NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Patrick Corbin’s decision on Tuesday has forced the Yankees to turn to Plan C, as they attempt to bolster their starting rotation for 2019.
Plan A, of course, was the acquisition of left-hander James Paxton from the Seattle Mariners back on Nov. 19. The follow-up move was supposed to be the signing of free-agent Corbin, who grew up in upstate Cicero as a lifelong Yankees fan, but that idea went south when the veteran left-hander spurned the Bombers’ reported five-year, $100 million offer for the Washington Nationals’ six-year, $140 million overture.
So, where will general manager Brian Cashman turn next? Well, industry insiders and media types seem to think the Yankees can still find that other top-of-the-rotation arm on the open market, but with the winter meetings beginning on Sunday in Las Vegas, it would be premature to rule out Cashman pulling off another trade.
Available options in free agency include lefties J.A. Happ and Dallas Keuchel, and right-handers Nathan Eovaldi and Charlie Morton. The Yankees are also expected to at least inquire about Japanese southpaw Yusei Kikuchi, who was posted Tuesday by the Seibu Lions.
Eovaldi, 28, is the youngest of the four, but he’s also coming off two Tommy John surgeries, in 2007 and 2016. The former Yankee missed all of 2017 and then resurfaced with the Tampa Bay Rays this past season. He went 3-4 in 10 starts before being dealt to the Boston Red Sox prior to the trade deadline. It was viewed as a depth move by the eventual world champions, but Eovaldi proved to be a lot more, going 3-3 with a 3.33 ERA in 12 appearances, including 11 starts, down the stretch and then 2-1 with a 1.61 ERA in six appearances, including two starts, in the playoffs.
His signature moment came against the Yankees in Game 3 of the AL Division Series, as he dazzled the crowd in the Bronx with his triple-digit fastball over seven innings of one-run ball in Boston’s 16-1 victory.
Eovaldi’s postseason performance likely earned him a major payday this winter, as it is believed that several teams, including both the Yankees and Red Sox, are interested in signing him.
A reliable strike-thrower throughout his career, Happ is in line for as much as a three-year deal after going a combined 17-6 with a 3.65 ERA for the Toronto Blue Jays and Yankees in 2018. The 36-year-old southpaw went 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts after New York acquired him on July 26. Happ made just one start in the playoffs, lasting just two innings in the Bombers’ Game 1 loss at Fenway Park.
Keuchel, 30, and Morton, 35, played integral roles in the Houston Astros’ recent success. Keuchel, the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner, went 14-5 with a 2.90 ERA in the 2017 regular season and then won two postseason starts during the Astros’ run to the franchise’s first world championship. He followed that up by going 12-11 with a 3.74 ERA in 34 starts this past regular season.
Morton, a hard-thrower who hails from Flemington, New Jersey, is coming off back-to-back stellar seasons, going a combined 29-10 with a 3.35 ERA in 55 starts.
Both Keuchel and Morton likely will receive at minimum three-year contracts.
Kikuchi, 27, was 14-4 with 3.08 ERA this season, and was 16-6 with a 1.97 ERA the previous year. He is 73-46 with a 2.77 ERA in eight seasons in Japan. MLB teams have until Jan. 2 to sign him or he’ll remain with Seibu.
The alternate question the Yankees must answer going forward is whether they are willing to dip yet again into their stocked minor league system to make another trade. Paxton cost them top pitching prospect Justus Sheffield and two other lower-level prospects. But with starters like two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber and postseason stalwart Madison Bumgarner reportedly available, Cashman might feel it necessary to go the trade route, rather than overpay, either in years or dollars, for any of the aforementioned free agents.
The pitcher, or perhaps pitchers, the Yankees do end up acquiring will join a rotation that already features Luis Severino, Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia.