The Yankees may have no choice but to pursue Dallas Keuchel, even if he isn't a perfect fit

Even during a wildly successful homer-filled four-game sweep in Baltimore, the New York Yankees left town with even more injured players this week. Giancarlo Stanton was shut down following a setback -- he suffered a calf injury while rehabbing his biceps and shoulder injuries -- and CC Sabathia was placed on the injured list with knee trouble. He's back in New York to have the knee drained.

Sabathia became the 14th -- 14th! -- Yankee on the injured list earlier this week. He is also the team's fifth starting pitcher on the injured list. Here is New York's current rotation depth chart:

  1. Luis Severino (out another few weeks with shoulder and lat trouble)
  2. James Paxton (expected to return next week from a knee issue)
  3. Masahiro Tanaka
  4. Domingo German (on an undisclosed workload limit)
  5. CC Sabathia (out at least 10 days with a knee issue)
  6. J.A. Happ
  7. Jordan Montgomery (expected to return from Tommy John surgery in August)
  8. Jonathan Loaisiga (out at least two months with shoulder inflammation)
  9. Nestor Cortes
  10. David Hale

The Yankees will use reliever Chad Green as an opener Friday night for the second time in a week, and they'll likely do it again two more times next week. Once Paxton and Sabathia return, the Yankees can avoid openers. Given their season to date, what are the chances they avoid another injury or setback between now and then?

Even with a healthy Paxton and Sabathia, the need for additional rotation depth is pretty obvious. German has been a godsend this year but is also on an unknown innings limit after having never thrown more than 125 innings in a season. The Yankees don't have a set timetable for Severino's return and Sabathia, Paxton, and Tanaka are no strangers to the injured list.

MLB: Houston Astros at Texas Rangers
The 2019 MLB season is two months old and Dallas Keuchel is still unemployed. USATSI

Dallas Keuchel remains unsigned and, in less than two weeks, he will be free from draft-pick compensation. As noted by Craig Edwards of FanGraphs, the Yankees would be among the teams hit hardest by signing Keuchel. They'd give up the 38th overall selection to sign him. Only the Diamondbacks (33rd) would surrender a higher pick. That goes away in 10 days.

Waiting the 10 days to sign Keuchel seems like an obvious move for a Yankees team that has been ravaged by injury and could use the rotation depth even at full health. And yet, the two sides have not been connected at all, dating all the way back to the start of the winter. One reason: Keuchel doesn't fit the Yankees stylistically. Their analytics staff isn't signing off.

"I've heard the Yankees analytics department is really not on board with Dallas Keuchel," former MLB GM Jim Bowden said on CBS Sports HQ. "But I think the Yankees probably have to take a second look at it, and it's not just because of the injuries to Severino and Sabathia. You look at Domingo German, and you wonder how many innings the Yankees are going to let him go. (There's a) possibility they will shut him down between 140 and 150 innings. Jonathan Loaisiga has a shoulder (injury), that's a problem. And J.A. Happ, let's be realistic, his stuff is way down this year. It looks like he's in decline."

The Yankees are spin rate believers -- their 2,351 rpm team average fastball spin rate is fifth highest in baseball -- and they emphasize elevated fastballs to miss bats and generate weak contact, and it works well. Even while getting zero innings from Severino and dealing with numerous other injuries, the Yankees have had one of the most productive rotations in baseball this season. Take a look at their rotation ranks going into Friday's action:

  • ERA: 3.61 (5th in MLB)
  • ERA-: 80 (3rd -- this is adjusted for ballpark with 100 being average)
  • K/BB: 3.05 (11th)
  • WHIP: 1.20 (6th)
  • WAR: 4.8 (6th)

Keuchel is anything but a spin rate/elevated fastball guy. He's a command and control sinkerballer and, as he's shown over the years, that can work too. Keuchel has been among the game's best ground ball pitchers the last few seasons, and while it would seem ground balls and homer-happy Yankee Stadium mix well, the Yankees are not entirely on board. It could be because Keuchel's ground ball rate (and strikeout rate) has been on the decline:

dalls-keuchel-gb-and-k.png
Dallas Keuchel's ground ball and strikeout rates were heading in the wrong direction last season. FanGraphs

Since sticking in the big leagues for good in 2013, Keuchel posted his worst strikeout rate (17.5 percent of batters faced), his worst ground ball rate (53.7 percent of balls in play), his worst swing-and-miss rate (8.3 percent of all pitches), and his worst chase rate (30.7 percent of all pitches out of the zone) last year. Look under the hood a bit and there are red flags.

That all said, Keuchel is only 31, and a rebound this year (or next year?) isn't unreasonable. And for the Yankees, it's not Keuchel or Severino, or Keuchel or Paxton. It's Keuchel or German bumping up against his innings limit, or Keuchel or Montgomery in his first days back from elbow reconstruction. Even a diminished and declining Keuchel is better than several pitchers on that rotation depth chart above, clearly.

The question is cost -- because of the luxury tax, every $1 the Yankees give Keuchel (or any player) will cost them $1.32 in real money -- and alternatives. If the Yankees believe the current version of Keuchel is a league-average starter in the AL East and Yankee Stadium, well, what other average starters are out there? Is the price to rent Madison Bumgarner more palatable? Can Robbie Ray be had? There are alternatives to explore.

My hunch is the Yankees (and pretty much every other team) will be singing a different tune once Keuchel (and Craig Kimbrel) is free from draft-pick compensation. At that point it's only cash, something the Yankees have in spades, so even if the team's analytics group is correct and Keuchel doesn't work out, it's not a huge long-term loss. The Yankees won't miss the money.

To date, New York's rotation has performed about as well as anyone could reasonably expected given the injuries. There are still four months remaining in the season, however, and enough workload concerns (German) and injury concerns exist that adding rotation depth seems imperative. The numbers may not love Keuchel, but he's also readily available and the easiest move to make.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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