Assessing the Yankees' best rotation options after whiffing on Patrick Corbin
There's still a need in the New York rotation
The New York Yankees on Tuesday lost out in the bidding war for free agent lefty Patrick Corbin, who reportedlyon a six-year, $140 million pact. While the Yankees still figure to be serious players for Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, they're obviously focused on the rotation.
They've already dealt for James Paxton and re-upped with CC Sabathia, but they're almost certain to trade away Sonny Gray before opening day. That leaves a hole, and they'd also surely like depth given Sabathia's age, Masahiro Tanaka's and Paxton's health history, and Luis Severino's relative youth. So what's the next move for the Yankees now that the consensus best starting pitcher available is now off the market? Let's explore ...
The post-Corbin free agent market
The best starters left standing are veteran lefty Dallas Keuchel and right-hander Nathan Eovaldi. Keuchel has the stronger track record, thanks in part to his strong ground-ball tendencies, while the hard-throwing Eovaldi still tantalizes with his upside -- upside that was very much on display during the Red Sox's run to the title. Eovaldi's also more than two years younger than Keuchel and, specific to this situation, has been a Yankee before. While Corbin's whopper of a deal is proof that pitchers without elite fastballs can still get paid big money, Eovaldi figures to be the more coveted of the two this offseason. After all, free agent markets are about how pitchers project moving forward, and past performance -- where Keuchel has an obvious edge over Eovaldi -- matters only to the extent it informs future projections.
Elsewhere, don't forget about J.A. Happ. GM Brian Cashman traded for Happ last season leading up to the non-waiver deadline, and he wound up giving the Yankees 63 2/3 innings of highly effective pitching. He's 36, yes, but with pitching it's less about age than skills retention. Also, there's Charlie Morton, who, even though he's going into his age-35 season, still throws hard and commands a full repertoire. Happ, though, has been somewhat more durable in recent seasons.
To get a better idea of which of these arms for hire might give the Yankees the most value in 2019, let's have a look at how the SportsLine Projection Model (@SportsLine on Twitter) projects each of these pitchers for the season to come (projections subject to change based partly on which teams they eventually sign with) ...
Projected 2019 innings
Projected 2019 ERA
(* Happ right now is projected as a starter/reliever hybrid, and his innings don't make for tidy comparisons. That will change once he signs, though.)
At least according to these forecasts, Eovaldi looks like the best overall investment, and that's especially the case given how young he is compared to the rest of the field. He's also got long-term value, which is why he's probably going to sign the biggest contract of the four. No doubt, the Yankees would have plenty of competition, but Eovaldi is probably the get here. Any of these four, though, figure to give the Yankees at least useful mid-rotation innings, which is what they need.
The trade market
The Yankees have already swum in this pool with the Paxton deal, but they have the young talent (plus Gray for innings going the other way) to make another notable deal happen. Things are always fluid on the winter trade market, but a partial listing of starters rumored to be available at the right price include Corey Kluber, Madison Bumgarner, Zack Greinke, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Robbie Ray. That's a partial listing.
The prize is Kluber considering his dominance and three years of team control left on his contract (assuming his final two club options are exercised). The price, however, will be high, and Cashman may be averse to moving, say, Miguel Andujar and change after already dealing for Paxton. As well, the Tribe may be seeking an MLB-ready outfielder with upside, and the Yankees don't really have that in expendable form. Any of those names is going to require dipping into the reserves of young talent. Given the Yankees' financial resources, those four free agent names are likely better solutions.
The in-house options
Keeping Gray is theoretically a possibility, and he remains the guy who was highly effective as recently as 2017 (he's also still just 29). Cashman has all but guaranteed Gray will be moved this offseason, but perhaps circumstances will force him to reevaluate. Elsewhere, youngsters Chance Adams, Luis Cessa, and Jonathan Loaisiga remain options, and Albert Abreu may be ready for the highest level at some point in 2019. Bear in mind, though, that the Yankees used 12 different starters last season, so they'll likely need their in-house arms even if they do add another established starter. That's just how these things go, even for the best teams.
Taking part of their Corbin budget and targeting one of the four free-agent names above still looks like the best balance of near- and long-term interests for the Yankees after surveying the different paths.
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