By Chris Melore
The MLB trade deadline is fast approaching this year and the top contenders all seem to have one need in common – pitching.
Thanks to a new rule change eliminating August waiver claims in 2019, there won’t be any second chances or do-overs after the July 31 deadline.
For the Yankees, it means there’s only one opportunity to reverse a recent string of midseason failures that have left the team unprepared for October and just short of the World Series.
New York’s dominant run in the face of over 20 key injuries has been nothing short of amazing, but they’ve lacked one thing – a reliable front line pitcher. There are only two names this trade season that fit the bill and either one could deliver a 28th championship to the Bronx – Max Scherzer and Madison Bumgarner. Here’s why one of them has to be wearing pinstripes next month:
1. The Yankees are all-in on 2019, they said it themselves
Remember when general manager Brian Cashman said the Yankees were “a fully operational Death Star” at December’s Winter Meetings? That wasn’t just talk. It was a message to both the fans and to baseball that New York was ready to spend and spend big to win a championship this year.
They’ve already passed the luxury tax threshold this season by signing Troy Tulowitzki (remember him?), DJ LeMahieu, J.A. Happ, Zack Britton, and Adam Ottavino. Are they really going pinch pennies when it comes to upgrading their mediocre 2019 rotation? Team owner Hal Steinbrenner said the team would spend the money to win a title. The answer is out there, it’s time to spend.
2. The Yankees can’t expect Luis Severino to make a difference in 2019
The talented 25-year-old hasn’t pitched all season and a recent setback in his rehab pushed his return into August at the earliest. Counting on a pitcher with a rotator cuff injury to suddenly show up in September and be the same front line starter he was in 2017 and 2018 would be a foolish gamble for the Yankees.
Severino has also done nothing to inspire confidence in the playoffs – posting a 6.26 ERA in six October starts. If he actually pitches in 2019, the young star might actually be more useful out of the bullpen (think Joba Chamberlain in 2009).
3. The Yankees need to stop pretending James Paxton is an ace, he’s not
James Paxton is becoming the classic Brian Cashman gamble – big on hype, short on results. Yankees broadcasters continue to say Paxton was brought to New York to be the team’s ace. Unfortunately, he’s done little to earn that title.
The oft-injured lefty has already missed time in May with a knee injury and has been wildly inconsistent when healthy. Paxton’s overall stats – a 4.01 ERA with 95 strikeouts in 76 1/3 innings – are respectable, but he’s been awful at the start of games and doesn’t finish well either. The 30-year-old has a putrid 10.20 ERA in the first inning this season. He’s sporting a 6.75 ERA in the sixth inning. That’s not an ace.
4. Masahiro Tanaka is the only proven postseason pitcher in the rotation right now
Right now, Tanaka may be the only pitcher Yankee fans feel comfortable with in the playoffs. The 30-year-old continues to show he’s New York’s big game pitcher.
Aside from carving up division rival Tampa this year (1.59 ERA in four starts), Tanaka carries a sparkling 1.50 ERA in five career postseason starts. The only downside to the Japanese righty is he’s better on extended rest so don’t expect to see him three times in a seven-game series – he’s just not built for it. The Yankees need someone just as dominant in October to complement Tanaka.
5. Brian Cashman has failed to get a difference maker for October two straight years, he can’t fail a third time
Passing on Justin Verlander in 2017 will likely go down as the biggest mistake of Brian Cashman’s long career. The decision to trade for Sonny Gray instead of the future Hall of Famer literally cost New York the AL pennant that season.
In 2018, Cashman passed on acquiring Gerrit Cole and waited until the trade deadline to pick up J.A. Happ. Cole had the best season of his career in Houston. Happ was 7-0 for the Yankees, but will only be remembered for giving up five runs in just two innings to the Red Sox in Game 1 of the ALDS.
If Cashman settles for another mediocre starter that costs the Yankees a world title, it’ll be a blow the general manager’s legacy never recovers from.
6. The cheaper options on the trade market aren’t making the pitching staff any better
Speaking of those mediocre starters — is Zack Wheeler, or Matthew Boyd, or even Marcus Stroman really the guy the Yankees want to hand the ball to in Game 3 of the ALDS?
Wheeler has a 4.69 ERA this year and has never pitched in the playoffs. Boyd is having his best big-league season, but has a career ERA of 4.84 and also has never pitched in October.
As for Stroman, the undersized and fiery Toronto righty is currently dealing with an injured pectoral muscle. His playoff track record is average at best – a 4.40 ERA in five starts. Are any of these trade options any better than the pitchers New York already has?
7. The Yankees have too many prospects with nowhere to play them for years to come, trade them
Hanging on to prospects when you’re a bad team is smart. Hanging on to prospects when you’re a World Series favorite is downright criminal.
New York’s farm system is still one of the deepest in MLB. With young and talented players at almost every position in the majors, where is the next crop of Yankee minor leaguers supposed to play?
Coveted players like Clint Frazier, Estevan Florial, and Deivi Garcia would jump right to the majors on another ballclub and land the Yankees the prized pitcher they desperately need.
MAX SCHERZER – If he’s available, what would he cost?
Let’s face it, this is a million-to-one longshot. The Nationals have fought their way back into the NL playoff picture, making a trade for the game’s best pitcher unlikely.
Max Scherzer is exactly the pitcher the Yankees need though – a clear Game 1 starter that dominates and works deep into games. The three-time Cy Young winner also has a toughness few can match (did you see him pitch with a broken nose?) If Washington slips back again, Cashman has to pounce and offer them everything in the farm system.
A package of Frazier, Florial, Garcia, and Domingo German, plus picking up the bulk of Scherzer’s enormous contract is a price worth paying.
MADISON BUMGARNER – The October legend is the best (and only real) answer
We finally come to the answer to all of New York’s problems. The one man with a proven track record on the game’s biggest stage – Giants ace Madison Bumgarner.
He’s only turning 30 on Aug. 1 but has already compiled one of the greatest postseason resumes in history. A 2.11 ERA in 16 playoff appearances. He’s 4-0 with an amazing 0.25 ERA in the World Series.
Need more? He’s also pitched in two winner-take-all Wild Card games — he threw a complete game shutout in each of them.
Bumgarner’s battled through a pair of freak injuries the last two years and New York’s front office is reportedly “lukewarm” on trading for the legendary lefty. Quite frankly, they need to get over whatever’s bothering them because the choice on July 31 is an obvious one.
Plenty of pitchers on the trade market can get the Yankees to the postseason. Only the Mad-Bum has proven he can get a team to a championship.
Read more columns by Chris Melore