This Kluber trade? Happ? Yankees’ last resorts for rotation fixtures
LAS VEGAS — Teams pursued Patrick Corbin and Nathan Eovaldi as rising stocks. They saw starters, who in their age-28 season, forged repertoires that unlocked promise in the present and future.
Corbin became a breaking-ball dispenser in 2018 by incorporating a curveball and increasing his slider frequency so that — among qualified starters — only Milwaukee’s Jhoulys Chacin threw that pitch with greater frequency. Corbin finished fifth in the NL Cy Young race.
Eovaldi harnessed a cutter that bedeviled hitters and elevated the effectiveness of a ferocious, but straight fastball. Eovaldi was as valuable as any Red Sox in October en route to a championship.
Their reward was more than $200 million of free-agent dollars this past week — Washington buying Corbin stock for six years at $140 million, Boston retaining Eovaldi for four years at $68 million.
The Yankees were among many teams interested in both. Corbin was atop their free-agent starting list, Eovaldi was a pitcher whose skill and makeup they had loved when they had him. Plus, the Yankees have championship aspirations and believe that in the postseason, dynamic stuff — notably at least one wipeout pitch such as Corbin’s slider — is vital.
Yet, they applied caution, refusing to bid beyond five years for Corbin or go to four years for Eovaldi. They saw the potential for both to take off from here, but also viewed both as volatile stocks. That duo has combined for three Tommy John surgeries (two for Eovaldi) and just four seasons qualifying for the ERA title (three by Corbin).
Now, having missed out on the upside play of Corbin and Eovaldi, the Yankees need to win the stability of Cleveland’s Corey Kluber in a trade or J.A. Happ in free agency. Obviously, few items in sports are more unreliable than pitchers. And both Kluber and Happ have age, mileage and — in Kluber’s case — a few nicks the past couple of years.
But if you were to gamble on sure innings next year, they would be among the best bets. Only 16 pitchers have started at least 25 games in each of the past five seasons and just nine of those had an ERA-plus of 110 or better in that timeframe. Happ, Kluber and another available Indians starter, Trevor Bauer, are among the nine. Bauer’s iconoclastic nature makes him a different kind of volatile, particularly for New York and the Yankees, though his mastery of his stuff (like Corbin and Eovaldi) makes the righty an alluring piece.
The Yankees require innings certainty because their veteran rotation pieces offer so little of it. The Yankees not only have to concern themselves with winning in the postseason, but getting there. And the potential for multiple injuries to imperil that is ever present. That is why, I believe, they don’t just want to give a fifth starter spot to Luis Cessa, Domingo German or Jonathan Loaisiga. Better to have them, plus Chance Adams, Michael King and others, when inevitable injury hits. Because it will hit.
Play the 25-start game. What do you think the chances are for these pitchers to make 25 starts in 2019?
Luis Severino: I would say 80 percent because he has been durable the past two years. But the worry on someone who throws this hard is always there.
Masahiro Tanaka: I would say 55 percent. With all the concerns about the tear in his elbow, Tanaka has made 88 starts the past three years, tied for 20th in the majors with, among others, Happ. But Tanaka does have that time bomb in his right elbow.
James Paxton: I would say 40 percent. In Paxton’s most durable season, 2018, he was on the DL twice. He has been on the DL at least once in each of the past five seasons and seven times in all. His trendline is good, with more starts and innings in each of the past three years, up to 28 and 160 1/3 last year. Yet, he still has never qualified for the ERA title.
CC Sabathia: I would say 15 percent. Some days it feels as if Sabathia is held together by paste and prayers. But he has made 115 starts the last four seasons (never fewer than 27 in any one), the 28th most in the majors. He turns 39 in July, and the given is he will need a few vacation periods to rest his knees, at minimum.
Kluber or Happ would provide sturdiness to this group. Happ just costs money. The Yankees appear not to want to offer a three-year contract for the 36-year-old, who also is linked with the Phillies, in particular, and other suitors.
Kluber is a different level. Word has circulated that the Indians are asking for a huge return. And why shouldn’t they? He has been top three in AL Cy Young in four of the past five years (and ninth in the other). He still has three years at $52.5 million due him.
I think there are two keys for the Yankees to be in play here: 1) That the Indians, who are desperate for outfield help, still like Clint Frazier, whom they took with the fifth overall pick in 2013, but who had mostly a lost 2018 due to issues with concussions. 2) That Cleveland is so desperate to lower payroll that it can mimic what Seattle did in attaching Robinson Cano’s distress contract to Edwin Diaz to get rid of it. Edwin Encarnacion ($25 million), Jason Kipnis ($17 million) and Yonder Alonso ($9 million) are the problematic pacts.
Could the Yankees, for example, take on Kipnis and Alonso — who both own lefty bats in Didi Gregorius’ absence — and, with Kluber, save Cleveland $46 million next year while the Indians bet on the control and upside of Greg Bird and Frazier plus pitching prospects?
However, they do it, the Yankees need to add some more certainty to their rotation, now that they didn’t play on the volatile stocks of Corbin and Eovaldi.
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