Less than 2 weeks from the trade deadline and on the eve of his 47-47 team getting their 2nd half underway against the Reds, Brian Cashman spoke to Andrew Marchand yesterday about the team's plans for said deadline. It's been over a week since the Brandon McCarthy and Jeff Francis acquisitions and the trade front has been very quiet since. The discussion of whether the Yanks will or even should be buyers or sellers has grown louder in that time, and Cash gave some insight as to which way they might be leaning with his comments. It's exactly what you'd expect:
"I have to reinforce our pitching, in my opinion. I have things that I feel I have to try to do, that I'm trying to do, but it is easier said than done...
"We have to try to improve, reinforce and upgrade, certainly. We certainly we would love to have some significant upgrades but when you lose four out of five starters, it is hard to re-materialize the same type of abilities with the guys you lost. It is whether you incrementally upgrade."
Pitching, pitching, pitching. The Yanks have lost a lot of it and it sounds like they're still in the market for more of it. It makes sense. By now there's little reason to expect a major offensive turnaround, although there's no harm in keeping up hope for one. If the Yankees are going to be any kind of a threat in the playoff races, they're going to have to prevent runs and keep teams off the scoreboard. The best way to do that is with good pitching, and the uncertainty surrounding the statuses of Tanaka, Sabathia, and Pineda means Cash can't afford to wait for one (or more) of them to return as the reinforcement. He's got to keep searching for more pitching help.
The problem is that his search field isn't a very big one. The second Wild Card and increased league parity/mediocrity has more teams than ever in contention or at least close enough to convince themselves they're in contention. The number of definite sellers is very small. In the American League, there are 7 teams in addition to the Yankees who are within 6 games of the 2nd Wild Card spot. 2 of the teams who are just outside that group are the Red Sox and Rays, teams who are highly unlikely to trade their useful starting pitchers to the Yankees. The only 2 teams that are really "out" of the playoff race right now are the Astros and Rangers, and neither one of them has much to realistically offer by way of starters . Scott Feldman, anybody?
Things are a little more spread out in the NL. The pack is tightly bunched at the top of the Wild Card race, with 6 teams within 3 games of each other, then it drops down to the Mets and Marlins at 7 back in the loss column. The Phillies, Padres, Cubs, Rockies, and D-backs round out the bottom third, all of those teams now clearly out of the playoff picture. The Yanks have already traded for 1 Arizona pitcher, so I doubt they'd go back to that well again. The Cubs have already traded away the only 2 starters on their team who were worth a damn, the Rockies don't have anybody who fits that category, the Marlins aren't going to give up their young talent yet, and the Mets won't trade Bartolo back to the Yanks.
If Cash wants to focus on adding starters, he's really only got the Phillies and Padres to work with. The Philly front office has to see the light by now and realize it's time for a rebuild. San Diego already has theirs underway after cleaning house in the front office earlier this season. They could be willing to listen on guys like Ian Kennedy and Tyson Ross. Philly will be looking to deal Cliff Lee, who comes off the DL on Monday, and could field offers for Cole Hamels, who has 4 years and $90 mil remaining on his deal with a 5th-year option. I won't even mention the name of the 3rd tradeable starter in that rotation.
None of those 4 pitchers will come cheaply, and none really constitute the type of incremental upgrade Cash mentioned. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that any of those 4 would immediately become the best starter on the Yankee staff if they were acquired. Second best at worst. A trade like that would be a big move, the type of move that's become the exception for the Yanks at the deadline over the past few seasons. It's also the type of move the Yankees are ill-equipped to make. The Phillies and Padres are going to be looking for young Major Leaguers or close-to-MLB-ready prospects in return for any of those pitchers and would have little reason to give them up for anything less. Those are the 2 things the Yankee system lacks the most.
If Cash is looking for smaller deals, he's going to have to get creative because there is not much to be found on the pitching market right now. Billy Beane and the A's scooping up 2 of the best available arms in 1 move really took a lot of the juice out of the deadline and the wind out of other teams' sails. I fully support Cash's efforts to find more starting pitching and hope he's able to pull off a move to add some in the next 2 weeks. The combination of fewer sellers, fewer realistic trade targets on those selling teams, and few upper-level trade chips will make the effort a very challenging one.