If comfort is in fact the enemy of progress, perhaps the Yankees should take heed of this piece of advice — and soon.
Because as much as their near double-digit-game lead in the AL East standings seems sustainable, they can’t afford to ignore their need for additional starting pitching which, coincidentally, has been made abundantly clear with less than one week until baseball’s firm trade deadline.
Since last Sunday, the Yankees’ rotation arms have allowed a whopping 43 earned runs across 21.2 innings of work — that’s a combined ERA of 17.86. According to ESPN Stats & Info, this is the first time since 2002 and just the fourth time in franchise history that the Yankees have yielded at least seven runs in six consecutive games.
And so this historically poor run through the rotation comes as Yankees general manager Brian Cashman scours the trade market posthaste, aiming to acquire an impactful and reliable starter before the clock strikes 4 p.m. next Wednesday.
The question is, who should be atop the Yankees’ wish list? Giants’ veteran Madison Bumgarner? Indians’ righty Trevor Bauer? What about Tigers’ southpaw Matthew Boyd, or Mets’ flamethrower Noah Syndergaard?
According to former Mets GM and current MLB Network Radio analyst Steve Phillips, those three names should rank below a Long Island native who’s pitching north of the border.
“I think that Marcus Stroman seems to be the best fit for the Yankees,” Phillips recently told Bronx Pinstripes in a phone interview. “Stroman pitches in the American League East, which tells me he can pitch in the AL Central, the AL West, and anywhere in the National League… Stroman’s an intriguing guy for me because he loves the big moment, he loves the attention, and he’s done it in the American League East, where it’s the toughest division to do it.”
Stroman, who made his first All-Star Game appearance this July, has undoubtedly been a bright spot in a down season for the rebuilding Blue Jays. In 21 starts (124.2 innings), the 28-year-old right hander owns a commendable 2.96 ERA, along with a 3.52 FIP, 7.15 K/9 rate, and 56.3-percent groundball rate.
He’s also under team-friendly control through the 2020 season, and will be eligible for free agency in 2021. According to Spotrac.com, Stroman’s 2019 salary is marked at $7.4 million, and this upcoming winter, he will enter his final year of arbitration.
Is Stroman the hired gun one contender will be thrilled to have once October arrives? Well, that remains up for debate. He hasn’t pitched in the postseason since 2016, and in six career playoff starts (30 innings), he’s allowed 29 hits and 15 earned runs while walking seven and striking out 21.
Phillips doesn’t view Stroman as an ace, but he does see a pitcher who would fully embrace the challenge of pitching under the bright lights, in his home state. And when considering Stroman’s exchanges on social media since trade rumors surfaced a few months ago, it’s difficult to argue Phillips’ assessment.
“Ideally, if he were to go to a team like the Yankees, he might be their No. 3, depending on how you want to look at the potential of James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, and Domingo German, and guys like that,” Phillips said. “But the thing about Stroman is, he is predictable and he is consistent — at least now. He’s had years where he’s had peaks and valleys. But once he’s locked-in, he’s pretty locked-in. And he’s not going to be afraid of the moment.
“He’s the type of pitcher that can win a lot of games with the Yankees because he’ll give you six innings. If he doesn’t have a great day, he might give up four runs, at worst five. But that still keeps the Yankees, with their offense, in the game. He could win a lot of games as a member of the Yankees… That would be the guy for me that I’d target.”
As for Bumgarner, who will become a free agent at season’s end, Phillips believes the 29-year-old should be dealt within the coming days, even though the Giants have miraculously won eight of their last 10 games and gone 19-5 since June 28.
“The Giants are not a playoff team. They’ve made this great run to get back to within three games of the second wild card spot. They can’t sustain this run because they don’t have the sort of talent to do it,” Phillips said. “They’ve got an aging and older roster. You know, they’ve had a nice run — they’ve been hot. But they’re not a good team. And their farm system is middle-of-the-road, sort of lower-middle class in prospects. This is an opportunity for them to jump-start the rebuilding process with an older, aging roster that’s diminishing in performance.”
Bumgarner, who’s a three-time World Series champion and World Series MVP, has looked like his old dominant self this summer. In his last six starts, he’s allowed just eight runs in 36 innings (2.00 ERA), while striking out 41 and walking only six.
