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The Yankees have to improve their pitching internally

The trade deadline targets are more like reinforcements than game-changers.

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

We know a few things in this baseball world with certainty: the New York Yankees need to improve their starting pitching, and they will acquire at least one starter before today’s trade deadline. While a new addition is likely heading to the Bronx, he shouldn’t be expected to be the savior of a disappointing Yankees’ pitching staff.

The Yankees don’t have a championship starting rotation. The unit is 17th in the league in ERA, 23rd in FIP and 14th in WHIP. Masahiro Tanaka has been inconsistent; James Paxton has not lived up to the billing; and J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia are what they are this point—late-30s veterans who shouldn’t be counted on in playoff games. It’s not like Luis Severino or Jordan Montgomery can be expected to come back anytime soon, either.

What the Yankees desperately need is a difference-maker at the trade deadline. Unfortunately, only one is available (Noah Syndergaard) and the odds that the Mets trade him to the Yankees midseason are slim. The best of the rest (Zack Greinke, Madison Bumgarner) are either no longer available or the Yankees can’t match up with the asking price.

This leaves players like Robbie Ray, Zack Wheeler and Mike Minor as the “prizes” of the trade deadline for starting pitchers. While the Yankees will hopefully acquire one because they legitimately need a starting pitcher (they only have four healthy starters right now), those players can’t be expected to move the needle too much for the Yankees’ championship hopes. They’ll help, but they aren’t aces.

Below is a comparison of the Yankees’ current rotation with their three most likely trade deadline acquisitions:

Credit: FanGraphs

You can see that while all three targets have certain advantages (more strikeouts, fewer home runs) they also have their downfalls (more walks, fewer ground balls) and their rate stats (ERA, FIP, WAR) aren’t markedly superior to most of the Yankees’ current rotation. Again, an acquisition would prove useful, but he wouldn’t exactly be putting the Yankees over the top.

This means that it will be incumbent upon the Yankees to improve their pitching internally. Now, guys can’t just simply flip a switch and “get good.” We know, however, that some of the Yankees’ starters are capable of pitching better than they currently are.

Is Tanaka going to allow this many home runs with this few strikeouts? Why has Paxton struggled so much in the first inning? How did Happ go from 7-0 as a Yankee last year to a 5.23 ERA this year? Surely, the pitchers’ recent poor starts have skewed some of these numbers and they’re just at their collective rock bottom right now. For what it’s worth, pitching coach Larry Rothschild accepted responsibility for the worst pitching week in the last 50 years of club history.

Just earlier this month, the Yankees’ starting rotation looked better than it was given credit for. The starters went 5-2 with a 2.94 ERA over 13 starts before their recent tailspin. Although the team’s rotation was still its weakest link, it wasn’t historically bad.

The truth is that the Yankees need an ace – a Gerrit Cole, a Justin Verlander, a Syndergaard. It’s also the truth that none of those guys, or anyone of similar caliber, is coming to the Bronx today. Help is on the way, but it’ll be more like reinforcements than game-changers.

The Yankees will likely be going into November with a postseason rotation of Tanaka-Paxton-German-Trade Acquisition, with Happ and Sabathia waiting in the wings. This puts a lot of pressure on Tanaka and Paxton to revert back to their true selves. This has been the case for some time—not much has changed since this post a month ago. If the Yankees are going to reach their full potential, they’ll need more from Tanaka and Paxton.

The Yankees’ championship hopes might just depend on it.