If I Were The GM: Looking Ahead to 2019 – Starting Pitching
Throughout the course of the off-season, I’ll share my vision for the 2019 Yankees. This article is the fifth in this series. You can see the other articles here:
Today we will look at the starting pitching staff…
Starting pitching. Starting Pitching. Starting Pitching.
The Yankees need starting pitching.
This is, of course, absolutely true. 100%.
But, I’ll begin with an aside – Readers of this blog, and who follow this blog (and me) on Twitter, know that I am 100% in the camp of the Yankees going out and acquiring Bryce Harper. 26 year-old superstars being available for nothing but money (which the Yankees have plenty of) do not come around often. Add in the fact that Harper is a power lefty bat, something the Yankees desperately need, and, to me, going all-out to acquire Bryce Harper is a no-brainer. Yet, some people rightly comment that the Yankees need starting pitching more. There have been many comments along the lines of “No Harper, Get Pitching.” My reply to that, always, is (and will be) – This is the New York Yankees, they can do both. Acquiring Bryce Harper should have no impact on improving the starting pitching. The one advantage the Yankees have over most of baseball is their financial might. I do not understand why they are so reluctant to use it. The Red Sox just led the Major Leagues in payroll. They also won the World Series. The Yankees should spend smart – acquiring Bryce Harper and starting pitching are two means to the end of building the final pieces to truly contend for a World’s Championship. It’s been too long since that championship banner was hung from Yankee Stadium.
Now, on to how I would build the starting staff:
First, two of the spots for my starting five pitchers are already filled by solid, above average, pitchers who should both pitch as well, or hopefully better, than their career numbers thus far. This is the easy part of this exercise – pencil in Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino at the top (or near the top) of the rotation. With these two pitchers, forty percent of the starting rotation for 2019 is already in place.
Of course, as we know, C.C. Sabathia was brought back on a one-year deal. Sabathia will go into the season as the number five starter. While I understand this move, and I have no real problem with it, I would have gone in a different direction. C.C. is a gamer, a leader, and a huge positive presence in the clubhouse. And that’s needed. I should not under estimate the importance of that role that he will play. I am glad Sabathia is on the squad. My concern over him, though, is that he is, at best, a five inning pitcher who will also spend some time on the disabled list. Both of those factors tax the Yankees bullpen and its depth and makes both less effective immediately after Sabathia’s games. Overall, I’m just not sure how much the Yankees can count of C.C. Sabathia in 2019 to give them above average pitching as the number five starter. With C.C. also comes his reputation for coming up great in big spots. Sometimes managers and general managers make decisions based upon a player’s reputation rather than the reality of what he can do at that time. I hope C.C. Sabathia turns in a performance like his 2017 and 2018 seasons, but I’m just not so sure he can continue to defy Father Time and I worry about the Yankees pushing him to do what he might not be capable of. In my plan, the number five starter would have been J.A. Happ. In my current plan, Happ does not fit, which is too bad. I believe that Happ will be a solid pitcher for a number of more years. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him mixing speeds and getting hitters out in a similar fashion to how Jamie Moyer pitched. I believe Happ’s upside as a pitcher is greater in 2019 and beyond than Sabathia’s. (Sabathia has, of course, also indicated that he’ll retire after the 2019 season.) It’s my hope that Sabathia’s veteran presence out weighs the better pitching I believe Happ would have provided.
With Sabathia as the number five starter, there are only two other spots for the Yankees to fill. It is my contention that the Yankees need to go big with these two spots. The Yankees have to all-out to get the best to provide stability and strength at the top of the rotation. They have the money and the minor league depth to do this.
