BERGEN COUNTY, N.J.- Dating back to the inception of the sport of baseball in America, there have only been six seasons in which three clubs have won 100 games or more. This season might make lucky number seven: the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Houston Astros are all on pace to win over 100 games. In order for the Yankees to outplay their American (and National) League competition and win the 2018 World Series, they must fine tune their starting pitching.
With one of the most potent offenses in Major League Baseball, New York Yankees are one, quality starting pitcher away from making a legitimate push for the 28th World Series championship in franchise history. The Yankees’ bullpen should be left untouched. In June, it produced an ERA of .88, an opponent’s batting average of .137, and a strikeout percentage of 34.4. Impressive.
Below, you will find a hierarchal list (beginning with the most desired candidate) of starting pitchers the Yankees should target before the non-waiver trade deadline on July 31, 2018.
MY THREE (…FOUR) MUST-HAVES
Blake Snell, 25, Tampa Bay Rays:
“I have a lot of weapons to use against [lefties]… The velo helps. My secondary pitches help…. I feel very comfortable against lefties. Those at-bats end quickly. I’m very aggressive in the zone—it’s 1-2-3 and I’m moving on.”
- A perennial ace-in-the-making.
- He is controllable until after the 2022 season.
- 2018: In 17 appearances, he averages, per start: 6 innings, 7 strikeouts, 2 walks, 4 hits, and has an ERA of 2.31.
- This season, his opponents have a batting average of .182 and an on-base percentage of .265 when he is on the mound.
- The cons for Snell are intangible:
- He has no playoff experience.
- He has played his entire (three-year MLB) career in a small market.
- If looking to trade Snell, the Rays will, most likely, look outside of the dominant AL East for suitors.
- If, by chance, they look to do business with the Yankees, a division-rival, the Rays will, undoubtedly, ask for a large compensation package.
Bottom Line: Snell has a ton of upside for a long time to come. If the Rays are willing to give him up, the Yankees should offer their best package for him over any of the other available starting pitchers.
Jacob deGrom, 30, New York Mets:
Noah Syndergaard, 25, New York Mets:
Brian Cashman said that he has been talking to his good friend Omar Minaya with the Mets. They are actively trying to improve the rotation.
— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) June 29, 2018
DeGrom: “I’m frustrated. I’m tired of losing, to be honest.”
— Steve Gelbs (@SteveGelbs) June 30, 2018
The Mets finished June with a record of 5-21: the worst June in the history of the franchise. They have lost 12 consecutive series. Cashman and Minaya are in talks.
There have only been fifteen deals since 1966 between the two teams at either the major league or minor league level. That is not a high frequency. However…. this July, the Mets have what the Yankees need (starting pitching) and the Yankees have what the Mets need (young position players). To me, the Mets would be foolish to trade deGrom. In the Yankees camp, I’d be happy with either of the two pitchers. A deal between Queens and the Bronx is logical, this time around. It would be a win-win for both teams.
J.A. Happ, 35, Toronto Blue Jays
- Happ is viewed as the “less-expensive” Hamels.
- Extensive postseason experience (with two different teams).
- As this season wears on, he is getting better. In his last start, he out-dueled ace Justin Verlander to earn a 6-inning win. For the month of June, opponents posted a .183 batting average against him.
- 2018: In 16 appearances, he averages, per start: 6 innings, 7 strikeouts, 2 walks, 5 hits, and has an ERA of 3.62.
- Worth noting: this season, Happ has pitched against the three most potent offenses in the MLB: Yankees, Red Sox, Astros. These statistics are inclusive of each of those three starts (L to NYY, W against BOS/HOU).
- He’s a traditional journeyman pitcher. Since 2007, Happ has been on seven teams (including his current, second stint with the Blue Jays).
- His age. At 35, Happ is in the twilight of his career.
- Will the Blue Jays trade within their division?
- Happ, according to the quote above, ‘likes it’ in Toronto. But, with the Blue Jays seemingly destined for a season in which they miss the playoffs (16 games out of first place in the AL East- a wild card spot would be unlikely), would Happ be willing to ‘help’ another team get to the playoffs?
Bottom Line: J.A. Happ has proven his worth against the three most potent offenses in the MLB. He has beaten the Red Sox and the Astros, great news for Yankees fans. Those are two teams the Yankees are destined to meet in the playoffs. He’s a career journeyman pitcher, so a short stint in New York, especially to win a World Series, could be great for him and for the Yankees. This is a player for whom I would aggressively make a trade, at the right price.
MY ‘PROCEED WITH CAUTION’ LIST
Michael Fulmer, 25, Detroit Tigers:
Yankee scout Jay Darnell watching Tiger pitcher Michael Fulmer today in Detroit
— George A. King III (@GeorgeAKingIII) June 28, 2018
“I’m tired of saying it, but I thought my stuff was good again today, just didn’t get the results I was looking for. It’s not more frustrating to anybody but myself…. I try never to show too much frustration but when you get four or five [dinkers] in a row, it’s tough to stay level-headed”.
- Fulmer was the 2016 American League Rookie of the Year: 26 starts, 11-7, 3.06 ERA.
- 2018: In 16 appearances, he averages, per start: 6 innings, 5 strikeouts, 2 walks, 5.5 hits, and has an ERA of 4.20.
- The Tigers are on a 10-game skid, their worst losing streak since 2003, and they are 9.5 games out of first place in the AL Central. This, to me, means they are at a tipping point in terms of opening their roster up for sale to the rest of the MLB.
