Despite my misgivings about how the front office addressed the Yankees’ starting pitching during the offseason, the Yankees’ 2019 rotation is far from bad. In fact, by league and park-adjusted measures, the Bronx starting corps comes out as an above-average unit. Their 89 ERA- ranks 8th in MLB, while their 97- FIP puts them in a three-way tie for 11th with the Cubs and the Tigers.
Yet the Yankees’ rotation still has its fair share of questions. Masahiro Tanaka’s splitter is still MIA, and James Paxton has yet to overcome his first-inning problems. Domingo German looks as though he has conquered his home run problems, but the Yankees will likely limit his innings down the stretch. CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ have been mediocre to bad, and there’s no telling what the Yankees might get from the recovering Luis Severino or Jordan Montgomery this year. Given these circumstances, the Yankees would be wise to plan for the playoffs and get themselves a good pitcher at the deadline.
Within the small pool of players that fall in each of the following three categories - “good,” “pitcher,” and “possibly available at the deadline” - names like Marcus Stroman, Madison Bumgarner and Trevor Bauer have been connected to the Yankees. However, the best option might be a fourth name, none other than 2009 Cy Young winner Zack Greinke.
Now in his 16th season as a big leaguer, the veteran Greinke is having a vintage year. The righty owns a 10-4 record with a 2.93 ERA in 21 starts and 135 innings for the Diamondbacks. I would call this a career renaissance, if not for the fact that Greinke has pitched at a very high level for the past two years as well. In both 2017 and 2018, he eclipsed 200 innings while posting ERAs of 3.20 and 3.21, respectively. Greinke has a long history of being a top-flight pitcher, and he’s having a particularly good season this year. In terms of both recent performance and track record, Greinke is one cut above the likes of Bauer, Bumgarner and Stroman.
Yet, there are significant hurdles that stand between the Yankees and Greinke. One is the problem of cost. Being successful for a long time is a good strategy for getting the big bucks in free agency, and Greinke hit his payday back in the 2015-16 offseason, earning a six-year, $206.5 million contract from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Due to said contract, teams seeking Greinke’s services would have to pay him the remainder of his $31.5 million salary for 2019, plus $32 million a year for 2020 and 2021. That’s a significant commitment, even for a large-market team like the Yankees.
In addition, Greinke’s availability is still murky. Sure, the Diamondbacks might look like sellers at first. After all, they do have a 50-50 record and are a whopping 16 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West. However, due to the National League having much more parity than the Junior Circuit, the serpentine-themed squad is just 2.5 games backs of the 2nd Wild Card and 3 games out of the top spot.
This isn’t a case of an also-ran team having an illusory record, either. The Diamondbacks, despite losing key pieces like Patrick Corbin and A.J Pollock to free agency in the preseason, are a solid team. Fueled by breakout seasons from Ketel Marte, Christian Walker and Carson Kelly, Arizona’s position players are actually currently outperforming the Yankees’ in terms of fWAR, 16.4 to 15.8.
On the other side of the ball, the D-backs boast three solid arms (Luke Weaver, Robbie Ray, Merrill Kelly) behind Greinke, although the rotation depth beyond that is nonexistent. With an additional starter and a bullpen arm or two, however, the pieces are there for a playoff run. If the Arizona front office feels the same way, which they have good reason to, then it becomes very unlikely that they deal Greinke, their best pitcher, at the deadline.
All in all, Zack Greinke to the Yankees is highly unlikely. The Diamondbacks may well see themselves as Wild Card contenders, in which case Greinke is off the table. Even if the Snakes are considering shedding Greinke’s contract, given their young-ish core, they are likely to ask for near major league-ready talent in return, which the Yankees are short on beyond Clint Frazier. Plus, Greinke’s contract will probably prove too much for the recently tightly-budgeted Yankees. Fans are free to dream on Greinke, but I would advise them to not be too disappointed if a deal doesn’t happen. The odds were low from the start.