After recovering from a slumping offense, the Yankees found themselves with fourteen runs over their last two games. This type of scoring is usually enough to win a game or two, but the Yankees are now on a four game losing streak thanks to a depleted pitching staff. Both the bullpen and rotation are too injured to hold even mediocre offenses like the Mets to a logical amount of runs.
As I pointed out in the beginning of May, losing pitchers in the rotation will ultimately have an adverse effect on the entire pitching staff. Moving Vidal Nuno and David Phelps to the rotation removed two valuable middle relievers from their bullpen in the hope that they could find success in the rotation.
Since then, Nuno struggled in the rotation, Phelps pitched decently, and CC Sabathia suffered a knee injury. On top of that, the Yankees have found no success with the bullpen arms that they’ve brought up and Shawn Kelley was moved to the 15-day disabled list. While this run of injuries looks bleak, the Yankees could potentially be back to full strength in a couple of weeks. With Sabathia and Pineda back in the rotation, Phelps looks like a formidable 5th starter and the Yankees do have a couple of prospects that could help the major league bullpen.
But the obvious answer to the Yankees’ problems right now is to desperately look for a trade. At this point in the season, Brian Cashman would undoubtedly need to overpay for a starting pitcher, and only a handful of options are out there. The Cubs are still looking to deal Jeff Samardzija, and the Diamondbacks are probably willing to drop some payroll from their budget with their team still ten games under .500. But would overspending for Samardzija or taking a gamble on one of the Diamondbacks’ scuffling pitchers be worth it?
For Samardzija, the Yankees would need to see something special in the right-hander. At the moment, he owns a 7.23 K/9 rate and a 2.57 BB/9 rate, but the ERA is much more impressive at 1.45. He’s found some luck in the early part of the 2014 season, but this comes after posting a 4.10 ERA in his previous two seasons. Samardzija’s velocity has dropped slightly, and he’s allowing a ton of ground balls, but he’d probably be the Yankees’ second best pitcher in their rotation. Even with the Yankees’ infield defense as weak as it is, Samardzija would be a major upgrade to the Yankees’ current pitching staff. It’s still May though, and the Cubs could hold on to the pitcher and offer him a qualifying offer at the end of the season. Assuming the Yankees would eat the $4+ million left on his 2014 contract, the Cubs would still want a first round caliber prospect back. When they traded Matt Garza last season, the Rangers gave up both C.J. Edwards (BP’s #81 prospect in 2014) and Mike Olt (BP’s # 30 prospect in 2013) along with relief pitchers Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez. A similar package for the Yankees would include two of the Yankees top five prospects, which is a certainly a high price for a non-ace pitcher with less than a year of team control, but perhaps Samardzija could push the Yankees into playoff contention.
As for what the Diamondbacks would have to offer, Brandon McCarthy might be the most available and enticing starter. He currently owns a 5.66 ERA, but his 4.02 FIP points to some very bad luck. His K/9 rate of 8.50 and 1.89 BB/9 is promising, and since last season, he’s actually seen a significant velocity spike from 90.7 mph to 92.8 mph on his sinker. Again we’re dealing with a ground ball pitcher, but McCarthy has seen similar problems to CC Sabathia this season. While he’s striking out plenty of batters, walking few, and earning lots of ground balls, more than 1 of every 5 fly balls have been home runs. McCarthy looks like he could rebound soon, and the Diamondbacks will probably be happy to part with the majority of his $10.25 million 2014 salary. Acquiring McCarthy is a much more realistic trade than for Samarzija, as he likely wouldn’t even command a top prospect, but he’s also less obviously a top of the rotation pitcher.
More than likely, the Yankees will wait this out and hope they find lightening in a bottle with one or two of their young pitchers. Hopefully Sabathia and Pineda will return to full strength and bring the pitching staff back to normal, but even in this case, the Yankees should still worry about their fifth starter and ongoing injury bug. The team can survive two more weeks with a half-ass rotation, but any longer than that could be detrimental to their season. I do expect a move soon, but I wouldn’t count on acquiring a big name pitcher like Samardzija. A buy-low pitcher like McCarthy is more likely, but perhaps the most realistic scenario is finding help on the weak free agent market or waiver wire.