By Ernie Palladino
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Whether Brian Cashman rounds up enough prospects to land a pitcher with a controllable contract or writes a check big enough to lure a free agent, the success or failure of his quest for a sixth starter won’t make or break the Yankees.
Not with the hitting this team has. Folks like Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and the rest of a lineup expected to bludgeon the AL East into submission will determine his team’s 2018 fate. The rotation will serve as little more than an interesting sidelight.
That’s exactly the reason Cashman might serve his goal better by waiting on Yu Darvish to bring his price down than to ship off more young talent for someone like Gerrit Cole. As the Yanks have proven year after year, it’s a lot easier to write a check than to build a farm system. Given the effort Cashman has spent to fill his system with a bevy of potential major-league talent, even possibly paying the league a few luxury tax dollars would be preferable to moving talent that could help fill some future gaps.
Chance Adams, one of those kids, is right there at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, ready to make his bid for the sixth spot after going 11-5 with a 2.89 ERA last season. Adams may not have the dominant strikeout stuff Darvish has flashed since coming over from Japan in 2012, or even the nearly 1-to-1 strikeout/inning ratio Cole has, but he could certainly serve as a decent spot starter/sixth man for new manager Aaron Boone.
Cashman being Cashman, though, he’s looking for something more than that. Which is why he should consider waiting for the free-agent pitching market to stabilize. Once that happens, Darvish, as an example, could drop his asking price to something more reasonable than his current ask, believed to be up to $25 million per season.
That will either minimize the luxury tax or, depending on how much the Yankees potentially spend on a third baseman, eliminate the need to pay the bill for a 16th consecutive year. At this point, they have about $20 million to play with before they reach the $197 million threshold.
The advantage, whether they pay or not, is keeping the young talent. In Darvish, the Bombers would get the premier right-hander of the free agent class. Despite a World Series meltdown with the Dodgers that saw him give up a whopping eight earned runs in 3 1/3 innings over two starts, and a 10-12 record with a 3.86 ERA between Texas and LA during the regular season, Darvish still struck out 209 in 186 2/3 innings.
That’s what the Yanks are looking for, especially since Luis Severino stands as the only one among the existing quintet who has that consistent strikeout stuff. There are also health concerns with Masahiro Tanaka’s partially torn ulnar ligament and CC Sabathia’s right knee. And neither Sonny Gray nor Jordan Montgomery possess nearly the strikeout potential of a Darvish.
Neither does Cole. And he gave up a career-high 31 homers last season, four less than Tanaka’s 35 that triggered all sorts of speculation about his future.
Cole is far from perfect. Neither is Darvish. But to ship off a Clint Frazier or Justus Sheffield — certainly not a Gleyber Torres or Estevan Florial — in a trade would be a shame. Torres is all but unmovable, considering he’s slated for the second base spot vacated by the trade of Starlin Castro for Stanton. Outfielder Florial, who is all of 20, is coming off an outstanding performance in the Arizona Fall League following a strong season at Class A Tampa, and has earned reviews as a potential five-tool player.
The attraction for Cole is not necessarily dominance, but contract. He won’t hit the big bucks of free agency until 2020. Until then, he’s under team control.
Given the fact that the Yanks’ success will rest on offense and not starting pitching, the urgency to find a sixth starter doesn’t exist. They can take their chances with Adams if nothing materializes between now and spring training. They can wait out Darvish for a better price.
But Cashman should not be quick to dip into the farm system he worked so hard to rebuild the past few years. Those players that look like trade bait today could become tomorrow’s starters with a key injury or two.
If it comes down to a choice between Cole or Darvish, better to write the check.
Just don’t rush to do it.
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