It's no secret that the AL East-leading Yankees will be looking to upgrade their roster prior to the trade deadline on July 31. It was clear before the Edwin Encarnacion trade, but the team's primary focus will be starting pitching.
We know that the organization will make a move, but when and for whom remain to be seen. The real question is, what type of move(s) can be expected from GM Brian Cashman?
Each summer, big names are tossed through the rumor mill, and 2019 has been no different. The biggest names circulated thus far range from Madison Bumgarner, Trevor Bauer and potentially Max Scherzer. While the flash and attention of elite names always creates intrigue, it's worth taking a look at similar past opportunities and what the Yankees have done in those situations.
Many are often quick to assume that once an ace hits the trade or free agent markets, the Yankees are instant suitors. While such is often the case given their financial abilities, the reality is that the club has shown patience and caution in recent negotiations.
Some will argue that the Yankees haven't done enough to bolster their staff over the last few seasons, but they certainly have tried. The 2017 Sonny Gray deal is a reminder of that-an attempt to get the No. 1 ace the team had been searching for. Right now, it looks like a loss for both sides, as two of the three prospects (James Kapreilian, Jorge Mateo, Dustin Fowler) traded to the A's have yet to see major league action.
The deal was one of the rare instances in which Cashman parted with elite prospect talent. He did, though, hold on to Estevan Florial (whom the A's coveted) and Clint Frazier. It's important to note that part of why the Yankees made the deal was the additional two years of control that Gray offered. There are no top tier starters with additional years of control, although Scherzer would be under a hefty contract through the 2021 season.
This is one the Yankees would probably definitely like to have back. At the tail end of the non-waiver deadline in August 2017, the Astros swooped in and grabbed Justin Verlander from the sinking Tigers. Long story short-Verlander's excellence in Houston was part of the reason the Yankees' season ended in the 2017 ALCS. The main reason they didn't get him? Money. The team would have been in line to pay the rest of the veteran's salary, a task that CEO Hal Steinbrenner was unwilling to carry out.
Passing on Verlander was one of the first big-name players (Manny Machado, Patrick Corbin) that the team declined to sign over dollar amount. Nobody could have predicted the former Tigers ace's dominance following the deal, but one has to wonder if the Yankees regret not pulling the trigger sooner.
When the team looked into acquiring Gerrit Cole, they were comfortable with surrendering Frazier, but not Miguel Andujar. The teams' reluctance to include Andujar eventually led to the Astros nabbing Cole the following offseason, just like Verlander. The teams willingness to include Frazier in the deal was significant. At the time, his spot on the major league roster was less than a sure thing, making him expendable. Dangling him for Cole (who had finished 2017 with a 4.26 ERA) seemed to have made sense.
Like Verlander, no one knew that Cole would reinvent himself in Houston. After his productive stretch in the majors this season, it seems likely that New York would only give Frazier up in the right deal for a legitimate ace. It's no surprise that Cole's success with Houston (3.09 ERA since trade) adds to the list of reasons why the Yankees should trade for the top guy they've long sought. But, there's no guarantee.
It appears things could be different. Money probably won't be a factor, as management has come to acknowledge the need for reinforcements. "If I felt we needed that deal, that takes us over the top, then yes, I would," Steinbrenner said to reporters at the owners meetings. After standing pat with Verlander, Corbin and Dallas Keuchel, ownership realizes that adding an impact starter will require both money and prospects, too.
And while many have assumed that Frazier is the key piece for a deal, it's far from the reality. As SNY's Andy Martino reported, the organization has little interest in dealing him for a starting pitcher, let alone a rental. He's young, cost-controlled and only getting better at the plate, characteristics you don't give up for three months of a starter. If anything, Cashman will look towards his weakened, but still quite strong, farm system as trade bait.
All of this begs the question, is there even a true ace for the Yankees to acquire? Bumgarner, 29, stands out as the best option available. His season stats (3-7, 4.28 ERA) suggest otherwise, but they shouldn't scare any suitors away. He's regarded as one of the best big game pitchers in the sport, particularly in the playoffs (2.11 ERA). Prying him from the Bay won't be an easy task, but if it happens, don't count on a player like Frazier packing his bags. You should, however, count on Cashman getting maximum value in any deal involving a starter.
Of course, the Scherzer question remains. If he's put on the market, he'll instantly become the best option available. If it happens, you can expect plenty of interest from the Yankees, but they (or any other team) would have to surrender a ton (as in, a franchise player) to get him, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. So, unless Cashman can outmaneuver Nats GM Mike Rizzo, Scherzer in pinstripes is probably a pipe dream.
The Yankees have seen their rivals acquire the likes of Chris Sale, Verlander and Cole, while seeing Keuchel, Corbin, Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta sign elsewhere. Both the Red Sox and Astros have taken the risks and earned the optimal outcomes: rings.
The Yankees may have never had a better window of opportunity, one that has been open since 2017. The only question that remains now is one that has seemingly presented itself each of the last two summers:
Will they make the move that puts them over the top?