Manny Machado and Bryce Harper have been the talk of the 2018-19 marquee free agent list, but for the Yankees, starting pitching needs to be the priority.
How many times does the old adage of pitching need to be stressed? Pitching, pitching, pitching … wins championships.
It’s been the weak focal point of the New York Yankees for the last decade. Their lineup has always been strong in some regards while their pitching has crawled slowly behind. Analogously, in the recently completed season, the Yankees hovered around the middle of the pack with a starting pitching team ERA of 4.05. The exception of the last 10 years is 2017 where they placed sixth in baseball with a 3.98 starter ERA.
Going into the 2018-19 offseason the Bombers have scarcely been connected to the names of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. That’s expected. The other name that has come up more than both of them has been a southpaw starter by the name of Patrick Corbin, so we’ll start there.
Patrick Corbin has been linked to the Yankees for a short while now. There were rumors throughout the season of a possible marriage via trade but things never materialized and ultimately he stayed in Arizona. Barring the opt-out decision coming from Clayton Kershaw at 4 p.m. ET on Friday, Corbin remains the top option in the pitching market heading into the offseason.
Spoke with an NL exec about the Yankees adding Patrick Corbin. He agreed it's a logical addition but called him "the definition of buyers beware." "Love his ERA/FIP split, GB% and K's but a move to the AL East scares me. But at this point, he's the best available & necessary."
— Dan Federico (@DanJFederico) October 31, 2018
Patrick Corbin is the logical decision. He’s not pitching royalty but his numbers in the dryness of Arizona’s climate for the past few seasons is something to write home about. This past year he went 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA in 200 innings pitched. A 1.05 WHIP and 246 strikeouts led him to his second All-Star game appearance.
2016 was his biggest downfall. His over-5 ERA and mere 131 strikeouts in just 155 innings pitched was one of the worst seasons he’s had. He also pitched to a 1.56 WHIP, the worst in his six-year career.
But since then he has quietly been a pitcher similar to J.A. Happ, except with some age on his side. Even though he may not be a young buck anymore and throw the fastball as much as Happ does, being 29 years young makes him a starter either in or entering the prime of his career. In 2018 he skyrocketed his K/9 to 11.07 and lowered his HR/9 from 2017 (1.23) to 2018 (0.68).
He’s the type of pitcher that loves to use his off-speed stuff as well which plays into the Yankees’ formula. The Yanks as a team throw the second most sliders in baseball based on a percentage at 23.3 percent. Corbin, between his three pitches, throws his slider almost just as much as his fastball at 41.3 percent of the time. This fits the Yanks mold more than any other pitcher on the market.
A few other names to look out for in the free agent class are Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, J.A. Happ, and the wild card of Nathan Eovaldi.
Personally, Nathan Eovaldi is the most intriguing name there. His past season might have warranted an $80 million contract. Prior to him pitching an inning for Tampa Bay this season, most saw Eovaldi as a Tommy John-riddled pitcher whose best days were behind him. He instead was good while in Tampa and even more dominant when he was traded to the Boston Red Sox.
And don’t forget the Yankees were the ones who gave up on him after his Tommy John surgery in the 2017 season. He’s used the Rays as a means to rebuild his stock and, clearly, it worked out.
Dallas Keuchel and J.A. Happ remain the most peculiar names on that list. Keuchel, in 2018, almost fell off the map. His season was rocky almost the whole year, and his 89-mph two-seam trademark fastball was not nearly effective as it used to be. His ERA went from 2.90 in 2017 to 3.74 in 2018. All his numbers from H/9 to WHIP, from 2017 to 2018, declined and at 31 years of age, it can make for a scary risk for someone who will be looking north of what Eovaldi is projected to make.
J.A. Happ is what the Yanks know most. He pitched terrific against Boston this year and throughout his career (subtracting his playoff start against them). He’s a fine wine, aged and experienced.
When it comes to talent, it’s not the strongest pitching market we’ve seen in the past few years. This class may struggle to get more attention than the 2017-18 free agent group did. Remember the last offseason…? Yeah, and don’t think these group of starters aren’t worried. The last offseason was the first time in a long time the market began to change. Long, lengthy, back-heavy deals began to dissipate and short punchy contracts were handed out.
If you’re not mentioning Justus Sheffield, who still remains hopeful to make the Opening Day roster, then there is really nobody. Happ, Lynn, and CC Sabathia are all free agents. No word of a Sabathia re-signing has surfaced. Lynn is not expected to be a Yankees target and Happ’s future remains to be seen.
So, the mission becomes not adding to the rotation but merely just filling it out. I expect Patrick Corbin, Nathan Eovaldi, and Dallas Keuchel to be on the radar, but don’t expect all of them. New York will soon enough be a sensible threat to signing Harper and/or Machado, but they can’t get blinded by the stardom. Their priority must be pitching first and foremost.
If they want any chance at shutting down the Boston lineup, it starts with effective starting pitching. The Red Sox may have had the best lineup in baseball but their pitching in the postseason is what kept their opponents down and out. Teams hit just .202 against them in the 2018 playoffs.
Defense and runs may win games, but pitching wins championships.
The Yanks better begin to believe it.