35-year-old is owed $104.5 million over the remaining three years of his contract, so this could be a straight salary dump by Arizona.
Max Scherzer produced a MLB-high 15.9 WAR from 2017-18. The Nationals finished only two games over .500 last year, and if they lose Bryce Harper to free agency, then they could be open to moving the $90 million that Scherzer is due. He’s also under contract through 2021.
The Mets remain attractive trade partners, with Zack Wheeler (3.9 WAR in 2018) hitting free agency following this coming season, Jacob deGrom (9.6 WAR) a year later, and Noah Syndergaard (4.0 WAR) the year after that. None of these would be salary dumps, so the Yankees would have to part with numerous highly-ranked prospects to strike a deal with their crosstown rivals.
The Bombers have already graduated a number of their top prospects, and have traded others away. So they might not be in a position to win a bidding war, but I think they have enough talent in their system to land at least one of the attractive trade targets I mentioned, particularly the high-salaried ones.
New York missed a golden opportunity to grab Justin Verlander in 2017 because his salary would have kept them over the luxury tax threshold. Houston acquired him for a trio of second-tier prospects, and he led the club to a World Series title.
A player’s trade value is dictated by what the competition is willing to pay, so it’s impossible to predict what it will take for the Yankees to land any of the potential targets I named. It would behoove Cashman, though to explore all of these options.
How do you think the Yankees should go about re-building their rotation? Let us know in the comments section below.