The second half of the baseball season begins tonight, the trade deadline is upon us, the dog days of summer are approaching, and one big question looms for the first place Yankees: Which starting pitcher should they trade for at the deadline?
To make this clear, I’m in the camp of they should go after another starting pitcher. However, I could see reasons not to, mainly being the most realistic available pitchers simply may not be worth it or simply may not be available after all. But even Brian Cashman is not hiding their plan to acquire starting pitching.
There is no “secondary” deadline. Once July 31st comes and goes, teams can’t add in August via trade. Teams who are on the fringe are taking their sweet time before deciding if they are buyers or sellers. Teams who were on the outside looking in have started to play better and believe they have a chance to make a run. So guys that were seemingly available not too long ago like the Texas Rangers, Mike Minor, or Cleveland’s, Trevor Bauer, and most notably, Washington’s, Max Scherzer, who’d be franchize-changing for any contender, are all being corralled at the moment. The Nationals have been playing extremely well and are right back in their division race. Perhaps they’ll fall out of it come August, but by then it will be too late for a trade. Personally, I’d trade the entire farm system for that bicolor-eyed, broken-nosed National treasure, but as July 31st approaches, it looks as though the Nationals are gonna hoard that treasure like One-Eyed Willy would.
One interesting note, though, is it’s been rumored the Indians are still willing to deal Bauer despite their rise up the ranks in the AL Central. They have great starter depth and feel if they could trade Bauer for ready major league offensive talent that could help them contend this year, they’ll pull the trigger. The Indians already gave up Clint Frazier once to the Yankees, though, so did they simply not see his potential or was there a reason they let him go? Perhaps they’ll want him back, but if so, they’d want more than just Frazier, which brings us to our next point.
What are the Yankees willing to give up?
For the plethora of teams who are out of it, the asking price will most likely be too high for a guy like Bauer or for the pitchers who are out there raking for a team going nowhere, like Matthew Boyd in Detriot. When teams are asking for Gleyber Torres, you simply say thank you, next. Teams who are interested in Clint Frazier are also most likely asking for others along with him, like Estevan Florial. The Yankees may be ready to part ways with Frazier, but not many teams are willing to give up their starters for just Frazier. The Yankees would need to be more open-handed, but they haven’t been willing to do that in recent years with their big-time prospects.
To rent or not to rent
The one pitcher who may be the most reasonable in price and has proven himself in the playoffs is a guy who has the Yankees on his no-trade list: Madison Bumgarner. Although many think his no-trade list is simply a tactic to get a friendly deal in place for the big lefty, it’s still a hurdle, and he’d essentially be a three-month rental (if you include October.) The Yankees are not fond of rentals, and it may not be worth it to them to send a Clint Frazier, or more guys, whom they’ve been holding onto for quite some time. They have also come out and said they are not willing to trade Frazier for a rental. Whether or not that’s true remains to be seen, but for now, we need to take that at face value.
Also, it may not seem like a big deal, but it’s worthy to note that Bumgarner loves to hit, and now that Commissioner Rob Manfred has officially tabled the discussion of a universal DH until 2021, Bumgarner may want to stay in the National League.
Who is the best option?
This leaves one of the most realistic options in Toronto Blue Jays starter, Marcus Stroman. He’s from New York, he’s been very public in his claims of being ready for the spotlight, he’s on a very bad team, he’s used to pitching in the AL East, he has some postseason experience, and Cashman and the Jays General Manager, Ross Atkins have a great working relationship. All signs pointing to the perfect trade scenario. However, one important note to consider: albeit a small sample size, he didn’t do very well in the postseason (2015 & 2016), posting an average 4.40 ERA in the four series’ he pitched in. A 4.40 ERA in the playoffs where offense tends to lack for the Yankees isn’t what Cashman is looking for, which brings us to the most important reason as to why the Yankees may not trade for a pitcher.
