In an up-and-down season for Yankees starting pitchers, Masahiro Tanaka has typically been viewed as the team's most reliable option come playoff time. After all, he's only allowed five runs through 30 career innings of postseason ball.
That line of thinking took a massive hit after he allowed 12 earned runs in 3.1 innings of work against the Red Sox on Thursday night. It certainly proved that New York's hunt for starting pitching is a necessary one. The need was already there, especially after starters allowed a combined 20 earned runs in 11 innings through a three-game slugfest in Minnesota.
This summer, though, is not a normal one by any means.
There's no clear-cut ace on the market. Rather, it's filled with question marks. Madison Bumgarner, once a sure bet to be moved, is reportedly likely to stay with the Giants through the season. After surfacing in rumors over the last few weeks, Trevor Bauer could remain in Cleveland, which is just two games out of first place in the AL Central. Meanwhile, the Mets could switch gears, extend Zack Wheeler and instead trade Noah Syndergaard. A lot of questions, and so far, little answers.
GM Brian Cashman needs to make a move for a starter. The question remains -- what kind?
The Yankees have the best winning percentage (.647) in baseball and are likely to win the division, barring a collapse or surge from Tampa or Boston. The "window," whether one believes in championship windows or not, is as open as it's ever been. The time to strike for an impact starter is now, and Cashman has to know this.
In terms of price, it also appears that things could be different this summer. The Yankees could be comfortable with surrendering some of their top prospects in the right deal. That includes Deivi Garcia and Estevan Florial, arguably the top talents in New York's system. That in itself is telling, suggesting that Cashman is willing to sacrifice high-end prospects for what could be the final piece in a championship quest.
That willingness to pay a premium would be new to the Yankees, but not to other contenders. The Astros, Dodgers and Cubs are recent examples of teams that sacrificed serious assets in an effort to gain the ultimate prize -- a title. Houston got Justin Verlander. Though they don't have a ring to show, Los Angeles has made it to the World Series two straight years. The Cubs, of course, surrendered Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman -- a prime reason they ended their title drought.
To get to the next level, the Yankees will need to be open in all of their discussions. There is skepticism that the Mets will actually make a big trade with the Yankees, but if Cashman presents a can't miss offer for Syndergaard, GM Brodie Van Wagenen could have a hard time turning it down.
The same goes for Marcus Stroman, who until Syndergaard hit the market had established himself as the top starter likely to be dealt. Any team that trades for him will be paying a premium. For the Yankees, it will cost more.
There's a another reason why the Yankees need to get that impact arm, and that's to limit Houston and Minnesota. Both teams figure to be primary playoff foes, and it's increasingly likely that each makes a move for a starting pitcher. Houston has continually displayed a focused, yet aggressive style in trading for game-changers. The same can't be said about the Twins yet, but their interest in Syndergaard should raise eyebrows.
If either squad jumps while the Yankees stand pat (or acquire someone like Mike Minor or Robbie Ray), it could mean the difference in making it to the World Series or getting sent home early. New York was burned when they wouldn't flex the financial muscle to acquire Verlander, and Houston capitalized with a title.
The roster could receive a boost in August from the returns of Luis Severino and Dellin Betances. But at this point, nothing should be expected or a given. It would be foolish for New York to bank on Severino as a major contributor down the stretch and in the playoffs.
This Yankees roster is built for a deep October run. And within the next five days, we'll see just how far they're willing to go when it comes to reaching the ultimate goal.