Fresh off reports that the Yankees were interested in looking at Dallas Keuchel after the compensation pick drops off after the June draft, James Paxton reminded Yankees fans why the old adage, “You can never have too much pitching” exists, as he hit the 10-day IL list with knee inflammation. As good as Yankees pitchers have been — posting a 3.81 ERA, 3.93 FIP, and a 118 ERA+, all top-five marks in the American League — pitchers are fragile beings. We are barely a month into the season, and three-fifths of the rotation (Luis Severino, James Paxton, CC Sabathia) have already spent some time on the IL, and another starter, Jordan Montgomery, continues to work his way back from Tommy John surgery.
These are all very good reasons that the Yankees should look into signing Dallas Keuchel or trading for another starter that becomes available when the trade market gets going, but even if all these pitchers are healthy when June and July roll around, the Yankees still need to be actively scouring the market for starting pitching — to keep these starters away from the other American League contenders.
At this moment in time, most of the top teams and projected playoff contenders in the American League all have great pitching staffs: the Tampa Bay Rays lead the AL in ERA, FIP, and ERA+, while the Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros likewise have top 5 staffs according to these stats. The Minnesota Twins, furthermore, rank one level below these staffs, posting a 4.13 ERA, 4.18 FIP, and 108 ERA+ that all rank above the American League average. Even so, all these teams (with the possible exception of the Rays) plus the Boston Red Sox could easily be looking for pitching in the upcoming months.
Beyond their fearsome duo of Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, the Astros rotation has been inconsistent and has overperformed their peripherals, and while they do not need to acquire another pitcher, they also did not need to acquire Justin Verlander two years ago. They have a history of looking for an abundance of riches, particularly in the rotation. The Twins sport a staff which, after young starter Jose Berrios, is built more on having a higher floor, and even then has seen multiple starters overachieve. Should the Twins continue their hot start, they will likely look for someone to anchor their rotation and take innings away from Michael Pineda and his 6.21 ERA.
Even before the injury to Corey Kluber, the Indians staff has not looked as potent as it had in recent years, and unless their lackluster offense causes them to fall out of contention, it would not be surprising to see them at least explore the pitching market while trying to bolster their offense. And most Yankees fans are familiar with Boston’s struggles on the mound, and with the recent injury to Nathan Eovaldi, Boston will certainly look for pitching help should they claw their way back into contention.
All this goes to say that the pitching market will almost certainly be active this year, with numerous teams looking to either sign Keuchel or trade for one of the many starters that may find themselves on the market. The market will likely be packed on the “sellers” side as well: Madison Bumgarner, Matthew Boyd, Marcus Stroman are notable trade candidates, and others like Zack Wheeler may be shopped depending on how close to contention those teams are when the All-Star break rolls around.
The Yankees should definitely be active on the market, both in terms of their pursuit of Keuchel after the draft and trade negotiations as the summer progresses. Obviously, acquiring a top starter down the stretch would be a benefit, even in the
highly unlikely impossibly rare scenario where all are healthy. Almost as importantly, however, doing so would prevent potential playoff opponents from acquiring starting pitchers that make life difficult for the Yankees in a short October match-up.