- Fulmer’s contract is the cheapest of any of the players examined in this article.
- Fulmer underwent right elbow ulnar nerve transposition surgery last September. Fulmer said that, after a little discomfort at the beginning of the season, his elbow feels fine now. To keep in mind, Livestrong.com says: “A patient may notice worsening symptoms of the ulnar nerve after surgery.”
- He has no postseason experience.
- He has zero confidence in his changeup. FanGraphs: Fulmer is throwing his changeup at a 13.5% rate this season, as opposed to 18.9% last year and 17.3% in 2016,
Bottom Line: Clearly, by sending scouts to observe his last start, the Yankees are very interested in Fulmer. His contract would be minimal to absorb. He can certainly figure out his changeup with Yankees’ pitching coach Larry Rothschild who “believes that heavy fastball usage is an inefficient strategy for dealing with today’s hitters.” Fulmer will be just fine in Yankees pinstripes- in Rothschild Yankees Nation will trust.
Chris Archer, 29, Tampa Bay Rays:
Rays’ senior vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom: “When you have a player of Chris’ caliber, you’re going to get calls and teams are going to be interested. With what we’re trying to build here and the core group that we’re trying to add to, players like Chris are exactly the type of guy that we need more of. He’s a guy that we can win with and can build around.”
- 2x All-Star
- Postseason experience
- 2018: In 13 appearances, he averages, per start: 6 innings, 6 strikeouts, 2 walks, and 6 hits.
- Has made more starts than any other pitcher in baseball over the past four seasons (133).
- He is under a ‘team-friendly’ contract for the next four seasons:
- 2018: $6.25 million
- 2019: $7.5 million
- 2020: Club Option- $9 million
- 2021: Club Option- $11 million
- While there is no history of injury, Archer was placed on the 10-day disabled list on June 3 with a left abdominal strain. How reliable will his health be in a season with a contending team that is expected to extend into the late October/early November?
- As of today, there is no exact timetable for his return. Archer will likely start a Minor League game Tuesday (7/3) or Wednesday (7/4).
- A bloated 4.24 ERA.
- Will the Rays even consider a suitor in the dominant AL East?
Bottom line: If they put him on the market, the Rays’ asking price for Archer will most likely be too steep for the Yankees. To deal many prospects to the Rays in exchange for him, to me, is not wise. In my opinion, he is not a sure thing in the years to come and should not be pursued, unless with a minimal trade package a-la Giancarlo Stanton.
MY ‘I WOULD RATHER PASS’ LIST:
Cole Hamels, 34, Texas Rangers:
On his no-trade clause to 20 teams, including the Yankees: “It’s just a list… It provides a little bit more bargaining power…. I don’t think it’s anything that kind of needs to be looked into too deeply.”
- 4x All-Star
- Post season experience, including 2008 World Series MVP (Phillies).
- 7 straight 200+ inning seasons = reliable
- Recently threw a one-hitter over 6 shutout innings against potent Astros offense in Houston.
- 2018 opponents’ batting average: .237
- His age. At 34, Hamels is in the twilight of his career.
- He has surrendered 20 home runs (4 of those twenty have been to the seats beyond right field). The summer air yields high, far, flying batted baseballs. The short porch at Yankee Stadium is a potential major pitfall for Hamels.
- The price. The Yankees need to stay under Hal Steinbrenner’s $197 million luxury tax threshold. Hamels has an expensive contract, including a $20 million club option for 2019 and a $6 million buyout.
Bottom Line: Hamels’ 3.61 ERA is very average, but it is better than two current Yankees starters: Sonny Gray and Domingo German. The fact that he has surrendered more home runs than any starting pitcher in 2018 is alarming, especially if he’ll be pitching at Yankee Stadium, known as a hitter-friendly ballpark. Hamels is viewed as “the guy” to get in a weak starting pitching market, which would artificially drive his price up. As a rental player (the only role in which I see him), Hamels’ price is too steep and the payoff is not guaranteed.
Tyson Ross, 31, San Diego Padres:
“It’s all about movement and location. When I was younger, I just used to come out and let it eat, throw as hard as I could for as many pitches as I would last, and the results were whatever they were. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of good pitchers change speeds, locations and use their movement. … I just tried to adapt that and add it to my own game.”
- His team plays for him. The Padres (who aren’t very good) have won 7 of his past 9 starts.
- 1x All-Star
- 2018: In16 appearances, he averages, per start: 6 innings, 6 strikeouts, 2 walks, and 5 hits. This includes a 6-inning outing against the Astros.
- His ERA has leveled out in May and June after being relatively high in April.
- His development as a pitcher, rather than a thrower, could be greatly aided by Yankees pitching coach Rothschild.
- No postseason experience
- Played for the Oakland A’s, Texas Rangers, and San Diego Padres, all small-market teams.
- In October of 2016, Ross underwent thoracic outlet surgery (a surgery in which doctors remove the first rib to decompress the nerves and blood vessels surrounding it). It is a serious surgery: only 20 MLB players (including former Mets pitcher Matt Harvey) have ever gotten it, so the residual effects of it are not widely known.
Bottom Line: Despite the fact that Ross is absolutely unproven on a big-market team on the largest stage in the MLB (the postseason), I’d shy away from signing Ross because of his thoracic outlet surgery. It’s a serious surgery, quite new to the MLB, and, based on their track records after the surgery, I’m not convinced that the 19 other pitchers were better-off having had it. Sure, there were some success stories, but I’m not willing to put any Yankee prospects on the line to add to the case study.