The Yankees need rotation depth, and the time is fast approaching when they'll have to make a decision as to the route they'll take to secure it.
The Yankees lost another rotation member Tuesday, when the club placed CC Sabathia on the 10-day injured list due to pain in his surgically repaired right knee. The Yankees are already down staff ace Luis Severino. And while James Paxton is close to returning from an injury of his own, he's not exactly the poster child for health.
Not unlike other seasons, the Yankees are being linked to some of the names expected to be on the trade market. This season, the likes of Madison Bumgarner, Andrew Cashner, Tyler Skaggs, Marcus Stroman and even Max Scherzer are being thrown around in the Twittersphere as potential Yankees targets. Yet, if the Yankees decide to add to the rotation, their best option might very well cost them nothing but cash.
Enter, Dallas Keuchel.
After pricing himself out of the free-agent market this offseason, Keuchel is currently pitching in controlled settings and not with a club. While Keuchel will continue to be choosy about his next team, the clubs that will be interested are simply waiting for the MLB draft to pass before making a move to avoid forfeiting a draft pick for signing a player that was tendered a qualifying offer.
Keuchel will minimally search for a pro-rated salary at the qualifying offer level (it was $17.9 million this season), and the Yankees, despite pushing up against the next level of the luxury tax threshold, might be more interested in using straight cash to upgrade the rotation. In some senses, it could come down to the team's only option. Here's why.
Inflated rental cost
Let's face it: The names that will be available on the trade market might in some cases be bringing more reputation than production, with Scherzer (a huge long shot to obtain) the lone exception. Despite the actual expected performance, teams will offer top-tier prospects in order to lure the starting pitchers away because there are not a lot of hurlers out there, each club feels like it can make the pitcher better and the bidding will necessitate it.
Yanks' top prospects are hurt or reside at lower levels of minors
The Yankees' farm system has a good deal of depth, but the top prospects are currently injured or residing at lower levels of the minors, some of whom have not played real games yet this season. Of the low-level prospects, there isn't one that hits the radar as a top-100 player in the minor leagues other than Estevan Florial, and he's one of the injured players. Teams are not going to take collections of players that might crack the big leagues when they could select packages that are filled with the best of the best and appear set to make more immediate and/or long-lasting impacts.
Yanks need prospect depth to stay afloat
What about the players that are currently on the roster or floating between the big leagues and Triple-A?
Sure, players like Thairo Estrada and Clint Frazier, for example, might be enticing and be part of packages desired by teams looking to rebuild. However, it can be argued that the Yanks actually need these players themselves.
The Yankees infield is performing well, but Estrada seems like a perfect complement on the bench and would be first to fill another long-term void due to injury. Similarly, Frazier is beginning to heat up at the plate again, and Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are nowhere near returning. Remember, there is no certainty that Judge or Stanton will be as productive as expected when they return, or worse suffer setbacks, making Frazier more important as a member of the team than as part of a trade package.
Finally, pitchers in the Yankees' system -- think Chance Adams and Jordan Montgomery, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery -- could be used for increased depth beyond any outside additions. As stated earlier, this club is perpetually filled with potential injury issues among the starting staff.
It is entirely possible that the Yankees decide to ignore Keuchel and/or adding a pitcher via trade. The Yankees might feel that with Severino hopeful to return by the All-Star break, his presence could feel like making a trade or signing. The Yanks also have Jonathan Loaisiga (currently on the injured list), Adams and Montgomery to fall back on if needed.
That said, if the Yankees do decide to add a pitcher, turning to Keuchel only requires a cash payment, which might be the sure bet. Another point is that Keuchel could be rostered quicker (early to mid-July, considering a ramp up process) than having to wait until the July 31 trade deadline. Finally, Keuchel is likely to be every bit as productive as those available via trade because in the end, the prospect value won't match the rental return or the club simply won't be able to match others vying for the player.