It is now clear that due to injuries to key players like Miguel Andujar, who could miss the entire season, Aaron Hicks and Giancarlo Stanton, whose absences have probably already cost the Yankees a game or two, as well as to an offseason that was both overly cautious and overly optimistic, the Yankees are not going to be the offensive juggernaut many hoped they would be in 2019. That is the bad news. The good news, is that the Red Sox haven’t exactly taken the 2019 season by storm. Given that, the Yankees still have a real shot at the AL East title, but they are not quite poised to play deep into October.
The major problem facing the Yankees is their starting pitching, specifically their lack of a real ace. Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, JA Happ are all good enough top of the rotation pitchers, the kind of players who would be fine for a game two or three of a postseason series, but none are a real ace you feel confident about going up against Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler or, assuming he returns to form, Chris Sale, two times in a short series. CC Sabathia, Domingo German and Johnny Loaisiga are all intriguing 4thor 5thstarters, but are unlikely to be impact pitchers in the postseason. The Yankees had originally assigned the role of ace to Luis Severino who was coming off a very poor second half of 2018, most likely due to arm troubles that became too serious to ignore late in spring training of 2019. Severino may pitch in 2019, but counting on him to be the staff ace would be a mistake.
The Yankees may need to trade for that ace later in the year, but between injuries on the big league team and a farm system that is not as strong as it has been in recent years, they have less to offer in a trade than many fans may realize. Fortunately, there is one pitcher who remains unsigned who has been an ace in the past, has a very high ceiling and whose price has dropped dramatically in recent weeks. The Yankees probably should have signed Dallas Keuchel the moment they learned of Severino’s injury, but fortunately he is still available. There are many question marks around Keuchel who missed all of spring training and probably would not be available to pitch until sometime in May. He has been erratic in recent years. His ERA+ of 108 and FIP of 3.69 last year, were good but not great. However as recently as 2017 he posted an ERA+ of 141. He had an off year in 2016, but won the Cy Young award in 2015. Moreover, Keuchel is 31, but at this point the Yankees would not have to offer him a multi-year contract as Keuchel has indicated he might even take a one year deal at about $18-$20 million.
Keuchel would be an excellent fit for the Yankees not because they need pitching, but because they need an ace. Without Severino, the Yankees do not have starting pitching to compete with other pitching rich teams in a short series. The Yankee bullpen is excellent, but as we have seen this week, like all bullpens, far from infallible. Players like German, Loaisiga are valuable, but the problem the Yankees face is not a lack of starting pitching depth, but weakness at the top of the rotation. There is also no downside to signing Keuchel. Even if he is no longer an ace, he will still be able to contribute when, as inevitably will happen, other starters get injured. Acquiring Keuchel makes a lot more sense than finding more second tier starters who would cost a lot less money. Pitchers like the recently acquired Gio Gonzalez might be useful, but they do not solve the problem the Yankees face. Giving starts to Gonzalez rather than German or Loaissiga is unlikely to make much of a difference, but upgrading to Keuchel could.
During the offseason, the Yankees did not pursue Keuchel because his price was legitimately too high. Five years of Dallas Keuchel in his 30s was not an exciting prospect for the Yankees, but that has now changed. Keuchel’s price has dropped while the Yankees season has already been altered by injuries. Signing him, like any baseball decision would not guarantee a championship, but failing to sign him would be more evidence that the Yankees are more interested in saving money and keeping salaries down than in winning a championship.
Photo: cc/Keith Allison