Searching for Rotation Help - No Perfect Solution

Early season struggles by Sonny Gray, a second season of inconsistency from Masahiro Tanaka, and an injury to Jordan Montgomery have the Yankees surveying the league for starting pitching. The problem is that most of the teams that are in the traditional position to trade pitching, are bad exactly because they don’t have good starting pitching, or the starting pitching they have is young, and not exactly the type of assets they would be looking to trade.

Lets look at some of the names that are often thrown around as trade targets.

Michael Fulmer – 1st Problem, Detroit is only 2 games out in the NL Central. One injury to the Cleveland rotation, and Detroit might become buyers, not sellers. 2nd Problem, Fulmer was not very good in the 2nd half of last season, before ending up on the DL to end the year with an elbow injury. Fulmer has also not been very good this season, he currently has a 4.37 ERA, 4.34 FIP, and both his hits per 9 and Walks per 9 are up from previous seasons. The Tigers would demand quite a haul for Fulmer, and honestly you don’t know what you are going to get this season.

Danny Duffy – Duffy was an obvious trade candidate considering the state of the Royals organization. He is signed to a contract that pays him $15M a season for this year, and the next three years. Duffy also has shown flashes of being a solid number 2 or 3 starter in his career… but that is not what is happening this season where he is sporting a 6.51 ERA, 6.19 FIP, and a 1.66 WHIP. Duffy, like Fulmer ended last season on the DL. Royals, probably wouldn’t even want to deal him right now, hoping he can straighten it out and improve his value.

Chris Archer – Archer was a pretty good pitcher for most of last season, but the wheels fell off in September, where his ERA went from 3.66 to 4.07 in a month. He has not rebounded well this season, as all of his numbers are worse than his career averages. I don’t think in his current form he is the impact pitcher the Yankees are looking for, especially for the cost it would take with his team friendly contract. Archer has been a workhorse over the last 4 seasons, passing 800 IP in that span. It is possible that he is hitting a point where his best stuff isn’t there right now and he has yet to make the veteran adjustments to his pitching style.

Madison Bumgarner – The Giants probably should be sellers, but they are hanging around .500 without Bumgarner, and they spent the offseason trading prospects for veterans. Those are the moves of a team trying to make a run, especially with the unexpected struggles of the Dodgers so far this season.

So who is out there on a team primed to sell and pitching well?

Kevin Gausman – For several years scouts have been wondering if this is the season that Gausman puts it all together and realizes the potential that made him a well-regarded prospect and Top 5 Draft pick, and it never has been. This year he is pitching to a good 3.18 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and with Baltimore out of it by the beginning of May, maybe they will want to sell high on Gausman this summer. Baltimore would probably not want to send him to the Yankees to start with, and as a Yankee fan, I’ll never buy it, I’ve seen too many Gausman meltdowns.

The Atlanta Braves deep pool of MLB ready pitching prospects – Jose Bautista is playing 3B for the first place Atlanta Braves, in 2018, that is a real thing. I was able to catch a little of the Braves / Cubs game the other day, and I have a feeling the Bautista experiment is going to wear thin very quickly. Bautista’s offense eroded at the end of his run in Toronto, and after a decade of only playing sparingly at 3B, I don’t think the glove is going to hold up for long. Small sample size, but the play I saw him not make the other day is made by just about every 3B in the league. The Yankees currently have an MLB caliber 3B sitting at AAA in Brandon Drury. If Drury can prove that he is healthy and moving beyond his issues, then he would be a good fit in Atlanta. The Braves are also currently using multiple Top 100 starting pitching prospects in their bullpen. 21 year old, Luiz Gohara’s prospect rankings among various organizations roughly lines up with Justus Sheffield, he is in their Bullpen. Max Fried, while not as highly regarded as Gohara has also been on several top 100 list. Mike Soroka, a 21 year old, ranked higher than both Gohara and Fried on most if not all prospect rankings also recently made his MLB debut making some starts. Why would a team like the Braves trade MLB ready pitching for a third baseman? They also have a top 100 pitching prospect at AAA (Allard), AA (Wright), and A+ (Anderson), so they are dealing from a position of depth. From a long term organizational process, I’d love to add Gohara, Fried, or Soroka to the Yankees, I’m just not sure these young pitchers will have the impact the Yankees are looking for this season.

The Mets – I think the Mets will be completely out of playoff contention by the All-Star break. I’d trade a ton for either Noah Syndergaard or Jacob DeGrom, but despite the fit of elite prospects from the Yankees system that could fill multiple Mets needs moving forward, the Mets ownership will never approve that type of trade to the Yankees. I would not be surprised to see one of those guys move by the end of the season, as both are getting to the point of arbitration where they will get good raises, but I don’t think it is to the Yankees.

The Dodgers – After last night the Dodgers and the Marlins had the same record, Ten games below .500. Who had money on that happening any time after opening day this season? The Dodgers have some help on the way with Justin Turner recently returning, and Clayton Kershaw should be back soon, but they also have a ton of ground to make up just to contend for a Wild Card in a very competitive National League. If by the end of June they haven’t inched back into contention, a lot of options could be on the table. Everybody probably thinks I’m about to say, trade for Clayton Kershaw, who could be opting out at the end of the season… sure, ask the question, but I will give my hesitation with Kershaw. He is currently on the DL for the 3rd straight season, twice for back issues, and now for tendinitis in his arm. One more DL stint this season, and he probably isn’t opting out and you may be stuck with a chronically injured pitcher at $35M a year for the next few seasons. I have another target as well, Alex Wood. Wood is currently pitching to a 3.35 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 2.54 FIP. He is left handed, 27 years old, and under team control for two more seasons. He has his own injury history, hitting the DL late last season with shoulder inflammation, but he was back for the stretch run and it does not seem to be affecting him right now, and he isn’t costing you $35M. Wood is an established major league pitcher, with postseason experience, and not a rental. The Dodgers don’t have to move him, but everything from their front office perspective is a value play. With the Dodgers strategy of getting starting pitchers out early in games, is it possible that they do not value Wood as high as you might think? It is worth exploring.

Rangers – A team that is out of it, with a veteran pitcher in his walk year. Cole Hamels struggled last season but is keeping the ERA down this year so far. If you are a peripherals guy, his 4.83 FIP will give you pause. I’m still not sure he is the guy the Yankees are looking for, as he isn’t guaranteed to be a definitive upgrade over their internal options at this point in his career. In his favor, Hamels has plenty of big game experience and could get a burst of rejuvenation from pitching on a contending team.

So after all that, the perfect pitcher for the Yankees isn’t on the market yet. I’d offer a ton to the Mets for either of their top two, but can’t see that being a real discussion. Maybe Archer, Fulmer or Duffy starts improving month to month like Verlander did last season, and reestablishes their value. Could developments push another quality arm like James Paxton out there, sure. Maybe the Dodgers open up an overhaul, and Kershaw or Wood look healthy for a stretch run. If you told me to make one deal right now, I’d try like hell to get Luiz Gohara from Atlanta, with Brandon Drury going back to them. I don’t see this as a one for one, so some other pieces might be involved both ways. Gohara has top of rotation potential, and if he isn’t ready to start this season, maybe he fills the 2-3 inning Chad Green role, which could really help the bullpen and in turn the rotation.

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