Much of the baseball world was taken by surprise when what appeared to be something of a warm-up year for the Yankees in 2017 turned into a fully realized run for the pennant. With a few acquisitions, trades, and call-ups, the Yankees were again a dominant force in baseball. The suddenly possessed a deep lineup for opposing pitchers to navigate, and it only got deeper the next year when they added Giancarlo Stanton, the reigning NL MVP.
On top of that, the role of Yankee starting pitchers became somewhat obsolete. After five innings, if the Yankees had a lead late in the game, the contest was most almost certainly over. Elite reliever after elite reliever trotted out of the bullpen throwing in the high-nineties with either a wipe-out slider or a knee-buckling curveball, leaving opposing hitters little chance. On paper, it seemed like Brian Cashman developed a nearly perfect roster.
Yet, as Yankee fans have found out over their last two runs at a championship, no matter how good the bullpen is, on most nights, it can still only account for about four innings of a baseball game (2017 AL Wild Card Game notwithstanding). While some may think a strong bullpen coupled with a strong offense can outweigh a starting rotation, October baseball has had other ideas.
In 2017, the Yankees came oh-so-close, losing in game seven of the ALCS to the eventual champion Houston Astros. At the trade deadline that year, Cashman brought in Sonny Gray to bolster their starting rotation for the playoffs, a move that didn’t end up making much of a difference. Even after adding even more elite offense in 2018 with Stanton, it still wasn’t enough. In 2018, Cashman brought in veteran J.A. Happ, the previously dubbed Red Sox killer, to add depth to the rotation. As it turned out, the Red Sox killer got killed by the Red Sox in game one of the ALDS and the Yankees wouldn’t make it past the first round.
Take a second and try and remember the narrative and storylines surrounding those two moves. A lot of the headlines consisted of “We’ll see” and “Can this work?”. Here’s another example:
Lets hope @Yankees trade for JA Happ pays off— Tommy Dreamer (@THETOMMYDREAMER) July 26, 2018
He has all the tools needs to put it all together on a consistent basis
Drury will become a star
It’s a “Let’s hope Happ can add depth” or “Let’s hope Happ is the difference maker”. These “Let’s hope” moves are not cutting it and won’t in the future. Simply looking to add depth to your staff won’t get you anywhere in the postseason. The rumors about the Yankees getting someone like Marcus Stroman should inspire similar feelings among fans.
Cashman made a bigger move this year in adding James Paxton. Paxton has thrown a no-hitter, struck out 17 batters in a start, and can take over any given game no matter who the opponent is. Unfortunately, he also has an injury history and has hit the IL once in 2019, which has made it difficult for him to really find his rhythm.
But bringing in someone closer to the likes of Paxton is a path the Yankees should continue to explore. Domingo German was great in the for the vast majority of the first half, keeping the team afloat throughout the injury plague, but it will be hard to really rely on him come October. J.A. Happ has not been great this year, and CC could be another knee injury waiting to happen; it still seems like this staff could use another front line starter.
This is Cashman’s chance to move the needle, and frankly, it needs to be done. He’s tip-toed around getting a true difference maker in the rotation and has mostly settled with adding more depth. With the way young Yankees like Clint Frazier have performed this year, and with the rest of the talent the Yankees have in the farm system, I can’t think of a better time to go all-in and trade for that difference maker. A move needs to be made to make the Yankees the team to beat come October; and a little tip, it needs to be a pitcher.