Assuming Scherzer and Bauer are officially out of the picture, aside from MadBum, all the aforementioned pitchers have very little postseason experience, like Stroman’s not so great sample size in ’15 and ’16, and Mike Minor‘s sole game pitched in the NLDS for the Atlanta Braves in 2013. He actually pitched well that game, going 6.1 innings and only giving up a run, but it was only one game. However, it’s certainly worthy to note in Cashman’s pursuit of him. The Yankees, unless they completely meltdown, are well on their way to winning their division, so as much as a starting pitcher right now would help keep their division lead comfortable, comfort is not the end game. A championship is. Cashman’s eyes are on the postseason, and he’s searching for a pitcher who they could trust to hand the ball at least twice in a series because the trust for the current starters is lacking. What the current starters do have, however, are chips in the bank. Most, besides Domingo German, have been there, done that, and we know what we’re getting from them. A guy like Matthew Boyd is unknown. Aside from this year, Boyd has not exactly lit up the pitching scoreboard in recent years, and we have no idea how he’d fair in the big lights of the postseason in New York.
Is Stroman or Minor the type of guy Cashman can trust? Are they worth giving up elite prospects for a not so sure bet in the postseason? Or do we roll with what we’ve got, trusting the starters will do just enough to keep the offense in it? We’re not sure, but Cashman gets paid the big bucks to figure that out.
Personally, my first call would be to the Rangers for Mike Minor, but with the Rangers still in the race and being over .500, the Rangers will say ‘no, thank you.’ After that call, I’d reach out to the Blue Jays for Marcus Stroman. This could be the Yankees best bet, as I think Cashman and Atkin’s relationship could sway Cashman to send some good prospects, but not too good where Atkins cleans him out. You take the risk that he’d turn up for the postseason and make the bright lights his home. If that doesn’t work out, then I’d make the call for Boyd in Detroit. They are a bad team looking to sell, so he’s definitely on the trade block, but because he’s still a bit unknown he’d be my third call, and it’s been rumored the Tigers are asking for a haul that would include Gleyber Torres. The Yankees will immediately hang up if that’s the case.
My last call would be to the Giants for Madison Bumgarner. If he wasn’t a rental, he’d probably be my first. Mainly because he’s proven to be a beast in October. True, he’s not the same pitcher he used to be and is on the outside looking in to the prime of his career, but he’s a big lefty who has the kind of player mentality the bright lights of New York could rejuvenate. Being that he may only be a rental and the hurdle it could take being the Yankees are on his no-trade list and he may want to stay in the NL, Bumgarner is my last resort. Again, the Giants would ask for a big haul and so I see Cashman doing this only if he’s desperate, but Cashman has proved, especially recently, he’s never desperate (See: the non-signings of Patrick Corbin, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Gerrit Cole, and the non-trade for Justin Verlander).
Since Cashman never deals in desperation, Stroman and Boyd could be the guys Cashman seeks out the most, with the Giants possibly on hold. And, honestly, these three could be the only choices out there if the other teams continue to contend.
Right now you may be thinking I forgot about Zack Wheeler of the New York Mets. This was on purpose. Why? Because we can forget about a trade happening between the Mets and Yankees. I think the Yankees would do it, but the Mets would not. If by some miracle the Mets were willing, Wheeler would fall under the same category as Matthew Boyd. He’s not at all proven and they wouldn’t really know what they’d be getting come October. He’s having a decent year in the National League, and he may not be worth it for Cashman to give up prospects, but I’m sure Cash has made a call or two.
What if Cashman doesn’t find the deal he’s looking for?
That being said, knowing Cashman’s history and learning from his trade deadline mistakes, if he can’t get his hands on the one or two guys he really likes, he may be content in rolling the dice with who he’s got, hoping the offense, whose average with RISP is the best its been in recent years, turns around their postseason offensive woes and slugs their way to a championship the way the Red Sox did in 2018. This would allow Cashman ample time in the off-season, which is when he usually does his best work, to address the pitching needs for 2020 to create that “fully operational death-star” team he’s been hoping for.
There are still nineteen days left until the trade deadline, and a lot can happen in nineteen days. Perhaps teams will fall out of it and put there for sale sign up, leaving a few more options out there for the Yankees, but perhaps others close up shop and hang tight to the pitchers they have. Regardless of what happens next, you could bet Cashman has plans in mind we’re not even thinking of and players I surely missed. Because if we know anything about Cashman, the man is thorough and he will, as he likes to always say, “leave no stone unturned” in his pursuits.