The three teams remaining in the playoffs—the Yankees, the Astros, and the Nationals—share a lot in common. They’re each built on a core of young players (e.g., Gleyber Torres, Alex Bregman, Juan Soto), with a couple of key veterans (Brett Gardner, Michael Brantley, Howie Kendrick), and quite a bit of depth. There’s one thing, however, that the Nationals and Astros have that the Yankees don’t: a sure thing in the rotation.
Don’t get me wrong. When fully healthy, the Yankees actually have a pretty solid rotation. That’s a big assumption, admittedly, but teams don’t bank on their top starters spending the entire season on the injured list. Luis Severino, James Paxton, and Masahiro Tanaka would be number one starters on many teams in the league. They’re all quite good, but Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and prime CC Sabathia they are not; you can’t pencil in a likely “win” whenever they start. There aren’t many of these aces in the league, but most other contenders have at least one.
Despite Aaron Boone’s masterful use of the bullpen throughout the year, the lack of an ace has been making things remarkably difficult for the Yankees this fall. So long as the Yankees get out to an early lead, the bullpen has allowed them to all but secure the win. When things don’t follow the script and the Yankees can’t get an early lead, such as in Game Two, the need to get length out of the relievers makes things more difficult.
Brian Cashman had the chance to reinforce the rotation and bring in an ace last offseason with Patrick Corbin. He likely hesitated due to the pitcher’s rather short track record, having only pitched like in an ace for one season before hitting the market. Cashman lowballed Corbin, and he ultimately signed in Washington. He similarly did not acquire either Trevor Bauer or Marcus Stroman at the deadline this year, although the slow trade market does makes it hard to tell exactly what was going on. No matter the reasoning, however, the Yankees made the same mistake twice by not going after an ace.
Third chances don’t come around often. This winter, the Yankees will get a third crack at Gerrit Cole. Stephen Strasburg also appears likely to opt out of his deal, according to reports.The players will be there for the taking.
No matter what happens in this postseason, the Yankees cannot afford to let this opportunity pass them by. Adding either Cole or Strasburg to a rotation that already includes Severino, Paxton, and Tanaka would turn a weakness into a strength. Those three would be among the best mid-rotation starters in all of baseball. It would also allow the Yankees to operate with a traditional four-man rotation in the playoffs, not risking bullpen games. Most importantly, it would give the Yankees a starter that could go toe-to-toe with Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, and the game’s other elite pitchers.
There are numerous other starting pitching options on the market—including some attractive arms, such as Hyun-Jin Ryu, Cole Hamels, and Zack Wheeler—that the Yankees will almost certainly check in on and would serve as nice consolation prices. If Cashman truly wants to bring his team to the next level, he needs to go shopping at the top of the market this winter.
Whatever the final result is, this year’s playoffs has to show him that.