The New York Yankees both won and lost Thursday night. The red-hot DJ LeMahieu helped the club snap their three-game losing streak with a three-hit game against the Blue Jays (NYY 6, TOR 2), and while that happened, the Yankees lost out on Dallas Keuchel. The veteran lefty agreed to a one-year contract with the Braves. He'll reportedly earn $13 million the rest of the season.
The Yankees were in the mix for Keuchel but, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, they would not increase their offer beyond $11 million the rest of the year. I reckon Keuchel's decision was easy given the money and the chance to reunite with catcher Brian McCann, plus pitch in the DH-less National League. Here's what Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters, including NJ.com's Randy Miller, about the team's rotation post-Keuchel signing pursuit:
"Yeah, I do think (our rotation is) good enough … There are lots of things that need to unfold, but we have the guys in that room, absolutely, to be elite ... I knew we were obviously having some conversations, but that was just the extent of it."
Even with their injuries, the Yankees currently own a 3.80 ERA, fifth-lowest in baseball, and their rotation's 3.83 ERA is seventh-lowest. Adjusting for ballpark, their rotation has been the fifth-best run prevention unit in baseball at 16 percent better than league average. The Yankees aren't slugging their way to first place. Not entirely, anyway. The pitching has been very good.
That said, Luis Severino has missed the entire season with injury, and James Paxton and CC Sabathia have both visited the injured list. This is New York's rotation depth chart at the moment:
- Luis Severino (expected to return from shoulder inflammation and a lat strain after the All-Star break)
- James Paxton (missed most of May with knee inflammation)
- Masahiro Tanaka
- CC Sabathia (missed two weeks with knee inflammation last month)
- J.A. Happ
- Jordan Montgomery (expected to return from Tommy John surgery in August)
- Domingo German (on an undisclosed workload limit)
- Jonathan Loaisiga (out with shoulder inflammation and there's no return date)
- Chance Adams
- David Hale
Given the ongoing injury concerns -- Severino may return in a few weeks, but given the history of shoulder and lat injuries, it is far from certain he'll return as the All-Star caliber hurler he was the last two years -- and workload limitations, it is clear the Yankees could use another starting pitcher. They could've added Keuchel for nothing but money, their single greatest resource, but declined to beat Atlanta's offer.
Because of that, the Yankees now have to shift their focus to the trade market. SNY's Andy Martino speculates outfielder Clint Frazier could be mentioned as a trade chip in the coming weeks. Frazier had a little spat with the media last weekend that undoubtedly rankled the Yankees, though his availability would more likely be related to the team's outfield depth. Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton are signed long-term, and Aaron Judge is under team control through 2022.
Now that the 2019 draft is over, teams will shift their focus to the upcoming trade deadline. The deadline is a little less than eight weeks away, and remember, there is a single July 31 trade deadline now. August (and, technically, September) waiver trades are a thing of a past. Want to add help? It has to happen by July 31. With the caveat that the trade market can and will further develop the next few weeks, here are some possible trade targets for the Yankees after losing out on Kimbrel.
The Big Name Rental
Folks, prepare yourselves for a ton of Madison Bumgarner trade rumors, involving both the Yankees and many other contenders. The Giants are pretty bad (25-36) and Bumgarner is an impending free agent. He is also a franchise icon, which means a trade may not happen. New GM Farhan Zaidi would not be doing his job if he didn't at least field trade offers for Bumgarner though.
With his 30th birthday two months away, it is clear Bumgarner is no longer the pitcher he was in his prime. All those innings and all that wear-and-tear takes a toll. His strikeout rate is down and he's allowing more hard contact than ever. Also, while his postseason heroics are a strong selling point, it has been five years since his Herculean 2014 postseason. Time really flies, huh? I'm not sure 2014 Bumgarner is all that relevant to 2019 Bumgarner.
Still, Bumgarner is a big name and there's at least a chance he'll be available prior to July 31. He's going to be connected to the Yankees, the Phillies, the Astros and pretty much every contender these next few weeks. The Yankees would have to navigate around his no-trade clause, which is a headache more than a dealbreaker. With Keuchel off the board, the fit is obvious here. It's a relatively low-risk rental with a potentially high reward.
