By Sweeny Murti
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The trade for Aroldis Chapman makes the Yankees almost invincible from the seventh inning on. It’s the first six innings that are still the problem.
Chapman, when he’s done with whatever suspension MLB will surely hand out under their new domestic violence policy, will be set to join Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances to form as potent a back-end trio as we’ve ever seen. While teams have spent the last few years stacking hard throwers in the bullpen, the Yankees have corralled the best of the best, the top three strikeouts-per-nine-innings pitchers in baseball.
Theoretically you could have each of these guys pitch three innings and end up with 40 strikeouts in one game. Okay, I can see how that might be impossible, but these three are the very definition of power arms.
That’s assuming the Yankees keep all three relievers, and while Brian Cashman told reporters Monday that he called Miller shortly before the trade was announced to tell Miller he had no intention of trading him, that’s still stopping short of promising the Yankees’ closer he won’t be traded. The Yankees still need starting pitching and Miller could still be the guy to help them get it.
By sheer numbers, the Yankees don’t lack for starters. Count ‘em up — Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Ivan Nova, CC Sabathia, Luis Severino. Six guys, five spots, no problem. However, these six pitchers combined to throw just 891 innings in 2015 (for the sake of including Severino as a starter here that total includes his 99 innings in the minor leagues). That’s six starting pitchers, none of which crossed 170 innings, and where is the level of confidence they can do it in 2016?
Sure, you can look for full seasons out of Severino and Nova, but while Severino looked good in his debut he is still a bit of an unknown for a full major league season. Even a healthy Nova has struggled to be consistent, and injury issues hampered Tanaka, Pineda, Eovaldi, and Sabathia in 2015. Can you pencil in any of these guys for 30 starts and 180 innings next year?
While the stockpile of arms helps, the Yankees could use a surer bet in there somewhere. That’s why I still believe they will trade for a starter before the winter is over. Miller is a chip. Brett Gardner is a chip. Nova and Bryan Mitchell are also chips. Who are the targets? Perhaps Washington’s Gio Gonzalez or the White Sox’s Jose Quintana, both durable lefties who could be had.
Or you could dare to dream and wonder if the Yankees can pull Chris Sale away from the White Sox. He’s an impact pitcher, an ace, a dominant lefty who rival execs tell me the Yankees certainly have the prospects to deal.
The Yankees have improved on their biggest strength. They also added some speed and athleticism with the additions of Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks. But they are still counting on bounce-back years from a lot of guys on both the offensive and pitching sides. This is still not a team ready to vault ahead of the pack in the AL East. Compete? Certainly, just as they did last season. But to be the front-runner come April they need more.
The last two seasons the Yankees are about 50 games over .500 when their starter goes six innings. When they don’t go six full? That number isn’t as pretty. The back end looks pretty good right now. Time to polish up the front a little.
Follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN