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Why won’t the Yankees add an ace at the trade deadline?

The Yankees are continually settling for middle-of-the-road pitchers.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at St. Louis Cardinals Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The stereotype around the New York Yankees has been talked to death—evil, rich bullies (all the most hate-able bullies are rich) who push around the teams from smaller cities and buys all their championships. And yet that stereotype fades as it becomes increasingly irrelevant.

More fans are growing frustrated with the hoarding prospects methodology of teams like the Baltimore Orioles, even though it was somewhat proven to work for the current first-place Houston Astros. While the Yankees did give up prospects at the trade deadline for offense in the names of Anthony Rizzo and Joey Gallo, their failure to take a big swing for the best starting pitching on the market midseason was a continuation of at least a 10-year trend.

This year’s midseason pitching prize was Max Scherzer, who was dealt from the Washington Nationals to the Los Angeles Dodgers, who already had a juggernaut of a roster in their own right, alongside All-Star shortstop Trea Turner. As of September 8, Scherzer has given the Dodgers 43 innings of 1.05 ERA pitching, with 63 strikeouts. He is an undeniable ace alongside being a bit of a character makes fans eager to buy tickets to see and merchandise with his name on it.

Now, Scherzer had a no-trade clause and said that he would not accept a deal to the Yankees, so he was never going to end up in New York. But even in past seasons in a comfortable position atop of the American League East or in the thick of a playoff race, the Yankees have still been unwilling to make the huge move to trade their best prospects for the best pitcher available, to their detriment.

As a longtime veteran, Scherzer earned the right to pick what team he’d be traded to. But the Yankees could still have swung a trade for a younger starter to be a minor ace behind Gerrit Cole, such as Minnesota’s José Berrios, who has 43 strikeouts and 16 earned runs in 38 innings for the Toronto Blue Jays.

The trend pops up in years past as well. The Yankees’ biggest midseason pitching acquisitions since 2011 have been Sonny Gray, Brandon McCarthy, J.A. Happ, and Lance Lynn. Gray was a buy-low former All-Star, while McCarthy was good but too frequently injured, Happ was not exactly a flashy name, and Lynn had a 5.10 ERA with the Twins when the Yankees acquired him. All of them gave the Yankees value, but with the exception of maybe Gray, none of them were the big acquisition that told the rest of MLB that New York was coming for the World Series, no matter what stood in their way.

For instance, in 2019 the Houston Astros traded for Zack Greinke right at the trade deadline. The Astros would, of course, lose the World Series to the shocking Washington Nationals in seven games. However, they arguably lost Game 7 of the series when manager A.J. Hinch pulled Greinke from the final game of the series too soon, after largely baffling the Nats for most of the game. To date, the only player sent to Arizona for Greinke to provide positive value to the club is 27-year-old Josh Rojas, according to FanGraphs.

In September, the Yankees have looked tremendously flat, showing no sense of urgency or energy to beat their opponents or state their place in the league. The Yankees are one of the richest, most famous, and iconic sports franchises in the entire world, and there is no reason why their biggest starting pitching acquisition for a playoff push should be the likes of Andrew Heaney (especially as their offense flounders anyway). As they’re playing now, the Yankees don’t look like a playoff team — for them to be one, the front office needs for them to act like one.