It’s common knowledge that the Yankees would like to add an ace pitcher before the Trade Deadline, but Aaron Boone’s team needs more than one extra arm.
The Yankees deserve a lot of credit for building a big lead in the AL East despite a rash of injuries to big-name stars. GM Brian Cashman can’t allow his team’s impressive start to the regular season fool the organization into thinking the current roster is ready for the postseason. The truth is Aaron Boone’s pitching staff needs multiple additions ahead of the Trade Deadline.
There’s a prevailing theory floating around Yankees social media that believes the acquisition of one, bona fide ace would allow everyone in the pitching staff to fall into their proper place. Acquiring one of the game’s top starters would absolutely give the team a massive boost heading into the postseason. Unfortunately for fans in New York, no one in the class of Max Scherzer or Gerrit Cole is going to hit this year’s trade market.
Even if a perennial Cy Young candidate like that was attainable, the Yankees’ pitching issues go deeper than just the top of the rotation. If the playoffs began today, only one starting pitcher on Boone’s roster would end the year with an era of under 4.00. Not many Yankees fans would be comfortable on sending that individual to the mound of an important postseason tilt either. Domingo German has been excellent in his 15 starts on the year, but there’s no way to know how the pressure of October baseball will impact his performance.
The plan, of course, was for Luis Severino to be the ace of the staff. He struggled down the stretch in 2018, but the hope was that he’d figure out how to solve his issue of tipping pitches and enjoy a truly dominant 2019 season. Instead, he’s spent the entire season on the Injured List after feeling discomfort in his shoulder ahead of his first Spring Training start.
The organization hopes he’ll recover in time to be some sort of factor in this year’s postseason. It’s certainly possible he’ll manage to rejoin the rotation, or more probably carve out a meaningful role in the bullpen down the stretch. That’s not an answer Cashman and company will have before the Trade Deadline arrives though. The Yankees need to consider anything they get from Severino this season to be a bonus.
The same goes for reliever Dellin Betances. Like Severino, he’s missed the entire season due to injury. His rehabilitation appears to be on the same timeline as Severino’s throwing program. Still, the Yankees won’t have answers about him before the end of the month. The organization might reasonably hope that either Severino or Betances can give the bullpen a significant lift, but even that is relatively optimistic.
The absence of Severino as a potential starter brings unfortunate clarity to Boone’s potential options in the playoffs. As it stands today, the team would be inclined to give Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton two of the three spots in any potential postseason rotation. Tanaka has a well-earned reputation as a big-name pitcher, but his 4.00 ERA illustrates how lackluster he’s been lately. The Yankees will expect him to elevate his performance when the pressure arrives, but that’s still a gamble for Cashman and the front office.
Concerns about Paxton’s ability to be counted on in crucial moments are even more pronounced. His ugly start against the Rockies on Sunday caused his ERA to balloon to an ugly mark of 4.20. There’s still plenty of time for him to earn his pinstripes down the stretch, but right now, starting him in a big playoff game would be a major roll of the dice by Boone.
Assuming German gets a spot in the postseason rotation due to his excellent pitching on the year, that only leaves JA Happ and CC Sabathia to discuss. Happ has arguably been the team’s weakest starter on the campaign. His performance has picked up slightly as of late, but his overall ERA of 4.86 on the year shows him to be a below-average starter.
Sabathia has been appreciably better this season, but counting on a 38-year-old to stay healthy all season long seems like a bad gamble for the Yankees. The team might squeeze a meaningful appearance or two out of the venerable southpaw in the postseason, but that’s not an ideal scenario for Boone and his coaching staff.
At the very least, the Yankees starting rotation needs one more, top-half of the rotation arm before the Trade Deadline arrives. It would be nice if Cashman could add an ace, but even a solid No. 2 or 3 starter would do a lot to stabilize life for New York in the postseason. Acquiring a pitcher of that caliber will be expensive, but not prohibitively so given the depth of talent the Yankees have in their farm system.
Cashman shouldn’t be done there though. The bullpen has been a strength for the Yankees this season, but it still needs a shot of energy for the stretch run. Aroldis Chapman is firmly in control as the team’s closer, and the combination of Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino and Tommy Kahnle do a terrific job of setting him up. Chad Green should also have a postseason role as a pitcher who can soak up innings at a variety of spots in the ballgame.
The team’s options after that quintet aren’t as inspiring. Luis Cessa, Nestor Cortes and David Hale have done a good job of soaking up regular season innings for the team, but it’s hard to imagine any of those three pitchers getting inserted into a tense playoff match-up.
Specifically, the Yankees need to add another bullpen arm who can help rescue a playoff game for a starter that can’t get the job done. Right now, Green is the only high-leverage arm who’s really capable of pitching more than one inning. Adding a quality veteran who can pitch two or three innings at a time should also be a priority for Cashman in the coming weeks.
Adding one starting pitcher will be the story that dominates Yankee trade rumors in the coming days, but that’s not enough to give this team the best chance possible to end their World Series drought. Cashman and his front office must examine every potential way to strengthen the pitching staff before October arrives. The organization should be in the market for multiple arms to strengthen Boone’s options in games that matter most.