CHICAGO – It is not a rotation in crisis. But as the Yankees start a four-game series against the White Sox here Thursday night, they have a group, Aaron Boone acknowledged, that is not without its issues.
“A little bit of a challenge, with what we’re going through,” he said. “But guys capable of getting it done.”
All have at various points this season, but not consistently. More and more lately the rotation has taken on the look of being held together with baling wire and duct tape.
Masahiro Tanaka has the best ERA (3.58) but is in a rough three-game stretch (1-2, 5.79). The 38-year-old CC Sabathia, a respectable 3-3 with a 3.96 ERA, has had one stint on the injured list because of his always troublesome right knee. James Paxton has been up and down (3-3, 4.09), has a history of injuries and had one IL stint already. J.A. Happ, though recently showing signs of consistency, nonetheless has a 4.48 ERA (he is 6-3). The staff’s best pitcher, Domingo German, bolted from the gate 9-1 but slipped in his last three starts (0-1, 8.59) and is on the IL with a left hip flexor strain.
From the start of the year the Yankees expected that eventually they would be in the market for rotation depth. Even in the spring, names like Madison Bumgarner (Giants) and Robbie Ray (Diamondbacks) were bandied about on the inside.
The Yankees have scouted Bumgarner (3-6, 3.83) this season, but more as part of the club’s regular coverage than specifically targeting the lefthander. He likely will be available as the Giants head for a last-place finish. But the Diamondbacks, a surprise team, don’t appear to be in sell mode, though a bad couple of weeks could change that.
Regardless, whomever the Yankees go after – Marcus Stroman of the Blue Jays and Trevor Bauer and/or Corey Kluber of the Indians can’t be ruled out from a lengthy list of targets – will come with a steep cost. General manager Brian Cashman, however, has a good enough stable of prospects to make something, big or small, happen.
According to heavy sampling of opposing team scouts and executives in the last week, among the Yankees' minor-league arms who have impressed are righties Deivi Garcia and Albert Abreu, who are with Double-A Trenton. Despite a poor start, the seed-throwing righthander Luis Medina, at Low-A Charleston, remains a sought-after prospect.
As far as big-league trade chips, Clint Frazier’s defensive issues, among other things, this season have damaged his trade value but not irreparably, according to industry insiders.
“I’d still take him, even with all that other [stuff],” said a talent evaluator from a rival club with a need for an outfielder. “The bat is real.”
Near hysteria followed Dallas Keuchel's signing with the Braves and the Yankees' refusal to budge from their offer, but it’s worth keeping this in mind. The Yankees and Braves were far from the only teams in need of pitching who watched Keuchel, had their chance at the former AL Cy Young winner and passed on offering top dollar. Money was a factor, yes, but indications are plenty of clubs scouted the 31-year-old lefthander in his simulated games and came away unconvinced about someone who last season showed signs of decline.
“Getting his work in,” an opposing team's scout said, which can be translated that he was underwhelmed by Keuchel but didn't want to be overly harsh. “Think he’s better off [in the National League].”
Time will tell on Keuchel. And on a Yankees rotation that can’t be called an outright weakness but is not close to a strength, either.