The first move is the easy one and it is the one that most experts see happening. The Yankees should sign Patrick Corbin. This they must do. Corbin will cost a lot, but, again, the Yankees have the financial might to make this happen. Just do it. Corbin is coming into his own the last two years. He is a workhorse having made 32 and 33 starts over the last two years. He throws 200 innings a year. If he’s not quite an ace, he’s awful close to one pitching to a 3.58 ERA the last two years while averaging close to ten strikeouts and 2.5 walks per nine innings. He’s also a lefty. Great Yankees teams are built on left-handed pitching (and lefty power hitting – read Bryce Harper). From all reports, Corbin, who grew up in New York State, wants to be a Yankee. This is the simple part of the equation. Get him. The sooner the better.
After adding Corbin to the top of the rotation, the Yankees need to make a trade for one of the high profile starting pitchers that are supposedly being shopped. If two-time Cy Young Winner Corey Kluber is available, the Yankees have to open up the farm to get him. The Yankees have a host of high quality minor league pitchers in their farm system. To me, none, even Justus Sheffield, are off limits in order to acquire Kluber. The only thing I wouldn’t do is trade Miguel Andujar or Gleyber Torres for him. Pitchers break and while not old, Kluber is 32 years-old. I’m not trading the futures of those players for a few years of Kluber. There is enough talent in the minor leagues to overwhelm the Indians without hurting the big league team. If I were the GM, Andujar and Torres would be my starting left-side of the infield for the next decade. They are core players that the next dynasty should be built around. The Yankees already have the framework in place at the Major League level, they now need to add to it, not take from it.
Now, if a deal for Kluber cannot be made, I believe there are other pitchers, difference-maker pitchers, who can be acquired. That being said, I think all of these alternatives are a step-down from Corey Kluber. They’re all very good, but I see Kluber as the very best of the options available. Bit if not Kluber, than I try to acquire his teammate…
Also from Cleveland, Carlos Carrasco is said to be available. He’s also an outstanding pitcher. I’d love to have Carrasco on my staff. After Kluber, he would be my second choice to acquire in a trade.
As a proponent of left-handed starters, my next targets, would be left-handed starters. I would love to see the Yankees go after James Paxton (though his injury history scares me) or Madison Bumgarner. Both come with question marks though which is why I’d prefer Kluber or Carrasco who can both be counted on for close to 200 innings in 2019. That cannot be said for Paxton or Bumgarner. To be clear though, I would not give up the farm for either of these pitchers. I’d make a great offer, but not nearly what I’d offer for Kluber/Carrasco.
For the record, I do not see any way that the Mets trade Jacob DeGrom – especially to the Yankees.
As such, my starting rotation would shape up as follows:
1 – Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco
2 – Luis Severino
3 – Patrick Corbin
4 – Masahiro Tanaka
5 – C.C. Sabathia (Again, I would much rather see J.A. Happ in this five spot.)
The guy to keep an eye on in this whole scenario is Jordan Montgomery. If he can come back from his injury, he could, possibly, replace Sabathia mid-season. I would love to see Montgomery return. That would help the Yankees tremendously.
In my scenario, I also don’t believe Justus Sheffield will be around to fill-in for injuries as I am certain he’d have to be part of the trade package to acquire an ace. He’d just be part of that package so the Yankees’ pitching depth would be in question. For that reason, as part of my grad plan, I would also go “all-in” for Japanese lefty Yusei Kikuchi. Pitching depth is a good and necessary thing. If the Yankees can get Corbin, one pitcher in a trade, and Kikuchi, they’d be in great shape and could figure out the rest later. Get the depth, the rest will fall into place.
Failing to acquire any of the above pitchers in a trade, I would look to Hyun-Jin Ryu first and Dallas Keuchel second as free agents to round out the staff.
I would also keep close watch on which veteran starter is still available at a discounted rate late in the off-season. This is where the Yankees will have to get their depth in 2019 if they go in all-in for Kluber or Carrasco.
In conclusion, with a big free-agent signing, and a mega deal for an ace, and with the depth of talent in the free-agency market (if a trade cannot be made), the Yankees have every opportunity in the world to vastly improve their starting rotation in 2019. This position should go from a question mark to an exclamation point next year.
It’s time for the Yankees to spend big in cash and prospects to build the starting staff necessary to be a true World Series contender.