Overall, the Yankees’ starting pitching has been outstanding this season. The group’s 4.7 WAR and 76 ERA- are second only to Tampa Bay in the American League.
All is not rosy, however, as injuries continue to pile up. When Masahiro Tanaka exited Saturday’s game after taking a come-backer off his ankle, fans held their breath waiting for X-rays results to come back negative. It’s still unknown if he’s going to miss any starts.
Rotation depth — along with quality long relief — is gone. Jonathan Loaisiga was just placed on the 60-day injured list with a bad shoulder. Luis Cessa lost Saturday’s game in the 11th inning with first place on the line, and the team had absolutely no one left to start Sunday’s rubber game.
Struggling reliever Chad Green got the nod as opener, but he and follower Nestor Cortes got rocked for five runs in 5.2 innings. The Yankees won the game anyway, thanks to a big strikeout by Adam Ottavino and the Rays’ bullpen imploding. Expecting to regularly win games after coughing up five runs early isn’t a sound strategy though.
James Paxton could return to the rotation soon, but how long will he remain healthy? Continuing on with no quality depth is foolish.
Plus, Brian Cashman already said that surprising ace Domingo German will be on an innings limit this season. Cashman refused to disclose the precise number, but one can’t expect German to continue this pace down the stretch.
The Yankees need another starting pitcher — sooner than later. Here are five hurlers they could target:
Many Yankees fans have pined for the club to acquire Bumgarner. The three-time World Series champion and postseason Goliath has produced a 4.21 ERA (3.56 FIP) and .740 OPS against across 62 frames this season. The 29-year-old has also allowed 1.3 homers per nine. Bumgarner’s earning $12 million this year, and will hit free agency after the season. Ken Rosenthal reports that the four-time All-Star can block trades to the Yankees and seven other contending teams.
Samardzija has pitched to a 3.69 ERA (4.92 FIP) and .708 OPS against across 46.1 frames. At 34 years old, he no longer pitches deep into games, averaging just 5.1 innings per start. The right-hander could represent an interesting option to stack with German to limit the latter’s innings, though. Samardzija’s earning $18 million per year, and is signed through 2020.
Scherzer is producing another Cy Young Award-caliber campaign, after winning the honor two straight years from 2016-17 and finishing second last year. He’s produced a 3.72 ERA (2.46 FIP) and .708 OPS against across a league-leading 65.1 innings this season. He’s averaged 11.98 strikeouts per nine, the fifth-best mark in MLB among ERA-title qualifiers. Scherzer’s luxury tax hit registers at $28.7 million per year, and is signed through 2021. Joel Sherman believes that if the Nationals sell off at the deadline, Scherzer would represent the crown jewel of the trade market.
Strasburg has pitched to a 3.32 ERA (2.77 FIP), 0.98 WHIP, and minuscule .593 OPS against across 65 innings this season. The 30-year-old has registered 11.35 strikeouts per nine, the eighth-best mark in MLB among qualifiers. Strasburg’s luxury tax hit comes in at $25 million, and is signed through 2023.
I began urging the Yankees to sign Keuchel in January, and Tyler updated that pleading last week. I won’t rehash every point here. But if I boil it down to one thing, the six scoreless, three-hit frames he twirled during the 2015 Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium puts him above the other candidates in my mind.
Anytime the Yankees need a starting pitcher, a reasonable fear of acquiring another Carl Pavano, Javier Vazquez, or Sonny Gray rears its ugly head. Not so with Keuchel. He already proved his mettle in a high-pressure situation in the Bronx. Keuchel’s also said to be amenable to a one-year deal, which should make the bean counters in the Yankees front office happy.
In a perfect world, Luis Severino would return and reclaim his status as ace. Sadly, there isn’t even a timetable for that right now. Jordan Montgomery is on the mend, but the Yankees don’t need a fifth starter — they need someone better. The Bombers need someone of German’s ilk to join the rotation.
Cashman made things infinitely more difficult on himself by letting Gio Gonzalez go, saying at the time that the Yankees didn’t need him. That sure changed in a hurry. Unfortunately, other contending teams are also in the market for starting pitching, so adding one of the names on this list will not come cheap or easy. Cashman’s got his work cut out for him, but I wouldn’t wait until the trade deadline in July to make a move.
The Yankees pushed their way into first place largely on the backs of their starting pitching. They need it to remain strong if they’re going to maintain their position atop the AL East.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story run with incorrect salaries for Jeff Samardzija, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg. They have been updated accordingly.