While Bumgarner does have a handful of competitive teams — including the Yankees — on his no-trade list, Phillips suggests Bumgarner should approve of any deal presented to him, since staying in San Francisco could negatively impact his free agency.
“If they don’t trade him, then when he’s a free agent, the Giants will offer him the qualifying offer,” Phillips said. “He’ll reject it, but it will mean he has draft pick compensation attached to him. And we’ve seen what that has done to guys who are like him. [Dallas] Keuchel didn’t sign until after the MLB Draft because of the compensation. It got in the way of his deal. And so, they’re the same guy. If Bumgarner doesn’t get traded, it’s the worst thing for his free agency.”
Phillips doesn’t believe a contender would acquire the 2014 version of Bumgarner. But the lefty still pitches with an edge, plus his postseason pedigree is nothing to sneeze at.
“What you see is what you get. He always pitches with a chip on his shoulder, and a certain level of anger and competitiveness,” Phillips said. “I don’t think that a trade is going to take him to a whole other level. But having experienced all of those big moments is something he can draw upon, and it’d probably help the people around him, too. I don’t think he’s the put-the-team-on-your-back pitcher he once was, but I think he’d be a solid pitcher for a team making that playoff run.”
According to Phillips, it would make little sense for the Indians to trade their current ace in Bauer, as the team has a legitimate chance to repeat as AL Central champions for a fourth consecutive year.
“I think they should absolutely hold on to him,” Phillips said of Bauer, who owns a 3.49 ERA with 179 strikeouts in 152.1 innings this season. “I think they would be crazy to trade Bauer.”
Another question that must be asked is, which young players and top-rated prospects have the Yankees deemed available in trade discussions? According to Pete Caldera of the Bergen Record, Cashman said on Friday that the front office has “a pretty good feel of what we’d like to do” and that in the right deal, “I wouldn’t think anybody’s untouchable.”
Based on conversations around baseball, Deivi Garcia appears to be the most-coveted Yankees prospect. The 20-year-old right-hander has stunningly risen through the minor league ranks in 2019, and in 17 combined starts between High-A Tampa, Double-A Trenton, and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he owns a 3.38 ERA with 128 strikeouts in 82.2 innings.
“Garcia’s come a little bit out of obscurity, into this high-profile role. Because of his movement through the system there, people are raving about him,” Phillips said. “I think he’s sort of the lead chip. If there’s a Bauer deal or a Syndergaard deal or something like that, then the likelihood is that he’s the guy teams are going to want to get in return.”
There’s also a chance that the Yankees look to move outfielder Clint Frazier, who’s spent the last six weeks working on his defense at the Triple-A level. While the 24-year-old’s bat meets major league standards, he’s struggled considerably in the field. And on top of that, he’s occasionally clashed with members of the media.
“The Yankees aren’t down on Clint Frazier. They’re up on Clint Frazier. But I know fans get down on him because of some of the stuff he either said or did,” Phillips said. “He’s a really good player, a really talented guy. But you’ve got to move him in the right situation, I think. With the depth they have in the outfield, with the control of the contracts between Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Aaron Hicks, it just seems to me that that’s the depth position.
“And if they play it out another year, they may lose that window to get in return what he could bring. I don’t know if his value is ever going to be higher than it is now. The control factor is big, the success factor at the major league level is good. And I just think it’s time to move him. Most teams will think his defense is going to get better… In my mind, I think the Yankees like him. But I think they also realize he is that chip, as long as they get something in return that gives them some deeper level of control beyond just one year.”
Regardless of who the Yankees attempt to trade for, Phillips expects the team’s current rotation issues to subside. But he understands why the pressure is on Cashman and the Yankee brass to bolster their championship-caliber roster before it’s too late.
“I think Cashman’s done an amazing job and has put them in a really good position. Now they just need their pitchers to sort of come together and get it going a little bit,” Phillips said. “I know it’s tough timing because in the last five or so games, their pitching hasn’t been all that great. But this is the time of year where sometimes you do have some bobbles, guys are hitting the wall a little bit heading into August. But my sense is that it will stabilize for them.”
If you want to connect with Tom Hanslin, email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @TomHanslin.