Yankees GM Brian Cashman could have a starting rotation made up of the five best pitchers in baseball, and he still wouldn’t feel like he had enough pitching.
Such is the nature of the game, which has shown time and again just how fragile pitchers’ arms can be.
The Yankees fell victim to that fragility this season when Jordan Montgomery suffered a torn UCL, while Masahiro Tanaka has spent nearly a month on the disabled list with strains in both hamstrings.
So while right-hander Luis Severino is the leading candidate for the American League Cy Young Award and CC Sabathia is continuing his renaissance with another solid season, the Yankees know they need at least one more arm if they hope to wrest the AL East title away from the rival Red Sox.
“They want a starter, but the prices are out of control right now,” said a source close to the team. “The pitchers that are available also aren’t that exciting.”
We’ve heard the same names over and over, and there’s a good chance that when all is said and done, one of those pitchers winds up wearing pinstripes before the end of the month.
Then again, the Yankees have been neck and neck with the Red Sox and Astros for the game’s best record much of the season, using a stacked lineup and loaded bullpen to make up for any deficiencies in the rotation.
Not that the rotation has been so bad overall. Yankees starters have a combined 3.84 ERA, good for the sixth-best mark in the AL.
With Severino, Sabathia and a healthy Tanaka — he’s due back next week — the Yankees have the arms to compete in any postseason series. If the enigmatic Sonny Gray could figure out what’s ailing him on the mound, the Yankees would appear to have more than enough pitching. Rookie Jonathan Loaisiga even posted a 3.00 ERA in his four starts, providing another capable option.
“As much as people talk about the Yankees starters, a lot of teams have won the World Series with less than what they have,” the source said.
Going on the assumption that Cashman does indeed acquire a starter, here are five names the Yankees will — or should — consider.
Madison Bumgarner, Giants
Alex Rodriguez floated this idea during a TV broadcast last month, and while it may have seemed far-fetched, it actually makes perfect sense.
The Yankees would love nothing more than to add another ace-like arm to the rotation, giving them a 1-2 punch to rival any in the game. Imagine having to deal with Severino and Bumgarner four or five times in a seven-game series?
Cashman has built up the Yankees’ system so well, he has more than enough prospects to deal for Bumgarner without depleting it entirely. New York could put together a two- or three-player package led by the likes of Miguel Andujar, Justus Sheffield, Estevan Florial or Clint Frazier, supplementing it with some mid-level prospects that would crack another team’s top 5.
Bumgarner is under control through 2019, giving him plenty of time to experience life with the Yankees before he would hit free agency. This winter’s free-agent class doesn’t have a starter as good as Bumgarner, so a trade is the only avenue for the Yankees to land an elite arm of this caliber.
The biggest catch, of course, is whether the Giants would trade their ace. San Francisco is hanging in the National League West race, but this would offer the Giants a chance to restock a system in need of top prospects (18-year-old outfielder Heliot Ramos is the club’s lone entrant on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects list at No. 70). It’s a long shot, but one the Yankees should certainly investigate.
Cole Hamels, Rangers
Remember a decade ago when Cliff Lee was connected to the Yankees every six months or so? Well, meet the new Cliff Lee.
Hamels has been a rumored target for the Yankees for most of the season, though it remains to be seen if Cashman will meet the Rangers’ asking price — and if Hamels, who has a limited no-trade clause, would approve a deal to the Bronx. He has been hit hard of late, which could actually work to the Yankees’ benefit if Texas is forced to lower its demands.
One of the Yankees’ concerns with Hamels, of course, is his salary. The southpaw is due about $11 million over the remainder of this season, and his contract includes a $20 million option for 2019 with a $6 million buyout.
Hamels might not be the top-of-the-rotation presence he once was, but he remains a more-than-serviceable No. 3 starter. He’s got plenty of postseason chops, too, pitching to a 3.48 ERA in 16 career playoff starts. He carried the Phillies in 2008, going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five postseason starts en route to winning World Series MVP honors.
Michael Fulmer, Tigers
Fulmer’s numbers this season aren’t anything special, but with a Rookie of the Year Award and an All-Star appearance under his belt already at the age of 25, he’d be a good fit for the Yankees’ rotation.
With four years of club control beyond this season, Fulmer will carry a hefty price tag, though if any team is set up to put together a package for the right-hander, it’s the Yankees and their loaded farm system.
Although his ERA has risen in each of his three seasons, Fulmer is still a work in progress to some extent. He hasn’t thrown more than 164 2/3 innings in a big league season, though he has already topped the 100-inning mark in 17 starts this season.
Acquiring Fulmer would take some pressure off the Yankees both this year and the next few years, pairing him with the 24-year-old Severino atop the rotation for the next four seasons.
J.A. Happ, Blue Jays
Happ is the polar opposite of Fulmer, a 37-year-old left-hander headed for free agency after this season. Still, adding a lefty to the rotation would benefit the Yankees, who currently feature just one southpaw (Sabathia) despite Yankee Stadium’s dimensions being favorable for lefty hitters.
Happ’s ERA is lingering around 4.00, though he has posted consecutive sub-4.00 seasons with Toronto the past two years, showing an ability to navigate the difficult AL East. He also has postseason experience with the 2008 Phillies and 2016 Blue Jays, posting a solid 3.72 ERA in 10 October appearances (three starts). Happ also dominated the Red Sox (7 IP, 1 ER, 10 K) in his only start against them this season, which must intrigue the Yankees.
The Yankees appear to have plenty of competition for Happ; the Mariners and Brewers are among the other teams that have been connected to the veteran lefty, who will earn a little less than $6 million for the remainder of the season.
Tyson Ross, Padres
An All-Star in 2014, Ross hadn’t matched his 2014-15 form the past couple seasons, but he has a 3.78 ERA in 17 starts this year. Oddly enough, his ERA is better on the road (3.12) than it is at pitcher-friendly Petco Park (4.81), so a move out of San Diego shouldn’t be a concern.
Ross is on a one-year, $1.75 million deal this season, so he’s owed less than $1 million the rest of the way. That’s one of his biggest selling points, especially for teams like the Yankees that are aiming to stay beneath the competitive balance tax threshold.
Mark Feinsand is an executive reporter for MLB.com.
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