Seemingly nothing is going right for the Indians. They've been hit hard by injuries, some fluky and some not so fluky, and former MVP candidate Jose Ramirez has seemingly forgotten how to hit. He's hitting .204/.301/.305 this year and owns a hard to believe .189/.304/.299 batting line in 438 plate appearances (!) dating back to Aug. 15 of last year. Add in a relatively quiet offseason and you have a recipe for a 31-31 record and a 10 1/2-game deficit in the AL Central.
The Indians remain in the mix for a wild-card spot -- Cleveland is currently two games behind the Rangers for the second wild-card spot -- though their front office is very pragmatic. If they don't see this squad as a postseason team, they could look to sell at the trade deadline, with Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer as their top chips. Bauer is certain to be moved at some point, either at the deadline or over the winter. He'll be a free agent after next season and has not been shy about his willingness to explore free agency.
As for Kluber, he is currently on the injured list with a broken forearm and is not expected back for several weeks, maybe not until after the trade deadline, which would really complicate things. Even before the injury though, Kluber had a 5.80 ERA with by far his highest walk rate (3.8 BB/9) since his abbreviated rookie season in 2011. The increase in hard contact allowed and decline in strikeouts is worrisome for a 33-year-old with that many innings on his arm:
Unlike Bumgarner, Kluber and Bauer are not rentals. Kluber's contract includes a $17.5 million club option for 2020 and an $18 million club option for 2021. Bauer has one year of arbitration-eligibility remaining and his salary should approach $20 million next season. Sabathia is set to retire after this season and either Kluber or Bauer would slot neatly into his vacated rotation spot alongside Happ, Paxton, Severino, and Tanaka next year.
The Indians desperately need outfield help and a Frazier for Kluber or Bauer framework could make sense -- Cleveland originally drafted Frazier and sent him to New York in the Andrew Miller deal -- depending whether the Indians actually sell. The Yankees did ask about Kluber and Carlos Carrasco over the winter, though that was due diligence more than anything. With the Indians falling out of it and the Yankees needing a starter, they could rekindle those talks in earnest in the coming weeks.
The Long Shot
As well as they've played recently, the Nationals are 28-34 and five games back of the second wild-card spot with eight -- eight! -- teams ahead of them in the standings. Washington is closer to having the National League's worst record than they are a postseason spot. They dug themselves a mighty big hole the first few weeks of the season.
Last year GM Mike Rizzo showed he's willing to sell when the team is not postseason bound. Matt Adams, Gio Gonzalez, Shawn Kelley, Brandon Kintzler and Daniel Murphy were all moved at the deadline (or in an August waiver trade) last year, and, most notably, Rizzo worked out a deal to send Bryce Harper to the Astros before ownership squashed it. If the Nationals don't get their act together in a hurry, it could be another summer of trading away players.
It's one thing to move impending free agents like Murphy and Harper. It's another to move one of the top pitchers in baseball when he's signed another two years beyond this one. Max Scherzer is still excellent and he'd undoubtedly help the Yankees in a big way, even after moving into a hitter's park in the DH league. Scherzer still has a lot of money coming to him (over $90 million), which would complicating things. There's a fit though, obviously.
The thing is, would the Nationals really trade Scherzer? They strike me as the type of team that would reload and try to go for it next year rather than tear it all down and rebuild, and it would be a heck of a lot easier to win next year with Scherzer than without. I'll need to see Scherzer traded to believe it'll happen. There's a reason I'm calling this a long shot.
The Intradivision Target
Why is signing Marcus Stroman to an extension seemingly a non-option for the Blue Jays? I don't get it. He's only 28, he's very good, he's homegrown, and he seems to love Toronto. This seems like someone to keep and build around, not someone to trade away. And yet, the trade rumors persist. Here's what Jayson Stark of The Athletic wrote late last month:
Almost everyone is gone now from the 2015-2016 playoff teams. But the Blue Jays have already signaled they could be aggressive in trying to trade Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, who will both be a year and a half from free agency. And "they're in the perfect place to move guys like that," one of the execs quoted earlier said. "Their entire fan base is sold on the concept that guys like Vlad [Guerrero] and [Cavan] Biggio are their future. So they won't even be paying attention [to those trades] because they understand they're building around the young guys."
An intradivision trade is always complicated but the Yankees and Blue Jays showed they are willing to make a deal. Just last year they got together for the Happ trade. An AL East battle-tested hurler with a history of Yankee Stadium friendly ground ball rates, plus another year of team control as an arbitration-eligible player, would seem to be a perfect fit for the Yankees.
