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The Yankees’ deadline pitch

Now that we’re a month into the 2018 season it has become clear that the Yankees will need to add depth to their starting pitching.

With Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka being heavily relied upon as the No. 1-2 starters, Sonny Gray, CC Sabathia,  and Jordan Montgomery must pick up the slack in the No. 3-5 spots.

Things became more complicated Tuesday night when Montgomery lasted just seven pitches before having to leave the game with tightness in his left elbow. It’s been determined that he will be out for six-to-eight weeks. Montgomery’s injury makes a sticky situation even stickier.

Prior to being hurt, Montgomery faced the struggles that many young pitchers do: the ability to throw strikes at any time and battle against pitch counts and total innings pitched.

Over the last three seasons, Monty threw 134.1, 139.1, and 163.1 (155.1 in the Majors) innings. Based on the innings increase of about 15.5 percent from 2016 – 2017, one could guestimate that Montgomery would have been allowed to throw somewhere in the neighborhood of 190 innings this year. But for now, you can throw all those calculations out of the window.

Other than his performance on Monday against the Astros, Gray has pitched poorly. He’s not aggressive enough and as a result, he ends up with too many long counts as a result. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has worked diligently with him to find consistency and duplicate the success No. 55 had with the A’s.

Sabathia has pitched pretty well thus far after making the transition from a power pitcher. But, he is always an injury risk (he’s already been on the DL once) – his knees, back, and legs need to stay healthy in order for him to remain effective.

What all of the above means is that the Yankees need to find some solid, durable starting pitching sometime between now and the non-waiver trade deadline.

Free Agents-to-Be

So, if one were to go window shopping for pitching, where would one look? The place to start is the list of pending free agents. Barring some weird occurrence, you can immediately scratch the names of Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers can opt out of his current deal), Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton (Astros), Gio Gonzalez (Nationals), and Drew Pomeranz (Red Sox). You can, of course, also eliminate pitchers like James Shields (White Sox) and Josh Tomlin (Indians) due to their lack of positive production.

So where does that leave Brian Cashman?

In the desert, but hey, it’s a dry heat.

Arizona’s Patrick Corbin has turned many heads, including those in New York. And, for what it’s worth, he would love to join his childhood team, according to Bob Nightengale:

“It would definitely be great to play there,’’ Corbin says. “I grew up a Yankee fan. My whole family are Yankee fans. My mom, my dad, my grandpa, everybody. Really, every generation of my family has been Yankee fans.”

One of Corbin’s most valued pieces in his new Scottsdale, Ariz., home that he and his fiancée recently purchased, is the autographed jersey from Andy Pettitte. He was given an autographed picture of his other favorite Yankee, Tino Martinez, as a present growing up, but for the life of him, doesn’t know where it is.

“Those were my guys,’’ says Corbin, who still remembers cursing his luck seeing the Yankees play for his 10th birthday present, only to miss David Cone’s perfect game by a day. “They were winning championships every year. It was a cool time.’’

The Yankees reportedly attempted to acquire the 28-year old left-hander prior to this season but couldn’t agree on a deal with the Diamondbacks, who were in no hurry to deal their young starter.

Complicating matters is the fact that Arizona has gotten off to a great start. Just like the Yankees, they recently had a nine-game winning streak ended, but their 20-8 record was the second-best in baseball. It’s enabled them to run away early from the pack in the NL West. As of this writing, they were still well ahead of the Giants (5.5 GB), Rockies (6 GB), Dodgers (8 GB) and Padres (11 GB). No one expects the Dodgers’ slump to continue all year, but the rest of the division doesn’t look to be very competitive.

Simply put, the Diamondbacks will be in no hurry to deal Corbin if it appears they will make the playoffs, especially as a division winner. The Yankees will certainly make a push for him when the 2019 free agency period opens.

Blue Jays of Happiness

A more likely scenario, even though it’s within their own division, would be to acquire either Marco Estrada or J.A. Happ from the Toronto Blue Jays. The rebuilding/re-tooling Jays were an early surprise, winning 12 of their 17 games, but they’ve only won five of 13 since. They’re likely to let free agent third baseman Josh Donaldson walk after this season. So, it would come as no surprise if they should deal both pitchers during the season.

The tale of the tape shows that Estrada is nearing his 35th birthday and is right-handed, while Happ will turn 36 in October and is a southpaw. In the prior three seasons, Estrada averaged 33 starts, twice posted an ERA under 3.50 and owned an average corresponding Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) value. Estrada also averaged 8.5 strikeouts over the last two seasons.

This year, the Mexico native opened the season with two solid starts but has pitched poorly in his three starts since then. He’s lasted just 14 innings in total and allowed 13 earned runs.

Money will also be an issue when it comes to deciding who is responsible for paying the remainder of the $13M that Estrada has coming to him this season.

Happ, who is in his second go-round with the Blue Jays, has pitched well through the first month of the season. He’s posted a 3.50 ERA and his FIP (3.38) is even better. Happ’s strikeout-to-walk ratio is an outstanding 7:1 and he’s averaged six innings per start. Happ also has two advantages over Estrada…he’s a left-hander, which the Yankees could always use in their rotation, and he has pitched very well against the AL East teams.

Farm System

Of course, if there was a proven commodity in the Yankees minor league system, Cashman would not have to look outside the organization. No one fits that profile, at least for now. Chance Adams has gotten off to a rocky start at Scranton.

Lefty Josh Rogers has looked good in four starts (3.00 ERA, 6:1 K/BB ratio), but this is his first year in Triple-A and the Yankees aren’t going to want to rush him to the Major Leaguers.

Prospect Justus Sheffield started the season at the Double-A level and though he was promoted to Scranton yesterday, he isn’t ready for Prime Time. That could change if he’s effective through the Summer.

Eeny Meeny…

When looking to acquire a pitcher, you have to weigh the performance of the possible new guy against what you currently have. That means that guys like Jason Hammel and Ian Kennedy of the 8-22 Royals will be available. While Hammel would add depth, he’s no better than what is currently in the system, and he doesn’t perform well in the AL.  A reunion with Kennedy seems like a longshot at best.

Homer Bailey ( 7-24 Reds) Clayton Richard (11-21 Padres), Miguel Gonzalez (8-20 White Sox), and Lance Lynn (10-16 Twins, who look nothing like last year’s wild card entry) are all less than desirable.

An intriguing choice would be Cole Hamels of the Texas Rangers. While Hamels is not the pitcher he once was, he’s still a fairly effective left-hander. This season has been a mixed bag for Hamels. He’s produced an outstanding 10 K’s/9 IP, but has allowed too many home runs and issued too many walks. He will earn $23.5 million this season and has a $6 million buyout for next year (the contract included a $24 million vesting option but Hamels would have to throw 252 innings this year to qualify.)

The Yankees could take on a little more money and shell out lesser prospects or at least less highly rated prospects. And, next year they could simply buy out the remainder of Hamel’s contract.

But, for now, all we can do is sit, wait, and watch

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