Perhaps moreso than any other pitching trade candidate, Stroman will be in very high demand at the deadline because he's so young, so good, and under control next year. Only contenders will want a rental like Bumgarner and, realistically, only a handful of teams will be wiling to absorb Kluber's contract or Bauer's arbitration number. Stroman is more affordable (his arbitration salary next year figures to be around $12 million), and, frankly, thoroughly outperforming those guys this year.
Contenders like the Yankees and Phillies will be after Stroman, but so too will up-and-coming teams like, say, the Padres, who are maybe only a year away from no-doubt contention. The surprisingly competitive Rangers could show interest as they prepare to move into a new ballpark next year. The Astros, Athletics, Brewers, Cardinals, Twins, and White Sox could (and should, honestly) get involved. The bidding war will be fierce.
The Other Lefty
Bumgarner, understandably, is the top left-handed starter on the trade rumor circuit. Rangers southpaw Mike Minor has out-pitched Bumgarner this season though, and the Statcast numbers check out nicely:
- Fastball spin rate: 2,650 rpm (99th percentile)
- Exit velocity: 86.3 mph (82nd percentile)
- Hard-hit rate: 32.9 percent (75th percentile)
The Yankees are spin rate believers and, along with the fastball, Minor's slider and curveball spin rates are comfortably above-average. He checks out analytically and he's owed the remainder of his $9.5 million salary this year plus another $9.5 million next year. Minor is very good and very affordable.
Here's the thing though: The Rangers are good! Well, good-ish. Better than expected for sure. Texas is 32-28 and percentage points ahead of the Red Sox for the second wild-card spot. A few more good weeks and the Rangers could be looking to add pieces to Minor at the trade deadline, not subtract him.
The Rangers will play 12 of their next 15 games against the Athletics, Indians, and Red Sox. That should provide some clarification about their status as contenders. Should they sell, I imagine Minor will be high atop the Yankees' wish list.
The Yankees have traded for two starting pitchers each of the last two deadlines. In 2017, they brought in Sonny Gray as the centerpiece (that didn't work out) and Jaime Garcia as a depth guy. Last year they added Happ as the centerpiece (that did work out) and also Lance Lynn as a depth guy. They could do something similar this year, though Severino's and Montgomery's eventual return could lessen the need for a second starter. Here are some depth starter options.
Normally a pitcher of Zack Greinke's caliber would deserve his own section. In this case though, the Yankees have avoided him each time he's been available (trade, free agency, etc.), and they've made it clear they do not think he'd fit well in New York. Perhaps they're underrating Greinke or overrating how difficult it can be to play in New York (it's probably a little of both), but they believe it. Also, Greinke is still owed north of $90 million through 2021. The money would be an obstacle.
The Mariners salary dumped Jay Bruce earlier this week and ESPN's Jeff Passan reports Seattle is ready to trade every veteran on the roster, and they're willing eat money to make it happen. Mike Leake is a steady and boring innings guy (that has value!) who is under contract through next year. It probably would not cost much to get him, so if the Yankees miss on Bumgarner or Stroman or Cleveland's guys, they could turn to Leake. His 2.0 HR/9 might not play well in Yankee Stadium though.
The Reds are stuck in the wrong central division. They are in last place in the NL Central despite the division's second best run differential (plus-37). The Twins are the only team with a positive run differential in the AL Central. I have to think Cincinnati would be in better shape in that division. Anyway, the Reds acquired Tanner Roark as part of their offseason trade spree, and, if they don't climb back into postseason contention, flipping the impending free agent for a prospect at the deadline will presumably be on the table. Roark fits as a Garcia/Lynn-esque depth rental.
Unlike most depth pickups, Jose Urena is young and offers sneaky upside. He is only 27 and he gets a ton of sink on his mid-90s fastball. The strikeout rate (6.2 K/9) leaves you wanting more, but an analytically-inclined organization like the Yankees might be able to unlock some additional whiffs with a few tweaks. Urena has a reputation for being a bit of a hot-head -- the Ronald Acuna incident last year reinforced those concerns -- which might be a dealbreaker. Still, a hard-throwing 27-year-old with another two seasons of team control? Could be a nifty little pickup, depending on the price.